The world is in the grip of an intractable crisis. On the one hand is a deadly pandemic, which shows no sign of abating. And on the other, the greatest collapse of the global economy ever witnessed.
There are no parallels in history to describe this calamity. Possibly, the nearest to this situation is another deadly pandemic known as the Black Death of the 14th century. In this, a third or more of the population died. This plague spread everywhere and created serious religious, social, and economic upheavals, with profound effects on the course of European history.
According to the historian Philip Ziegler: “[T]hough the Black Death was far from the only cause, the anguish and disruption which it inflicted made the greatest single contribution to the disintegration of an age.”
Another historian, J, Jusserand, explained, “Faith disappeared, or was transformed; men became at once sceptical and intolerant. It is not at all the modern, serenely cold, and imperturbable scepticism; it is a violent movement of the whole nature…”
Feudal society was dying on its feet. The plague tipped it over the edge.
So far, the current COVID-19 pandemic has killed far fewer people than the Black Plague. However, its effect is indeed considerable. The capitalist crisis – triggered by and greatly compounded by the pandemic – is the deepest for 300 years. It too is tipping capitalism over the edge in an even more devastating fashion.
Slump without equal
The pandemic is spreading like wildfire in Asia and Latin America. Even in the United States, the virus is creating havoc, with six million confirmed cases. Europe is threatened by another wave.
The UN World Food Programme is warning that over 265 million people are threatened with starvation. This is an absolute catastrophe.
The strategists of capitalism are at a complete loss. Capitalist governments have rushed to bail out their system, racking up massive debts in the process.
Despite these unprecedented measures, the slump is without equal in history. In the second quarter of 2020, US GDP declined at an annualised rate of 32.9%. Japan’s economy shrank in the April-June period at an annualised 27.8% in real terms, the sharpest contraction on record. India’s economy meanwhile contracted in the second quarter by 23.9%, the biggest in Asia. British GDP fell by over 20% in the same period.
Millions have lost their jobs or are about to lose them. And yet the stock markets from New York to Tokyo are booming, with the speculators enjoying a bonanza. The MSCI World index of stocks jumped 6.6% in August, the sharpest August rally for 44 years. Ed Yardeni described it as “the mother of all melt-ups”.
Up in smoke
This is no normal capitalist crisis. Exacerbated by the pandemic, the capitalist system has reached its limits and is in terminal decline. There will be no quick rebound. Rather, the scene is set for an ongoing depression. Whatever respite is possible, it will be short lived. Investment, the lifeblood of the system, has slumped and so has consumption.
The working class, as in 2008, will be asked to pay the bill for this crisis. After years of austerity and attacks, this will provoke widespread opposition. All the illusions of the past of an unending progress have gone up in smoke.
The upheaval in the United States following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police shows that an insurrectionary mood has developed. At least 10% of the population participated in the Black Lives Matter protests, and many more supported them.
Another black person, Jacob Blake, was recently shot by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, adding petrol to the fire. Two more were killed by a white supremacist in the same town.
“America is locked in a dangerous spiral,” commented the Economist. Whoever wins the presidency in November, nothing will be the same again. It is a confirmation of the revolutionary epoch we have entered.
The mass protests in Lebanon, meanwhile, following on from those at the end of last year, have forced another government to resign. This is a revolutionary development.
Mass demonstrations have even rocked Israel, demanding the overthrow of the government of Netanyahu. And dramatic – although contradictory – events are unfolding in Belarus, with the working class moving in the direction of a general strike.
Everywhere there is chronic instability. Even in Britain, support for the Tory government has collapsed in the space of months. Now the country is heading for a no-deal Brexit, with calamitous consequences – not only for Britain, but for Europe also.
“The coming six months may well determine Mr Johnson’s fate,” wrote the Financial Times. Social explosions will be on the order of the day in Britain, as elsewhere.
All that capitalism can offer the working class is mass unemployment, falling living standards, and attacks. But this will be a finished recipe for class struggle everywhere.
Even the Financial Times referred to the prospects of “widespread social unrest, if not revolution”. They have drawn the same conclusions – albeit from the opposite class point of view – as the Marxists!
Crisis of leadership
Massive events are preparing a rapid changing of consciousness. There is already a widespread questioning of the capitalist system. This is especially true amongst the youth, who have only known a life of austerity and crisis.
This is preparing a massive shift to the left. There is no solution under capitalism to the problems of the working class.
But capitalism will not vacate the scene on its own accord. It will need to be overthrown. There will be no shortage of revolutionary opportunities, as we have already seen. Revolutionary possibilities are implicit in the whole situation. Beneath the symptoms of terminal decay, a new society is struggling to be born.
However, a real revolutionary leadership is lacking. The labour and trade union leaders, clinging to the illusions of the past, act as a brake on the situation. Even the ‘lefts’ prefer to compromise, as they have no perspective of changing society. They have illusions in reforming capitalism, which is not possible. No amount of patching will solve the problem.
There is, therefore, a crisis of working-class leadership. What is required is a leadership that is prepared to go to the end.
This raises the urgent task of building the forces of Marxism – the only force which is prepared to face up to these realities. Marxism has never before been so relevant.
We appeal to workers and youth to join us in this task – to prepare the ground for the socialist transformation of society, in Britain and internationally.