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The Catastrophe and the Challenge

category international | imperialism / war | opinion / analysis author Tuesday April 01, 2008 12:46author by Wayne Price - (NEFAC) Personal opinion Report this post to the editors

The End of Reformism

World capitalism is facing a series of major crises, economic, military, and ecological. They imply the end of the possibilities of the reformist program and the need for a revolutionary program and organization.

At a talk I gave in New York about my new book, one questioner from the floor said that all my talk about crises and revolution sounded like religious talk about armageddon and the end of days. In other words, we should dismiss disasters and crises as myths and legends. However, World War I did happen and so did World War II. Inbetween, the worldwide Great Depression happened, as did the rise of Nazism and of Stalinism. The image of a peaceful and stable world is itself a myth, based on the the boom years which followed World War II. Actually this boom was geographically limited to Western Europe, North America, and Japan; there was plenty of poverty, war, and revolutions in the “Third World.” At the time, these years of (limited) prosperity seemed to many to disprove the notion that this was the epoch of imperialism and of capitalist decay. But the boom years ended by the middle of the seventies, and it has been downhill ever since. Now the decayed nature of capitalism expresses itself in a number of crises which are crashing around us. Many now see that the capitalist class is unable to run society. A revolution is needed to create a new society. The main crises are economic, military, and ecological/environmental.

(1) A liberal economist, Jeff Faux, asks, “Is This The Big One?” that is, another Great Depression. He concludes, Maybe, but it certainly is going to be bad. Summarizing recent economic disasters, he writes, “We are now staring into the abyss….Tens of millions of Americans [could] be out on the street, with neither a job nor a roof over their heads. Unlikely? Yes, still. Unthinkable? Not anymore….Well short of such a worst case scenario, the country seems headed for major economic damage that will severely test whatever we have left of safety nets….So if this is not The Big One, it is likely to be A Big One—and a long one.” (The Nation, 4/14/08. Pp. 13-14.)

The underlying forces which have created this longterm decline deserve more of an analysis, using the tools of the Marxist critique of economics. For now, I point out that, with the end of the post-World War II boom, there have been ups and downs (as business cycles have continued), but the overall direction has been downward. The U.S., which was the world’s banker after World War II has become an almost bankrupt debtor. Once the industrial powerhouse of the world, the U.S. is increasingly deindustrialized and oursourced. After the Great Depression, the bourgeois state set up a range of regulatory mechanisms to prop up the economy. But over the last thirty years, the capitalists have been undermining their own safeguards, making the system ever more vulnerable to its inherent weaknesses. Now, the capitalists stare into the abyss.

(2) U.S. aggression against Iraq r grinds on, moving into its sixth year. It is hard to know what the U.S. ruling class will do. To continue the war would be disastrous; the Iraqi people will not be controlled. But to leave would also be disastrous, for the interests of U.S. imperialism. U.S. withdrawal is likely to be followed by a mess of civil wars which will draw other countries (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey) into the whirlpool. If a stable regime ever develops, it is likely to be anti-U.S.

It took the U.S. ten years to get out of Vietnam (counting from Johnson’s escalation to Nixon’s final withdrawal). And Vietnam was peripheral to the empire, both geographically and industrially (it had some tin and tungsten). On the other hand, Iraq is at the center of the empire. Just south of Europe, it is in the middle of the world’s main supply of petroleum and natural gas, on which all of industrial capitalism depends. The U.S. and other imperialists cannot allow Iraq to sink into chaos…but have no way to prevent this from happening. No U.S. president—whether McCain, Obama, or Clinton—will be able to deal with this U.S.-created disaster in a graceful manner.

The problems of militarism are more than just the Iraq war. Wars are an inevitable outcome of capitalism and its system of national states. War is an extention of its competition in which each is at war with all. As I write, wars (including civil wars) are happening or threatening to happen in Asia, Africa, and South America. What is most frightening is the spread of nuclear weapons. Humanity got through the Cold War without a nuclear war, but there is no guarantee we will get through the post-Cold War era. More states than ever have nuclear bombs. It was in the name of stopping the spread of such “weapons of mass destruction” that the U.S. state invaded Iraq and now threatens Iran. Of course the U.S. rulers never doubt their own right to have such means of human extermination! In fact, the Bush regime suggested building relatively “small” atom bombs as “bunker busters.”

These nuclear devices exist. Sooner or later they will be used--unless the governments are disarmed by their working people.

(3) Meanwhile there are the intertwined crises of the physical environment, biological ecology, and the need for energy. Capitalism has a drive to accumulate, to make profits by any means possible, and to grow quantitatively. As a result, species are being exterminated. The natural world is treated as a coal mine. Drinkable water is becoming scarce and may become something for nations to fight over. To repeat, the whole of industrial capitalism is based on the use of gasoline, coal, and natural gas, for transportation, food (artificial fertilizer and pesticides), warmth, and for all the things for which we use plastic. But these are non-renewable resources, sure to run out someday. And they are polluting the air, water, and food supplies. Burned, they produce greenhouse gasses which will cause catastrophic flooding in lowlands and catastrophic droughts elsewhere (even in the U.S. and Europe). This is no way to run a civilization! All of our technology will have to be reorganized to create a healthier world.

The Effects of the Crises

Objectively reformism is dead. While some reforms may yet be won here and there, overall the various versions of reformism cannot begin to solve the problems posed by the crises. Subjectively, more and more people will become aware of the need for a revolutionary program and organization. Each of these crises is an aspect of the fundamental crisis of capitalism. The reality of capitalism’s crises is becoming clearer to more workers. As a result, the commonplaces of pro-capitalist politics, of liberalism and conservativism, will become disproven. The middle of conventional politics will fall away. The extremes will grow. One extreme will be that of fascism. Probably this will not appear as overt Nazism but as all-American right-wing Christian theocracy. This movement aims to overthrow the elected government and replace it with a dictatorship of people who (claim to) speak for God. However they will be very un-godlike types.

The left will also grow. There will be a revival of reform socialism, as well as various forms of Marxism-Leninism, aiming to establish new and better states. Hopefully there will also be anarchists and other libertarian socialists who will organize themselves to spread a revolutionary program.

Let me return to the questioner from my talk. It is true, I responded, that referring to the crises which face us resembles certain religious attitudes. I cited Martin Buber’s concept of two types of prophecy. One is the statement of what you believe to be inevitable, God’s will, which humans cannot change. An example is the Christian fundamentalist “Left Behind” series of religious novels. Armageddon is supposedly coming, God will win, and individuals only have the freedom to choose to be on God’s side or on Satan’s side.

The other form of prophecy is a statement of the historic choices before an individual and before a people—and, I would add, before the working class. The outcome is not inevitable. The people are challenged to make a choice, one way or the other. How they (we) chose will determine how—and whether—we will live.


Written for www.Anarkismo.net.

Wayne Price has written The Abolition of the State: Anarchist & Marxist Perspectives (can be ordered

author by Ilan S.publication date Tue Apr 01, 2008 18:57Report this post to the editors

Wayne:
"But the boom years ended by the middle of the seventies, and it has been downhill ever since. Now the decayed nature of capitalism expresses itself in a number of crises which are crashing around us."

Ilan
If you look at the conditions of specific social strata at specific regions it is really so - because of the decline of "national capitalism" protectionism. However, taking the world as a whole we can see expansion of the multinational capitalist mode and the "export" of capitalism to the less developed countries.

Capital is no more investing so much in the "bribing" of its metropolitan wage slaves and is running down the welfare state mode.

Wayne:
Many now see that the capitalist class is unable to run society. A revolution is needed to create a new society. The main crises are economic, military, and ecological/environmental.

Ilan
Many saw in the past that the capitalist class was running society according to its own interests. The expected ecological/environmental catastrophe just replaced the fear of nuclear bomb destruction.

The main strata of wage slaves that is starting to see the light are the previously pampered so-called "middle class".

Wayne
The underlying forces which have created this longterm decline deserve more of an analysis, using the tools of the Marxist critique of economics.

Ilan
With due respect to Karl Marx revolutionary scientist it is ridiculous to regard tools of 150 years ago as the most appropriate ones in any field.

The old tools were developed, improved, and adjusted to the modern conditions by revolutionary scientists who benefited from the teaching of the ancient Marx.

Wayne
For now, I point out that, with the end of the post-World War II boom, there have been ups and downs (as business cycles have continued), but the overall direction has been downward.

Ilan
The business cycles are inbuilt in the capitalist system. As the concentration of capital increases and the speed of the various economic and financial processes increases, the system can become vulnerable to a very serious crisis.

I do not see in my region and in many other less developed countries which are the largest portion of humanity any kind of downward direction, but the opposite is true.

Wayne
The U.S., which was the world’s banker after World War II has become an almost bankrupt debtor.

Ilan
US which exploited intensively the other parts of the world after world war II, was gradually forced to take smaller part of the world wealth.

Forcing US to get the dollar off the so-called gold base was a first step... already in the 1970s.

The present crisis is mainly an internal crisis of the US capitalist economy which will initiate a new world cycle of up and down, and less the result of the gradual decline of the US hegemony.

Wayne:
To continue the war would be disastrous; the Iraqi people will not be controlled. But to leave would also be disastrous, for the interests of U.S. imperialism.

Ilan
For sure the war in Iraq was intendied to serve the interests of sections of the US and some other capitalist countries. Like most capitalist ventured there is a gambling factor in the making, and it seems the results were not as good as expected. Ending the war with some forced compromises will just decrease the direct and indirect profits of the war various fractions of the U.S. and other capitalist elites.

Wayne
U.S. withdrawal is likely to be followed by a mess of civil wars which will draw other countries (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey) into the whirlpool. If a stable regime ever develops, it is likely to be anti-U.S.

Ilan
US withdrawal will force the US and local elites to reach a new kind of compromises. A glimpse of such compromise is the one US made lately with the Sunni elite "the tribal leadership" that toned down their resistance.

None of the regional conflicts is irresolvable if the involved ruling elites sides agree on appropriate compromises.

Wayne:
The U.S. and other imperialists cannot allow Iraq to sink into chaos…but have no way to prevent this from happening.

Ilan
In a way, Iraq was in a chaotic condition throughout the last five years, due to the refusal of US to compromise with the ruling elite of Iraq after defeating Saddam Husein. Dismantling the army instead of reorganizing it was the main factor.

Afterwards, the insistence of promoting one section of the Shiah elite and hard bargaining even with it delayed the return of internal peace in Iraq.

Wayne
The problems of militarism are more than just the Iraq war. Wars are an inevitable outcome of capitalism and its system of national states.

Ilan
Wars are NOT an inevitable outcome of capitalism. Both World War I and II were the result of the wish of German national capitalist elite to break the old distribution of the right to exploit the less developed countries between the more advanced - Mainly Britain, US, France.

As the concentrating capital become more and more trans national, and "globalisation" opens the border for less restricted flow, the conflicts between the main capitalist powers are resolvable by other means.

The fact that wars between the developed countries are our, seems to be the main reason for the declining of the "bribing" of the working class of the metropolitan states (decline in welfare state and in workplace stability mainly).

Wayne:
These nuclear devices exist. Sooner or later they will be used--unless the governments are disarmed by their working people.

Ilan
Though the class society includes irrational aspects, and a lot of decisions that are of a gambling nature, the capitalist ruling elite is not insane.

The capitalist system is not what we want. It will surely reach its end like previous authoritarian systems of organizations of human beings. No need to promote irrational fears about doomsday - it will not hasten our revolution.

Wayne
The Effects of the Crises.....

Ilan
Though we can be sure the dynamics of the capitalist system (mainly the concentration of capital) will lead to its abolishing, we cannot be sure at what point of the erosure of its stability the revolution will put an end to it.

The exact interaction between social, economic, and environmental processes, on one side, and changes in people's minds on the other, is much more complicated than what meet the eyes.

Related Link: http://shalif.com/anarchy
author by Waynepublication date Wed Apr 02, 2008 06:51Report this post to the editors

With some of what Ilan writes, I am in agreement and I disagree with others. And sometimes I cannot be sure. For example, he rejects my statement (which I make to express my opinion, without supporting argument) that understanding the economic crisis requires the use of the Marxist critique of economics. Marx wrote long ago, Ilan notes (at the beginning of the capitalist era). This is true, but since there has been no socialist revolution, the capitalist system remains the same in its most fundamental basics (the capital/labor relationship), despite many new developments. Ilan refers to the modern work of "revolutionary scientists who benefited from the teaching of the ancient Marx." I am all fo that.

However, Ilan concludes that capitalism (and its states) does not inevitably result in war. He states that the working class was, recently, the "middle class." He seems to believe in the industrialization of the Middle East as anything other than a lopsided and brittle form of industrialization, nothing that will result in their joining Europe and the U.S. I disagree with all of this.

But Ilan agrees with me that " Capital is no more investing so much in the "bribing" of its metropolitan wage slaves and is running down the welfare state mode." This was my main point, after all.

author by Ilan S.publication date Wed Apr 02, 2008 17:20author address Tel AvivReport this post to the editors

Wayne:
For example, he rejects my statement .... that understanding the economic crisis requires the use of the Marxist critique of economics.

Ilan
My main objection is the "personality cult" of quoting the not so modern revolutionary fore-runners.

Many scientists and those who practice modern science can be regarded as based on Charles Darwin... Even my scientist anti authoritarian substitute for psychotherapy is a continua of Darwin research... However, it will be strange if all of us will call ourselves "Darwinists" and quote Darwin again and again.

(Some claim that not Darwin nor Marx were the originators of the claims that made them so famous. The claim is that they got the fame because they packed old wisdom in a better way and even developed it some how.)

Wayne
since there has been no socialist revolution, the capitalist system remains the same in its most fundamental basics (the capital/labor relationship), despite many new developments.

Ilan
So is biology and the system of emotions since Darwin times.

Wayne
However, Ilan concludes that capitalism (and its states) does not inevitably result in war. He states that the working class was, recently, the "middle class."

Ilan
It seems I was not clear enough: "middle class" is usually a reactionary way to artificially split the working class. However the label of "middle class" can be also used (in double bracketd "") as a short way to refer to the higher status wage slaves - used to be bribed by the national capitalist mode.... but progressively diminished in the neo-liberal era.

Any way, concluding from new aspects of the capitalist system, and analyses of the two world wars by anti capitalist economists I claim that conflicts within modern capitalism (and between its states) does not inevitably result in war.

Wayne
He seems to believe in the industrialization of the Middle East as anything other than a lopsided and brittle form of industrialization, nothing that will result in their joining Europe and the U.S. I disagree with all of this.

Ilan
My referring to industrialization of the less developed countries was not insinuating they are building there a copy of the imperialist/developed countries. I just mentioned it as a change in the dynamics and conflicts between the imperial powers that lead to wars between empires in the era of monopolized colonial spaces (mainly for extracting raw materials and markets).

Japan seems the only state that emerged from marginal developed to the first class developed status.

The other countries - even the bigger and more developed like South Kore are still far from it.

Simillarly the less developed countries just joined the EU have still long way to go and not sure it is really open for them all the way.

Related Link: http://ilan.shalif.com/anarchy/glimpses/glimpses.html
author by Dave B - world socialist movementpublication date Thu Apr 03, 2008 03:02author address manchester UKReport this post to the editors

On the statement that;

“Some claim that not Darwin nor Marx were the originators of the claims that made them so famous. The claim is that they got the fame because they packed old wisdom in a better way and even developed it some how”

I think that the idea that Darwin’s and Marx’s central ideas where not original and that they merely developed or built upon other peoples ideas is so true that it shouldn’t even be necessary to have to state it.

The idea of the evolution of species by natural selection had been kicking around for almost a 1000 years before Charles Darwin. Examples of pre Charles Darwinian ideas on evolution are too numerous to mention, however an interesting early example may be the one below;



{Al-Jahiz born in Basra, c. 781 –r 868


In the Book of Animals, al-Jahiz first speculated on the influence of the environment on animals and developed an early theory of evolution. Al-Jahiz considered the effects of the environment on the likelihood of an animal to survive, and first described the Struggle for existence Al-Jahiz' ideas on the struggle for existence in the Book of Animals have been summarized as follows:


"Animals engage in a struggle for existence; for resources, to avoid being eaten and to breed. Environmental factors influence organisms to develop new characteristics to ensure survival, thus transforming into new species. Animals that survive to breed can pass on their successful characteristics to offspring." }


One could mention I suppose Charles Darwins Grandfather, Erasmus Darwin;


{Erasmus Darwin's most important scientific work is Zoönomia (1794–1796), which contains a system of pathology, and a treatise on "generation", in which he, in the words of his famous grandson, Charles Robert Darwin, anticipated the views of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who in turn is regarded to have foreshadowed the theory of evolution. Darwin based his theories on David Hartley's psychological theory of "associationism".The essence of his views is contained in the following passage, which he follows up with the conclusion that one and the same kind of living filament is and has been the cause of all organic life:


“Would it be too bold to imagine that, in the great length of time since the earth began to exist, perhaps millions of ages before the commencement of the history of mankind would it be too bold to imagine that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament, which the great first Cause endued with animality, with the power of acquiring new parts, attended with new propensities, directed by irritations, sensations, volitions and associations, and thus possessing the faculty of continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down these improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!”


Erasmus Darwin was familiar with the earlier evolutionary thinking of James Burnett, Lord Monboddo, and cited him in his 1803 work Temple of Nature.}


Karl Marx with his labour theory of value borrowed heavily from others but perhaps untypically he was usually generous to cite his predecessors. Eg early in Volume One;

“It is a man of the New World -- where bourgeois relations of production imported together with their representatives sprouted rapidly in a soil in which the superabundance of humus made up for the lack of historical tradition -- who for the first time deliberately and clearly (so clearly as to be almost trite) reduces exchange-value to labour-time.

This man was Benjamin Franklin, who formulated the basic law of modern political economy in an early work, which was written in 1729 and published in 1731. He declares it necessary to seek another measure of value than the precious metals, and that this measure is labour. “


http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1859/critique-pol-economy/ch01a.htm


And on Wiliam Petty;


Footnote 18


“The celebrated Franklin, one of the first economists, after Wm. Petty, who saw through the nature of value, says: “Trade in general being nothing else but the exchange of labour for labour, the value of all things is ... most justly measured by labour.” (“The works of B. Franklin, &c.,” edited by Sparks. Boston, 1836, Vol. II., p. 267.) Franklin is unconscious that by estimating the value of everything in labour, he makes abstraction from any difference in the sorts of labour exchanged, and thus reduces them all to equal human labour.”

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch01.htm


Karl borrowed heavily on Ricardo amongst others, as he freely and frequently admitted.

In fact the labour theory of value in its essence is almost as old as capitalism itself and there was an earlier example of it again cited by Karl somewhere in Das Capital. However the name of the person that wrote it was unknown.

I have no idea where it is and can’t be bothered looking for it but I think it dated from the mid 1600’s.


Frederick Engels was familiar with Lamarkism and it formed part of his “The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man”.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1876/part-played-labour/index.htm



Later he became familiar with Darwins work and basically accepted it with some caveats.

“On the other hand I cannot agree with you that the “bellum omnium contra omnes” was the first phase of human development. In my opinion, the social instinct was one of the most essential levers of the evolution of man from the ape. The first man must have lived in bands and as far as we can peer into the past we find that this was the case.... “

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1875/letters/75_11_17-ab.htm



Predicting Kropotkins viewpoint, and brilliant piece of scientific thinking in my opinion, in his ‘Mutual Aid’.


Something followed up upon by Anton Pannekoek, another scientist and in this case a Marxist in his ‘Marxism And Darwinism’, 1912



http://www.marxists.org/archive/pannekoe/1912/marxism-darwinism.htm

and in a superior form later in 1944, Anthropogenesis: A Study in the Origin of Man. Again following scientific etiquette in giving due credence to Kropotkin.

Incidentally I am a scientist myself and only started reading Engels about four years ago. I was quite staggered by his understanding of science and hadn’t even realised that the understanding of the natural sciences was that advanced in the late 19th century.

He really must have been up to date.

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