Economic debacle, “natural” catastrophes, imperialist chaos... Capitalism is a bankrupt system that must be overthrown

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Since the crisis of the financial system in 2008 it seems nothing can hide the depth of the capitalism’s historic crisis. Attacks on the working class escalate, poverty increases, imperialist tensions sharpen, hundreds of millions are malnourished, natural catastrophes grow more deadly. The bourgeoisie itself cannot deny the scale of the difficulties nor pretend that it can provide a better future. It concedes that the present capitalist crisis is the most serious since the thirties and that we will have to “learn to live with” the evil of worsening poverty. But the bourgeoisie has a strong capacity to adapt: if it has to admit - partly because of the evidence and partly out of political calculation - that things are getting bad and not about to improve, it knows how to present the problems without implicating the capitalist system as a whole. The banks are bankrupt and dragging down the world economy? The traders are to blame! Certain countries are so indebted that they cannot pay? Corrupt governments! War ravages the planet? Lack of political will! Environmental catastrophes and their victims are increasing? Nature's fault! Whatever differences exist in the many analyses of the bourgeoisie, they all have a common thread: they denounce this or that form of governance but not capitalism as a mode of production. In reality all the calamities suffered by the working class are the result of contradictions which are strangling society whatever the mode of government, deregulated or statist, democratic or dictatorial. To better camouflage the bankruptcy of its system the bourgeoisie also pretends that the economy is recovering slightly after the crisis of 2008. In fact this crisis is far from over. It expresses the gravity of the historic crisis of capitalism.

Capitalism sinks into crisis

The bourgeoisie is occasionally happy about the positive perspective announced by economic indicators that are beginning to show a timid growth. But behind this “good news” the reality is very different. In order to avoid the catastrophic scenario of the thirties the bourgeoisie has spent billions in support of the banks and put Keynesian measures in place. These measures consist of lowering the base rates of the central banks which determine the price of credit and the state paying the cost of economic recovery, usually through debt. Such policies are supposed to bring about strong growth. But what is striking today is the extreme weakness of world growth considering the astronomic sums spent and the vigour of inflationary measures. The United States thus finds itself in a situation that the bourgeois economists, lacking the benefit of a Marxist analysis, cannot understand: the American state is in debt by several hundred billion dollars and the base rate of the Federal Reserve is close to zero; but growth was only 1.6% in 2010, less than the 3.7% expected. As the American case illustrates, if the bourgeoisie has momentarily avoided the worst by massive indebtedness, the recovery hasn't happened. Incapable of understanding that the capitalist mode of production is transitory, bourgeois economists don't see the evidence: Keynesianism has proved its historic failure since the 1970s when the contradictions of capitalism proved to be insurmountable even with the trick of debt.

Capitalism has survived with difficulty for some decades because of the prodigious expansion of debt in order to create an artificial market to absorb a part of its chronic overproduction. But capitalist debt is like opium: the more it is used the bigger the dose required. In other words the life belt with which capitalism has kept its head above water finally deflated in 2008.

The sheer size of budget deficits adds to the risk of bankruptcy of numerous countries, in particular Greece, Italy, Ireland, and Spain. All countries are reduced to governing from day to day, changing their economic policies from recovery to austerity in response to events, without being able to offer any lasting improvement. The state, the last resort against the historic crisis of capitalism, is no longer able to hide its impotence.

Everywhere in the world the attacks on the working class are reflected in the growing unemployment rate. The governments, whether of the right or left, are imposing reforms and budgetary cuts on the proletariat with an unprecedented brutality. In Spain, civil service workers have seen their wages cut by 5% this year by the Socialist government of Zapatero, which already promised a freeze in 2011. In Greece, the average retirement age has increased by 14 years while pensions are frozen until 2012. In Ireland, which the bourgeoisie recently vaunted for its dynamism, the official rate of unemployment has risen to 14% while the wages of state employees have been lightened by 5-15% and the dole and family credits reduced.

According to the International Labour Organisation the number of unemployed in the world has gone from 30 million in 2007 to 210 million today.[1] Behind the austerity plans that are hypocritically called reforms, and behind the redundancies and factory closures, entire families slide into poverty. In the United States, nearly 44 million people live below the poverty line according to the report by the Census Bureau, a rise of 6.3 million in two years. This must be added to the three preceding years that showed a sharp increase in poverty. The decade has been marked in the US by a strong reduction in purchasing power.

It is not only in the “rich countries” that the crisis creates poverty. Recently the Food and Agriculture Organisation was proud to observe a decline in 2010 of the number of malnourished particularly in Asia (578 million) and in Africa (239 million) out of a total of 925 million throughout the world. What these statistics don’t reveal immediately is that this figure is larger than that published in 2008 before the effects of speculative inflation in the price of food that provoked a series of riots in numerous countries. The significant decline in agricultural prices has indeed modestly “reduced hunger in the world” but the tendency over several years, independently of the immediate economic conjuncture, is undoubtedly toward an increase. Moreover the heatwaves in Russia, Eastern Europe and recently in Latin America have seriously reduced world harvests which, in the context of price rises, will inevitably lead to greater malnutrition next year. So it is not only at the economic level that capitalist bankruptcy is expressed. Climatic instability and the bourgeoisie’s management of environmental catastrophes are a growing cause of death and destitution.

Capitalism destroys the planet

This summer the world’s population has been subject to violent catastrophes: fires have consumed Russia and Portugal and numerous other countries; devastating floods have drowned Pakistan, India, Nepal and China in mud. In the spring the Gulf of Mexico suffered its worst ever ecological catastrophe after the explosion of an oil platform. The list of catastrophes in 2010 is still longer. Their increase and severity is no accident because capitalism has a very heavy responsibility both for their origins and management.

Recently the rupture of the badly maintained reservoir of an aluminium factory in Hungary caused an industrial and ecological catastrophe: more than a million cubic meters of toxic “red mud” spilled out around the factory causing several deaths and many injuries. Now, to “minimise the impact” of this pollution the bosses either poured millions of tons of red mud into the Danube or into an immense basin, when the technology has existed for a long time to recycle such effluent, in particular the waste from construction or horticulture.

The destruction of the planet by the bourgeoisie is not limited however to the innumerable industrial catastrophes every year. According to scientists global warming plays a major role in the increase of extreme climatic events. “These events will reproduce and intensify in a climate affected by the pollution of greenhouse gases” according to the vice president of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. With good reason: from 1997 to 2006, when the temperature of the planet continued to climb, the number of devastating catastrophes grew by 60% in relation to the preceding decade, bringing in their wake more and more victims. From now to 2015 the number of victims of meteorological catastrophes will increase by more than 50%.

While the scientists of oil companies may claim that global warming is not the result of the massive pollution of the atmosphere, the scientific research as a whole shows a clear correlation between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming and the increase of natural catastrophes. However the scientists are mistaken when they claim that a little political will from the governments can change things. Capitalism is incapable of limiting greenhouse gas emissions because it must obey its own laws, those of profit, of cheap production and of competition. The necessary submission to these laws means that the bourgeoisie pollutes with its heavy industry, with the unnecessary transportation of goods for thousands of miles, amongst a host of examples.

The responsibility of capitalism for the scale of these catastrophes is not limited to atmospheric pollution and the unstable climate. The systematic destruction of ecosystems like massive deforestation, storing waste in natural drainage zones, anarchic urbanisation even in dried up riverbeds and in the heart of fire risk areas, have aggravated the intensity of the catastrophes.

The series of fires that hit Russia this summer, in particular a large region around Moscow, is testimony to the bourgeoisie’s inability to master these phenomena. The flames consumed hundreds of thousands of hectares, leaving many victims. For several days thick smoke enveloped the capital, doubling the daily mortality rate. And, for good measure, nuclear and chemical risks threatened those well beyond Russian frontiers because of fires in areas contaminated by the Tchernobyl explosion and the risk to arms depots and chemical products more or less abandoned in the countryside.

An essential element for understanding the role of the bourgeoisie in the scale of the fires is the stupefying neglect of the forests. Russia has extensive and dense forests, requiring particular care for the rapid isolation of outbreaks of fire in order to prevent them spreading and becoming uncontrollable. Now, many of the massive Russian forests do not even have access routes so that fire engines are incapable of extinguishing the heart of most of the fires. Russia only has 22,000 firemen, less than a small country like France, to struggle against the flames. The corrupt regional governors prefer to use their meagre resources for managing the forests for luxury cars as several scandals have revealed.

The same cynicism has been shown toward the peat zones, those areas of decomposing organic material that are particularly flammable. Not only does the Russian bourgeoisie abandon them but it builds houses in areas where extensive fires occurred in 1972. The calculation is simple: property developers can buy these lands at knockdown prices.

In this way capitalism transforms humanly controllable natural phenomena into real catastrophes. And when it comes to horror, the bourgeoisie knows no limits. For several weeks torrential rain caused major flooding in Pakistan with mud slides, thousands of victims, 20 million homeless, and considerable material damage. Famine and the spread of disease, particularly cholera, worsened an already desperate situation. For more than a month, the Pakistani bourgeoisie and its army revealed an incredible incompetence and cynicism, blaming capricious nature. As in Russia, anarchic urbanisation and the impotent emergency services show the laws of capitalism to be the essential factor to understand the scale of the catastrophe.

But a particularly disgusting aspect of this tragedy is the way the imperialist powers tried to profit from the situation, using humanitarian operations as an alibi, to the detriment of the victims. The US supports the controversial government of Youssouf Raza Gilani, in the framework of the war within its Afghanistan neighbour, and very quickly profited from the events to deploy an important quantity of “humanitarian” aid consisting of helicopter carriers, amphibious assault boats, etc. Under the pretext of stopping Al Qaida terrorists from using the situation, the US put a break on the arrival of “international aid” coming from other countries – of course, this “humanitarian aid” also comprised the military, diplomats and unscrupulous investors.

For each sizeable catastrophe every country tries to advance its imperialist interests. Among the means used, the promise of aid has become systematic. All the governments officially announce substantial financial help, which is only really given if it satisfies the ambitions of the donors. For example, to date, only 10% of the international aid promised in January 2010 after the earthquake in Haiti has actually reached the Haitian bourgeoisie. And Pakistan is no exception to the rule: the millions promised will only be given against services rendered.

The bases of capitalism - the search for profit, competition, etc - are thus, at all levels, at the heart of the environmental problem. But the struggles around Pakistan also illustrate the growing imperialist tensions that ravage the planet.

Capitalism sows chaos and war

The election of Barack Obama at the head of the world’s principal imperialist power gave rise to many illusions in the possibility of pacifying international relations. In reality, the new American administration only confirms the imperialist dynamic that opened with the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. We predicted that the rigid discipline of the imperialist blocs would follow this collapse, giving place to indiscipline and a rampant chaos, to generalised struggle of each against all and to the uncontrollable proliferation of local military conflicts. Our analysis has been fully confirmed. The period opened by the crisis in 2008 and the worsening of the economic situation have sharpened imperialist antagonisms between nations. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute no less than 1,531 billion dollars have been spent on world military budgets in 2009, an increase of 5.9% compared to 2008 and of 49% compared to 2000. And yet these figures don’t take account of illegal arms trafficking. Even if the bourgeoisie of certain countries is obliged by the crisis to cut down on its military expenses, the growing militarisation of the planet reflects the only future that it promises humanity: the proliferation of imperialist conflicts.

With their 661 billions of military expenditure in 2009 the US benefits from an absolutely incontestable military superiority. However since the collapse of the Eastern Bloc the country is less and less able to mobilise other countries behind it, as the war in Iraq since 2003 shows. Here, despite the pull out announced recently, there are still tens of thousands of American troops. Not only has the US been unable to enrol many powers under its banner, like Russia, France, Germany and China, but others have little by little disengaged from the conflict, in particular Britain and Spain. Above all the American bourgeoisie seems less and less capable of assuring the stability of a conquered country (the Afghan and Iraqi quagmires are symptomatic of this impotence) or a region, as the defiant stance of Iran shows. American imperialism is thus clearly on the decline. Its attempts to restore its leadership through war have only weakened it further. 

Faced with the United States China is trying to realise its imperialist ambitions through military spending (100 billion dollars of military expenses in 2009, with annual double figure percentage increases since the 1990s) and on the ground. In Sudan for example as in many other countries it has implanted itself militarily and economically. The Sudanese regime and its militias, armed by China, continue to massacre the populations accused of supporting the rebels in Darfour, themselves armed by France, through the intermediary of Chad, and the US, the old adversary of France in the region. All these sickening manoeuvres have led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and displaced several million others.

The US and China are far from alone in the responsibility for the warlike chaos on the planet. In Africa for example, France, directly or through proxy militias, tries to save what it can from its influence, notably in Chad, in the Ivory Coast, or the Congo. The Palestinian and Israeli cliques, supported by their respective godfathers, continue an interminable war. The Israeli decision not to prolong the moratorium on construction in the occupied territories, while “peace negotiations” organised by the US are continuing, shows the impasse of Obama’s policy which wanted to be more diplomatic than that of Bush. Russia, through the war in Georgia or the occupation of Chechnya, tries to recreate a sphere of influence around itself. The litany of imperialist conflicts is too long to deal with exhaustively. Nevertheless the propagation of conflicts reveals that all the national fractions of the world bourgeoisie, powerful or not, have no other alternative to propose than the spilling of blood in defence of their imperialist interests.

The working class returns to the path of struggle

Faced with the depth of the crisis that capitalism is sinking into, workers’ miltancy is clearly not up to the mark. Past defeats still weigh heavily on the consciousness of our class. But the weapons of revolution are forged in the heart of struggles that the crisis has begun to develop significantly. For several years numerous struggles have broken out, sometimes simultaneously on the international level. Workers’ militancy appears simultaneously in the “rich” countries – in Germany, Spain, United States, Greece, Ireland, France and Japan – and in “poor” countries. The bourgeoisie of the rich countries spreads the dirty lie that the workers of the poor countries are taking the jobs of those in the rich countries. But it takes care to impose a blackout on the struggles of these workers that reveal they are also the victims of the same attacks of capitalism in crisis.

In China, in the country where the share of the wages in GDP has gone from 56% in 1983 to 36% in 2005, the workers of several factories have tried to free themselves from the unions, despite the strong illusions in the possibility of free trade unions. Above all the Chinese workers have co-ordinated their action themselves and spread their struggle beyond the factory. In Panama a strike broke out on the 1st July in the plantations in the province of Bocas de Toro to demand payment of wages and to oppose an anti-strike reform. Despite strong repression by the police and multiple forms of union sabotage, the workers immediately looked, successfully, to spread their movement. The same solidarity and will to fight collectively has animated a wildcat strike movement in Bangladesh, violently repressed by the forces of order.

In the central countries, the workers’ reaction in Greece has been relayed internationally in numerous struggles, in particular in Spain where the strikes have proliferated against draconian measures of austerity. The strike organised by the metro workers in Madrid is testimony to the will of the workers to extend their struggle and to organise themselves collectively through general assemblies. That’s why it has been the target of a campaign of denigration orchestrated by the Socialist government of Zapatero and its media mouthpieces. In France, if the unions are able to contain the strikes and demonstrations the reform to extend the retirement age has provoked a wide section of the working class. There have been significant but very minoritarian attempts to organise outside the unions through sovereign general assemblies to extend the struggles.

Obviously the consciousness of the world proletariat is still insufficient and these struggles, while simultaneous, are not immediately about to create the conditions for a common struggle at the international level. Nevertheless the crisis into which capitalism is sinking, the austerity cures and the growing poverty will inevitably multiply the struggles. These will tend to become more massive and as a result class identity, unity and solidarity will develop in small steps. This is the terrain for the conscious politicisation of the workers’ struggle for emancipation. The road to revolution is still long but as Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto:

Not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that will bring about its own demise, it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons – the modern working class – the proletarians”.

V. 08/10/10



[1]. These statistics show the general increase in the official rate of unemployment that the tricks of the bourgeoisie can no longer hide. However one must be aware that these figures are far from reflecting the scale of the phenomenon since, in all countries, including those where the bourgeoisie must provide some social welfare, after a certain time of fruitless job-seeking one is no longer considered as unemployed.

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