“A specter is haunting Europe …” Karl Marx made the front cover of the February 2 issue of the European edition of Time Magazine, displaying the weakening confidence of the capitalist ruling elite in their system. This is quite a striking reversal. Less than 20 years ago, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Marx’s ideas were dismissed as dead. Capitalism was seemingly triumphant worldwide.
Yet with the massive and still unfolding global economic crisis, the capitalist system is losing legitimacy around the world. The same week as Marx appeared on the cover of Time, the International Labor Organization announced that 51 million jobs could disappear worldwide in 2009. On Monday, January 26 alone, major U.S. corporations announced over 60,000 job cuts. Hundreds of millions across the globe now face the loss of their livelihoods, and with it the threat of poverty, homelessness, hunger, and family and social breakdown.
Yet none of this has deterred the insatiable greed of the “banksters.” The big Wall Street banks, it was recently reported, handed out $18.4 billion in bonuses in 2008, the sixth largest total on record. New president Barack Obama called their actions “shameful,” yet at the same time his administration just handed over another $350 billion to the banks and is preparing to dish out even more once they pass their stimulus package. Nor has it seem to have impacted the corporate titans at Exxon Mobil, which announced last week that it made a record $45.2 billion in 2008, the most ever made by any corporation (beating out Exxon’s record $40.6 billion in 2007).
Around the world, illusions that capitalism can provide a decent future are fast being broken down. As Time writes, “Nobody younger than 80 has experienced such a rapid decline in global confidence and economic activity. Markets have failed, and in so doing they have destroyed the conventional wisdom about how to run an efficient economy. It’s as if an intellectual fog has descended, and the global positioning system has broken down, leaving the world to grope its way out as best it can.”
The article goes on to quote former British Prime Minister Tony Blair: “Ask the experts what to do, and the most honest reply is ‘I don’t know.’” Even Alan Greenspan, former head of the U.S. Federal Reserve and once commonly referred to as the “maestro,” admitted “I still do not fully understand why [the crisis] happened.” Trapped by the logic of the for-profit system, they can find no answers. As Marx put it in the Communist Manifesto, modern capitalism is like “the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.”
Yet Marx provided a clear explanation of the causes of capitalist crises (see below for an excerpt from the Communist Manifesto). The article in Time quotes Archbishop Reinhard Marx (who recently wrote his own “Das Kapital”), writing a letter to his revolutionary namesake: “[Capitalism] lasted longer than you expected back in the 19th century, but could it be that capitalism is just an episode of history that will end at some point because the system will collapse as a result of its internal contradictions?”
Marx decisively showed how capitalism was doomed to periodic crises due to these internal contradictions, specifically the contradiction between the private ownership of capital – the factories, banks, etc. – by a tiny mega-rich minority, and the socialized nature of production, in which millions toil to produce goods and profits controlled by this elite. In order to make this profit, the bosses pay workers only a fraction of the wealth they produce. This leaves workers unable to buy back all the goods they have produced, leading to crises rooted in overproduction and overcapacity.
These crises can only be solved on a capitalist basis by, as Marx wrote, the “enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces … [and] by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones.” This is what lies behind the plant closings and layoffs all over the world, as well as the increasing competition for markets, showcased by the anger at the World Economic Forum in Davos over growing fears of U.S. protectionism.
As German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned in Time, if governments “are not in a position to show that we can create a social order for the world in which such crises do not take place, then we’ll face stronger questions as to whether this is really the right economic system.”
Already we have seen mass demonstrations in many countries across the world, including a strike by 1 million French workers last week, as well as a series of demonstrations in Iceland, the country hardest hit by the economic crisis so far, which brought down the government there. There has been a surge of interest in socialist ideas across the world, as millions seek an alternative to the crises wrought by the capitalist system.
As Time quotes Archbishop Marx, writing to the revolutionary Karl Marx, “There’s a question that won’t leave me in peace: At the end of the 20th century, when the capitalist West defeated the communist East in the battle between systems, were we too quick to dismiss you and your economic theories?”
This is a question that will in the coming years trouble corporate and political elites and their ideologues around the globe. Increasing numbers of workers and youth will be driven to explore the ideas of genuine Marxism (not the perversion found in the Stalinist states), and will find in them a real explanation of the systemic causes of the current crisis and the need to struggle for a revolutionary transformation of society, taking power and wealth away from the tiny gang of “banksters” and corrupt elites and placing it in the hands of the immense majority, the workers of the world.
Excerpts from the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels:
“Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones… The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe.”
“The bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an over-riding law. It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him.”
“Modern bourgeois society, with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells. For many a decade past the history of industry and commerce is but the history of the revolt of modern productive forces against modern conditions of production, against the property relations that are the conditions for the existence of the bourgeois and of its rule. It is enough to mention the commercial crises that by their periodical return put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on its trial, each time more threateningly. In these crises, a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed. In these crises, there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity — the epidemic of over-production. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation, had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce. The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.”
Published by SocialistAlternative.org
Read online at: http://www.SocialistAlternative.org/news/article11.php?id=1025