The Marxist left's politics of alliances at the beginning of the 21st century

By Jose Ramon Balaguer Cabrera

José Ramón Balaguer Cabrera is a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Cuba. This article first appeared in Cuba Socialista, the theoretical and political magazine of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.


Contemporary imperialism and the validity of the struggle for socialism

Marxism: key to determining content of struggles and allies

The Cuban Revolution's politics of alliances


On the basis of their own experiences and of the analysis of the victories and setbacks that make up the history of popular struggles, the Communist Party of Cuba considers that a series of premises exist for the formulation of the politics of alliances, applicable not only to the communist parties, but to all contemporary Marxist organisations as well: How do we characterise the situation and perspectives of the capitalist system of production at the beginning of the twenty-first century? Based on that definition, what objectives do we propose for ourselves? What social class sector or sectors make up the subject or fundamental bloc of the struggle for the achievement of such objectives? What other sectors constitute the spectrum of their potential allies? And what are the conditions and foundations for the establishment of alliances between the subject or fundamental bloc of the struggles and the rest of the sectors susceptible to participate in them?

Only the first two of these questions have a universal, categorical and unequivocal answer, that being the characterisation of capitalism as a moribund social system in an advanced and irreversible state of decomposition, and the strategic objective of building a socialist society, the only alternative to the barbarism Rosa Luxemburg referred to. As for the rest of the problems that present themselves, while it is possible and necessary to make general considerations that would help to provide adequate solutions, it is the conditions prevailing in each continent, region and nation and perhaps in each context, that determine the content of such solutions.

Contemporary imperialism and the validity of the struggle for socialism

By virtue of the political and ideological impact of the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the other countries of what was called the European Socialist Community, which left the terrain open for the consolidation of the neo-liberal doctrine, together with the broad gamut of pseudo-theories associated with it, like the one about the "end of history", two myths have played a decisive role in the theoretical and political production since the beginning of the 1990s concerning contemporary capitalism: the first is that "globalisation" causes a drastic rupture in the historical development of humanity, impeding the understanding and transformation of society; the second consists in attributing to the so-called scientific-technical revolution the capacity to exorcise or indefinitely postpone the explosion of the capitalist system's antagonistic contradictions.

The fetishes of "globalisation" and the "scientific-technical revolution" constitute the fundamental basis of the different variants of today's "third way". They no longer try to position themselves between the political and ideological poles postdating the October Revolution of 1917, that is, between capitalism and socialism. Instead, they place themselves openly within capitalism, saying they occupy a "democratic" and "socially motivated" space between the starkest neo-liberalism (symbolised by the governments of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher), and the remnants of the so-called welfare state that functioned in part of Western Europe during the twentieth century's post-second world war period.

Corresponding to this characterisation of "historical rupture", and the "permanent self-renewal" capacity of the capitalist system of production, there is: a) a strategy oriented toward limiting the most destabilising effects of the process of concentration of political and economic power, with absolutely no proposal to alter it in its essence; b) a tactic based on concessions directed to win or maintain capital's tolerance for the exercise of the function of government or the preservation of the relationship of forces of institutional representation, deprived of the ability to exercise real political power on central questions; c) a non-class definition of the subject of the struggles, which, in spite of the unprecedented process of concentration of wealth and social polarisation unfolding on the world scale, ignores the position of human beings with respect to property relations; d) an imprecise definition of the "allies", derived first and foremost from the lack of a class conception of who forms the fundamental subject of the struggles; and e) the playing of a subordinate and secondary role in the politics of alliances.

Contrary to the image it projects of itself, contemporary imperialism is characterised by the increasing concentration of property, production and political power to a qualitatively higher level: in other words, by the escalation to a level of transnational concentration of property, production and political power, whose nucleus is composed of the transnational monopolies that are fused with the states of the main imperialist powers, which also take on transnational functions.1 This process, which constitutes the present stage of the development toward the universalisation of human relations analysed by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, is what is alluded to more and more often by the term "globalisation". Globalisation is the historical continuation of capitalism's tendency toward universalisation, initiated with the formation of the world market. It is based on political and economic conditions created in the course of the twentieth century and, in particular, during the post-second world war period. It began to unfold in the 1970s, that is, beginning with the end of two decades of expansive growth of the world capitalist economy opened by the destruction of productive forces caused by the second world war, and it received a decisive political and ideological impulse with the sharpening of the Soviet Union's crisis and its collapse, reaching its maximum intensity and violence.

Also contrary to the postulates of the apologists of capitalism, the so-called scientific-technical revolution in no way resolves or allows indefinite postponement of the capitalist system of production's antagonistic contradictions. The term scientific-technical revolution is the one most used to refer to the development achieved by the productive forces of capital during the postwar period, which among other things was due to the stimulation of productive processes caused by European reconstruction and the arms race. But the notion of an exorcism of the contradictions is false because, precisely, it was this development which, at the end of the 1960s, once the productive capacity of Western Europe and Japan had been reconstructed, caused the return of the crisis of overproduction of commodities, capital and population.

The reign of the transnational monopolies did not come about, as claimed by those imposing the unilateral opening and deregulation of the underdeveloped countries, under the signboard of universal expansion of productive investment, the "transfer" of the advances of science and technology, access to the markets of the "First World", or the "trickle down" of wealth. On the contrary, in a world economy saturated with commodities, capital and labour power, in which the law of the most powerful rules, the transnational monopoly corporations use, with an unprecedented intensity, all their economic power and their control over the scientific-technical innovations, together with the political and military power of the imperialist states of their nations of origin, in order to penetrate the areas of greater relative development of the so-called Third World, with the aim of absorbing or destroying local bodies of capital, whose markets they need to capture in order to guarantee their own subsistence.

In the underdeveloped world, the empire of the transnational monopolies has enthroned a vicious cycle of unrestricted opening to the import of commodities and capital, bankruptcy of national industry, dollarisation or monetary overvaluation guaranteeing maximum value in the export of profits, growing unemployment and informalisation of work, decline in the living standards of the people and, consequently, decrease of the capacity for solvency of the national market they have appropriated. The equilibrium of the balance of payments is maintained in a temporary and precarious manner by means of increasing interest rates to attract the flows of speculative capital that constitute imperialism's main instrument of expropriation. How has this been demonstrated by the Argentine crisis, amongst other examples? Once all the blood had been sucked out, once all possibilities of capturing the income and reducing the spending of the dependent national state so as to maintain the spiral of external indebtedness had been exhausted, once the cadaver of the national market that had been so diligently "restructured" and "reformed" according to the neo-liberal recipes was abandoned by the vampires, only the fear of a chain reaction of the economic and financial crisis solicits a "rescue" package which then in turn only further compromises the future of the nation.

The obsolescent nature of capitalism today is evident because a society which by definition is based on wage labour and the sale of commodities increasingly depends on the reduction of labour and wages and, as such, is forced to limit the horizon of the market that constitutes its source of subsistence. The political, economic, social, moral and environmental degradation of the present is the greatest indication that the world has already entered the phase of barbarism. The fable about the "trickle down effect" did not last long. According to this fable, the whole world was supposed to reach the levels of economic development now monopolised by the United States, the European Union and Japan. Fewer and fewer are those who refuse to recognise that the program of unilateral opening and deregulation imposed by neo-liberalism is not the stairway to the "First World" but is a wide-open door to political, economic, social and moral crisis. Those who think the big imperialist powers can take refuge in a "Noah's Ark" that will save them from the "universal flood", are deluding themselves.

The terrorist crimes of September 11, 2001, constitute a tragic and unjustifiable reminder that the borders of the big imperialist powers are unable to contain the universal effects of underdevelopment, poverty, unhealthy conditions, lack of culture, illiteracy, drug trafficking, wars, terrorism, or the economic and financial crises that originate, precisely, from capitalism's inability to orient production toward the satisfaction of the material and spiritual needs of all the human beings inhabiting the planet. This is the reality that is already knocking on our doors, which puts humanity face to face with the alternative stated by Rosa: "socialism or barbarism". In other words, this is the reality that reaffirms our conviction that the strategic objective of the struggle of the peoples must be the construction of socialism.

Marxism: key to determining content of struggles and allies

The class struggle and the politics of alliances have been the object of basic Marxist theoretical study and practical politics from the beginning of the classic writings. In the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels declare, "Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a genuinely revolutionary class."2 Starting from that premise, they directed their analysis to the role of the "middle strata", which play an ambivalent role between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and they derived their conclusions about the conditions in which those who form the "middle strata" keep their reactionary nature, that is, "try to roll back the wheel of history", and about the conditions in which they can become participants in the social revolution, "in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat".3 Marx and Engels also focused their attention on the lumpenproletariat, which "may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue".4

After the publication of the Manifesto of the Communist Party, many authors, some considered to be continuing the work of Marx, have glossed over the word today contained in the statement made in that work that "the proletariat alone is a genuinely revolutionary class" and, from this, multiple vulgarisations of Marxist thought are derived, including the notion that in whatever historical circumstance, the proletariat is necessarily called upon to exercise that role, or that this character is reserved for it exclusively. Those who fall into these errors lose sight of the fact it was Marx and Engels themselves who first analysed problems like the effect of the introduction of new machinery on the increase of competition between workers, and of each worker for her/himself; the effect of the increasing division of labour against the organisation and struggle of the proletariat, which reaches its maximum expression with the introduction of the transnational division of labour and the political and ideological consequences of the appearance of the "labour aristocracy" which benefits from the most straightforward exploitation of the colonies and other sectors of its own class. This was to have a decisive impact on the success achieved by social democratic reformism in the European labour movement during the course of the twentieth century. In the other direction, the vulgarisers of Marxism also lose sight of the fact that, independently of the changes that have occurred over the last 150 years, the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat continues to be the fundamental antagonistic contradiction of capitalism.

It is not the intention of this paper to go more deeply into the role of the proletariat and, within that, into the role of the proletariat of the imperialist powers in the present phase of the historical development of the class struggle. However, just to refute some of the principal pseudo-theories in vogue, let us remember that: 1) the working class continues to be the producer of almost the entire social wealth upon which not only development, but also humanity's survival itself, are based, and thus its role in the class struggle continues to be decisive, and 2) contrary to what happened during the expansive growth of the postwar world capitalist economy, the process of increasing the value of capital within the main imperialist powers is no longer compatible with the general increase of employment, wages and other forms of social redistribution. This conspires against maintaining the so-called welfare state, still today erroneously considered by some to be the final and definitive stage toward which the capitalist system of production is advancing.

Instead of going into details about the composition of European social classes at the time when the Manifesto of the Communist Party or other works of Marx and Engels were written, it is more appropriate to make use of their method of analysis in order to apply it to today's world. In czarist Russia, the weakest link in the imperialist chain at the beginning of the twentieth century, with three million workers and eighteen million poor peasants, Lenin was aware of the revolutionary role the peasantry had to play together with the working class and on that basis proclaimed the worker-peasant alliance. The coherence of this contribution to the Marxist tradition is unquestionable: in the second Russian edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party published in 1882, Engels was already analysing the potential role of the poor peasantry in view of an eventual outbreak of the socialist revolution in that country.5

A great deal has been written in recent years about social struggles that do not originate in class contradictions although every social struggle inevitably carries the imprint of the class structure in which it unfolds. Without doubt, this element must be incorporated into the Marxist analysis of contemporary capitalism. The point of view of Marx is always that of the totality of the space in which capital circulates: if the space broadens, it is necessary to broaden the theoretical outlook. As a consequence of the universalisation of the capitalist relations of production which has unfolded under the effects of the law of unequal economic and political development formulated by Lenin, the horizon that the material and spiritual production process of capitalism occupies is no longer just or even eminently European, "Western," Christian, white, male, of "pure" bourgeois and proletarians, ruled by the general parameters of bourgeois liberal democracy, with a relatively homogeneous degree of economic, political and social development, and beneficiary of a planet in which the devastating effects of capital on the natural environment had not yet accumulated.

The creation of a single transnational space of capital circulation incorporating the material and spiritual production process of bourgeois societies into nations with diverse degrees of political, economic and social underdevelopment, with non-Christian religions and cultures like the Islamic, Hindu and African ones, with indigenous national majorities and minorities, with black populations descended from African slaves, with Asian populations descended from indentured labourers also in conditions of slavery, with ancestral practices of discrimination against women, among other characteristics, means that a broad and varied range of social class contradictions and subjects comes to occupy central places in the struggle against capital. All these factors must be incorporated into the Marxist analysis concerning the composition of the fundamental bloc of the popular struggles, the identification of their potential allies and the definition of the foundations on which it is possible to establish such an alliance, both on a world scale and in the indispensable reading of the particular and singular circumstances in which each Marxist party or political movement develops its struggles.

As a logical consequence of the political and ideological intentions of its pseudo-theories about the omnipotence of contemporary capitalism, social democratic third way-ism does a partial, fragmentary and one-sided reading of the social class transformations supposedly caused by "globalisation" and the "scientific-technical revolution". Among its principal "arguments", these stand out: the "indefensible" situation in which governments, political parties and unions supposedly find themselves as a consequence of the transnational mobility of capital that allows it to migrate if it does not receive every kind of concession and privilege, and the fragmentation contemporary capitalism causes in the working class and other oppressed social class sectors as a negative element for popular organisation and struggle.

With respect to the supposed "indefensible" position into which nations and peoples have sunk, it is worth saying that it is undeniable that capital and especially speculative capital use their mobility as a mechanism of pressure and blackmail in order to force governments, political parties and unions of different countries and regions to compete among themselves, but it is also undeniable that: 1) the over-saturation of the goods, services and capital markets, a characteristic of the present world capitalist economy, forces capital to "anchor" itself in the increasingly reduced spaces on the world scale where it can guarantee its extended reproduction; 2) that "anchorage" must be maintained even if the governments, political parties and unions of the country in question take up and hold to a posture of defence of the legitimate national interests; and 3) such an "anchorage" would be even more solid and effective if the governments, political parties and unions of the whole world or at least of a region, like Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, managed to harmonise and unite their positions in defence of sovereignty and national interests. We insist that the issue is not so much the power the "objective" factors attributed to "globalisation" and the "scientific-technical revolution" give to transnational finance capital for domination of governments, parties and unions, as the ideological success they have harvested by convincing them of the supposed invincibility of a social system in a state of decomposition, and of the supposed weakness of the peoples to fight against it successfully.

With respect to the difficulties of organising and mobilising for popular struggle, it is unquestionable that the metamorphosis of contemporary capitalism causes changes in the social class structure with a tendency toward the fragmentation of the sectors composing the popular bloc, but it also fragments and polarises, perhaps to a greater extent, the bourgeoisie itself, because the basic form of reproduction of capital is the expropriation of some capitalists by others.

Given capital's tendency to concentrate and universalise, today we can state that the "middle strata" of contemporary "global society" are not just traditional small- and medium-size industry, but also enterprises considered large by the standards of the so-called "Third World", but incomparable with the power of the great transnational monopolies that need to corner their markets in order to guarantee the latter's own extended reproduction. Projected on the world scale today, this consists of a situation analogous to the one analysed in the Manifesto of the Communist Party when it refers to the "middle strata" that "sink gradually into the proletariat, partly because their diminutive capital does not suffice for the scale on which Modern Industry is carried on, and is swamped in the competition with the large capitalists, partly because their specialized skill is rendered worthless by new methods of production".6 As such, the essence of Marxist analysis needs to be recovered in order to evaluate when the "middle strata" of contemporary capitalism are trying to "roll back the wheel of history" and when they become potential allies of the popular bloc. To this central question, there is no single and immutable answer: it is necessary to conduct this political reading again and again in each place and context.

The Cuban Revolution's politics of alliances

When he carried out an X-ray of mid-twentieth century Cuban society in "History Shall Absolve Me", Fidel Castro Ruz followed the path of José Martí and established the foundations for a policy of alliances which included integrating and unifying all the then oppressed and exploited social class sectors—workers, peasants, unemployed, small owners, professionals, intellectuals, illiterates, whites, blacks, Chinese, mestizos, Catholics, Protestants, men, women, youth, elderly and others; a policy of alliances that not only led to the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, but which also serves it to maintain the broadest and most solid unity of the whole people, the indispensable condition for dealing with the multiple aggressions and dangers that have intervened in the process of building socialism.

The inclusive, integrating and unifying approach of the Cuban Revolution was what guided the process of transformation of the alliance into unity, and of unity into fusion and synthesis of the organisations that fought against the tyranny of Fulgencio Batista, the 26th of July Movement, the People's Socialist Party and the 13th of March Student Directorate: allies first in the Integrated Revolutionary Organisations, brought together in the United Party of the Socialist Revolution and fused and synthesised since 1967 in the Communist Party of Cuba, which is the only party of the Cuban nation, not because of omission or exclusion of other political forces, but as a result of the most profound and solid political and ideological convergence.

The foreign policy of the Cuban Revolution since January 1, 1959, has also followed the path of José Martí, aimed at promoting the convergence, unity and integration of the nations, peoples, popular movements and political forces of the whole world, on the basis of an anti-imperialist platform, of the defence of the sovereignty, self-determination and independence that constitute the starting point for the conception and execution of any strategy oriented to achieving sustainable economic and social development with a true sense of justice and equity. With this objective in mind, the Cuban Revolution 1) encouraged, in its time, the approach to and collaboration among the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries and democratic, progressive and revolutionary forces of the "Third World", for purposes of fostering the mutual benefit derived from the interaction of two fundamental streams of the popular movement of the second half of the twentieth century; 2) played an active role in the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries and other organs and conferences representative of the underdeveloped world, in which the sharpening of contradictions as a result of the increasingly voracious political, economic and military action of one imperialism was notable; 3) broadened and deepened its relations with the most diverse popular political forces and movements worldwide; and 4) maintained an unshakable policy of internationalism, corresponding to the requirements of each historical period.

Battles like the campaign for non-payment of the external debt, the fight against neo-liberal globalisation, and the promotion of the globalisation of solidarity and, more recently, the encouragement provided to the continental movement against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (ftaa), are examples of the inclusive, integrating and unifying vision of the Cuban Revolution, which starts from the identification of the national and social class contradictions of the inter-centuries' world, sharpened to an extreme degree by the exclusionary and polarising nature of transnational monopoly capitalism. With this same commitment, Cuba incorporates into its battle of ideas the struggle against the growth of imperialism's aggressiveness, which, under the cover of the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001, is unleashing a bellicose crusade against the nations, popular political forces and movements that stand up to its domination. This is the commitment that impels the Cuban Revolution to give priority attention to spaces like the Saõ Paulo Forum and the World Social Forum, which constitute laboratories for ideas and actions in which the politics of alliances that shall bear fruit for the popular and political forces of the world in the twenty-first century are being designed and put to the test.

The formula the Communist Party of Cuba proposes for the success of the politics of alliances of the Marxist left is the conception of the alliances as a first step toward convergence, unity, fusion and synthesis of the demands, needs, aspirations and interests of all the oppressed and exploited social class sectors; that is, not as a mere and circumstantial electoral coalition in which the different factions "negotiate" the exchange of reciprocal support for realising their respective particular interests—something that leads to contradictions over the path to follow, eventually causing the rupture of the alliance—but as the beginning of a strategic process conceived for the long term, of building consensus and elaborating a common program of government that not only confronts but also reverses the consequences of neo-liberalism. The continuation and results of this program would be guaranteed by the broadest and most democratic participation and representation of all those sectors. The organisational forms this process takes would be determined by the conditions in which the struggles of each people unfold, be that of one or various parties, a movement, a front, a coalition or an alliance with which the social revolutionary subject provides itself to undertake this difficult but unavoidable road toward unity.

In Latin America at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the politics of alliance of the communist parties and other Marxist organisations has a broad radius of action on themes like defence of sovereignty, independence and national self-determination, the promotion of a true regional integration and unity with respect to the interests of the peoples, the reversal of the opening, deregulation, privatisation and foreignisation process of the neo-liberal stamp, and opposition to war and the attempts to criminalise the popular struggles. A good starting point for the building of our alliances is the battle against the ftaa, which embodies the worst annexationist designs of us imperialism.


1 . In the words of the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, Fidel Castro Ruz, "The transnational monopolies represent the most perfect synthesis, the more developed expression of monopoly capitalism in this phase of its general crisis", and therefore "they are the international carriers of all the laws that govern the capitalist mode of production in its present imperialistic phase, of all its contradictions, and are the most efficient mechanism for the development and intensification of the process of subordination of labour to capital on the world scale." Fidel Castro Ruz, La Crisis económica y social del mundo, Ediciones del Consejo de Estado, La Habana, 1983, p. 153.

2 . Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, "Manifesto of the Communist Party", Selected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1968, p. 44.

3 . "The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay, more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. If, by chance, they are revolutionary, they are only so in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat; they thus defend not their present, but their future interests; they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat."

4. Ibid.

5 . See "Preface to the Second Russian Edition (1882) of the Manifesto of the Communist Party", Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, vol. 6.

6 . Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, "Manifesto of the Communist Party," Selected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1968, p. 42.