Editorial: Plus ça change



The characteristic of the past year is that it confirmed, in a spectacular way, all the stakes and the world historical perspectives upon which IP has insisted. The year 2009 was marked by an unprecedented deepening of the economic crisis, demonstrating both its systemic roots and its global character. The impact of the functioning of the economy on the conditions of existence of populations and on the environment has amplified that crisis, and the “solutions” and overall “management” proposed by the political and economic leaders of the international community has demonstrated their illusory character. That includes the arrival of the providential “man of change,” Obama, the organization of great religio-masses, like the Copenhagen Summit, or the decisions about cleansing the world economic system … all these declarations clashed with the reality of the operation of the world economic system. All these economic, social, environmental problems are closely related to a mode of production that cannot change its bases if it wants to preserve itself. That is the fundamental contradiction which appears today, and which reveals more and more clearly and at the same time, the historical need to imagine a radically new society which would turn its back on the logic of capital. It is this historical stake that opens the year 2010 and this issue of IP is a modest contribution to the comprehension of these stakes.

Value is the engine and the raison d’être of the capitalist mode of production and value has gradually autonomized itself. All of social existence is thus subjected to the need to produce and accumulate value. In practically all its issues, “Internationalist Perspective” has been attempting to clarify the bases of the economic system and the roots of its crises. More particularly, we can point our readers to the preceding issue of our review - 51-52 - and to the article by Sander: “Crisis of Value.” This article underlines the fundamental contradiction of the system: it is the dissociation between use value and exchange value resulting from the double nature of the commodity in the capitalist society. The unprecedented development of the means of production and, in particular, the use of increasingly powerful technologies, led to an over-accumulation of value, necessitating a massive destruction of value in order to re-start the cycle of accumulation. As the article of Sander as well as the editorial of our last review showed, the unprecedented crisis that shook the world last year was not the result of bad investments on the part of a corrupt or negligent management of financial institutions. The famous “sub-prime” crisis was thus only the tip of the iceberg and this crisis is much more fundamental: it is a crisis of value, the central axis of the functioning of the world economic system. Another new phenomenon came to light as confirmation of the gravity of the international crisis: it is the bankruptcy of financial institutions and the potential bankruptcy of certain nation states. A good example here is the debt of the Greek state, which has risen to 120% of GDP, putting it at risk of bankruptcy. Other countries of the European Union are in a similar situation, such as the Belgian state, whose debt has risen to 97% of GDP. Spain and Portugal are in a similar fix, where there is also a growing perception that these states may not be able to service their debt. All of the countries of the EU find themselves under intense pressure to contain the threat of bankruptcy. It is the state itself that is the key organ responsible for socio-economic life that is now directly threatened by the impact of economic contradictions. And this impact unleashes a veritable tsunami: the crisis involves the bankruptcy of financial institutions which leads states to take emergency measures to try to contain the effects of these bankruptcies and their devastating effects on the economy as a whole. This financial support of the banks by states - which constitutes at such a level an unprecedented measure of last recourse, in its turn, leads to a destabilization of the affected states, including those in the “rich” zones of capitalism, with the chain reactions and massive impact of social de-stabilization that it can provoke

All that entails another profound threat with which the leaders of states threatened with bankruptcy must deal. Forced to take measures to urgently reduce their deficits, the managers of the economy are compelled to launch a massive and frontal assault on the working class, and the mass of the population, through draconian reductions in key sectors like education and “social security.” The additional paradox is that with the economic crisis, impoverishment, and the increase in unemployment, whole sectors of the working class are being brutally excluded from the circuit of work, and, therefore, completely dependent on social allocations to assure their very survival. States that are deeply in debt and weakened now face the additional threat of powerful social reactions. These latter, then, constitute in their turn a risk of destabilization and a brake on the austerity plans that capital needs to impose. Once again, it is the Greek situation that illustrates this threat to capital: significant social reactions already occurred in December 2009, led by youth, by students without a future, by workers without jobs. At the time of the earlier upheavals, the ruling class had promised a more “social” response to the demonstrators. The response that the Greek ruling class will not fail to deliver in a brutal manner could constitute an additional spark to this powder keg. Today, the state of the economy is thus not that of a healthy organism that fights against a passing case of indigestion because it had consumed too many “sub-primes,” but indeed that of a body which fights against the progression of generalized cancer which is spreading to all its vital organs. All the bourgeois economists acknowledge it: the recovery is not for tomorrow, dark days await us, and it is only lay-offs by the thousands, closures and bankruptcies, which constitute the greetings of the capitalist class for the year 2010… Even if a few national economies will have better growth rates, moments of recovery, the worldwide economy, in its global tendency, inexorably sinks under its contradictions and in its destabilization. This real impoverishment of whole segments of the world population will not fail to provoke intense social reactions. And even if these movements currently do not manage to shake the dominant system, the capitalist class knows that it is sitting on a social powder keg and that it is thus important to contain and to control to the maximum these current and future outbreaks. Among the panoply of tools at the disposal of the ruling class is ideology and its content today is that of fear. The economic crisis has shown its global character, involving massive waves of “economic” migrants. Social reactions unfold, too, in all planetary zones. The greatest current danger to the system is thus its impact and awakening of the global character - and thus the fundamental nature - of the crisis and its impact as well as the development of solidarity between those who protest and resist. The only thing that can break the links that are being forged is the fear and defensive isolation that it generates. Fear of the terrorist danger, fear of invasion by immigrants, fear of “the other”, who is different by color, culture, religion, language…. To break the potential solidarity and the recognition of the generalized character of the problems with which workers are confronted everywhere in the world, such is thus the point of the ideological efforts of the ruling class today. This culture of fear makes it possible to develop tools for adequate social control and one can scarcely count all the legal measures of intrusion into private life to catch the so-called terrorists, the use of scanners and body searches in the airports, the overall reinforcements of police controls, as well as the development of political parties preaching the pure and simple obliteration of any sign of membership other than the national one. One can underline, in this respect, the prohibitions on the wearing of the veil for Muslim women in several countries in Europe or the decapitation of minarets in Switzerland….

Another way of distorting and diverting the development of consciousness as to the real functioning of the capitalist mode of production, and its impact, is the discourse on “management” of the system. One can hardly count the appeals to buy “fair trade” products, resolutions taken to reorganize and to cleanse the worldwide economy, speeches on the appeasing of warlike tensions in the world - and Obama has now made the plans and summits for safeguarding the environment his rallying cry. In reality, we can see that one year after the outbreak of the financial crisis in the United States, the capitalist leaders themselves consider it regrettable that “the banks are back to their old ways”. Listen: nothing changed: we are heading towards a new catastrophe. “Fair” trade constitutes a new market and the global exploitation of the proletariat on which the worldwide economy is based requires ever more exploitation and exclusion, as the fate of Chinese workers makes clear. Peace in the world proposed by Obama has been transformed into the dispatch of additional troops to Afghanistan and with the resumption of the security and anti-terrorist discourse of his predecessor, Bush. As to the environment, the law of value also reigns as master since the powerful will now buy and sell “licenses” to pollute the planet (much like hunting licenses), while production continues to destroy the environment, while poor countries continue to die from the consequences of climate change… what an old French farmer interviewed on the results of the Copenhagen Summit said “Ah … they spoke well.” In short: Nothing new under the bloody red sun of capitalism.

The changing face of capitalist crisis

The perspectives are thus those of an intensification of the historical stakes. The mode of production has its own logic of functioning, that of the production and the accumulation of value. The development of its capacities to produce, and technology, leading to overproduction, and, thus, a shrinking value to this production, capital is compelled to massively destroy value, and this system has intrinsically become destructive. It is a destroyer of masses of use values when a significant proportion of the world population lacks everything; destruction of entire sections of the population in chronic wars, famines, the degradation of the sanitary conditions and climate change; destruction of the conditions of existence of an increasing proportion of workers excluded from the economic and social system who are from now on condemned to live in permanent marginalization. And even if capital tries to manage, to control, to contain, the destructive, the auto-destroying, effects of its own functioning, it will not be able to basically change it. And all this is lived each day in the bodily life of workers; it is not just the abstract speech of some distressed intellectuals. Another of its internal contradictions is the existence within capital of a proletariat: a class necessary to its production and its survival, it is also, potentially, the only class which does not have any interest in the maintenance of the current situation. The economic system is constrained to impoverish, exploit and marginalize ever more of its proletariat, thus creating the potential for its revolt.

Today, it more and more clearly appears that tampering with the existing system makes no sense, that such efforts belong to the ideological domain alone, and that only the passage to a new society will make it possible for humanity to live. It is this crucial stake which appears clearly in daily life throughout the world and which constitutes a formidable hope of change.

Internationalist Perspective


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