I- The Economic and Social Consequences of the Coronavirus Pandemic
1. The year 2020 was marked by the coronavirus pandemic and the outbreak of a new economic crisis of capitalism of a global character; although caused mainly by the contradictions inherent in capitalism, the faster growth of capitalist production than of markets, the perspective of crisis, which many analysts saw coming since 2018, has been aggravated by the pandemic, it broke out and developed with it.
2. In 2019, global industrial production growth fell, from a year earlier, from 3.1% to 0.9% and trade fell from 3.4% to -0.4%. Despite this -0.4% contraction in global trade, industrial production growth remained positive, albeit down by one percentage point. But signs of an economic slowdown emerged; Europe, for example, entered a period of stagnation and signs of a crisis were building up. There were fluctuations in global stock markets, but the first decline began in the first quarter of 2020 with the pandemic.
3. With the outbreak of the pandemic, world industrial production declined by -3.8% and -6.6% in the first and second quarters respectively; this decline was followed by -2.7% and -12.2% in world trade. In 2020, when there was almost no new investment and low capacity utilisation was widespread, world trade volume fell by 5.3 per cent and industrial production by 4.2 per cent compared to the previous year – a negative growth.
4. While the pandemic is not the cause of this crisis, its magnitude and depth have aggravated it. In fact, the pandemic very quickly affected almost all countries and economic sectors at the same time, and accentuated the destruction of the main component of the productive forces, the labour force, a phenomenon inherent in the capitalist system. In fact, it led to large-scale closures of enterprises (1.6 million enterprises were closed) and mass layoffs. Millions of men and women are unemployed, with reduced wages for some and no wages for others, with no social security coverage and no guarantees for the future, as the capitalists also attack the gains of the working classes and the social benefits won through struggle. Thus, the number of unemployed in the USA increased by 10 million people only six weeks after the outbreak of the pandemic (in the 2008 crisis, the United States (US) only reached this figure after 18 months). In a report on employment published in April 2020, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) reports that, out of a global workforce of 3,300 million people, 81 per cent (2,670 million people) are affected by a total or partial closure of workplaces, flexibilisation of working hours and lower wages. “The pandemic has a catastrophic effect on working time and income, on a global scale,” the ILO pointed out, estimating that the effects of this pandemic are far greater than those of the capitalist crisis of 2008-2009.
5. On the other hand, some capitalist sectors, mainly those linked to communication, have increased their wealth scandalously. The 12 most important Wall Street millionaires have increased their wealth by 40% since the beginning of the pandemic, by a billion dollars among them.
6. The small producers have not been spared either; many of them have been affected during the pandemic, not to mention a good part of the workers in the informal sector: in fact, at the beginning of the confinement, half of the employable population in the world (1,600 million out of 3,300 million workers) – all informal workers, lost 60% of their income (workers in Africa and the Americas recorded a decrease of up to 80%).
7. Moreover, as in any crisis, the main victims are the workers and the people. In fact, 256 million people have joined the ranks of the poorest. Among the consequences, the number of food insecure people increased from 149 million before Covid-19 to 270 million during the pandemic. It is the dependent countries that are experiencing a terrible increase in poverty and extreme poverty. The pandemic has shown that a large part of the population in these countries cannot meet their most basic needs since they have lost their precarious livelihoods.
8. It should also be emphasised that the pandemic comes at a time when health systems, deliberately marginalised and destroyed by neoliberal privatisation, are unable to meet the pressing demand for health care from a growing population, especially among the poorest. Indeed, the health and social repercussions of the crisis weighed mainly on the poor. The effects of business closures and the suspension of all kinds of activities for shorter or longer periods and the quarantining of almost the entire population were soon felt. The true face of the social policies of the bourgeois governments has been revealed all over the world. The most vulnerable categories of the population, such as the elderly, people without support and people with special needs have been abandoned.
9. Let us also emphasize that women workers, during the pandemic, in addition to all the forms of exploitation to which they are subjected, were victims of increased violence, both in the family, in the workplace and in society. While containment measures help to limit the spread of the virus, women and girls who are victims of domestic violence are increasingly isolated from the people and resources that could help them. As cases of COVID-19 continue to strain health care, essential services such as domestic violence shelters and hotlines have reached their maximum capacity. One in three women in the world faces physical or sexual violence, primarily from an intimate partner. Violence against women and girls is a violation of human rights.
10. For the first time in recent history, hundreds of millions of children have been denied access to schools for an extended period as a result of confinement. Even after the partial reopening, the psychological and social state of these children has worsened. This is also the case for high school and university students. They have been subjected to the limitations of isolation, which triggered mass psychological problems, seriously endangering their future, not to mention the increase in unemployment of young people entering the labour market. This increase and even more due to the social inequality existing in some countries caused many young people to denounce the situation imposed by society and to proclaim that they would not be the victims of the crisis.
11. On the economic front, the interruption of the movement of people and goods between countries and the closure of land, air and sea borders to combat the spread of the virus has dealt a severe blow not only to international trade, but also to the economy, local and international tourism, as well as related sectors (crafts, services and others), with enormous social repercussions. There has even been a resort to restricting travel between regions within the same country.
12. Global supply chains have been disrupted and exports have been substantially reduced, given the lack of strategic reserves to ensure continuity of work; globalisation is based on so-called “just in time” chains, formed by a transport network that, in theory, cannot be interrupted. But it turned out that the mechanisms in place to ensure continuity of production in all circumstances did not exist and that remote working could not ensure the functioning of the real engines of production. Huge losses have been recorded in all economic sectors and in particular in the energy sector, whose prices, before the pandemic, fell to unimaginable levels. The same is true for air transport, which has suffered huge losses.
13. Public debt has reached its highest level since the Second World War. Much of this debt is the huge debt of multinationals. On the other hand, thousands of millions of dollars are being used for speculative purposes in stock markets and tax havens. As economic activity contracts, companies are lining up to be bailed out. Added to this, corruption has become a pervasive phenomenon that has not even spared the resources devoted to combating the pandemic. An estimated $1.3 trillion has been lost as a result.
14. The dependent countries have been severely affected by their dependence on international finance capital. The World Bank and the IMF have gone so far as to propose the suspension of debt payments for some of these countries and have mobilised funds for this purpose. But the rich politicians forced the Paris Club (official creditors) and the London Club (private creditors) to reject any substantial debt deferral or cancellation for the countries of the South, in order to ensure that the basic structures of debt bondage remained intact.
15. The governments of the imperialist countries have taken bailout measures for the benefit of the monopolies in order to avoid bankruptcy. As the global pandemic evolved, the governments again set aside large sums of money to protect the interests of capital, as the central banks – following the example of the US Federal Reserve – lowered the interest rate to provide liquidity to the stock markets.
16. On the political level, we are witnessing increased state intervention, even in the most liberal countries, to contain the spread of the virus, but also to impose the big lockdown and undermine some basic rights. In India, for example, as in several other countries, the government has withdrawn laws protecting labour and lengthened the working day, as well as in Germany where a law has been enacted extending the working day to 12 hours in some health-related sectors. In Brazil and South Africa, evictions of the poorest workers and peasants from their land or homes have become common practice.
17. Large regional groups such as the European Union have shown themselves incapable of adopting a common policy in the face of the pandemic. For example, the EU has not been able to come to the aid of Italy, which has been affected by the spread of the virus. This confirms the idea among the peoples that this community is nothing more than a cartel of capital and the multinationals, far from being a union of the peoples of Europe. After the first wave, the EU mobilised to save capital; consistent with its imperialist project, its policies have emphasised the pursuit of profit for capital over the health and life of the working class and the peoples in general. Several observers have even predicted its imminent collapse.
18. In many countries, the bourgeoisie has imposed a “state of health emergency” which severely restricts democratic freedoms. Emergency laws are numerous, decisions are taken in “limited boards”, the power and missions of the forces of surveillance and repression are being extended. Police violence is becoming a common phenomenon. The police state is becoming the model. In several countries the obsession with work is increasing due to the pandemic, giving rise to powerful protest movements in which particularly the youth have been active, as well as trade unionists and other sectors, such as lawyers, teachers and cultural workers.
19. The pandemic has shown that the states and governments do not care much about international solidarity; for them it is a hollow concept. The assistance that some countries have received has not been within traditional alliances or within the same geographical or political sphere or grouping. It is rather in relation to the future of international relations that they should be placed. This is how the massive aid provided by China and Russia to Italy, Spain and several African countries should be understood. Thus, international aid has been the occasion for inter-imperialist clashes, struggles for influence among the great powers.
20. Using the environmental crisis in order to save capitalism: There has been a mechanism to reduce the “environmental crisis” to “climate change” and to offer “green capitalism” or – to be more precise – the “Green New Deal as a salvation to the crisis”. This “Green New Deal” is simply the use of public funds to ensure the transition of private energy companies from carbon to renewable fuels, without concern for the miners of cobalt, lithium and other minerals needed for green technology batteries and screens, nor for the impact of this policy on many other sectors, including the oil sector.
21. If the crisis has shown anything, it is that all the measures taken by the governments in office have little concern for the health of their citizens and are aimed at protecting capital and corporate activity and seeking the quickest means to restore production and profits, whatever the consequences for the workers’ health and human lives.
II – Sharpening of inter-imperialist conflicts
22. The international capitalist order is characterised by the sharpening of inter-imperialist conflicts. Today, US imperialism is in open conflict with several imperialist competitors at once, not only with China. In fact, conflicts continue to pit the US against its classic adversaries such as the European Union, the Russian Federation and Japan. The already fragile political and economic balances are being increasingly upset. The clinical death has imposed on multilateral treaties and agreements concluded in the framework of the WTO. Protectionist measures have been resorted to on both sides through the imposition of high tariffs, which since 2017 makes the logic of trade war prevail. This is not limited to the Sino-US war, but extends to other economic groupings, such as the European Union in conflict with both the United States and China. Suddenly, there was a return to the conclusion of bilateral treaties in the absence of implementation of multilateral agreements concluded within the framework of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). China has concluded free trade agreements in Asia, and with the European Union. World trade is thus affected by this war. But this does not prevent China from continuing to export massive amounts of capital and goods, allocating credits and making investments in many regions of the world, including Latin America, which up to a certain period was considered the backyard of the USA, regardless of the nature of its partners’ regimes.
23. In the midst of these inter-imperialist contradictions, Brexit, Britain’s exit from the European Union, has been rushed through, which is an expression of contradictions between sectors of the bourgeoisie in both, and of the interest of the US in a greater impact on the UK economy.
24. These contradictions have different manifestations, one of them being the frenzied arms race. According to the annual report of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), presented at the opening of the Munich Security Conference, military spending increased by 4% in 2019, the largest increase in the last decade. At the opening of this annual meeting, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier raised a cry of alarm: “Year after year, we are moving away from the goal of international cooperation aimed at creating a peaceful world,” he said. He lamented that “the idea of great power competition […] permeates the reality of the entire planet”. To this must be added the death last year of the INF treaty on intermediate nuclear forces – with a range of 500-5,500 km – between the United States and Russia, and the likely elimination of the New Start treaty on intercontinental weapons in 2021, which risks disrupting the international order. Researchers at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) confirm the same conclusions. They say the arms race has never been so intense in ten years, with total global military spending reaching $1,917 billion in 2019, according to the new data. The two largest global military budgets, those of the United States ($685 billion) and China ($181 billion), are continuing their exponential growth, with both countries up 6.6% in 2019 over 2018. US spending alone increased by $53.4 billion last year. “In Europe, concerns about Russia continue to fuel spending growth with a 4.2% increase from 2018,” said the IISS director. A sentiment reinforced by fears of a US withdrawal, increasingly focused on Asia-Pacific. The imperialist powers are arming themselves and forcing the governments of the dependent countries to take part in this military game, provoking local reactionary wars, wars of occupation, as in Syria, Yemen and Libya, in order to expand or preserve their zones of influence.
25. Washington is increasingly concerned about China’s massive and accelerating military build-up. Concerns are reinforced by Beijing’s ambitions to develop hypersonic weapons, which could thwart anti-missile defences. As China strengthens its military presence in the Pacific, US warships aggressively patrolled the Caribbean, Persian Gulf and South China Sea. In other words, the overall structure of imperialism has been shaken, and the tension is not likely to dissipate soon in the traditional regions (Middle East, Persian Gulf, Latin America, China Sea; Pacific, etc.). On the contrary, new hotbeds of tension are likely to flare up at any moment.
26. After his victory in the November elections was confirmed, President Joe Biden has been clear in declaring that “the United States is back to multilateralism”. He seeks to rebuild the hegemony of US imperialism, restoring relations with other imperialist centres that had been weakened under Donald Trump’s presidency. He has spoken of giving greater emphasis to competition with China and Russia, and of giving due attention to strengthening the US-EU bloc in NATO.
27. This competition is expressed in a dispute over control of the Arctic Pole, especially Greenland and the Faroe Islands. US President Donald Trump went so far as to formulate a request to purchase the former.
28. The concentration of capital in the technology sector should not go unnoticed. It raises at least two concerns: first, it generates a speculative bubble of assets centred on high-tech companies and, second, it extends the influence of global capitalism around the world and enables the control of data that in turn is used to manage people.
29. The accelerated growth of the capitalist platform – in which economic activities, deeply connected to Internet platforms, shape the collection and analysis of “big data” which produces new logics and consumption.
30. Inter-imperialist contradictions have become increasingly acute. The maintenance of sanctions against Venezuela and Iran is no longer unanimous among the imperialist powers. The European Union is joining China and Russia in denouncing the US attitude, which constitutes so many violations of UN and Security Council decisions. The UN resolutions on Palestine are flouted by the US, its “deal of the century” demands that the Arab states “normalise” relations with the Zionist entity and establish diplomatic relations with it, ignoring the legitimate historical rights of the Palestinian people. Let us note here that the classical imperialist forces have lost none of their aggressiveness and are still very active in certain regions of the world, such as French imperialism in sub-Saharan Africa, in the Sahel-Saharan region, as shown by its recent interventions in Mali and Lebanon in the midst of the crisis. Other countries are taking advantage of these conflicts to assert themselves as regional powers, such as Turkey, which has been intervening for years in Syria, Libya and, more recently, in the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict.
31. The “War on Terror” has not diminished; on the contrary, it is the pretext for imperialist interventions in some countries around the world, particularly in Africa. The great imperialist powers, engaged in these wars, are responsible for thousands of civilian deaths and for the destruction of the countries in which they operate. Sometimes they seek to “subcontract” these dirty wars to local gangs in power in these countries. The main consequence of these wars is increased anger among these populations against the foreign armies and the cry for them to leave.
32. The monopoly bourgeoisie is intensifying its search for a way out of the crisis in order to ensure the permanence of its rule. As we pointed out in a previous resolution (June 2020), there are two possible scenarios: Either it succeeds in maintaining its main option which is the neoliberal model of capitalist exploitation, with the domination of the market as the main organiser of economic and social activity, with finance capital as the main beneficiary, thus we should not rule out the system resorting to fascist forms of political domination; or else capital resorts to neo-Keynesian policies, with an important role for the state in investment and regulation of economic activity, accompanied by a policy of granting social crumbs for the working class and the people in general. This is what the founder and still president of the Davos Forum, the German economist Klaus Schwab, who proposes “The Great Reset”, seems to favour. In any case, they want to rule out at all costs the third possible alternative, that is, the perspective of developing a revolutionary outcome, an alternative in which we position ourselves as Marxist-Leninist parties.
III – The popular resistance and the tasks of Marxist-Leninists
33. At our last plenary session, we welcomed the continuing popular protests (Ecuador, France, Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, Chile, etc.) that have already announced their actions for the coming year. In the United States, between March and April, there was a strike movement – at Amazon, Whole Food, General Electric – and at the beginning of 2020, just before the pandemic, in India, there was a general strike of 250 million workers, which had a new movement at the end of November. There was no end to these movements, which grew in scope and number, and no region of the world was spared. Some observers were already talking about a second wave, heralding a new decade of great popular movements and perhaps even revolutionary processes. Like the movements of the previous decade, the new protests are denouncing the disastrous consequences of neoliberal policies, structural failures in all areas of life and demanding the strengthening of economic and social rights, but also the granting of democratic freedoms usurped by authoritarian and dictatorial regimes. Without any coordination, we find the same demands expressed everywhere: denunciation of the high cost of living, unemployment, social and regional inequalities, austerity policies, difficulties in access to social services (education, health care, social security, etc.), corruption, nepotism, cronyism, and the repression of social protest due to the increase of police states.
34. These movements include different social categories, increasing in number: the working class and working masses, employees, precarious workers, elements of the impoverished middle classes, students, women, unemployed graduates, the urban working classes, the indigenous sectors, especially rural ones in Latin America. What mobilises them is the deterioration of their living conditions and they accuse the state of being responsible for this, because of its submission to the orders of the international financial institutions, even though they have led many dependent countries to insolvency and bankruptcy.
In the developed countries, the participation of the working class and the employees in the sectors linked to production in general are gaining more and more importance in the trade union and social movements; public service workers, in particular, those in health care, public transport and others, who have been fighting for years against the elimination of these as essential for the working masses, against privatisation, are gaining more and more importance in the social and trade union movements.
35. Besides workers’ strikes, there is similarity in the means of mass struggle: demonstrations, occupation of public places, blockade of economic activities or premises of public authority, civil disobedience, etc. and in their mode of organisation: sectoral and local assemblies, often at the district level, which promote direct participation and a network of popular solidarity. In some cases, they express distrust of the political parties and even of trade unions or associations; in others, they cooperate with them without, however, giving them the opportunity to influence their decisions. They consider these forms of organisation to be archaic and incapable of mobilising the masses. Their preferred means of communication with their target audience are social networks and new technologies.
36. While the pandemic has affected these movements in view of the general confinement imposed on the population as a whole, for several months now – despite the second wave of the pandemic – we have been witnessing a renewal of the movement despite the repression that is taking place in certain countries such as Algeria, where they are whipping up public opinion against the activists. The Saharawi people are continuing their struggle for self-determination, led by the Polisario Front. In Iraq, despite the bloody repression (which left more than 300 dead) by the state and sectarian militias, the protest is continuing. While in Sudan and Mali, the intervention of the army to prevent the radicalisation of the movement, and the impeachment in both cases of the incumbent president, has opened the door to the revival of the movement. The gradual return to the normality of life after the first wave of the pandemic has made possible some partial victories recorded here and there, as in Chile, where a large protest movement led to the holding of a referendum, in which a majority of 79% voted for the election of a Constituent Assembly whose task will be to draw up a new constitution for the country, or in Bolivia where the popular resistance to the coup d’état was expressed in a resounding electoral defeat of the reactionary, pro-imperialist and neo-liberal positions. We have also witnessed a huge protest in the USA, which spread to other countries, especially to European countries, against the murder of George Floyd, against racism and xenophobia.
37. The tasks facing Marxist-Leninists throughout the world are clear: to strengthen the parties that already exist and are now united in the ICMLPO, to work in other countries to create new ones, to strengthen relations with the working class and other sectors and to accumulate forces. The objective conditions today are favourable. The policies of the revolutionary parties will be easier to defend in the face of the disorder of the popular masses in search of answers to their daily difficulties. We must explain that capitalism is not inevitable, that it is not eternal and that a revolutionary alternative is possible. Propaganda for the socialist alternative must be the order of the day. We must also be ready to participate in the spontaneous popular movements, to organise others around particular struggles that unite the possible forces, that can bring together all the victims of the capitalist system. The communists must be in the vanguard of the struggles for the defence and consolidation of the economic and social rights of the working classes, for the struggle against the privatisation of social services (education, health care, social security). These demands could promote common forms of struggle with other forces. Thus there is the need to work to build alliances and fronts of struggle. Another no less important task for our parties is the need to develop the ideological struggle against the dominant bourgeois ideology, but also against all the opportunist and revisionist ideas that are imposed on the working class and preventing it from fulfilling its historic mission. We must also develop all forms of international solidarity with the revolutionary and progressive forces.
38. In this international context, the policy of the communists of the Anti-Imperialist and Anti-Fascist Popular Front remains in force, which in each country will have specific forms in accordance with the realities of each one, to work to seizing political power. Equally, it is essential to maintain the struggle against imperialism as a world system; a vision that makes no distinction between more and less dangerous imperialists. Imperialism is a world system and as such is the target of the struggle of the communists and revolutionaries.