Forwarded from Anthony (on End of History)
lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Thu Aug 17 10:04:21 MDT 2000
No doubt, history is not yet at an end. And no doubt that capitalism is
still in crisis.
And I like Lou's remarks about the subjective factor.
But I look at things from a slightly different angle.
1. Capitalism loves a good crisis
Capitalism has always been in crisis, and has always spawned social
upheavals and revolutions. This was true in its infancy, as it destroyed
precapitalist modes of production and social classes, and was true during
its heyday as it continued the process, and will be true in its death agony.
The real question we need to answer is, how long can this go on?
And I think the simple answer is - until social revolution in its centers
puts a stop to it, or until some mega-cataclysm, e.g. a comet or a great
die-off produced by human activity - as in war or ecological disaster -
Capitalism not only can survive crisis, it thrives on crisis. If you think
otherwise review the history of the last two centuries (go back farther if
you like) and you will see the great crisis of the 1840's, another in the
1870's, a still greater one in the 1910's, and even greater one from 1929
to 1945. After each one - and the revolutions which were part of those
crises- capitalism emerged stronger and more vital.
I realize this is not the orthodoxy of Marx, nor Lenin, nor Trotsky -
though maybe closer to Lenin's real thinking.
Capitalism is still growing and developing. This is the unpleasant fact of
life that most Marxists tried to avoid thinking about, or even recognizing,
during the 20th century.
Their reluctance however, was to a certain extent understandable. Before
WWI capitalism appeared headed to a catastrosphic crisis and an
unimaginably bloody world war. And it was. It survived both, but did not
resolve the crisis.
It soon entered a graver crisis, followed by a much bloodier, more
intensive, and more extensive war. And the horror of Nazism.
For Lenin to think that imperialism was the final stage of capitalism, was
under the circumstances, excusable.
For Trotsky to think that the choice was capitalism or barbarism, and that
capitalism was in its "death agony" was likewise excusable - the first part
certainly being true.
But capitalism has not yet reached its death agony, and that's a fact Jack.
It is still developing the means of production.
To put it simply, capitalism hit the wall with the great depression,
fascism, and WWII - and it went right through the wall - with plenty of
help from Stalinism, to be sure.
What were the two greatest obstacles to the further development of the
productive forces by capitalism in 1910?
I would say
1) that the productive capacity of capitalism was greater than the globally
segmented markets could absorb, and therefore a crisis of overproduction of
commodities and of oversupply of capital ensued. This led to more intense
trade and financial competition, trade war, efforts to extend empires, and
WWI interrupted the process, and temporarily solved the problem for the
USA, and Japan - the two clear victors of WWI - at the partial expense of
England, France, and who ended the war in debt to the USA and with their
productive capacities damaged (England less so) - and more so at the
expense of Germany, Austria, and Turkey.
England and France, weakened by financial dependence and by now antiquated
industries, survived only because of their increased imperial power,
primarily at the expense of the former Ottoman Empire.
2) that the working classes of Europe, including Russia had become very
well organized and self-conscious - to the point of reaching for state
power. This was true to the point that the workers of Russia succeeded in
seizing state power in 1917, while the workers of the more advanced
capitalist countries carried out revolutionary offensives that were all
But neither WWI nor the historic defeats suffered by the working class on
the world scale during the Post WWI revolutionary offensive solved
capitalisms fundamental problems.
1. The crisis of overproduction, and oversupply of capital, could not be
resolved within the size of the existing markets in the 1920's. Those
markets were constrained by four factors (in order of importance): first by
population size of markets, second by class structure within markets; third
by transportation costs, and fourth by political barriers (tariffs, etc.)
To overcome these barriers, and thus overcome the crisis of overproduction
and oversupply of capital, population growth was required, changes in class
structure were required, dramatic reductions in transport costs were
required, destruction of a large quantity of capital was required, and
destruction of national trade barriers was required.
2. The organized and politically conscious working classes of Europe by the
late 1920's had been defeated, and were in retreat - politically, and
psychologically, and organizationally.
Nevertheless they maintained their basic trade union and party
organization, and had grown numerically in some cases.
They were an obstacle to capitalist resolution of the crisis of
overproduction and oversupply of capital, and - should they recover the
initiative and offensive - posed the threat of resolving the crisis through
[This did not happen, as we know, as Stalin's faction won the internal
struggle within the communist movement guaranteeing that the working
classes of Europe would not take the offensive - even when opportunities
again arose - most notably in Spain and France.]
For capitalism to overcome this obstacle, the working classes of Europe had
to be destroyed as an organized and self-conscious classes and returned to
a state of atomized, disorganized, unless-conscious individual wage workers.
I think a look at what capitalism achieved - as a system - with European
fascism and WWII clearly shows that it overcame all of the basic elements
of its crisis of overproduction and oversupply of capital.
1. Population growth increased dramatically - expanding the size of
national and world market beyond any dreamt of in 1910.
2. Class structures were changed, and a new consumerist middle class and
working class aristocracy emerged in Europe and North America - again
increasing the size of the markets.
3. Transportation costs were cut to almost nothing - making mass exports of
heavy machinery - especially automobiles for the new mass markets,
economically possible. This was a consequence of military transport
technology developed by the USA to transport troops and supplies
simultaneously to Asia and Europe, and to deploy them rapidly and
efficiently. You could say that D-Day and the Island campaign in the
Pacific were the beginning of a great economic offensive.
4. Many, though not all, of the political trade barriers in the world were
destroyed - and all were weakened. The Marshall Plan, the GATT, the World
Bank, and the IMF, were the first major step to globalization - followed
soon by the European common market. Probably as important was the wholesale
dismantling of the French and British empires to form "independent"
This in fact destroyed the most important trade barriers in Africa, the
Middle East and Asia, and opened the door to US penetration of those markets.
Looked at over the 50 years following WWII we can see that nationalism in
these newly independent countries has to this date only been a transition
to their full integration into a truly global capitalist market. Whereas
prior to WWII most of them had been markets substantially closed to all
capitalists except those of the European country which controlled the
particular colonial "possession".
5. Huge quantities of capital (fixed and variable, machines and workers)
were destroyed - especially in Europe. Leaving larger markets for the
remaining capital to exploit.
As for the other obstacle - the organized self-conscious working classes of
Europe. It was immobilized by Stalinism, enslaved by Fascism, and killed
off in horrendous numbers by the war. The little pieces of its
organizations - and self-consciousness that survived were picked up and
dusted off and rebuilt into Frankenstein monsters - social democracy and
the Post WWII communist parties. Reformist parties subservient on the one
hand to their various imperialist masters, and on the other to Moscow.
And on the Potomoac, they smiled.
And they thought. Now lets work on overcoming the remaining obstacles - the
great barriers to trade and capital investment posed by China and the
I have left out most of the national and class struggles in the colonial
world, and especially the Chinese revolution. I have also left out the
class struggle in the USA. For me these are very important parts - but not
the central elements of the global process - during that period of time.
I have not yet come to the war in Vietnam - which was the second, and
secondary, turning point in that epoch. In my view the war to look at was
the "cold war". And Vietnam was a battle. The USA lost the battle, but by
doing so won the war.
This is just an introductory sketch.
When will capitalism hit the next wall depends on many factors. But there
is no sure sign it has hit it yet.
I think we have to watch as the crisis of overproduction and the crisis of
oversupply of capital resumes in the global market. Globalization is simply
an effort to increase the size of the world market to absorb increased
production and give investment opportunities to the growing mountains of
capital. How far it can go, depends on many factors, some technical - like
the internet, and others political and social - like national and class
However the most important factor will be the subjective factor. Key to any
revolutionary resolution of the emerging crisis of capitalism - will be the
rebirth of the class consciousness of, and the reorganization of, the
working classes of the world.
And, this part is where we could play a role.
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