235. Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, world capitalism is in deep economic and political crisis. The financial collapse that began in September 2008 with the failure of the US investment bank Lehman Brothers ushered in the deepest world recession since the 1930s and drove numerous states to the edge of bankruptcy. This crisis was prepared over decades. Its roots lie in the contradictions of the capitalist system: the contradiction between social production and private ownership of the means of production and the contradiction between the global economy and the national state system. The situation recalls, in many respects, that of a century earlier, the eve of the First World War. At that time, the crisis of world capitalism opened up a 30-year period of violent class conflict and wars, during which relations between the classes and between imperialist powers were forcibly transformed. Likewise, the current crisis is the prelude to a comprehensive reorganisation of economic and social relations that will be no less tempestuous than in the first half of the twentieth century. If the capitalists retain the initiative in resolving the crisis, it will lead to mass poverty, oppression and war. The only alternative is the socialist solution: the seizure of power by the working class, the socialisation and democratic control of the banks and major industries, and development of economic planning that orients to the social needs of the majority, rather than the profit interests of a tiny minority.
236. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was a response to the growing contradictions of world capitalism, and further intensified them. As long as the Soviet Union existed, the imperialist powers felt compelled to suppress social and international tensions. Fearing an expansion of the October revolution, they granted concessions to the working class, and in the interests of a united front against the Soviet Union, curbed their conflicts of interest and military ambitions. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, that was no longer the case. In January 1991, a military alliance led by the US attacked Iraq. The International Committee emphasised that the war was not an isolated episode: “The as yet incomplete, de-facto partition of Iraq is the beginning of a re-division of the world by imperialism. The former colonies are to be subjugated once again.” It pointed to “the striving by American imperialism to regain its world supremacy“, as being “one of the most explosive elements in world politics“. The increasing belligerence of American imperialism represented “an attempt to reverse its economic decline by the use of military force—the only area in which the United States still maintains undisputed supremacy.”
237. This appraisal was confirmed in the ensuing years as US imperialism became increasingly aggressive. In 1999, a US-led military alliance bombed the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and forced the separation of Kosovo. This was followed in 2001 by the occupation of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a war that has cost more than 1 million lives with several million more turned into refugees. Iran and North Korea are potential targets for American attack. While the pretext for war may vary, the goal remains the same: the subjugation and control of regions of the world that are of strategic importance for the geopolitical and economic interests of the great powers—in particular their energy supplies. American imperialism, confronted with strong rivals in Europe, China, Asia and South America, plays the leading role. But the other imperialist powers participate in these wars in one way or another, partly not to leave the field entirely to the US, partly to pursue their own imperialist interests.
238. After the defeat for Germany in the Second World War, the FRG took its place in the NATO alliance and stood at the head of the confrontation with the Soviet Union. It had a large conscripted army of 500,000 soldiers and permitted the stationing of US nuclear weapons on its territory. Until reunification, however, Germany limited its military activities to defensive operations within the sphere of NATO. From 1990 onwards, it has transformed itself into one of the most important military players worldwide. In 1999, the German army took part in the war against Yugoslavia in a combat mission for the first time. Eleven years later, there are approximately 7,000 German soldiers abroad, more than half of them in Afghanistan. While at first this took place under the pretext of a mission for “peace and security”, the German government now openly refers to the Afghanistan deployment as “war”. In Europe, the old national conflicts are re-emerging. Germany’s refusal to financially support the Greek government, which faces bankruptcy, has turned the other EU members against Berlin and placed the common currency in doubt. Hopes for the peaceful unification of Europe from above are again proving to be a utopia. European “unity” on a capitalist basis means the domination of the most powerful financial interests, the walling-off of its external borders, increasing national tensions and endless attacks on the living conditions of the working class.
239. Pacifist appeals to the ruling class or demands for disarmament cannot halt deepening national tensions, war and militarism. These arise, as Trotsky wrote in 1940 in relation to the Second World War, “inexorably from the contradictions of international capitalist interests”. “The chief cause of war as of all other social evils—unemployment, the high cost of living, fascism, colonial oppression—is the private ownership of the means of production together with the bourgeois state which rests on this foundation.” The fight against war and militarism is inseparably bound up with the building of an international socialist movement of the working class, whose goal is the overthrow of capitalism. The urgently necessary unification of Europe is conceivable only on a socialist basis, as the United Socialist States of Europe.
240. The Greek debt crisis is the starting point for a new offensive against the European working class. Governments have spent trillions to rescue the banks and now intend to retrieve these enormous sums at the expense of the working class. Under pressure from international speculators and the diktats of the Brussels commission, the Greek social-democratic government has decided on an unprecedented programme of cost cutting. When adjusted to German conditions, the planned budget cuts for the year 2010 correspond to a volume of €100 billion, almost twice as much as the €60 billion that the German government has pledged to save over the next six years, with its so-called debt brake. No other government has succeeded in forcing through such cuts on the basis of democratic methods. Ireland, Latvia and Hungary have decided on similar programmes, and the highly indebted Portugal, Spain, Italy, Hungary and Great Britain are next on the list. Germany and France plan their own draconian cuts to public expenditure.
241. These measures are being carried out despite the fact that social inequality has already reached levels not seen since the 1930s. In 2008, every seventh inhabitant of Germany, one of the richest countries in the world, either lived in poverty or was under threat of poverty—one third more than 10 years ago. Every fourth young adult between the ages of 19 and 25 years, and half of all single parents with small children, lived below the poverty line. At the beginning of 2009, 3.5 million were unemployed. Ever more people work in precarious conditions. Meanwhile, just over half of all jobs carry social security and health care coverage. In Germany, Europe and worldwide, the attempts to reduce living standards even further must lead to a severe sharpening of class war.
242. The susceptibility of the world economy to crisis, the sharpening of geopolitical tensions, the growth of militarism, the undermining of democratic rights, the increase in welfare cuts and unemployment, as well as the alienation of broad layers of the population from the established political organisations, are unfailing signs of an approaching revolutionary crisis. One should not be deceived by the still relatively low level of class struggle that currently prevails. At present, the working class has no voice with which to express its interests. It has been completely abandoned by its traditional political parties, many of which still carry the old political labels “social-democratic”, “socialist” or “communist”, but these designations have long since lost any content. Politically speaking, they hardly differ from the traditional right-wing bourgeois parties, as has been demonstrated by the transformation of the British Labour Party, the Agenda 2010 programme of the German SPD and the cost-cutting programme of the Greek PASOK. Below the surface, the anger of the population is growing. It will break through the existing framework of official politics and come into open conflict with the SPD, the Left Party and the trade unions.
243. The demands of the coming revolutionary epoch can only be met by a party that bases itself on the working class, is led by the most advanced political theory, has drawn the lessons of the past struggles of the international working class and bases its programme on a scientific understanding of the objective tendencies of social development. The International Committee of the Fourth International is the only political tendency whose political work rests on historical principles and is able to present its entire history to the working class. The social democrats, Stalinists, Pabloite tendencies and trade unions do everything they can to avoid examining their past, which is full of blunders and crimes, and to avoid any disturbance of their opportunist manoeuvres by historical principles. The International Committee will win the most determined, courageous and principled elements among workers and youth to its banner.
244. The Partei für Soziale Gleichheit will energetically promote the development of new and independent organisations for the working population and support them in the development of their programme and tactics. The growing social crisis will provoke numerous battles and forms of popular resistance. However, the decisive question remains the building of a new revolutionary leadership. Organising an international socialist movement of the working class, to bring the perspectives and history of Marxism to a new generation of workers and youth is the task of the Partei für Soziale Gleichheit and its sister parties in the International Committee of the Fourth International.
Against imperialist war and colonialism! Fourth International, Vol.19 Fall-Winter 1992.
Leon Trotsky, Imperialist War And The Proletarian World Revolution.