Year in Review: 2009
The year 2009 was dominated by the spreading worldwide economic slump ushered in by the Wall Street collapse of September 2008. Unemployment and poverty soared in North America, Europe and increasingly in the “emerging economies” of Asia.
The ruling elites in all countries used mass unemployment as a weapon to assist in slashing wages and conditions and sharply reducing labor costs. They launched a frontal assault on social benefits—health care, education, pensions—won by the working class in bitter struggles in the course of the previous century.
Washington and Wall Street took the lead. President Barack Obama, whose election was the result of a marketing campaign based on the empty slogan of “change,” designed to tap into mass hostility to the Bush administration, headed up an administration that quickly proved to be the most reactionary in American history. The new government, with comfortable Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, continued and deepened the right-wing policies of its predecessor.
The crisis of 2008 was a transformative event in the history of world capitalism. In the first WSWS Perspective for 2009, Nick Beams wrote:
Whenever a historical review is made, certain years attract attention because of the decisive events with which they are associated. The years 1914, 1929, 1933, 1939 and in more recent times 1956 and 1989 are some that come to mind. The year 2008 is destined to join this group.
The Wall Street collapse was the expression of a systemic crisis with deep roots. In a report to a Socialist Equality Party (US) Midwest aggregate meeting on January 10, National Chairman David North and National Secretary Joseph Kishore emphasized that the crisis would intensify class conflict all over the world, creating “the objective prerequisites of a revolutionary crisis,” the report stated.
There will be no peaceful and “socially-neutral” resolution to the crisis. The improvisational responses of the American ruling class to the economic upheaval will solve nothing. Already, hundreds of billions have been squandered in various hastily devised bailout schemes. As for President Obama, he seeks the impossible: A solution to the crisis that does not touch the foundations of capitalism and the interests of the financial elite.
The report, delivered 10 days before Obama's inauguration on January 20, gave an outline of the character of the incoming administration.
Even before he formally assumes his position as “leader of the free world,” Obama—in his cabinet picks, his proposed economic “stimulus” package, his silence during Israel’s attack on Gaza—is demonstrating his fealty to the most powerful sections of the corporate elite. Whatever changes are made in tactics and tone, there will be no dismantling of the American military machine, let alone a retreat from the global ambitions of American imperialism.... Obama has made clear that he will continue the administration’s policy of massive handouts to the banks....
Obama’s breathtakingly rapid disavowal of his own campaign pledges expresses far more than his own dishonesty and cynicism. It reflects a deep crisis of American democracy. The existing institutions and political framework are impervious to the democratic expression of the popular will. Whether a Democrat or a Republican is in office does not impact the basic direction of government policy. The “two-party” system functions ever more crassly as the instrument through which the ruling financial oligarchy exercises its political power and controls the state. It flows from this essential political fact that the direction of the Obama administration will not be altered by popular pressure from the “left,” as claimed by the myriad left-liberal and petty-bourgeois protest organizations oriented to the Democratic Party. The end to war and inequality, and a settling of accounts with the crimes of American imperialism, cannot be realized within the framework of a degenerated capitalist-imperialist regime. What is required is not “change”—the hollow mantra of the Obama campaign—but social revolution.
Anticipating the growth of social struggle all over the world, the report explained:
Every historical crisis compels the major classes to adopt an independent standpoint and advance, with greater or lesser clarity, a class solution. The initial calls for national unity and common sacrifice will rapidly dissolve into mutual recriminations, mounting hostility and open conflict.
The developments in 2009 confirmed the correctness of this analysis. In the early months of the year, the world economy was in free fall. In late January, 74,000 layoffs were announced in the US on a single day. Three quarters of a million jobs were wiped out in the month of January, and an equivalent number in February.
Meanwhile, stock markets fell sharply. A one-day sell-off of 4.6 percent in March brought the US Dow Jones Industrial Average down to the lowest level in 12 years. World markets followed a similar path.
The deepening slump drove up budget deficits in country after country as tax revenues plunged while government outlays for unemployment benefits and other forms of relief swelled. In Europe, interest rates on government debt soared for Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland and Italy, and there were warnings of the potential breakup of the euro zone.
The German Grand Coalition of the Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party urged all European countries to maintain strict fiscal discipline. This meant enormous cuts in social spending, rising unemployment and poverty. Meanwhile, tax handouts and other stimulus measures were adopted to help big business.
The first government to fall as a result of the crisis was in Iceland, after mass protests erupted in the wake of the collapse of the country’s currency and banking system. In late January, the WSWS noted, “thousands of demonstrators rallying outside the parliament building pelted right-wing Independent Party Prime Minister Geir Haarde with eggs, paint and rolls of toilet paper, and police responded by firing tear gas, the first time tear gas was used against the public in Iceland since 1949.” It was a sign of things to come. A National Government Alliance was formed by the Social Democrats and Greens on the basis of a massive currency devaluation and huge financial burdens placed on the working class.
In Britain, unemployment rose beyond the 2 million mark, with February showing the largest monthly rise in joblessness since 1971. In France, a wave of layoffs sparked widespread opposition in the working class, forcing the unions to call a national day of protest at the end of January to let off steam and preempt any movement to bring down the right-wing government of President Nicolas Sarkozy.
There were protests across Eastern Europe, where working people in the formerly Stalinist-ruled countries bore the brunt of the capitalist crisis. Governments fell in Latvia, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Unemployment soared in Scandinavia, with a half million out of work in Sweden, and the carmaker Saab filed for bankruptcy.
Asia’s export-dependent economies began to slow sharply from the beginning of the year. In China, more than 20 million migrant workers from the countryside lost their jobs as factories shut down. The regime responded with a large stimulus spending program while working to suppress wages and maintain China’s position as the world’s premier cheap-labor platform.
Japan, its export-oriented economy devastated by the global slowdown, reported a record fall in GDP—an annualized rate of negative 12.7 percent. India’s economy hit a wall, with a half million jobs wiped out and predictions that another 1.5 million would be eliminated in the first half of 2009. There was double-digit unemployment in Turkey, another fast-growing regional economy.
In response to the crisis, the SEP (US) and the WSWS held a number of meetings, including a series of regional conferences under the headline, “The world economic crisis, the failure of capitalism and the case for socialism.” A resolution was passed outlining a socialist perspective in response to the crisis.
WSWS International Editorial Board Chairman David North delivered two major reports in the spring of 2009, explaining the historical origins and political implications of the crisis. “The capitalist crisis and the return of history,” a report delivered at meetings in March, began by noting that the crisis had undermined the ideological foundations of capitalism.
It is acknowledged by serious bourgeois economists that the global economic crisis—the worst since the 1930s—has dealt a devastating blow to the international legitimacy of the capitalist system. The free-market nostrums that have been exalted as unchallengeable truths by politicians, media talking heads and many academic economists for nearly three decades have been discredited, intellectually and morally.
North called attention to what he called the “intellectual double standard” by which apologists for capitalism, who had claimed that the collapse of the Soviet Union proved the unviability of a planned economy, now sought to evade the historical significance of the global economic collapse and deny that it represented a failure of the market-based profit system.
The roots of the crisis, North explained, had to be traced to the long-term decline of American capitalism and the contradictions inherent in the post-war economic setup. The lecture reviewed in detail the different phases in the history of mergers and acquisitions in the United States, from earlier periods of expansion of the US industrial base to more recent periods in which American corporations responded to increased competition through a process of consolidation. By the 1980s, the stock exchange began to play an increasingly dominant role, and “the essentially parasitic, destructive and criminal modus operandi of the new finance-driven corporate model was firmly established.”
The rampant financial speculation, fueled by debt, is not the cause of the crisis, but, rather, a manifestation of deep-rooted contradictions in the American and global economy... [T]he very measures undertaken by American capitalism to respond to economic pressures that it confronted more than four decades ago prepared the foundations for the crisis that it confronts today. Precisely because of the historic and global character of the contradictions that underlie the present crisis, the claims of the Obama administration that the present downturn will give way, within some sort of reasonable timeframe, to renewed and sustained economic growth, accompanied by a recovery and improvement in the living standards of the broad mass of the population, will be discredited by events.
North pointed to the social and political implications of the transformation in the structure of American capitalism.
There is no reason to believe that the ruling elites will respond in the first and second decades of the 21st century to the breakdown of capitalism with any less brutality than they did in the 1930s and 1940s. Nothing in contemporary culture suggests that the super-rich of the corporate and financial elite has grown more civilized and less prone to violence in defense of its interests than the magnates of the last century. The operation of the capitalist economy cannot be abstracted in some sort of metaphysical way from the class relations and interests to which it gives rise and in which it is embedded. During the past quarter century, the decay of American capitalism has created a powerful social constituency, commanding vast wealth, whose social and political arrogance has been magnified by its economic parasitism. If any conclusion can be drawn from its initial response to the bankruptcies and collapses produced by its own policies, it is that the ruling class is determined to make the mass of the population pay for the cost of the crisis.
In “The economic crisis and the resurgence of class conflict in the United States,” a report delivered at the regional conferences in May, North again reviewed the origins of the crisis, with particular emphasis on the history of class struggle in the United States. The American ruling class had been engaged in 30 years of relentless attacks on the working class, which had produced an enormous growth of social inequality to levels not seen since the 1920s. Yet this had been accompanied by a collapse of strike activity, as the official unions sought to smother social opposition.
The report reviewed the growth in the financial assets of the unions, even as their membership declined and the workers trapped in them endured repeated wage and benefit concessions.
The suppression of class struggle in the advanced capitalist countries and the restoration of capitalism in Eastern Europe and China created a favorable environment for the policies associated with the massive growth of the finance industry, laden with debt, during the 1980s, 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century. This was an environment that required the suppression of all restraints—social, political and even legal—on the recklessly speculative operations of capital.
A protracted period of social and political reaction signifies the forcible and artificial suppression of social and economic contradictions. The degree to which these contradictions have been suppressed determines the force and intensity of the crisis that follows. It is, therefore, to be expected that the present crisis will give rise to explosive social upheavals.
As the WSWS had warned, the response of world governments to the crisis was not “socially neutral,” but based on the unconditional defense of the interests of the financial aristocracy. This was true above all in the United States.
The Obama administration responded to the Wall Street collapse by moving aggressively to shore up the US financial system at the expense of the working class. Obama assembled a class war cabinet, and in his inaugural address insisted on austerity policies to make the working class pay for the crisis.
The new government greatly expanded the $700 billion bailout of the banks begun under the Bush administration, with the support of the Democratic-controlled Congress. By the summer, the potential cost of the bank bailout was being estimated at over $23 trillion, including a host of programs that had been implemented behind the backs of the American people.
Obama introduced and pushed through Congress a stimulus package that was far smaller than the handouts to Wall Street and did not contain a single direct job-creation measure. It consisted of tax cuts and subsidies to business as well as a modicum of aid to state governments facing immediate bankruptcy.
Obama blocked calls for pay limits on executives at the bailed-out firms, thereby reassuring the Wall Street elite that he would safeguard their interests, both institutional and personal. The response was a stock market surge, beginning in mid-March, as Wall Street gained confidence that the new administration would take all necessary measures to defend the super-rich and make the working class pay for the crisis.
This was combined with efforts to cut the cost of key social programs, spearheaded by Obama’s fraudulent and reactionary health care legislation, a huge boondoggle for the insurance companies and drug manufacturers. The new administration also intensified Bush’s attacks on public education with its “Race to the Top” program, designed to encourage states to cut teachers’ pay and conditions, close public schools and open more charter schools, and increase mandatory testing.
While stocks began to rise, so did unemployment. The year 2009 demonstrated the growing disconnect between the fortunes of Wall Street and those of the working class. Unemployment in the US continued to rise relentlessly, hitting an official high of 10.2 percent by October. The real figure, taking into account underemployed and discouraged workers, was close to 17 percent.
In working class areas, poverty and social misery deepened, reflected most dramatically in the turnout of thousands of desperate people whenever job applications or free health care services were made available.
The high point of the social counterrevolution initiated by the Obama administration was its green light for the slashing of wages of American workers in the “rescue” of the US auto industry, when the White House insisted on a 50 percent across-the-board pay cut for new-hires at General Motors and Chrysler.
When Obama announced he had rejected a proposed auto bailout in favor of one that required greater “sacrifices” from auto workers, the WSWS wrote:
The investment bankers represented by Obama are using the economic crisis as an opportunity to fundamentally restructure class relations in America. Culminating a three-decade offensive against working people, they are destroying whatever remains of the gains made by previous generations of workers so as to intensify the exploitation of the working class.
The attack on auto workers will become the spearhead for similar attacks against workers throughout the country and internationally, in every sector of the economy.
The SEP campaigned aggressively for auto workers to reject the agreements at General Motors and Chrysler, to break with the United Auto Workers union, and to establish independent rank-and-file committees to spearhead the defense of their jobs and living standards. In a statement distributed widely at contract ratification meetings of GM workers, the SEP pointed to the accumulation of $1.2 billion in assets by the union while workers lost their jobs by the hundreds of thousands:
The UAW is a union in name only. Its transformation into a business entity—better called “UAW, Inc.”—is the culmination of decades of betrayals. The material interests of this corrupt layer are entirely independent of and hostile to the rank-and-file.
Similar wage and benefit cuts were imposed on Canadian workers at GM, Ford and Chrysler plants in that country, and the Canadian Auto Workers collaborated just as slavishly as the UAW. The cuts, backed by the federal Conservative and Ontario Liberal governments, came to more than $20 per hour in wages and benefits. The SEP in Canada campaigned for rejection of the cuts and called on Canadian workers to mount a cross-border struggle in alliance with rank-and-file workers at the American auto plants.
GM’s German subsidiary Opel carried out the same blackmail tactics, threatening to close plants or liquidate outright unless workers accepted substantial job and wage cuts. Some 30 percent of European auto production capacity had to be cut, it declared. Germany’s largest union, IG Metall, sought to browbeat workers into sacrificing for their “own” national company instead of uniting with GM workers and other auto workers in the United States and worldwide.
Auto parts suppliers followed the lead of GM, Ford, Chrysler and the other car makers. In Britain, demands for wage cuts led to an occupation by workers at a Visteon plant, which in turn sparked similar action by workers at a Vestas Blades wind turbine factory.
In May, hundreds of Ssangyong Motors car workers in South Korea staged a factory occupation after the company, badly affected by the global crisis, filed for bankruptcy and announced plans to sack 2,600 workers, more than one-third of the workforce. The 77-day occupation involved frequent clashes between the workers and police, until it was violently crushed by 4,000 riot police deployed by the government of President Lee Myung-bak. In a perspective drawing out the political lessons of the struggle, the WSWS explained:
The state crackdown on the Ssangyong occupation demonstrates that the defense of the basic right to a job is a revolutionary question. Amid the deepening crisis of capitalism, the most elementary rights of the working class are incompatible with the demands of big business. Any fight for jobs necessarily involves a political struggle, not just against the individual company, but against the government, the corporate elite and its trade union accomplices.
In addition to the struggles of auto workers around the world, the WSWS reported on and fought to give a lead to many other significant class battles provoked by employers and governments seeking to make workers pay for the capitalist crisis. These included:
- Huge protests in Ireland against austerity policies, as well as the occupation of the Waterford crystal works by workers opposing its closure, and a powerful strike movement in the fall, culminating in a one-day walkout by 300,000 public employees.
- The Lindsey oil refinery strike in Britain, where the SEP opposed the efforts of the unions and the “left” groups to turn the struggle in a nationalist direction, with the slogan “British jobs for British workers.”
- Strikes by public employees in Britain, including London Underground workers, postal workers, university lecturers and refuse workers in Leeds. The protracted struggle by the postal workers included a series of strikes that was ultimately betrayed with the backing of the “left” groups that exercised considerable influence in the postal unions.
Obama owed his election victory in large measure to popular illusions that he represented an antiwar alternative to the Bush administration. The actual character of the new administration was revealed even before Inauguration Day, as both President Bush and President-elect Obama backed the devastating assault by Israel on the Gaza Strip. In the course of four weeks of brutal and one-sided violence, Israeli forces killed more than 1,300 Palestinians while losing only a handful of soldiers.
In a statement denouncing the war, the WSWS wrote:
A million-and-a-half people are imprisoned in an area the size of metropolitan Detroit—a sliver of land wedged between the desert and the Mediterranean Sea. They are prevented from leaving by Israeli troops to the north and east and troops of Egyptian dictator Mubarak to the south.
On January 10, the WSWS published a statement, “A socialist answer to the Gaza crisis,” which was distributed at international demonstrations against the Israeli war on Gaza. The statement rejected any attempt to equate the policies of the Israeli state with those of the population as a whole, pointing to the immense inequality within Israel:
Israeli society is wrought by profound social divisions. Its government is thoroughly embroiled in corruption. One of the aims of the onslaught on the Gaza Strip is, in the middle of an election campaign, to divert attention from the seething social tensions inside Israel itself.
Zionism has proved to be a trap for the Jewish people. Socialists have always warned that the Jewish question cannot be solved by setting up a capitalist national state on a religious basis. The overcoming of anti-Semitism and the persecution of Jews is inseparably bound up with the abolition of capitalist class society and the fate of the international working class. The Holocaust was made possible only by the prior destruction of the German workers’ movement by the Nazis.
A subsequent comment exposed the perfidious role of the various Arab bourgeois regimes in the Middle East, whether monarchies or military-run police states.
Only weeks after he entered the White House, Obama began escalating the war in Afghanistan, where the puppet regime of Hamid Karzai, installed after the US invasion in 2001, was disintegrating. In February, Obama sent 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, followed by another 4,000 in March. In late November, he announced an even larger “surge,” an additional 30,000 troops, bringing the total US deployment to nearly 100,000. The WSWS replied to a nationally televised speech on December 1:
Obama’s invocation of the attacks of September 11, 2001 to portray the war as a defense against terrorism is a fraud. The real reason for the US occupation of Afghanistan—widely discussed within the foreign policy establishment—is to maintain a dominant position in oil-rich Central Asia in the interests of the global strategy of American imperialism.
The buildup in Afghanistan was combined with stepped-up attacks on targets across the border in Pakistan, where the guerrilla forces fighting the US occupation had bases and safe havens. The Bush administration had begun drone warfare against these targets, but Obama vastly expanded the scale and ferocity of the attacks, killing thousands, many of them innocent villagers.
The WSWS examined the implications of the escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistan in terms of increased tensions and prospects for war in the wider region, including India, China, Russia, Central Asia, the Caucasus and Iran. After Obama issued a new military strategy for Central Asia, flanked by his defense secretary, Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the WSWS editorial board issued a statement warning of its ominous implications.
On the ground in Afghanistan, the escalation brought even greater suffering and bloodshed for the population. Obama removed the US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, and replaced him with counterinsurgency specialist Gen. Stanley McChrystal, known for the ferocity of the assassination campaign his special forces troops had carried out in Iraq.
The Karzai regime postponed a scheduled presidential election to allow for the arrival of more US troops. When it was finally held in August, under the guns of the US-NATO occupation, the election was a farce, complete with the disqualification of opposition candidates, rampant ballot-stuffing, a dismal turnout, and the boycott of a planned runoff by the opposition, leading ultimately to Karzai’s installation for a second term with the blessing of Washington.
A new aspect of the mounting crisis in Afghanistan was the emergence of German military forces in a significant offensive role for the first time since World War II. This resulted in the Kunduz massacre in September, in which 119 people were killed in an air strike ordered by a German officer.
Throughout the year, the US maintained its occupation of Iraq, as Obama adhered to the schedule set by Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the Status of Forces Agreement signed by them in 2008. Obama did not increase the pace of withdrawals by a single soldier.
The WSWS commented, in a perspective headlined, “Iraq: the forgotten war”:
The current relative stability was accomplished by more than five years of bloody repression of Iraqi opposition to the US invasion—the most violent being the surge years. As many as 1.2 million Iraqis lost their lives, as well as over 4,500 American and other occupying troops. The legacy of US occupation is a shattered and traumatised society, wracked by communal divisions and incapable of satisfying even the most elementary social needs of the population.
By the end of June, US troops withdrew from major Iraqi cities, and by the end of August, combat troops had been pulled out, many of them redeployed to Afghanistan. The real purpose of the US invasion and conquest of Iraq—seizure of the country’s vast oil resources—was laid bare, as the major oil companies began talks with the US-installed Maliki regime. In November, Exxon-Mobil became the first US-based oil giant to benefit directly from the war, signing a contract to run the huge West Qurna oilfield.
Conditions in Iraq remained highly unstable and violent, as shown by a series of bloody car bombings in Baghdad and bitter political infighting among the rival forces in the Iraqi bourgeoisie—Sunni, Shi’ite, Kurdish—which brought the country to the brink of a new round of civil war. US-run death squads remained the most powerful factor in the life of Iraq.
By the end of the year, the Obama administration had actually increased the number of troops engaged in foreign wars compared to its predecessor, with the drawdown from Iraq more than offset by the escalation in Afghanistan. This did not stop a committee of the Norwegian parliament from awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the individual responsible for directing more wars than any other human being: President Obama.
The WSWS explained, in a perspective headlined, “The Nobel War Prize,” that the award was a declaration of solidarity by European imperialism with the new leader of American imperialism:
… in legitimizing these wars and promoting a return to multilateralism in US foreign policy, the European powers see a means to legitimize their own turn to militarism and to suppress opposition to war within their own populations.
Obama’s Nobel prize, far from signaling hope that the world’s greatest military power is turning toward peace, is itself an endorsement of war and serves as a warning that the intensifying crisis of world capitalism is creating the conditions for resurgent militarism and the threat of widening international conflicts.
In the months before the Nobel announcement, the Obama administration had shown its true colors by issuing what amounted to a blanket amnesty for torture and other war crimes committed under the Bush administration. In August it was revealed that the White House was maintaining the same essential policy as far as rendition of terror suspects was concerned. Obama’s campaign pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp remained a dead letter.
One other military conflict came to a bloody conclusion in 2009: the long-running civil war in Sri Lanka. The government of President Mahinda Rajapakse launched a military offensive in the spring that destroyed the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), displaced hundreds of thousands of Tamils and killed as many as 40,000 people.
The Sri Lankan SEP had consistently opposed the war against the Tamil population, while at the same time opposing the perspective of national separatism espoused by the LTTE, through which the Tamil bourgeoisie sought to establish better conditions for its own exploitation of Tamil workers. A statement issued by the SEP in March condemned the government offensive and advanced an alternative perspective:
Only by uniting on the basis of a socialist program can the working class mobilise the oppressed masses behind it and mount an offensive against the real source of social inequality, communalism and war—the profit system itself.
In a statement denouncing the war crimes being committed by the Sri Lankan regime, SEP General Secretary Wije Dias declared:
Far from the final onslaught being an act of liberation, the military is herding civilians into squalid detention camps surrounded by razor wire and armed guards. They are being treated as prisoners of war, not refugees. Rajapakse’s “war on terrorism” is a war to entrench the political power and privileges of the Sinhala ruling elite. In this conflict, the country’s Tamil minority as a whole is regarded as the enemy.
In a further commentary published after the final destruction of the LTTE, Dias wrote:
All workers must reject the nauseating jingoism issuing from the political and media establishment. The SEP says to workers: this was not your war and it is not your victory. We warn that behind the victory parades, a savage new assault is being prepared on the economic and social position of the working class.
The June 12 presidential election in Iran revealed a bitter split within the Islamic Republic’s political elite. Incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner over several rivals. Mass demonstrations ensued, mainly in the middle class and upper-middle class areas of Tehran, where the opposition candidates had their main base of support. The WSWS criticized the dubious claims of a supposed popular revolt in Iran, promoted as the “Green Revolution” by the Western media.
The WSWS based its approach to this crisis on a historical analysis of the Iranian Revolution and the fundamental lessons of the 20th century, above all the necessity for the working class to adopt an independent political standpoint rather than line up behind one or another faction of the bourgeoisie.
The crisis in Iran was seized on by the US and European governments to advance their own imperialist interests. In a fashion similar to that employed in backing various “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in order to install regimes more to its liking, the imperialist propaganda machine used a “human rights” campaign to orchestrate support for a favored wing of the bitterly divided political establishment in Tehran.
As the WSWS explained, the Obama administration, the European imperialist powers and their liberal backers like the New York Times and the Nation magazine had new allies in the campaign against Iran—the middle-class “left” groups that had opposed the Bush administration but now were lining up behind Obama. This would later be replicated in their support for the wars in Libya and Syria. The WSWS wrote:
The June 12 Iranian election has become the occasion for virtually the entire milieu of “progressive” and “left” organizations in the US and internationally to line up behind their own governments in support of the opposition movement headed by the defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi.
These groups have not only uncritically embraced Moussavi’s claims that the election was stolen, they have ignored the right-wing economic and foreign policies of the opposition, the bourgeois character of its leadership, and the fact that its main social base consists of better-off sections of the middle class. That the mass of Iranian workers abstained from the protests that followed the election, and that imperialist governments in the US and Europe have uniformly rallied behind the opposition, evokes no second thoughts about the Moussavi movement’s supposedly democratic and progressive character.
A broad-based political phenomenon such as that which has unfolded in response to the events in Iran is indicative of sharp shifts in the political orientation of definite social layers. In this case, it reflects the movement of middle-class layers that once dominated left-wing public opinion into the camp of the political right.
As the Iranian crisis dragged on for months, the trajectory of the middle class protest movement that had coalesced around Moussavi became more and more clear, and in the process exposed the various pseudo-left organizations, including the French New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) and the British International Marxist Tendency, which masquerade as socialist or Marxist.
In February of 2009, the longstanding Pabloite organization Ligue Communiste Révolutionnare (LCR) in France dissolved itself into the “New Anti-Capitalist Party” (NPA). The new organization explicitly repudiated any connection to Trotskyism. Instead, it stated as one of its aims the “unity” of all organizations of the middle class and bourgeois “left,” which they call “anti-capitalist,” including the discredited trade unions and the Socialist Party of François Hollande.
The WSWS pointed out that the NPA was completely indifferent toward issues of history and political perspective and cultivated contempt for these questions in order to facilitate its collaboration with all kinds of political elements, left or right. The founding of the NPA reflected the deep-seated need of the ruling elite, in the face of a deteriorating economic crisis and growing resistance from the working class to austerity policies, to direct popular anger into safe channels. The NPA, the WSWS explained, acts “as a brake on the leftward political development of the working class.”
There was a series of important elections in Asia in 2009. In January, the 17-party alliance led by the Awami League won national elections in Bangladesh, routing the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its Islamic fundamentalist allies in a landslide victory that expressed widespread popular opposition to the previous military-backed regime.
Federal elections across India, held in April and May, resulted in the strengthening of the Congress Party-led UPA. The biggest loser was the Stalinist-led Left Front, which saw its Lok Sabha delegation more than halved. Especially significant was the rout of the Stalinists in West Bengal, where the Stalinist-controlled state government had pursued avowedly “pro-investor” policies, including the use of state and goon violence to suppress peasant opposition to the expropriation of their lands for Special Economic Zones and other big business development projects.
Shortly after the election, the Congress government under Manmohan Singh banned the Communist Party of India (Maoist) as a “terrorist” organization. The anti-democratic “anti-terror” measures—backed by the CPI and CPM Stalinists—were aimed at helping clear traditional lands of the tribal people for mining and resource extraction. This was followed by a major military offensive against Maoist insurgents, in which more than 100,000 troops were mobilized.
In Japan, enormous social anger found expression in national elections held in August. For only the second time since its founding in 1955, the ruling LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) was swept from office in a devastating rout, with the DLP (Democratic Liberal Party)—an amalgam of ex-LDP members and the Socialist Party, with support from the Stalinist Japanese Communist Party—forming a new government under Yukio Hatoyama. A WSWS perspective explained: “The ignominious electoral collapse of the LDP amid the greatest global economic crisis since the 1930s is another sign that politics, not only in Japan but internationally, is entering uncharted and stormy waters.”
Federal parliamentary elections were held in September in Germany. The two major parties that comprised the Grand Coalition, the right-wing Christian Democratic Union of Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Social Democratic Party, avoided any serious discussion of the impact of the world crisis on Germany and Europe.
The election ended with a victory for Merkel, the CDU, and her preferred right-wing coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party, FDP, giving them a majority and ending the Grand Coalition. The right-wing parties actually lost votes, but the Social Democrats fell even further, plunging to only 23 percent. This reflected deep popular alienation from the SPD and the entire political establishment, but it benefited parties, including the Green Party and the Left Party, that did not represent a political alternative.
In Central America, a major crisis erupted in Honduras, where the first Latin American military coup in the post-Cold War era took place on June 28. President Manuel Zelaya, who had taken office as a conservative but adopted some policies that angered the tiny Honduran economic and political elite, was ousted and forced into involuntary exile in Costa Rica. The US State Department, while publicly criticizing the coup, maneuvered behind the scenes to give its tacit backing. US-backed “mediation” soon legitimized the ouster of Zelaya. By August, the US State Department was blaming Zelaya for “provoking” his own ouster.
Mass popular opposition to the coup continued for months, and the new regime installed by the military responded with repression. When the ousted president secretly returned to Honduras and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy, the regime instituted a state of siege. Zelaya himself was neither capable of nor interested in waging any struggle based on the working class. A vote held on November 29 saw the election of a new right-wing government led by Porfirio Lobo. The turnout was less than 50 percent.
Canada’s Conservative government also employed anti-democratic methods, shutting down parliament for the second time in a year to extricate itself from a political crisis. In December 2008, the Conservatives had carried out a “constitutional coup,” prevailing on the un-elected governor-general to suspend parliament so as to prevent the opposition parties from defeating the government. Twelve months later, the Conservatives’ aim was to derail parliamentary hearings into Canada’s complicity in torture in Afghanistan. After a former top Canadian diplomat in Afghanistan testified that the government and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) had handed over prisoners to Afghan security forces to be tortured, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the top military brass responded with lies and slander.
A major highlight of the work of the ICFI in 2009 was the exposure of British historian Robert Service’s biography of Leon Trotsky as a blatant falsification. WSWS International Editorial Board Chairman David North used his review of Service’s diatribe to refute this latest attempt to slander Marxism and Trotsky’s historic struggle against Stalinism. North wrote:
Trotsky: A Biography is a crude and offensive book, produced without respect for the most minimal standards of scholarship. Service’s “research,” if one wishes to call it that, has been conducted in bad faith. His Trotsky is not history, but, rather, an exercise in character assassination.
North exposed Service’s method of work: ignoring Trotsky’s actual views in favor of attacks on his personal character. The book is laden with factual errors exposing Service’s limited comprehension of the historical material and Trotsky’s own life.
Despite Service’s self-satisfied description of his biography as “full-length,” there are virtually no extracts from, or adequate summaries of, Trotsky’s major political works. Service does not even review the basic concepts and postulates of the Theory of Permanent Revolution, which formed the foundation of Trotsky’s political work over a period of 35 years. His voluminous writings on China, Germany, Spain, France and even Britain are barely mentioned…
How is it possible to write a “full-length biography” of a man who was among the most prolific writers of the twentieth century without paying the necessary attention to his literary output?
North refuted Service’s claim that Trotsky sought to downplay his Jewish origins and showed in detail how this argument was employed in a fashion that appealed to anti-Semitism.
This answer to Service was followed by an important public meeting in London, at which North delivered a lecture, “Historians in the Service of the ‘Big Lie’: A Examination of Professor Robert Service’s Biography of Trotsky.” The lecture concludes:
Lev Davidovitch Trotsky and [Trotsky’s first wife] Alexandra Lvovna Sokolovskaya were extraordinary human beings, the representatives of a revolutionary generation whose capacity for self-sacrifice, in the interest of the betterment of mankind, seemed to know no limits. How pathetic it is for Professor Service and his ilk to believe that he will succeed, with insults, falsifications and slanders, in dragging these titans down to his miserable level.
The review and lecture together constituted a devastating exposure of Service’s methods and at the same time, nearly 70 years after his death, a powerful defense of the revolutionary perspective fought for and symbolized by Leon Trotsky.
Another major contribution to the theoretical and political work of the International Committee was the publication of the English-language edition of Stalin’s Terror of 1937-38: Political Genocide in the USSR, by the late Marxist historian and sociologist Vadim Rogovin.
This is the fifth in a seven-volume history written by Rogovin between 1990 and his death in 1998. The author was a Marxist opponent of the Stalinist bureaucracy inside the Soviet Union, “a man who may rightfully be judged the greatest Soviet historian of the post-Stalin era.” An opponent of the anti-communist attacks on socialism and the Russian Revolution that followed the dissolution of the USSR, Rogovin had a fruitful dialogue and close collaboration with the International Committee in the years leading up to his premature death at the age of 61.
Alongside this vital theoretical and historical work, the sections of the International Committee waged campaigns to bring its socialist program to broad sections of working people around the world. In Sri Lanka, the SEP intervened in provincial and national elections for this purpose, campaigning in the early part of the year among plantation workers, in fishing villages, in the capital of Colombo, among rail workers, Tamil workers and elsewhere. Later in the year, the SEP launched its campaign in the national election scheduled for January 2010.
In the fall of 2009, a major struggle broke out among Sri Lankan tea plantation workers. Mainly drawn from the Tamil minority population, the workers have long been brutally repressed and denied democratic rights, while unions controlled by corrupt political operatives have refused to lift a finger.
The SEP warned tea plantation workers that the unions were preparing to impose another poverty-level wage deal in collaboration with the employers and the government.
The party urged the Tamil-speaking estate workers to mobilize independently of the unions, on the basis of a socialist program. Workers at the Balmoral tea estate in Agarapathana in the central hills responded by forming an action committee with the political assistance of the SEP. They appealed to the other workers: “We are not responsible for the economic breakdown and should not have to pay for a crisis created by the anarchic profit system. We must join with workers everywhere in fighting for a society reconstructed on socialist lines to meet our needs, not those of the wealthy few.”
Early in 2009, the WSWS wrote extensively on the worst ever bushfires in Australia, a major social disaster that killed 173 people in the state of Victoria. Coverage included on the spot reports, interviews with survivors, featured interviews with bushfire experts and climate change scientists, and exposures of the government’s political whitewash of the tragic incident.
The SEP (US) ran its own candidate in the August non-partisan primary election for mayor of Detroit. City worker D’Artagnan Collier, a member of the SEP and its predecessor the Workers League for more than two decades, launched his campaign in May. He spoke to wide sections of workers about how to fight back politically against the crisis devastating the city. Once a massive industrial center and cockpit of the global auto industry, Detroit had lost well over half of its population in recent decades.
In Germany, the Partei für Soziale Gleichheit (PSG) won ballot status for the federal elections, after a similarly successful effort to gain a place on the ballot for its candidates in the European Parliament elections in June. The party’s election manifesto denounced the capitalist European Union and called on workers to fight for a United Socialist States of Europe:
The PSG rejects the European Union, its institutions and its planned constitution. We do so from the standpoint of international socialism, not nationalism. The progressive unification of Europe is possible only on a socialist basis.
The manifesto was translated into Turkish, the language of many immigrant workers in Germany, as well as into French and English. The PSG ran candidates in Germany’s largest state, North Rhine-Westphalia, as well as in Berlin, and held meetings in Leipzig, Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt and other cities.
The ICFI sponsored a number of political meetings to mark the 70th anniversary of the Second World War. The European sections held a meeting in London at which speakers from Britain, France and Germany analyzed the imperialist conflagration and its impact on the working class throughout Europe.
After reviewing the origins and consequences of World Wars I and II, including the devastating loss of human life, North pointed to similar contradictions tearing apart the world capitalist system today. He concluded:
For all the changes that have occurred since the beginning of World War I 95 years ago and World War II 70 years ago, we still live in the imperialist epoch. Thus, the great questions that confront mankind today are: Will the development of political consciousness in the international working class counteract the accumulating destructive tendencies of imperialism? Will the working class develop sufficient political consciousness in time, before capitalism and the imperialist nation-state system leads mankind over the abyss?
These are not questions for purely academic consideration. The very posing of these questions demands an active response. The answers will be provided not in a classroom, but in the real conflict of social forces. Struggle will decide the matter. And the outcome of this struggle will be influenced, to a decisive degree, by the development of revolutionary, that is, socialist consciousness. The struggle against imperialist war finds its highest expression in the fight to develop a new political leadership of the working class.
The WSWS continued its coverage of international film festivals, and reviewed such films as The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire, Tulpan, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Bright Star, Vincere, A Serious Man and many others.
Of particular interest were a number of interviews with major figures in the world of film and theater, including Bertrand Tavernier and Trevor Griffiths. Arts editor David Walsh continued his examination of film history, with articles on the Hollywood blacklist of the 1950s, and on the career of Orson Welles. Obituary articles included a tribute to British playwright Harold Pinter and an assessment of the career of American novelist John Updike.
In January, the WSWS reviewed an important television series on HBO on John Adams and the American Revolution. The series, “through dramatizing its subject’s domestic life (especially his relationship with Abigail, his brilliant wife) and public life, manages to capture the growth of revolutionary consciousness and the internal conflict over what kind of nation America would become.”
The WSWS paid particular attention to the issues raised by the arrest of film director Roman Polanski by Swiss authorities in September. Polanski, a dual Polish and French citizen and Holocaust survivor, was threatened with extradition to the United States to face charges arising from a case of unlawful sex with a minor dating back 32 years.
The WSWS opposed the liberal and pseudo-left milieu’s reactionary campaign against Polanski. The effort to resurrect the charges was backed by the New York Times, bourgeois feminists and pseudo-lefts like the International Socialist Organization. The liberal and “left” hypocrites ignored the circumstances under which Polanski fled the US, facing a vindictive judge who had signaled his intention to rip up a plea agreement. Polanski was jailed for two months in Zurich before being freed on bail and placed under house arrest. Swiss authorities later decided not to pursue extradition.
In the course of these events, the WSWS also reviewed Polanski’s career, placing the campaign against him within the context of his own experiences and the manner in which these had found expression in his work.
WSWS coverage of developments in the sciences, including the history of science, continued to grow. Among the contributions were many on the subjects of paleontology and human evolution. The WSWS also reported on the work of the Hubble space telescope.
Notable anniversaries that occasioned review articles included the 400th year since Galileo’s most famous discoveries, the 40th anniversary of the first human landing on the moon, and, on the occasion of the bicentenary of Charles Darwin, an examination of the connection between the pathbreaking work of Darwin and that of his great contemporary Karl Marx.
On the subject of the environment, the WSWS posted two important lectures delivered at public meetings of the Australian SEP on “Marxism, socialism and climate change.”
The WSWS gave increasing attention to historical subjects, ranging from the history of the working class movement, to the American Civil War, to more recent 20th century developments. This included the introduction of the “This Week in History” column.
There were articles on the Toledo, Minneapolis and San Francisco general strikes of 1934, the 1886 Haymarket massacre in Chicago, the 150th anniversary of abolitionist John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry, the 70th anniversary of the Stalin-Hitler Pact and the beginning of the Second World War.
Other important articles dealt with the Tragedy of the 1925-1927 Chinese Revolution, the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre carried out by the Chinese Stalinist bureaucracy, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Revolution, the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution and 25 years since the British miners strike.