Re-printed from The Socialist (2/14/03), the newspaper of the British section of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI)
War and conflict are rooted in the exploitative and oppressive nature of capitalism and imperialism. Capitalism is a social and economic system that exists to perpetuate the control of the ruling class in its drive for profits. These profits come from the exploitation of those who produce the wealth in society and run the service industries – the working class.
Because workers only receive a portion of the value of what they produce in the form of wages, they cannot buy back all the goods produced. This means that the extension of the market can never keep pace with the expansion of production, causing periodic crises, stagnation, and conflict between nation states.
Economic power is concentrated in the hands of a small minority, whose priority is to defend their own profits and interests.
The combined sales of the world’s 200 richest companies are greater than the combined GDP of all but ten nations on earth.
Through their political, economic, and military domination of the globe, the most powerful imperialist countries practice policies of super-exploitation against the workers and poor of the neo-colonial word in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The globalization of the world economy has sped up and deepened this process over the last two decades.
Western economies, through their control of the world economy, determine what prices these countries buy and sell goods at on the world market. They are forced to buy consumer goods at inflated prices and sell raw materials for less than they are actually worth. This means super-profits for Western companies.
On top of this, through institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the workers and poor of the neo-colonial world are suffocated by huge “debts.” In 1999, the poorest countries in the world “owed” $2.5 trillion to the industrialized economies.
It is capitalism and imperialism that have created the conditions of poverty and exploitation that open the way to conflict, wars, and civil wars. A world in peace and stability is utopian as long as 1.2 billion people “live” on $1 or less a day, and when more than half of the world’s poorest countries are embroiled in ongoing or incipient crises.
The situation is made worse by the policies of divide and rule which (particularly US) imperialism has used to maintain its control in the neo-colonial world.
Capitalism means violence, conflict, and huge spending on military weapons. In the last century, 200 million people died in wars that were basically about profits, domination of world markets, and the prestige of the big powers.
As a result of these conflicts, huge waves of refugees have swept across the globe. In the 1990’s, 50 million people were forced to flee their homes in Africa.
The arms race means huge profits for big business as well. Since the end of World War II, military spending has been approximately $1 trillion a year. The governments of India and Pakistan, for example, which between them have 350 million people living on less than $1 a day, have six times more soldiers than doctors.
System in Crisis
Is it possible to reform capitalism, to turn it into a more humane, caring and peaceful system?
Socialist Alternative supports any reforms that can be won under this system. We fight for higher wages, to improve working conditions, for better public services, etc.
But capitalism is a system in crisis that cannot overcome its own contradictions. It is based on exploitation and oppression, and the capitalist class will always seek to defend and extend their profits and interests by attacking the living standards of working people and the poor, and through the use of military force when necessary.
Only through a revolutionary transformation of the way that society is organized and structured will it be possible to bring about an end to war, poverty, environmental destruction, and all the problems that the profit system creates.
We have to fight for a different society, one that is based on the needs of the majority of humankind, not on the profits, power and prestige of the tiny layer of capitalists and the politicians who represent them.
To do this we must mobilize millions of people across the planet in a struggle to overthrow capitalism and to create a socialist society worldwide.
Over the last decade increasing numbers of young people have declared themselves to be “anti-capitalist.” Hundreds of thousands have taken part in demonstrations from Seattle to Seville from Porto Alegre to Genoa.
For every young person who has actively participated in protests, hundreds of others identify with the idea that the existing order of things is unjust and needs to be changed.
Many anti-capitalists have become involved in the growing anti-war movement. Among the hundreds of thousands who have protested against war with Iraq, many are also drawing the conclusion that the system needs to be changed.
“System change” requires the building of a mass movement, one in which the working class has a decisive role to play.
Because of their role in production, workers face common attacks from the capitalists which can only be defeated by collective action.
They have the power and strength to bring production and the economy to a halt and challenge the control of the capitalist class.
The massive 24-hour general strikes in Spain and Italy in 2002 graphically showed the potential power that workers have. Millions withdrew their labor, virtually closing their countries down.
Strike action also lays the basis for the collective, democratic control and management of society, which is essential for beginning the task of building a socialist alternative to the capitalist profit system.
Recently, there have been examples of international mass movements which have the potential to challenge capitalism.
In Argentina at the end of 2001 and beginning of 2002, two weeks of mass protests forced the resignation of four presidents. In Serbia in 2000, a mass movement – the “bulldozer revolution,” involving action by the organized working class – toppled Slobodan Milosevic.
However, in both movements there was no clear idea about how to end the poverty, exploitation, and repression of the existing system. Merely switching governments solved none of the problems that ordinary Serbs and Argentinians were experiencing.
As in Serbia and Argentina, the working class, young people, and sections of the middle classes internationally will move into struggle, when they feel that they have no choice but to fight back against the way that capitalism affects their lives and those of others around the globe. But they won’t all do so with the same ideas, attitudes, and outlook.
There is a burning need internationally for mass, democratic parties that can play the role of uniting together – around a fighting, anti-capitalist program – all those who want to struggle against the system and its effects. These parties could give a revolutionary, socialist lead and direction to the struggles that will inevitably develop, in order to build a socialist alternative to war, poverty, oppression and the horrors of capitalism.
This is what Socialist Alternative is campaigning for here and internationally, through our sister organizations in the Committee for a Workers’ International.
Join us in our fight to change the world.