Welcome to ON THE BRINK, the new journal of the Workers’ International Network (WIN), which links activists across several countries.
Working people the world over are facing hard times and desperately searching for a way forward. Many have been marching, mobilising and striking. We need to link up in the struggle for a better world.
Today eight multi-billionaires own as much wealth as half the world’s population, who live on less than $2-50 a day, many of them on little more than a dollar a day. Two-thirds of the world’s wealth will soon be concentrated in the hands of the top 1%. And the more intelligent members of that 1% are feeling the ground shaking beneath their feet. One top US banker has asked nervously: “This is something billionaires are concerned about. At what point will society intervene and strike back?” A very good question. At the height of the Greek crisis, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, spelt out his fear that the current atmosphere throughout Europe was “the prelude to revolution”.
Marx and Engels once famously proclaimed: “a spectre is haunting Europe“. That spectre soon took on human flesh with the revolutions of 1848. Today, as these comments show, an even bigger spectre is haunting the whole world, and it is straining with every fibre to materialise.
That’s because the whole capitalist system is collapsing. It is now a decade since the economic catastrophe of 2008. The accumulated shortfall in the projected rise of world production since then is equivalent to the disappearance of the entire German economy. And still today there is only sluggish growth. Ten trillion dollars were injected into the world economy after the last recession, but still the capitalists have failed to make any meaningful productive investment. A huge ballast of loose cash is sloshing around, salted away in land, property, art works and asset-stripping. World trade is shrinking and threatens to collapse in the new era of protectionism and trade wars. Once a new recession comes, which it inevitably will, with interest rates already at little more than zero there are few options left to boost the economy.
Today’s crisis conjures up the nightmare of the 1930s. Capitalism can only weather this storm at the cost of economic collapse, environmental destruction, mass migration, brutal repression, civil war and ultimately a world war perhaps even more devastating than that of 1939-45. That is the prospect offered to us by the 1% – or, more precisely, the 0.1% – who own and run the world.
The ghost of fascism has sprung back to life, whipping up a choking cloud of xenophobia and racism. These are more dangerous times than any since the age of Auschwitz and Hiroshima. We know what horrors could lie in wait for us at the end of that road unless we change the system: concentration camps, gas chambers, tens of millions bombed and burned and slaughtered in world war. This is a very real threat. And even if it could be averted, under capitalism our planet could become uninhabitable.
And yet before this dying class can deliver its final blows, it will first have to contend with a worldwide movement of the 99%, above all the working class, who are only just beginning to rise to their feet.
The age of globalisation has transformed the world. In Europe, a newly pauperised working class living from hand to mouth in the so-called “gig economy”, in casual temporary self-employment or zero-hours contracts, is already beginning to spring into action using new means of struggle. Meanwhile, the heavy industrial battalions have relocated south and east. Of the world’s three billion wage workers, for every one worker in the West there are now five based in China, India, Russia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and South-East Asia. Crucially, it is women now who for the first time constitute the majority of this class and are often at the forefront of struggle, both as militant workers and, in their role as traditional custodians of the family, at the cutting edge of resistance to austerity attacks both on wages and welfare. Across the world, in the workplaces and on the streets, women are organising to fight for gender equality and to oppose sexual exploitation and oppression. The working class is now, for the first time ever, a majority of the world population.
That’s why the world is trembling on the brink of unprecedented upheavals. There has rarely been such volatility worldwide. For months now, there have been weekly uprisings throughout France. True, France has revolutionary traditions going back more than two centuries. But whichever direction you look you don’t have to go far to find the same story: full-scale uprisings involving tens or even hundreds of thousands in the streets, toppling their dictators. Look south, and watch the revolution in full swing in Algeria, Sudan and Zimbabwe, and a rising tide of strikes and protests in Iran; look west to Haiti and it’s the same story; look east, and you see workers and youth already beginning to fight back against the repressive right-wing governments of Hungary, Poland and Turkey. Revolution is bubbling to the surface.
Look at the evidence. 2014 saw the first ever general strike which transcended national barriers, throughout southern Europe. In 2017 and then again in 2018, 200 million workers in India participated in the two biggest general strikes in world history. 35 million workers in Brazil staged the biggest ever general strike in Latin America. There was a general strike in South Africa. Add to that the growing struggles of the new working class in China, rising to its feet in strikes, sit-ins, workplace blockades, occupations and demonstrations.
In recent years, we have seen the “Arab spring”, the movement of the Spanish “indignados”, fifty or more general strikes in Greece, and the worldwide Occupy movement, when anti-capitalist demonstrations were held in more than 950 cities in 82 countries, followed soon afterwards by general strikes in Greece, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Portugal, France, Hungary, Romania and beyond Europe in every continent.
Everywhere capitalism and its totems are hated. In Greece, in their historic referendum in 2015, two thirds of the population voted to defy the world’s bankers, and in an opinion poll 33% voted for “revolution”. Even in the USA, 54% of respondents in a survey last year voted yes to the idea of a “political revolution to redistribute money from the wealthiest Americans”. That included 68% of Afro-Americans, 65% of Hispanics, and 68% of young people under 30. 37% of Americans, and 49% of those under 30, now have a favourable view of socialism. Membership of the Democratic Socialist Alliance has soared from 5,000 to 50,000 almost overnight.
Yet where is the party that dares to challenge capitalism? There is a huge gaping vacuum.
The 99% still need to find a common voice. Where is their new united international movement going to come from? We see it everywhere straining to be born: in the anti-globalisation struggles at the turn of the millennium which mobilised young people across the continents to besiege the world’s bankers and politicians; in the 30 million who marched simultaneously in 2003 against the impending war on Iraq; in the occupy movement that spread across the world; in the millions on simultaneous public protests throughout Turkey, Brazil and Egypt in 2014 before they fell victim to the terrible repression was soon to descend upon them; in the southern European cross-border general strike in 2014; in the crowds that thronged the public spaces around the world: first in Tienanmen Square, Beijing, Palace Square in Bucharest, Wenceslas Square in Prague; then in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Puerta del Sol in Madrid, Placa de Catalunya in Barcelona, Syntagma Square in Athens, Zuccotti Park in New York, Causeway Bay in Hong Kong, Symphony Way in Cape Town, city squares in Oaxaca and Wisconsin and Santiago – all of them centres of concentrated protest for weeks on end, drawing into a common united front workers, students, women, youth, professionals, the self-employed, the unemployed, migrants. And the same thing is happening right now in Algiers, Khartoum and Port-au-Prince, where the working people are reclaiming the streets to carry through their revolution.
Who is to say that the embryo of such a movement is not gestating right now in the debates that are raging in workplaces, public squares, street corners and shanty towns across the world? In Athens the demonstrators were flying banners with defiant anti-capitalist slogans written not just in Greek but in English, Spanish, French, Italian and German, explicitly rallying the working people of Europe and calling on them to join their revolution. It was a conscious call for a new international. When tens of millions of workers and young people protest, on the same issues, with the same slogans, often on the same day in internationally synchronised action, then that means that in all but formal structure it is already beginning to materialise in front of our eyes. It is time to give it substance.
Above all, it is in the factories of China and their nascent underground trade unions that the future salvation of humankind could lie. Millions who previously worked in medieval conditions using the wooden plough have moved overnight into huge super-modern factories. There has been a meteoric growth of the proletariat. China now has well over 100 million industrial workers – more than twice as many as in all the G7 countries put together. As in Russia in the 1890s to 1905, peasants used to working with the wooden plough found themselves suddenly transplanted into huge factories operating the latest technology… with corresponding effects on their consciousness and combativity. That led to strikes, workers’ councils or Soviets, and revolution. Just as it was mainly the British trade unions which provided the foundation for the First International, the German labour movement the Second, the Russian workers the Third, so the Chinese workers could well be busily and silently creating the foundations for a new international.
As long ago as May Day 1890, the newly-formed Socialist International called a worldwide one-day general strike. The ruling class throughout Europe looked on in panic. Engels wrote with pride on that momentous day: “If only Marx were still by my side to see this with his own eyes!“
It is all the more necessary today to unite the struggles of the workers of all continents, social, gender and ethnic groups; to link with the environmentalist and anti-capitalist protest movements, and to build worldwide solidarity. The International that will emerge from the coming struggles could encompass hundreds of millions of men and women from all the continents. It could constitute the most formidable mass movement in history.
Climate change and global warming threaten the very survival of the human race. We have not only “a world to gain” but a world to save from annihilation. We need to learn from one another’s experiences and link up to mount a worldwide struggle for a better world.
It is our aim to make a modest contribution to this task, in print, online and in face-to-face discussion. You can play a vital part by reading our journal, writing for it, engaging in debate, attending our meetings and above all contributing your own ideas.