Crisis? What crisis?

Howie Chodos howie at magi.com
Mon Feb 13 08:51:47 MST 1995


Don Kenner wrote:

>   Let's face it, "we" have been discussing the crisis of capitalism for over
>a hundred years.  At least three of the four features of present-day
>capitalism that Will Brown mentions above could just as likely be redefined
>as stabilizing elements for capitalism, rather than indications of impending
>chaos or downfall. At most, they are challenges to be overcome.
>   Many of the things that marxists have pointed out to indicate "crisis",
>such as unemployment, are also basic features of how the whole machine runs.
>This is news to no one, but the belief that such things lead necessarilly to
>crisis or revolution is not a belief that has panned out with any historical
>certainty.

I think he is right and that the implications are quite far-reaching. At the
very least it suggests that we need to avoid thinking and speaking in
apocalyptic terms. We must come to terms with the idea that there will never
be a final crisis of capitalism, that it will not collapse unless it is
pushed. If we stop and think about the horrors that have been perpetrated by
various capitalist regimes in the 20th century (with the 50 million dead
during WWII and 20-30 million in WWI, at the top of the list), without there
having been the universal revolt of the international working class, can we
still entertain the idea that something worse, even if it did come along,
would produce the collapse of the system on its own?

It is of course true that many of the crimes associated with capitalism led
to revolutions in different parts of the world (Russia during WWI and China,
Yugoslavia after WWII). This can serve as a reminder that it is possible to
change the world. At the same time we need to remember that in all these
cases people who participated in a revolution were not only fighting against
something, but had a vision of the kind of new society they wanted to build
in order to avoid the problems of the old one. Various interpretations of
Marxism were, of course, key to this vision. Today, in large part because
the Marxist-inspired regimes which were set up did not live up to their
promise either of providing greater justice and equality or of generating
greater economic productivity, we no longer have that kind of unifying goal
that could allow liberatory forces to take advantage of the recurring
"crises" of capitalism, no matter how severe they become.

If we abandon the idea that history is marching inexorably towards the
glorious socialist utopia, yet want to retain the hope that a better,
non-capitalist, future is still possible, we need to develop an alternative
vision. This would supply a positive incentive that will complement the
criticism of the failings of capitalism in mobilising people to fight for
change. Without it I'm afraid people will continue to believe in the
impossibility of fundamental social transformation, and the "crises" of the
system will invariably be resolved in favour of those at the top of the heap.

Howie Chodos



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