By KEITH LESLIE
Below is a section of the oral Political Report, dealing with international issues, which Keith Leslie presented to the Socialist Resurgence national membership meeting on March 13. We earlier published another section of the report, which can be found here: https://socialistresurgence.org/2021/03/18/u-s-ruling-class-grasps-for-temporary-solutions-to-long-term-problems/
The COVID-19 pandemic and recession continues to be a defining feature of global politics. The worldwide death total for COVID-19 has exceeded 2.6 million, with millions more likely to come. World trade, particularly hard hit by restrictions in addition to market forces, fell between 13% and 32% in 2020, according to the WTO, which is expected to be a greater decline than during the 2008 recession. Vaccine rollout is extremely uneven on an international scale, with the U.S. and Europe expected to hit 60-70% adult vaccination by late 2021 and much of the rest of the world unlikely to reach that milestone until mid- or late- 2022. Particularly impoverished countries, including much of Africa, may not do so until 2023. Even those countries that are able to obtain vaccines have often been forced to do so at substantial markups and with long delays.
This poses a substantial likelihood of continued turmoil and unrest across much of the world as working people are forced to bear both the human and economic costs of the pandemic. Peru provides one particularly sharp example of this phenomenon, as revelations of extensive corruption that have delayed vaccine procurement have caused substantial protests only a few months after protests toppled a previous government. We should expect fights of this nature to erupt, and for the desperate situation to intensify and shape other fights that also come forward. Additionally, the internationally unequal and exploitative nature of vaccine procurement highlights the potential for a struggle against the anarchy of capitalist production and its inability to provide for the critical needs of workers around the world.
The election of Joe Biden heralds a new effort by U.S. imperialism to halt or reverse the phenomenon of its declining global power. The Trump administration sought to reinvigorate U.S. standing through brash unilateralism, disruption of existing agreements, and trade wars waged on every front, including against both traditional allies and opponents in Europe and Asia. Meanwhile, it suffered a series of embarrassing reversals such as the failure of a U.S.-backed coup effort in Venezuela, a partial withdrawal of military forces from Syria, which provoked wide backlash in bourgeois circles, and a negotiated truce in the trade war with China.
By contrast, the Biden administration has sought to rebuild frayed relations and reestablish American “credibility” abroad. This includes, as has become clear from the recent airstrike in Syria and a slowing of troop drawdowns in Afghanistan, a combination of diplomatic efforts and military pressure. So far, Biden’s efforts to rekindle a close alliance with Europe have proven rockier than expected, with the EU agreeing to an investment deal with China over U.S. opposition while a Russia-Germany gas pipeline project likewise is forging ahead despite American pressure otherwise, prompting U.S. sanctions on Germany.
Biden and the Democratic majority in Congress, meanwhile, are promoting a new platform of confrontation with China through investments in key strategic industries, including manufacturing, semiconductor production, and 5G networking.
For its part, China is facing a new series of obstacles to its investments abroad. A number of stops along the Belt and Road Initiative have run into serious issues, with infrastructure falling behind schedule, large debt loads piling up, economic returns underachieving expectations, and a few messy defaults in progress. These experiences reflect the relatively poor investment locations that China has had access to as a newly emerging power. As Chinese capital licks its wounds from this first round of setbacks, it seems likely that the BRI will not succeed, at least in the immediate future, at shaping global economic and trade flows as hoped. China will be forced to increasingly compete with other powers to access more stable investment locations, or intensify its international political and military presence to better secure its existing ones.
We should thus expect U.S. imperialism to continue to make military, diplomatic, and economic interventions abroad to try to slow or halt its decline as the leading world power. At the same time, we should expect a continuation of the long-term divergence of interests between the U.S. and its traditional allies of other imperialist powers in Europe and elsewhere, despite the immediate-term efforts of the Biden administration to rebuild these relationships. The U.S.-China great power competition seems extremely likely to continue and intensify, with the U.S. stepping up military deployments to Asia and efforts to build a global coalition against China, while China seeks to reinforce its holdings abroad and gain access to new markets.
Latin America remains a region in which substantial struggles and polarization to the right and left continue to erupt well beyond the previously mentioned protests in Peru. Chile advances toward an April 2021 constitutional convention to replace the Pinochet-era constitution. Brazil has surpassed the United States in its daily COVID-19 death toll, as its health-care system appears near the point of collapse. In El Salvador, a right-populist president has seen his party win a supermajority and thus sweep aside legislative obstacles to his politics. In Venezuela, the economic crisis continues despite the defeat of the U.S.-backed coup effort led by Juan Guaidó. In Bolivia, the coup government of Jeanine Anez, which had ousted Evo Morales, was forced to step down, and the MAS regained power in elections.
We should anticipate continuing fights throughout the region. The political leadership of the Pink Tide parties and governments is seriously weakened, and there is an urgent need for the working class in the region to build its own leadership to replace it. We need to continue to work to understand the developments of Trotskyism in Latin America as potential forces that could intervene in these struggles.
Turning to Europe, in France, the Macron government has engaged in an extensive offensive against civil liberties while he increasingly slips in the polls behind Marine Le Pen. In Italy, in which the right-wing Lega party participates in a coalition government, the far right is gaining substantial support. In the United Kingdom, the resurgence of old-school social democratic politics under Jeremy Corbyn, which attracted much international attention as a model, has ended with his ouster and a decisive reinstatement of the Labour right.
The developments in Europe highlight the ongoing decay of social democracy and the growth of the far right in its wake. As capitalism faces more and more consistent crises, this type of polarization should be expected to continue. The failure of social democracy and the traditional parties of capitalism to address these crises is fueling support for other forces. The growth of the far right in Europe, and around the world, demonstrates the immediate need for stronger working-class political interventions.
The case of Myanmar shows one example of how working people can lead the fightbacks we will need in the coming period. Following a coup in February, hundreds of thousands of people in Myanmar have taken to the streets en masse in defiance of curfews and repression to fight against the military regime, with organized labor playing a leading role and organizing mass strikes. We are making a modest contribution for a social media campaign against firings of workers participating in the general strike by international companies.
On the whole, we expect that the world in 2021 will face the eruption of new struggles and continuation of existing struggles in the face of global pandemic and economic crisis. Meanwhile, inter-imperialist competition is intensifying as old alliances break down and new powers have stepped onto the scene, and the U.S.-China rivalry in particular expands in importance.
We see the working class as the only force capable of leading consistent and victorious fights against imperialism, both in the imperialist countries themselves and in semi-colonies facing oppression or attacks. The desperate situation of workers, the increasing tempo of capitalist crises, and the growing danger of imperialist war highlight the urgent necessity of developing a revolutionary leadership for working-class forces on a global scale.
Photo: Feb. 13 motorcycle protest in Mandalay against the Myanmar coup. (AP)