G20 and world economic crisis: The state can’t save us!

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Now the G20 London Summit is over, what is the message that the rulers of the earth want us to take from this ‘historic meeting'?

First and foremost: that the world's leaders and the states they represent can deal with the economic catastrophe facing the capitalist system.  As Gordon Brown put it on April 2: "This is the day that the world came together to fight back against the global recession, not with words, but with a plan for global recovery".

But this G20 ‘world' is founded on competition for markets. One capitalist can only prosper at the expense of another, and the same goes for capitalist nations. Of course they have common interests: they all need to cooperate when it comes to keeping the wage slaves in line, and they are also reluctant to let whole nation states go to the wall, even when they are their competitors, because they are also markets for their goods or debtors. But they can't all realise their profits in an endless round of selling to each other, and this is why they are afflicted with the curse of overproduction - the clogging up of the market which leads to waves of bankruptcies, the collapse of industries and the pandemic of unemployment.

The present crisis of overproduction has its roots not, as the economic experts claim, in any kind of temporary ‘imbalance' in the world economy, but in the basic social relations of capitalism, where the great mass of the population are by definition the producers of a ‘surplus' value which can only be realised through a constant extension of the market. No longer able to expand into what Marx called "the outlying fields of production" and conquer new markets outside itself, capitalism for decades has dealt with this problem by replacing real markets with the artificial market of debt. Today's ‘credit crunch' has starkly demonstrated the limitations of that remedy, which has now become a poison eating at the very heart of the economy.

Brown's ‘plan for world recovery' is in reality a plan for the same kind of false recovery we have seen so often over the past 40 years - a recovery based on the bubble of credit.

The state can't save us

Of course, we are told, we can't just let things go on as they have done over the last few decades. Left to itself, the ‘free market' will lead to a devastating slump like it did in the 1930s and as it is threatening to do now. So what we need is a lot more state intervention: to prevent the greed of bankers and speculators getting out of control, to find (or just plain print) the funds needed to stimulate the economy, and to step in and nationalise banks and other key economic sectors when all else fails. This is the new ‘Keynesianism' which is being presented as the solution to the failures of ‘neo-liberalism'. 

What we are not told is that ‘neo-liberalism' - with its emphasis on introducing direct competition into every corner of the economy, on privatisation, on the ‘free' movement of capital into areas of the globe where labour power could be exploited at far lower costs - was conceived as an answer to the failure of ‘Keynesianism' at the end of the post-war boom in the 70s, when the world economy began sinking into the mire of ‘stagflation' - recession combined with spiralling inflation.

We are also not told that neo-liberalism - including its most recent brilliant invention, the ‘housing boom' - was from the very beginning a policy decided on and coordinated by the state. So all the failed economic policies of the past 40 years, Keynesian or neo-liberal, are failures of state-directed capitalism.

How could it be otherwise? The state, as Engels pointed out way back in the 1880s, is no more than the ideal, collective capitalist. Its function is not to do away with capitalist relations, but to preserve them at all costs. If the contradictions of the world economy lie in the fundamental social relations of capitalism, the capitalist state can do no more than try to stave off the effects of these contradictions.

Capitalism can never put people first

The mainstream press is trying very hard to convince us that we need to put our faith in the good intentions of the world leaders. They have talked above all about the politics of ‘change' embodied by Barack Obama and his lovely wife, but in France and Germany Sarkozy and Merkel have been playing to the gallery as politicians ready to stand up to American power and the ‘irresponsible' fiscal fiddling of the Anglo-Saxons.

But this ideological paint job is not without its bare patches. It can hardly go unnoticed, for example, that the G20 is a club of the world's most powerful economies and that it may not, as a result, be overly concerned with the effects of its decisions on the world's poorest populations. One of the G20's decisions was to boost the role of the International Monetary Fund in world economic affairs - the very same IMF which has developed such a fearsome reputation for imposing draconian austerity in return for shoring up the world's weakest economies. Similarly, in the face of ever more pessimistic forecasts of looming ecological disaster, it was noticeable how climate change figured in the decisions of the world's leaders as no more than an afterthought.

So who has the job of painting over these bare patches? That is the role of the left - the people who organise big demonstrations calling on the world leaders to "put people first". Thus the coalition of unions, left wing groups, environmental, religious and charitable associations, anti-poverty campaigners and others who called the national demonstration on 28 March demanded "a transparent and accountable process for reforming the international financial system" which will "require the consultation of all governments, parliaments, trade unions and civil society, with the United Nations playing a key role". They claim that "these recommendations provide an integrated package to help world leaders chart a path out of recession", and can open the way to "a new system that seeks to make the economy work for people and the planet", with "democratic governance of the economy", "decent jobs and public services for all", a "green economy" and so on and so forth.

These political forces in no way challenge the falsehood that the capitalist state can steer us out of the very catastrophe it has led us into. They merely claim that by mobilising people ‘from below', we can put enough pressure on the state to make it implement truly democratic, human, and ecological policies that will benefit mankind and the planet. In other words, they peddle illusions and encourage us to channel our energies into campaigning for the reform of an unreformable and doomed social system.

Resistance is not futile

Another message issued loud and clear at the G20 talks: resistance is futile. Of course, the official line goes, we respect people's right to protest peacefully and democratically. We even understand why people are angry about those greedy bankers. But step outside the bounds of acceptable protest and you're nicked, or more precisely, ‘kettled' by well-trained and well-armed police troops who will keep you hemmed in for hours regardless of whether you are an anarchist in a black mask or an elderly or disabled person badly in need of the toilet. The use of these tactics on the first day of the G20 talks in London was a deliberate display of state repression, aimed at discouraging the social discontent and revolt that the bourgeoisie knows full well is on the horizon in all countries.

Not that trashing a bank in the context of a set-piece demo (as we saw on 1 April in London) already constitutes that revolt. But the signs of genuine and massive social unrest are plain enough to see when you look at the recent waves of rebellions by students, teachers, unemployed and many others which swept through Europe recently, culminating in the Greek December; at the oil refineries wildcats in Britain; at factory occupations against redundancies in France, Waterford, Belfast, Basildon and Enfield; at mass strikes in Egypt, Bangladesh, or the Antilles; at the hunger riots in dozens of countries. The signs are also to be discerned in the growing number of young people discussing revolutionary ideas on the internet, forming discussing circles, questioning the false solutions offered by the mainstream media and the ‘left', opening up debates with communist organisations....All these are the green shoots of revolution which are being nurtured by the crisis of capitalism all over the planet.

Resistance is not futile. Resisting capitalism's economic attacks and political repression, resisting its ideological toxins, is the only starting point for a real movement to change the world.

WR 4/3/9