Contemporary capitalism and the debate over the alternative

[This presentation was a contribution by the Cuban Communist Party delegation to the debate over the central document for the Ninth Meeting of the São Pãolo Forum, Managua, Nicaragua, February 19-21, 2000. Translation by Dick Nichols.]


Throughout the 1990s theoretical analysis and the left's debate over strategy and tactics have been conditioned by two basic elements: in first place, the political and ideological impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the other European socialist states which keeps the need for an overall balance sheet of the historical experience of socialism on the agenda and secondly, the subsequent universal avalanche of myths about the "regenerative capacity" of the capitalist system, the "indisputable power" of imperialism and the consummation of a "civilisational change" (technological, economic, social and political) that makes any revolutionary transformation of society impossible. The aim of this contribution to the discussions of the Ninth Meeting of the São Pãolo Forum is to stimulate reflection about how much these fallacies, lacking in any scientific support, also pervade the debate over what is being called "the alternative to neo-liberalism".

Two issues lying at the root of the collapse of the Soviet Union capture the attention of any human being with access to means of communication. One is an objective and inexorable process, namely the acceleration of the historical trend, discovered and analysed by Marx and Engels, towards the universal development of human relations. This is nowadays usually dubbed "globalisation" or "worldisation",[1] neo-liberalism, is a doctrine devised to justify individualism and inequality in a crisis period of the capitalist mode of production. It is one in which the transnational monopolies and the imperialist states, with which they are fused, are forced to undertake an extreme, speeded-up concentration of wealth and property, regardless of the social costs involved.

There are two main trends among the ideologues of "eternal capitalism". The first forecasts a progressive economic and social homogenisation of the world while the second recognises the widening of the gap between the imperialist powers and the underdeveloped countries, along with the social, economic and political polarisation that is emerging within each country. However, both agree on the "need" of all countries to accept the "dictates" of "globalisation". In the first case because this will eventually lead to general prosperity; in the second because it is the only formula at hand for trying to "escape" from that band of humanity which will be excluded from development and welfare, even while it "recognises" that many "will be left by the wayside" despite having applied "globalising" recipes to the letter.

Given that the ruling ideas are those of the ruling class, and that the movement towards political and economic universalisation is taking place under the sign of capitalism that is, under the control and in the interests of the multinational monopolies and the governments of the imperialist powers it is too often accepted that the capitalist form in which this process is taking place is the only one possible. This myth is for the most part reinforced by the literature on the subject and by the saturation of capitalist propaganda.

If the broadcasting media which systematically bombard us are the property of the promoters and beneficiaries of neo-liberal ideology, how far is our own vision of change in the contemporary world of this world which we need to understand in order to change it being influenced by the "scientific" assumptions which underpin neo-liberal dogmas? To what point are we confusing and mixing up the inexorable and civilisational character of humanity's advance towards universal interconnectedness with the specifically capitalist form in which this is presently taking place? To what extent is the unilateral opening up and deregulation of the economies of the so-called Third World the result of a natural historical tendency, and to what extent are they imposed by the imperialist power that benefits from them? To what extent does our analysis and discussion start from false premises about what "we can" and "we can't" do in a "globalised world"? To what degree, then, do these dogmas condition and limit our debates about the program, strategy and tactics of the left? Could it not be that we are neglecting the objective fact that the capitalist economic and social formation's progressive epoch already lies behind it and presently finds itself in a decadent and vegetative stage?

One of the foundation stones of the "eternal capitalism" thesis is that, by virtue of the so-called scientific and technical revolution, the capitalist mode of production found the formula for resolving, or at least for always postponing, the outbreak of its antagonistic contradictions amongst them crises of overproduction from which it emerges that the revolutionary transformation of society would not only prove impossible, but even unnecessary. Another piece of fashionable ideology is that science and technology have acquired a life and rationality or irrationality of their own, namely that scientific and technological development have become humanity's motor force, such that its dictates admit of no appeal, by neither the exploiters nor the exploited. It thus generates social changes that invalidate the entire history of popular movements, protest and political alike. Thus it is ignored that scientific and technological innovation is itself driven by the laws of capital and that contrary to the generally accepted notion the deeper and more rapid its development is, the greater is the sharpening of capitalism's contradictions, in particular the contradiction between the development of the productive forces and the stagnation of the relations of production.

Much more sensible and relevant than talking about the "solution" or "averting" of capitalism's antagonistic contradictions would appear to be the question whether the capitalist mode of production is presently passing through a relatively long phase during which it can moderate (but never resolve) these contradictions or if, on the contrary, these are tending to get worse. The importance and relevance of the judgement that we make on this issue is based on the fact, as Marx stated,

[in a stage of] … general prosperity, in which the productive forces of bourgeois society develop as luxuriantly as is at all possible within bourgeois relationships, there can be no talk of a real revolution. Such a revolution is only possible in the periods when both these factors, the modern productive forces and the bourgeois forms of production, come in collision with each other.[2]

What emerges from this statement is that if capitalism has found the way, through scientific and technological development, of opening a prolonged new phase of expanded growth in world economy, without any need to pass through a deep new crisis or to resort to a devastating war, the left and popular movements will be obliged to adjust their strategy and tactics to this reality, not only through developing a short and medium term minimum program, but also with a perspective of much longer scope.

However, what has been the trajectory of the capitalist system in the second half of the twentieth century? Does contemporary capitalism find itself at the dawn of a new prolonged stage of expanded growth or is it going through a sharpening and acceleration of the organic crisis of its mode of production?

From 'welfare state' to neo-liberalism: the decomposition of contemporary capitalism

The thesis regarding the victory or superiority of capitalism over socialism is based on the premise that confuses the capitalist system with the falsely titled welfare state which operated mainly in western Europe from the end of the second world war. This conception is doubly fraudulent: firstly, because it suggests that the political and economic conditions typical of that period are fixed in place or, even more, tending to improve, if only within a restricted group of privileged countries; secondly, because it forgets that capitalism is a world system and as such its performance cannot be measured by the prosperity of its areas of maximum development but by the consequences of the mode of production for the overall population within its sway.

To understand the transformation of contemporary capitalism, we need to start from the contradiction already noted between the development of the productive forces and the relations of production. This derives from the ability of the capitalist system to produce more commodities than can be sold, leading to crises of overproduction of commodities, which are, at the same time, crises of underconsumption. This contradiction was "resolved" on three occasions during the first half of the twentieth century, through massive destruction of surplus productive forces brought about by (1) the first world war, (2) the Great Depression of 1929-33 and (3) the second world war. The two world wars were, at the same time, theatres for other historical processes that changed and conditioned the behaviour of imperialism: the first saw the emergence of the Soviet Union the materialisation of the alternative project to the capitalist mode of production. On the basis of the second, socialism became a system made up of various countries that exercised influence upon the rest of the world.

During the period following the second world war, economics and politics combined in such a way that imperialism was forced to establish the "welfare state", basically in Western Europe. From the economic point of view, the massive destruction of productive forces brought on by the conflagration opened up a two-decade period of virtually uninterrupted expanded economic growth, without any immediate threat of a major crisis of overproduction. In these conditions, there was a constant growth in the demand for the commodity of labour power, such as to create an increase in its value and, as a result, a rise in wages. This in turn played a fundamental role in stimulating the demand for goods and services, expanding the horizons of the market and aiding the expanded reproduction of capital. From the political point of view, the expansion of socialism into Eurasia forced capitalism into an ideological competition in which it had to present a "democratic" and "redistributive" face, firstly by establishing a system of political parties, unions and popular organisations capable of assimilating the overall demands of society's various sectors and secondly by developing a vast network of public services and wide-ranging social programs.

In addition to the ideological competition with socialism during the Cold War, the assimilation of social demands and the development of extensive public services also have an economic foundation. During a prolonged and intense stage of economic expansion, it is logical for the bourgeoisie to give the state the job funded by taxes collected from society as a whole of developing programs aimed at the reproduction of the labour force. Demand for this increases constantly, and in its absence the capitalists themselves would be forced to increase wages even more. That is, capital itself needs the state to take on the cost of training the workers and of providing health services, educating their children and so forth. Finally, in a specific phase in the development of capitalism, laws and policies "favourable" to the workers also promote the concentration of capital. While big capital can afford relatively higher wages and can subsidise pensions and other benefits, small and medium industry cannot do so, and this contributes to its absorption and destruction.

At the end of the 1960s, when the period of expansive growth opened up by the second world war had become exhausted, three closely related destructive tendencies in capitalism again intensified. These were: (1) the overproduction of commodities, (2) the overproduction of capital and (3) the overproduction of the population with respect to the demands of capital.

At this point, these evils were also aggravated by the contradiction between the development of productive capacity achieved by the industrialised powers during the postwar boom and the limited expansion of the world market. This was due to the change in the direction of capital flows that took place during this same period: capital which had previously been exported to the colonies and neo-colonies was devoted in the postwar period, first, to European reconstruction (the Marshall Plan) and, later, to drawing benefit from the relatively prolonged boom within the imperialist powers. In this way, as the spectre of overproduction returned to haunt the imperialist powers, Africa, Asia and Latin America were incapable of absorbing the excess commodities and capital that overflowed from the so-called First World, a process that contributed to the outbreak of the foreign debt crisis.

In the 1970s, despite the threat represented by the overproduction of capital, commodities and population, the existence of the USSR and the socialist community, the destructive power built up in nuclear weapons and the creation of a transnational economic space that tied North American, European and Japanese capitalism together into a single whole meant that none of the imperialist powers dared for a third time to resort to military force to destroy excess productive forces, nor even to engage in economic wars that might get out of control. In these conditions, given the impossibility of compensating for the tendency of the rate of profit to decline by constantly expanding output, capitalism entered a period of permanent voluntary recession and made use of three basic methods for the valorisation of capital. None of these were new in themselves, but the magnitude of application certainly was, such as to produce qualitative changes in the reproduction process. These methods were the saving on living labour, financial speculation and autophagia (cannibalism), which can achieve gains for individual capitals, but not in the growth of social capital as a whole.

The saving on living labour, i.e., an increase in the productivity of labour dedicated to extracting a greater rate of surplus value, is being applied with particular intensity by the most concentrated monopoly firms in the leading branches and sectors of world economy. The results are increased unemployment and falling wages, and it has become a weapon of capital turned against itself. In the present situation the natural tendency of capitalism to generate social exclusion is not being compensated by a general growth in the economy, such as used to contain the so-called "reserve army" within established limits.

Hence the expanded reproduction of capital takes place at the cost of excluding people from the capital-labour relationship, such as to turn it into a vicious circle. As the number of workers and the mass of wage-earners diminishes, so too does the market that capital needs for its valorisation and, as a result, it is forced to lay off more workers, further reducing the mass of wage earners. It thus achieves nothing less than the further reduction in the market upon which its survival depends, a process that requires a theoretical explanation that goes beyond what is possible in this contribution. If we start from the Marxist premise that capitalism consolidates its rule over society to the extent that the population is drawn into the capital-labour relationship, we can conclude that the tendency to social exclusion, which is one of the basic features of capitalism today, points towards the historical exhaustion of the capitalist mode of production.

Given the impossibility of completing the cycle of expanded reproduction within the productive sphere, capital next resorts to financial speculation, i.e., it multiplies the emission of financial securities and centralises control over the mass of world money. In these conditions, reproduction takes place under strong artificial stimuli and with a growing tendency to present itself in financial guise. This is an option that postpones the general crisis of production via the application of a mechanism and accumulating contradictions whose most obvious features are very prolonged recession and the outbreak of financial crises.

The prevalence of speculation over production reveals the degree of parasitism and decomposition of imperialism. It has become the basic method through which the most concentrated multinational monopolies expropriate the labour of the rest of society not only of workers, peasants and other subordinate social sectors, but also and in growing and accelerated fashion, of the capitalists themselves.

The tendency towards the exhaustion of the productive spaces in which the expanded reproduction of capital takes place brings about so-called mega-fusions, because only the most concentrated transnational monopolies are able to contest segments of markets. They do this by absorbing or destroying the vast mass of smaller capitals, giving rise to the tendency for contemporary capitalism to reproduce itself in an autophagic, cannibalistic manner.

The tendency to exclude population from the basic relationship of the capitalist system (the capital-labour relation), the rule of fictitious over productive capital and the reproduction of the transnational monopolies through self-consumption (autophagia) of the mode of capitalist production although a lot more could be mentioned, these elements are enough to affirm that contemporary capitalism lies a long way from the threshold of the state of affairs described by Marx as a stage of "general prosperity", one in which the productive forces develop "as luxuriantly as is at all possible".

With the saturation of goods, capital and labour markets during the 1970s, the exhaustion of the economic conditions underpinning the "welfare state" became clear. If during the postwar period wage growth had been the motor force of the economy through its stimulation of demand, now it was succumbing to the need to increase the rate of surplus value. In parallel fashion, with the fall in the demand for the commodity labour power and the reduction in its value, the capitalists no longer had the incentive of yesteryear for the state to take on the costs of reproduction via "generous" social programs. They rather required the transfer of those resources to the private sector through tax cuts, privatisation, credits and subsidies.

In this way the economic and, in large part, the political conditions for the passage from the "welfare state" to neo-liberalism were created. However, it was not until the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, with the disappearance of the European socialist community and the dismembering of the USSR, that neo-liberalism was to reach its peak as a totalitarian, overpowering doctrine, on a virtually universal scale.

If it is correct to state that neo-liberal capitalism is the capitalism of our time, it's worthwhile stressing the difference between, on the one hand, the metamorphoses contemporary capitalism is undergoing and, on the other, the role that neo-liberalism plays as a doctrine. The former are the inevitable result of the grade of parasitism and decomposition reached by the capitalist mode of production, which determines that its very existence depends on the ongoing acceleration of the process of transnational concentration of wealth, production, property and political power. The role of the latter is to legitimise and to establish guidelines that can manage the deepening political, economic and social polarisation on a universal scale.

The importance of making a distinction between both elements lies in the fact that if neo-liberalism were only a "political evil" or a "failed economic policy", the "solution" to the problems of contemporary capitalism would solely depend on a "change of policy". That mode of production could return to being "democratic" and "redistributive", as it was in a limited number of developed countries in the postwar period. In essence, under this name or any other, in its most "orthodox" or "heterodox" variants, neo-liberalism is the necessary policy for the reproduction of transnational finance capital in this senile phase of capitalism.

In its origins, neo-liberalism was a re-elaboration of classical theory directed at bringing it into line with the development of capitalist society. Its purpose was to promote individualism and inequality as principles for the reconstruction of Europe and of England in particular in the period after the second world war. Its original text, The Road to Serfdom,[3] written by Hayek in 1944, is a defence of the concentration of capital aimed at counteracting popular demands in what he anticipated would be a difficult postwar adjustment. However, as Hayek was no Marxist, he could not foresee that after the first moments of reconstruction, the destruction of the productive forces produced by the war would open a stage of growth and not of crisis for capitalism. As is clear from the references that we have made to this historical period, it was not neo-liberalism but the "welfare state" which corresponded to the needs of state monopoly capitalism in postwar conditions. As a result, it is no accident that for a long period neo-liberalism was confined to ultraconservative politicians and economists, until the return of the crisis recreated the scenario foreseen by Hayek. In the 1970s, in the three volumes of Law, Legislation and Liberty, he was to develop the general ideas that he had barely sketched out three decades previously.[4]

After two decades of neo-liberalism, whose economic effects there is no need to review, the problem that now weighs upon imperialism is how to counteract the destabilising effect of the transnational concentration of wealth and political power on which its reproduction and, as a result, its very survival depends. To the degree that socioeconomic contradictions intensify and the tendency to world social and political instability grows, various political and ideological currents have for several years now been working at elaborating a "post-neo-liberal" paradigm. The capitalist mode of production now needs to find a point of balance between the transnational concentration of wealth and the partial revitalisation of some compensating social programs.

The debate over 'the alternative'

The debate over what has come to be called "the alternative" often with the specific definition "alternative to neo-liberalism" takes place under the impact of the ideological and political crisis of the central nuclei whose destiny it was to preserve, develop and put into practice the ideas of the two fundamental historical currents of the popular and working-class movement communism and social democracy. In the communist movement, the crisis led to the physical disappearance of the USSR, identified as the depository of its heritage and precursor of its project of constructing a superior form of society. In the case of social democracy, the crisis took the form of formal abandonment of any remnants of a project of social transformation, an abandonment imposed by the majority of European parties which control the theoretical output and dominate the functioning of the Socialist International.

The objective impact of the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the European socialist states requires little comment: it has been disastrous because imperialism has been left without a fundamental adversary and the revolutionary movement has lost its "strategic rearguard".

As far as the subjective sphere is concerned, the impact has also been very negative. On the one hand, it has made it easier to cover up the degree to which the organic crisis of the capitalist mode of production is intensifying. On the other, it has discredited both the communist ideal with which that group of countries was, correctly or not, associated, along with Marxist-Leninist theory, the only valid instrument for understanding contemporary capitalism and developing the strategy and tactics of the left. However, from another point of view, that defeat, unparalleled in history, was of such a dimension that could have perfectly well produced decades of ebb in popular struggles. How deep going will be the crisis of a capitalism which has been able to enjoy at least a decade of absolute ideological hegemony, now that people are again beginning to search for "the alternative"?

The majority of European social democratic parties are to be found in the advance party of those seeking to discredit the idea of a revolutionary transformation of society and are absorbed in the search for a "post-neo-liberal" capitalist paradigm. There is nothing new in this behaviour by the nucleus of social democracy on behalf of the interests of imperialism as seen in NATO's attack on Yugoslavia at a time when member parties of the Socialist International are in government in the majority of European Union countries.

To recap recent history only, social democracy was in the immediate postwar period the perpetuator and motor force of the "welfare state". This had been set in place by the Christian Democracy in the opening phase of western European reconstruction and was a project, as we have previously explained, which represented a response to the conditions of the Cold War. To the degree that world conditions forced imperialism to revive and promote neo-liberalism on a universal scale during the 1980s, that role fell to the social democratic parties that formed government in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece.[5]

To the degree that sectors of imperialism itself now realise the consequences of the "swing of the pendulum" to the right, in the current situation the leadership cores of the main parties of European social democracy are in competition among each other. They are intent on the search for Tony Blair's "third way" or Felipe González's "global progress"[6]

The possibility of the capitalist system developing a policy aimed under some "post-neo-liberal" heading at preventing the outbreak of these contradictions cannot be dismissed out of hand. However, in present conditions and assuming no massive destruction of the productive forces (either through a new big economic crisis or a sufficiently destructive war), any project set in place would function, in contrast to that worked out by Keynes, against the requirements of the process of expanded reproduction of capital. In other words, the search for a post-neo-liberal paradigm goes against the grain of the theoretical and empirical evidence to the effect that it is impossible to maintain a project of social wealth redistribution. It would be subordinate to a project of capital reproduction whose basis is sharp and speeded-up concentration.

In the midst of the political and ideological disorientation resulting from the collapse of the USSR and of a conjuncture in which a break with the ruling institutional order (and its replacement by an alternative revolutionary power) is not a characteristic of the day, in recent years there has been a strengthening of possibilism, the contemporary form taken by the classic postulates of social democracy. This current has gathered influence as one of the elements setting the terms of debates over "the alternative" in which, as far as we are aware, a broad spectrum of the left in Latin America and Europe takes part.

Possibilism is part of the vulgarisation of Marxist theory brought about, during the 1960s and 1970s, by two trends that were supposed to further its development and practical application. On the one hand stood the dogmatism and textbook Marxism of official political and ideological production in the USSR and, on the other, the various "anti-dogmatic" schools of "Western Marxism". These, confused and bedazzled by the postwar resurgence of capitalism in the imperialist powers: (1) confused the transitory and geographically limited development of the "welfare state" with the historic evolution of the capitalist mode of production, (2) began to uncover "mistakes" and "black holes" in Marx's theory of capitalist crisis, the labour theory of value, the class struggle and other questions, and (3) looked to "amend" the "limitations" and "shortcomings" of Marxism with an eclectic combination of fragments from other disciplines. They ended, in some cases, by creating a theoretical hodgepodge and in others by passing over to the camp of post-Marxism.

Possibilism begins from the premises set down by the ideologues of contemporary imperialism, namely, pseudo-theories about the "regenerative capacity" of capitalism, the "undeniable power" of contemporary imperialism and the completion of a "civilisational change" which invalidates social revolution. At the same time it produces a denigrating interpretation of the history of the left and the popular movement, and subscribes to the thesis that capitalism is synonymous with democracy or, at least, that capitalism is the social system in which, within a historical perspective, democracy can be built.

Possibilism bases its attacks on socialism on: (1) the same arguments used by imperialism in the campaign of discrediting launched after the triumph of the 1917 October Revolution, (2) the extreme exaggeration of the mistakes and anti-democratic deviations that were actually committed by so-called real socialism unwarranted elements that added to the loss of prestige of the socialist ideal and to the fragmentation of the world revolutionary movement and (3) the utilisation of an "ideal of society" conceived in "aseptic laboratory conditions" out of space and time, with which to "judge" all the projects of socialist construction known to date.

For possibilism, "democracy", understood as the perfecting of bourgeois liberalism through constitutional reforms and electoral laws, the fight against fraud, international overseeing of elections and other national political and legal measures that go to strengthen respect for the preferences of the voters, constitutes the highest goal. It follows that the conditions for resolving the political, economic, social and environmental problems that overwhelm the peoples of the world will be automatically and definitively established, without a radical transformation of capitalist relations of production. Through "democracy", the voters and their representatives will able to ward off the pressures of the great powers, neutralise the damaging actions of the transnational corporations, counteract the power of traditional ruling elites and advance towards sustainable economic and social development, in justice and equality.

It would seem through possibilist "democracy" that capitalism is the stage on which the still uncompleted tasks of the social revolution can be fulfilled, such as, for example, the eradication of every vestige of discrimination on the basis of race, gender, nationality, religious conviction, age and physical or mental condition; or the constant improving of participatory and representative democracy; or the transition from the satisfaction of the basic spiritual and material needs of the whole of society to the satisfaction of the more complex and specific material and spiritual needs of individuals and human groups that emerge as the natural result of the political, economic, social and cultural development of the revolution itself.

In contrast to the "severity" with which it "judges" the unfinished work of the processes of socialist construction, possibilism overlooks the fact that "democracy", to which it aspires as the supreme goal within capitalist society, finds itself in contradiction with the fact that the capitalist mode of production finds itself obliged in the present period to adopt the most anti-democratic content in its history because of its vital need to concentrate wealth and exclude population on an unprecedented scale and at unprecedented speed.

This is the case not only from the economic and social point of view a fact that is widely recognised but also through the "hollowing out" of national political systems, by virtue of which its functioning each day depends less and less on the mechanisms of citizen representation and participation. While an increasingly formal cult is built around these (multi-partyism, candidates, elections, "freedom of the press", elimination of fraud etc.), real political power gets shifted towards the imperialist centres. They exercise it directly through the acquisition of transnational imperialist state functions (legislative, executive and judicial) and through the supranational organisms under their control, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and others.

At the opposite extreme to possibilism with regard to "the alternative", we find the outposts of voluntarism. These have the virtue of maintaining adherence to the idea of revolution, but are unable to grasp the dialectical character of Marxist theory and, as a result, overlook the fact that the conquest of power is not something that depends exclusively or basically on the will of revolutionaries. Lenin, who is often accused of having had a dogmatic viewpoint in this respect, repeated in his work that, in order to have a revolution, it is not enough for "the lower classes" to no longer wish to be ruled, but that it was also indispensable that "the upper classes" should have lost all ability to exercise their rule.[7] the fundamental activity of a revolutionary party is oriented on the basis of that reality.[8]

If we start out from a Leninist perspective, it is impossible to ignore the positive gains achieved during the last decade by the left and popular movement in numerous capitalist countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America through a combination of: (1) the conquering of institutional room in governments, legislatures and municipal and regional bodies, and (2) the social and political gains reaped in the struggle against neo-liberalism.

The accumulation of political and social gains constitutes the basic form of struggle, which with the exception of regional and national situations in which the crisis of capitalism is reaching its most critical expression corresponds to a conjectural situation in which the "lower classes" no longer wish to continue being dominated and exploited, but the "upper classes" can still sustain their domination and exploitation. However, the historical horizon of the left is determined by the fact that the only possibilities that face humanity are (1) the destruction of the planet as a result of the explosion of the irresolvable antagonistic contradictions of the capitalist mode of production, or (2) its replacement by a higher form of society, which Karl Marx baptised with the name of communist.

The triumph of communism will occur not only because of the extreme sharpening of capital's contradictions, which can put an end to human civilisation, but through the conscious and organised action of peoples. Is it rational at the present moment to think that the conscious and organised action of peoples might be capable of destroying imperialism? Yes, even though we cannot specify time periods, because both economic crisis and war have the potential, on the one hand, to open a space which would lengthen the life span of the capitalist mode of production and, on the other, to create a new revolutionary situation. And even in this last case, in the words of Lenin, "no socialist has ever guaranteed that this war (and not the next one), that today's revolutionary situation (and not tomorrow's) will produce a revolution".[9]


1. English has no equivalent for the Spanish "mundialización" , which expresses the concept of the increasing global integration of states and institutions, in contradistinction to the more all-embracing concept of "globalización" (translator's note).

2. Marx, Karl, The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Volume 10, International Publishers, New York, page 135 (italics in original).

3. F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, Routledge and Sons, London, 1945.

4. The difference between classical liberalism and Hayek's doctrine is that the former champions the desirability of the state's abstaining from intervention in economy and society, while the latter supports intervention, but with the aim of establishing rules that favour competition, and not specific individuals and groups. In essence, it is an ideology whose function is to legitimise the fact that there are winners and losers in society. In other words, Hayek proclaims that the state can intervene in society and that society can guarantee the conditions that favour the winners, but not so as to alter the fate of the losers.

5. According to Perry Anderson, "the social democratic experience was an attempt to create in Southern Europe what postwar social democracy had been in the north of the continent during its golden years. However, the project failed, and already by 1982 and 1983 the French socialist government found itself forced by international finance markets to change course dramatically and reorient towards a policy much closer to neo-liberal orthodoxy, with priority given to monetary stability, budget restraint, financial concessions to capitalists and the abandonment of full employment. Towards the end of the decade, the level of unemployment was higher than in Conservative England … In Spain the González government never attempted to implement a Keynesian or redistributive policy. On the contrary, from the beginning of its rule it showed itself to be firmly monetarist in economic policy: a great friend of finance capital, in favour of the principle of privatisation and unperturbed when unemployment in Spain quickly reached the European record of twenty per cent of the economically active population." Perry Anderson, "The Unfolding of Neoliberalism and its Lessons for the Left", in Renán Vega (ed.), Marx y el siglo XXI. Una defensa de la historia y el socialismo, Ediciones Pensamiento Crítico, Santafé de Bogotá, 1997, pp. 355-9. (Footnote retranslated from the Spanish.)

6. Tendency inside the Socialist International led by Felipe González (translator's note).

7. "The fundamental law of revolution, which has been confirmed by all revolutions and especially by all three Russian revolutions in the twentieth century, is as follows: for a revolution to take place it is not enough for the exploited and oppressed masses to realise the impossibility of living in the old way, and demand changes: for a revolution to take place it is essential that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way. It is only when the 'lower classes' do not want to live in the old way and the 'upper classes' cannot carry on in the old way that the revolution can triumph." V. I. Lenin, "Left-Wing" Communism an Infantile Disorder, in V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 31, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, pp. 84-5 (note in original).

8. "When objective conditions make the parliamentary struggle the principle form of struggle, the features of the apparatus for parliamentary struggle inevitably become more marked in the Party. When, on the other hand, objective conditions give rise to a struggle of the masses in the form of mass political strikes and uprisings, the party of the proletariat must have an 'apparatus' to 'serve' these forms of struggle, and, of course, this must be a special 'apparatus', not resembling the parliamentary one. An organised party of the proletariat which admitted that the conditions existed for popular uprisings and yet failed to set up the necessary apparatus would be a party of intellectual chatterboxes." V. I. Lenin, "The Crisis of Menshevism", in Collected Works, Volume 11, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1978, page 354.

9. V. I. Lenin, "The Collapse of the Second International, in Collected Workers, Volume 21, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, p. 216.