Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

New Year’s Editorial: The 1970’s: A decade of decline for U.S. imperialism. Struggle against crises, danger of war in the 1980’s

First Published: Unity, Vol. 3, No. 1, January 4-17, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

A new year and a new decade are beginning.

Traditionally, the new year is a time to sum up the past and look towards the future. A review and analysis of the 1970’s – a decade of great turmoil and change – is important in clarifying the tasks that we face entering the 1980’s.

Without a doubt, the last decade was a turning point for U.S. imperialism – it was a decade of decisive decline. Entering the I970’s, the rulers of the U.S. had little idea that the next ten years would bring problems and crises of such magnitude that the world empire of the U.S. would be shaken and the very system of monopoly capitalism would go into irrevocable decline.

Following World War II, the U.S. imperialists thought they would enjoy an “American century” of domination, but this ambition was shattered beyond repair during the I970’s. The U.S. remains a superpower which brutally oppresses hundreds of millions of people around the world and is desperately trying to hold onto its position. But its status as an unchallenged superpower is now a thing of the past.

Internationally, U.S. imperialism was under attack by the third world. At the same time, U.S. imperialism faced the growing challenge of the Soviet superpower. Domestically, economic and political upheavals rocked the country.

These factors have set the stage for even greater turmoil in the 1980’s, including seriously worsening conditions of life for the people of the U.S. and the real threat of a new world war.

U.S. imperialism beaten back internationally

The crisis of U.S. imperialism in the 1970’s was highlighted by its tremendous defeat in Indochina. The Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian people waged an arduous struggle for over 25 years against colonialism and imperialism, and they showed that indeed a “small nation can defeat a large one” and that “imperialism is a paper tiger.”

The defeat of the U.S. in Indochina was a strategic defeat. It gave inspiration to other oppressed peoples around the world. Additionally, the war was a concrete education for millions of Americans in the aggressive, reactionary nature of the U.S. ruling class. This has made it difficult for the U.S. to launch other foreign military ventures.

During the 1970’s the U.S. faced setbacks and defeats on every continent. In the Middle East, the Palestinian and Arab struggles gained in strength and in international support, while the U.S. and Israel became increasingly isolated. In Africa, Portuguese colonialism, supported by the U.S., went down in defeat. The white settler colonial regimes in southern Africa began counting their last days, as the liberation movements advanced towards victory. The U.S.’s 30-year long policy of non-recognition of socialist China finally ended. And popular revolutions kicked longtime U.S.-backed dictators out of Nicaragua and Iran.

The struggles of the third world for a “new economic world order” had a tremendous impact on U.S. imperialism during the 1970’s. After years of impoverishment under colonial and imperialist domination, the third world countries increasingly banded together to assert their rights to control their own natural resources, set their own prices and terms of trade.

The most well-known example, of course, is OPEC. For years the U.S. plundered the Middle East of its oil at outrageously cheap prices. This parasitism is an inherent feature of imperialism. Now, the third world countries are challenging this relationship, and are dealing blows to imperialism by limiting its ability to reap superprofits. Without a doubt, the days when U.S. corporations could readily steal the natural resources of the third world came to an end during the 1970’s.

U.S. imperialism’s strength was challenged in the 1970’s even by the lesser capitalist countries. The second world countries of Europe and Japan became more competitive with the U.S. in important industries like auto and steel manufacture. Concerned with their own futures and lacking confidence in the U.S. they began to pursue more independent political policies. Numerous European countries cancelled debts owed them from the third world, and they also increasingly supported third world struggles against the superpowers, as in supporting the Arab struggle against Zionism.

U.S. economy in upheaval

The 1970’s will be remembered for its major economic problems, which pushed the economy into decline. The U.S. experienced recession and high inflation one after the other, signaling that the post-war period of U.S. prosperity was ending. Inflation during the 1970’s was the worst in the entire 20th century, with consumer prices doubling between 1969 and 1979.

There were also three economic recessions. The 1974-75 recession was the worst since the Great Depression. The drop in industrial output was the steepest since World War 11, and nearly 10 million workers were thrown into joblessness. The bankruptcy of big corporations like Penn Central, Franklin National Bank and W.T. Grant and now the threatened collapse of the Chrysler Corporation, became stark examples of U.S. capitalism’s decay.

U.S. imperialism’s misfortunes were mirrored in the fall of the dollar itself in the world economy. The dollar had been the foundation for the world capitalist economy ever since World War II, but its dominant position was significantly eroded during the 1970’s.

The dollar was weakened due to massive inflation and the U.S.’s continued balance-of-trade deficit that leaves billions of dollars abroad, as well as the growing lack of confidence in the U.S. in the rest of the capitalist world.

The U.S. took numerous steps to save the dollar from completely collapsing during the 1970’s, such as ending its convertibility into gold, devaluing it, buying up the dollars dumped in the international monetary markets, ending the fixed-rate of exchange system, and so on. But these only created more instability and economic uncertainty.

Rise of Soviet Union and the threat of war

As U.S. imperialism faced these mounting problems, the other imperialist superpower, the Soviet Union, rose tremendously during the 1970’s.

The Soviet Union’s aim was to fill the U.S.’s shoes as world overlord. While the U.S. is in decline, the Soviets are on the rise and are relatively more aggressive.

The two superpowers’ rivalry for world domination extended to every corner of the globe. During the 1970’s, the Soviets made numerous advances through economic infiltration, political arm-twisting and naked aggression. They were especially active in Africa and Asia in their efforts to outflank Europe.

The Soviets instigated the bloody civil war in Angola and used thousands of mercenary Cuban troops to establish domination there. Similarly, the Soviets gained a foothold in the African Horn by stirring up conflict between Ethiopia and Somalia and intervening in Ethiopia. They pulled coups in Afghanistan and South Yemen. Last year, the Soviets supported the Vietnamese blitzkrieg invasion of Kampuchea. Viet Nam continues to occupy Kampuchea with a force of 200,000 troops, carrying out a policy of genocide and starvation. This provided a shocking lesson in Soviet hegemonism for the countries and peoples of the world.

The threat of the two superpowers launching a world war could be seen in the fiercely escalating arms race of the superpowers during the 1970’s.

The two superpowers vastly increased their nuclear and conventional arsenals over the last decade. The Soviet Union was especially feverish in its arms buildup, and it surpassed the U.S. in military strength in a number of key areas including nuclear missiles. The U.S. on its part developed a number of more sophisticated weapons such as the neutron bomb and cruise and MX missiles. The superpowers’ war preparations exposed the hypocrisy of “detente” and their talk about “arms reduction.” The two SALT treaties signed by the two superpowers in the 1970’s served only as a smokescreen for the arms race actually taking place.

Political crisis in ruling class

The setbacks and challenges to U.S. imperialism threw American politics into turmoil during the 1970’s. Divisions and confusion in the ruling class over foreign policy and how to best maintain the U.S.’s superpower position have broken out.

Sharp debate unfolded in the ruling class over how to respond to the Soviets’ arms buildup, Soviet intervention, and whether or not SALT II would benefit U.S. imperialism.

The crisis in American politics deepened as the ruling class could not get out of its predicaments. The “crisis of confidence” in government was signaled especially with the Watergate affair of 1972-74 and the forced resignation of a U.S. president for the first time in history.

After Nixon’s resignation, the Ford and Carter administrations were successively incapable of solving the many problems of U.S. monopoly capitalism. The U.S.’s political crisis is evident in the chaos of the 1980 presidential campaign, in which there are a score of candidates but no solutions to imperialism’s problems.

But this is because the turmoil of the 1970’s was the inevitable result of the imperialist system itself. In 1916, Lenin pointed out that imperialism’s subjugation of the colonies and undeveloped nations of the world gives rise to the struggles for national liberation and independence. He also pointed out that the rivalry of the big imperialist powers for world domination inevitably leads to world war. And the contradictions of imperialism, a system of profiteering and war, provokes economic and political crises. The events of the 1970’s fully confirm these basic features of imperialism.

Impact of crisis on the masses in the U.S.

The general response of the ruling class to the crisis has been to try to shift the burden of their problems onto the people, especially the workers and oppressed nationality peoples, in the form of greater poverty, social decay and repression.

Conditions for workers worsened over the decade as the capitalists instituted more speed-ups, “take-aways,” and other restrictions to increase productivity and profitability. The capitalists went on the offensive against the trade unions, and moved industry to the nonunion South and Southwest, where they superexploit the oppressed Black and Chicano nations. Union workers had to fight bitterly just to maintain the standards and conditions they had won in previous years. In every major labor contract struggle, the bosses wanted “take-aways.” Wage increases ran consistently behind inflation; in 1979 inflation was over 13% while wage increases were held between 7% and 10%, with many running far less.

Furthermore, many of the social welfare programs that had been established during the 1960’s, were slashed and eliminated during the 1970’s. Death by “cutbacks” was the common fate of many programs in health, education and community services. In 1975 New York City almost went bankrupt. The banks that took over the city cut $2 billion from the city budget, resulting in the closing of schools, hospitals, and daycare facilities.

Oppressed nationality peoples faced intensifying oppression during the 1970’s. Economic and social conditions for them were the worst. Unemployment for Black youth, for example, was as high as 70% in some cities. The social programs that were slashed the most were inevitably those in the oppressed nationality communities. Other reforms that were won in the 1960’s, like affirmative action, came under attack. The Bakke Decision, based on the myth of “reverse discrimination,” became a symbol of the offensive against oppressed nationality peoples.

Police and Klan terror against Black and other oppressed peoples rose sharply during the 1970’s. Over the past decade there has also been increased repression on the part of the ruling class in order to force through its policies of social cutbacks and economic restrictions. Fascist-type organizations like the Klan and Nazis were encouraged; the death penalty was reinstituted and police brutality increased. Black people continued to lose their land in the Black-belt South, the historic homeland of the Afro-American nation, at the rate of 6,000 acres a week through both impoverishment and swindle. Whole oppressed nationality urban communities were threatened with destruction and dispersal by “urban renewal.”

Other sectors of the population also faced greater oppression. The struggle for women’s rights faced opposition from reactionaries on issues like the ERA and abortion rights. Farmers had a harder time making a decent living. The 1970’s saw thousands of farmers driven out of business.

Youth faced an uncertain future with limited educational opportunities and dismal employment prospects. As a result, drug addiction, alcoholism and other social ills have come to plague many young people.

The bourgeoisie also widely promoted reactionary ideology. Racism and national chauvinism were whipped up against minority peoples to justify increased oppression and to draw the masses’ attention away from the real source of society’s problems. The ruling class promoted propaganda about “illegal aliens,” “reverse discrimination,” and the so-called “taxpayers’ revolt,” in which homeowners were told that their high property taxes were caused by poor people having “too many” social welfare programs.

At the same time, the bourgeoisie began to promote more social reformism and even radical “socialist” ideas in an effort to channel the masses’ dissatisfaction with the system into a reformist direction as opposed to a revolutionary direction. For example, while the Chrysler Corporation gave 40,000 workers the ax and imposed a wage freeze on those remaining, it also gave UAW President Doug Fraser a seat on the board of directors, to promote the illusion that the workers would have a “voice” in Chrysler’s affairs!

Mass movements in 1970’s and outlook for the 1980’s

The worsening conditions of the 1970’s gave rise to struggle on the part of the masses, though the mass movement was not at the levels it was during the 1960’s. This was due to the changes in the objective conditions and the state’s attacks on the mass movements in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

During the 1970’s people resisted the ruling class’ attacks, but their struggles were not always organized or with leadership that could aim them consistently against the monopoly capitalist class.

U.S. workers fought to maintain a decent standard of living in the 1970’s. There were a record number of strikes during some periods. These were mainly around economic issues but there were also growing struggles around national oppression and discrimination. There were some victories against the bosses’ offensive, like the 1978 miners’ strike; and some advances against the entrenched bureaucrats of the big unions, like the development of the nationwide Teamsters for a Democratic Union. But rank and file resistance often lacked organization and was still waged largely on a scattered and local level during the 1970’s, although these were also quite fierce.

The movements of the oppressed nationality peoples went through a period of regrouping following the high tide of revolutionary struggle and state repression during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. During the last half of the 1970’s, in particular, the national movements began to rise again in response to the intensifying national oppression. The Black Liberation Movement was on the rise, with mounting mass protests against the killer cops who attack the community, especially the youth. Chicano and Puerto Rican communities, like Moody Park in Houston and Humboldt Park in Chicago, were rocked with rebellions. The Native American people waged numerous struggles to defend their lands and treaty rights. There were struggles in the Chinese and Japanese communities for unionization rights and even for the right to exist in the face of so many “urban redevelopment” schemes.

By the late 1970’s the nation’s campuses were again the scene of unrest. In addition to struggles against cutbacks and academic restrictions, thousands of students protested their universities’ investments in southern Africa, the racist Bakke decision, and the dangers of nuclear power.

Other sectors of the population also took to the streets. Women demonstrated against the government’s attacks on abortion rights. “Tractorcades” of angry farmers rumbled through Washington, D.C., protesting the government’s price policies and farm controls.

These mass struggles showed the deep dissatisfaction of the people with the state of U.S. society.

The imperialist crisis, the danger of war, and the needs of the rising mass movements place important tasks before the U.S. revolutionary movement in the 1980’s. There is every indication that new storms are gathering for the 1980’s.

With regards to the international situation, we must step up our efforts to oppose the danger of imperialist war. Broad education and organizing must be done towards building a movement opposed to both superpowers’ hegemonism and war preparations. Every instance of superpower meddling, bullying and aggression must be opposed. It is especially important to educate the people about Soviet imperialism, as it is the more aggressive superpower and the most dangerous source of world war, but it is also incumbent to support the world’s people’s struggles against U.S. imperialism.

Such proletarian internationalism is particularly important because the ruling class is increasingly promoting social chauvinism. The bourgeoisie tries to play upon the masses’ concern about Soviet aggression and for peace, in order to rally the masses to defend “U.S. interests.” The people of the U.S., however, have no interest in strengthening U.S. imperialism. At the same time, it is important to oppose the imperialist policy of appeasement which advocates sacrificing small countries to Soviet imperialism in the hopes of avoiding a larger conflict. This policy only whets the Soviets’ appetite for more and makes them bolder and more aggressive. In reality, the danger of world i war can be combated by firmly opposing both superpowers’ hegemonism. We must firmly support the third world, as every blow against the superpowers weakens their ability to launch a world war.

In addition, we should support and defend socialism, in particular socialist China. Over the past decade socialism in China went through an important test. Many of the leaders of the Chinese revolution passed away during the 1970’s – Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Zhu De. The Chinese people and the Chinese Communist Party under the leadership of Chairman Hua Guofeng waged a life and death struggle against the “gang of four” which tried to usurp power and destroy socialism. The defeat of the “gang of four” enabled the Chinese people to turn their full attention to the task of socialist construction and in particular, the “four modernizations.”

The struggles in China over the past decade have afforded the international working class with rich lessons on the building of socialism. During the 1980’s the Chinese people will be pushing forward their struggle for socialist construction, and will also continue to play an active role in opposing the two superpowers and the danger of war. The U.S. revolutionary movement should continue to learn from and support China.

Domestically, the imperialist crisis is sure to bring about a sharpening of contradictions throughout society. The 1980’s will bring a further deterioration of social conditions; with greater economic and political restrictions. This is bound to result in widespread mass struggles in defense of the people’s living standards, trade union rights, political rights, and against national oppression and social decay.

In the coming years, we must strive to do the utmost to lead and organize the mass movement and deeply root ourselves in the factories, communities and campuses. We must take up the immediate struggles of the masses in fighting the effects of the imperialist crisis, while doing education about the nature of imperialism and the need for revolution.

Much more needs to be done to build and strengthen the mass organizations of the people and to improve our united front work. There is an urgent need for Marxist-Leninists to become a more powerful force in the social movements of the country. The strengthening of the mass movement and the influence of Marxist-Leninists is mandatory in preparing for the eventuality of world war and our goal of socialist revolution.

Redouble efforts to unite Marxist-Leninists

The absence of a single, unified vanguard communist party remains the greatest handicap to the U.S. revolutionary movement. The objective conditions of the 1980’s and the demands of the mass movement make party building an all the more urgent task.

U.S. Marxist-Leninists, for the most part, have their roots in the mass upsurges of the 1960’s, but it was during the 1970’s that the contemporary anti-revisionist communist movement actually emerged and developed. Over the past ten years, while there have been errors and setbacks, overall U.S. communists have deepened their understanding of Marxism-Leninism and U.S. conditions, through experience in waging mass struggle, summing up our work both positive and negative, and in struggles against opportunism. They have begun to sink roots among the masses and establish some influence in the mass movements.

As the 1980’s begin, U.S. Marxist-Leninists are stepping up their discussions and seeking ways to unite and to pinpoint and resolve their differences in a principled fashion.

The complex international and domestic situation today poses important questions for the revolution which must be answered concretely. There needs to be more analysis of objective conditions, social forces and trends, and strategy and tactics. This requires summing up experience in mass struggles as well as better and improved theoretical work.

The struggle for the unity of Marxist-Leninists in a unified party must be forged in the course of the common struggle for a correct line, strategy and tactics which will make the revolution in the U.S.

The 1980’s will certainly be a decade of continuing struggle, with much potential to advance the U.S. revolutionary movement. Our attitude should be both sober and optimistic. As the 1980’s begin, we should reaffirm our commitment to the revolution, redouble our efforts to advance the masses’ struggles, integrate Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought with the concrete conditions of the U.S. revolution, and step up our efforts to unite in a single, vanguard communist party.

Marxist-Leninists unite!
Down with the two superpowers and their war preparations!
Down with U.S. monopoly capitalism!