Source: Fightback

It’s almost trite to say we are living in unprecedented times. Many would say that the world has gone mad. War, pestilence, poverty, attacks on rights, and environmental degradation are coming to bear on the world all at once, with disastrous consequences. In reality, these are not unconnected events, but all different expressions of a single crisis: the crisis of capitalism.

Capitalism is in crisis

Our current system of production for profit has proven to be utterly incapable of solving any of the pressing issues that we face as a society. 

The response to COVID-19 is a graphic example of this. From the massive death toll in private longterm care, to competition over vaccines; from forcing workers to work in unsafe conditions, to overcrowding and burnout in underfunded hospitals; from rushed reopenings, to the denial of paid sick days, every new chapter in the pandemic shows that when the ruling class make decisions they put profits first, and the workers end up paying with their lives. Now, apparently weary of dealing with the crisis, capitalist governments around the world have decided that if we act like the pandemic is over, then it will be. Meanwhile, health-care systems are in a state of collapse, and new outbreaks are on the horizon with the surge in monkeypox and return of polio.

However, if the pandemic is no longer the top concern for many workers, that is quite understandable, given that runaway inflation is at its worst in 40 years. Inflation reached a high of 8.1 per cent in June, though that number only represents an average across the economy. Food inflation was higher, with bread at 14.5 per cent, butter at 20 per cent, and pasta at almost 21 per cent. And in July, gas prices were up 35.6 per cent. As a result, more than one-quarter of Canadians said that they had to borrow from friends or relatives, or take on extra debt, to keep up with expenses; and one-fifth of Canadians expect to have to turn to food banks or other community organizations. 

In response, the Bank of Canada has been raising its key interest rate rapidly; up to 2.5 per cent from its all-time low at the start of the year of 0.25 per cent. Some financial commentators have breathed a sigh of relief that in July, inflation was “only” 7.6 per cent. However, prices are still going up, and now Canadians have to pay more for their loans and mortgages. 

The increased cost of living is putting pressure on workers to fight for higher wages. The capitalists know that wage increases cannot explain the current spike in inflation—wage increases have been below the rate of inflation for years—but that’s not stopping them from trying to raise the spectre of wage-driven inflation anyways. This is just another attempt to place the burden of failing capitalism on the backs of the workers so the capitalists can continue to rake in massive profits. 

And the capitalists have been raking in massive profits. Corporate profits for this year sit at $402 billion, an increase of 109 per cent from two years ago. Part of this is due to blatant price gouging—taking advantage of existing supply shortages to jack up prices even higher, or artificially keeping supply low in the face of increased demand. It’s the height of hypocrisy that the capitalists should lecture workers about wage restraint. However, inflation is not simply due to the greed of the bosses, it is systemic. During the pandemic lockdowns, governments pumped billions of dollars into the economy in the form of handouts to corporations, the equivalent of printing money. They justified this as a way to protect jobs, but in reality, corporations laid off workers anyways and pocketed the cash. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch—so the capitalists are trying to make the workers pay for it. If they can’t do that directly, then making workers poorer through inflation works just as well. 

The war in Ukraine is exacerbating the economic crisis as well. The war is another example of the capitalist class sowing chaos and destruction through their actions. It is essentially a contest between the U.S.A. and NATO on one side (backing the government in Kyiv as their proxy) and Russia on the other over who gets to control a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, with the imperialists uncaring about how many lives are lost in the process. In fact, the entire strategy of the U.S. is to draw out the war for as long as possible, with the sole aim of weakening their rival, turning Ukraine into a war-torn quagmire along the way. Already over 5,000 people have died and over 7,000 have been injured, with no end in sight. The destruction of the war has devastated agricultural production, so that countries that rely on the region for imports, like Lebanon and Egypt, are now faced with the prospect of food shortages. On top of this, the sanctions that have accompanied the war have done nothing to deter Russia, but they have been effective at driving up gas prices, ensuring that the suffering for the war is shared by the working class around the world. Whatever pretty language about “freedom” and “independence” the ruling class uses as window dressing, this is a war over capitalist interests, and once again workers are paying for it with their lives. 

Meanwhile, the long-foretold impacts of climate change are beginning to take dramatic and deadly shape. To look just at British Columbia, 619 people died in last year’s heat wave, which was then followed by devastating flooding. This summer, a heat wave struck Europe, killing 1,000 people in the U.K. alone. These are just two examples of what we can now expect to be an annual occurrence. Every so often there will be an international meeting emphasizing the urgency of the problem. And every time the bourgeois governments will walk away with a set of targets that they will invariably fail to meet. Climate change is an international threat that requires an international, planned, coordinated response. But the capitalists refuse to take any action that might impinge on the free market or undermine profits. The long-term existence of human society takes second priority to the earnings of the next financial quarter

In the midst of all of this we have seen a new wave of attacks on rights and equality. The most blatant recent example is the overturn of Roe v. Wade in the United States, the Supreme Court ruling that held that the right to an abortion is constitutionally protected. But Canada is not the haven that many would like to believe it is. Hate crimes have increased in Canada by 72 per cent over the past two years, with Muslims and LGBTQ people in particular being targeted more often. As the crisis deepens, we are sure to see more attacks, as the capitalists attempt to turn workers against each other with discrimination and oppression

With all of this happening, it is no wonder that there is increasing radicalization and polarization in Canadian society. The so-called “Freedom Convoy” was an example of a polarization towards the right wing, as a segment of the population found answers to their frustrations in conspiracy theories. However, this is only half the story. A greater segment of the working class and youth are moving towards the left, but the difference is that there is nothing on the left to galvanize these people. On the right, Pierre Poilievre was happy to make himself the political spokesman for the convoy in the hopes of riding their support to electoral success. But who is there on the left to explain the crisis in the system or call for the radical change that workers need?

What is to be done?

Instead of bold calls for radical change, what we see from the left are attempts to work within the limits of capitalism. When it comes to the labour leadership we see a general unwillingness to fight. High strike votes are often followed not by mobilization, but by last-minute deals with the bosses. When significant, militant strikes do happen, the bosses know that all they have to do is wait for back-to-work legislation to be passed by their friends in government, because no labour leadership has stood up against these legislative attacks on workers’ rights. There have been times when the class collaboration has been so blatant as to seem unreal, like when former OPSEU president Smokey Thomas and former Unifor president Jerry Dias shared a news conference with Ontario’s Conservative Premier Doug Ford. Comfortable with their job security and salaries, these leaders are entirely cut off from the workers they’re supposed to represent. For the class struggle to advance, misleaders will need to be replaced by militant class fighters. 

As for the rest of the left, it has been fully overcome by movementism. That is, the belief that the movement, radical activity, is everything, and that there is no need to build a revolutionary organization. The focus is on campaigns and demonstrations around single issues or specific reforms, led by small circles of activists and disconnected from the broader struggle against capitalism. There is no perspective for the revolutionary transformation of society. Practically, this means that the goal of these movements can only ever be to ask the governments of the bosses for whatever reforms they’re willing to give, despite any trappings of radicalism they might have. Of course there is nothing wrong with fighting for reforms in and of itself; the question is how one fights and towards what end. The end result of movementism, in the best case, is often to end up supporting capitalists governments who opportunistically offer reforms and providing them with a “progressive” veneer. In the worst case it leads to demoralization, as nothing is built and there is no substantial change. In all cases, movementism is based on a lack of faith in the working class to bring about change. 

Revolutionaries understand that it is not activists who create movements. Capitalism creates movements on its own, as we can see by simply looking around the world. Working class people are rising up against the system that exploits and oppresses them. Sri Lanka provides a dramatic example, where, faced with economic devastation, and met by police violence, the masses overthrew the government in July. This summer also saw a mass uprising in Libya, and a national strike in Ecuador. The unionization wave that is sweeping the U.S.A. shows that for the first time, thousands of workers are turning towards collective action to defend their interests as a class. Britain has seen a strike wave by rail workers, mail workers, and a recent burst of wildcat strikes. It can be easy to think that such explosions will never come to Canada. But the processes playing out in these countries are taking place here as well, and they provide a glimpse of the class struggle that is to come.

The question is not whether class struggle will happen. The question is: What will it take to win? Sri Lanka, again, provides a useful example. Despite bringing down three government cabinets, the governor of the central bank, the finance minister, the prime minister, and finally the president himself, the Sri Lankan masses did not have a plan to replace them with anything. As a result, the ruling class had the opportunity to regroup and stabilize their hold on power. What was necessary to secure victory in Sri Lanka was a revolutionary leadership with a program for transforming society. 

Such a leadership cannot be built overnight. It takes years of work and struggle to earn the right to lead. In this sense, it’s a good thing that political developments in Canada are happening slowly, because it means that there is time to build a revolutionary organization with the right perspectives and tactics. 

Movements will come and go, some will win and some will lose, until capitalism is overthrown. With a short-term perspective, it will be easy for people to look at the failures of some of these movements, and become demoralized. Even successful movements will leave people asking, what comes next? Recent years have seen massive demonstrations against police racism and against climate change. The scale of these movements have been inspiring. But they have not produced results. We need to reach the best people from such movements, the most militant and genuine fighters, and save them from demoralization by winning them to the cause of revolution. This way, we can approach each new fight at a higher level instead of starting from scratch. We must build our ability to offer revolutionary, working class leadership to these movements, so they will not be misled back into compromises with capitalism. 

Building the Marxist leadership that the working class needs is exactly what we’re doing in Fightback. This is not an easy task, but nothing worth doing is. While increasingly fed up with capitalism, the majority of people have not reached revolutionary conclusions—yet. When they do, if we have a strong organization that workers can turn to, one that is rooted in the labour movement and movements of the oppressed, then we will have a real chance at going further than the insurrection in Sri Lanka, or any of the uprisings in recent years. We will have a real chance to win. If you have reached revolutionary conclusions, you have a duty to prepare for that moment. 

Source: Fightback

In the 20 years since its founding, Fightback/La Riposte socialiste has gone from the smallest group on the anti-capitalist left in Canada to the largest. This is because we understand the importance of Marxist theory, class independence, and organization. However, we still have a lot of work to do before we can play a decisive role in the struggles to come. If you believe in the need for revolution, you should join us and help us get there. As individuals we are powerless. But as an organization we can change the world.