Pular para o conteúdo

The Five Structural Crises of the New Historical Period

This article is an edited version of the international document on the agenda of the Congress of Resistance-PSOL, which took place in early December 2023.

Gabriel Casoni and Genilda Souza - Resistência-PSOL (Brazil)
Heiko de Getty Images

Resistencia considered it necessary to begin an elaboration on the main aspects that characterize the current historical period of capitalism and the class struggle, insofar as national realities are determined, to a large extent, by powerful international factors in motion.

This article also aims to establish a dialogue with other organizations, militant cadres and revolutionary Marxist intellectuals on the analysis and political framing of the current historical stage in development. After all, we believe that the initial elaboration we have presented certainly contains gaps, errors and biases that can and should be improved and corrected through expanded debate.

On the new historical period in development

The world is undergoing enormous transformations. It would be impossible to predict the end point of this complex process that brings together various structural dimensions in motion. But it is possible to identify the main factors that make up what we can call a new historical period [stage] in development, which goes through and beyond the various international political conjunctures and situations.

Below we will briefly list five intertwined structural crises that characterize the changing global picture. Understanding this deeper international context is key to a correct reading of reality and the formulation of an adequate revolutionary and internationalist Marxist policy.

It is important to highlight the fact that this new historical period is still marked by the historic defeat of the global working class that occurred with the restoration of capitalism in 1/3 of the planet between the 80s and 90s of the last century.

“It is important to highlight the fact that this new historical period is still marked by the historic defeat of the global working class that occurred with the restoration of capitalism in 1/3 of the planet between the 80s and 90s of the last century.”

Since Vietnam, in 1975, there has been no social revolution that has expropriated the bourgeoisie. As a result, there was a gigantic setback in the level of consciousness of the working masses and the vanguard. For the vast majority of the proletariat, socialism became associated with the idea of economic failure and political authoritarianism. The revolutionary seizure of power by the working class came to be considered a utopian objective.

This in no way means that the revolutionary strategy has become outdated. On the contrary, overcoming deeply decadent capitalism through international socialist revolution has never been more necessary for humanity than it is now. However, realistically admitting the enormous difficulties and dangers present in the class struggle in the current reactionary historical period is fundamental for consequent revolutionary political action.

The Five Structural Crises

First: the deep crisis of capitalism after 2008

With the restoration of capitalism in Eastern Europe and China and the apogee of neoliberalism in the 1990s, capitalism gained momentum, with the acceleration, in global terms, of economic growth, international trade, and of accumulation, profitability, and capital flows.

However, since the collapse of the financial system in 2008, there has been a dynamic of relative economic decline, with a reduction in the pace of economic growth, global trade and labor productivity; decrease in the average rate of profit in the productive sector; and overaccumulation of capital, resulting in hypertrophy of fictitious capital and recurrent financial crises; among other factors.

Another facet of this process of crisis of capitalism was the expansion of social inequalities, the withdrawal of rights and precariousness of the working class, the relative impoverishment of large sectors of the population, the explosion of humanitarian crises, as in the case of the exponential increase in refugees around the world, and global threats to health, as happened with the covid-19 pandemic. It is also important to highlight the intensification of racism, xenophobia, machismo and LGBTphobia, both in the center and on the periphery of the system.

In order to get through the crisis and keep accumulating on an ever-expanding scale, capital needs to increase the rates of exploitation of labor, which means intensifying productivity by incorporating new technologies that not only speed up the production process, but also increase working hours and control over working time (terms like “industry 4.0” and “platform capitalism” try to account for this). In order to implement the new levels of exploitation, it is necessary to break down the legal barriers won by the collective struggles of the working class, destroying labor rights. Informality, precariousness and fragmentation, on a large scale, are the objective conditions that shape today’s working class.

The colonial/imperialist face of capitalist accumulation has always meant that the dynamic of expropriation has been experienced unevenly around the world, with a greater impact on peripheral and dependent countries, particularly in the Global South, and consequently on racialized populations, according to the standard imposed by the racial ideology propagated by the bourgeoisie of the colonizing/imperialist economies.

This also has an impact on the intensification of racism within central capitalist economies, against racialized migrant and local populations. Racism is a fundamental tool for capital to impose more aggressive patterns of exploitation, dispossession and domination, both in the central countries and in the peripheral countries.

“Racism is a fundamental tool for capital to impose more aggressive patterns of exploitation, dispossession and domination, both in the central countries and in the peripheral countries.”

The deterioration in the living conditions of the working class and the advance on the public purse, destroying social policies – health, education, welfare and assistance, in particular – in turn amplify another crisis: that of social reproduction. While all human societies have always needed to organize the reproduction of life collectively, capitalism separates the sphere of commodity production from the sphere of the reproduction of life – which includes the reproduction of the commodity workforce, which is essential to the production of value – confined to the domestic space (and, since the conquests of social struggles, to public services provided by the state).

The association of biological reproduction and “care” work with a “gender role” assigned to women sheds light on the very form taken by gender oppression under capitalism. The precariousness of labor relations and the dismantling of public services burden working families and communities – and particularly the women within them – with the worries and difficulties of overworking for social reproduction.

In short, the economic crisis unfolded into a social crisis, generating a dynamic of greater and deeper attacks by capital on the working class, hitting oppressed people and social sectors with greater violence. The current economic-social decadence of capitalism is the basis of the other structural crises that we will address below.

Second: the emergence of the climate crisis

The irrational and predatory nature of capitalism is on full display in the accelerated process of destroying nature, which is the basic source of humanity’s survival. This cumulative and secular process has taken a leap forward in recent years, when climate change has become an inescapable fact of present reality, no longer a mere projection for some point in the future.

In other words, we are already experiencing the tragic effects of environmental change with the increasingly frequent occurrence of acute and prolonged droughts, terrible floods, hurricanes, cyclones and landslides, as well as the desertification of vast tracts of land, the increase in the planet’s average temperature, with extreme heat waves, the level and acidification of the oceans, the decrease in the availability of fresh drinking water, among other harmful consequences.

As could not be otherwise under capitalism, those who suffer most from all this are the poorest and most racialized working populations, peripheral countries and ethnic and/or national minorities. It is inexorable that these destructive environmental events will intensify in the coming years, with significant and inevitable economic, social and political consequences for all countries.

The “green transition” initiated by the dominant powers, even if it has some mitigating effect, is absolutely insufficient to contain the worsening pace of climate change. Imperialism is incapable of applying effective measures – at the speed, scale and with the necessary means – for the simple reason that the consequent confrontation of the environmental collapse underway would require the end of the capitalist mode of production and imperialist domination. For example, the expropriation of the big fossil fuel companies in order to initiate an accelerated and planned energy transition is a necessity for humanity.

the expropriation of the big fossil fuel companies in order to initiate an accelerated and planned energy transition is a necessity for humanity

In any case, the “green” policies of the major powers, even if partial and insufficient, produce an intense search for new raw materials and technological development, leading to new cycles of expropriation of native peoples and traditional communities for the predatory exploitation of natural resources, as in the case of lithium in South America.

Under the logic of capital, the “green agenda” is reconfiguring important aspects of geopolitical, technological and commercial disputes across the globe, as can be seen in the automotive sector, with the race to develop and produce electric cars. The domination of the central countries (rich and industrialized) over the so-called Global South (dependent nations and exporters of raw materials) is also affirmed in the environmental agenda, when imperialism, for its own benefit, seeks to impose unfair and unequal conditions on peripheral countries in terms of trade and responsibilities for environmental protection and energy transition.

For all of the above reasons, the political and programmatic responses to the so-called “environmental question” acquire central importance for the socialist and revolutionary struggle in the 21st century.

Third: the crisis of the imperialist order and the danger of world war

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world experienced a period of “unipolar” domination by the imperialist bloc led by the United States, in association with the United Kingdom, the European Union and Japan. However, the rapid and colossal growth of the Chinese economy since the 1990s, leveraged by foreign productive investment and combined with the country’s accelerated technological and military development and the formation of large and competitive national state-owned and private companies, has transformed China into a rising power in search of a place in the global imperialist order.

The relative decline of the hegemonic bloc (the US and its main allies – Western Europe and Japan), on the one hand, and, on the other, the forceful advance of China and the partial recovery of Russia, have laid the foundations for the geopolitical conflicts that are developing in the world today.

The US is determined to halt China’s advance as a world power. Beijing, for its part, remains steadfast in its determination to achieve an imperialist position commensurate with its economic and military weight. Putin, for his part, wants to recover some of the imperial power lost since the dissolution of the USSR. Western Europe and Japan, albeit with a certain degree of autonomy, are subordinately aligned with the Americans in order to preserve threatened positions. Australia and South Korea are doing the same. India, which is undergoing an accelerated process of economic growth, is becoming more relevant in the geopolitical disputes underway. China and Russia are responding by forging an important alliance with the East.

This open international conflict, on an enormous scale, reveals the serious crisis of the imperialist order (international system of states). The inter-imperialist war in Ukraine – characterized both by Russia’s colonialist interests in the region and by US-NATO expansionist interests in Eastern Europe – is both the expression and the driving force behind the ongoing clashes. The fierce dispute between the US (with its allies) and China (with its allies) tends to intensify in all areas – economic, technological, military, diplomatic and cultural. This is what is known, in journalistic terms, as the start of Cold War 2.0.

It is worth mentioning that there is a dynamic of relative “deglobalization”, in the sense that there is a tendency for trade and capital flows around the world to slow down (or even decline). In other words, there tends to be less global economic integration, with the spread of protectionist measures and the formation of economic and diplomatic blocs of their own, obeying the logic of geopolitical disputes. As a result, the dispute between the powers for influence and domination of the planet’s peripheral regions is intensifying.

The escalation of inter-imperialist conflicts will only lead to more suffering and tragedies for the exploited and oppressed masses, who are called upon to take up the defense of one of the warring imperialist gangs, as can be seen in the war in Ukraine. This, in turn, reveals the tendency for military conflicts to expand across the globe and the real danger of a new world war breaking out in the current historical period – which would be a catastrophe for all of humanity.

As a demonstration of this dynamic, it is worth looking closely at the accelerating arms race on the planet. Israel’s genocidal offensive on the Gaza Strip, which has unpredictable consequences, and which has the direct support of the US and the international far right, is another expression of the trend towards the expansion of armed conflicts and more far-reaching wars.

The fight against imperialism is once again of the utmost importance to revolutionaries. And this battle translates at the moment, first of all, into agitation and propaganda against Israel’s genocide in Gaza and against the war in Ukraine.

“The fight against imperialism is once again of the utmost importance to revolutionaries”

Fourth: the rise of neo-fascism and the crisis of bourgeois democracy

Bourgeois democracy is going through a process of crisis all over the world. To a greater or lesser extent, in both the center and the periphery. The structural economic crisis of capitalism, the widening of social inequalities and the relative decline of the hegemonic imperialist bloc are gradually eroding the pillars of support and legitimacy of the liberal-democratic regime. This crisis is reflected in the loss of confidence by large sectors of the different social classes that the liberal-democratic regime and the traditional parties can solve the economic and social problems posed.

It turns out that, faced with the crisis of democracy and the traditional parties, the extreme neo-fascist right – and not the radical alternatives on the left – is emerging as an alternative government and regime for sections of the masses. Of course, the strength of neo-fascism and the degree of crisis of liberal democracy are very different from country to country. However, it is undeniable that this is an international process characteristic of the current historical period, which is not limited to a mere conjuncture – it goes much further.

Just as it was with historical fascism in the 1920s and 1930s, neofascism grows in the midst of the crisis of capitalism, imperialism and bourgeois democracy at the global level. It feeds on the social crisis produced by neoliberalism and the successive failures of governments led by the liberal right and the reformist left. Its appearance and incidence on the international scene do not stem from a single cause, but from several reasons combined, as we have seen.

“Just as it was with historical fascism in the 1920s and 1930s, neofascism grows in the midst of the crisis of capitalism, imperialism and bourgeois democracy at the global level”

With particular characteristics in each country, the far right acts everywhere to direct the social resentment and political disenchantment that exists in large sections of the masses. Not against the bourgeoisie and the decaying capitalist system, but against the poor and social rights. Against workers and labor rights. Against women and feminist agendas. Against the black population and anti-racist demands. Against LGBTQIs and their demands for rights. Against indigenous peoples and the struggle for their lands.

Neo-fascism pits the petty bourgeoisie and the middle class against the working class and the poorest. And it divides the working class with misogyny, racism, LGBTphobia, xenophobia, religious conservatism and environmental denialism. In order to leverage the profitability of capital and win the support of sectors of the big bourgeoisie, the extreme right promises to support savage measures of exploitation and plundering, always guaranteed by the harshest repression of the police and military apparatus.

Neo-fascism also targets democratic freedoms. After all, its strategic power project involves the establishment of authoritarian and violent regimes, which presupposes the strangulation of the liberal-democratic regime, albeit gradually and sometimes operating within the very institutions of the liberal democratic regime.

It is important to note that fractions of imperialism, particularly in the US, have moved to the extreme right, as can be seen in the strength acquired by Donald Trump, who has taken control of the powerful Republican Party. This orientation of imperialist sectors is explained both by the usefulness of far-right governments to impose more aggressive patterns of exploitation and oppression of the workforce, and to respond externally to growing geopolitical disputes.

Neo-fascism, like classic fascism, is distinguished, among other things, by being a mobilizing movement with mass influence; having charismatic and messianic leaders; having an openly militaristic, nationalist, anti-communist, misogynist, racist and heteronormative political-ideological identity. Having won the support of sectors of the working class, the extreme right has its fundamental social base in layers of the petty, middle and big bourgeoisie.

Unlike classical fascism, the fascism of our times has not yet succeeded in forming (or only in an incipient form) paramilitary forces to physically crush the workers’ and popular movement (as Mussolini’s “black shirts” and the SA of German Nazism did), nor has it succeeded in establishing properly fascist regimes, although in some countries, once in government, it has established, to varying degrees and with different characteristics, authoritarian regimes.

The far right is the main political enemy to be confronted in the current historical moment by the working class and the oppressed of the world. The program of neofascism can be summed up in a few words: social and environmental barbarism and political dictatorship. Its strategic triumph would imply the annihilation of the left, social movements and trade unions. Imposing a substantial defeat on neo-fascism on the terrain of class struggle is a strategic challenge in this new historical stage. Although the direct struggle of the masses is the strategic axis to defeat neo-fascism, one should not underestimate the importance of imposing electoral defeats on the extreme right. Because, when it comes to the government, it acquires better conditions to advance in its counterrevolutionary project. Unitary tactics to fight against this dangerous enemy, in particular the Anti-Fascist United Front, gain great relevance and topicality.

Fifth: the subjective crisis of the proletariat and the revolutionary alternative

We already mentioned in the introduction that the reality of the current class struggle is still marked by the historic defeat represented by capitalist restoration in countries where revolutions had expropriated the bourgeoisie and imperialism. The crisis of the revolutionary project is emblematically manifested in the fact that we are coming up to almost 50 years without any victorious socialist revolution in the world.

The decline of contemporary capitalism has so far not been accompanied by the strengthening of anti-capitalist alternatives. The seizure of power and the construction of socialism remain far from the horizon of the working and oppressed masses. The delay in the level of consciousness of the international proletariat, given the seriousness and emergence of the objective need to overcome capitalism, is dramatic.

“The seizure of power and the construction of socialism remain far from the horizon of the working and oppressed masses. The delay in the level of consciousness of the international proletariat, given the seriousness and emergence of the objective need to overcome capitalism, is dramatic”

Strictly speaking, even working class organizations that are compatible with bourgeois democracy, such as trade unions and other traditional organizations of the workers’ and people’s movement, have suffered significant setbacks and lost strength in the last few decades of prevailing neoliberalism. We can therefore characterize a political crisis of the working class in a broad sense, and not just in terms of the diminishing weight of revolutionary organizations in contemporary reality. It is fundamentally a crisis of the subjective dimension, so to speak; in what Marx defines as the class for itself. That is, in terms of its level of consciousness, organization and confidence in the collective struggle.

The working class itself, from an objective point of view, with regard to its place in the production and reproduction of the capitalist system, has never been so large and decisive in proportional and absolute terms. But the consequences of the political and social defeats suffered, the impacts of productive restructuring, of decades of aggressive neoliberal policies, which produced fragmentation and fraying of the social fabric, among other elements, weighed — and still weighs — on the shoulders of the proletariat. The subjective crisis of the working class crosses and conditions the four structural crises mentioned above.

After the capitalist crisis of 2008-09, there was a process of rising struggles by the exploited and oppressed. The Arab Spring and the massive struggles in Europe against liberal austerity were the culmination. However, it should be noted that this upsurge in struggles was defeated in the Arab world (the “spring” turned into a terrible “winter” – just look at the current terrible situation in Egypt, Syria and Libya, for example), in Europe and everywhere else.

The defeat of the 2009-2014 upsurge paved the way for the far right from 2015 onwards, and is one of the factors, although not the only one, that explains its emergence on the international stage. While the period of the rise saw the emergence of political alternatives on the left, albeit reformist ones, such as Podemos and Syriza; after the end of this process, it was the far-right alternatives that gained momentum, with greater radicalism and weight, in various parts of the world; while the new parties on the left retreated. If before, the traditional parties of the liberal right and social democracy were questioned and lost ground to the new formations on the left, in the most recent period they have come under direct threat from the extreme right.

The traditional reformist left, integrated into the bourgeois-democratic regime and politically moderate, which had suffered significant wear and tear for heading limited class conciliation governments or even for having carried out neoliberal attacks in the previous period, has made a significant comeback at the political-electoral level in several countries, by positioning itself as the main political option in the face of the advance of the extreme right. The recomposition of the PT in Brazil, the PSOE in Spain, the PS in Portugal, Labour in England, among other examples, proves the above statement.

From the positive point of view of the recomposition of the proletariat’s capacity for struggle and organization, the advances of the feminist movement, the black movement, the LGBTQI movement, the indigenous movement and the environmental movement since the last decade stand out. The anti-racist uprising in the United States, which was decisive for Trump’s defeat in 2020, and the social explosion in Chile in 2019, with the feminist movement at the forefront, attest to the above conclusion.

The exploited and oppressed have not stopped fighting, despite all the setbacks and heavy defeats they have inherited. Social explosions, major strikes, large mobilizations, radicalized uprisings, partial or generalized uprisings, etc. have not and will not cease to occur. The historic strike by the metalworkers of the car manufacturers in the US this year and the rise of the unions in that country show that even the traditional workers’ movement can regain strength, albeit slowly and unevenly. All these social struggles and rebellions have enormous importance for the present and the future. So far, however, they have either been defeated or have not been strong enough, even when they have achieved partial victories, to change the general sign of the political and social correlation of forces, which is still quite unfavorable.

It is worth underlining the fact that class collaboration or so-called “progressive” governments, in which parties and leaders from the reformist left manage the state in alliances with bourgeois parties and leaders, are not capable of resolving the structural crises of capitalism, nor are they capable of strategically defeating emerging neo-fascism. Whenever these governments of conciliation fail, by frustrating the expectations of the masses, they open the way for the advance of the extreme right or the return of the traditional right.

“class collaboration or so-called “progressive” governments, in which parties and leaders from the reformist left manage the state in alliances with bourgeois parties and leaders, are not capable of resolving the structural crises of capitalism, nor are they capable of strategically defeating emerging neo-fascism”

This strategic consideration should in no way lead to a sectarian, leftist response by revolutionaries to these governments. We must recognize that the electoral victory of the moderate left against the extreme right opens up better conditions for the struggle of the working class.

Once class conciliation governments are established, the revolutionary left, while maintaining its class independence (i.e. not entering these governments or joining them politically from outside) must develop a patient tactic (of demands, differentiation and criticism) that follows the evolution of the masses’ experience with these governments and the correlation of forces in general. Not being confused, under any circumstances, with the right-wing and extreme right-wing opposition to these governments, as well as defending them in the face of coup threats and reactionary attacks (as is the case in Brazil), is crucial for the revolutionary left to accredit itself as a useful instrument for the working class. At the same time, it is essential to develop propaganda, patiently explaining to the best of the vanguard the limits and character of these conciliation governments and the need to build an anti-capitalist and revolutionary alternative.

It is important to note that the dynamic of marginalization, fragmentation and dispersion of the radical and revolutionary left still prevails – or rather, this dynamic has deepened in recent years. And it is not restricted to the Trotskyist tradition and others like it. You only have to look at what is happening in the so-called “communist movement” around the world, in the Stalinist tradition, which is experiencing a growing process of ruptures in various countries.

For all the elements listed in this fifth point, from the subjective point of view, the strategic task in the present historical period is not restricted only to the need to reconstruct the political subject, a revolutionary alternative at the height of historical deviations – although this remains a fundamental task. It is also necessary to act for the subjective recomposition of the social subject, of the working class for itself, in its most basic aspects: class consciousness, the instruments of grassroots organization in the workplaces and territories, confidence for the collective struggle. Leaning on the most dynamic elements of the proletariat — women, blacks, LGBTQIs, immigrants, indigenous people, youth — is key to advancing this historic task. The development of the politics of unity to fight in all spaces and levels, especially of the United Front, acquires redoubled programmatic value in the current historical moment.

Final Consideration

The intertwining of the five structural crises of capitalism opens up a reactionary historical period of enormous gravity and danger for the working and oppressed masses around the world, especially in the semi-colonial and dependent countries. The reactionary aspects of the historical stage opened up by the end of the USSR have deepened: the gap between the objective need to overcome capitalism and the subjective backwardness of the proletariat and the revolutionary alternative to fulfill this task has widened.

“The reactionary aspects of the historical stage opened up by the end of the USSR have deepened”

As a result of the five crises combined, the shocks, crises and conflicts in all areas are likely to intensify more and more, with unpredictable consequences. Decadent capitalism and imperialism are pushing humanity into the abyss. Neo-fascism is rearing its head. Environmental collapse is underway. Social inequalities and oppressions are worsening. But despite the enormous difficulties faced by the exploited and oppressed in the battle for their emancipation, there is and will be a struggle against capitalist and imperialist barbarism. And therein lies revolutionary hope.

Translated by Davi de Carvalho