Nervios en el Hemisferio Norte. Uno pasa revista a las ediciones digitales de los diarios y le viene un no sé qué, como un aire, un lejano recuerdo a 19 y 20 de Diciembre. ¿Será en este verano boreal? ¿En el que viene? Por las dudas, algunos ya empiezan a avisar.
Bajo el título “The coming mass strike upsurge of 2014-2015”, un viejo conocido de este blog, Webster G. Tarpley, escribe una espléndida nota sobre aquellas tormentas que vendrán. ¿Dónde? En el sitio iraní PressTV (http://www.presstv.ir/detail/2013/05/30/306174/mass-strike-upsurge-of-20142015). ¿En qué medio masivo de Occidente podrían publicar una nota así?
“Today, it is increasingly evident that the terrorist al-Qaeda death squads which NATO and Israel have been using to destabilize the government of Syrian President Assad are facing a very uncertain future. If these terrorists were to undergo a decisive defeat or even a total collapse, this would sharply expose the intellectual, moral, and political bankruptcy of the current rulers of Britain, France, the United States, and other countries. The path would then be clear to turn the international war of aggression into a domestic struggle for revolutionary reforms.”
Where are we in the unfolding of the current world economic depression, and what can we know about the events that lie ahead? The US Memorial Day holiday weekend provides the occasion to venture some answers to these questions.
The current world economic depression reached critical mass in the autumn of 2008. The world derivatives panic of that year and the bankruptcy of the British and US banking systems was then followed in 2010 by a European banking panic, which has been disguised as a sovereign debt crisis. That European banking crisis continues to the present day, made worse by brutal and stupid austerity policies imposed by the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission. With the US and European economies depressed, the slowdown has spread across the world to impact Brazil, China, and India.
No country has so far been able to turn the corner from depression to broad-based recovery. Japan is currently using high-risk competitive evaluations to end decades of stagnation, but this has been punctuated by signs of financial panic. The supposed success story of Iceland, touted especially by Keynesians, has been exposed as a big lie by the recent election there, which revealed a population driven to desperation by a massive collapse of its standard of living - to the point where voters were willing to bring back the hated right-wing parties responsible for the pre-crash orgy of speculation.
The unfolding of the current depression is roughly parallel to the development of the world economic crisis of the 1930s. Back then, the depression was triggered when Lord Montagu Norman’s Bank of England sharply raised the British discount rate in September 1929, sucking huge amounts of hot money across the Atlantic from New York to London, and resulting in the fabled US stock market panic of October 1929. That was followed by a European ranking crisis in the summer of 1931, which started with the Kreditanstalt of Vienna, then brought down the Danatbank and the rest of the large German banks, and culminated with the watershed default on gold payments by the Bank of England in September 1931, which destroyed the pound-based world monetary system of that era. The British debacle then provoked a panic run on US banks which accelerated during the 1932 and into the spring of 1933. By the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration in March of 1933, every bank in the United States had shut its doors. The Roosevelt Bank Holiday merely provided legal cover for those stricken institutions.
In Europe and the United States, that previous depression reached its low point sometime during 1933. Then, even though depression continued to grip the planet, there was a modest uptick in economic activity and employment. Working people began to feel they had won a breathing space, and the political climate began to change. Today, with numerous ruling class voices being raised to argue that austerity policies have gone too far and are becoming counterproductive, a similar token, short-term amelioration may be in the works.
In much of Europe, the first years of the Depression were marked by a sharp right turn, with the reactionaries and fascists scoring important gains in a number of countries. Most important was of course Hitler’s seizure of power in Germany in January 1933. By early 1934, as historian Wolfgang Abendroth noted, the advance of fascism - like the advance of austerity today - seemed to be irresistible. Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Austria were under fascist regimes. Hungary, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and other Balkan states were civilian or military dictatorships. In England, Sir Oswald Mosley had launched his British Union of Fascists. In France, monarchists, reactionaries, and Fascists had almost succeeded with an armed assault on the Chamber of Deputies on February 6, 1934. A fascist coup had been narrowly avoided mainly because of personal rivalries among the various would-be dictators. But the French government of Daladier had fallen, and the new Doumergue regime included as defense minister Marshal Pétain, the boss of French fascism and spokesman for the underground fascist networks known as the Cagoule and the Synarchie.
The United States, since 1933 under by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal government, constituted an exception to the general reactionary drift of these years. But the early years of the new deal were unable to prevent a rout of the existing labor organizations due in large part to the colossal numbers of unemployed workers. But, via the middle of the 1930s, in a breathtaking reversal of fortunes, the US labor movement was about to regain the initiative.
First Years of Depression Bring Crisis of Popular Movements
In Europe, the very desperation of the situation after Hitler’s seizure of power forced Social Democratic and communist political forces to put aside their suicidal sectarian differences in favor of the so-called popular front, a defensive alliance against fascism which suffered from programmatic weakness, but was nevertheless enough to permit a regroupment and counterattack. Trade unionists, workers and other groups took the offensive to assert their economic rights.
Perhaps we can see some parallels between the low point of 1933-34 and our own current situation, especially when the quality of mass leadership is concerned. We have now lived through the abject failure of Occupy, whose Situationist/anarchist leadership reached a new low of absurdity by banning any concrete demands - arguing that if the demands were won, the movement would be co-opted. Very little is now left of Occupy, except the name, a bit of nostalgia, and a widespread resolve not to commit the same stupid mistakes a second time. Right wing pseudo-populist Ron Paul has exposed himself as an auxiliary to the Romney presidential campaign with the main goal of building a career for his nepotist and mediocre son Rand. The so-called Tea Party, which pretended in 2010 to represent a challenge to Wall Street bailouts, has now exposed itself as an abject tool of the reactionary billionaire Koch brothers. In Italy, Beppe Grillo and his guru Casaleggio have demonstrated their bungling ineptitude and bad faith, failing to win a single concrete benefit for their 8 million voters. The terrain, in short, is now clear for new leadership and new approaches.
1936: Popular Front Victories in Spain and France
The first part of the 1936 mass upsurge was the February victory of the Spanish Popular Front of socialists and communists. This alliance was attractive enough to pull even anarcho-syndicalist workers out of their usual self-defeating apolitical stance. A land reform, the most basic of all modernizations, was suddenly on the agenda. Wildcat strikes and peasant revolts broke out. In July 1936, General Francisco Franco, the head of the Spanish colonial army in North Africa, carried out a coup d’état against the Spanish Republic. Franco’s revolt enjoyed the support not just of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, but also of the British conservative regime. Even so, the fascist Franco could have been crushed if a minimum level of solidarity had been maintained between the Spanish and French popular front governments. Here we find a lesson that international cooperation will be absolutely indispensable if any successes are to be one in the years ahead. Nothing whatsoever can be done in Europe without a continent wide movement to seize control of the European Central Bank and use it to finance at least 40 million new productive jobs, starting in infrastructure.
In 1930s France, the Socialists, Communists, and radicals had joined in an electoral alliance in May and June 1935, scoring important successes in local elections. The communist, socialist, and Christian trade unions began closer cooperation. In the national political elections of April and May 1936, the parties of the popular front won a decisive victory. The reactionaries were momentarily in full retreat. The socialist Léon Blum became prime minister. At this point, French workers - desiring to immediately translate their political victory in two social advances - shut down the country with a mass strike, occupying many of the largest factories. In early June 1936, the unions secured a 40-hour week with no reduction in pay, two weeks of paid vacation, an end to unrestrained hire and fire labor policies, and substantial wage increases. The Socialists wanted the nationalization of the Bank of France, but communists - vainly hoping to make France an ally of the Soviet Union by showing restraint - blocked this decisive step. An obvious lesson for us today is precisely that no reforms are likely to prove durable unless the central banks are nationalized and their credit-creating power put at the service of the national interest in full employment and rising standards of living.
Unfortunately, the French popular front was unable to resist the British demand that no arms be provided for the defense of the Spanish Republic. Here again the lesson of international coordination and unity of action is clearly depicted.
In the United States, 1936 had witnessed the founding of the United Auto Workers union. At first, the UAW was a loose confederation of relatively weak locals. The first main UAW effort was to organize the General Motors auto plants in Flint, Michigan. After a strike broke out at a General Motors factory in Cleveland, Ohio, the UAW on December 30, 1936 began a sit-down strike in the Fisher body plant of Flint. General Motors tried desperately to drive the workers out of the factory, but President Roosevelt refused to order federal troops to intervene as strikebreakers. By February 1937, General Motors was forced to recognize the UAW as the sole collective bargaining representative for its workers for the coming six months. The 30,000-member UAW immediately recruited 100,000 new members, and by the end of 1938 had 500,000 unionized workers on its rolls. Even labor organizations which have been decimated by years of reaction can sometimes bounce back with exponential growth during a mass strike phase, provided their policies and leadership are right.
After Years of Defeat, US Labor Upsurge of 1936, FDR Landslide
There followed a general US labor upsurge, with 47 sit-down strikes in March 1937, 170 such strikes in April, and 52 sit-down actions in May. Chrysler plants, hotels, lumberyards, meatpacking plants, laundries, and department stores were all scenes of sit-down strikes. The usually benighted United States Steel Company, fearing an occupation of its plants, quickly accepted the United Steelworkers of America as sole collective bargaining agent. And this pattern was repeated in many other industries. A landmark victory was scored in the Remington Rand strike, which began in May 1936 and ended successfully in April 1937.
These events were accompanied by the presidential election victory of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who won a second term in November 1936. This campaign was unquestionably the most radical of the entire New Deal. In his final speech at Madison Square Garden in New York City just before Election Day, Roosevelt had stated that the bankers “had begun to consider the government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me - and I welcome their hatred.”
Roosevelt pledged to crush these Wall Street forces during his second term, saying: “I should like to have it set up my first administration that in it the forces of selfishness and all the lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second administration that any of these forces met their master.” The figure of Roosevelt points up the foolishness and lack of realism of those anarchists, grillini, and other misguided souls who negate the very idea of leadership, irrespective of its quality. This is an infantile, anti-authoritarian impulse from the worst of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Capable and responsible leaders are essential for the success of popular movements. Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated the reactionary Republican ticket of Landon-Knox by 523 electoral votes to 8, while winning the highest percentage of the popular vote of any candidate since 1820. Roosevelt’s success also shows the synergy between election campaigns on the one hand and labor struggles on the other: they must work together, and neither one alone would be enough.
Comparison of 1935-1936 with 2014-2015: Syria, Putin, Bergoglio, Warren, Greece
The working hypothesis here is that, keeping in mind the general timetable of the 1930s world depression, we may very well be presented with new world historical opportunities of a mass upsurge of working people in 2014 and 2015, or even sooner. Here are some of the factors that currently seem to be preparing this new phase of mass struggle against austerity and bankers’ misrule.
Surprisingly to some, a major force in blowing the lid off the current political stagnation of the Western world may well turn out to be the situation in Syria. There is no greater stimulus to the rebellion of a subject population than to see the oppressor government defeated in one of its international adventures. Here we can cite the Russian Revolution of 1905 against the autocratic czarist regime, which was detonated by the humiliating defeat of the Russian Empire in the Russo-Japanese war. The czar was weakened, and forced for the first time to accept internal reforms, including a kind of Parliament.
Today, it is increasingly evident that the terrorist al-Qaeda death squads which NATO and Israel have been using to destabilize the government of Syrian President Assad are facing a very uncertain future. If these terrorists were to undergo a decisive defeat or even a total collapse, this would sharply expose the intellectual, moral, and political bankruptcy of the current rulers of Britain, France, the United States, and other countries. The path would then be clear to turn the international war of aggression into a domestic struggle for revolutionary reforms.
Closely related to the Syrian situation has been the leadership of Russian President V. V. Putin, who has remained steadfast in his support for President Assad - recently concentrating the Russian fleet off Tartus in the eastern Mediterranean, and delivering powerful anti-ship missiles and antiaircraft systems to the Syrian government. Putin is also pressing to have not only Syria but also Iran included in the coming Geneva conference on Syria, which might transform those proceedings into the beginnings of a general Middle East peace conference of the type which the Israelis have been attempting to sabotage for decades.
Another area of possible imperialist defeat in the short run is the continued domination of the International Monetary Fund. The BRICS block of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa is well advanced in its preparations for the launching of a BRICS development bank, which would tend to terminate the monopoly on international lending maintained by the IMF and World Bank for the purpose of strangling world economic development and looting the world economy in the interest of the City of London and Wall Street. A BRICS intervention to rescue Egypt from the clutches of the western creditors and plutocratic powers is long overdue, and would constitute a revolution in international affairs.
Another unexpected factor contributing to a possible sharp turn in the world situation is becoming of the Argentine Pope Francis. Here is a pontiff whose outlook has been decisively shaped by his ministry in the slum neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Francis’s initial statements display a tough polemic against the plutocratic regimes of the Western world. The Pope demands that money be a servant of humanity, and not its ruler. He attacks the invisible power of plutocracy. His entire profile puts him on a collision course with the vicious austerity policies championed by the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank. Francis is reliably reported to be working on his first encyclical letter, which will be a defense of traditional Catholic social doctrine against the pernicious ideologies of neoliberalism, monetarism, and globalization. When this encyclical is published, the Vatican’s repudiation of the dominant economic schools of Europe and North America will become an important political fact. The dominant austerity psychosis will be stripped of its entire theoretical and practical justification. Austerity policies will be seen as the devil’s work. Resistance to imperialist looting can be expected to grow in southern Europe, in Latin America, and elsewhere.
In the United States, the younger generation is being crushed by a student loan burden which has now exceeded $1.1 trillion, exceeding all forms of household debt except home mortgages. The reactionary Republicans and the Wall Street Democrats of the Obama regime are resisting the rock-bottom interest rates which are the minimum necessary to stabilize this debt in the short run. For many students, student loan debt becomes the central factor of their lives. The average bachelor’s degree is accompanied by about $35,000 of debt. Advanced degrees easily generate $75,000 of debt. Degrees in law and medicine routinely exceed $100,000.
The new Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, long regarded by anti-Wall Street forces as the most promising politician in the Democratic Party, has now come forward with a bill to cut student loan interest rates to about .075%, representing a reduction of almost 90%. Equally significant is the fact that Senator Warren wants this debt relief to be paid for by the Federal Reserve System, which her bill orders to fund new loans administered by the Secretary of Education. Here is a case study of the method needed to raise the entire US and world economies out of depression - an economic recovery financed by cheap long-term credit for infrastructure, agriculture, and manufacturing provided by the de-privatized central bank.
Establishment news organs like the Washington Post (the house organ of the Federal Reserve System) are attempting to bury Warren’s proposal on their conspiracy of silence and censorship, but the word is getting out. The academic year of 2013-2014 could well be rocked by mass struggles on the part of students demanding the alleviation of their indebtedness. This is of course a critical factor, since it is inevitably young people who must provide the vanguard for any significant mass upsurge.
A wild card in the international situation remains Greece. Here the reactionary austerity block of Samaras and New Democracy might crumble during the spring and summer of 2013, opening the door to yet another round of early elections. If so, there is a real chance that the Syriza bloc might take over the government. This would highlight the important positive qualities of Syriza, which demonstrates a level of program, strategy, organization, and leadership which is vastly superior to the vast majority of today’s political formations. If Syriza as a governing party should become an object of sustained international attention, this comparison will prove extremely embarrassing for such snake oil salesmen as Beppe Grillo, Nigel Farage of the xenophobic UK Independence Party, and the petty bourgeois professors and legal cranks of the newly founded Alternative for Germany.
Success or Failure Determined By Leadership and Program: Get Ready
Since a new mass upsurge thus appears well within the realm of possibility, the main question becomes the preparedness of mass forces to take advantage of this new opportunity to lead the world out of the current economic breakdown crisis.
This comes down to the question of hegemony. What forces will exercise preponderant influence over the newly radicalized or newly revived strata entering the political battle over the next several years? We can be sure that if the principal ideologues of radical action remain such discredited fakers as Noam Chomsky or the Situationist International, the cause of civilization’s survival will become grim indeed. And if not Chomsky or the anarchists, who will set the tone?
Will there be an adequate anti-depression program, or will the very notion of program be reviled? Will there be a strategy of fighting a series of anti-austerity actions and election campaigns so as to believe pressure on working people in the short run, while building a movement capable of exercising power in the medium run? Will the necessity for leadership be recognized, or will infantilism and anti-authoritarianism rule the day? Will scores of contending splinter parties, organizations, groups, and groupuscules be able to form a common front, or will they insist on maintaining their impotence in fragmentation?
The answers provided to these questions in 2013-2014 may well determine the course of world history and the potential for human survival in 2015.”