World economic crisis: The cynicism of a decadent ruling class

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The bourgeoisie knows that it is stuck in the crisis. The momentary weakness of the international working class is allowing it to get away with the cynical language of a historically moribund class which knows that it can only survive by intensifying oppression and exploitation.

The doctors have spoken. The economic 'experts' of the OECD Secretariat[1], after two years of intense reflection, declare that they have "carried out the mandate which the Ministers entrusted to them in May 1992". The object of their study? Unemployment, hypocritically called "the problem of employment". But what is the diagnosis? What remedies are being proposed?

The Study begins by attempting to measure the symptoms. "There are 35 million people unemployed in the OECD countries. Fifteen million workers, perhaps, have either given up looking for a job, or have accepted part-time work for want of anything better". The extent of the illness already poses a problem: the definition of unemployment is often different in different countries, and in all cases, it underestimates the reality for obvious political reasons. But even with these defects, the figures are unprecedented: 50 million people directly affected by the problem of unemployment: that's equivalent to the entire working population of Germany and France put together!

How do our medical experts explain why it's come to this - these people for whom capitalism is eternal and is supposed to have gone through a rejuvenation since the collapse of Stalinism?

"The emergence of large scale unemployment in Europe, Canada and Australia and the proliferation of mediocre jobs linked to the appearance of unemployment in the USA thus have one and the same underlying cause: the inability to adapt to the changes in a satisfactory manner".

What changes? "... new technologies, globalization, and the intense competition at national and international level. The existing policies and systems have made the economies rigid and paralyzed the capacity and even the will to adapt".

What does this "inability to adapt", this "rigidity" consist of? Naive types who still believe that economists are something other than charlatans whose job is to justify capitalism might have expected them to talk about the rigidity of the laws which, for example, oblige states to pay farmers not to cultivate the soil, or to close thousands of perfectly efficient factories while hunger and poverty spread all over the planet. But no. The rigidities our doctors are talking about are those which hold up the free and pitiless play of capitalist laws, the very laws that are plunging humanity into a growing chaos.

The Study cynically illustrates this point of view through the remedies, the "recommendations" that it puts forward:

"...Suppressing all negative connotations, in public opinion, relating to the failure of enterprises ...

Increasing the flexibility of the working day ...

Increasing the flexibility of wages, reducing the costs of non-salaried manpower ...

Re-evaluating the role of legal minimum wages ... by sufficiently modulating wage rates with regard to age and regions ...

Introducing "renegotiation clauses" which would make it possible to renegotiate onto a lower level collective accords drawn up at a higher level ...

Reducing the costs of non-salaried manpower ... by lightening deductions at enterprise level (ie, taxes payed by the bosses) and replacing them with other kinds of taxes, notably on consumption or income (ie taxes payed mainly by the workers).

"Fixing remunerations offered by job creation schemes at a lower level than the participant could obtain on the labor market in order to incite people to look for regular work ...

The systems of unemployment benefit have ended up constituting a semi-permanent guaranteed income in many countries, and this doesn't make people want to go out and work ...

Limiting the length of eligibility for unemployment benefit in countries where it is particularly long ..."

Rarely has the bourgeoisie allowed itself to come out with such brutal language at this level. The conclusions of the OECD are basically no different from those formulated by the 'experts' of the European Union or by the US president at the recent G7 meeting[2]. The Study will serve as a basis for the work of the next G7 meeting, which is again devoted to the problem of unemployment.

The ruling class is quite aware that the threat of unemployment can give it immense power over the exploited class. It knows that the workers are finding it hard to fight back at the moment. And this allows it to harden the tone. To speak without any flourishes.

In reality, in practice, all the governments of the world are already carrying out such policies to one degree or another. What this document announces is simply an aggravation of these policies.

But how effective can these 'remedies' be?

Capitalism cannot adapt in a healthy manner to the changes which it itself provokes at the level of the technical productivity of labor and the interdependence of the world economy.

The intensification of competition between capitalists, exacerbated by the crisis of overproduction and the scarcity of solvent markets, pushes the capitalists to continually modernize the process of production, replacing men by machines, in a frenzied search to 'reduce costs'. The same race obliges them to shift part of production to countries where labor power is cheaper (China and South East Asia today, for example).

But in doing so the capitalists don't solve the chronic problem of the lack of outlets which affects the whole world economy. All it can do is to allow some to survive at the expense of others, but at the global level the problem is merely aggravated.

The real inability to adapt does not lie somewhere between capitalism and the policies of the governments, who have for a long time now been attacking the living conditions of the exploited in the most industrialized countries. The real inability to adapt lies in the contrast between the actual technical capacities of society: the productivity of labor, the communications explosion, the internationalization of economic life on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the continuation of the laws of capitalism, the laws of exchange, wage labor, of statified or individual private property. It is capitalism itself which cannot adapt to the capacities and needs of humanity.

As the Communist Manifesto put it: "bourgeois institutions have become too narrow to contain the wealth they have created".

The only interesting thing about the 'new' language of the ruling class is that it recognizes that it is faced with an economic crisis that is destined to last. Even if the bourgeoisie always thinks that its system is eternal, even if it talks about the recovery of the world economy, it is admitting today that it is doomed, at least for the years ahead, to go through a situation of constantly growing unemployment; that the trend for the number of unemployed people to go on growing all over the planet for the past quarter-century is far from over.

The Study displays a certain lucidity when it looks into the social future: "Certain people will not be able to adapt to an economy that is progressing (they should say: an economy whose mortal illness is progressing). Their exclusion from the mainstream of economic activity threatens to provoke social tensions which could have heavy human and economic consequences".

What these experts don't and can't see is that these "social tensions" contain the only way out for humanity and that the "heavy human and economic consequences" could be the world communist revolution.

RV, 18 June 1994

[1] The OECD is the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. It regroups the 24 most industrialized countries of the former US bloc (all the countries of Western Europe, the USA and Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand). Mexico is in the process of being integrated.

[2] See the article 'The explosion of unemployment' in International Review 77.

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