Happy New Year – for some

Alan Woods, editor of marxist.com, looks at the tumultuous state of the world at the dawn of 2021. Capitalism is in a profound crisis. While a handful of billionaires enrich themselves, the vast majority are trapped between the coronavirus pandemic and poverty. But Marxists remain optimists. The working class and youth are beginning to stretch their muscles in preparation for the battles to come. 

“He who laughs has not yet heard the bad news.” (Bertolt Brecht)

Hope springs eternal in the human breast”. The celebrated words of the great 18th century English poet Alexander Pope contain a profound truth about the human psyche. In the final analysis, it is hope that keeps us going. It is what sustains us through the trials and tribulations of life.

Even in the darkest moments, when we feel overwhelmed by difficulties on all sides, it is this stubborn belief that things will eventually get better that provides us with the necessary moral strength to go on living and fighting, even when all the odds seem to be against us.

But what would happen if all hope were to be extinguished? A world without hope would be a dark place indeed. Such a world would be impossible to live in. And if you take away people’s hope for a better future, you take away all that is left of their humanity and dignity.

The removal of hope leaves only one possible response, and that response is desperation. People can respond to desperation in different ways. Basically, only two roads are open to them. One is the road of passivity, apathy, and ultimately the conclusion that life is not worth living. But there is another road. Human beings are very stubborn creatures, and will not willingly draw the conclusion that there is no way out. The second road is the road to revolution.

Happy new year?

At the stroke of midnight, as 31 December turns into 1 January, it is customary to wish one’s friends and family a happy new year. This year will have been no different. Old Pope was quite right: hope springs eternal in the human breast.

So, just as usual, we raised our glasses and wished everybody a happy, healthy and prosperous year, in the hope that 2021 has to be better than 2020. After all, it could hardly be any worse!

coronavirus covid-2019 Girl in mask fearThe pandemic still rages out of control, subjecting millions of people to needless suffering and death / Image: The Leader

And yet, and yet… in our heart of hearts, how many of us actually believed in this optimistic prediction? Truth to be told, there is very little empirical evidence to justify it.

The pandemic still rages out of control, subjecting millions of people to needless suffering and death. The total number of coronavirus cases on a world scale at the close of 2020 was 82,421,447. And the total number of deaths recorded was 1,799,076.

There is no doubt that these official figures understate the real situation by a considerable amount however. Who in their right mind can believe the official statistics of people who have died of this dreadful disease in India, for instance?

It is sufficient to point to the blatant falsification of statistics to minimise the number of COVID-19 deaths in Britain and other so-called advanced countries to underline the point.

And since viruses show no respect for national frontiers, not even the richest states are spared. Some of the worst statistics of any country are to be found in the United States, where Florida is currently the epicentre of the epidemic.

A Los Angeles hospital was so overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases it’s been forced to attend to victims of the disease in a gift shop. Such is the real state of affairs in the world’s richest country.

A class question

Trotsky once said, noting the words of the great philosopher Spinoza, our task is: “neither to weep nor to laugh, but to understand.”

We are constantly being told that we must unite to face a common enemy – a pitiless, inexorable and invisible enemy called COVID-19. “We are all in this together” – that is the false and hypocritical slogan, by which the rich and powerful seek to divert our attention from the obvious fact that the present pandemic is also a class question.

Make the rich pay Image Jorge MartinThe pandemic has served to expose the deep divisions between rich and poor / Image: Jorge Martin

It is simply not the case that “we are all in this together”. Quite the contrary, in fact. The pandemic has served to expose the deep divisions between rich and poor: the real fault line that divides society into those who are doomed to get sick and die a horrible death and those who are not.

And hard on the heels of the pandemic came the deepest economic slump in modern times. The world economic crisis has hit the USA hard. 40 million Americans filed for unemployment during the pandemic. As always, it is the poor who suffer most.

In 2019, the Fed reported that four in 10 Americans didn't have enough cash in their bank accounts to cover a $400 unexpected expense. And in the first few months of 2020, the situation took a dramatic turn for the worse.

Alarmed at the danger posed by this situation, the ruling class was compelled to take emergency measures. The state, which according to free market theory, should play little or no role in economic life, now became the only thing propping up the capitalist system.

In March, US lawmakers approved more than $2.4tn (£1.7tn) in economic relief for businesses and households, in an attempt to blunt the economic distress suffered by millions of families. Actually, most of this money was spent on lavish handouts to the rich. But the money given to the unemployed undoubtedly served to ameliorate the effects of the crisis on the poorest and most vulnerable part of society.

But support has been dwindling since the summer and several key programmes – including benefits for jobless gig workers and people out of work for more than six months – were due to expire at the end of December. As the government has withdrawn support, a growing number of people are going without adequate food or falling behind on rent and other bills.

Hunger in the USA

Many people now find themselves in a desperate situation. Having suddenly lost their jobs, they are faced with losing their homes. They have no income, and not enough money to put food on the table. In the world’s richest country, millions of families are going hungry.

Food insecurity has doubled since last year, reaching the highest level since 1998, when data about US household ability to get enough food was first collected. One in eight Americans reported they sometimes or often did not have enough food in November, according to a recent census survey.

The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, which operates in some of the richest US counties – San Francisco and Marin – has been serving about 60,000 households, double its pre-Covid level. On 14 December, BBC News reported:

“Although hunger is not new in America, the pandemic has had a major impact. Food insecurity has become a widespread national issue sparing not even some of the wealthier regions.

“Since early November, not far from Trump National Golf Club in Virginia, in an area that used to have some of the lowest hunger rates in the country, Loudoun Hunger Relief fed between 750 and 1,100 households a week – a 225% average increase from its pre-pandemic weekly average.

“'We saw folks who had just never needed to access this type of resource before,' says executive director Jennifer Montgomery.

“It was obvious that they were very much one or two paychecks away from being in serious trouble.”

“My pride has gone”

Take Omar Lightner, a 42-year-old truck driver in Florida. He lost his job in February because of the pandemic. Since then, he has been living off his savings in a motel in Jacksonville with his wife and children. Their money is quickly running out.

“My savings were $22,000 (£16,200) when we went to the extended stay,” Lightner said. “That ran us to about $17,300. The rest went towards food stamps. That helped out a lot. But we've got two kids with severe autism; there’s medicine and therapy to pay for.”

As Lightner continues to look for work, his biggest and most immediate worry is how to secure a home for his family. They have fallen four weeks behind in rent and now face eviction.

As part of the motel's eviction policy, items deemed non-essential can be removed from their room. This week, it's been the TV, something the couple desperately need to calm Jamal, whose autism means he is unable to speak.

“We are a family of five, there are no shelters available to take us right now,” Lightner said.

“My pride has gone. We're pretty much homeless now. And I was a man who was always big on pride. I worked all my life. We always had a nice house and nice vehicles.

“I know how I grew up – I had to work to get that stuff. And it's been taken away through no fault of my own. “

That is the real, brutal face of capitalism in the 21st century. There is no other. On the first of January 2021, for at least 12 million US citizens, the words Happy New Year had a bitter and hollow ring.

A happy new year for the rich

But hey! Let’s not get too gloomy. Not all was bad news. In the midst of this endless sea of human misery, suffering, hunger and death, some people did very well indeed.

At a time when more than 40 million Americans were filing for unemployment, billionaires saw their wealth increase by more than half a trillion dollars. For such people, 2020 was a very happy year indeed. And there is absolutely no reason to doubt that 2021 will be happier still.

Bezos Image Seattle city councilThe billionaires are certainly having a happy new year - expanding their wealth while the masses suffer / Image: Seattle city council

Just take the case of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos. He became the first person ever with a total declared wealth of over $200 billion. Since the beginning of March, when the US saw its first coronavirus fatalities, Mr. Bezos' wealth has swelled by $74 billion. So that is reason to cheer!

Mr. Bezos now makes more money per second than the typical US worker makes in a week. The average American man with a bachelor's degree will earn about $2.2 million in his lifetime, Bezos makes about $2.2 million in 15 minutes.

With his $200 billion, he is so rich that an average American spending $1 is comparable to the Amazon CEO spending $2 million. His fortune is more than twice that of the entire British monarchy and is as big as the GDP of entire countries.

Nor was he alone in his good fortune. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson saw his wealth increase by $5 billion, while Elon Musk saw an increase of $17.2 billion. When you add up the numbers, billionaires in the United States have increased their total net worth $637 billion during the COVID-19 pandemic so far.

As we have pointed out, a large part of their new wealth came straight out of the generous handouts of the public purse. Of the huge amount of money handed out by the government to counteract the crisis, the lion’s share went straight into the pockets of the wealthiest one percent.

Wealth-friendly tax laws and loopholes then keep those billionaires at the top. And those are just the legal avenues that the wealthy take to avoid paying taxes. In 2017, researchers estimated that about 10 percent of the world's GDP was stashed in offshore tax havens. A study in 2012 found that as much as $32 trillion was being held offshore by the world's wealthiest people.

The gulf separating the haves from the have-nots has widened into an unbridgeable abyss, deepening the social and political polarisation and creating an explosive mood in society. This fact was strikingly underlined by the events in Washington in recent days.

Donald J. Trump’s last stand

To obtain a rational insight into the workings of Donald Trump’s convoluted brain is a task worthy of far greater intellects than that possessed by the author of the present lines. However, it is not entirely impossible to make an educated guess concerning his motives in the present case.

Congress had been deadlocked since the summer on a new coronavirus stimulus package that was supposed to help some 12 million workers who were facing the withdrawal of aid benefits on 31 December.

The Republicans and Democrats finally agreed to a compromise bill that would extend unemployment assistance until the end of March, among other relief. But to everyone’s astonishment, the president refused to sign. Trump now protested that the amount of money to be given to the recipients was too stingy, which was patently true, and that he was on the side of poor Americans against a tight-fisted Congress, which was patently false.

The fact is that the miserable amount decided upon was the result of the stonewalling tactics of the Republicans – that is to say, Donald Trump’s own party. If he was opposed to this, he could have made his views clear long ago, thus saving a lot of time and trouble. But he did no such thing.

In fact, he endorsed the original proposal and kept silent until the very last moment when the bill landed on his desk, just a few weeks before he would be served with an eviction order to vacate the Oval Office. The two things were clearly not unrelated.

Two things are very clear here. The first is that Donald J. Trump is very much attached to his position as the president of the world’s greatest power, and is in no hurry at all to pack his bags. On the contrary, he intends to cling to power to the very last moment, with the same desperation with which a drowning man clutches at a straw.

Unfortunately, the president's supply of straws has diminished sharply in the weeks since the election. In a desperate rear-guard action, reminiscent of Custer’s last stand, Donald Trump blew a final defiant blast on the bugle to rally his troops to the flag.

To his immense chagrin, only a handful of Republican senators responded to the call. Even his most loyal supporters in the hierarchy of the Republican Party, weighing up the balance of forces, drew the logical conclusion that discretion is the better part of valour.

To add insult to injury, some sneaky whistle-blower (their numbers are multiplying by the day) released a tape recording of the president attempting to bully the Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 votes to overturn Joe Biden’s victory there. That was probably a factor in making up the minds of Republican senators. They abandoned him as rats desert a sinking ship.

Such acts of cowardly disloyalty are profoundly offensive to a man who has long become unaccustomed to insubordination of any sort. To imagine that a betrayal of this magnitude would remain unpunished was quite unthinkable. And so, while other people were busy wrapping their Christmas presents, our Donald was preparing one last Christmas surprise for his former friends and allies – one they would not forget in a hurry.

And even if it meant that millions of poor Americans would go hungry, he would go down in history as the president who wanted to give more money to the poor. That was a lie, of course, as this President has raised the art of lying to entirely new levels.

But the main thing is not what is true, but what people believe to be true. And what people believe will prove to be very useful in the next presidential election, when Donald J Trump, unlike General Custer, would ride again.

One can just imagine the sense of malicious glee with which the president suddenly withheld his hand from the offensive document, thus launching a hand grenade into the shellshocked ranks of the Republicans in Congress.

“Here you are, my fine friends! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! “

Donald J Trump had the satisfaction of knowing that, even if he was forced to leave the White House, he will have done so with the bang, not a whimper. The move caused consternation in Congress. But this was nothing compared with what was to come.

The showdown

Bourgeois democracy is a very fragile plant, which can only flourish in certain well-nourished soils. It is historically a privilege held only by the most advanced and prosperous capitalist nations, where the ruling class possesses sufficient surplus wealth to make concessions to the working class, thereby blunting the sharp edges of the class struggle, and preventing an open conflict between rich and poor.

For a very long time – over 100 years in the case of countries like the United States and Britain – the ruling class succeeded in establishing a certain degree of political and social equilibrium, ruling not by the use of direct force, but rather by a kind of gentleman’s agreement, a compromise between the antagonistic classes.

2021 storming of the United States Capitol 09 Image Tyler MerblerThe discontent flowing from the crisis of capitalism can be taken advantage of by unscrupulous right-wing demagogues of the Donald Trump sort / Image: Tyler Merbler

In the case of Britain, this was achieved by a system of two parties – the Conservative and Labour parties – that alternated in government at regular intervals, without ever challenging the rule of capital. A similar arrangement existed in the United States with the sharing of power between Republicans and Democrats.

In reality, this compromise was a mask that served to conceal the fundamental divisions in society, and prevent a serious challenge to the status quo. In the words of the great American writer Gore Vidal: “Our republic has one party – the property party – with two right-wings.” But the crisis of capitalism has changed everything. The sharp and growing divide between rich and poor has led to a breakdown of the old consensus.

Everywhere, beneath the apparent surface calm, there is a seething discontent, which reveals itself in periodic outbreaks of popular rage against the old order, its institutions, its political parties, its leaders, its morality and values. This discontent, it is true, lacks a clear political expression. It is confused, incoherent, and at times can even take on a reactionary aspect.

This lack of clarity is hardly surprising. It is the result of the weakness of the subjective factor – the fact that the forces of genuine Marxism have been thrown back for a whole historical period, leaving the field open to all kinds of confused reformists and left reformists who, since they have no clear ideas themselves, are organically incapable of providing solutions to the burning problems faced by the masses.

In their desperation to find a way out of the crisis, the masses are seeking an expression and an outlet for their anger at the injustices of the present discredited social and political order. This discontent may be taken advantage of by unscrupulous right-wing demagogues of the Donald Trump sort.

But in such confused and heterogeneous movements, it is essential that we learn to distinguish what is reactionary from what is a reflection of an incoherent protest against the status quo, and not be thrown off course by secondary factors and emotional impressionism.

Superficial impressionists like Paul Mason in Britain and many others on the so-called left internationally see only the reactionary elements in Trumpism, which they foolishly identify with fascism, without showing the slightest understanding of what fascism really is. Such confusion cannot help us to understand the real significance of important phenomena.

This nonsense leads them directly into the swamp of class collaborationist policies. By advancing the false idea of “the lesser evil”, they invite the working class and its organisations to unite with the class enemy, the bourgeois liberals who allegedly stand for “democracy”.

Worse still, by constantly harping on about the alleged danger of fascism, they potentially disarm the working class when faced with genuine fascist formations in the future. As we shall see, the serious strategists of capital understand what is happening far better than the ignorant fake Lefts and ex-Marxists like Paul Mason.

But to return to events in Washington. At bottom, what they indicate is the fact that the polarisation in society has reached the critical point where the institutions of bourgeois democracy are being tested to destruction. That is why the ruling class and its political representatives everywhere are horrified by the conduct of Donald J Trump.

As a political strategist, Trump does not bear serious consideration. An ignorant empiricist, his sole aim in life is self-projection and to hold onto power and prestige. This is really a very simple recipe for a man who has no identifiable principles of any kind. And although he is not particularly intelligent, he has been endowed by his Creator with an inalienable dose of low animal cunning.

Trump was never reconciled to the idea of losing office in anything so vulgar as an election. He already made up his mind in advance that the results were rigged (what other possible explanation could there be for failure?) His consequent actions were therefore entirely predictable.

Feeling betrayed by his fellow Republican leaders (many of whom hate him, but all of whom fear him), he turned to his only reliable point of support: his mass base, which, despite everything, remains unshakably loyal to the man who they see as their voice and their only hope in a hopelessly corrupt and cynical Washington.

It was therefore hardly surprising that he attempted to mobilise this mass base in what may probably be a last desperate gambler’s throw of the dice. This was undoubtedly a risky thing to do, but our Donald, like all gamblers, seems to thrive on risky moves, especially when the stakes are so high.

Certain things flow from this, however. The man who, by his actions, has deepened all the faultlines in American society, and created something very much like a state of civil war between Democrats and Republicans, has now declared war on his own party, threatening to split the Republican party from top to bottom.

His manic speeches were clearly intended to incite the already furious mob outside the White House to attack the Congress and thus (he hoped) prevent the confirmation of Joe Biden’s electoral victory. But it was noticeable that his main target was not the Democrats but precisely the Republicans in Congress, and particularly Vice President Mike Pence, whom he urged to prevent the session taking place.

By this time, however, Pence and the other main leaders of the Republicans had decided that enough was enough. In effect, they broke with Trump, and Trump has broken with them. Deep wounds have been inflicted on the Republican Party by these actions, which will not be easily healed. An open split in the Republicans is not at all ruled out.

Whether Mr Trump has any other tricks up his sleeve before the inauguration of the new president is difficult to foresee. From his initial reaction, it would appear that he has been thrown off balance by the barrage of attacks from all sides and is attempting to beat a hasty retreat. That will throw his base into confusion, without satisfying his enemies in Congress who are demanding his immediate removal from office.

One thing is clear. The ruling class was not amused by his latest stunt, for which the police (for reasons that are unclear) seemed to be unprepared. We can be quite sure that on Inauguration Day, the forces of law and order will be mobilised to ensure that there will be no repetition of yesterday’s chaos, that anyone who attempts to spoil the party will be rewarded with a cracked skull.

Donald Trump, realising at last that the game is up, promises he will go quietly. He does so in the full realisation that the alternative is to be escorted from the premises by the boys in blue to the nearest available police vehicle. Always assuming that he is not previously removed by a new impeachment – this time on the more serious charge of “insurrection” against the Republic.

Of course, that will not be the end of the matter. On the contrary, the real drama will have only just begun. Having won two Senate seats in Georgia, Joe Biden will now have a fairly secure control of Congress. He will have no excuse for not carrying out the policies which his supporters expect.

But the deepening economic crisis, aggravated by colossal debt, means that the Biden administration will very rapidly disappoint the hopes of those millions who voted for it as “the lesser evil”. A new and stormy period of class struggle will now open up, which will transform American society from top to bottom, opening the way for revolutionary developments.

The strategists of capital draw conclusions

The consequences of this are becoming increasingly evident to the more far-sighted representatives of the ruling class, who have a far clearer understanding of perspectives than the stupid and impressionistic “Lefts” who can see no further than the end of their nose.

The Financial Times on 29 December published an article with the title: “A better form of capitalism is possible.” It was signed by the editorial board, and therefore carries the stamp of editorial approval of one of the most authoritative journals of the bourgeoisie. For that reason, it is worth quoting the article at length.

In it we read the following:

“The quiet of the Christmas holiday period is a moment to remember how the Nativity story describes the family of Jesus: sent on the road by absurd administrative rules, left without accommodation, and going into labour in undignified conditions.

“We might note how well their precariousness could also describe an underclass in the wealthiest societies humanity has ever known. The pandemic has shone a harsh light on the vulnerable parts of rich countries’ labour markets.

“Most of us depend — at times literally for our lives — on people stocking shelves, delivering food, cleaning hospitals, caring for the old and infirm. Yet many of these unsung heroes are underpaid, overworked, and suffer unpredictable work opportunities and insecurity while on the job.

“A neologism coined to describe them — the ‘precariat’ — is apt. Over the past four decades, work has failed to secure stable and adequate incomes for growing numbers of people. This shows up in stagnant wages, erratic incomes, non-existent financial buffers for emergencies, low job security and brutalised working conditions — to the point of such grotesque episodes as the woman giving birth in a toilet cubicle for fear of missing a shift.

“Many suffer a rising risk of homelessness and epidemics of drug and alcohol-related diseases. Benefit systems can help — but can also trap already vulnerable people in labyrinthine administrative Catch-22s.

“This is a problem of longstanding, but it intensified sharply in 2020. Most jobs in the precariat require physical presence for manual service work, leaving workers more exposed both to coronavirus contagion and to income loss from lockdowns.”

The central problem is stated here with admirable clarity. But what is the solution? The author informs us that:

“It is a moral imperative to help the neediest. But lifting people out of economic precariousness is also greatly in the self-interest of the better off.”

Praiseworthy sentiments indeed! These lines call to mind Charles Dickens famous story A Christmas Carol: where the misanthropic, money grabbing capitalist Scrooge is gradually convinced to mend his ways, share some of his wealth with the poor and vulnerable, and become in general a thoroughly agreeable and kind old gentleman.

This sentimental ending is undoubtedly the weakest part of the story, and conveys only the pious wishes and daydreams of the author. The really valuable part is its commencement, which accurately describes the real morality of capitalism.

The authors of the FT article seem to be uncomfortably aware of the futility of any attempt to appeal to the better nature of the obscenely rich minority that dominates society on the grounds of a supposed “moral imperative to help the neediest”.

This was already evident to Charles Dickens, who describes the vain attempts of well-meaning people to obtain a donation from Scrooge for a Christmas charity:

“Are there no prisons?” said Scrooge. “Are there no workhouses?”

They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

“Many can't go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

Here we have the authentic voice of capitalism: the cold, calculating voice of market economics, of the reactionary Malthus: the real mean-spirited, grasping, selfish and cruel voice of the men and women of money – which has remained unaltered from Dickens’s day down to present times.

Realising the futility of appealing to the capitalists’ nobler instincts, the article appeals to their self-interests (their greed and selfishness). Here we are on firmer ground altogether!

“It is not just that the better off have the most to lose if continued economic polarisation leads to a rejection of capitalism. They also have much to gain from addressing it.”

But no amount of moral preaching will have any effect on these creatures, just as it had no effect on Scrooge. What made him change his mind was not moral imperatives, but fear – the fear and anxiety produced by the ghosts that Dickens sent to haunt him.

Therefore, the author of the FT article makes the wise decision to frighten the bourgeois by confronting them with the inevitable consequences of the present situation. It is a far more frightening prospect than the Spirit of Christmas yet to come:

“Groups left behind by economic change are increasingly concluding that those in charge do not care about their predicament — or worse, have rigged the economy for their own benefit against those on the margins.

“Slowly but surely, that is putting capitalism and democracy in tension with one another. Since the global financial crisis, this sense of betrayal has fuelled a political backlash against globalisation and the institutions of liberal democracy.

“Right-wing populism may thrive on this backlash while leaving capitalist markets in place. But as it cannot deliver on its promises to the economically frustrated, it is just a matter of time before the pitchforks come out for capitalism itself, and for the wealth of those who benefit from it.” (My emphasis, AW)

Oh yes, the serious bourgeois strategists understand the revolutionary implications far better than the myopic reformists. They can see that the violent swings of public opinion to the right can very easily be the preparation of even more violent swings to the left, that the discontented masses (armed with pitchforks, to suggest analogies with the French Revolution or the Peasants Revolt) can turn in an anti-capitalist direction.

The article goes on:

“The epidemic of low-paid, insecure jobs reflects a failure to spread the most advanced production methods from the economy’s frontier to its hinterland. The very existence of a precariat proves that resources — human, physical, and organisational — are being wasted.”

“A polarised economy is not just unfair, but inefficient.”

Yes, all this is perfectly true. The capitalist system is indeed wasteful and inefficient. This we have known for a very long time. It must therefore be replaced by a different system – one that is based on a harmonious, rationally planned economy in which the driving force is the satisfaction of the needs of the many, not the insane race to obtain obscene wealth for the few.

That conclusion is utterly inescapable. But it is entirely beyond the grasp of our well-intentioned author, who concludes (without producing any reasons) that: “the alternatives are worse for everyone”.

Why that should be the case is never explained. The author cannot see anything beyond the existing capitalist system, and therefore dreams of reforming it into something better. But capitalism cannot be reformed, as the stupid reformists imagine. They consider themselves realists. In reality, they are the worst kind of utopians.

In order to save capitalism, he says, its adherents must “polish off its rougher edges”.

“The winds are changing,” it announces triumphantly:

“Politicians from Joe Biden to Boris Johnson have mandates to ‘build back better’; the guardians of economic orthodoxy have jettisoned the view that inequality is the price of growth. Capitalism can be made to secure dignity to all.”

What a beautiful picture!

Everything is therefore reduced to dreaming of a different kind of capitalism – a nicer, kinder, more humane capitalism, just as Dickens dreamed of a nicer, kinder, more humane Scrooge. Needless to say, the one dream is just as futile and utopian as the other.

Why we are optimists

“Taken all in all, the crisis has been burrowing away like the good old mole it is.” Marx to Engels, 22 February 1858

The capitalist system is sick, sick unto death. The symptoms of this are very clear. Beneath the surface, everywhere there is a seething anger, rage, bitterness and hatred towards the existing system, and its hypocritical morality, injustice, intolerable inequality and indifference to human suffering.

The old institutions, which were once regarded with respect, are now looked upon with utter contempt by the masses, who feel betrayed and neglected. Politicians, judges, police, the media, the churches – all are regarded as alien and corrupt.

Alan GF1 Image Rosa PinedaThe working class is preparing to enter into a decisive contest. This gives Marxists hope and optimism in the future of humanity / Image: Rosa Pineda

The institutions of formal bourgeois democracy were based on the assumption that the gulf between rich and poor could be contained within manageable limits. But the continued growth of class inequality has created a level of social polarisation not seen for decades.

It is testing the traditional mechanisms of bourgeois democracy to its very limits, and beyond those limits. This was seen very clearly in the events in the USA over the last year.

The spontaneous uprisings that swept the country following the murder of George Floyd, and the subsequent unprecedented events that preceded and followed the presidential elections marked a turning point in the entire situation. Here, in embryo, we have the outline of revolutionary developments in the future.

The year 2021 will be a year like no other. Will it be a happy new year, as the optimists predict? It will, of course, be a happy new year for this tiny minority who have reason to be happy – the less than 1 percent of the population that enjoys unlimited control over the wealth produced by the great majority.

But for that majority there can be no question of a happy new year. For them, the future under capitalism can only be a bleak one. Nevertheless, we remain stubbornly and defiantly optimistic in the future – not the future of the capitalist system, but the future of the revolutionary class struggle that is destined to overthrow the system once and for all.

The road to a happy future depends upon a fundamental break with the past. The road that lies before us will be a hard one. The working class will enter a very harsh school. But from that school it will draw the necessary lessons.

After a long period of relative inactivity, the working class is stretching its limbs, like an athlete who is preparing to enter into a decisive contest. That, and that alone, gives us hope and optimism in the future of humanity.

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