Crisis

Chris Burford cburford at gn.apc.org
Sun Feb 12 12:31:58 MST 1995


Hello Will,

It is good to have more people contribute from this corner of the planet.
I happen to agree very much with your overall statement. Then it occurred to
me that we tend to assume most arguments take place in the USA. This maybe
deprives us of the stimulation to make more of a contribution from this
island (though now that I am getting into the archives, it seems wpc has
been making a contribution from the Red Clyde from the beginning of the
list)


>>it is easy to see evidence of crisis...
mass unemployment,financial dislocation, beggars on the streets.
But such evidence of crisis has been easy to find in much of capitalism's
history.<<

Surely. The crises are a cyclical self-regenerating biological process. The
fact that people are unemployed is already evidence that a portion of old
capital has been destroyed and a new cycle of increased capitalist activity
can start again. The unemployed are like the fallen debris on the floor of
the rain forest lying around as nutrients for capital accumulation to occur
again. (What I am not so sure about is why there is usually a long period of
stagnation before the period of superheating - except for a minority of
countries in the global economy, which seem to have got into a virtuous
circle).

Yes the evidence that Scott Marshall so graphically gave from his neighbour
hood shows him to be a good agitator and a populist, but I am not sure
whether he consciously has been telling the wretched of Chicago that it
really is the final crisis. There is 50% unemployment among the young black
males where I live, and I could not give that message, even if I had the
setting to do so.

I agree with you Will, therefore that
>A better question is whether there have been any recent developments
that threaten the fundamental stability of the sytem.<
Chaos theory can model how a stable cycling system can become unstable
under certain intensities of input. The most relevant
analogy comes not from the weather but from Verhulst's equation about the
mathematics of population growth. Capitalist economic cycles behave like
a species bumping up repeatedly against an upper limit on its expansion.

That upper limit I suggest is most plausibly
"The total labour-power of society, which is embodied in the sum total of
the values of all commodities produced by that society"
(Capital Chapter 1, about page 5 in any edition).
It is out of this pool of value that old capital and new alike have to
claw surplus value and there has to be enough purchasing power to consume
the mass of commodities. Its like a species of fish reproducing in a lake.

DISAGREEMENTS
Perhaps you may disagree with some of the above. About your specific
suggestions I think they are good but we need to get into them more if
they are to be really valuable.

>1) The globalisation of the world economy undermining the nation state<

Very important that we think global, but the undermining of the nation state
is wanted by the transnationals. It only causes political problems.
eg repeatedly now in the process of European integration. I suggest the
turbulence really comes from the uneven accumulation of capital within
regions as well as the world, so that migration and racism is rising.

>2) The collapse of the communist block creating an integrated world
market and thus a world proletariat<
This needs a lot of expansion. In systems theory it was predictable that
with the loss of its foil and alibi, in the evil empire, capitalism would
soon look a victor increasingly dismayed by its own contradictions. It has
rather slipped on a banana skin at the finishing post. But wasn't there
already very substantially an integrated world market and world proletariat
prior to the collapse of the communist block? What is on your mind?

>3) The impossibility of major imperialist war because of the scale
of weapons of mass destruction< Why is this a factor for INstability?

>4) The development of communication resources allowing workers to
network on a non-hierarchical yet international basis<
In terms of economic
resistance to the encroachments of the transnationals, this has hardly
started and is not causing turbulence for capitalism, let me suggest. Are
you suggesting politically that in the era of Internet, an organisational
system like a Leninist democratic centralist party is unnecessary and
likely to be outmanouevred, whereas guidance and direction to the populist
concerns of the day could be provided by a *network* of marxists in every
country? But would Jon be up to the job of moderator? and what are the signs
that Internet has caused instability in the world capitalist system yet? On
the contrary three trillion dollars flows round the computer terminals each
day very smoothly, with only the occasional Black Monday.

I would suggest by contrast that although the speed of communications and
of developing technological change, is accelerating and is highly likely to
cause much greater instability to a world system like capitalism in the
future, at the moment the main phenomenon is that there has been something
of a phase shift, a shift of set point, of the levels of unemployment in the
advanced western capitalist countries. This has been described by Ormerod
and was illustrated by the international summit last year on employment.
There are some indications that this is a secular and not a cyclical shift.
It is  unstable not domestically, (eg the Conservative government of the
1930's in Britain was not imperilled at all but high unemployment), but
because of the indication that the advanced western capitalist countries
have been wounded in the competition with rising Asian capitalist economies
and do not know how to operate on full capacity without the risk of
inflation.

Anyway that is me sticking my neck out. It is nice to hear from you Will.
It was a stimulating post. I look forward to some constructive disagreements
back from you.

Failing that Best Wishes in return anyway!



Chris Burford
Community Psychiatrist, specialising in schizophrenia.
Member of the Forum for Marxism, Philosophy and Science,
and the Southern Africa Economic Research Unit, SAERU.

London                                   "Only connect..."



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