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For a New Year of Struggles

A review of 2023’s condition of the working class and some hints on its future

The year ends in blood. In Russia, in Ukraine, in Gaza, on the West Bank, and in Lebanon, civilians are being slaughtered. What stands out most clearly are the massacres in Gaza. Never before have we seen a ‘war’ in which civilians have made up such a huge percentage of the casualties. The horror of the massacres of civilians in Gaza dwarves the horrors of the other 55 conflicts currently taking place across the globe. More civilians were murdered in the first few weeks of the Gaza slaughter than in eighteen months of war in Ukraine. This isn’t war. This is genocide.

As the year closes, 30,000 civilians have been butchered including 11,500 children, and there is no end in sight. Before this barbarity ends the numbers are bound to increase. The death rate will continue to increase even after the bombing and shooting stops. Most civilian casualties in war have always been caused not by the military actions of the belligerent states directly, but by the spread of hunger and disease caused by the destruction of infrastructure. Currently the overwhelming majority of the population has been internally displaced, medical facilities have been destroyed, and food and water is running out. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for those suffering this genocide.

What will happen when a ceasefire eventually comes about remains to be seen. There is a significant faction within the Israeli ruling class who would like to expel all of the Palestinians in Gaza. It seems unlikely that America would allow it though. The ethnic cleansing of two million people is probably a step too far even for them. Biden has constantly reminded the Israelis that they have weeks rather than months to complete their massacres. They have also repeatedly called for them to show ‘restraint’ in the number of civilians they slaughter. They have paid little attention to this.

If Israel does not manage to expel the Palestinians, then they will be left with the problem of what to do about Gaza. The oft-repeated goal of wiping out HAMAS is impossible. We have heard all this talk of wiping out guerrilla armies before. From the Americans in Vietnam, through the British in Ireland, to the Turks in Kurdistan, it never works, and every bomb they drop will bring more recruits to the doors of HAMAS. HAMAS will survive, and more than probably see its support grow, its political goals of stopping a Saudi-Israeli peace deal, bringing the Palestinian issue back to the world agenda, and turning a significant portion of world public opinion away from Israel achieved.

For Israel, the idea of the continuation of HAMAS rule in Gaza is anathema. However, their options are limited. It seems highly unlikely that they will be able to find anybody willing to undertake an occupation of Gaza on their behalf. Both the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank and the Arab League have said they will not act as Israel’s policemen. It seems probable that Israel will be forced to directly occupy Gaza themselves, which will only lead to ongoing terror.

The threat of the war spreading remains a constant threat. On the West Bank as in Gaza, there is blood. Over three hundred Palestinians have been slaughtered there. As in Gaza the death toll is totally disproportional. Four Israelis have been killed. This is genocide. The northern border of Israel is also the scene of conflict. Israel is bombing Lebanon and Hezbollah is firing missiles in return. Over 150 people have been killed on the Lebanese side of the border, four on the Israeli.

America too has been drawn into direct conflict. On New Year’s Eve, US navy helicopters sank three boats belonging to the Yemeni Houthi militia. The Houthi have been launching attacks on Israeli connected shipping since November, according to the US, this was the twenty third attack. In Iraq and Syria, American bases have been hit by drone attacks, and American has hit back with air strikes. Israel has also bombed Syria killing a top Iranian commander there. Escalation of the war is very possible with both Israeli and American hawks pushing for a final showdown with Iran. Any spark could set of a wider conflagration.

As in the Middle East, it seems probable that the war in Ukraine will continue. Both sides are talking of recruiting more troops for next year’s fighting. The war there seems currently to be stuck in a stalemate. There is no prospect of a victory for either side. Last night saw both Ukrainian and Russian attacks upon civilians in each other’s cities. There is no end in sight. We imagine that this time next year we will be writing a similar thing.

On the positive side, the past few months have seen the emergence of women’s movements in both Russia and Ukraine aimed at bringing the soldiers home, and calling for peace. Although small and suffering from great repression, it is in movements such as these that we see the potential to bring the war to an end.

Of course, behind both of these conflicts, and others such as the Azeri ethnic cleaning of one hundred thousand Armenians back in September, is the decline of America and the simultaneous rise of China. It is in these changes within the international balance of power that we can find the root causes of the wars spreading across the world today. There are many on the left who see the end of American dominance as the start of some ‘multipolar world order’ of peace and prosperity. We don’t agree. America will fight to maintain its imperial position. It won’t just give it up quietly. What we should be prepared for, rather than some new era of peace, is years of war and terror across the world. America will fight those who see its decline as offering opportunities, and China will support them. It’s in this context that the seeds are sowed for future conflicts.

Many American analysts are predicting the collapse of the Chinese economy. Much of this is based more on their hopes rather than analysis of economic data. America dreams of a world where it is secure in its position of sole superpower. It sees every dip in Chinese economic indicators as the beginnings of some fatal collapse. This isn’t happening. Nevertheless, China’s economy has slowed down. The days of growth figures of 10% are gone, most probably for ever. Chinese growth will slow down eventually to around 4%. Although this is no longer at the rate that has made China the world power that it is today, it is still more than twice that of predicted US growth, and nearly three times that of Europe.

This slowdown is just that, a slowdown. China’s economy will continue outperforming that of the West, and the rivalry will continue. Taiwan and the South China Sea will be at the centre of this. Although it is not discussed so much here in Europe, the American media is full of talk of Chinese American rivalry and the possibility of future war between the two superpowers. That China will take over from the US as the world’s primary superpower is far from a sure thing. This year, India’s population passed that of China. They now have the fifth biggest GDP in the world, and India is no friend to China. China also has demographic problems, due to the years of the one child policy, that are worse than those of the rest of the western world. Like everywhere else it will need to take in immigrants to maintain its workforce.

Europe too has demographic problems. The fertility rate is low, and in order to maintain the workforce at its current levels, this must be made up for by immigration. Across Europe as a whole, population has grown by 0.1% over the last year despite a fertility rate of 1.6% (well below the 2.1% replacement rate). However, this is not evenly spread across the continent. Migration from countries in Eastern Europe is maintaining population levels in the West. Bulgaria is the worst affected country, and population levels are plummeting. In the West this immigration is causing deep social problems, most spectacularly shown in Ireland by anti-immigrant rioting in Dublin, and the burning of refugee centres across the country. France has recently passed strong new anti-immigrant laws and across the continent far-right anti-immigration parties are seeing their vote rising, Geert Wilders recent victory in the Netherlands being only the most prominent example.

Probably the other big story of the year, and certainly something which will lead to an increase in the flow of refugees and migrants in the years to come is climate change. This past year has been the hottest on record with even the United Nations Climate Change Conference recognising the need to move away from fossil fuels. Despite this, there seem to be no actual moves to do so. This is unsurprising, the conference was held in Dubai in the United Arabian Emirates, one of the world’s major fossil fuel exporters, and its president was Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber president of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. With at least 2,456 of the conference attendees being fossil fuel lobbyists it’s hardly surprising that no firm commitments to cut fossil fuels, and therefore global warming were made. The climate crisis remains a very real threat to all life on the planet.

Many commentators have pointed to the development of chatGPT and AI as being another existential threat to humanity. While we are unsure about this, it seems certain that it will have a profound impact upon the labour market over the coming decade. AI has the potential to wipe out millions of jobs. Many of these will be in the white-collar sectors of the working class who haven’t suffered as much as manual workers from the changes in industry over the past decades. It seems certain that the demographic problem said to have caused the ‘Arab Spring’, basically that of having large amounts of well-educated young people leaving university with little or no hope of employment will come to haunt the advanced economies.

It’s hard to say now how this will play out. Perhaps, the expected massive job losses will be balanced out by the projected reduction in populations. Even then though, there will still be a shortage of young workers whose social security contributions will have to pay the pensions of an increasing number of old people. As governments struggle to balance budgets, the results of this will be increased austerity. Unfortunately, this is the optimistic view. In reality, massive economic restructuring tends to attack working-class living standards. Markets do not tend to balance themselves out in the interests of ordinary people. That is not their purpose. What they actually do is to concentrate the accumulation of capital, to put it in very simple terms, to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. In a year when Taylor Swift became popular musics first billionaire, it is easy to see how this will be balanced by increased hardship for those at the bottom.

It’s hard to draw a balance sheet of 2023, and to retrain a positive outlook. Nevertheless, as an organisation committed to radical political change, for us it is essential. We see the cause of all of the horrors of the modern world, from war, and genocide, through climate disaster, and refugee crisis, to mass unemployment caused by technological change as lying in an economic system based on profit and exploitation. We believe that only the destruction of this system can bring about a world without war and suffering, and that this change can only be brought about by the majority of the world’s population, the working class taking control of society.

In contrast to the darkness that we see daily in the news, we also see glimmers of hope. 2023 has seen an increase of workers’ struggles to protect their economic interests. Across Europe workers used strike action to defend themselves from attacks on wages and conditions. A well-publicised example of this is the UK where the number of working days lost to strikes was nearly two and a half million, the highest level since the 1980s. It’s true that all across the world pay is running behind inflation, but these sort of figures show that workers are willing to fight. The UK stands out as it is one of the largest European countries. Two and a half million is a large number. If we look at the data more deeply though, we can see that Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Cyprus, Finland, Belgium, Spain, and Austria all had more strike days lost per worker than Britain.

In first place in Europe though was France with the protests against the pension reform bill to increase the retirement age from 62 to 64. Millions of people stopped work, and even more took to the streets in an effort to stop this bill. Of course the willingness of French workers to struggle is one of the main reasons that their retirement age was so low in the first place. In the end, after four and a half months, the struggle was defeated. It still remains though that workers are prepared to struggle, and that this willingness will deter the bosses from further attacks in the coming years.

Across the world many countries saw a resurgence of workers actions, transport workers and teachers in South Korea would be one notable example, but perhaps deserving of a special mention are the strikes in the United States where the working class has long been quiet. The US media dubbed this year the ‘hot strike summer’, and over half a million workers took part in over four hundred strikes, notable mentions include a large victory in the automobile sector, the longest ever health workers strike, and even Hollywood actors and writers going on strike to make a total of over eleven million days lost to strike action over the year.

Another cause for hope has been the number of people willing to demonstrate against war. Despite, in many cases, these protests being banned by the state. These protests go from the small taking place in difficult conditions such as women demonstrating in cities across the Ukraine, and demonstrations in Tel Aviv against the slaughter in Gaza, to the massive demonstrations of a million in more in London and Istanbul.

Along with a resurgence in working-class activity, which has characterised the last year, we see in the willingness to reject war, a sign of hope for the future. We accept that many of these strike movements are weak, and that in many demonstrations ostensibly against war, there are tendencies to take the side of one of the belligerents. However, we feel that overall, the willingness of the working class to engage in struggle, and the willingness of people across the world to reject the horrors of war, are positive signs for the future.

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