The last decades have been characterised by a bourgeois offensive against workers in semi-colonial countries and the ex-bureaucratic workers’ states. This was the response of capital to the convulsive period opened by the 70s, a decade that was marked by a crisis of capitalist accumulation after the post-war boom, the emergence of sharp competition between powers such as Germany and Japan, and uprisings by workers and the popular masses (1968-81) in the metropolitan countries and, in a more aggravated form, in the developing world, that undermined the relative stability of the Yalta order and questioned US hegemony. This period marked the end of the so-called ‘benevolent hegemony’ of American imperialism and forced it to go on the counter-offensive in order to prevent a rapid erosion of its power, both economic and military.
As a result, the United States managed to slow down the pace of its own decay, achieving a relative recovery of its dominance. This policy, started by Reagan in the 80s, reached its highest point in the 90s, when the collapse of the USSR and the US’s reaffirmation as the dominant side in the Cold War, allowed it to create an illusion of indisputable dominance over the world, hiding its contradictions. The reinforcement of the neo-liberal offensive and the penetration of capital into geographical areas closed to it in the past led to a heightened sense of triumph on the part of the bourgeoisie, opening a decade of prosperity and restored capitalist confidence.
The end of the 90s represented a turning point – the opening of a new period in the international situation as a result of the following factors:
1) The end of the boom in the American economy and, at a more general level, the development of contradictions inherent in the major internationalisation of capital, and an important imbalance of the world economy, which was forecast by the Asiatic crisis of 1997-99.
2) The adoption of a more aggressive foreign policy post 9/11 with the aim of generating the conditions to reaffirm American dominance of the world, leading to international institutions like the UN being weakened and the role of NATO being redefined, putting into question the system of international relations that has reigned since the end of the Second World War.
3) As a consequence, we are witnessing a development of tension unprecedented in recent years between the big powers – mainly the USA on one side and France and Germany on the other. This tension reached a high level before the Iraq war, signifying a breakdown in international relations that will continue to exist regardless of the state of cooperation or confrontation between them. In the short term, the crisis which opened up in the EU after the ‘no’ vote in the referenda on the European Constitution in France and Holland is a point that favours the USA.
4) A slow but steady recovery of the mass movement after two decades of holding back due to the neo-liberal offensive, the impact of the ongoing capitalist restoration, and the decline in class consciousness and ability to organise independently. The strike of the French public sector in 1995 marked a turning point in a process of ideological and political reversal of the defeats of previous years. The emergence of sectors allied to the working class, like the anticapitalist youth movement in the metropolitan countries, was followed by examples of direct action in Latin America and a growing intervention by the working class. This slow recovery by advanced elements among the masses is taking place in the context of an increased social and political polarisation, which could be an anticipation of more radical developments in places where the contradictions are sharpest, as happened during the revolutionary process in Bolivia in October 2003 and June 2005.
Looking at the international situation, the most dynamic element is the decline of American dominance, and the attempt by the Bush administration to reshape the world order according to its national interests.
Although the decline of American hegemony is an ongoing historical process that started in the 70s during the Vietnam War, it has accelerated after 9/11 with Bush’s turn towards a more unilateral and warmongering policy. The opposition to the war in Iraq by powers like Germany and France, by semi-colonial governments and by the masses worldwide, is a vivid expression of the polarisation that this policy has generated.
We are living through a period in which the USA is still the main imperialist power, but in which its dominance is no longer passively accepted, but, on the contrary, is increasingly challenged by different social forces that have emerged during the last decade. Its growing militarism is proof of its weakness, not of its dominance; it reveals a loss of consensus and the need to look for more brutal methods to sustain its hegemony at the international level.
This is the main element which, in our view, has given rise to a new stage in which, as opposed to previous years of unstoppable bourgeois offensive and a series of defeats of the working class and masses, there is a combination of reactionary blows (like the war in Iraq) with a tendency for increased resistance by the mass movement and an incipient recovery of working class political consciousness – although the class struggle is not in the forefront.
The decay of American hegemony, conflicts between the imperialist powers, increasing militarism, social polarisation and the slow emergence of the mass movements poses the need for a revolutionary programme to assist the masses in the struggles to come.