International Political Situation: Evolution of the International Situation and the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

By Sam King

United Nations members vote on a resolution concerning the Russian invasion of Ukraine during an emergency meeting of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters, March 2, 2022 (AP photo by Seth Wenig).

The following is a report to the inaugural Red Ant conference held in Sydney August 27-29. At the conference Red Ant was formally founded as a new socialist collective in Australia advocating an anti-imperialist Marxist perspective and action.

This month, it is 31 years since the failed August 1991 military coup in Moscow that set off a series of events culminating in the collapse of the Soviet Union – the collapse of the so called “communist” system.

Fundamentally, the collapse of the USSR was the final collapse of the state established by the working class’s revolutionary overthrow of the Russian capitalist class in 1917 – the establishment of a workers state. The workers state remained in place until 1991, despite the abuses of power by the bureaucratic caste that had assumed political control over it.

The Russian Revolution was perhaps the most important and globally consequential political event in human history. Its final collapse in 1991 resulted in a disastrous deterioration in the international balance of forces for working people that powerfully shaped the political situation we face today.

The long period of fallout since the collapse has radically weakened almost all sections of the global working class and the left – regardless of their orientation to the former Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union was a major state that often (though not always) stood opposed to US imperialism. In the never-ending stand-off between imperialism and the oppressed nations, the presence of the Soviet state altered the power balance to the benefit of the Global South.

The collapse of Communist Parties (such as the Communist Party of Australia here), as well as of movements or organisations supported by these parties, had a wide-ranging negative impact on mass organising. The collapse also removed the Soviet system as an ideological competitor to the capitalist mode of production.

Prior to 1991, this competition – and the fact that a whole part of the globe had moved beyond capitalism – was a major factor pressuring governments to grant concessions to working people – especially the post-WWII welfare state in the imperialist countries.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was these gains that the economic program of neoliberalism sought to reverse.

Predictably, the triumphalist “end of history” euphoria that gripped capitalist ideologues in 1991 has proven unfounded. History had not ended. However, the next 25 years – until around 2016 – did prove to be one of the toughest periods for the socialist movement internationally.

But even this period of down-turn was not without opportunities and even some breakthroughs against the dominant current. Most notable was the defeat of capitalist state power in Venezuela in 2002.

The Venezuelan revolution – while not comparable in importance to the Russian – opened up space for revolutionaries, even in distant countries like Australia, to convince more people of the possibility of socialist solutions to the capitalist crisis.

While there were many important national variations globally, the overall period after 1991 was characterised by collapsing working class organisation, winding down of sustained mass movements and a decline in trade union density. This was accompanied by redundancies, privatisation, a reduction in public services, the corporatisation of state companies, greater unemployment and casualisation, and a shift in wealth from the working class to the capitalist class, and overall social atomisation and decay.

It was really only in Latin America that there was any sustained and effective resistance, such as the resistance by the block of states organised around the axis of revolutionary Cuba and Venezuela and extending to Bolivia and Nicaragua, and the centre-left electoral victories possible only due to support by popular mass movements (a dynamic that has returned to that region today).

Neoliberal Globalisation and the Economic Bonanza of Super-Exploitation

In addition to its political and ideological impact, the Soviet and Eastern European collapse and the introduction of capitalist market reforms in China had far-reaching economic consequences that shaped the whole period post-1991.

The revolutions in Russia and China (and elsewhere) collectively took around one third of the global population – and a huge part of the global land mass – out of the capitalist system and incorporated them into the socialist block.

Conversely, the reintroduction of capitalism (especially in the People’s Republic of China from the 1980s and accelerating after 1991) hugely increased the size of the capitalist world market – especially the global labour market.

The years 1991-2000 saw what Richard Freedman called the “great doubling” of the global labour force (available for capitalist exploitation) from around 1.5 billion to 3 billion. This figure also includes new workers coming into the global market from India, which like many other countries also adopted neoliberal policies around the same time.

From the 1990s, global production involved exploitation on a massive scale in both Chinese and also, importantly, Eastern European cheap labour, as well as that provided by India and the rest of the Global South.

More “globalised” and even “hyper-globalised” production chains controlled by multi-national corporations headquartered in the imperialist states, was arguably the critical economic ingredient that made the neoliberal period work – at least for capital.

This bonanza in profitability gave the space for imperialism to achieve two key political breakthroughs.

First, by shifting many types of basic production processes away from the imperialist states (all the while retaining key advanced production techniques), neoliberal globalisation undermined working-class power and militancy in the imperialist societies and left Workers worried their jobs would be moved overseas and making them less willing or able to make more ambitious industrial claims.

Second, the increased contribution of Global South labour to global production also brought about a rapid growth of the Global South based capitalist classes. This boom in capitalist accumulation in the poor countries (while dwarfed in size by imperialist accumulation) had an important political effect.

By bringing the Global South capitalists to the table to participate in the global imperialist system of exploitation – albeit as subordinates neoliberal globalisation resolved the problem of establishing a viable national economic development path within capitalism (particularly in Asia, which is more than half the world’s population) – at least from the perspective of the capitalist classes.

This contrasted sharply with the immediate post-war period of mass revolutionary struggle, sometimes victorious, in many parts of the Third World such as in China, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cuba and Latin America.

And more importantly, defeating or postponing the Third World revolutions (except in Venezuela and Cuba) had another major benefit. It removed one of the major radicalising factors for working people inside the imperialist states – the “Vietnam Syndrome”.

Just as the Russian Revolution had a massive impact on consciousness and combativity of working people across the globe, so too did the revolutions in China, Korea, Cuba, Vietnam and elsewhere. This was true also for the mass popular struggles across many parts of the Global South, even when these did not result in revolutions.

More aggressive exploitation of cheap Global South labour also increased availability of cheap consumer goods, which to some extent had a corrupting effect on workers in the imperialist states.

Many types of goods are now often ludicrously cheap in relation to wages – such as $10 jeans, $5 T-shirts or a $25 microwave oven. A highly sophisticated smart phone – which takes many days labour to create – can be bought for just one or two day’s wages.

Everyone knows, this cheapening of commodities is only possible by cheapening the lives and wages of working people in the Global South, who contribute most of labour to the production process.

By making a reasonable quality of life (relatively speaking) for the working class in the imperialist societies dependent on the super-exploitation of working people in the Global South, imperialism bolstered by neoliberal ideology organically strengthens the social and material basis for racism, national chauvinism – its political manifestation.

Unwinding of the Neoliberal Boom

Neoliberalism proved to be a boom period for the capitalists – both ideologically and in terms of profit. These good times however, couldn’t last forever. Beginning in around 2011, the new cheap labour bonanza was already running up against its own limits.

Having conquered the entire world, by around 2011 there was no large sources of new cheap labour that could be used to bring about a new bonanza and again raise rates of profit and investment.

Much of the mass migration from village to city in China had already taken place and the earlier growth in China’s working age population started to slow. In 2015 it began to shrink.

As a result, China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate has been falling every year since 2010, dropping from an annual growth rate of around 10 percent to 5 percent or less today.

This new, lower, growth rate is about the same as other rapidly growing Asian economies such as India, Indonesia and Vietnam. The days of dramatic economic boom periods in China seem to be over. India’s GDP growth rate for example has been about equal to or outpaced China for five of seven years in 2014-2021.

By 2015 the “re-shoring” of industrial production to the United States and other imperialist countries in newly built, more highly automated factories was accelerating. This was given greater impetus during the Covid-19 pandemic and also by imperialist sanctions against China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Syria and other countries.

Imperialism’s new economic policy appears to be one of replacing the previous approach of expanding globalisation, and instead investing in new high-tech production inside the imperialist countries – thereby reversing many aspects of globalisation.

During the pandemic this was promoted as “securing supply lines” and was enforced with Trump’s “trade war” tariffs, sanctions, technology bans, tax breaks and regulations – which have been maintained under the Biden presidency.

It is imperialism’s vice-like grip on the development of productive, high-end technology that makes this feasible. It is not clear however how far this process will go, or whether or not it will become a dominant economic policy or is just a temporary phenomena.

It is crucial to remember that the doubling in the size of the global labour (of very cheap labour) force in the years 1991-2000 provided the material basis for the neoliberal bonanza which followed.

If sanctions, tariffs and automated First World production reduces the exploitation of world labour – by replacing global South labour with machines inside the imperialist states – then the basis for the rapid economic growth in the early years of neoliberalism disappears and capitalism’s tendency towards economic crisis will be intensified.

One political manifestation of this may be the breaking of the unwritten “deal” which brought the capitalist classes of the Global South, particularly China, to the table, which contributed so much to world political stability.

I don’t think it’s yet clear what the root causes of the present increased imperialist aggression towards China and Russia in particular over the last 10 years or so. It is notable however that this increased aggression is both military and economic and that the timing tends to coincide with the end of the neoliberal boom.

Imperialist Aggression Against Russia in the Neoliberal Period

In this section I want to outline how the intensifying conflict between the imperialist states verses Russia and China at the moment is fundamentally a result of imperialist aggression. I will also try to put the current imperialist escalation of aggression into a historical perspective in order to try and better understand what is happening now and what may happen in the future.

Will this imperialist aggression continue to escalate militarily, potentially leading a large-scale war? And if so, why would they pursue this course? Conversely, will they be able to reach some sort of accommodation and on what basis?

I want to start by explaining the underlying motivations for the imperialist aggression against Russia and China. Since WWII the key conflict in the imperialist system has not been – as the groups associated with the International Socialist Tendency (IST) argue – inter-imperialist rivalry.

Rather, post war imperialism has pursued two principle international goals: Defeating socialism and defeating the national liberation struggles in the Global South.

With collapse of most socialist states, the key international contradiction is now reduced to imperialism versus the Global South; imperialist monopoly versus the non-monopoly capitalist societies it exploits.

Russia and China stand out, for now, as the most powerful non-monopoly capitalist countries in the Global South. This makes them a target for imperialist hostility. Control over the most powerful countries is a prerequisite for maintaining control over the entire Global South.

Imperialist economic and military aggression towards China, Russia and other Global South states has been escalating for several years. However, there was never a period when this didn’t exist. Prior to 1991, imperialist aggression was justified by anti-Communism – yet in the post-Communist period this aggression has not relented.

Imperialism took advantage of the USSR’s collapse by immediately going to war against one former Soviet ally. The 1991 US lead invasion of Iraq turned out to be the first in a series of imperialist military interventions.

These included the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the second Iraq War in 2003, NATO attacks on Libya in 2011 and a years-long proxy war against Syria (a Russian ally) from 2011 onwards.

And there were many other coups, plots, assassinations, destabilisation campaigns and imperialist military operations that warrant a mention, such as the Washington-backed coups in Ukraine (twice), Honduras (2009) and Bolivia (2019, but subsequently defeated), or the failed coups in Venezuela (2019) and Nicaragua (2018).

Imperialist policy towards post-Soviet Russia itself is characterised by a similar unrelenting belligerence. The regime that initially replaced the Soviet government was, perhaps, as close as possible to a client regime for such an important country.

Under President Boris Yeltsin, Russia could not be described as any sort of threat or challenge to imperialist domination. It was reduced in size, weak and in chaos. It was suffering hyper-inflation and deep economic decline. US hostility however was maintained even in this context.

NATO was originally formed by the North Atlantic imperialist powers for conducting their “Cold War” against the Soviet Union.  In February 1990 – just prior to the Soviet collapse, Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev told US secretary of State James Baker:

“You say that NATO is not directed against us, that it is simply a security structure that is adapting to new realities … therefore, we propose to join NATO.”

However, Baker dismissed the possibility as a “dream”.

In late 1991, on the day of the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, a letter from President Yeltsin was read to a NATO summit in Brussels, suggesting that Russia’s long-term aim was to join NATO – this was again dismissed.

George Robertson, the former secretary general of NATO from 1999 to 2003, claims that, at their first meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin asked him, “When are you going to invite us to join NATO?” Rather than accepting the Russian white flag, the imperialist powers continued the cold war policy of isolating and militarily threatening now capitalist Russia.

Crucially, the United States also pursued two new policies: threatening Russia through the eastward expansion of NATO up to the Russian border and pursuing what is call “nuclear primacy” or “counterforce” strategy.

Nuclear primacy means establishing nuclear hegemony by developing systems supposedly able to prevent Russia from using its nuclear arsenal in the event of a nuclear war. In other words, “primacy” means developing the ability to “win” a nuclear war.

The Russian Nuclear arsenal includes an estimated 1588 currently deployed nuclear warheads. US strategy aims to have the ability to destroy most of Russia’s nuclear arsenal and delivery systems before it can be used – through a rapid series of nuclear and conventional missile first strikes.

In addition, the primacy or counterforce strategy requires the establishment of missile defence shields designed to destroy any rouge Russian missiles that survive the NATO first strikes and are still able to be launched. This relies on the placement of advanced offensive weapons, including nuclear warheads (and shields), in the new NATO member countries close to Russia’s border.

This is perhaps the craziest imperialist death-cult imaginable, and threatens to bring about an immediate end to all human life – right now – through an accident or miscalculation.

Even if the US first strikes and missile shields could successfully destroy all 1588 deployed Russian nuclear warheads, which is widely considered unlikely, the impact of NATO nuclear bombs hitting Russia could still potentially wipe out most if not all of humanity.

In the ensuing nuclear winter, planetary temperatures would drop dozens of degrees and most animal species would starve to death.

Eastward expansion of NATO and the nuclear-primacy-counterforce strategy has now been US policy for 30 years. To that end, in 2001, the George Bush (junior) administration unilaterally withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty signed by the US and the USSR.

As widely predicted at the time, this triggered a Russian counter-move to attempt to neutralise the new threat to Russian security.

Russia began developing new types of nuclear delivery systems that could get around the missile defence shield: the intercontinental hypersonic glider, a nuclear-powered cruise missile, and a nuclear-powered torpedo. After years of research and development the hypersonic glider missiles were finally unveiled in 2018.

In that same year, the White House, now under President Trump, took the further aggressive step of unilaterally withdrawing from the 1987 Intermediate Range Forces (INF) Treaty prohibiting land based nuclear missiles with a range of 500-1000 kilometres.

This allows the US to place missiles pointed at Russia in NATO countries like Poland, Latvia and, potentially, Ukraine.

The February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine was presented by the imperialist mass media as an irrational act of aggression by Putin himself. In reality it was preceded by escalating US and UK led aggression against Russia.

Since the 2014 coup that installed of an anti-Russia regime in Ukraine (itself aided and abetted by the United States), the US, UK and Canada have trained 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers annually.

By 27 February 2022, the day of the Russian invasion, the Ukrainian Army was among the largest in Europe – though it is now being progressively destroyed by the Russian armed forces.

The invasion was also preceded, for example, by a series of naval provocations and one actual confrontation between the UK and Russian Navies in the Black Sea. These appear to have been coordinated with the Ukrainian push for NATO membership.

Imperialist Aggression Against China

US unilateral withdrawal from the INF treaty not only targets Russia, but also China. For example, 500-1000 kilometre range missiles placed in Taiwan or South Korea could potentially hit Chinese targets, including Shanghai and Beijing.

The majority of the international left think rising imperialist aggression against China is because Chinese economic development threatens to upend imperialist hegemony.

However, such a view not only coincides with much of the bourgeois propaganda on China, but it is also difficult to find an analysis anywhere in the world that convincingly argues this in Marxist terms.

If tons of steel, aluminium and cement, watts of electricity and kilometres of rail track were the measures of economic supremacy, then the Soviet Union would have already achieved economic hegemony over the USA in the early 1980s.

In his 1987 book The Waking Giant, Moscow correspondent for The Guardian, Martin Walker points out:

“In 1961, [Communist Party General Secretary] Nikita Khrushchev promised the Soviet people that, by the 1980s, they would be producing more industrial goods than the USA. This was dismissed at the time by Western observers as a grandiose and unrealistic prediction…

The curious thing is that Khrushchev’s economic targets have been met. The Soviet Union produces 80 percent more steel than the USA, 78 percent more cement, 42 percent more oil, 55 percent more fertiliser, more than twice as much pig-iron and six times as much iron ore. It produces five times as many tractors, almost twice as many metal cutting lathes.”

It is exactly these types of statistics (and GDP growth figures) that are most often used to try to substantiate China’s supposed threat to overturn imperialist dominance.

That account of Soviet production was published in 1986 (five years before its collapse) as the Soviet leadership under Mikhail Gorbachev acknowledged and tried to address the widespread economic dysfunctionality and paralysis gripping the society – paralysis that had arisen precisely on the basis of the massive expansion described.

The US “Pivot to Asia” announced by Barack Obama in the Australian Parliament in 2011, indicated the start of increased US hostility towards China by building up US military forces in the Pacific region.

Of course, imperialist media invariably paints China as the aggressor. However, current Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is usually blamed for China’s supposed infractions, didn’t assume office until 2013.

The Obama administration’s pivot accelerated the build-up of military forces against China. However, there has never been a period – since 1949 – when US imperialism didn’t represent an aggressive threat to China.

For example, the chain of US military bases that surrounds China – in South Korea, Japan, Philippines and Guam – has remained in place throughout the post-war period. Indeed, the US Navy Seventh Fleet was stationed in the Taiwan Strait from 1950-1979 to prevent the re-unification of China and Taiwan after the Communist victory in the civil war.

Concurrent with Obama’s “Pivot to Asia”, the US pursued an aggressive set of economic demands for ever greater opening of China’s economy to US and other foreign capitalist penetration. Then US secretary of State Hillary Clinton, wrote in Foreign Policy magazine in 2011:

“In particular, we are working with China to end unfair discrimination against U.S. and other foreign companies or against their innovative technologies, remove preferences for domestic firms, and end measures that disadvantage or appropriate foreign intellectual property.”

In other words, the removal of restrictions on imperialist multinational companies’ domination of Chinese domestic markets.

It was in pursuit of these same imperialist demands that China was subject to massive trade tariffs, sanctions, and technology bans, especially under Donald Trump’s so called “trade war”.

Almost none of Trump’s punitive measures have been reversed or eased under Biden. The recent visit to Taiwan by US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi is an escalation of US aggression on the Taiwan issue.

Pelosi’s visit, and Biden’s repeated statements that the US is prepared to go to war over Taiwan, indicates that growing sections of the US establishment are considering abandoning their existing “One China Policy” – which gives diplomatic recognition only to Beijing and not Taipei.

Former US Secretary of Defense John Bolton, for example, argues for US diplomatic recognition of Taipei and for placing US troops in Taiwan. China made no attempt to prevent Pelosi’s visit – such as by intercepting her plane and diverting it to the mainland.

A key aspect of imperialism’s hostility is its attempts to weaken and divide China by supporting the anti-Beijing movement in Hong Kong, the massive international propaganda campaign accusing Beijing of “genocide” against the Uighur population in Xinjiang, continued support for opposition to Beijing in Tibet and increasing levels of imperialist support for formal independence in Taiwan.

To be clear, we are not supporting China’s actions in Hong Kong, Xinjiang or Tibet, but rather we want to point out that these claims are hypocritical, the situations are not unique to China, but are massively exaggerated and distorted in imperialist propaganda to create a false perception among working people that China (and all US enemies) are somehow especially bad and far worse human rights abusers than the international actions of the imperialist states. These false perceptions needs to be countered.

The so-called Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, the Quad (US, Japan, Australia and India) and the AUKUS military alliance also aggressively target China.

This year, the US appears to be involved in continuous military exercises close to China. Those already held or scheduled to be held involve almost every country on or close to China’s land and sea borders including Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Changes in Russian and Chinese Defensive Posture Facing Imperialism

One of the biggest changes in the global political situation over the last several years has been what seems to be a turn, on the part of both Russia and China, to greater defensive resistance against the ever-increasing imperialist encroachments.

The key turning points for Russia seem to be the 2014 right-wing coup in Ukraine and the imperialist sponsored war aimed at regime change in Syria – which was ultimately defeated after Russian military intervention in 2015.

Both Russia and China are permanent members of the UN Security Council, giving them the right to veto any resolution.

From 1990-2010, China and Russia combined only exercised their veto right seven times in 20 years. They did not oppose Security Council resolutions authorising imperialist invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan, or the 2011 resolution authorising NATO military intervention in Libya, which lead to the overthrow of the Libyan government – a historical Russian ally.

By contrast, over the 11 years from late 2011 to the present, they have vetoed 25 Security Council resolutions. This began in October 2011 with a US resolution on Syria, and almost all the subsequent vetoes have concerned either Syria or Ukraine.

In Syria, the Obama administration and its Persian Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates attempted to overthrow the Bashar al-Assad government from 2011 onwards by arming, funding and politically supporting Syrian opposition groups that also mobilised large numbers of foreign mercenaries to fight the Syrian Arab Army.

Russia intervened militarily in 2015 at the invitation of the Syrian government. Its intervention turned out to be decisive in turning the military situation in favour of the Syrian army and defeating the imperialist sponsored opposition.

In Ukraine, the US, EU and other imperialist states openly supported the Euromaidan uprising and coup in 2014 that brought an anti-Russia government to power.

Russia reacted by militarily annexing the Crimean Peninsula, home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet. It also gave military support to opposition groups in Ukraine’s East to fight the new regime in what became the Donbas War.

The Crimean annexation and Donbas War resulted in escalating economic sanctions by imperialist states (including Australia) against Russia from 2014 until the present, with several new rounds of sanctions added this year.

In 2016, Russia was absurdly blamed by the Democrat Party for Hillary Clinton’s electoral loss to Donald Trump – significantly setting the scene for the McCarthyite, Russo-phobic atmosphere whipped up in the imperialist countries, especially after Russia’s February 27 invasion of Ukraine this year.

The most significant issue with the Russian invasion is that it is against the wishes of the imperialist powers and their proxy state military forces. It’s not that Russia invaded a rich European country. In the history of capitalist imperialism poor countries have never invaded rich countries, and Russia remains a poor country. But Ukraine is poorer – even before the war.

The significant character of the Russian invasion is a poor country invading another poor country – against the wishes and policy of imperialism.

That is what is new, and that is why we are seeing all the McCarthyite hysteria in response.

Even this level of resistance – attacking a proxy regime – is too much for the imperialist powers to accept, though they might have to. The other highly significant fact of the Russian invasion is that Russia appears to be winning the war and systematically, if slowly, destroying the armed forces of Ukraine.

While the Imperialist mass media rarely admits it, the Russian army is accumulating territory almost every day. It has secured almost the entire Donbas region and much of the southern coastal region of Ukraine that separates the Donbas from Crimea.

The Ukrainian military by contrast – despite receiving advanced weapons from its NATO backers – seems to be suffering constant and extremely heavy losses, hundreds of military casualties daily, is continuing to lose territory, lacks a coherent strategy and is unable to wage serious offensive operations.

Meanwhile, the short-term effect of imperialist sanctions against Russia has been partly negated by skyrocketing international prices for Russian exports of oil, gas, and agricultural produce. However, what the longer-term effects of imperialist bans on selling high-tech goods to Russia (and China) will be is not yet clear.

China has transitioned from the polite diplomacy of the previous few decades to regular diplomatic condemnation of US or Australian hypocrisy – though in Australia at least, Chinese diplomacy has so far been unable to influence the ideas held by many of working-class people.

Russia and China’s increased defensive assertiveness is being answered not only by massively increased imperialist aggression but also, so far at least, a very high degree of unity among the imperialist powers which support it.

For one, NATO has been strengthened and even unilateral US sanctions against China are not resisted either in Europe or Japan. Why?

Germany even appears prepared to suffer an economic contraction caused by a gas shortage, before questioning the sanctions on Russia, I’ve seen no opposition from France, and the UK and Canada remain the most belligerent of the imperialist powers aligned with the US.

This reflects the real alignment of states in today’s world. We not only can theorise, but also observe for ourselves that this is the rich states against the poor states – the imperialist states versus China, Russia and the rest.

Recent Changes in Consciousness Inside the Imperialist Societies

So much needs to be said about the changes in consciousness that have been developing over the last few years. Here I can make only a few brief comments.

The Venezuelan revolution was a response to neoliberal austerity, triggered by a doubling of bus fares in Caracas. The Caracazo rebellion in 1989 was the first major rebellion against neoliberal austerity globally.

The Caracazo and the conditions that caused it set off a chain of events that ultimately destroyed support for the traditional electoral parties in Venezuela and opened the way to the election of Hugo Chavez to the presidency nine years later in 1998.

If Venezuela’s timeline is any indication, then the ultimate political impacts of the current international economic and social developments, and those of the last several years or decades, may take some time to play out.

Both the ending of the neoliberal bonanza and the new assertive defensiveness by the Russian and Chinese states are relatively new. Their impact on consciousness, whatever that turns out to be, may be important in the coming period.

However, the political ruptures already unfolding in the US and other imperialist countries over the last few years seem not to result primarily from the impacts of this new defensive assertiveness, or economic crisis. Rather, they stem from the impact on working people of the neoliberal expansion itself – the political blow-back taking a few years to crystalise.

As mentioned, the economic engine of the neoliberal period, the increased exploitation of cheap Global South labour had, as one of its important effects, the increased ability of capitalists in the Global North to undermine their own working classes through the threat or reality of job losses.

A good example of this is that in the US, manufacturing employment went from a peak of close to 18 million people in 1998 to a low of 11.5 million in 2010.

That is essentially a loss of one in three manufacturing jobs in just one decade – the decade China was admitted into the World Trade Organization and the globalisation of cheap labour was most rapid.

There seems to be a link between this and other social dislocations of the neoliberal re-ordering and new mass-based political movements that have arisen over the last few years.

Perhaps the most important of the new mass movements is the campaign leading up to the election of Donald Trump in 2016, his subsequent hegemonising of the Republican Party even after losing office, and the consolidation of a mass base. As well as being a reactionary and racist mass movement, Trumpism also clearly indicates a weakness in bourgeois establishment politics.

Conversely, new progressive mass movements include Black Lives Matter in the US – a radical movement for basic democratic rights (that are supposed to be guaranteed in bourgeois democracy) to be extended to non-white sections of the US population and especially African Americans – which mobilised tens of millions of people in 2020.

There was also a growing global wave of climate mass actions that became increasingly powerful and coordinated before 2020, when the pandemic tragically put that critical popular movement on hold.

The mass #metoo movement, especially in the US, also seems to have been a precursor the recent wave of mass actions against the Supreme Court’s attack on US women’s right to choose an abortion.

There were also mass-based campaigns to elect a British Labour Party government under leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and to elect Bernie Sanders as the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party in the US.

In Latin America, a whole series of victories for left electoral candidates backed by popular movements occurred in Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Bolivia and Peru. None of these were possible without the backing of powerful mass movements.

In the US there is crisis of both the Republican Party and Democratic parties – with no visible contenders to replace them either.

A similar crisis of legitimacy in bourgeois politics seem to be more or less advanced in most of the imperialist states.  Electorally, there are similar crises facing traditional parties – if less advanced – in the UK and France for example.

The Global South has been hit so much harder by the economic fallout from the pandemic (and now from the imperialist sanctions on Russia which are pushing up global food and fuel prices). We have already seen rebellion in Sri Lanka and Lebanon.

Dozens of countries are considered at risk of soon falling into similar economic paralysis as that which triggered these revolts.

In this context, we must make special note of escalating imperialist attempts to strangle the Cuban and Venezuelan revolutions. The imperialist ideologues, with their policy of economic siege and strangulation, are quite clear on the importance of this.

Just as the collapse of the Soviet Union was a huge setback – the survival and further achievements of Cuba, despite losing 80 percent of its trade with the collapse of the Soviet Union, is a testament to the potential of the socialist revolution – even when isolated and under siege.

We must be on alert for this and should be ready to respond to such threats – as the Red Ant website was in July last year with our Cuba coverage (and our coming booklet).

We should also be ready to learn and understand more about those achievements and to help working people and students here to better understand what happened in those struggles. In this way, we can help to convince a new generation of activists that there is an alternative to the unending wars, exploitation and destruction of capitalist imperialism.


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