Comrades, I'd like to begin with the major world news of the day. In an international opinion poll of the Third World, which the International Olympic Committee essentially is, the winner was Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the outright loser was Chicago. This is an indication of the standing of Latin America in relation to the USA in global opinion today.
The general line of this report, presented by Jim McIlroy on behalf of the DSP National Executive, was adopted by the DSP National Committee on October 3, 2009.
It has been traditional practice to begin National Committee meetings and Congresses of the DSP (the Democratic Socialist Perspective and its predecessor the Democratic Socialist Party) with an international report. This sets the global framework for an analysis of the Australian political situation, and opens the way for discussion of our tasks for international solidarity work.
This is also part of the internationalist tradition of the DSP from our early origins in the anti-Vietnam War movement of the 1970s. We have always been the most internationalist left political tendency in Australia, and we expect that Socialist Alliance will continue in that tradition. We note that SA is already an internationalist organisation, with progressive positions on many international issues, and we expect that this trend will deepen and strengthen in the future.
This internationalist position derives in the first instance from the fundamental viewpoint that you can't have socialism within one country. Capitalism is an international system; socialism (and the survival of the planet) is a worldwide challenge.
The Greens have a slogan, "Think globally, act locally." I think that, properly interpreted, that slogan applies to the socialist movement as well. You have to build, within your own country, within your own circumstances, a green-socialist party and movement. In Australia, we need to build a eco-socialist party as part of a worldwide struggle for socialism of the 21st Century.
This report essentially builds on two previous reports to DSP NCs this year, one in January by Stuart Munckton, and one in June by Emma Murphy.
I am choosing Stuart's framework of four crises of capitalism, which encompasses the overall situation today. Number one is the ecological crisis. This report is not going to go deeply into the science of this crisis, which has been thoroughly covered elsewhere. But this crisis of climate change, unparalleled in human history, threatens the survival of life on this planet.
Second is the global financial and economic crisis, which is now almost a year old officially. This is the deepest international recession since the 1930s Depression.
How deep is it in reality? In what sense is there a "recovery'? Who will be made to pay? To what extent are the working people of the First World and the Third World fighting back? Can capitalism return to "normal"? What are the short-term and long-term effects of this economic crisis?
Third is the crisis of war and imperialist domination. Capitalism breeds war; it needs war. War is inevitable under imperialism.
At the moment, we have wars and occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and many other places. We have imperialist threats and an increasing militarisation in regard to Iran, Latin America, and various parts of Africa and Asia.
The fourth crisis is that of capitalist and neo-liberal political legitimacy. As Stuart stated in the January NC report:
"This is a slow-burning crisis, often low-level, and uneven globally. Obviously, it is much more advanced in Venezuela, or even Greece and a number of other European countries, than it is in Australia.
"This crisis refers to the lack of faith or trust in the system and its key institutions, in particular a mistrust and hostility towards corporations and corporate politicians. This underlying sentiment, bred by the experience of the effects of neo-liberalism especially, can break out onto the surface when it finds a focus (such as the anti-corporate globalisation movement that rose around the turn of the century, the process for change in Latin America, or more recently in the revolt in Greece).
"Part of the problem for capital is that this crisis predates the current crises of war, economic collapse and — to a degree — climate change. It is a crisis that can be expected to be greatly deepened in the current situation."
So we need to assess what has happened to this more long-term crisis for capitalism.
It's clear that the ecological crisis has a pervasive impact, and is increasingly linking together with the economic crisis. And on top of this, imperialism is bogged down in its war in Afghanistan.
So we have to assess what is the meaning of the change in US, and hence world, political leadership expressed in the change from Bush to Obama. How has that affected the international political situation? Is there no difference at all, as some on the left would argue?
Or as Fidel Castro has expressed, in the transitional formulation, the "Good Obama" and the "Bad Obama"; which face will we see today, or will we see both faces every day? Or in the variation by President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, there are the public faces of "Obama 1" and "Obama 2": and we need to highlight the contradiction between the two.
We know that the job description of US President hasn't changed: It is to defend the interests of US imperialism, and in the broader sense, world imperialism. But there are some tactical shifts in approach, compared to the all-out, George Bush approach of, "If you're not with us, you're with the terrorists."
We have to assess to what extent this might affect the tactics that might need to be adopted in the anti-imperialist and socialist movements internationally.
Environmental and climate change crisis
Looking at the environmental and climate change crisis, we need to stress that "Socialism or barbarism" has long been the slogan of the international socialist movement, since the time of Rosa Luxemburg, but now we're seeing the prospect of "socialism or ecological annihilation."
As we head toward the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December, we face some really stark choices and need to think about the realities facing the world political situation in this context.
Of course, the capitalists are trying to turn disaster into an opportunity, to make a market out of carbon. And there's an element of Lenin's dictum that, "The last capitalist sells the rope to hang the second last capitalist" in this situation.
The challenge before the world climate change movement, and the world socialist movement, is enormous.
The mind boggles when you read some of the statistics now before us:
Marian Wilkinson, writing in the September 22 Sydney Morning Herald, revealed:
"The world is now collectively planning to build so many coal-fired power stations over the next 25 years that their lifetime carbon emissions will equal the total of all the human coal-burning activities since the beginning of the industrial revolution."
Hello? Our rulers are planning to build all these new power stations at the very moment they are going to Copenhagen talking about reducing carbon emissions!
"If we continue business as usual, as many in the energy industry appear to be doing, scientists predict we are looking at a 5 to 6 degree rise in temperature by the end of this century, creating a world few of us would want to live in."
"The global climate talks are bogged down in an elaborate game of chicken with the players waiting to see who will blink first.
"With fewer than 80 days to Copenhagen the game is at a stand-off. But it's obvious that unless we all act together everyone will lose."
Other recent reports have stressed the absolutely disastrous situation we are facing.
As the Sydney Morning Herald noted on September 30, the British Meteorological Office has stressed that the effects of global warming will differ in different parts of the world. It found that "the increase this century could top 15 degrees in the Arctic and up to 10 degrees for parts of Africa.
"In Australia rainfall is projected to decline by a fifth or more along parts of the coast, causing worsening drought." Well, the drought and bushfire crisis in this country is already looking extremely dangerous for coming years. How much worse can it get?
In the current Green Left Weekly, September 30, 2009, Karl Miller summarises the possible outcomes from the Copenhagen Summit in December rather well. There are basically three options, he explained:
"The most necessary outcome, but almost impossible, is a real global agreement to take emergency action."
"This might include timelines for drastic reductions in carbon emissions, with the governments of the major economies legislating the speed of reduction, massively funding renewable energy investment, and donating large amounts of cash and training to poorer countries to help them achieve similar goals."
"The second possible outcome is there is no agreement at all. This is a situation Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and US President Barack Obama want to avoid, because it would probably result in a dramatic increase in the power of the climate movement as the masses of people demand serious action.
"So the third possibility, which Rudd and Obama and other capitalist leaders are working hard to achieve, is that an agreement is reached that looks good enough but changes relatively little."
This is the most likely outcome of Copenhagen.
The effects of climate change are already being felt in various parts of the world. Recently in Asia we have seen several natural disasters, not all of which can be directly attributed to climate change, such as the earthquakes and tsunamis in Samoa and Sumatra.
However, the results of tsunamis and landslides following earthquakes are being made much worse because of the impact of climate change.
Prior to this we saw the floods in the Philippines. According to Gwendolyn Pang, the chairwoman of the Philippines Red Cross, quoted in the September 28 SMH, rescuers were struggling to reach many areas, with many highways rendered impassable. "This has never happened before. Almost 80 per cent of metropolitan Manila is under water," Ms Pang said.
"The government's chief weather forecaster, Prisco Nilo, blamed climate change for the severity of the storm. He said that total rainfall for the nine-hour deluge was 41.6 centimetres, breaking the previous single-day record or 33.4 metres in July 1967."
These are just some recent examples, but we are seeing more of them. Another expert quoted recently said that the average in Asia for natural disasters was around 60 per year, but this had now climbed to 200 per year.
Clearly, climate change is having a drastic impact on this situation.
What response should the international anti-climate change movement make to the refusal of capitalist governments to take serious action on this crisis?
South African writer Patrick Bond, in an article reprinted in GLW, September 16, 2009, points to one serious option. He quotes University of Kwa-Zulu Natal honorary professor Dennis Brutus as advocating that, "Instead of a bad deal, we [should] all 'Seattle Copenhagen.' "
"In other words, the AU [African Union and other] insiders work with massed protesters outside to prevent the North from doing a deal in its interests, against Africa's and the planet's.
"A decade ago, that formula stopped the 1999 World Trade Organisation (WTO) Millenial Round from succeeding in Seattle through an alliance on the streets by environmentalists, unionists and many other campaigners combining with poor nation representatives inside the meeting opposing further adverse trade policies being forced on them.
"In 2003, the feat was repeated at the WTO Cancun meeting.
"To 'Seattle' Copenhagen would entail civil society protesting outside and African [and other Third World] governments working for [their] interests inside, to halt a dirty deal that makes matters worse.
"Even with less than 100 days to go, Brutus insists it's feasible. This would then allow us to move on to the real emissions reduction and alternative energy and production systems the world desperately needs."
These kinds of challenges to the climate change movement are going to happen more frequently, and we are going to have to look at responses. This challenge is very severe, because the climate change movement internationally is very diverse; suffers all sorts of ideological contradictions, with people coming from many different directions to join the movement.
But we are going to have to work hard to develop a real international climate change movement based on increased collaboration and mutual assistance, as well as a clear program of demands capable of tackling the severity of the climate emergency.
So what sort of situation are we likely to face after Copenhagen? Probably an emissions trading scheme on an international scale.
It's going to turn carbon emissions into a market. It's going to be a disaster like all the other markets.
We're going to see the effects of climate change worsen. There will be more floods and bushfires, as we are already seeing in Australia. There is going to be more destruction of natural habitat, and ruination of agriculture.
There will be mass dislocation of the population of Third World countries, including the forced evacuation of low-lying Pacific Islands.
Australian politicians claim they have a boat people problem now. How are they going to react when climate refugees start arriving in huge numbers?
There are going to be more wars for scarce resources. Climate change will become a political, economic and social crisis for the capitalist system. It will increasingly feed into the ongoing economic crisis. The environmental crisis will dramatically worsen a growing food shortage on a world scale.
So we in the socialist movement will have to play a key role in building that international movement to tackle climate change. The radical current will grow, including an increasing debate over mass action versus ultra-left individualism.
All this will mean that the movement for Socialism of the 21st Century (as advanced so strongly within Latin America) will need to be greened, and that the green movement will have to be socialised. We need to show the climate change movement that the only way to save the planet is to take power out of the hands of big capital.
This is what we are already starting to tackle through the work of Socialist Alliance in Australia.
The second major problem of our time is the financial/economic crisis. This crisis spread from a collapse of the banking system to a broader global recession on a huge scale.
A key point that Emma's report to the June NC made is that the working people of the Third World, as well as the First World, are going to be made to pay for this crisis, unless they can defeat the escalating attacks they are facing.
Have the capitalists learned anything from this crisis? Are they making any significant changes to the operations of their system?
Peter Hartcher, in an article in the September 22 SMH, entitled, "Greed is God again, and we have learned nothing," argues otherwise.
"New Zealand's conservative Prime Minister John Key, a former investment banker, summed up the state of the world financial system brilliantly during a recent visit to Sydney: 'Six months ago, The Wall Street Journal came to interview me and asked if capitalism is dead. Now Goldman Sachs is paying record bonuses.'
"After a near-death experience, the world financial system is returning to business as usual — only worse.
"The big investment banks, and Goldman Sachs is the biggest of them, have feasted on public money and now, restored to strength, are throwing themselves back into the markets as recklessly as ever — only more so.
"Goldman's, like most banks and investment banks around the world, has just seen what happens if you take absurdly dangerous risks. Answer: you make out like bandits.
"Moral hazard [a strange concept where capitalist banking is concerned], already big before the crisis, has become giant. The G20 will pretend that curbing bankers' pay and raising capital requirements will solve the problem. It will not. The incentive to take maximum risk has only increased.
"It's a failure of central bankers around the world. So guess who has been left to fix it? Central bankers. So far, they are not making much headway.
"Yet, until these problems are fixed, we simply guarantee that, in five or 10 years, we will see another global financial crisis, but probably on a bigger scale."
They are merely building up toward an even bigger explosion. The banks now know that governments will not allow them to fail, because of the danger of collapse of the entire world financial system. So they can continue to plunder the private and public purse to a degree unprecedented in history.
And behind all this is the analysis of what's happening to the capitalist system overall.
There's a very good interview with John Bellamy Foster, whom we know very well from his talks to the Climate Change | Social Change Conference last year, reprinted recently in Links magazine.
"The 'Great Financial Crisis' and the 'Great Recession' that followed close upon it has uncovered the depth of the contradictions facing capitalism in this phase, labelled 'monopoly-finance capital.' Specifically, the overall crisis has revealed that capitalism, at its vital core, is caught in a stagnation-financialisation trap with no visible way out.
"The geopolitical implications of course are vast….
"Behind all of this is an accumulation system that is increasingly geared to finance rather than production. There is no doubt that the policy priority at the centre at present is to restore the financial status quo ante — that is, to promote financialisation or a new series of financial bubbles. This, however, is a reflection of the corruption of the entire accumulation process of capital. We can speak today not only of the financialisation of capitalism, but also the financialisation of imperialism, in the sense that financial control of the periphery is the central economic issue, and the main lever of the centre, backed up in the end by military power. Samir Amin, in particular, saw this coming, emphasising how the centre continues to control the periphery financially, technologically and militarily, even in the face of some industrial advance in the South."
"[The financial crisis] is the big question in the United States. There is no doubt that the economic crisis is so serious as potentially to threaten the stability of the ruling capitalist regime. So far there is no evidence of a serious rift at the top. Capital as a whole seems to be united in this crisis in bailing out the financial system and restoring what Henry Kaufman, one of the leading financial analysts in the US, has called 'the financial-industrial complex.'"
To summarise the status of the economic crisis: Essentially, "recovery" is a false dawn. Even the latest stock market figures from the last few days show a falling back from the partial recovery of the market over the last six months or so.
They call it merely a "correction," but many commentators are predicting there will be a second recession.
The fundamentals of the capitalist economy are in deep trouble. As Karl Marx pointed out, you can't keep the money economy (or the financial economy) and the real economy separated indefinitely. Bubbles will burst.
In order to finance their stimulus packages to achieve temporary restabilisation, the ruling class have created a massive increase in public and private debt. The public debt in the US is predicted to reach 80 per cent of GDP. This is the basis of a disaster waiting to happen.
They can't rely on China to pull the world capitalist system out of recession. If the US economy collapses China will face the loss of its major export market, and its production of consumer goods will plummet.
Highlighting so-called economic "greenshoots" is grasping at straws. The capitalist economists and politicians have an interest in boosting public expectations, because of the danger of a fall in consumer confidence.
This public relations exercise is basically a fraud on the peoples of the world. The reality is that the ruling class seek to pay for their crisis by launching a massive offensive against the living standards and rights of working people and poor of the Third World and the advanced capitalist countries.
We need a political solution. Either the working people are going to fight back and challenge the imposition of this economic burden (debt, unemployment, wage cuts etc) on themselves, or the ruling class will enforce neoliberal solutions on the oppressed through blood and fire.
The stakes in this fight are enormous. The tasks of socialists have never been more vital than now.
War and imperialist domination
The third crisis is that of war and imperialist domination. Imperialism continues to escalate its war drive, with some changes, over the past six months. The Afghan war is a quagmire (without mud, just sand) for the US, NATO and Australia.
It is a war for resources, for geopolitical advantage and for continued military-political hegemony over the region, including Pakistan.
A very apt article in the SMH on September 30, by Geoffrey Garrett, is headed: "Afghanistan starting to look like Obama's Vietnam."
"Amid all the heady diplomacy at the United Nations and the G20 last week, one issue was conspicuous by its absence — Afghanistan. The reason is clear. Afghanistan is now Barack Obama's war, a war other world leaders want to distance themselves from, and a war over which Obama is paralysed….
"The facts on the ground are grim — the resurgence of the Taliban, the corruption of the Karzai government, the illegitimacy of the election victory, the spectre of a resurgent al-Qaeda on the border with unstable and nuclear armed Pakistan …
"Obama is a much weaker president today. Average Americans blame him for not doing enough to protect their jobs and wages while bailing out Wall Street without doing anything to rein in their multimillion dollar bonuses. Obama is under siege from the left and the right over his efforts to reform America's parlous health-care system….
"Afghanistan was eclipsed first by the Iraq war, then by the global financial crisis, and now by health care in the minds of average Americans. But they finally seem poised to start paying attention to what has been the US's forgotten war. They are sick and tired of war. They are worried that their country is broke. They are no longer willing to give their new president the benefit of the doubt.
"In terms of America's global credibility, Obama cannot afford to be seen to lose in Afghanistan. Neither can he afford whatever it takes to win. The war is looking ever more like his Vietnam."
It's a trap. The Afghan war is something that Obama inherited from Bush, but he now has fully and aggressively taken it on.
Obama now faces a dilemma similar to Shakespeare's MacBeth: "I am in blood stepped so far that returning were as tedious as go o'er."
This year has been the bloodiest in terms of foreign troops killed since 2001 with more than 300 dead in Afghanistan.
SMH correspondent Paul McGeogh wrote on September 5-6, "The failing American-led military effort costs US$100 million (A$120 million) a day so that a mere $7 million reconstruction aid might be spent daily."
"For the past five years, [Afghan President] Karzai has indulged his cronies — warlords, drug barons and an army of corrupt officials — in the knowledge that Washington could not walk away. The next five might be the same."
'In the past two years, Gallup polls have found, the number of Americans who think it was a mistake to send troops to Afghanistan in the first place has almost doubled to 42 per cent. A CBS News poll this week found American public support for increased US troops to Afghanistan was down from 39 per cent in April to just 25 per cent. 'War exhaustion,' says Andrew Bacevic of Boston University.
"There is irony, as much as danger, in Barack Obama relying on Republican support to push ahead with what is seen as Washington's war of necessity — as opposed to George Bush's war of choice in Iraq."
Meanwhile, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal, said: "Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term [next 12 months] — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."
He is urging President Obama to send up to 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, to mirror the "surge" strategy employed recently in Iraq.
There are divisions in US ruling circles on Afghanistan, with figures like Vice-President Joe Biden calling for a cutback in forces there, and instead an attack on supposed al-Qaeda bases in Pakistan — essentially a declaration of war on that country.
There is no easy solution for the US and Western ruling classes in Afghanistan. They face the serious danger of both military and political defeat — which would set back the imperialist war drive for years to come in a very drastic manner.
Iraq is now the "Forgotten War". Afghanistan was the Forgotten War for a few years after the invasion of Iraq, but the positions now appear to be reversed.
The occupation of Iraq continues, but the gradual reduction in US and foreign troops is likely to reach a tipping point in terms of the political-military situation there, where there is going to be a substantial challenge to the puppet regime. So there will not continue forever to be an effective stalemate, with the US-dominated regime facing de-stabilisation in the medium term.
We will see the re-launch of political struggle, and options for the future of Iraq, in which the Iraqi people will eventually have their say. The US may find themselves in a dilemma in which, having pulled out a significant number of troops, they may have to consider a return to the "surge" tactic, in order to retain control of the situation.
While there has not been a genuine US withdrawal from Iraq, with huge super-bases remaining, such as the infamous Green Zone in Baghdad, the direct intervention of US forces has been lessened. But the political option of a new "surge" in troops would be extremely difficult for the Obama and future US governments, in the face of deepening war weariness at home.
Major questions in Iraq remain unresolved, such as the struggle for ownership and control of the country's vast oil reserves. The majority of the Iraqi people clearly want control of Iraqi oil and its wealth to be genuinely in the hands of Iraq, not stolen by Western oil corporations.
The intersecting national and religious questions remain largely unresolved, and are very likely to re-surface in the next period.
Nationalist resistance to US occupation is crucial. It will undoubtedly grow stronger in future as residual US occupation is made indefinite.
The stalemate continues between Israel and the Palestinians, as Obama's stated grand vision of Middle East peace and a workable two-state solution seems as far away as ever. Obama has speeches in Cairo and again in Africa promising a new era for the oppressed and poverty-stricken Third World, but nothing has happened to change the situation.
Obama has promised to support the creation of an independent state for the Palestinians, but on the ground Israel is building thousands of new houses, extending the Jewish settlements on the West Bank, and merely further entrenching the status quo. This is further limiting any realistic basis for an independent Palestinian state.
Meanwhile, the Israeli attacks on Gaza continue, with deaths of civilians and children, and the maintenance of a criminal blockade of a whole population.
On the other side of the equation, the Israeli "apartheid" analogy is gaining increased traction around the world, and the movement in support of the Palestinians is becoming significantly stronger.
The BDS campaign is gaining more support internationally. Unions in Britain have endorsed the campaign. A cultural boycott of Israeli-funded events, including film festivals in Australia, has gained momentum.
The dilemma for imperialism is that the continuing failure to achieve a settlement of the Palestine question means ongoing instability in the Middle East as a whole. But the US and Europe are unable to move against Israel in any meaningful way, given its historic role at the core of imperialist Middle East policy since after World War II.
This creates a permanent contradiction, as the Palestinian people refuse to give in to Israel. The ongoing Intifada is a challenge to imperialism and also to international solidarity for people's movements around the world.
The popular democratic upsurge which has taken place in Iran over the last few months following the controversial elections there in June represents a growing challenge to the repressive Islamic regime there. The protest movement has been very broad, encompassing left, popular and working class sectors, over to centre and right-wing elements, including some dissident former sectors of the regime.
We are beginning to see cracks in the regime, and the entry of union and working-class sectors into the struggle will be vital to the outcome. The democratic movement seems likely to eventually bring down the clerical regime, and it is important at this stage that the left and progressive sectors be strengthened, so that any alternative movement is not confined to the kind of "coloured revolution" with pro-capitalist leadership which characterised the anti-bureaucratic upsurges of East Europe in the 1990s.
On the other side, we are also seeing an anti-imperialist conflict centred on Iran with escalating Western threats against Iran over the nuclear issue. It is necessary to support the right of Iran and other Third World governments to make their own decisions over energy needs, as well as defence.
This includes the right to obtain nuclear power and even nuclear weapons — even though we would most likely not advocate this course. However, the offensive against Iran over the nuclear issue is primarily a scare campaign designed to assist imperialism's war drive in the Middle East and Central Asia.
There is absolutely no proof, and little evidence, that Iran is seeking to construct nuclear weapons. In any case, the campaign is totally hypocritical. What about the nuclear weapons possessed by Israel, India, and Pakistan? What about the huge nuclear arsenal held by the US, Britain and others? Who are the real "state terrorists" today?
A notable report reprinted in the October 2 SMH was headed, "Diplomats, inspector split on Iran weapons." It stated, "The chief weapons inspector of the United Nations, Mohamed El Baradei, has reiterated he had seen 'no credible evidence' that Iran was developing nuclear weapons and rejected British allegations that a weapons program had been under way for at least four years."
In the end, it is essential to support the right of Iran to determine its own needs in defending itself against imperialist attack.
Sri Lanka/Tamil struggle
The defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May this year was a decisive turning point in the Tamil struggle for national self-determination in Sri Lanka. This disaster opens a new stage in the national struggle of the Tamil people.
New information, provided during a recent DSP pre-congress discussion in Sydney, reveals the key role of US military advisers in pushing the Sri Lankan government toward a ruthless offensive aimed at crushing the Tamil Tigers once and for all. This flows from the geo-political aims of the US in securing crucial Indian Ocean sea lanes for imperialism.
There has also been competition from China, which also gave substantial military aid to the SL armed forces in the final stage of the campaign.
Now the Tamil struggle has entered a new phase. The immediate campaign must focus on defence of basic human rights, release and resettlement of the IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) currently held in SL government concentration camps, an end to murders, torture, rapes, and provision of basic housing, food and drinking water to the Tamil people under brutal occupation.
This presents a vital role for international solidarity movement, in which the DSP and SA are playing a significant part.
There is also a need for us to undertake work to help convince the revolutionary governments in Latin America, including Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia to cease support for the Sri Lankan regime, and to recognise the national rights of the Tamil people.
There is a long-run danger if revolutionary governments, for whatever reason, fail to support genuine movements for national self-determination in Third World countries, and endorse repressive regimes on the basis of a bogus "anti-imperialism" (such as Zimbabwe, Iran, Sri Lanka, China on Tibet, etc), against the democratic struggles of oppressed peoples.
The US and Europe
The election of Barack Obama as president has meant the polarisation of politics in the United States. It follows on the total discrediting of George W Bush at home and abroad toward the end of his term, as a result of growing opposition to the war in Iraq, combined with the financial and economic crash.
What is happening in domestic politics in the US is quite complex. The election of Obama as the first Black president is a significant event in US history. But he remains a Democrat, whose aim is to restabilise US imperialism, as a slightly more kindly and humane face of capitalism than the Bush Republican regime.
The role of US president remains the same: to lead US and world imperialism, and do whatever it takes to defend the fortunes of the system at home and abroad.
With the economic crisis and the ecological crisis, we will see an increasing polarisation of politics in the advanced capitalist countries, especially the US and Europe.
Obama shows a new face of the US presidency to the world, after the Bush disaster. In the initial instance, there was widespread optimism and illusions in Obama within the US and around the world.
But now, less than a year into his term, the problems for Obama have mounted up. His popularity among the US public has declined.
The big issues are: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the economic recession, with rising unemployment and falling living standards in the US; health care reform, which seems as far away as ever because of the deeply entrenched opposition of special interest groups.
There is massive hostility from the far right, which regards the most modest public health care measures proposed by Obama as "socialism". It almost seems that public health care is a transitional demand in the US — it may not be achieved except as part of the socialist revolution there!
The racist right has become more mobilised again. They just can't accept the reality of a Black president in the US.
In the end, the class struggle in the US is vital for a solution to the world economic and ecological crises. While developments are relatively slow, there are increasing signs of a revival of social struggle in the US.
This could be the sleeper factor in international politics, which may play an escalating role in coming years as the entwined crises of economy and climate change deepen.
In Europe, there is also a sharpening polarisation of politics as the twin crises hit home. While the racist far right has been strengthened, as indicated by the recent European Union elections, there have also been important gains by some sections of the left.
There are worrying signs of an increased anti-immigrant and refugee push across Europe, using the "blame the victim" mentality to target the most vulnerable sectors of the population.
There have been mixed results of recent European national elections, with the Christian Democrats soundly defeating the Social Democrats in Germany, but the Socialists winning in Portugal. Most recently, the Socialists have had a resounding victory in Greece.
Overall, Social Democracy is in deep crisis in Europe, with the German and French Socialists in disarray, and the Labour Party facing devastating defeat in Britain.
The polarisation has led to gains for the left and progressive movement in Europe as well. In Germany, there were strong gains for the Left Party (Die Linke), while in Portugal, the Left Bloc received significant support.
The most important development on the left in Europe in the last year has been the foundation of the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA) in France. Taking into account all the differences between conditions in France and Australia, the general approach taken with the NPA is comparable to our tactic of building the Socialist Alliance in Australia.
The project is to reach out with the socialist alternative to a broader audience in an advanced capitalist country under current, complex conditions.
Resistance to the capitalist offensive
The ruling classes are seeking to impose the main burden of the economic and ecological crises on the working classes of the First World and the masses of the Third World. What signs of fight back are we seeing to this renewed neoliberal offensive on an international scale?
So far, the so-called "recovery" and the economic "greenshoots" are largely cosmetic. The long-term impacts of the bank bail-outs and the massive government "stimulus" packages are still to be fully felt.
There has been some recovery by world stock markets, the fundamentals of the real capitalist economy are still fragile. The "re-regulation" proposals by the G20 and by individual capitalist governments are basically public relations exercises.
The recession continues in the US and Europe. Unemployment continues to rise, approaching 10 per cent in the USA.
Reliance on China to lead a recovery of the major capitalist economies is extremely dubious, as China depends on a strong consumer market in the West for its manufacturing industry to thrive.
What signs are we seeing of resistance and a concerted fight back among the labour movements of the First World? It is realistic to say that this has been limited so far.
But this is a slow burn situation. The resistance will no doubt build as the true implications of the depth of the crisis are revealed over time.
The debt burdens in the advanced capitalist countries are astronomical. The major part of the impact of the crisis will be long term. In addition to phenomenal public debt amounting to trillions of dollars, household debt, home mortgages, and credit card debt is rising — deeply affecting working class families most of all. Interest rates are set to increase again.
Hidden unemployment, as well as under-employment, is a major factor in reducing living standards of working people on a wide scale.
But the beginnings of fight backs are occurring in Europe, as well as the US, and are likely to increase in coming years as the full effects of the recession are felt. Mass struggles in France and elsewhere in Europe, strikes and factory occupations in Britain and Ireland, and various forms of struggle in other countries are a sign of things to come.
Just as in the 1930s Depression, the major radicalisation, and the biggest struggles are likely to break out in the period after the lowest point of the economic crisis, when popular expectations are starting to rise again.
Latin America is in the vanguard of the resistance to the international neoliberal offensive. First and foremost is the Bolivarian revolution of Venezuela, led by President Hugo Chavez, together with Bolivia, Ecuador, and of course Cuba in the 50th anniversary of the victory of its revolution.
We are seeing the growing unity and strength of this Bolivarian process. The Bolivian revolution, centred on the world's first Indigenous government led by Evo Morales, has overall consolidated itself during 2009, after the attempted right-wing coup failed during 2008.
In Ecuador, despite problems and contradictions, the Citizens' Revolution continues under the presidency of Rafael Correa.
Cuba is this year celebrating the 50th anniversary of its revolution, and half a century of successful resistance to the criminal US blockade. The transition of leadership from Fidel Castro to Raul has consolidated during 2009.
While there has been a general continuity of policy, debates have occurred within the Cuban Communist Party about the best way forward for the Cuban Revolution. There has clearly been no stepping back in commitment to the revolution by the great majority of the Cuban people.
ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for Latin America) has led the integration and unity process in LA and the Caribbean. During 2009, ALBA has become a genuine alternative centre of international leadership in opposition to US imperialism and its puppet governments in Latin America.
In the face of increased challenges on the international and domestic fronts, the Venezuelan Revolution has continued to move forward during this year. Confronting new military threats from the US and its front government in Colombia, Venezuela has been defiant.
In response to the move to establish five new US military bases (seven in total) in Colombia, as a direct threat to Venezuela, President Chavez called for the creation of "peace bases" to counter the aggression. On the other hand, he has purchased new armaments from Russia to ensure the defence capability of Venezuela's armed forces.
At home, Chavez has moved decisively to confront challenges to the Bolivarian revolution. Fred Fuentes noted, in an illuminating article in GLW, September 30, 2009, entitled: "Economic crisis sparks new measures, structures".
"Faced with the growing impact of the global economic crisis, Washington's intentions to establish seven military bases in Colombia and growing challenges in solving structural problems, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez reaffirmed the need to build a new state.
"Chavez explained: 'We have inherited a capitalist state that serves the interests of the bourgeoisie and is still penetrated by interests contrary to the revolution.'
"'We need to carry out an internal shake up of the government structures,' Chavez said on September 19 during the second Expanded Council of Ministers meeting, which also involved governors and mayors aligned with the Bolivarian revolution."
"The meeting was called to discuss a series of new measures the revolutionary government plans to announce in coming weeks to confront some of the challenges it faces on the economic, political and social fronts."
Chavez talked of serious challenges facing the Bolivarian revolution, including problems with the public health social mission, the Barrio Adentro program. He said an "emergency situation" existed in the health sector, with some 2000 Mission Barrio Adentro medical clinics no longer functioning due to "neglect on the part of everyone."
"Measures are being taken to urgently reinforce the current Barrio Adentro workforce of some 30,000 Cuban doctors and other health professionals, including newly trained Venezuelan doctors and specialists.
"Chavez emphasised on September 17 that these plans had to go hand-in-hand with the strengthening of popular organisations.
"'The communal councils have to reactivate and commit themselves to this revitalisation… because the role of the communes and communal councils are vital for consolidating its success."
"Chavez announced the transfer of almost US$57 million for more than 330 projects decided on by local communal councils and communes."
Comrades would no doubt have already heard Daniel Sanchez and Yoly Fernandez's very inspiring talks about the development and activities of the communal councils and communes during their recent Venezuelan "people's power" tour of Australia.
Chavez has also stressed the need to strengthen the public banking sector in Venezuela:
"These include the creation of a new ministry and the Venezuelan Public Banking Corporation (BCV) to restructure and regulate the banking sector….
"Chavez [also] demanded stricter regulation of the private banking sector, and noted that this sector 'continues, almost entirely, to not comply fully with its role of financial intermediary.'
"He called on [state] governors to present productive projects for the creation of 'mixed companies between the national state, the workers and the regional states in order to continue creating a new public sector based on social property.'"
Finally, we should mention an event which will no doubt be important for the development and strengthening of the revolutionary movement in Latin America: the upcoming Conference of Left Parties in Caracas in October. We will have Fred Fuentes and Kiraz Janicke there representing the DSP and Socialist Alliance.
Their reports on the work of the conference will give us a much better idea of the progress of the left and revolutionary forces in Latin America right now.
Honduras: the empire strikes back!
Last, but very importantly, there is the struggle in Honduras. In many ways, this is a litmus test for the Latin American revolutionary process.
Imperialism has been unable to halt the revolutionary upsurge in LA over the past five years, as it has spread out from the beachhead in Venezuela. And earlier this year, we saw the victory in El Salvador when the FMLN defeated the far-right ARENA party in the March presidential elections after 20 years of struggle.
Now the US rulers have drawn a line in the sand on Honduras. It has been reported that the US and the right wing were originally contemplating a coup in El Salvador, but decided it was not feasible in the current political climate there.
The US-backed coup in Honduras has been designed to halt, or at least, hold up the revolutionary wave sweeping Latin and Central America — which has been a symbol and an inspiration to peoples all around the Third World.
In a recent interview, Hugo Chavez, answering a question about how the change from President Bush to President Obama had affected US policy toward Latin America, said, "It's worse." When Chavez talks about Obama 1 and Obama 2, it's a tactic to put pressure on the US leadership to really act on their promises, exposing their playing a double game all the time.
For example, on Honduras, Obama and the US have formally condemned the military takeover and supported the return of President Zelaya to office, but acted contrary to this by continuing to support and fund the coup regime behind the scenes.
The most important aspect of the Honduras events is that, in contrast to the aims and expectations of the coup-makers and the US, the coup has detonated a mass popular insurrection. Fidel Castro has commented that, "A revolution is in the making in Honduras."
In some ways, Honduras had been — possibly incorrectly — viewed as the weak link of the progressive movement in Central America, being the main long-term base for US intervention in that region. In any case, Honduras has now jumped into the forefront of the revolutionary movement in Central America, with barricades thrown up throughout the poor barrios, and a permanent popular mobilisation over a period of several months since the coup in June.
The Honduras coup is the most obvious aspect of a renewed process of militarisation of Latin America, propelled from Washington. This was previously reflected in a military escalation several years ago when the US revived the Fourth Fleet, patrolling LA and the Caribbean — a naval force which had been mothballed since the late 1940s.
This militarisation drive has recently been sharply intensified with the proposal for seven (five new) US military bases in Colombia — aimed primarily at Venezuela, but also at other neighbouring Latin American countries. It followed the closure of the large US base at Manta in Ecuador, on the order of President Correa.
In response, President Chavez has called for the establishment of "peace bases" on the Venezuelan border with Colombia, and justifiably moved to reinforce Venezuela's defences, including new armaments from Russia.
What we are now facing is an increased challenge to step up our Latin American solidarity work. We are now seeing the escalation of direct military threats to the Venezuelan and other revolutions in Latin America by the US, on a scale not seen since the coup in Venezuela in 2002.
A potential decisive crunch point in the Latin American struggle is approaching. The result of the Honduran crisis will be vital for the future of that struggle.
A victory for the Honduran masses would deal a major blow against US imperialism, and would provide a new impetus to the revolutionary process in Latin America as a whole. Defeat would be a harsh blow to that process.
Meanwhile, the US and its right-wing allies in Latin America are hoping to win back some ground with possible electoral victories in countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Chile, which have centre-left governments not fully committed to the revolutionary process.
In summary, the next year will see further vital tests for the Latin American revolutions. We must be prepared to increase our solidarity work, and to meet any new threats and attacks on this process, which is a beacon to the entire world revolution today.
Class balance of forces
Where does the international balance of class forces stand today?
With the change from Bush to Obama, there has been a partial shift in tactics by US and world imperialism. But the fundamental problems remain: the ecological and economic crises, the quagmire in Afghanistan, and unresolved occupation of Iraq.
We are seeing a blatant contradiction between rhetoric and reality with the Obama presidency, with a more double-games and two-faced policies in the world arena.
For example, on Palestine, where Obama has promised peace, but Israeli aggression continues unabated. And on Honduras, where the US pretends to oppose the coup, but manoeuvres to prevent a popular government being installed to replace the military regime.
And, on the militarisation of Latin America, Washington has escalated its threats under Obama, even compared to Bush.
What is the state of resistance to imperialist attacks on an international scale?
While the political resistance is led by the struggles in Latin America, and elsewhere in the Third World, we are starting to see signs of a fight back by sectors of the working class in the First World.
In Europe and the US, there has been a limited mobilisation of the labour movement and other sectors in the face of the financial-economic crisis. Signs of militant struggles have appeared in factory occupations in Britain and Ireland, and popular mobilisations in France and elsewhere.
The fight back against the effects of the world recession is likely to be more slow-burning, as the full implications of the debt burden and other long-term attacks on living standards of the working class become more apparent on a broad scale.
The international antiwar movement is in a lull, and facing a challenge to revive itself.
A big question is what is going to happen to the US antiwar movement, which has been sidelined in the early phase of the Obama administration, but is now showing signs of renewal.
Finally, on the crucial question of the ecological crisis, we will see after Copenhagen if the international climate change movement can respond effectively to mobilise the undoubted increasing popular sentiment for radical action to save the planet.
Crisis of neo-liberalism
In summary, a realistic framework for viewing the options flowing from these multiple crises of capitalism is provided by the Argentinean Marxist Claudio Katz, in an interview given in July this year.
The exit from the systemic crisis of capitalism needs to be political and "a socialist project can mature in this turbulence," Katz stated. He warned that the "global economic situation is very serious and is going to have to hit bottom, and now we are in the first stage of crisis."
"I think that the big problem is definitely political, because all major economic crises to date have been resolved positively or negatively along political paths, depending on whether or not popular majorities were involved in the process. This is a very deep crisis that neo-liberals have tried to minimise by blaming 'greed', in that way veiling financial speculation. Also, heterodox economists present the crisis as a failure of regulation.
"But this is a crisis of the system, a crisis of capitalism. And it seems to me that it is a crisis of the capitalist model of the last 20 or 25 years, the neo-liberal model, whose consequences we are seeing now. We had two, three decades of the complete neo-liberal program: privatisation, deregulation, expansion of the scope of transnational corporations to the former Soviet Union, China, to the whole planet. And now we see the consequences of this expansion of capital, overproduction, over accumulation, and the resulting poverty, misery and unemployment — which the International Labour Organisation has predicted shall be very burdensome in the coming years. So it seems to me we are in the first moment of this crisis, the beginning of the crisis, the debut."
"Yes, we are going to have to hit rock bottom, and especially the people of Europe and the United States, who are not accustomed — unlike the Latin Americans — to such economic disasters. They will have to process this and it will take a while. Recall that the latter decades of neo-liberalism have weakened trade unions in developed countries, politically and ideologically weakened the left — the progressive forces in Europe and the United States — and they will have to reconstruct the experience of social mobilisation. We are beginning to see this, more in Europe than in the United States. In France, in Greece, in countries where there have been popular mobilisations, their climate is already changing. But we are going to have several years of unemployment, poverty, and social exclusion, and we will have to see how people react."
Katz goes on to add that the radical changes happening in Latin America have been based on the peoples' previous experiences of struggling against neo-liberal attacks over recent decades.
"There was resistance to neoliberalism and the resistance moreover had results. We had uprisings in many countries and have new governments — Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador — which have changed the agenda of Latin American societies."
While the process of revolutionary change in Latin America faces many challenges, the struggle for popular power and social change continues. The big question over the next period will be how will the workers' and people's movements in the First World react to the escalating neo-liberal attacks they are facing, and how strong the fight back can be built.
This will be the test of the next period of world politics: how strong a movement can be constructed against the economic and ecological crises, encompassing both the Third World and the First World.
Anti-war work proposals:
To motivate to Socialist Alliance national executive and national conference 2010:
(i) Continue to pursue the troops out of Afghanistan campaign given that this is Australian imperialism's main overseas troop deployment. Specifically, support the protests on and around October 8, and seek to continue to broaden the discussions within the union movement and social movement institutions about joining the call for the troops to leave. Consider holding snap actions if the Rudd government announces new troop deployment to Afghanistan.
(ii) Continue to seek out opportunities to raise the global BDS campaign — in particular the institutional and academic boycott — through the union movement. Look into a possible plan with union conveners and look to publicise on the anniversary of the Gaza assault when the international "Gaza Freedom March" takes place at the end of 2009-2010.
(iii) Continue to relate to the Students for Palestine on campuses while they are attracting good independent students.
(iv) Continue to be on the look-out for opportunities to link up in solidarity with communities under siege from their national ruling classes, backed by imperialism, such as the Tamil people's struggle for a separate homeland. Continue to support Tamil events, including hosting them at our functions, and help publicise the ongoing campaign for justice.
(v) Continue to do what we can to assist the Iranian comrades' endeavors to relate to the Australian union movement (this particularly applies to Sydney).
(vi) Hold an anti-war activists gathering (perhaps with key union comrades to better coordinate our work) at the 2010 Socialist Alliance national conference and organise national hook-ups a needed — either in concert with the Socialist Alliance national executive, or separately. Continue to use the Socialist Alliance anti-war activists yahoogroup to share information about the campaigns.
(vii) Continue to publicise our work in this anti-war movement in the pages of Green Left Weekly and seek to use the paper to politicise our allies and other activists as to the causes of the wars in which Australia and other imperialist countries are involved.
Latin America solidarity work proposals:
Motion: To adopt the proposals from the Latin America solidarity work sub-report:
(i) Strive to build strong, independent AVSN "bases" in Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne, including conducting a serious AVSN membership and affiliations campaign this year, on the back of the Daniel Sanchez and Yoly Fernandez speaking tour. In other cities, within the resources available, use national AVSN projects (speaking tours, brigades, nationally coordinated actions and media statements, etc) to maintain an AVSN profile and network of supporters, and build independent AVSN committees as possible.
(ii) Strengthen united action in solidarity with struggles in Latin America by seeking opportunities to create broader Latin America solidarity coalitions, like the Latin America Social Forum in Sydney.
(iii) While working to maintain and build the AVSN as an independent organisation, work to also strengthen the Socialist Alliance's location in broader Latin America solidarity networks/discussions/ activities, including by:
a) encouraging Socialist Alliance branches to organise membership educationals, public forums, film festivals, etc, on Latin America where appropriate;
b) disbanding the current DSP Latin America solidarity work fractions (national and branch) and encouraging all Socialist Alliance branches to establish a Latin America solidarity work committee to discuss and plan not only Venezuela solidarity, but Latin America solidarity as a whole;
c) identifying and seeking to actively involve other Socialist Alliance members in this area of work;
d) more consciously using of the national Socialist Alliance Latin America solidarity yahoogroup to enable more SA members to discuss the solidarity activity; and
e) ensuring that the Socialist Alliance, not only the AVSN, is an integral part of any broader Latin America solidarity coalitions that are formed.
(iv) Use Green Left Weekly's excellent coverage of Latin America to strengthen the interrelated building of Latin America solidarity, the Socialist Alliance and GLW distribution, including by:
a) making a push this year for GLW subscriptions amongst Latin America solidarity organisations and activists; and
b) proceeding as soon as possible to publish a regular Spanish-language insert in GLW, in collaboration with the Latin America Social Forum and other Spanish-speaking leftists who are interested.
(v) Endorse and help implement the concrete projections for building solidarity with the Venezuelan revolution adopted at the AVSN National Consultation on August 30, 2009.