Productivity and class society. The transition to real domination. Productivity and profit-rate. The market-contradiction. From crisis to collapse. Counter-tendencies. Decadence. Crisis and war. The post-war boom and its limits. Globalization. Today. For the first time in humankind’s history, scarcity, a shortage of the means of living and the need for the vast majority to work day in day out to obtain them, is no longer an objective necessity. Despite the fact that never before have so many have lived in hunger, a society of abundance, in which humans are freed from economic slavery, is now objectively possible. But possible is not enough. To realize it, to sweep away the society born out of scarcity and conditioned by it, the necessity of such a fundamental break with the past must be starkly clear. It is the crisis of capitalism and its deadly implications which makes proletarian revolution a matter of survival for humankind.
Productivity and class society
If communism is objectively possible today, it is thanks to the development of human productivity. Humankind lived for the longest period of its existence in a classless society we call ‘primitive communism’, because its productivity was so low. It was so low that there was no surplus product - no production above the direct needs of the producers and their families- or that the surplus product was so limited that it could only be consumed communally (this is a simplification, but it is roughly true).
The conditions for the period in between the two stages of communism -class society- are such that productivity must be developed enough to make it possible for a privileged sector of society to live off the labor of others, but not enough to eradicate scarcity. If the first condition is not met, class society is not possible, if the second is no longer present, it enters into crisis and seeks to restore scarcity through destruction.
2. Class society is a rapport de force. Its evolution can be described in terms of the relation of the rapport de force specific to the different modes of production to the development of productivity. The production and appropriation of the surplus product is organised by a ruling class, first through naked force, then with productivity-raising incentives and finally these incentives are optimalized through the impersonal market mechanism. Slave society is the most simple form of class society; it is based on force alone. It was made possible by the rise of productivity in primitive communism and by the organisation, the pooling of the surplus product, imposed by military force. The domination of slavery was always formal, slavery did not develop so much an intrinsic mode of production as it simply extorted surplus product by way of force, plunder and taxation. Its progress lied in its organisation. In its ability to pool the surplus product centrally it created the conditions for the flowering of civilisation. So when it collapsed under its own weight, due to the fact that the costs of extending the apparatus for gathering the surplus product increased faster than the surplus product could, civilisation took a step backwards. But productivity did not. Feudalism made the coercion milder, created incentives, both for the producing classes and the exploiting class, to increase productivity. The more the feudal farmer produced, the better off both he and his feudal lord were.
The market economy appears at first in the margins, both of slave society and feudalism, when there is enough surplus product for cities to exist. On a free market, the law of value rules, whether in Roman times or today. Only in capitalism, the production process itself is governed by the law of value, yet this law, which measures wealth in abstract, social labor time, is not invented or imposed by the bourgeoisie (rather the other way around), but is implicit in what the market is. It is synonymous to it, to exchange that is not coerced, that is ruled by the market mechanism itself. Feudalism collapsed because of the success of the market economy. In contrast to slavery, it did not decay because of lacking productivity. Quite the contrary: the birth and development of capitalist production was made possible by the rising productivity of feudal agriculture, which made masses of farmers superfluous so that they could become proletarians, and created enough surplus product to feed the growing population of cities. Capitalism overpowered feudalism, not because the latter’s productivity had become stagnant but because it paled compared to the productivity of capitalist production.
3. At first, and during the longest part of its existence, capitalism did not develop a new, inherently capitalist method of production. Craftsmen made tools, weavers made cloth and so on, pretty much as they had done before. But instead of consuming or selling the products of their labor-power, they now sold their labor-power itself. That made them proletarians. In this phase of its development, called the formal domination of capital or formal subsumption of labor, capitalism reorganizes the production process towards maximal utilisation of labor-power and maximal extension of its exploitation. In this period, the great wellspring of both real wealth (use-value) and of capitalist wealth (exchange-value) are still the same, surplus-labor. Therefore, there was harmony between economic development and the basic law governing the economy (the law of value). The more proletarians were hired, the longer they were made to work, the more surplus- product and surplus-value were created. Employment, productivity, wealth and profit grew hand in hand.
This harmony of course did not mean a crisis-free development. Crises erupted, as before because of underdevelopment, insufficient agricultural productivity, various interruptions in the supply of raw materials, the oscillations in the money supply depending on discoveries (or the lack of them) of precious metals, the inherently uneven and ‘anarchic’ patterns of investment, the lack of experience of the state in dealing with them and so on. All these factors produced numerous crises but all of these remained limited in time and in space, compared with what was in store. The conflict between the development of the productive forces and the law of value had not yet begun. The occasional barrier to capitalist production was not yet capital itself.
The transition to real domination
4. The term 'industrial revolution' is a misnomer: none of the three moments that have been characterized as such produced the sudden sweeping overthrow of the status quo that the word ‘revolution’ implies; all three were but moments of acceleration within the same evolution, the transition from formal to real domination of capital. In the latter, capitalism not just dominates the production processes inherited from the past but reshapes them entirely. From a process in which the tool was the extension of the hand, the machine the appendage of the worker, production becomes entirely machine-centered. The worker, instead of being the chief actor of the production process, becomes its regulator. Productiveness becomes determined, not by the amount of labor time spent in production but by the application of science and technology, set in motion and steered by the collective worker.
The early part of the nineteenth century (the so-called first industrial revolution) witnessed the first breakthrough in that long transition process. But it took almost a century and another 'industrial revolution' before this new, specifically capitalist production process, the real domination of capital, became dominant in the heartlands of capitalism.
At first sight, this evolution has only benefits for capitalism. It unleashes giant advances in productivity, in the capacity to create real wealth. This in turn makes it possible to reduce the part of the working day spent on necessary labor (for the reproduction of labor-power) and thereby increases the part that is surplus-labor, that yields surplus- value. It furthermore gives capitalism the power to extend its realm, both inward and outward; to transform the entire world into its image: the law of value penetrates all parts of the planet, all aspects of civil society, transforms every object, every act into a commodity, absorbs every emanation of social, political and cultural life into the fabric of capitalist society.
But it also shatters the harmony between the capitalist economy and its fundamental operating principle, the law of value. "On the one side, it calls into life all the powers of science and of nature ... in order to make the creation of wealth (relatively) independent of the labor time employed on it. On the other side [the law of value forces capital] to use labor time as the measuring rod for the giant forces thereby created, and to confine them within the limits required to maintain the already created value as value." (Marx, Grundrisse, p.706) Use value and exchange value, the two sides of the commodity, become unhinged. The first grows exponentially through technification, a process in which labor-power is subtracted, replaced by technology. But the law of value implies that the growth of the second requires a process in which labor-power is added. Furthermore, the ever-growing productiveness resulting from this technification clashes with the narrow basis on which the conditions of consumption in capitalism rest. Capitalism is born out of conditions of scarcity and presupposes them. Without scarcity, the law of value cannot operate. In conditions of overproduction, capital cannot maintain its value.
Productivity and profit-rate
5. The progress of capital’s real domination means that productivity increases much faster than it has ever done in human history. On the surface it seems as if more productivity automatically means more profit. Marxist value theory reveals otherwise. Rising productivity means something different in use-value and in exchange-value. It automatically increases the first but not the second.
The fact that it implies ever-faster growth in the production of use-values is an important factor in history that should not be ignored. Marx himself underestimated this factor when he predicted an absolute pauperisation of the working class. The truth is that the productivity-increase made possible by real domination has allowed capital to increase exploitation (to increase the unpaid part of the working day) and to let the content of the social concept ‘necessities of life’ expand at the same time. The working class today is more exploited than ever before (ever less labor time is required to produce the necessities of life, so an ever greater part of the working day becomes surplus-labor) and at the same time, lives in more comfortable material conditions than ever before. It is essential to take this into account to understand capitalism’s ability to contain its social contradictions. If commodities would have only use-value, there would be no crises, no danger of collapse. But for capitalism, the goal of production is not the growth of use-values but of exchange-value and on this, productivity does not have the same directly beneficial effect. "A working day of a given length creates the same amount of exchange-value, no matter how productivity may vary" (Marx, Capital vol.1, p.656). An increase in productivity then means only that this "given value is spread over a greater mass of products." This seems contradicted by the fact that capital producing with a higher than average rate of productivity obtains a higher than average rate of profit and the one with the lower than average productivity also obtain a less than average profit. But we must distinguish the creation and the redistribution of exchange-value. The commodities produced with a higher than average productivity contain less value than the market value at which they are sold, so that their sale (under normal conditions) yields a surplus-profit. Increasing productivity then means increasing profit for the capital directly affected but, since it lowers the (average) market value, it also means declining profits for all others. Thus, for the total capital, increasing productivity in itself does not necessarily mean increasing profit.
It is true that an increase of productivity may not be the result of the technification of production but of an increase in the intensity of the labor process, and also that technification often goes hand in hand with an intensification of labor. More intense labor does create more value and thus more surplus-value for the capitalist. But it would be a grave mistake to think that every increase in productivity implies an increase in intensity or to assume that intensity can increase indefinitely. It is rigidly bound by the limits of physical and mental endurance.
It's also true that a general rise of productivity cheapens the commodities that the worker needs to restore his labor power and thereby shortens the part of the work day that must be devoted to the creation of their equivalent amount of value. Even some Marxists have wrongly concluded that this increase in the rate of relative surplus-value always raises the overall profitability of capital. It would, if this relative cheapening of labor-power (variable capital) were an independent factor. But neither it nor the cheapening of constant capital, resulting from the same general rise of productivity, can be seen as such: "the same process which brings about a cheapening of commodities…causes a change in the organic composition of the social capital invested in the production of commodities, and consequently lowers the rate of profit." (Marx, Capital vol.3, p. 239) But the growth of productivity can weaken this tendency, if it increases faster than (or at least as fast as) the organic composition of capital (c/v: the ratio between the constant capital--the machinery, infrastructure, raw materials whose value does not change but is simply transferred--and the variable capital, the labor-power which does add value, surplus- value, during production). If rising productivity decreases the value-content of the components of production (constant and variable capital) faster than the relative input of labor power in production is decreased by the rise of the organic composition, then the relative decline in the need of surplus-value for accumulation is greater than the relative decline in the creation of surplus-value. In other words, technology-induced productivity-growth creates a pull in opposite directions. On the one hand, it increases the unpaid part of the working day (relative surplus-value), on the other hand, it decreases living labor in production, from which the surplus-value can never be more than a part. So while at certain times in the development of capitalism, the first pull is stronger so that the rate of profit rises, over the long run, the second dominates, because there is no immanent limit to the degree the organic composition can rise, while for relative surplus-value, "its barrier always remains the relation between the fractional part of the day which expresses necessary labor and the entire working day. It can only move within those boundaries." (Marx, Grundrisse, p.340)
So the transition to real domination and the disjunction it causes between use-value and exchange-value throws up a fundamental obstacle to capitalist accumulation: the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. This is a problem that capitalism cannot solve, because the cure worsens the disease. Every capital tries to escape from it by reducing its production costs, by increasing its productivity. This lowers the value of his commodities under the market value so that he can pocket the difference, a surplus-profit. But by doing so, he further increases the average organic composition and thus strengthens the tendency of the profit-rate to fall.
But while this obstacle is fundamental and insoluble, by itself it cannot trigger an economic breakdown of capital. When the rate of profit falls for the total capital, it does not mean that all capitals suffer from a shortage of surplus-value, that the obstacle to accumulation must be global. It affects different capitals differently. Competition on the market redistributes surplus-value, transfers it from the weak to the strong. Otherwise, the most technically advanced capitals, those with the highest organic composition, would be the first to see their profit melt away. What really occurs is the opposite: the least advanced, those with the lowest c/v and thus the highest ‘natural’ rate of profit, are the first to suffer, the first to experience a lack of surplus-value to continue to accumulate, the first to go under. Their decline means that even more capital (surplus-value) must go to the strongest capitals, attracted by their ability to obtain surplus-profits on the market. The fall of the rate of profit does not explain why they should lack the surplus-value to accumulate, not until that purely theoretical moment Marx imagined on which all the world’s production would be concentrated in a few giant companies.
6. But the disjunction between exchange-value and use-value throws up another obstacle which, in conjunction with the fall of the rate of profit, creates the conditions for capitalism’s economic breakdown. It appears in the second phase of the reproduction process: once produced, the commodities circulate in the market. There, the value they contain must be realized in such a way that they (or at least the bulk of them) reappear as productive capital in the next cycle of reproduction. But the real domination of capital shapes the market in such as way that this becomes increasingly impossible.
On the one hand, on the supply side, the productive forces tend to develop as if the market were unlimited. Competition forces capitalists constantly to try to produce under the market value, thereby cheapening commodities and increasing productiveness. Use- values grow ever faster in relation to exchange-value, therefore an ever larger market is required to realize even the same amount of exchange-value. On the other hand, on the demand side, the rise of the organic composition of capital reduces direct labor time in production, so the consumer demand of the producers, of the working class, declines relatively as well.
Let's be clear on what the problem of realisation is not: it is not that capitalism is incapable of self-expansion and needs an outside buyer per se, it is not a problem concerning just surplus-value, it is not simply a question of lack of demand in general nor even of solvable demand. The problem of realisation is solely one of productive consumption.
For accumulation to continue, most of the value of what has been produced must be realized on the market in such a way that the next cycle of production obtains the means, both in exchange-value and in use-value, to proceed. Not all of the value: the greater the surplus-product becomes with increasing productivity, the more of it can be consumed in ways that fundamentally make no difference to the health of the economy. Huge unproductive consumption does not in itself signal that the economy is in trouble. On the contrary, it shows a great capacity to produce above its (capitalist) needs. Assuming that the problem of productive consumption is solved, it does not essentially matter for total capital whether the remaining surplus-product is consumed by the capitalist class, the workers, the military, extra-capitalist buyers, or whoever. (This said, a market for unproductive consumption is better than no market at all. Both cases represent an overhead cost for the total capital but in the first case, the cost is diminished by the (unpaid) surplus-value contained in the commodities that are unproductively consumed. That aside from the benefits increasing consumption has for capital in containing its social contradictions.) So while unproductive consumption must swell the more capital develops, in no way can it be construed as a solution, even a temporary one, to capitalism’s market-contradiction. It remains a net-cost for the total capital that must come out of the surplus-value realized through productive consumption.
The problem then is the finality of productive demand. This is the clearest for consumer goods. The productive demand for consumer goods is determined by the value of the labor-power which the capitalist must buy. This value is determined by the value of the necessities of life which the producers--the working class--need to maintain their productive capacity. This is a limited quantity of use-values which represents ever less in exchange-value. Although this quantity expands as society becomes more complex and the definition of what constitutes ‘the necessities of life’ evolves, in part under the influence of class struggle, this expansion in no way follows pace with the rise of productivity and the resulting exponential growth of use-values. So a gap appears between the economy’s productiveness and its productive demand, growing wider the more exchange-value and use-value diverge; the more the technification of the production process raises productivity on one side and restricts the use of labor-power and thus the demand for it on the other.
But this technification also increases the market for constant capital. Can it compensate for the lack of productive demand for consumer goods? To some extent, but "constant capital is never produced for its own sake but solely because more of it is needed in spheres of production whose products go into individual consumption" (Marx, Capital, vol.3) Overproduction of consumer goods is not an incentive for increased trade in constant capital. Again, if the incentive comes from unproductive consumption, nothing is solved. But the market for producer goods is more elastic than the one for consumer goods because competition forces capitalists to buy new technology that raises productivity and improves quality, even if the machines they are using are far from worn out. But from the point of view of total capital this premature obsolesence, this so-called 'moral depreciation', is not really different from overproduction. In both cases, the value that went into production can only partially return into the next cycle of production. In the case of overproduction, the seller cannot recuperate the production costs of the commodities that remain unsold; in the case of moral depreciation, it is the buyer who loses the value of the constant capital that cannot be transferred into commodities because of premature obsolesence. For the total capital, the end-result is the same.
The production of new technology is also stimulated because a higher than average rate of productivity-growth enables a capital to realize, at the expense of other capitals, a surplus-profit on the market. But rather than expanding productive consumption, this creates a structural imbalance, a built-in over-accumulation in high-tech sectors at the expense of others.
From crisis to collapse
7. For productive consumption to continue at a pace that makes it possible to continue the accumulation process and have enough surplus-value left over for unproductive consumption, there must be a sufficient incentive to invest productively. The incentive to invest money-capital productively is that this generates more money-capital. The money M is invested in commodities C that are means of production; production transforms those into commodities C’ whose value is augmented with surplus-value, so their sale results in a quantity of money M’ which represents more value than the originally invested capital M. As long as the cycle M-C-C’-M’ goes on, accumulation continues. In this cycle of value, the conversion C-M is always forced to go on. Even when oversupply drags down their price so that only part of their value can be realized, the commodities must be sold to give their owner access to other commodities. But the conversion M-C must not go on. It would have to, if money were only a means of circulating commodities. However, money is not only a general commodity, mediating the exchange of all others, but it is also a particular commodity, with an inherent advantage over all others because it "satisfies every need, in so far as it can be exchanged for the desired object of every need. The commodity possesses this property only through the mediation of money. Money possesses it directly in relation to all commodities" (Marx, Grundrisse, p.218) So while all other commodities are "perishable money", which lose their value when they can’t be sold, money is the "imperishable commodity" which does not have to be immediately converted into other commodities to maintain its value. So the less attractive productive investment becomes because of the decline of both the rate of profit and the market for productive consumption, the more attractive it becomes to let the cycle M-C-C’-M’ end, to store value in financial assets and by extension in all other commodities that are not directly consumed and remain easily convertible into money so that value can be ‘parked’ in them, such as real estate. The demand for them rises and inflates their prices, which "proves" their ability to hold and augment value and further enhances their desirability, expanding the purchasing power of their possessors who can indulge in eye-blinding unproductive consumption. But this increasing demand for financial assets and commodities that are unproductively consumed further depresses demand for goods that are productively consumed. Their prices fall, deflation spreads, the flight of capital from the weakest to the strongest competitors and from the production process to the financial hoard, accelerates. With less capital accomplishing M-C, productive forces are demobilized, less value is created and realized, the accumulation process is imperiled.
"The self-realization of capital becomes more difficult to the extent that it has already been realized" (Marx, Grundrisse, p.340). The more developed capital is, the larger the value of the past surplus-labor that it contains, the more difficult the valorization process becomes. The social capital must valorize, grow in value, or lose its value, be devalorized. This is clear enough for means of production but the expansion of the financial hoard seemingly offers an escape from the obligation to valorize. But money is only an ‘imperishable commodity’ in appearance. Its value is its exchangeability and thus depends on the value of the commodities it can be exchanged into. If those are means of production that generate no profit or commodities that find no solvable demand, if the hoard no longer swells with surplus-value created in production, if its claims on future profits fall without object, if in other words, it is cut off from valorization, money inevitably must devalorize too. It is the devalorization of capital in its financial form which transforms a crisis into a global collapse. When devalorization pulls the rug from under even the strongest currencies, money can no longer accomplish its function as a means of payment and the chain of payment-obligations breaks at countless places. At that point, the capitalist economy breaks down.
8. It is obvious that there are counter-tendencies that slow down and at times even halt and reverse both the fall of the rate of profit and the narrowing of the market for productive consumption. Otherwise, history would have looked quite different. When capitalism can increase the rate of exploitation without increasing the organic composition, by lowering wages, lengthening the work week, cutting the social wage or increasing work-intensity, its rate of profit increases. And certain changes in the production process, in the technology employed and especially in the organisation of exploitation (Taylorism, Fordism, etc) devalorize the components of production more than they increase the organic composition. They lower the production-costs more than they diminish the creation of surplus-value and therefore raise the rate of profit. Other changes improve the efficient use of the means of production (such as eliminating the time in which capital isn’t used productively or ‘flexible’ production which reduces inventory-costs).
One of the most important counter-acting factors is the extension of the field of operation of developed capital. We are not referring here to Luxemburg’s extra-capitalist market-theory. History has not been kind to that hypothesis. Luxemburg was right in rejecting the idea that fluctuations of capital automatically solve capitalism’s realization-problems. She was also right in insisting on the essential role of the metabolism with the extra-capitalist environment for capitalism’s development. But she was wrong in thinking that capitalism is incapable of self-expansion. Marx had already demonstrated how the growth of capital’s productive forces expands its market. Capital as a whole does not need an outside buyer to realize the surplus-value that is to be accumulated. It possesses this surplus-value already, the only essential requirement is that it is productively consumed, the rest is merely a technical problem. Contrary to what Luxemburg thought, the market-contradiction is not static and not present for capitalism since its inception. It comes to the fore only when the transition to real domination creates a disjunction between exchange-value and use-values. Even though the least developed capitals are the first to suffer from the crisis of capital because they are the weakest competitors, it is a crisis of over-development (of the productive forces relative to what capitalism can contain) and therefore has its roots in the conditions of the most developed capitalist countries. But whenever they succeed in substantially expanding their field of operations, their basic contradictions are, at least temporarily, attenuated. It expands their market, since their superior productivity gives them a competitive advantage: "there is competition with commodities produced in countries with inferior production facilities, so that the more advanced country sells its goods above their value…(it) thus secures a surplus profit." (Marx, Capital, vol.3, p.238) They profit not only from selling but also from buying commodities (including labor power) under their value, again because of their competitive advantage and/or, when needed, the application of outright force. They also profit from direct and indirect investment, both when the aim is to produce for a local market where the lower organic composition of capital yields a higher rate of profit and when the aim is to re-export to the developed countries (combining the advanced technology of developed capital with the cheap labor of the underdeveloped areas). In a variety of ways thus, a phase of accelerated extension of the penetration of developed capital injects more value into the circuit of capital, transfers surplus-value from the less developed to the more developed in the form of surplus- profits. But extension does not only mean a territorial widening of the field of operation of developed capital but also a more efficient and intense use of the terrain it already occupies. Both imply an increasing mobility of capital.
The potential for such extension is not static. It changes, depending on the level of development of the productive forces and in particular of transportation and communication technology and also depending on the policies of the capitalist class, which can create obstacles to extension but can also remove them. It's also important to note that each wave of extension has a built-in finality; its benefits are gradually exhausted because the underlying contradictions, the disjunction of exchange-value and use-value, continue to develop.
9. Real domination, technology-driven mass production, became prevalent only in the 20th century (and continues its development to this day). But the transition towards it accelerated, especially in the second half of the 19th century. In the industrializing world, the proportion of the labor force employed in agriculture dropped from 3/4 in 1850 to 1/3 in 1900. By 1870, the most developed countries suffered overcapacity (even though many sectors were still not mechanized and most industrial workers were still craftsmen working in small shops). Crisis and years of deflation followed. In Britain, the leading industrial nation, prices fell 44% between 1873 and 1895. This undercut the incentive for M-C, for investment in the domestic industry: from 1873 to 1913, the rate of productivity growth in Britain was zero. Instead, British capital financed the industrialization of other countries, where the average organic composition of capital was lower and the rate of profit therefore higher, which yielded Britain interests which more than compensated for its negative trade balance and low domestic rate of profit. Other countries followed this example and stepped up their foreign lending when their industrialization reached a plateau, thereby fostering the horizontal spread of capitalist development.
The crisis of the 1870’s also ended free trade. The scale-enhancement of production and the decreasing cost of transportation had greatly reduced the natural protection local markets enjoyed before. The temptation to blame foreign imports for market saturation was irresistible. Walls of tariffs were erected, behind which, as Engels put it, a war for industrial supremacy was being prepared. Some of the protectionist measures were clearly counter-productive; with various tariff wars the capitalist class shot itself in the foot. Others however, enabled countries such as Germany and US to develop the strongest industries in the world. Their accumulation was facilitated by the influx of foreign capital and fed by the metabolism between the conditions of formal domination (low organic composition, low productivity but a high rate of profit) and the newly emerging giant industries, which raked in surplus-profits thanks to their competitive advantage on their large internal markets.
There were several more crisis moments before the turn of the century but the early part of the 20th century saw a real ‘sturm und drang’ period in which real domination rapidly spread, aided by a series of technological breakthroughs (the combustion engine, chemistry, electricity etc). Every period of fast technological change is characterized by accelerating productivity (and thus increasing material wealth) and huge surplus-profits for the strongest, most innovating capitals, because new cost-saving technology creates new competitive advantages and the rapid pace in which new products are introduced constantly creates temporary opportunities for monopoly-profits. But then as now, these characteristics were hiding the exacerbation of the underlying basic contradictions. The boom was further stimulated by the intensification of exploitation made possible by the new industrial methods (Taylorism was introduced in 1895 and quickly spread). But meanwhile, an important escape-valve was in the process of being closed. Despite protectionism, the development of scale and productivity had greatly stimulated international trade. In 1913, foreign trade per capita was more than 25 times greater than in 1800. At the eve of world war I, the world economy was more integrated than it ever was or would be again until the aftermath of world war II. As a result, since the end of the 19th century, competition established for the first time uniform prices for most commodities traded on the world market. Before that point, the market values of most commodities were determined by local conditions of production only. A low organic composition of capital yielded a high rate of profit and an even higher one for developed capitals exporting more cheaply made commodities which could be sold above their value, at the local market value. No wonder that their export rose much faster than their production. But they had to absorb the costs of transportation and tariffs. Such obstacles did not hamper financial capital, so its export was even more profitable and grew even faster, mobilizing productive forces abroad and fostering horizontal development. But after competition enforced uniform world market prices and thus established international values, the market value for an increasing number of commodities was no longer determined by local conditions but by (average) international conditions. That means that those capitals which produced these commodities cheaper (under their international value) still obtained a surplus-profit but those who produced them with more backward, labor-intensive methods (above their international value) lost part of their surplus-value to their competitors. As we explained elsewhere, because of the tendential equalisation of the rate of profit within nations, this loss was shared by their entire economy. As a result, the lower organic composition of capital of the less developed country, instead of yielding a higher than average rate of profit, yielded a lower one, the more that market values were determined by international trade. This sharply reduced the incentive for developed capital to invest in the industrialization of others and thus also reduced the tendency for capitalism to develop horizontally.
The first part of the 20th century was also a period of tremendous acceleration of the concentration of capital. Uncounted small companies went bankrupt, were taken over or merged. It was the time of birth of the giant companies (Ford, General Motors, General Electric, BASF, Siemens, Daimler-Benz etc) which still dominate today. Up to that point, the domestic market sufficed for most capitals. but now industrial forces outgrew them. Despite the increase in international trade, overcapacity was building and the rate of profit fell. To defend the most developed industries, cartels were formed and other measures were taken to restrict production and to prevent prices from falling. But inevitably capitalism was moving towards the point at which the shortage of productive demand and the fall of the rate of profit would compel it to massive devalorization. Before that point was reached however, war intervened.
10. The moment at which the progress of real domination fundamentally changed the conditions of accumulation for global capital is hard to pinpoint. But it is certain that such a change took place, whichever term is used to describe it, that massive devalorization became an intrinsic part of the accumulation process, that therefore the continuation of capitalism imposed on society increasingly brutal violence and self-destruction and thus placed before the working class the need to fight, not to improve its conditions of exploitation within capitalism, but to overthrow it. That’s why we consider 1914 as the starting date of capitalist decadence. In the remaining part of the century, war would make more casualties than in the entire preceding human history. It is true that amidst this endemic destruction, capitalism continued to develop and to grow, that real domination continued to deepen and spread, and that the resulting technification continued to stimulate productivity and thus also the quantity and quality of use-values, even for the working class. Those who think that the conditions for revolution require the irreversible stagnation of capitalism and abject poverty for the vast majority of the working class will wait forever. They have not understood that an irreversibly stagnating capitalism is an oxymoron, that crisis and productivity growth do not exclude each other, that capital seeks higher productivity to fight its crisis, yet worsens it this way, that the struggle of the working class is not one of variable capital reacting only against its own demobilization but of the part of humanity which, because of its place in the production process, is most capable both of recognizing the mortal danger that capitalism represents for humanity and of eliminating it.
The onset of decadence cannot be explained as inevitably imposed at that point in time by the objective state of the economy. The case can be made that, if the capitalist class would have recognized the counter-productive effect of its protectionist policies and would have retracted them, the capitalist system would have entered its phase of massive destruction considerably later. And if the capitalist class would not have clung to the gold standard or to balanced-budget dogma, if it would have embraced Keynesianism much earlier and used the monetary and fiscal levers that were potentially there, then for much longer still .…. But as the saying goes, with ‘ifs’ you can put Paris in a bottle. The understanding of the capitalist class of its own situation and possibilities (and the weight of the past upon it) is a material force that impacts the course of history. We reject vulgar Marxism’s mechanistic infrastructure-superstructure deterministic causal relation that reduces consciousness or the lack of it to a mere passive, reflective factor and thereby fails to understand history.
Why did the European bourgeoisie launch world war I? It wanted to conquer, to build bigger empires, both because it continued the history of the nation, acted as executor of the legacy of the past and because European capital needed more ‘lebesraum’. This already led, at the end of the 19th century, to a wave of imperialism. Many of these colonial efforts would not have survived a cool-headed cost-benefit analysis. Again, illusions played an important role as they would again in world war I. The war became possible because of the illusions of capitals that they would, through the application in military production of the spectacular scale development and productivity-growth which they had achieved in their industrialization, be richly rewarded with markets and resources; and the illusions of the military that they could use industrial mass production and its mobilizing capacity to wage war as never before. But illusions alone cannot explain such epochal events, they cannot explain why the war became so wide and so long, when both sides had pictured a relatively short and limited one. We reject the reasoning that, because there are specific reasons for specific events (whether world war I or the Russian revolution) they do not express a deeper dynamic of society beyond these specificities. There was a perverse harmony between the underlying rising need for devalorization, the increasing nationalism with which the capitalist class tried to strengthen its control over society and regiment ‘its’ vastly grown working class, and the rising latent violence in capitalist society, expressing itself in rising tensions between nations.
Crisis and war
11. Massive devalorization, while indispensable for the continuation of accumulation in decadence, is also, by definition, an extraordinarly violent process. If allowed to run its course, it rips society apart, sowing chaos, conflict, social mayhem, possibly revolution. For mere self-preservation, the capitalist class must take control of this inevitable process and canalize the violence it unleashes. The world wars must be seen in the first place in light of that necessity. To what extent the capitalist class acts as a conscious agent of this necessity or as a prisoner of the past, to what extent illusions and contingencies play a role, is hard to separate.
But if war serves to canalize the violence which the crisis inevitably unleashes, it also alters the course of the crisis. When the entire economy is geared up for war, the spiral of contraction is prevented or stopped, yet this contraction is a necessary purification process through which existing value is wiped out, through which room is created for productive consumption and the incentive for productive investment is restored.
With the war effort overriding everything else, the law of value is in part suspended. Wage and price controls are put in place, competition is restrained, demand guaranteed, production imposed. Technological innovation is postponed in non-military production. All the value contained in the existing constant capital is squeezed out. No value is wasted to moral depreciation, companies that would be wiped out by crisis because the low organic composition of their capital made them uncompetitive, continue to produce. At the same time, the exploitation of the variable capital is pushed to the limit. The work week is lengthened, shift work is introduced where possible, forced labor where necessary, strikes are outlawed, intense pressure is put on the working class to produce more and consume less. All this is beneficial for the rate of profit: the average organic composition drops, more value enters the productive cycle and more of it is unpaid, surplus-value. But this in itself does not restore the conditions for accumulation, since most of the surplus-value is unproductively consumed.
While the temporary neutralization of the disincentive to produce provides relief, in the meantime, existing capital continues to burden the production of value with new claims which expand together with deficit spending. So the war economy in itself does not accomplish the devalorization required to relieve the production process of the crushing obligation of maintaining too much capital (past surplus-labor) as value. But war itself wipes out value, quite literally, by destroying it.
In that respect, the impact of the two world wars differed greatly. While both resulted in a massive destruction of variable capital (when victims of war-related famine and disease are included, both killed close to 50 million people each), the destruction of fixed capital was much larger in the second world war. Another difference is that the second world war was preceded by a deep depression which had already caused considerable devalorization. Even in the US, where the war destroyed nothing and the huge demand generated by the allied war effort greatly expanded industrial capacity, the fact that non-agricultural fixed capital in 1947 was valued as just barely exceding that of 1929 (54,9 to 53,6 billion in constant 1947 dollars) testifies to the devalorization that had taken place. But it paled compared to the one that occurred in war-ravaged Europe. In Germany for instance, 10% of all fixed capital and more than 40% of the housing stock was destroyed. All Mark-denominated assets had lost 90% of their value. Cities and infrastructure were leveled all over Europe. There are no official estimates of the total property-damage but, in today’s money, it amounted to several trillion dollars.
By contrast, in the first world war, the destruction remained largely limited to Northern France, Belgium and the battlefields of Eastern Europe. The aftermath of the war shows that war does not necessarily restore the conditions for ‘healthy’ accumulation, that there is no automatic war-recovery-crisis cycle. Except for the US, developed capital was worse off after the war than before.
12. World war I did not accomplish the necessary devalorization. Not only did it not destroy enough existing value, but it created heavy new claims on new value. Europe owed huge war-debts to the US, and Germany was saddled with crushing reparations which pushed it soon into deep crisis (the Mark dropped from 4.2 to the dollar in 1914 to 4.2 trillion to the dollar in 1923). When the backlog of technological innovations was unleashed and made its way through the economy, productivity increased quickly (in the US by 43% from 1919 to 1929). Fordist assembly-line mass production spread from the car industry to other sectors and from the US to Europe. The organic composition of capital steadily increased. It didn’t take long before the rate of profit started to fall and overcapacity reappeared. A flight of capital, away from productive investment into the financial assets of the strongest country, accelerated. While Europe sank into depression, the stock market in the US doubled in value in 1928-29. With the real economy pulling one way and the financial market another, the bubble burst. A phase of deep devalorization began.
But strictly economic reasons alone are again not sufficient to explain the stagnation and deep crisis that characterized the period between the two world wars. There was a real potential to extend the field of operation of developed capital substantially by unshackling international trade, but that potential was not realized. On the contrary. After the war, most of the capitalist class remained imprisoned in a mindset in which the accumulation of capital was wedded to empire-building, the widening of territorial authority. This is not so surprising since, during the entire history of class society, power and territorial control had been equated and wars had been waged to plunder and pillage, to extort reparations and to annex borderlands or entire countries. But this now obsolete concept of power and economic gain was clashing with the reality of real domination which demanded production for a global market and therefore international specialisation, the removal of obstacles to the mobility of capital, efficient mechanisms for international trade. The lack of understanding of the capitalist class of this necessity contributed to the quick return of open crisis and to its depth. Protectionist tariffs not only remained intact after the war, they were increased, and increased again sharply after the depression began. The world market shrunk, also because of the departure of Russia and the declining yield of colonies. International trade was only in 1929 back at the pre-war level and in 1932 it had sunk lower than it was in 1900.
Another subjective factor was the combativity of the working class. It had ended the war and continued to resist attempts to lower wages and intensify exploitation. Only in those countries where the proletariat had fought the hardest and suffered its worst defeats --Germany and Stalinist Russia -- was it unable to keep fighting. Not coincidently, these were the only major countries that experienced strong growth in the thirties (the cancellation by Germany of its reparation-burden was an additional factor).
The post-war boom and its limits
13. Several factors came together after world war II to lay the foundations for the longest period of uninterrupted growth ever for developed capital. As noted earlier, depression and war accomplished a massive devalorization, creating room and incentive for productive consumption. The capitalist class also learned from its past mistakes. The biggest creditor, the US, instead of insisting on the full payment of war-debts as it had done after world war I, now sent massive aid to help European capital back on is feet. It also organized a global framework for the extension of the field of operation of capital. This involved, amongst other things, the creation of a vast free trade area in which the US dollar served as the international currency -- which provided more stability, yet was far less restrictive for growth than the gold standard -- the creation of US-dominated international organs to coordinate economic policies and contain disruptions, and decolonisation. The US practiced a form of imperialism that differed from the past and was more in tune with real domination: the key to dominance now was not so much territorial control but control over the flows of capital.
With many of the obstacles to the mobility of capital removed and the technological means for extension quickly expanding when military advances found civilian applications after the war, growth took off as never before. Furthermore, the development of state capitalism during the war period freed the capitalist class from its inhibitions to use the state’s monetary and fiscal levers to prevent cyclical downturns. From 1950 to 1973, the OECD-zone enjoyed an astonishing yearly growth-rate of 4.5%.
14. But the growth of state capitalism with its vast unproductive cost, including the expense of the cold war, weighed heavily when the growth of productive consumption began to sputter at the end of the 60’s. Overcapacity and a decline of the profit-rate resurfaced and the strong resistance of the working class against austerity limited the tactics that could be used to raise the rate of profit by reducing unproductive costs and the cost of variable capital. Growth had to continue in order to contain social explosions. Therefore, the capitalist class further increased its reliance on its fiscal and monetary levers: with high taxes, the state rerouted surplus-value to stimulate growth and the restructuring of industry; and by printing more money, it encouraged spending (while the resulting inflation amounted to an indirect attack on wages).
But these frenetic attempts to keep growth going by pushing the pedal of money creation to the floor ended the monetary stability that was an essential ingredient of the post-war expansion, and brought the world, by the end of the ‘70’s, close to hyper-inflation. While the growing unpredictability of the value of money inhibited investment and trade, thereby threatening global depression, speculative bubbles developed as capital sought refuge in financial assets like gold and foreign debt and in a wildly growing money market, where giant fortunes were made just by shifting capital from one currency to another. A change of course was imperative and had to be led by the US, given its dominance and the dollar’s position as international currency.
By sharply curtailing the growth of the money supply and thus of credit through high interest-rates, the US brought inflation under control in the early ‘80’s. But this also triggered the first deep recession of the post-war period, from which many of the underdeveloped countries, the weakest competitors on the world market, never recovered. Latin America, a favorite investment-zone in the ‘70’s for Western capital looking for alternatives to its saturated home market, defaulted on its loans. But the contraction was not allowed to run its course. Despite its monetarist about-face, developed capital continued to increase state spending. But instead of paying for it by increased reliance on the money-printing presses or leveling higher taxes, the state borrowed, promised to pay in the future, at high interest rates. The motives for this increased deficit-spending were mixed. Part of it was the desire to contain the contraction of the economy, part of it the desire to win the cold war, which, apart from the military threat, was a big obstacle to the extension of the field of operation of developed capital.
While on the one hand, an industrial transformation was on its way led by a major push in automation, partly in response to the working class’ resistance, on the other, the problem was shoved into the future, which came closer each year in the form of higher interest-payments on the public debt. By issuing more and more debt-notes, the state created more room for capital to avoid productive investment and ‘store’ value where it was guaranteed to increase, provided the currency would not plunge.
With monetary stability gone, exchange-rates and interest-rates increasingly became an economic weapon. While weaker competitors engaged in competitive devaluations to hold on to their export-markets, the US maintained a strong money policy to steer an international stream of capital in its direction. It did so, not only with high interest-rates but also by projecting its military strength and political stability and by stimulating its domestic market. This reinforced the dollar’s position of the world’s reserve-currency, which allowed it to finance its cold war offensive, increase the consumption of the possessing class and accumulate huge trade deficits with impunity.
But by the end of the decade, the attempts of developed capital to overcome the contraction of productive consumption and the stagnation of profit through debt-financed deficit-spending ran into the ground. Government debt had risen 9% a year in the OECD-countries in the ‘80’s, more than three times faster than their combined GNP’s. The US’ public debt had quadrupled and its overall indebtedness (public and private) rose from 4.2 to 12.1 trillion dollars. An ever-growing share of its national income went to interest-payments, which in 1990 swallowed almost a quarter of the federal budget and 61% of the gross income of companies (compared to 35% in the ‘70’s). This forced them to make cutbacks, which triggered another deep global recession in the early ‘90’s. In Japan, the most successful exporter of the preceding two decades, it exploded the financial bubble that swelled in the ‘80’s when Japanese capital sought to store more and more value outside the production process. In 1990, the stock market lost half its value, real estate went down by more than two thirds. Overnight, assets turned into liabilities and Japan’s mighty banks were suddenly awash in a sea of red ink. Despite its financial reserves and the still strong competitive position of its export industries, the Japanese economy has still not recovered.
15. But the other developed capitals and the US especially used the occasion to accelerate the restructuring of their capital already begun in the ‘80’s, liquidating uncompetitive factories and services, merging companies into stronger, bigger units and integrating new information technology at a rapid pace. The global effect of this sweeping technological change was and is mixed. The growth-rate of productivity, which fell and then stagnated since the end of the ‘60’s, went up again, especially in the second half of the ‘90’s. Accelerating automation made a lot of human labor superfluous, which, in the long run, can only reinforce the tendency of the profit-rate to fall. But this is not necessarily so in the short run. It is probably true that in the short run, productivity and therefore the devalorization of the components of production, have increased more than the organic composition of capital. Because of the increased potential for higher profits through scientific/technological change, research and development (which involves a much lower c/v than manufacturing) becomes a much higher cost-component, while actual manufacturing costs (both constant and variable capital) strongly declined. For semiconductors for example, they represent only 14% of the total cost of the product (8% c and 6% v). Even for more traditional commodities such as cars, the manufacturing costs have declined to less than 60% of the total (compared to 85% in 1920). This undoubtedly was one of the reasons why the rate of profit of developed capital increased in the ‘90’s. But this beneficial effect is increasingly tempered. One reason is that moral depreciation has increased tremendously. For example: the power of computer chips quadruples every three years. That implies that businesses that want to stay competitive must regularly replace their computer-systems and any other products using these chips, long before they have transferred all the value they contain into commodities. For the total capital, that means over-accumulation, an enormous waste of value. Another reason is the increase of unproductive costs, which is also one of the causes of the relative decline of manufacturing costs. A lot of what is accounted as ‘research and development’ refers actually to the development of marketing strategies and the designing of minor changes that must give the commodity an aura of newness and other costs that are imposed by intense competition. They are necessary for capitalists, but the value that goes to them is lost for the reproductive process.
The fact that marketing becomes an ever-larger cost-component for capital (in the US, it is the job category with the highest growth-rate), shows that the insufficient self-expansion of the capitalist market becomes increasingly threatening. But it also shows the potential for surplus-profits characteristic of periods of rapid technological change. In the car-industry for instance, worldwide overcapacity rose from 25% in 1980 to 36% in 2000. Yet because the rapid technological change enhances this essential industry’s inherent capacity to develop new and better products, whose desirability is furthermore bolstered with huge ad-campaigns, manufacturing cars can still be very profitable. The most profitable industry remains pharmaceuticals, a sector dominated by ‘multinationals’ which constantly develop and market new products over which they have, for a while, a monopoly which yields them, at the expense of their customers, a surplus-profit. That is the model that all developed capitals are trying to follow. The fast pace of technological change creates many opportunities for temporary quasi- or semi-monopolies. This is especially the case for commodities which raise the productivity of others, as in the example of the computer-chips. But even on consumer-goods as simple as sneakers, super-profits can be made by elevating their status with massive propaganda (which is why Nike pays more to a few celebrities for ads than to all its workers). The increase of the unproductive costs that are required to be a winner in today’s market raises the treshold for capital formation, accelerates the concentration of capital and fosters the re-emergence of cartels, now on a global scale (in today’s lingo: "international strategic alliances").
16. The above shows again that the problem of the tendential fall of the rate of profit cannot be isolated. The contradiction develops together with the contradiction between the market-expansion which the production process generates and the one that it needs. As we have seen, an important counter-tendency to both is the extension of the field of operation of developed capital, which received a tremendous boost in the early ‘90’s ("globalization"). Again, several factors came together. The same worsening of capitalism’s contradictions which punctured the Japanese bubble and triggered the recession, also caused the implosion of the Russian bloc. Collapsing under the weight of unproductive spending, seeing its technology and productivity gaps with the West widen at an alarming pace, and unable to launch a global war, Russian capital was forced to give up (at least for now) its imperialist aspirations and soon also its Stalinist system of control and its semi-autarky, which threw open the former East bloc for developed capital. At the same time, the deregulation of financial markets under American pressure gave financial capital unprecedented freedom to come and go wherever and whenever it wants. And with the conclusion of the GATT-negotiations and the creation of the WTO, trade barriers were further reduced. New technology reduced the costs of transportation and communication (and the bulk of constant capital) at a rapid pace which further increased the mobility of capital and made it possible to organize many production processes on a ‘global assembly line’.
Globalization implies a double movement of integration and expulsion. The integration-aspect is beneficial for developed capital: some areas of the world, especially in the Pacific basin, participate considerably more in the world market, because they have more access to the commodities of developed capital and because developed capital has more access to their labor-power and other resources. A significant part of manufacturing has moved to them, attracted by their cheap labor which, when combined with new technology, yields a very high rate of exploitation. The greater accessibility of cheaper labor also allowed developed capital to play off different labor markets against each other, using the threat of moving to keep down wages everywhere. This obviously boosted the rate of profit. The capital flowing to the development of their export-sector also enriches the local bourgeoisie involved in the export-industries and, through the so-called ‘accelerator-multiplicator’ effect, the buying power of their domestic market.
Consumption rises and thus also the market for developed capital. But globalization means also expulsion, within countries as well as internationally. The gap between rich and poor widens in the strongest countries as well as in the weakest. The more the winners win, the more the losers lose, but globally there are far more losers. Increased global competition is a death-sentence for countless backward, low c/v producers. In the areas opened up for developed capital, capital with a low c/v can only survive in the least profitable markets (and in sectors with an inherently low c/v). Elsewhere they go bankrupt or survive by forcing the price of labor deeply under its value. All this raises the organic composition of capital globally and fosters global overcapacity. The least competitive areas, such as most of Africa, ‘fall off the map’ of international trade, then others await the same fate. Their domestic market cannot grow if it is not fuelled by export-demand. The developed capitals have the edge, especially in this phase of rapid technological change, to occupy the most profitable markets, where saturation is avoided by the constant introduction of new commodities. The periphery, for now, competes mostly for those global markets that are already saturated. That’s why the country with the largest inventory-problem (the largest stocks of unsold commodities) is not the US but China.
Global overcapacity led in 1997 to the Asian crisis, which spread to Russia and Latin America. Stock markets tumbled, currencies plunged, real estate, wages, prices, profits, everything went down in a wave of general deflation. This devalorization was devastating for the countries in question. Their domestic markets shrunk, poverty and hunger spread, violent tensions mounted. But for developed capital, the crisis also had benefits, despite the loss of markets. Imports from the affected areas became even cheaper, which reduced the value of labor-power and checked inflation. More capital sought refuge in safe havens, especially in the US. Yet the fact that deflation makes everything in the affected countries, from labor-power to factories, so much cheaper for developed capital, provides a still strong incentive to go there. So the integration-dynamic of globalization continues as well, and the collapse of the periphery is not total. But the dependency on the export-market is even greater than before.
That is why countries such as China cannot become a vast field of expansion for developed capital. The best the latter can hope for is that Chinese capitalism undertakes an economic reorganisation which vastly increases the chasm between the rich and poor. By cutting deeply into its ‘excess’ productive capacity, the thousands of factories that are not productive enough to be profitable, and concentrating investment on those commodities that are profitable on the world market, China would foster the growth of a population with a demand for Ford and Coca Cola, but at the same time, many more people would starve. Ford and Coca Cola would not care since these people were not customers anyway, but it’s unlikely that such a process, if it were to take place, would not provoke enormous social tensions and class struggle, ripping apart the political stability and social discipline which were among the main reasons why foreign capital was attracted to China in the first place.
17. Today, developed capital is again wrestling with overcapacity and a falling rate of profit. With private indebtedness higher than at the eve of the last recession and its stock market losing steam, the US economy can no longer function as before as the essential market for the rest of the world, and Europe does not seem capable of taking over the role of locomotive. The rate of productivity-growth is slowing in the US. Bourgeois economists now admit that the spectacular rate it enjoyed before was not only due to technological change but also to increased exploitation (a steep rise of unaccounted and unpaid overwork, etc) that cannot be pushed endlessly.
Thanks to globalization, the impact of a new recession would be felt wider than ever. It would be devastating for the periphery and very dangerous for Japan, and by extension for the US, given its dependency on a continuous stream of Japanese capital. But the higher growth and profits of recent years have increased the tax-incomes of states in developed capitalism and allowed them to eliminate or vastly reduce their budget-deficits (except for Japan). This gives them now more leeway to contain a contraction through deficit-spending.
That would mean an increased demand by governments for financial capital, which would increase the competition between the US and Europe over the flows of capital and thus fan an intense fight between the Euro and the Dollar over the position of most desired reserve-currency. This struggle may lead to serious political, and in the long run possibly military, antagonism. At the same time, Europe and the US will push together to develop globalization on their terms and force the removal of those obstacles to the mobility of capital which hinder them, to stimulate the counter-tendencies to the fall of the rate of profit.
The global overcapacity will force the weaker competitors to devalorize more. Deflation will continue to spread. On the other end, the difficulty of capital to find opportunities for profitable investment will increase the tendency to ‘store’ value in the financial assets of the strongest capitals. This growing transfer of wealth to the financial sector will further undermine productive demand and thus exacerbate overcapacity further and erode the creation of new value.
When we can clearly see that the global economy is pulling apart between an enormously swelling financial bubble in the center of the system and a deflating real economy, we will know that the breakdown is near. We won’t guess how far away that point is. But we should expect that in the meantime, the violence, which the mounting pressure for devalorization and the sharpening social contradictions of capitalism stir up, will increase. We should also expect a growing rejection of the misery and absurdity capitalism condemns the world to, not necessarily emanating from within the work place. It is, however, the struggle in the workplace, as different as it has become, which will make the power to end this absurdity palpable.
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