Year in Review: 2012
The year 2012 was marked by a deepening of the world economic crisis of capitalism, with Europe plunging further into slump, mass unemployment and poverty growing in the United States, and conflicts between the major powers intensifying, expressed, in part, in the form of currency warfare. Throughout the world, the policy of the ruling classes was the same: unlimited funds for the banks, austerity to make workers pay for the crisis, and state repression against any resistance from below.
The Obama administration spearheaded the growth of militarism and violence on a world scale, sponsoring a proxy war in Syria; waging drone warfare across a wide swathe of Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia; and deploying US military assets to prepare for future conflicts with Iran and China. Obama’s reelection in November only underscored the anti-democratic character of the US political system, which confines political life to the framework of two right-wing capitalist parties that agree on all essentials.
An upsurge of class struggles in 2011 and into 2012 showed the determination of workers to fight against the attacks on their wages and living conditions, but it also demonstrated the crisis of revolutionary leadership. The ruling class relied on the unions and pseudo-left tendencies, such as SYRIZA in Greece, to maintain their political control. In the course of the year, the WSWS developed its sociological, political and historical analysis of these tendencies.
The dominant fact of life in 2012 was the protracted economic slump throughout the world economy. Worldwide unemployment continued to mount, and projections of growth languished. There was no significant US economic recovery, China slowed down, and Europe plunged further into recession, increasing the prospect of a break-up of the euro zone.
While masses of working people faced social misery, the financial markets rocketed upward and the income and wealth of the highest stratum of capitalist society were fully restored to the levels that prevailed before the 2008 financial crash. A WSWS Perspective explored this contradiction:
For most of this year, financial markets have been experiencing an upswing, buoyed by the injections of cheap money from the US and European central banks. But like the rosy flush that appears on the cheeks of a tuberculosis patient, the surge in stock prices was not the manifestation of economic health, but rather a sign of deepening sickness.
The policy of “quantitative easing”—led by the US Federal Reserve’s injection of $85 billion a month into financial markets—generated new speculative bubbles while paving the way for a new crash. At the same time, this policy exacerbated conflicts between the major powers, as each sought to depreciate its own currency to gain a competitive advantage in export markets.
As in the period that followed the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and ushered in World War II, the great powers increasingly pursued their own national economic interests in a beggar-thy-neighbor fashion. This culminated at the end of the year in the decision by Japan to embrace money creation on the model of the US Federal Reserve in order to drive down the value of the yen.
In gloomy reports issued near the end of the year, even the official representatives of world capitalism in the International Monetary Fund and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) conceded that the outlook was not for a renewed global expansion, but a new period of crisis. Nick Beams commented in "The historical significance of the gathering world slump":
These figures demonstrate that far from an economic recovery being “around the corner”, the world economy is moving deeper into recession.
Moreover, they have a profound historical significance. They underscore the analysis made by the World Socialist Web Site that the financial crisis that erupted in 2008 was not of a conjunctural character, but signified a breakdown in the global capitalist economy, with far-reaching economic, social and political consequences.
It was in Europe that the global slump had its most dramatic impact on working people. As Peter Schwarz, secretary of the International Committee of the Fourth International, explained in a report to a meeting of the Partei für Social Gleichheit (PSG) in Berlin at the beginning of 2012:
For the representatives of finance capital, the sums spent by European states on pensions, education, health and other social services and infrastructure are far too high. They are determined to use the crisis to reverse all of the social gains and democratic rights won by the workers’ movement in the course of the last six decades.
The European Union, far from guaranteeing “peace, prosperity and solidarity” (as proclaimed in the EU’s 55th anniversary declaration), was exposed as a reactionary institution with increasingly devastating consequences for European workers. By the end of the year, in Greece and Spain, over a quarter of the population and over half the youth were unemployed, and across Europe millions of people were losing their jobs, health care and homes.
After imposing its diktat on Greece, Ireland and Portugal, the “troika”—the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank (ECB)—organized another bank bailout for Spain, again combined with new austerity measures. All of these countries were turned into semi-colonies of international finance capital.
Millions of workers in Greece, Spain and Portugal, Italy and other European countries sought to resist the austerity measures dictated by the European ruling elites with mass demonstrations and general strikes.
The trade unions set out to isolate and strangle working class opposition. The European Trade Union Confederation openly backed EU austerity demands. In each country, the nationally based unions collaborated in imposing cuts in wages and jobs in order to improve the position of their own national industry on world markets.
In Germany, the trade unions at Manroland and at the GM-Opel auto plant in Bochum lined up with management to force concessions on the workers. The trade union federation Verdi betrayed Lufthansa crews and other workers who tried to fight back. And when the Schlecker drugstore chain filed for bankruptcy in January 2012, Verdi argued that mass layoffs and pay cuts were necessary to keep the company going.
The WSWS set up an Internet forum to discuss the insolvency of Schlecker and organize the defense of the workers independently of the unions. Later in the year, in a campaign against cuts to the British National Health Service (NHS), the British SEP launched NHSFightBack.org.
While the national ruling elites were united in their attack on the working class, they increasingly came into conflict with one another over the consequences of the crisis. German-French tensions dominated the European Union summit in October, and towards the end of the year sharp economic conflicts emerged between Britain and the rest of Europe.
The WSWS equally opposed appeals to save the EU and nationalist calls for a return to separate national currencies. An analysis published by the WSWS explained:
Balkanization (the break-up of the EU into its individual components) and austerity (the “rescue” of the EU through cuts in social spending and the reduction of wages) are merely two different strategies employed by financial capital to attack the working class… The only conceivable form in which Europe can truly be united is the United Socialist States of Europe: A federation of workers’ governments that expropriates the big banks, corporations and assets of the super-rich and places these resources at the service of social need instead of private profit.
As the European Union became the principal instrument for destroying the jobs and living conditions of European workers, the same committee of the Norwegian parliament that awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama in 2009, on the eve of his escalation of the US war in Afghanistan, gave the Peace Prize in 2012 to the EU. It saluted this gang of ruling class cutthroats for the “successful struggle of the EU for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights.”
If the euro zone was the focal point of the world economic crisis, Greece was the epicenter of the crisis in Europe. For EU commissioners and bankers, Greece served as a testing ground. A WSWS perspective warned that what the financial aristocracy was a doing in Greece would be carried throughout the whole continent.
Early in 2012, a WSWS reporting team provided a stark portrait of the conditions of life in Greece, including mounting hunger and homelessness, disastrous cuts in health services, and mass unemployment and wage-cutting.
The impact of these measures eroded the credibility of the old bourgeois parties, particularly the social democratic PASOK, which had joined forces with its longtime rival, the right-wing New Democracy, to prop up the “technocratic” government of Lucas Papademos, a former central banker.
Under conditions of mounting instability, the Greek and European ruling elites brought forward new political instruments to supplement the traditional bourgeois parties. These included the Coalition of the Alternative Left (SYRIZA), an amalgam of former Stalinists, ecologists, Pabloites, feminists and other middle-class groups headed by Alexis Tsipras.
SYRIZA finished second in elections held May 6. The coalition engaged in talks on joining a capitalist government to enforce the next round of austerity measures. The talks failed, leading to new elections June 17, in which New Democracy again placed first, but was this time able to form a coalition government with the remnants of PASOK and with the Democratic Left (DIMAR), a split-off from SYRIZA.
WSWS reporters discussed the outcome of the Greek elections with workers and youth in Athens, finding widespread discontent with all the bourgeois parties. SYRIZA was itself a bourgeois political formation, the WSWS explained, based on a privileged layer of the upper-middle-class and completely committed to the defense of capitalist institutions, including the European Union.
In the wake of the elections, SYRIZA emerged as the critical prop for the coalition government. In October 2012, Tsipras could have blocked an austerity package by having SYRIZA delegates vote to force the dissolution of the parliament, but instead he supported the regime, explaining, “It’s not a time to provoke the fall of the government.”
When the Greek parliament voted in November for the country’s fifth austerity program in three years, more than 100,000 workers marched through the rain to the parliament building. According to opinion polls, three months after the elections only 20 percent of Greek voters supported government policy, while 85 percent feared they would be affected by the austerity measures.
To suppress popular opposition, the ruling classes built up the police and military and resorted to violence and authoritarian methods, with the support of fascist forces. In Greece the state increasingly promoted the fascist gangs of Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn). This party, an openly pro-Nazi organization that engaged in attacks on immigrants, homosexuals and left-wing groups, emerged from the May and June elections as a significant grouping in parliament. The growth of the fascists was primarily the responsibility of the trade unions and the pseudo-left parties such as SYRIZA, which had paralyzed the workers movement and thus allowed the neo-Nazis to posture as the sole opponents of austerity, the European Union and the bankers’ dictatorship. The WSWS wrote:
The scenes in Greece today recall the emergence of the fascist movements of the last century and must be taken as a stark warning to the international working class. Until the working class breaks free of the political paralysis imposed by the trade unions and petty-bourgeois “left” parties—which have done everything in their power to block a revolutionary struggle by the workers—the fascists will escalate their attacks and exploit growing social desperation caused by EU austerity measures.
The 2012 US presidential election was a major world event and a focus of the WSWS throughout the year. The election was a political fraud, with the corporate media promoting the lie that substantial political differences existed between the Democratic and Republican candidates.
The candidates for the Republican nomination sought to outdo each other in appeals to Christian fundamentalist prejudices and free market nostrums. They included long-discredited reactionaries like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, open defenders of religious bigotry like former senator Rick Santorum, and the richest man to run for president in 2012 and eventual nominee, former Massachusetts governor and hedge fund mogul Mitt Romney.
Ultimately, it was Romney’s personal wealth and close connections with the most powerful financial interests that decided the outcome of the contest for the Republican presidential nomination. Only four years after Wall Street speculators brought the world economy to the brink of collapse and set off the deepest slump since the Great Depression, the Republican Party chose a man who personified that social layer.
Yet between Romney and Obama there were no fundamental differences in policy. In a perspective column written after the primary campaign had produced the choice of two right-wing multimillionaire politicians, Romney and Obama, Patrick Martin wrote:
The outcome at the ballot box November 6 will be determined, not by the wishes of the American people, but by whether the ruling elite decides to continue to entrust the Obama administration with the defense of its interests or chooses to install a new administration that will introduce certain tactical shifts in policy. The sentiments and views of the people will hardly be involved, under conditions where polls show that the majority of the population looks upon both Obama and Romney with hostility.
The WSWS exposed the plans by the ruling elite for an escalation of the assault on social programs, deepening attacks on democratic rights and intensified imperialist war abroad, whether Obama or Romney won. We warned that Obama’s demagogy over “making the rich pay their fair share” in taxes was a smokescreen for plans for an attack on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other vital programs.
The increasing alienation and resentment of the majority of the population toward both capitalist parties and candidates were palpable throughout the election campaign. In response, the same political forces that had falsely hailed the election of the first African American president in 2008 as a transformative event and the beginning of a new era of reform were mobilized to prop up Obama’s collapsing popular appeal.
The WSWS relentlessly exposed those—from the New York Times and the AFL-CIO to the Nation magazine and the International Socialist Organization—for working once again to dragoon the working class behind the Democrats. These forces represent layers of the upper-middle class that have been given a seat at the table by Obama to help police the working class and maintain political order. The WSWS wrote:
In the end, the anti-working class and militarist policies of the Obama administration are not disappointments at all. The writers of the Nation are far more concerned about the danger of an independent movement of the working class than they are about wage cutting, unemployment and attacks on education and health care.
The International Socialist Organization continued to perform its role as an auxiliary body of the Democratic Party by promoting the claim that Obama had made limited advances in his first term. Expressing the indifference of the social layer attracted to the ISO’s politics to the millions of unemployed and poverty-stricken workers in the US, they trumpeted Obama’s “progress” on sexual orientation and identity issues. In one commentary, David Walsh explained:
In 2012, as in 2008, the ISO’s chief political activity is to pursue the narrow aims of the social element it represents. What this petty-bourgeois ‘left’ wants stands in opposition to workers’ interests. Thus, the ISO is a staunch opponent of the political independence of the working class, the central perspective of a genuinely socialist and egalitarian movement.
Following Obama’s victory on November 6, the WSWS highlighted one critical fact that was being ignored by the media: the Democratic Party incumbent was the first candidate since the 1940s to win with fewer votes in the second term than in the first. The overall turnout was down in every state in the US, reflecting deep-going disillusionment with the candidates, parties and process. The WSWS wrote:
The most important implication of Tuesday’s election is the increasing alienation of the working class from the entire political set-up. And for good reason. There are immense social tensions building up in the United States, rooted in social inequality that prevails at levels not seen since the 1920s. Yet these tensions can find no outlet within the electoral process.
When working class struggles erupt in the United States in the coming months, they will come into increasingly direct conflict with the entire political system—including the network of liberal and pseudo-left organizations whose principal function is to uphold the political domination of the Democratic Party.
The Socialist Equality Party (US) announced the candidacy of Jerry White for president and Phyllis Scherrer for vice president on February 13 with a statement by Jerry White: “Vote Socialist Equality in 2012!”
In its coverage of the SEP campaign, the WSWS elaborated a program of struggle for the working class against the two capitalist parties that exercise a political monopoly in the US. The WSWS aimed to raise the political consciousness of the working class in preparation for a political break with the Democrats and the entire two-party system.
The initial SEP statement outlined four basic principles upon which the election would be based:
• The unity of the international working class
• The fight for social equality
• Opposition to militarism and war
• Political independence from the Democrats and Republicans
The statement summed up the election program of the SEP and issued a call to action by the working class:
All over the country, workers are beginning to recognize the need for a fundamental change. They are waking up to the realization that the old political parties and trade unions have nothing to offer them. Workers have long been told by the capitalist politicians and the corporate-controlled media to be frightened of socialism. But to the extent that workers come to understand what socialism really means, they will realize it is the only way to fight for a future.
The campaign was formally launched at an SEP press conference on the picket line of Cooper Tire workers in Findlay, Ohio, where White and other SEP members had been fighting to mobilize support in the working class for the workers, then in the eleventh week of a lockout imposed after they rejected a concessions contract in November 2011. White declared his support for the 1,050 locked-out workers.
“What is happening here in Findlay is in fact happening all across the United States and around the world,” White said. “In my campaign, the Socialist Equality Party will fight to unify every section of the working class against the domination of the banks and big business over the economy and the entire political system.”
White and Scherrer brought the socialist campaign to struggles of the working class all across the country. Their campaigns issued statements on dozens of political issues, bearing headlines such as:
- Gas prices and the working class: The case for public ownership of the oil industry
- The tornado disaster and the case for socialist planning
- The socialist solution to the crisis in Detroit
- The killing of Trayvon Martin and the social crisis in the US
- Health care is a social right, not a privilege for the rich
- Full rights for immigrant workers!
- Housing and utilities are a social right
- Withdraw US, NATO troops from Afghanistan!
- Defend the Quebec students!
- Obama, the UAW and the auto bailout
- No to school privatization!
- The Stockton, California bankruptcy: A warning to all workers
- Stop the assault on public employees and social services!
- Police violence in Anaheim: The class issues
- Wall Street vs. workers—the class gap widens
- The issues facing teachers in the 2012 elections
In August, the SEP campaign fought against and defeated an attempt by Wisconsin election officials to keep White and Scherrer off of the ballot. On August 29, the officials reversed their decision to deny ballot status to the SEP candidates.
The election campaign mounted by the Socialist Equality Party was an important development for the international working class, as it expressed from the very beginning the unity and commonality of conditions of workers in all countries. The sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International sought to bring the campaign of White and Scherrer to the working class in their respective countries.
In late August and early September, White went on an international tour that included press conferences, meetings and campaign events in Sri Lanka, the UK, Germany and Canada. Upon his arrival in Sri Lanka on September 25, the candidate was welcomed by a delegation of SEP members. He said:
In every country, capitalist governments demand austerity and the ever greater impoverishment of the working class… This island in the Indian Ocean and its population of 21 million has already been dragged into the efforts to encircle China and maintain US domination of the Asia-Pacific. The only way new and even bloodier wars can be prevented is to put an end to this bankrupt capitalist system and reorganise the world economy on the basis of a rational and egalitarian plan.”
On the third leg of the international tour, White addressed an audience of 170 at the Humboldt University in Berlin. The meeting was marked by the attentiveness of the audience to White’s report and the lively question-and-answer period that followed it.
The fall campaign included public meetings and rallies in all regions of the US, including meetings with new SEP supporters and members in Louisiana, Florida, Virginia and Kentucky, as well as in industrial cities in upstate New York, college towns such as Oberlin, Ohio and Champaign, Illinois, and cities throughout the West Coast.
The campaign culminated in regional conferences in Los Angeles, Detroit and New York City, the last of which was delayed until after the election by the impact of Hurricane Sandy.
A summary published after the election declared:
The success of the campaign can be measured by the growing influence of the Socialist Equality Party among workers and young people.
The campaign intersected with the initial expression of growing working class resistance. The SEP emerged as the only genuine leadership of working class struggles, including locked out Cooper Tire workers in Findlay, Ohio; striking Caterpillar workers in Joliet, Illinois; locked-out Con Edison utility workers and Chicago teachers; and students engaged in the months-long strike against tuition hikes in Quebec, Canada.
In the opening perspective of 2012, "The new year begins," the WSWS took note of the immense struggles that had erupted in the year before.
The events of the past year—beginning with the upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt and followed by the eruption of social protests in one country after another, including the United States—marked the transition to a new period of intensifying class conflict.
Each of these struggles raised fundamental issues of political perspective and underscored the crisis of revolutionary leadership.
The social struggles of 2011 demonstrated the immense problems of political perspective and leadership on a world scale. The movements of social protest internationally remained largely under the domination of left-liberal, pseudo-radical and semi-anarchistic tendencies that oppose the political mobilization of the working class in the struggle for power on the basis of a socialist program. This has allowed the ruling class to regroup, and even, as in Egypt, go on the offensive against the revolutionary masses.
Occupy Wall Street and similar protests throughout the United States have, within just a few months, won broad popular sympathy. They have given voice to the widespread anger over social inequality and hostility to a political system controlled by the rich. But these movements, controlled by middle-class organizations that are tied politically to the Obama administration, the Democratic Party and the trade unions, have neither the desire nor the ability to mobilize the working class in struggle against the capitalist system.
The Socialist Equality Party in the US, at its Second National Congress in Detroit, Michigan, worked to clarify the fundamental political experiences of the recent period and their historical and theoretical roots. The Congress unanimously adopted four resolutions: “Perspectives of the Socialist Equality Party,” “On the 2012 Election and the SEP Campaign,” “The Organization of the Working Class and the Fight for Socialism,” and “Build the International Youth and Students for Social Equality.”
A principal political and theoretical achievement of the Congress was a deepening of the International Committee of the Fourth International’s analysis of the social character and political and ideological origins of the pseudo-left.The rise of SYRIZA in Greece and the role of similar groups in France, Germany, Italy, the United States and elsewhere in providing open support for imperialist interventions made clear that they had become an integral part of the bourgeois political establishment.
A precise sociological conception of these pseudo-left parties was spelled out in the main political resolution adopted by the Congress:
The corporate-financial elite also requires and depends upon the political services of innumerable “left” parties, organizations and tendencies through which the interests and influence of the capitalist class are exerted on the working class. Their role is to contain the class struggle and direct it into channels that pose no danger to capitalism…
The “anti-capitalism” of this stratum is fueled far more by envy of the rich than by solidarity with the working class. It desires not the destruction of private property (in the form of ownership of the means of production) but a larger share of the income derived from it. Rejecting the demand for equality through the mass struggle of the working class for socialism, the embrace by the middle class pseudo-left of various forms of affirmative action—that is, preferential quotas based on race, ethnicity and gender—reflects the desire for individual access by privileged elites to career opportunities and greater wealth within the framework of capitalism. The obsessive focus on issues related to personal identity—especially sexuality—is characteristic of middle class organizations that are determined to elevate individual interests above class issues and to separate the defense of democratic rights from the struggle for socialism.
The resolution drew the conclusion: “The pseudo-left organizations represent, in their aggregate, a tendency within bourgeois politics.”
Among the experiences the resolution reviewed was the evolution of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, which had begun in September of 2011. The resolution stated:
The “Occupy Wall Street” movement certainly attracted sympathy from among broad sections of the working class, who interpreted the protests as an expression of hostility to the existing economic set-up. However, this movement offered no way forward for the working class. The “Occupy” movement was dominated politically by representatives of these relatively affluent sections of the middle class and expressed their concerns. It remained within the orbit of the Democratic Party, hoping that its protests would somehow influence the policies of the Obama administration. It never sought to provoke an independent working class movement on the basis of socialist demands.
SEP National Chairman David North reviewed the historical background of the pseudo-left groups in his opening report to the National Congress. The report was subsequently published as a pamphlet under the title, “The Theoretical and Historical Origins of the Pseudo-Left.”
North contrasted the approach of the Trotskyist movement to its history with that of figures like Alain Krivine, longtime leader of the Pabloite tendency that has become the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA) in France. Krivine gave a speech hailing the decision of the NPA to drop any discussion of the struggle of Trotsky against Stalinism, abandoning even lip service to Trotskyism.
North explained that the task of the SEP Congress was to understand the significance of the new stage in world history signaled by the 2008 crash—no less significant than the crises of 1914, 1929 and 1939—from the standpoint of the historical development of the Fourth International. In that context, he reviewed the history of the ideological and political struggle within the Fourth International against Pabloism, the liquidationist tendency that emerged in the period following World War II.
It is only at an advanced stage of historical development that one can identify far more precisely than was possible in the 1950s and 1960s the social forces that motivated the growth of revisionism within the Fourth International. It was not a matter of a few confused people making unfortunate political mistakes. Rather, the theoretical and political “errors” of Michel Pablo and Ernest Mandel, to name only the most important opponents of orthodox Trotskyism (that is, the political expression of revolutionary Marxism), arose as the expression of socio-economic processes that developed in the aftermath of World War II. Through the tendency known as Pabloism, the petty-bourgeoisie attempted to seize control of the Fourth International and utilize its prestige in its own interests.
North examined the ideological forms through which these petty-bourgeois material interests were expressed:
Many of the political themes that would come to define what we now quite correctly refer to as the “pseudo-left” politics of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s—centered on individual identity and lifestyle—emerged within the milieu of Pabloism and the petty-bourgeois left in the 1950s and 1960s. This was the era when Freud and psychology, especially as interpreted by Marcuse, were hailed as the alternative to Marx and materialism.
North noted the decisive impact of the May-June 1968 events in France, and the revolutionary wave that swept Europe and America in the years that followed, in deepening the class differentiation between Pabloism and Trotskyism. He concluded his report with a summing up of the social character and political function of the petty-bourgeois pseudo-left:
Spurred on by its own increasingly substantial material affluence, the long-standing skepticism of the petty-bourgeois left in the revolutionary capacities of the working class has acquired new and distinct socio-economic and political characteristics. As its economic interests become increasingly focused on achieving a more favorable distribution of wealth and privileges within the top ten percent of society, and as it becomes ever more openly integrated into the political structures sanctioned by the ruling establishment, the hostility of the affluent left to the struggles of the working class can no longer be concealed with empty pseudo-socialist phrase-mongering. Its ideologists are compelled to argue openly for a definition of ‘left’ politics that excludes the working class from any independent, let alone revolutionary role.
The Congress resolution drew the conclusion from this analysis that the responsibility for initiating and leading new mass revolutionary struggles of the working class lies with the International Committee of the Fourth International and its sections, the Socialist Equality Parties in each country:
It is not enough to predict the inevitability of revolutionary struggles and then await their unfolding. Such passivity has nothing in common with Marxism, which insists upon the unity of theoretically guided cognition and revolutionary practice. Moreover, as the aftermath of Mubarak’s downfall demonstrates all too clearly, the victory of the socialist revolution requires the presence of a revolutionary party. The Socialist Equality Party must do everything it can to develop, prior to the outbreak of mass struggles, a significant political presence within the working class—above all, among its most advanced elements. It must be a movement that has worked out the central problems of revolutionary perspective. The capitalist crisis radicalizes the working class and provides the objective conditions for socialist revolution. The Socialist Equality Party’s responsibility is to develop the strategy and tactics that will guide the working class in the struggle for power.
A central theme of the SEP election campaign was the fight against US imperialism. In the aftermath of the US-stoked conflict in Libya, which concluded with the murder of Muammar Gaddafi, the Obama administration shifted its focus to Syria.
Through a coordinated campaign to stoke up civil war and sectarian conflict—relying heavily on Islamic fundamentalist forces allied with Al Qaeda—the Obama administration and the European powers sought to bring down the government of Bashar al Assad. The Obama administration orchestrated the arming of the “rebels” by an array of Arab monarchies, the Turkish regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the European imperialist powers.
In “What is at stake in Syria?” the WSWS summed up the character of the Syrian intervention:
This is a coordinated campaign to manipulate public opinion in support of military intervention in the name of “human rights,” following the script of last year’s bloody exercise in regime-change in Libya. The immediate demand is for the setting up of “humanitarian corridors” protected militarily by the Gulf States, Turkey and NATO, as well as the arming of the opposition.
Working people and youth should reject all attempts to drag them behind another colonial-style intervention by cynically playing on their humanitarian impulses. The destabilization of Syria is not the result of a mass popular upsurge against Assad. Unlike the revolutionary movement that erupted in Egypt, the Syrian opposition has little support in major urban centres such as Damascus and Aleppo, where the installation of a Sunni regime that will persecute Syria’s minorities is feared.
Since Syria had close economic and political ties with Iran, Russia and China, imperialist intervention could rapidly escalate not only into regional conflict, but into world war. In May, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev warned Washington against “hasty military operations in foreign states,” adding that such actions “could result… even in the use of a nuclear weapon.”
As the year progressed, the fighting across Syria intensified, destroying many of the smaller provincial towns and enveloping neighborhoods in the two major cities, Damascus and Aleppo. A massacre of civilians in Houla was attributed to the Syrian army by the Western media, although it was later shown to have been carried out by opposition “rebels.” Soon after, the 300 UN observers who had ostensibly tried to monitor atrocities on both sides had to withdraw due to the intensity of the fighting.
Thousands of fighters from Libya were reported to have joined the anti-Assad forces. Many of them had links with Al Qaeda, something at first denied by Washington. In August, Bill Van Auken wrote in “Washington’s proxy in Syria: Al Qaeda”:
The growing acknowledgment within official circles that Al Qaeda is playing a decisive role in Syria’s civil war exposes both the real nature of the US-backed bid to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad and the fraud of Washington’s “war on terror.” Recent media reports have made clear that Islamist fighters from as far away as Chechnya are being funneled into Syria across the Turkish border, along with many more from Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan and elsewhere.
Washington is not waging a crusade for democracy and human rights in Syria. It is involved in a dirty war in which carnage is being unleashed against the Syrian population as a means of toppling a regime that has historic ties to Tehran. This, in turn, is meant to pave the way for a wider war aimed at eliminating Iran as a rival for regional hegemony in the energy-rich and geo-strategically vital regions of the Persian Gulf and Central Asia.
As these revelations were being made, virtually every pseudo-left group internationally lined up behind the anti-Assad opposition. This included the International Socialist Organization (ISO) in the US, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in Britain, the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA) in France, the Australian Socialist Alternative, Germany’s Left Party, the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists and the Syrian Revolutionary Left. Their calls for “humanitarian intervention” in Syria by NATO and US imperialism followed their similar stance in Libya in 2011.
The Libyan-Syrian pipeline of Islamic fundamentalists was at the root of the September 11 incident in Benghazi, Libya, when US Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed in an attack on a US diplomatic outpost. Stevens had played a leading role in mobilizing radical Islamists against the Gaddafi regime, and his death was likely payback from these elements, discontented with the rewards they had reaped from the US-NATO war.
By October, US intelligence admitted that the bulk of weapons flowing into Syria to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad were going into the hands of Al Qaeda and other Islamist militias. The US State Department soon designated Jabhat al-Nusra “a foreign terrorist organization,” but the de facto alliance of the American military with the organization continued.
By the end of the year, the fighting in Syria was declared a sectarian civil war by the UN. With sectarian divisions affecting Sunnis, Alawites, Armenians, Christians, Druze, Palestinians, Kurds and Turkmen, “Entire communities are at risk of being forced out of the country or of being killed.” In Syria faces humanitarian catastrophe, the WSWS noted that “an estimated four million people—roughly 20 percent of the population—[were] lacking adequate food and shelter.”
In Egypt, the mass working class struggles that erupted in 2011, leading to the toppling of Mubarak, continued unabated. In May, the first round of presidential elections took place, with all the major candidates committed to respecting the role of the military junta that had ruled Egypt since the ouster of Mubarak.
On the eve of the runoff election, the junta dissolved parliament and began to craft a new constitution that would insulate the military from the new president’s power. It was against this backdrop that the election was held between two right-wing, pro-business candidates, Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood and retired Air Force General Ahmed Shafiq, the favorite of the junta. Many working people and youth abstained out of hostility to both candidates.
In the end, reassured by the Brotherhood, the junta decided to recognize Mursi’s victory and allow him to take office. The Obama administration praised this as a “democratic transition.” In this it was joined by the Revolutionary Socialists, a pseudo-left organization linked to the American ISO and the British SWP, which hailed Mursi’s election as a “significant revolutionary victory.”
Once in power, Mursi immediately oversaw a brutal crackdown on protesters. The right-wing bourgeois regime sought new loans from the International Monetary Fund, agreeing to carry out cuts in jobs and raise prices on essentials like food and gasoline.
The Mursi regime demonstrated its subservience to imperialism in November, when the Israeli military launched a brutal eight-day bombardment of the Gaza strip that claimed over 150 lives, mainly civilians. The Egyptian military, on Mursi’s orders, kept the border with Gaza sealed and worked so closely with Washington that Mursi won the praise of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The United States gave full support to the bombardment of the Gaza strip, denouncing Palestinian militants rather than the Israeli warmongers. The WSWS warned that the criminality of the bombardment marked the beginning of a new period of imperialist war in the Middle East.
In the aftermath of the Gaza fighting, Mursi staged a blatant power grab, issuing a decree that concentrated all legislative and judicial power in his hands and staging a constitutional referendum amid widespread reports of fraud and a voter turn-out of about 30 percent. The referendum enshrined the powers of the military and declared Islamic law to be the source of legislation. It added statutes that criminalized hostilities against the armed forces.
While its main focus was on stoking up the civil war in Syria, the United States continued to increase political and economic pressure on Iran. In June, the New York Times confirmed the widely held view that the US government had engineered the Stuxnet virus, a cyber-warfare attack on Iran’s nuclear program. In July, a European Union oil import embargo on the country marked a sharp escalation of the dangerous US-led confrontation with Tehran.
In nearly back-to-back speeches at the United Nations General Assembly, President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu insisted that Iran must cease its alleged nuclear weapons program or face military action.
In Afghanistan, 2012 marked the third year of the Obama “surge.” The first part of the year saw a series of atrocities that outraged the Afghan population. These included the desecration of Afghan dead by US Marines, who urinated on their corpses; the killing of children in US-NATO airstrikes, and the burning of Korans at the huge US military base at Bagram, an action that provoked protests and violent attacks on US forces throughout the country.
In one of the most hideous massacres of the war, a US soldier murdered at least 16 Afghan villagers, nine of them children. In “Afghanistan’s My Lai,” the WSWS wrote that the event was a “demonstration of both the brutality and the deepening crisis of American imperialism’s war of aggression in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Drone attacks continued, not only in Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan, but also in Yemen, where the United States escalated its drone war to support the Yemini government’s assault on separatists in the south of the country. The United States launched strikes with indifference to civilian casualties, feeling no obligation to supply evidence that its targets were actually militants.
Throughout 2012, the Obama administration stepped up its strategic “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific that was aimed at maintaining US imperialism’s domination in the region and countering China’s growing diplomatic and military influence.
In January, Washington initiated talks with the Philippine government to expand the US military presence in the country and deploy additional US warships and surveillance aircraft. In July, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) ministerial summit broke up acrimoniously after the Philippine government provocatively demanded that the association support the Philippines in a standoff with China over disputed territory in the South China Sea.
Washington’s determination to undermine Beijing’s standing in the Pacific was demonstrated in August, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led a 50-member US government and military contingent to the Pacific Islands Forum summit in the Cook Islands.
Territorial disputes in the South China Sea between China and its neighbors again dominated an ASEAN summit held in Cambodia in November. Obama attended the summit, in his first overseas trip following his reelection, and afterwards visited Thailand and Burma. The trip to Burma was the first ever by a US president to the country, part of efforts to undermine the country’s longstanding ties with China.
The year also saw heightened tensions between China and Japan. In September, the Japanese government purchased three of the five disputed Senkaku islands (known in China as Diaoyu) from their private owner. A WSWS perspective explained that the Japanese government was “acting with the tacit encouragement of the Obama administration, which has stepped up its diplomatic and military pressure on China throughout Asia,” while China was stoking nationalist tensions to promote its own interests in the region.
December saw important elections in northeast Asia. In Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was returned to power after its leader, Shinzo Abe, mounted a nationalist campaign promoting Japanese remilitarization.
In South Korea, Park Geun-hye of the ruling right-wing Saenuri Party was elected president. Big business backed her campaign, while there was widespread popular disillusionment with the Democrats, the official “left” alternative, which had sought to curry favor with the corporate elite.
China, too, had a new regime, the outcome of a protracted political crisis throughout 2012, amid rising economic problems and escalating geo-strategic tensions with US imperialism. In March, the World Bank issued a major report, “China 2030,” that was developed with the assistance of sections of the bourgeoisie connected to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The report outlined a sweeping economic restructuring agenda, including the privatization of remaining state-owned industries and banks and other measures promoting foreign investment.
The report exposed divisions within the Chinese ruling elite, with opposition raised by the so-called “New Left” faction of the CCP. The New Left advocated public subsidies and economic protectionist measures that favored certain corporations, especially joint-stock companies created out of the restructuring of nationalized enterprises in the 1990s.
In March, the most prominent leader of the “New Left,” Chongqing Province Party Secretary Bo Xilai, was suddenly removed from office. Later in the year, Bo was formally expelled from the CCP and charged with corruption and sexual offences. His wife was convicted of the murder of British national Neil Heywood.
In an April 30 perspective, the WSWS explained that the political upheaval within the CCP leadership was tied directly to the country’s economic problems:
These economic difficulties are being compounded by the Obama administration’s aggressive “pivot to Asia” aimed at undermining Chinese influence throughout the region. Bo’s downfall is bound up with divisions inside the CCP over how to respond. Wen and President Hu Jintao are seeking to open up the remaining state-owned sectors to Western capital in the expectation that a new influx of investment will maintain high economic growth and prevent a social upheaval…
Bo, on the other hand, has been associated with layers inside the CCP closely connected to the state-owned conglomerates and banks, which have amassed large profits in recent years due to continuing state protection.
In December, newly installed CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping conducted a “southern tour” of China, deliberately echoing that conducted twenty years earlier by Deng Xiaoping, which accelerated the process of capitalist restoration begun in 1978.
In South Asia, Pakistan’s government and military resumed full, open cooperation with the U.S. in the AfPak War, despite continuing mass opposition to the occupation of Afghanistan, illegal drone strikes and other flagrant violations of Pakistani sovereignty.
In September, Pakistan experienced its worst ever industrial disaster when 300 workers were killed in a garment factory fire. The entire Pakistani establishment, and the transnational corporations that scour the globe for cheap-labour production, were responsible for the catastrophe.
In India, the Congress Party-led United Progressive introduced a series of what it called “big bang” economic reforms. Despite mass opposition, including a one-day general strike, and defections from the government coalition, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh vowed that the reforms were only an opening salvo in escalating the attack on the working class.
Increasing its on-the-spot coverage in the region, the WSWS reported from the 20th Congress of India’s principal Stalinist parliamentary party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Articles included a review of the history and perspective of the CPM and an assessment of the Congress’s adopted resolutions. So as to make clear that it has not shut the door to future electoral alliances with the Congress Party, the CPM subsequently backed the ruling party’s candidate for Indian president in the July presidential election.
In Australia, the Gillard government faced a new political crisis when Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd abruptly announced his resignation while he was in Washington DC on official business and challenged Prime Minister Julia Gillard for the Labor Party leadership. In a perspective published on the eve of the leadership ballot, the WSWS explained that the fracturing of the Labor Party was bound up with the Obama administration’s growing confrontation with China.
Rudd, as prime minister between 2007 and 2010, had urged Washington to reach an accommodation with Beijing and cede some strategic influence in East Asia and the Pacific to the new Asian power. Gillard, installed via an anti-democratic coup orchestrated by US assets within the Labor Party, unconditionally aligned Canberra with Obama’s aggressive confrontation with China.
Rudd’s defeat in no way resolved the issues tearing the Labor government apart. In early March, Senator Mark Arbib, one of the key coup plotters against Rudd in 2010 and a US embassy “asset,” suddenly resigned. Former state premier Bob Carr, who had been out of politics for several years, was installed in his place in the Senate and made foreign minister. While Carr had previously published various criticisms of Obama’s “pivot” and the war in Libya, he immediately toed the line once in office. Later in 2012, Carr was at the forefront of the US-led agitation for regime-change in Syria, publicly proposing the assassination of senior government figures in Damascus as a way of resolving the crisis.
A major feature of 2012 was the resurgence of the class struggle on a global scale, with significant struggles erupting in Africa, Asia, Latin America and North America, alongside the ongoing struggles in Europe.
The year began with an unprecedented nationwide general strike in Nigeria, sparked by an increase in fuel prices. The unions suspended the strike in the face of the movement of military units into the major cities, a capitulation that demonstrated the unviability of struggles conducted within the organizational and political framework of the existing trade union organizations. The WSWS argued that “the Nigerian events point to the impossibility of the working class waging a successful struggle against the governments of the financial oligarchy under the leadership of the trade unions and their political apologists.”
Also in January, a series of bitter struggles were initiated by the Chinese working class. As many as 10,000 Chengdu Steel workers struck against low wages. The same month, hundreds of workers at a Foxconn plant Wuhan threatened mass suicide in protest against unbearable working conditions. Taiwanese-owned Foxconn—the world’s largest subcontracting manufacturer, producing 40 percent of the world’s electronic goods—employs 1.2 million workers in China. Strikes spread across many parts of the country, including at Sanyo, Siemens and Changhe Auto, a joint venture with Japan’s Suzuki, where some of the workers demanded the overthrow of the government and were confronted with paramilitary police.
In February, following the Chinese New Year holiday period, the strike wave resumed amid slowing economic growth. In May, 200 workers at Foxconn’s Wuhan plant again threatened suicide. In September, in another Foxconn plant in the northern Chinese city of Taiyuan, 2,000 workers clashed with 1,500 security guards. The following month, Foxconn workers producing new iPhones in Zhengzhou city went on strike.
A WSWS perspective published in October explained:
The unbearable conditions at Foxconn parallel those that fuelled the recent militant strikes by South African miners and Bangladeshi garment workers. These are part of the reemergence of the class struggle internationally that began with the upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt last year. The ongoing mass protests and strikes in Europe, and the eruption of major working class struggles in America, such as the Chicago teachers’ strike, have the same basic source—the attempt by the financial elites to impose the burden of the deepening global crisis onto the working class…
Within China, the working class cannot defend its rights except through a political struggle to overthrow the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) bureaucracy, which actively courts the corporate giants like Foxconn and Apple and ruthlessly suppresses any resistance by workers to the unbearable conditions they face.
In December, the WSWS reported on the eruption of further strikes in China, many involving companies where workers’ wages remained unpaid for months. The year ended as it had begun in China.
In February, mounting popular opposition to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government saw as many as one hundred million workers stage a one-day strike and mass protest in support of a ten-point charter of demands, including containing rising living costs and opposing privatizations.
The scale of the strike was a staggering display of the social power of the working class. But that alone was not enough. The WSWS editorial board issued a statement warning:
The unions that have called today’s protest—all eleven government-recognized central labor bodies and numerous industry-wide labour federations—have done so with the aim of containing and suppressing the resistance of the working class, not developing a working-class counter-offensive against big business and its Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government… Workers in India, as around the world, face a struggle not against a single government but a political struggle against capitalism and for the reorganization of society on socialist lines, so that production can be based on human need rather than subordinated to the profits of a few.
The WSWS closely covered Indian workers’ struggles at the Neyveli Lignite Corporation and Maruti Suzuki, where workers were arrested, jailed indefinitely and tortured after a violent clash at the auto components plant near Delhi. In December, the WSWS issued a statement calling for the defense of the Maruti auto workers, who were being victimized by the company and the government. The WSWS explained:
The Congress Party and big business are determined to stamp out the militant example provided by the Manesar Maruti Suzuki workers, who mounted a months-long struggle last year, involving repeated strikes and factory occupations…
The opposition to the company-government witch-hunt of the Maruti Suzuki workers must be based on the fight to mobilize the working class in industrial and independent political struggle against big business, the Congress Party-led Haryana and UPA governments, and the crisis-ridden capitalist system as a whole.
Elsewhere in Asia, 100,000 tea plantation workers in Sri Lanka struck over fuel price rises, part of a wave of strikes in the island country that included walkouts by university workers, fishermen, paramedics and later power workers at the Ceylon Electricity Board.
More than two million workers in Indonesia staged a one-day general strike October 3 against low wages, a two-tier wages system, and higher contributions to health coverage imposed by the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a former general.
In Brazil, some 350,000 public employees struck in August against the economic policies of the Workers Party (PT) government of Dilma Rousseff, successor to former metalworkers’ union leader Luis Inacio Lula da Silva. The strike developed into a direct confrontation with the PT, the loyal servant of Brazilian capitalism and the IMF, with the unions finally caving in to an ultimatum from Rousseff.
A major event in the global class struggle came on August 16, 2012, when South African police massacred 34 striking miners and wounded another 78 at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana.
The assault on the miners was particularly significant because it was sanctioned by the National Union of Mineworkers, the union that supposedly “represented” the workers, as well as by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Both union bodies gave their class allegiance not to the workers, but to the bourgeois nationalist African National Congress (ANC), the once-avowed “liberators” of the black masses. The Stalinist South African Communist Party (SACP) also backed the killings.
A WSWS perspective explained:
The violent state repression of the miners is a powerful confirmation that class—not race, ethnicity or other considerations—is the fundamental dividing line in South African society and throughout the world. If the ANC and its partners are acting no differently than their white predecessors, it is because the miners’ revolt threatens not only the mining operations, but also their own social interests.
The incorporation of the ANC, the NUM and other trade unions and the SACP into the post-apartheid state stamped them as the political representatives of the South African bourgeoisie and global capital:
NUM founder and former ANC General Secretary Cyril Ramaphosa is one of the country’s richest businessmen. He is a non-executive director of Lonmin and has stakes in the company’s mines.
These are only two examples, amongst many others, which underscore that the ANC and its partners have a direct stake in the exploitation of the working class and a vested material interest in suppressing any threats from below. This is the source of the conflict between the miners and the NUM.
At the end of the year, the ANC reelected President Jacob Zuma as party leader, while choosing Ramaphosa as deputy president. The WSWS commented, in a perspective headlined “African National Congress anoints the butchers of Marikana” that this election
was an endorsement by the ANC of the massacre and a pledge that it will do whatever is necessary in order to suppress social and political opposition to the demands of the global corporations and South African business.
The evolution of the ANC underscores Trotsky’s insistence that the national bourgeoisie, which is economically dependent on imperialism, is incapable of resolving the democratic and social tasks facing the masses. That can be achieved only under the leadership of the working class and by means of the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, as part of an international struggle to put an end to imperialism and establish world socialism.
In the United States, the most important struggle of the working class in 2012 took place in Chicago, when 26,000 teachers shut down Chicago Public Schools for over a week. The WSWS published multiple articles, interviews and commentaries each day of the strike, providing political leadership to the teachers’ struggle and exposing the treachery of the Chicago Teachers Union, backed by the International Socialist Organization, one of whose leading members was vice-president of the CTU.
The strike immediately thrust Chicago teachers into the forefront of opposition to the bipartisan, nationwide attack on teachers and public education. In Chicago, this attack was headed by Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff. Both the national AFT and the local CTU wanted to end the strike quickly, for fear that it would expose the right-wing character of the Obama administration and cut across their efforts on behalf of Obama’s reelection campaign.
As the Chicago Teachers Union moved to shut down the strike, the WSWS became the voice of opposition to the sell-out contract, warning that ratification would pave the way for school closings and other attacks on public education in Chicago and across the country. SEP members distributed WSWS statements that were widely circulated and read by teachers and school workers.
The WSWS drew the lessons of this struggle in a statement published September 21, by Jerry White, the SEP presidential candidate, and Joseph Kishore, the SEP national secretary. We pointed out:
The greatest obstacle to carrying out a determined struggle was, and is, the organization that claimed to represent the interests of teachers, the CTU. The logic of the teachers’ struggle poses the necessity for a broader mobilization of the entire working class in a political struggle against the representatives of the corporate and financial elite—and the social system, capitalism, they defend.
As for the ISO, which played a critical role in the CTU leadership, sabotaging the struggle and paving the way for the betrayal, the WSWS statement declared:
An organization defines its class character not by what it calls itself but by its actions. Whatever socialist rhetoric it occasionally employs, in reality the ISO functions as the “left” flank of the capitalist political establishment. Increasingly finding lucrative careers in the trade union apparatus, pseudo-left groups like the ISO represent the interests of an upper-middle class stratum thoroughly hostile to the working class.
From February to August, a student strike took place in the province of Quebec, Canada, involving hundreds of thousands of post-secondary students. Although the immediate cause of the strike was a massive hike in tuition fees by the provincial Liberal Party government of Premier Jean Charest, the strike expressed mounting opposition in Quebec and across Canada to the austerity program of Charest and of Stephen Harper’s federal Conservative government.
The Socialist Equality Party (SEP) of Canada intervened aggressively in these developments and this constituted an important step in the development of the Trotskyist movement in Canada.
Through the WSWS, the SEP welcomed the emergence of this movement. However, from the beginning it insisted that students were faced with a political struggle not just against the Charest Liberals, but against the entire bourgeois establishment, its police and the courts. The strike was an implicit challenge to the basic program of the ruling class—making working people pay for the capitalist crisis. To take their struggle forward, the WSWS and the SEP (Canada) called on the students to turn toward the working class. On February 29, we wrote:
What is necessary is nothing less than a fundamental reorganization of society, so that the economy is organized to meets the needs of society rather than creating profits for a tiny minority. The only social force capable of implementing this kind of revolutionary change is the working class. Students must consciously reach out to workers as allies in a common battle and fight to transform the student strike against tuition fee increases into a unified struggle in defense of all public services, all social programmes, and all jobs.
The SEP explained that the prime obstacle to making this turn was the trade union bureaucracy, which sought to isolate and strangle the students’ struggle. In early May, the unions joined hands with Charest to bully the student leaders into accepting a sellout aggreement, but this was decisively repudiated by the students.
The Charest government responded by rushing through the antidemocratic Bill 78, which criminalized the strike and placed sweeping restrictions on the right to demonstrate over any issue. This attack provoked massive opposition. With the movement spreading to the working class, Quebec’s elite, fearing an eruption of the class struggle like that in France in May-June 1968, made a tactical retreat. While making selective use of state repression, it relied principally on the trade unions and the Parti Quebecois (PQ), its alternate party of government, to suppress the strike.
The unions announced they would abide by Bill 78 and strove to harness the opposition movement behind the big business PQ under the slogan “After the streets, to the ballot box.” The NDP, the party of the trade unions in English Canada, refused to give even nominal support to the students, claiming it was a provincial matter. Meanwhile, the pseudo-left Quebec Solidaire upheld the unions’ authority and proposed an electoral pact with the big business PQ.
Then the Quebec bourgeoisie decided to trigger an election and to base itself even more directly on the union bureaucracy—which declared, “After the streets, the ballot”—and the Parti Quebecois.
CLASSE, the student association that had initiated the strike movement, refused to make the student strike the catalyst for a working class offensive. It confined the movement to Quebec, capitulated to the unions’ opposition and promoted a PQ election victory as an “advance,” if not outright victory, for the students. CLASSE thus played a critical role in the strike’s ultimate collapse in the midst of the Quebec election campaign.
The WSWS, on the contrary, connected the struggle over tuition to the broader issues facing the entire working class, fighting for a socialist perspective:
CLASSE insisted that if students protested long and loud enough, the government would negotiate. But far from ceding to popular pressure, the Charest government, egged on by the corporate media and the Canadian ruling class as a whole, responded with escalating state repression.
Social rights—such as the right to an education, job or health care—will be secured only through a political struggle against the capitalist system, its political representatives, police and courts.
In September CLASSE joined the unions and other student federations in celebrating the election of a PQ government—a government that in a matter of weeks imposed austerity measures beyond even those implemented by Charest Liberals.
Throughout the year, while the external forms of bourgeois democracy were maintained in the charade of the presidential and congressional elections, the decomposition of American democracy continued apace. Obama began the year by signing into law the National Defense Authorization Act, which not only provided $662 billion for the US war machine, it effectively revoked the right of habeas corpus, allowing the president to designate individuals, including US citizens, for seizure and indefinite detention without trial by the US military.
Two months later, in an extraordinary speech at Northwestern University Law School, Attorney General Eric Holder undertook an extended defense of the right of the president to assassinate any American citizen he chose to designate as a “terrorist.” Seven months after the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born Islamic cleric who was targeted in Yemen because of alleged ties to Al Qaeda, Holder said the action was only one instance of a far broader presidential power.
Holder declared the presidential determination that an individual should be targeted for a drone killing could not be reviewed by any judge, and was an intrinsic part of his powers as “commander-in-chief” waging the “war on terror” that supposedly began on September 11, 2001. The WSWS analysis noted:
In this context, Holder made the astonishing assertion that “‘Due process’ and ‘judicial process’ are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.”
This means, in effect, that bedrock principles such as habeas corpus, the right to a trial, the right to face one’s accuser—in fact, the whole panoply of civil liberties laid down in the Bill of Rights, is subject to revocation by a president wielding quasi-dictatorial powers.
Barry Grey commented in a perspective column on the general silence and indifference that was the response of the American media to the bald assertion of a presidential right to murder:
It is a measure of how far the decay of American democracy has progressed that some four decades ago the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach Richard Nixon for “abuse of power” and “violating the constitutional rights of citizens” by ordering punitive tax audits and illegal wiretaps. Today, when the arrogation of dictatorial powers has reached the point of ordering the extra-judicial murder of citizens, there are not only no calls for impeachment, the issue is not even the subject of debate.
Thereafter, attacks on basic democratic rights mounted throughout the year:
Holder issued guidelines that greatly expanded surveillance of electronic transactions, including e-mails, credit card purchases, cell phone calls and Google searches.
The US Supreme Court upheld strip searches by prison and jail officials of anyone detained by the police, even for a minor traffic offense.
The Obama administration indicted a former CIA agent for exposing torture of prisoners at secret CIA prisons.
After days of police violence against anti-NATO demonstrators in Chicago, police arrested five demonstrators on frame-up charges of terrorism.
FBI agents raided the homes of Occupy Wall Street protesters in Seattle and Olympia, Washington and Portland, Oregon, based on sealed warrants issued by a secret grand jury.
The Justice Department closed down a three-year investigation of illegal CIA renditions and torture at secret prisons, without bringing charges against a single person.
In an overwhelming bipartisan vote at year-end, Congress approved an extension of the FISA law, which retroactively authorized illegal NSA spying on the communications of the American people.
In October, the Washington Post reported that the Obama admisntration had worked to institutionalize the process of extra-judicial assassination and kill lists in a system called "the disposition matrix." The newspaper noted, "Targeted killing is now so routine that the Obama administration has spent much of the past year codifying and streamlining the processes to sustain it." The WSWS commented:
What should be immediate grounds for the impeachment of the president has been met with indifference, most notably from liberal and “left” supporters of Obama’s re-election. If the initial Post article has something of the character of a trial balloon—to see to what extent the revelation of such measures would be met with official opposition—the results are conclusive: there is no significant commitment to democratic rights in the media and political establishment.
At the same time, the Obama administration stepped up its persecution of those linked to the exposure of US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan by WikiLeaks. The court martial of Bradley Manning, the Army soldier accused of leaking classified information to WikiLeaks, began in February.
After the denial of his last appeal in a British court, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in an effort to prevent his extradition to Sweden on concocted sexual assault charges. The Swedish case was a key element in a US effort to engineer his transfer to a US facility, such as Guantanamo Bay, where he could either be held indefinitely or face capital charges under the Espionage Act.
In the course of its vigorous public defense of Manning and Assange, the WSWS interviewed Julian Assange, his former attorney Jennifer Robinson, and Christine Assange, his mother. We also published a critique of the position of pseudo-left groups in Britain that backed the extradition of Assange to Sweden, using the pretext of women’s rights and opposition to rape—even though no actual charges were filed against Assange—to justify their capitulation to American imperialism.
The unprovoked killing of a black teen, Trayvon Martin, in Sanford, Florida in February sparked widespread outrage throughout the world and protests around the country. Citing the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, police refused to arrest the shooter, George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, for several weeks.
The WSWS covered the upswell of popular anger as the killing became a rallying point against broader injustice. This included a video interview with the parents of Martin.
We denounced the cynicism of Obama’s public display of sympathy for the family and exposed the role of Democratic politicians like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton as they sought to divert social tensions into the safe channels of racial politics.
The WSWS also exposed the role that pseudo-left organizations such as the ISO played as assistants to the Democratic Party demagogues, with their claim that what was unfolding in Florida was “the new Jim Crow.”
This sharp analysis provoked a reaction from the ISO, which denounced the WSWS critique as “vulgar Marxism.” Joseph Kishore replied to the ISO’s Sherry Wolf: “[W]hat makes our Marxism ‘vulgar’ in your eyes is the Socialist Equality Party’s insistence that class, not race, gender or sexuality, is the essential analytical category and decisive social basis of revolutionary politics.”
Another significant US political issue was the recall election of the Republican governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker. Early in the year, organizers filed more than one million signatures on petitions to force a recall vote, demonstrating the widespread hatred of Walker in the working class over his slashing of the wages and jobs of public employees and effectively abolishing their right to collective bargaining in 2011.
As the WSWS had warned, the recall campaign was a deliberate diversion engineered by the trade union leaders, with the support of the ISO, to shut down the mass movement toward a general strike against Walker’s attacks on public employees. The Democrats nominated the right-wing mayor of Milwaukee, Tom Barrett, who had actually implemented Walker’s cuts against city workers.
The result was a political debacle. The Republican governor easily won the recall vote and retained office.
The bipartisan consensus for intensified attacks on the working class was underscored by the key Supreme Court decision of the 2011-2012 term, upholding the Obama administration’s health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act. While hailed by Obama and his liberal apologists, the WSWS wrote, “the decision upholds legislation whose main purpose is to cut costs for corporations and the government, while slashing billions of dollars from Medicare and other social programs.”
The social crisis in the United States was expressed most sharply in the bankruptcy of major cities, hit by cuts in federal and state aid and falling tax collections because of the economic slump. Stockton, California, became the largest city to file bankruptcy, followed soon after by San Bernardino.
Nowhere was the plunge worse than in Detroit, where Michigan Governor Rick Snyder established an emergency financial control board to oversee the city’s finances and ensure repayments to the banks and other bondholders. Soon after, the city government signed a consent agreement with the state to implement massive cuts. In August, it was revealed that the city planned to cut jobs in the water and sewage department by a staggering 81 percent, leading to a strike by the workers that was quickly betrayed by the AFSCME union.
Natural disaster compounded social disaster when Hurricane Sandy devastated large portions of the Caribbean and the northeastern United States. The storm brought a damning exposure of the class divide. While the houses of finance on Wall Street were back up and running within a couple of days, masses of people in working class areas were left to fend for themselves without access to electricity, heat or water.
The WSWS reported first-hand accounts of the devastating conditions for residents of New York City's public housing and explained the systematic neglect of vital infrastructure, despite scientists’ warnings of gaping vulnerabilities to severe storms.
The brutality of life in 21st century America was underscored by the seemingly endless series of killings by deranged or disoriented gunmen: at an Ohio high school, a California religious college, a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, a Minneapolis workplace, and an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
In response to the Aurora killings, in which 12 people died, David North wrote that the cause of the massacre could not be explained solely, or even primarily, from the psychology of the killer, James Holmes:
Holmes’ homicidal rampage, like those of other mass killers, occurs in a definite social context. We must understand not only the pathology of the individual, but also that of the society from which he emerged.
Citing more than a decade of brutal warfare by US imperialism around the world, culminating in the declaration in 2012 that the US president has the right to kill anyone he chooses using remote-controlled drone missiles, North concluded:
The “rational” killings by the state trigger irrationality within society. The routinizing and depersonalizing of killing, carried out on a mass scale by the government, and justified by the mass media, must have tragic consequences for American society. One of those consequences, one can legitimately argue, is the bloodshed in Aurora.
After Newtown, the most horrific such event, with 20 small children and six school workers killed, the WSWS reviewed the history of such bloodbaths over two decades and sought to bring out their social roots—denouncing the combination of religious consolation and political whitewash offered by Obama and the media.
In the course of 2012, the International Committee of the Fourth International continued its campaign for the defense of Leon Trotsky and the historical legacy the Russian Revolution and Trotsky’s struggle against Stalinism.
David North, national chairman of the American SEP and chairman of the WSWS international editorial board, spoke at a meeting in March during the Leipzig Book Fair, where Mehring Verlag released the German translation of North’s book, In Defense of Leon Trotsky, answering the slanders of British historian Robert Service and other reactionary attacks on Trotsky’s political record.
North returned to Germany in September for a well-attended meeting at the University of Mainz, held as part of the 49th German Historians’ Conference.
In July, Mehring Books, the publishing house of the SEP in the United States, released the historic documentary film on the Russian Revolution, Tsar to Lenin, in DVD format, making it available to a wide international audience for the first time. As described in the announcement written by David North:
Based on archival footage assembled over more than a decade by the legendary Herman Axelbank (1900-1979), Tsar to Lenin provides an unparalleled film record of a revolutionary movement, embracing millions, which “shook the world” and changed the course of history. The narration by Max Eastman (1883-1969), the pioneer American radical, conveys with emotion and humanity the drama and pathos of the revolution.
North recounted the history of the film’s production and initial showings in the 1930s, which took place despite a campaign of slander and violence orchestrated by the Stalinists of the Communist Party USA. During the McCarthy red-baiting campaign, the film was effectively barred from public viewing. Ultimately, Axelbank sold the film to the Workers League, predecessor of the SEP (US) before his death.
The film provides a definitive record of the role of the working class in the making of the Russian Revolution, and the role of Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolshevik Party in the leadership of this mass revolutionary movement.
In April, the Socialist Equality Party (Australia) held its First National Congress in Sydney. (In keeping with the usage in the socialist movement, this was actually the second congress of the SEP in Australia, following the Founding Congress held in 2010).
The event marked an important step forward in the fight to resolve the crisis of revolutionary leadership and perspective in the working class. Representatives from the leaderships of every section of the ICFI and delegations from New Zealand and the Philippines actively participated in the congress, which unanimously passed seven resolutions, including a main resolution on “The world capitalist crisis and the tasks of the SEP.”
Three resolutions—“Against imperialist war”, “Oppose the US war drive against China” and “Oppose the US-Australia military agreement”—focused on the need for the working class to mobilise against imperialist war and militarism, especially against the escalating US war drive against China, backed by the Labor government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
The fifth resolution, “The 2010 coup and the crisis of bourgeois rule” developed the SEP’s analysis of the Labor Party coup that installed Gillard. In the resolution “Defend Julian Assange”, the SEP denounced the Australian government for conspiring with the Obama administration to railroad the WikiLeaks’ founder to jail.
The final resolution, “Build the SEP!”, noted that the party’s first congress took place on the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Socialist Labour League (SLL), forerunner of the SEP. The congress concluded with the election of a new National Committee. Nick Beams was re-elected national secretary, and James Cogan was elected assistant national secretary.
The Partei für Soziale Gleichheit (Socialist Equality Party of Germany—PSG) held its First National Congress on June 22-24 in Berlin. In attendance were delegates and co-thinkers of the International Committee of the Fourth International from other European countries, the United States, Australia and Sri Lanka. The discussion focused mainly on the crisis of the European Union and the political tasks arising from it, which was the subject of the main resolution, “The crisis of the European Union and the perspective of the United Socialist States of Europe.”
Three further resolutions were adopted by the congress: “The return of class struggle and the tasks of the Partei für Soziale Gleichheit,” “The defence of Günter Grass and the struggle against German militarism”, and “In Defence of Leon Trotsky.”
The Socialist Equality Party (UK) held its First National Congress on November 17-19. National Secretary Chris Marsden moved the main resolution, "The political tasks of the Socialist Equality Party," which explained that the bourgeoisie internationally was seeking to extricate itself from the systemic breakdown of capitalism through a social counterrevolution.
In Sri Lanka, the Socialist Equality Party conducted a campaign for the release of all political prisoners still held two years after the end of the war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Two SEP members were arrested while campaigning for a public meeting in Jaffna, illegally questioned and later assaulted. In a further attack on democratic rights, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence barred the meeting from going ahead.
In May, the SEP convened a successful congress of plantation workers at Hatton, in Sri Lanka’s central hill region, to discuss a socialist perspective on how to fight for their rights. The congress unanimously passed four resolutions: on the fight for the international unity of the working class, for a socialist perspective for the plantation workers, for the withdrawal of security forces from north and east, and for the unconditional release of all political prisoners. Delegates agreed to form action committees in their estates and advance the fight for the adopted perspective.
In September, the party contested provincial elections in Sabaragamuva province, explaining: “The SEP is the only party with a principled record of opposing the civil war and defending the social and democratic rights of working people as a whole. We fight to unite Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim workers with their class brothers and sisters throughout South Asia and internationally in a joint struggle against the capitalist system.”
In December, the Sri Lankan section of the ICFI commemorated the 25th anniversary of the death of Keerthi Balasuriya, who had been the founding general secretary of Revolutionary Communist League, the forerunner of the SEP, and a leading figure in the international Trotskyist movement.
The arts coverage of the WSWS remained strongly focused on developments in film, although there was a greater variety of artistic and cultural material than in any previous year. Among the important films and documentaries reviewed were Far from Afghanistan, A World Not Ours, Central Park Five, The Law in These Parts, Being Flynn, Citizen Gangster, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Argo, The Artist, The Intouchables, The Life of Pi, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
In their review of The Hunger Games, Christine Schofelt and arts editor David Walsh noted that the great popularity of the film was not undeserved, since it captured—and critiqued—something of the present-day atmosphere of militarism and social inequality.
The Iraq and Afghanistan wars (along no doubt with the Vietnam conflict, in which Collins’ father served) make themselves felt. First, impoverished families can earn food and supplies by submitting their children’s names additional times to the Games’ lottery. Within the less affluent districts at least, the poorest and most desperate are therefore more likely to be chosen. In effect, they are “economic conscripts” for the death games.
In the first of a series of articles on the Toronto International Film Festival, Walsh discussed the blind alley in which many modern film-makers find themselves, at least in part because of a reluctance to draw a broad portrait of the society of which they are a part:
While watching a new version of Charles Dickens’ remarkable 1860-61 novel Great Expectations (directed by Mike Newell), it occurred to me how much filmmaking at present lacks the brilliant variety of human types and personalities that one comes across, for example, in Dickens, Shakespeare, Balzac, Scott and Shaw, or, for that matter, in Charlie Chaplin, John Ford, Orson Welles, Jean Renoir, Akira Kurosawa and Federico Fellini.
One longs for the distinct and vivid presence of a Joe Gargery, Herbert Pocket, Miss Havisham, Mr. Pumblechook, Abel Magwich, Biddy or Mr. Jaggers, all there in one of Dickens’ novels!
At the end of the year, three new films were released that sparked a debate over the relation of artists to vital historical and political issues. Those films were Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.
The first film aroused widespread public interest in the personality of Lincoln and the complex political decisions he faced in the last year of the Civil War (and his life). The last two films, one a vulgarized and debased distortion of the Civil War period, the other an outright apologia for the CIA and torture, showed the putrefaction of sections of the liberal milieu in the United States. In the ensuing year, the WSWS intervened forcefully in that debate with numerous articles dealing with those issues.
In the field of music, the WSWS published comments and appreciations of artists as varied as Nirvana, Whitney Houston, Woody Guthrie, Dave Brubeck, Etta James, Earl Scruggs, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Gustav Mahler.
There was also a major review of the exposition of the Russian-Soviet artist Vladimir Tatlin in Basel, Switzerland. Tatlin was “one of the most important artists of the Russian and Soviet avant-garde, famed especially for his extraordinary monument to the Third (Communist) International.” The WSWS also covered an exhibition on Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935.
In its science coverage, the WSWS wrote on the successful landing of Curiosity rover on Mars and on the possible discovery of the long-sought Higgs boson, the last remaining fundamental particle whose existence was predicted by the Standard Model of quantum mechanics, by scientists at the CERN particle accelerator in Switzerland. The WSWS also continued to write on research into climate change and global warming.
On September 22, 2012, a WSWS perspective marked the 150th year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order that freed 4 million slaves in the rebel-held states of the American South. Invoking his wartime powers as commander in chief, President Abraham Lincoln signaled the transformation of the Civil War into a social revolution that ultimately ended slavery in the United States.
An exchange of letters on the Emancipation Proclamation followed, with Tom Mackaman discussing both Lincoln’s historical stance on slavery and a hypothetical comparison to today’s parties in relation to the New Deal and the Great Society. The WSWS also conducted an interview on the subject with professor emeritus of history at Princeton University James McPherson.