The world is changing rapidly before our eyes.
Over the last 12 months events have been unfolding with breathtaking
Exactly twelve months ago, in an article entitled: 2011: – Optimism or pessimism? I
wrote the following: “The first effect of the crisis was one of shock,
not only for the bourgeois but also for the workers. There was a
tendency to cling to jobs and accept cuts in the short term, especially
as the union leaders offer no alternative. But this will be replaced by a
general mood of anger and bitterness, which will sooner or later begin
to affect the mass organisations of the working class.”
These predictions were translated into reality far more quickly than I
had any right to expect. The world is changing rapidly before our eyes.
Over the last 12 months events have been unfolding with breathtaking
It is difficult to imagine that one year ago Ben Ali, Mubarak and
Gaddafi were apparently firmly in power. Berlusconi, Papandreou and
Zapatero were still at the head of their respective countries. Nobody
had heard of the indignados or the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Nobody talked of the imminent demise of the euro.
How things have changed! As the New Year dawns, the ruling class is
gripped by a growing sense of pessimism, bordering on panic. All the
attempts to breathe new life into a languishing world economy have
failed. The injection of trillions of dollars into the banks has only
served to transform a black hole in the heart of the world financial
system into a black hole in the public finances of Europe and the USA.
No way out
The capitalists can see no way out of the present crisis. Their only
policy is to cut, cut and cut again, seeking to destroy all the
conquests made by the working class over the past 50 years. If they
succeed, it would mean pushing society back to the kind of conditions
experienced by the workers in the days of Marx and Charles Dickens – the
kind of conditions the Chinese workers are suffering at the present
Such a policy will not solve the crisis but, on the contrary, will
only make it ever deeper. By slashing wages and pensions, they will
reduce demand still further, and so aggravate the crisis of
overproduction, which manifests itself as excess capacity on a global
In a confused fashion this is understood by the Keynesians who
advocate measures to reactivate the economy by boosting demand. The same
song is sung by the reformists of all shades, from the Social Democrats
to the ex-Stalinists who have abandoned all pretence of allegiance to
communism and seek solutions within the bounds of capitalism. These
people do not like the present capitalism. They want to replace it, not
with socialism (they no longer even mention the word) but a different
capitalism, a nicer capitalism, a gentler, more humane capitalism – capitalism with a human face.
This is what they call “realism”. It resembles a desperate attempt to
square the circle, or teach a man-eating tiger to eat salads.
They believe that it is merely a question of stimulating demand. But
how it is possible to boost demand? Maybe by reducing interest rates?
But interest rates are close to zero already. Or by boosting state
expenditure? But the main problem facing Europe and the USA is precisely
how to eliminate the huge mountain of public debt left over from the
banking crisis of 2008. How can governments that are bankrupt boost
state expenditure? Despite all their best efforts, the alchemists never
succeeded in transforming base metal into gold. And, as the ancients
used to say, “ex nihilo, nihil fit” – nothing comes from nothing.
The only possible solution to this conundrum is what they call
“quantitative easing”, that is, that the state should print large
amounts of money to plug the yawning gap in the public finances. This is
a desperate measure that would inevitably lead to an explosion of
inflation and a new and even deeper collapse later on. Compared to the
voodoo economics of the Keynesians, the hocus-pocus of the old
alchemists was a brilliant exercise in logic.
The picture could scarcely be more desolate. On 31st
December the Financial Times, the most prestigious organ of the British
capitalist class, summoned up the courage to publish an editorial with
the encouraging title: Finding reasons to be cheerful – after
all who wants to be miserable on New Year’s Eve? What is significant is
that reasons to be cheerful must be searched for in the first place. In
any case, the readers of the FT will have found very little cheer in an
article that begins with these words:
“Will anybody mourn the passing of 2011? This has been a year of
non-stop crisis and deepening economic gloom. From the tsunami that
sparked the nuclear catastrophe of Fukushima, to the paralysis of
European leaders as investors’ faith in the euro began to founder, there
is little reason to ring out the year with any sense of regret.
“Next year looks little better with the prospect of recession looming
over large parts of Europe, while even the economic powerhouses of Asia
are beginning to feel the pressure. Far from welcoming 2012, many of us
will be reluctant to celebrate a new year that promises even more
austerity and uncertainty.”
Whatever crumbs of comfort the FT could think of in its editorial
were immediately contradicted by the front page headline of the same
edition, which informs us that $6.3 trillion were wiped off markets in
2011. Sharp falls in the world’s stock markets indicate that the
capitalists, who had no cause to celebrate the year 2011, will have even
less to celebrate the advent of 2012.
The bosses moan about their falling profits and sliding shares. But
in the midst of the crisis, the super rich remain super rich. The same
bankers who presided over the ruin of the world’s financial system are
rewarding themselves hundreds of millions in bonuses. Nobody is called
to account. Nobody goes to gaol. The money keeps pouring in. The
champagne still flows.
For the poor and unemployed, by contrast the crisis of capitalism
signifies a nightmare of poverty and humiliation, homelessness and
despair. For millions of families in the USA there is no cause for New
The masses move into action
But every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Everywhere the
masses are beginning to move into action. The most striking
manifestation of the changed situation is the emergence of a worldwide
protest movement that is rejecting capitalism. A growing number of
people are reacting against the existing order: the unemployment that
condemns millions to enforced inactivity; the endless wars, racism and
injustice: and above all, the gross inequality, which concentrates
obscene wealth in the hands of the 1% who rule society, while condemning
the vast majority of the world’s population to a life of increasing
impoverishment, misery and degradation.
The most significant feature of this worldwide movement is the
similarities both in causes and aims. This has been realised by the most
perceptive representatives of the bourgeoisie. Thus, Gideon Rachman
"For all the patent differences in levels of wealth and freedom
between Europe and the Arab world, it was difficult not to see some
parallel between Europe and the Arab world, it was difficult not to see
some parallel between the crowds of angry, young unemployed people in
North Africa and southern Europe. The indignados – who occupied
central Madrid in May to protest against a youth unemployment level of
40 per cent in Spain – made the connection explicit by rather
vaingloriously claiming the mantle of Tahrir Square.
"After riots in London and popular protests against inequality and
corruption in countries as diverse as Chile, China, Israel and India, I
wrote a column at the en of August, headlined – ‘2011, the year of
global indignation.’ At the time, I speculated that the US might prove
immune to the wave of social protest spreading around the world. But
that idea was quickly proved wrong. By September, the Occupy Wall Street
movement had got going." (FT, 30/12/11)
The movements that are unfolding display many of the features of a
revolutionary or prerevolutionary situation. That is true not only of
Egypt and Greece but of the United States of America. “In the face of
popular fury, political invective and protest movements on their
doorsteps, the rich are fighting back in the new bout of US class
warfare”, we are informed by the FT (22/12/11).
Of course, we are speaking here only of the very early stages of the
revolution – that stage when the mass of people who hitherto took little
or no interest in politics now find themselves on the streets
protesting and demonstrating against a social and political order that
has become intolerable.
It is easy to point out the deficiencies of the movement: its
unorganized, spontaneous and chaotic character, the lack of clear
objectives and programmes. But such deficiencies are characteristic
features of the early stages of every revolution in history.
The school of revolution
The masses everywhere and at all times do not learn from books but
only from their direct experience. Great events are needed to shake the
masses out of their customary apathy and political indifference. The
revolution is their school, where they learn some very painful lessons.
But in a revolutionary situation they learn more in a single day of
action than in twenty years of “normal” existence. Who can doubt that
the workers and youth of Egypt learnt more in a few weeks of struggle
than in all the previous decades of their lives?
One can, of course, object that none of the basic objectives of the
Egyptian Revolution have as yet been achieved. Cynics will say: “You
see! The old order has merely changed its form of rule, while all the
old corrupt elements remain in power. The military holds power and is
crushing the revolution under its jackboot.” Such is the “wisdom” of the
Pharisees, who can see no further than the end of their nose and the
sceptics who see only the backside of history, never its face.
All revolutions pass through definite stages, following a pattern
that reproduces itself in the most variegated circumstances with the
most astonishing regularity. Above and beyond the individual events,
Marxism enables us to see the process as a whole –with all its
inevitable contradictions, cross-currents and incessant ebbs and flows.
The initial stage is always the same: a phase of euphoria in which
the mass movement seems to sweep everything before it. For those who
live through it, this is an intoxicating experience. It is as though
suddenly everything is possible. Victory seems inevitable, defeat
unthinkable. It is the stage of democratic illusions.
In 1917 in Russia this phase was represented by the February
Revolution, when the workers and soldiers overthrew the Tsar and set up
the Soviets. But despite the euphoria of the masses, the February
Revolution solved nothing fundamental. After the fall of the Romanovs,
the landlords and capitalists, the bankers and generals, regrouped
behind the protective facade of the Provisional Government. They ruled
by “democratic” means, while simultaneously preparing the
The Bolshevik Party under Lenin and Trotsky remained a minority in
the Soviets, which were dominated by the reformist leaders of the SRs
and Mensheviks who backed the Provisional Government. The Bolsheviks
demanded the transfer of power to the Soviets, but the reformists clung
to the bourgeoisie.
As a result, the pendulum swung sharply to the right. Lenin had to
flee to Finland. Pravda’s printing presses were smashed by reactionary
mobs. Trotsky and other Bolshevik leaders were imprisoned. The result
was the attempted coup of General Kornilov, which was defeated by the
action of the masses.
This prepared a new swing to the left, in which the Bolsheviks won
the decisive majority in the Soviets, preparing the way for the
transference of power to the Soviets in October (7 November in the
modern calendar). We see a similar pattern in the Spanish Revolution of
1931-37, and also in the French Revolution of 1789-93.
The overthrow of Mubarak was a huge step forward. It showed the
immense power of the masses. But, like the February Revolution in
Russia, it did not solve any of the fundamental problems of the masses.
And it is not possible to solve problems like unemployment, homelessness
and poverty as long as the land, the banks and big industries remain in
the hands of a privileged minority.
Even the promise of democracy will remain an empty phrase under
capitalism. The propertied classes are regrouping behind the army
officers, who themselves own a great part of the Egyptian economy and
have a vested interest in resisting change. The masses have understood
this and are acting accordingly. The youth are naturally in the front
line of the revolutionary struggle. Borzou Daraghi writes:
“Asked again and again what they would do if someone tried to hijack
their revolution, young Egyptians, Tunisians and Libyans have given the
same answer: stage another revolution. Few have suggested forming or
joining a political party to represent their interests.
“‘We are the ones who made the revolution,’ said Siraj Moasser, a
26-year-old Libyan. ‘If the revolution goes awry, we will make another
one. We have nothing else to lose’.”
“‘We hope the freedom and justice, and for the shabab
[working-class youth] to finally find jobs,’ says Mohammad Medhad, a
21-year-old unemployed Cairo man who was among the Tahrir Square
protesters in January and again last month. ‘The youth are the ones who
should be in charge because they made the revolution’.” (Financial
This is the authentic voice of the revolutionary masses and the youth.
The weakest link
Last January I wrote:
“Those sceptics who moan about the alleged ‘low level of
consciousness’ of the masses merely show that their knowledge of Marxism
consists only of undigested scraps. Their pedantic approach to the
class struggle is a toxic mixture of ignorance and intellectual
snobbery. All the impotent jeremiads of the sceptics will be confounded
on the basis of the titanic events that are being prepared. Unlike the
eunuchs, the masses can only learn through struggle. There will, of
course, be many defeats, mistakes and setbacks, but through all these
experiences, the movement will learn and grow. There is no other way.
“Step by step, the disintegration of capitalism is preparing the way
for revolutionary developments. The road to great social transformations
is prepared by a whole series of partial struggles. This is the
necessary preparatory stage in which we find ourselves.”
Twelve months later I have no need to change a single comma of what I
wrote then. The preparatory stage of the worldwide revolutionary
struggle for socialism will inevitably be long drawn out because of the
weakness of the subjective factor: the revolutionary party and
leadership. This will have to be built in the fire of events.
The real significance of the Arab Revolution is this: that capitalism
has begun to break at its weakest link. The crisis in the Arab world is
far deeper and more explosive than the crisis in Europe or the United
States. But at bottom it is the same crisis. This is recognized by at
least some of the strategists of Capital, like Andreas Whittam Smith,a
financial journalist and founder of the Independent.
On 20 October 2011 Whittam Smith wrote a piece with the title: Western nations are now ripe for revolution.
In this article he points out that at the beginning of 1848 no one
believed that revolution was imminent. Naturally! Hypnotised by
superficial phenomena, the so-called experts of the bourgeoisie are
blind to the processes at work in the deepest recesses of society. Above
all, they are organically incapable of understanding the real moods of
anger and frustration that are developing in the masses. Therefore, they
are always taken by surprise by revolutions.
The inability of the bourgeois to understand revolution was starkly exposed by the Arab Revolution. As late as January 6, 2011, The Economist
wrote: “Tunisia’s troubles are unlikely to unseat the 74 year-old
president or even to jolt his model of autarchy.” A few weeks later Ben
Ali had been overthrown and his regime was in ruins.
On January 25, 2011 Hilary Clinton stated: “Our assessment is that
the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to
the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.” This was
when the masses had already come out onto the streets of Cairo.
The same lack of awareness was shown by other bourgeois commentators,
such as the BBC correspondent in Cairo who wrote on January 17 that no
revolt would happen in Egypt because people there are apathetic: “Unlike
Tunisia, the population has a much lower level of education. Illiteracy
is high, internet penetration is low.”
The article, signed by Jon Leyne in Cairo was entitled: “No sign
Egypt will take the Tunisian road.” To make matters worse, these lines
were also included in his report of the events on January 25, the mass
demonstration which marked the beginning of the revolution. That was the
full extent of the wisdom of the bourgeois experts who even less than
twelve months ago denied the very possibility of the Arab Revolution.
Of course, it is clear that the Revolution is not finished and must
still run through a whole series of stages, the precise course of which
it is impossible to predict. There are too many variable factors both
nationally and internationally to perform such a task. All that is
possible is to predict the general line of development and indicate the
different possibilities inherent in the situation. However, the main thing is to see that the revolution has begun and will continue to unfold through a whole series of stages before it reaches its final denouement.
The fight for a new world
The events that are shaking the Arab world to its foundations are
just one manifestation of the general crisis of world capitalism. Not
one of the problems faced by the peoples can be solved in the narrow
confines of the capitalist system. That is the root cause of the
revolutionary explosions in North Africa and the Middle East. That is
why the Arab Revolution cannot stop until it has tackled the root
problem which is private ownership of the means of production and the
nation state, which are too narrow to contain the colossal potential of
the productive forces.
The new movements are an expression of the deep crisis of the
capitalist system. On the other hand, these movements themselves have
not understood the seriousness of the situation. For all their energy
and élan, these movements have limitations that will quickly be exposed.
The occupation of squares and parks, though it can be a potent
statement, ultimately leads nowhere. More radical measures are necessary
to bring about a root-and-branch transformation of society.
Unless the movement is taken to a higher level, at a certain stage,
it will subside, leaving the people disappointed and demoralized. Upon
reflection of their experience, an increasing number of activists will
come to see the need for a consistent revolutionary programme. It is the
contention of this writer that this can only be provided by Marxism.
The road we have entered will not be an easy one. There will be many
ups and downs. There will be defeats as well as victories. But one thing
is clear. The capitalist system has entered into a phase of terminal
and irreversible decline. It has nothing to offer humanity except a
future of convulsions, chaos, crises and wars. Its continuation
threatens the very foundations of civilization and culture, and in the
long run even places a question mark over the future of life on earth.
It is easy to be discouraged by the horrors that surround us on all
sides: the starving millions, the mass unemployment, the constant wars
and upheavals, the inevitable defeats and setbacks. Sentimental
moralists and tearful pacifists may shake their heads at this monstrous
spectacle. They see only the surface manifestations but are ignorant of
the deeper causes. But what is needed is not plaintive moans and sighs
about “man’s inhumanity to man” but a scientific diagnosis and proposals
for a remedy.
History is not just a senseless catalogue of disasters and crimes.
Careful observation will reveal definite patterns that constantly repeat
themselves. The period we are now living through has many similarities
to the period of the decline of the Roman Empire, which reflected the
impasse of an outmoded system of production – slavery. This long decline
was drawn out for several centuries. There were periods of apparent
revival, which were only the prelude to new and even steeper falls.
The stagnation of the productive forces led to a general crisis of
confidence, beginning with the ruling class itself. In the period of its
decline there was a general feeling of pessimism in Roman society,
reflected in irrational tendencies in philosophy and religion. Almost
nobody believed in the old Gods. Instead there was an epidemic of
mystical sects from the Orient. The same all pervasive smell of decay –
economic, social, moral and intellectual – everywhere clings to
capitalist society today.
Reactionaries blame the youth for their lack of belief. But what is
there for young people to believe in? There was a time when the
Socialist and Communist Parties held out the perspective of a
fundamental change in society. It is one of the central contradictions
of the period that the leaders of the parties and organizations set up
by the working class to change society have become monstrous obstacles
in the path of change.
Nevertheless, the working class is a thousand times more powerful
than the most powerful bureaucratic apparatuses. The events of the last
twelve months are a devastating answer to all the cynics and sceptics.
They provide an irrefutable proof that nothing can destroy the will of
the masses to change society.
The rulers of society – like the elite of the Roman Empire – are
struggling to strangle this new world at birth. They are not willing to
surrender power, or cede a single particle of their wealth and
privileges. They will not give up without a ferocious fight. They must
be overthrown by the conscious movement of the working class – those
modern slaves who produce all the wealth of society and who alone are
capable of reconstructing a new social order from the ruins of the old.
What is plain from the inspiring events in Tunisia and Egypt is that
once the masses are mobilised to change society, no force on earth can
The worldwide revolutionary movement has begun. It will experience
many vicissitudes, defeats and setbacks. But through all these
experiences the advanced workers and youth will learn and draw
conclusions. Marxists place all our faith in the workers and youth of
Egypt, Tunisia, Greece, Spain, the United States… Our role is not to
preach from the sidelines but to engage in the struggle. Our place is by
their side, participating in each and every struggle, while explaining
that the only real solution is the overthrow of capitalism and its
replacement by a society fit for human beings to live in – socialism.
We understand that all the horrors we see around us are the painful
travails of a new world that is struggling to be born. Temporary defeats
will not deter us from our course. Capitalist society is rotten to the
very marrow. It is sick unto death. It cannot be saved, and all the
attempts to prolong its existence merely prolong its death agony,
provoking new horrors for humanity: new outbursts of violence, wars,
terrorism and death for millions of people. The capitalist system must
die in order that humanity may live.
Somebody once told Durruti – the courageous Spanish anarchist who
through his own experience came close to Bolshevism – “even if you win
you will be sitting on a pile of ruins”. To this Durruti delivered a
characteristically revolutionary answer: “We have always lived in slums
and holes in the wall. We will know how to accommodate ourselves for a
while. For, you must not forget, we also know how to build. It is we the
workers who built these palaces and cities, here in Spain and in
America, and everywhere.
“We, the workers, can build others to take their place, and better
ones! We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit
the earth; there is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie
might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of
history. We carry a new world, here, in our hearts. That world is
growing this minute”.
London, 3rd January, 2012