YET when we look around us now, what is there to see but a world where the epoch-making events of just a year ago across north Africa have inspired a new generation worldwide to think again about what was unmentioned when they were growing up in the two decades before 2008: that is capitalism and overthrowing it.
Anti-capitalist movements, Occupy movements and democratic movements against imperialist-backed dictatorships have circled the globe.
New fault lines appear in the rupturing landscape of political economy.
In Egypt, the working class overthrew Mubarak and insisted on its right to independent trade unions. Its revolt or revolution is continuing, with its object the overthrow of the ruling Military Council now in alliance with the conservatives of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In Greece, where the troika of the European Union, the IMF and the European Central Bank have taken over the government, general strike after general strike has demonstrated that the only way forward is not just a change of government, but the overthrow of the entire system of capitalism while there is still something left standing.
To pay the Greek debt, Miliband’s ‘tough choice’ here, where the situation is heading the same way, means police-military dictatorship measures.
No wonder then that the moral capitalists are speechifying to a fantasy capitalism that has nowhere existed while the real capitalism is everywhere driving forward revolution as it moves in the direction of a third world war. Their purpose is to stultify.
What Trotsky has to say about these ‘moral’ cockroaches comes from the period when fascism was openly strutting in Europe and world war was at the threshold. Today, the working class internationally has known no such defeats.
‘The chief traits of the prophets of this type are alienism to the great historical movements, a hardened conservative mentality, smug narrowness and a most primitive political cowardice. More than anything moralists wish that history should leave them in peace with their little books, little magazines, subscribers, common sense and moral copybooks. But history does not leave them in peace. It cuffs them now from the left, now from the right. Clearly – revolution and reaction, Tsarism and Bolshevism, communism and fascism – are all twins.’
Do we recognise anyone from our own era here?
Cameron and Miliband are supported from below by a slew of petty-bourgeois centrists, saturated with the morality of the ruling class, but poaching odd phrases from socialism.
‘Nobody should believe that military intervention in Libya by Britain, France and the US will bring democracy and freedom,’ wrote the highly moral Socialist Worker to its readership in March of 2011 as the imperialists were preparing their oil grab.
They however refused to be for the victory of Colonel Gadaffi over the NATO imperialists and supported the no fly zone, which meant non-stop Nato bombing and the butchery of Gadaffi, his family and thousands of his supporters.
The real prizes for these petty-bourgeois moralists are ‘democracy and freedom’, the capitalists’ own soubriquet or verbal moral disguise for capitalism.
All their disparagement of NATO and imperialism cannot conceal that revisionism and reformism, along with the pacifists of Stop the War, were agreed on one thing: Gadaffi the dictator must be overthrown by the ‘brave rebels’ who were nothing without NATO.
And in that, they lined up with NATO, and Tory Foreign Secretary Hague.
The petty-bourgeois moralists were united on the end, ‘democracy and freedom’, that is capitalism, and while the petty-bourgeois revisionists were at the more squeamish end of the spectrum, they supported the means, the overthrow of Gadaffi. They were blinded and enslaved by their embrace of the fake CIA bourgeois morality of ‘democracy and freedom’.
Trotsky writes: ‘A means can be justified only by its end. But the end in its turn needs to be justified. From the Marxist point of view, which expresses the historical interests of the proletariat, the end is justified if it leads to increasing the power of man over nature and to the abolition of the power of man over man.’
This is a dialectical argument. What is permissible is what really leads to the liberation of mankind, an end only achievable by revolution.
The ‘great success’ in Libya (say the imperialists) has intoxicated them into plans for gunning down Syria as a prelude for the greater prizes of Iran, Russia and China – all under the banner of ‘freedom and democracy’.
How then, we might ask the revisionists and reformists, did the elimination of Gadaffi advance the liberation of mankind?
A year on, these ‘brave rebels’ of the counter-revolution against Gadaffi are busily engaged in settling scores, are reported as consisting of out-of-control rival militias engaged in indiscriminate torture of their prisoners, to which outcome the UN offers up a fetching blush.
Meanwhile, France and Italy have their Libyan oil contracts signed.
As Al-Qaeda prepare for a caliphate in Libya, funded and armed by Hague, the revisionists turn their gaze on Syria using the same bourgeois morality propaganda as they did in Libya, which culminated in the brutal murder of Gadaffi by NATO agents.
Nor should we leave out of this moral crusade for ‘democracy and freedom’ the role of Chinese and Russian Stalinism. When the no fly zone resolution was passed at the UN Security Council, they abstained and did not use their veto.
Truly, it can still be said, ‘In the mechanics of reaction Stalinism occupies many leading positions.’
The Workers Revolutionary Party supported the Gadaffi regime against imperialist designs over Libyan oil.
Why? Because, as Trotsky answered his critics in 1938 over the degeneration of Stalinism and from ‘those who consider themselves Marxists’ – bourgeois journalists, professors or politicians:–
‘A Bolshevik is inconceivable without the materialist method, in the sphere of morality too. But this method serves him not solely for the interpretation of events but rather for the creation of a revolutionary party of the proletariat.
‘It is impossible to accomplish this task without complete independence from the bourgeoisie and their morality.’
Hence the inevitable conclusion: endless complaints from all the agents of bourgeois democracy about the ‘amoralism’ of the Bolsheviks, as these agents line up with the democratic bombing campaigns of the imperialists.
But strengthening imperialism and allowing it to credit itself with a ‘victory’ in Libya does nothing for the liberation of mankind. Quite the reverse.
Hence with all revisionism and centrism:
‘Their identification of bourgeois morals with morals “in general” can best of all, perhaps, be verified at the extreme left wing of the petty bourgeoisie, precisely in the centrist parties of the so-called London Bureau. Since this organisation “recognises” the programme of proletarian revolution, our disagreements with it seem, at first glance, secondary. Actually their “recognition” is valueless because it does not bind them to anything. They “recognise” the proletarian revolution as the Kantians recognised the categorical imperative, that is, as a holy principle but not applicable to daily life. In the sphere of practical politics they unite with the worst enemies of the revolution (reformists and Stalinists) for the struggle against us. All their thinking is permeated with duplicity and falsehood.’
So we might turn to the future and look at what is happening now in Greece.
Greece endured a regime of colonels until the 1970s, suffered under the Nazis before that and now is overtaken by the European Union’s demands over insupportable debt.
On Angela Merkel’s picture, a scribbled Hitler moustache appears.
48-hour general strikes are emerging, when previously there had only been one-day protests.
The masses are refusing to be held in check by their reformist leaders in the trade unions and demand the overthrow of the Papademos economic dictatorship.
They cannot live with the starvation-level plans of the bourgeoisie; the bourgeoisie cannot live without imposing them.
The outcome: civil war, the highest form of the class struggle.
Where does this leave our moralists? Condemning the violence that upsets the bourgeois order, whilst covering over the part of the stone tablet that says Thou Shalt Not Kill, so as to mobilise the riot police and extermination squads.
But what is coming cannot be resolved without violence, because when society demands transformation, class interests are irreconcilable.
How else, after all, did the bourgeoisie come to power over the old feudal order except by the English Civil War of the 1640s, (a revolution), the French Revolution of 1789 and its Terror and the 1848 revolutions throughout Europe?
In connection with the experience of the Spanish civil war of the early 1930s, Trotsky wrote as follows about the conditions of civil war and the criticism that moralising ‘socialist’ puritans had levelled against those engaged in it:
‘In the formula, “lying and worse”, “worse” evidently signifies violence, murder, and so on, since under equal conditions violence is worse than lying; and murder – the most extreme form of violence. We thus come to the conclusion that lying, violence, murder are incompatible with a “healthy socialist movement”. What, however, is our relation to revolution? Civil war is the most severe of all forms of war. It is unthinkable not only without violence against tertiary figures but, under contemporary technique, without murdering old men, old women and children. Must one be reminded of Spain? The only possible answer of the “friends” of republican Spain sounds like this: civil war is better than fascist slavery. But this completely correct answer merely signifies that the end (democracy or socialism) justifies, under certain conditions, such means as violence and murder. Not to speak about lies! Without lies war would be as unimaginable as a machine without oil. In order to safeguard even the session of the Cortes (February 1, 1938) from Fascist bombs the Barcelona government several times deliberately deceived journalists and their own population. Could it have acted in any other way? Whoever accepts the end: victory over Franco, must accept the means: civil war with its wake of horrors and crimes.
‘Nevertheless, do lying and violence “in themselves” warrant condemnation? Of course, even as does the class society which generates them. A society without social contradictions will naturally be a society without lies and violence. However there is no way of building a bridge to that society save by revolutionary, that is, violent means. The revolution itself is a product of class society and of necessity bears its traits. From the point of view of “eternal truths” revolution is of course “anti-moral”. But this merely means that idealist morality is counter-revolutionary, that is, in the service of the exploiters.’
So what can we conclude, when the world is clearly moving towards the most extreme class conflicts and civil wars as the economic crisis finds no resolution under the manipulations of bourgeois democratic governments anywhere?
The soporific effect of calls for ‘responsible capitalism’ coming from Cameron and Miliband may appease sections of the leader writers of the media, but it does not stop prices rising, unemployment rising, young people denied an education because of £9,000 fees, services cut and privatised.
Quantitative easing, deeper debts, cuts and mass unemployment since 2008 have led only to new wars and uprisings against hunger and repression.
Two classes decide the fate of modern society, writes Trotsky.
They are the imperialist bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
‘The last resource of the bourgeoisie is fascism, which replaces social and historical criteria with biological and zoological standards so as thus to free itself from any and all restrictions in the struggle for capitalist property.
‘Civilisation can be saved only by the socialist revolution.
‘To accomplish the overturn, the proletariat needs all its strength, all its resolution, all its audacity, passion and ruthlessness.
‘Above all it must be completely free from the fictions of religion, “democracy” and transcendental morality – the spiritual chains forged by the enemy to tame and enslave it.’
And here is our morality. It is not to be found in the Ten Commandments, nor in some imaginary innate sense separated from the circumstances around it, nor yet in common sense or utilitarianism.
‘Only that which prepares the complete and final overthrow of imperialist bestiality is moral, and nothing else.
‘The welfare of the revolution – that is the supreme law!’