Right now, the Greek-Turkish border is like a cloud of tear gas. The EU is “committed”… to responding to the refugees with rubber balls, bullets and whatever it takes. It’s been our main theme this week, but there have been other issues as well.
With triumphant airs and graces, as always before perpetrating a mass crime, the EU closed ranks: an “iron fist” against the refugees was the catch phrase. And so far, the children caged in vile conditions in Mytilene can attest to this. To prove that, as von der Leyen said, this is “everyone’s effort”, in Evros the police and army are assisted by racist groups engaged in “refugee hunting” around the border. Enthusiastically, Spain, Estonia and Poland will send unspecified troops to “defend the border” from their own victims. Only Italy has refused to do so.
The press is skirting around the issue in those countries, like Spain, that are taking part in the operation, but in the East, it offers a veritable bombardment of nationalism and xenophobia. And yet thousands of people demonstrated in Berlin first and last night in Athens to demand the opening of the borders.
In Germany the coalition government is divided. German capital is calling for skilled workers, not for refugees who have been psychologically damaged by the war and are in need of training, so we are told over and over again that there will be no more opening of the borders for hundreds of thousands as in 2015, at most, “selective” receptions. Reviving the worst traditions of anti-Semitic repression of past centuries, the state of Schleswig-Holstein agrees to look after minors… without their families.
Meanwhile, the situation in Syria during the week has been one of open warfare. Al-Assad’s troops shot down Turkish drones, Turkey shot down two Russian-Syrian aircrafts, the Russian air force bombed Idlib again… To finally make way for a meeting in Moscow of Putin and Erdogan under both imperialist iconography and a tense coreography from which a new truce in Idlib emerged that began this midnight.
It’s just a new stalemate. Erdogan is still trapped in his own dead end. If he does not maintain the momentum and keep the state in permanent mobilization, the Turkish bourgeoisie will get rid of him. His only hope at present is to involve the EU in a three-way agreement that can offer Putin a relaxation of sanctions in exchange for Turkey preventing the arrival of new refugees.
Putin, for his part, is trying to assert, both on the map and on paper, an imperialist project embellished by the most reactionary narrative in Russian history. “He has failed to build us a great future, so he has built up our great past“. The new constitution, for example, is a veritable monster of imperial-feudal nostalgia that delights ultra-conservative and religious nationalism all over the world.
The US, meantime, opened the week with a deal with the Taliban that was really just an attempt to get their original enemies to cover their withdrawal. Obviously, the bourgeoisie and the Afghan state propped up so far by the Americans were not going to be happy to collaborate in preparing their own slaughter, so no one was surprised by President Ghani’s resistance. Nor was it any wonder that the Taliban became impatient and broke the truce after a few days. The various factions of local chieftains are now taking positions for the fight ahead, adding to the political and military chaos and driving the Americans into a new campaign of bombing. This is a fiasco for the U.S. not just because Trump wants to “keep his election promise” before November as the media says. The fact is that the Afghan war has long since played no clear role in U.S. imperialist strategy. Today it is just a drain on the state’s funds and resources – human lives as such do not enter into those calculations.
And on the other hand, although the U.S. economic figures have been relatively good so far, the crisis is making things worse. Last week was the worst trading week in 12 years. The Federal Reserve responded with a rate cut that, according to all of the economic press, was long overdue.
The coronavirus epidemic is acting as a catalyst for a crisis that never really ended. Even in Italy, the European country most affected in its industry, the figures for the economic impact –between 5 and 7 billion euros– would not explain the severity of the situation on their own. Nor would Germany and France temporarily overcome their battles to take joint action when they cannot even come up with a common epidemiological strategy.
But the crisis predates the epidemic… and will continue after it. The fragility of the airlines in the face of the wave of cancellations resulting from the epidemic demonstrated, with the Flybe case, that highly financiarized balance sheets and piles of accumulated debt were not the monopoly of tour operators, as we said when Thomas Cook went bankrupt, they are rather part of a general picture of service companies.
And in industry the situation is no better. Industrial recession broke out as early as last year… and is still causing damage. In Germany, competitiveness is declining, costs are rising, and capital wants to lower wages in order to recover profits. Its automotive industry is having an increasingly difficult time -falling European demand, trade war, Brexit, permanent tariff threats from the US, falling Chinese demand…- and is pushing a new wave of layoffs in the sector across Europe.
In China 90% of state-owned companies have already resumed work. Wherever one could not find enough “healthy” workers, the bourgeoisie pulled the Uighur slave labor. But even if production recovers, the basic trend that drove the trade war -the re-nationalization of production chains- has accelerated irreversibly and it will not slow down.
Moreover, every drop in Chinese demand causes an earthquake in peripheral countries. Not only in Asia or South America. South Africa has gone into recession for the second time in two years. This is not a particular case: for every point that Chinese growth drops, the exports on which the sub-Saharan economies depend drop by 0.6.
The workers in the face of the epidemic and the crisis
Each aggravation of the crisis pushes capital into a new wave of attacks against the workers. First of all on the pension systems and health services. Starting, of course, with China. In France, the pension reform has finally been approved without a parliamentary vote and by force. Moreover, although the budgets of certain ministries are increasing, the government is still pushing a wave of layoffs of public workers, especially in health care… in the bleak of an epidemics. The goal of laying off nearly 15,000 before Macron’s term ends still stands. The plan is to “save 75 to 100 million euros by 2020” by laying off staff.
In the United States, the threat of outbreaks of coronavirus has exposed the reality of many workers: in the absence of a decent public system, they can neither pay a doctor nor stop working if they have symptoms of pneumonia. Preventive measures are a luxury only available to the bourgeois classes. This is the horizon to which the dismantling of public health services is pointing in the rest of the central countries. In England, erosion and “cuts” in the NHS have led to a decline in general life expectancy for the first time in a century.
Suffocated by its own contradictions, capital is at war: it attacks refugees, dreams of Malthusian genocides and reopens old lines of conflict between competitors (even in the Falklands!). In the satisfaction of the most basic human needs, it finds only an obstacle and in the class that represents such needs, an “irrational” enemy that asks for the impossible and must be defeated. Its project for Humanity is to reduce us to bestiality: to work more and for less, to die as cannon fodder if capital demands it, and to leave behind a generation of cheap and submissive slaves (“Give birth!” Maduro ordered this week to the women of Venezuela).
We cannot expect it to be any different with changes in state leadership. From the Sanders and the Sánchez to the Trumps and Putins, all ideological variants, all national capitals, have the same needs and lead us to the same place. It is not with them but against them that the only possible alternative can be affirmed.