The Crisis is Capitalism

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Life under the Trump regime is, at times, almost surreal. Every day seems to bring a new Twitter tirade, White House squabble, or scandal. Never in my life can I recall reading in the newspaper that the secretary of state openly referred to the president as a “fucking moron.”

It is almost like something straight out of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Consider this characteristically irrational exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat:

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Many people have remarked that just keeping up with the daily news is both exhausting and depressing. The headline of the lead editorial in the October issue of Socialist Worker seems to sum up Trump’s brand of “shock and awe” politics, best: “Our resistance in the era of political whiplash.”

The SW editors write:

Think about it: In less than a month’s time, we witnessed the far-right carnival of hate in Charlottesville and a murderous attack on anti-racist demonstrators; the unnatural disasters of [hurricanes] Harvey and Irma confirming the destruction that capitalism has caused through climate change and greed; more nuclear saber-rattling by the world’s main super-bully in Washington; and the Trump administration ending DACA protections for undocumented youth now threatened with deportations to places most don’t remember.

This seemingly non-stop “political barrage,” they add, “is a central part of the right’s strategy: to stun opponents into inaction.”

We are, needless to say, living in radical times. And radical times call for radical politics.

Capitalism is currently in deep crisis. The elites no longer have any credibility. Where once the meritocratic Horatio Alger model of improving one’s living standards through hard work and educational achievement at least held some modicum of truth for working-class Americans, this ruling-class principle no longer holds any currency.

For the first time in decades, an entire generation of young adults will be worse off financially than their parents. And this is despite the fact that millennials are the most educated generation in history. (They are also the most debt-burdened from the ever-increasing costs of college education.)

These diminished economic prospects are compounded by a menacing plague of opioid addiction that, in 2016 alone, claimed an estimated 64,000 lives.

As a result, nearly half of millennials believe the so-called “American Dream,” is dead, according to a 2015 Harvard Institute of Politics survey. Where once the bourgeois elite could at least hold out the promise that if you work hard you too can join the middle-class—if not the rich—now the prospects for working-class people have been reduced to merely hoping a climate-change augmented hurricane or forest fire does not destroy your home and all your belongings.

Now, if that ain’t a reason to stand in patriotic reverence for our national anthem during commercialized spectator sports, well, you must just hate The Troops, you son of a bitch!

Wealth inequality is, in fact, far worse than most Americans realize. Of the $30 trillion in wealth the U.S. has gained since the end of the Great Recession of 2008, the 400 richest individuals received an average of $2,500,000,000 each. Those in the bottom 80 percent, meanwhile, got roughly $13,000 each.

And working-class wages remain stagnant. “Income for the working-age bottom 50%,” writes economist, Paul Buchheit, “has not improved since the late 1970s. The share of all income going to the poorest 50% has dropped from 20 to 12 percent. The share going to the richest 1% has risen from 12 to 20 percent.”

While it is not unusual for capitalism to periodically go into crisis (indeed, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels understood that the unplanned, unmanaged nature of capitalism makes it inherently prone to crisis), the scale of this particular economic crisis has not been seen since the Gilded Age of the 1920s.

Marxist economist, Richard Wolff suggests labeling this “new period” of capitalism “post-neoliberal,” “post-globalized,” or “neo-nationalist.” Whichever term one prefers, Wolff describes this era as one in which,

[T]he major corporations, the top 1% they enrich, and the top 10% of managers and professionals they employ will no longer provide the rest of us anywhere near the number of well-paid jobs and generous government policies of the post-1945 period. Given this reality for them, they could hypothetically reduce, more or less equally across the board, the jobs, incomes, and public services available to the bottom 90% of the US population. But at least in the short run, this is politically too dangerous.

Wolff continues:

The only other option they see is to divide the bottom 90% into two groups. For the favored one, jobs, incomes, and standards of living will be only marginally reduced or perhaps, if possible, marginally improved. For the other group, their economic situation will be savaged, reduced to conditions formerly associated with seriously underdeveloped parts of the planet. The time has thus arrived in the US for a major struggle—economically, politically, and ideologically—over just who will be in those two groups. The violence lurking in this struggle has surfaced so far most starkly and provocatively in the murder of [Heather Heyer] at Charlottesville. It reflects the stakes in the proliferating struggles.

And the crisis of capitalism is not relegated to the United States. Britain’s unexpected vote to leave the European Union (EU) last year (“Brexit”), along with the recent uprising in Catalonia for independence from Spain represent, for the power elite, dramatic threats to the neoliberal status quo. That neoliberal order is crumbling—and the bourgeois ruling class is scared to death.

Their fear is compounded here at home with the expectation-shattering election of Donald Trump.

Hillary Clinton was the ruling class’ preferred candidate. Her political experience and proven loyalty to corporate capitalism made her the logical successor to Barack Obama’s Wall Street-friendly policies. For the ruling class, Clinton represented not so much the “lesser evil” as liberals frequently describe the Democratic candidate, but, to use Black Agenda Report executive editor, Glen Ford’s phrase, the “more effective evil.”

But Trump is a wild card.

His erratic and unpredictable behavior makes him difficult for the bourgeois—as well as the elements of the so-called “Deep State” (the FBI, CIA, military-industrial complex, etc.)—to control. And much of Trump’s agenda concerning immigration and nationalism flies in the face of a global capitalist order that, for decades, has relied on cheap, under-paid and easily exploited immigrant labor.

Yet, Trump is merely a symptom of the larger disease of capitalism. While I am all for removing Trump from office (with the understanding that the homophobic, Christian evangelical, Mike Pence would take his place), the fact is life in pre-Trump America was hardly a paradise for working-class people.

Thus, the left’s goal cannot be to merely vote for Democrats in 2018, and Kamala Harris or Cory Booker in 2020–though this is precisely what many liberals advocate. The inconvenient truth is that the corporatist, neoliberal policies of Bill Clinton and Obama paved the way for President Trump. We cannot simply return to business as usual.

Instead, we must build on the renewed interest in socialism, particularly among young people, that Bernie Sanders helped spark. The International Socialist Organization (ISO), which I am a dues-paying member of, has seen record turnout at its weekly public meetings in branches throughout the country. And interest has only increased since the start of the fall 2017 college semester.

People are clearly hungry for a radical politics that both speaks to their lived conditions, and can help them fight back against the proto-fascist far-right. Now is the time to tap into that hunger, and build a viable working-class movement that can agitate for tangible reforms in the here in now, as well as point the way forward to a more just, egalitarian, and sustainable socialist future.

“[H]ere it becomes evident that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an overriding law,” Marx and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto in 1848.

… The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the laborers, due to competition, by their revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of modern industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

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