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Is Capitalism at an End?

by Walter Listl Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013 at 12:14 PM

The capitalist system in its current form is no longer fit for today's world. The system that led us into crisis has long been ourdated. The brave new world of neoliberalism lies in ruin. Surveys show that a majuority of people regard capitalism as unjust and unsocial.


By Walter Listl

[This article published on November 2, 2013 is translated abridged from the German on the Internet,]

Is capitalism at an end? Even representatives of the capital class raise this question. On 1/25/2012 Klaus Schwab, head of the World Economic Forum in Davos, was quoted in the Financial Times of Germany: “The capitalist system in its current form is no longer fit for today’s world… The system that led us into crisis has long been outdated. We deny this to our own disadvantage…”

Is capitalism “in its current form” at an end?

In March 2009 the Rosa Luxemburg foundation lamented: “The brave new world of neoliberalism lies in ruin. Its riches proved to be robbery, appearance and deceit. The promised freedom has become general insecurity and widespread poverty. Its wars are lost. Hunger increases and global warming accelerates.’ This is also the opinion of many people. They are convinced life cannot continue this way.

Social inequality increases. The fates of hundreds of thousands of people are decided on the financial markets. The growing state debts consist of unpaid taxes of the richest one percent who have 99% of the wealth. A capitalist growth doctrine and an excessive profit system steers this globe to an ecological catastrophe.

We witness the spreading of poverty, hunger and destruction of the natural foundations of life in the midst of record-profits of corporations and stock exchanges. All areas of life should be subordinated to the capitalist market laws. These market laws buried the starving work-slaves under the concrete structures of textile factor5ies in Bangladesh.

In view of such developments, there is an unaddressed rage of many persons, a feeling of powerless helplessness toward anonymous financial markets and the multiple crises. A powerful industry of unconsciousness veils its causes.

We face crisis phenomena of a capitalist that was already criticized as the “imperialism of international financial capital” in the 1931 papal social encyclical “Quadragesimo anno.”

We should bid farewell to the notion that crises are quasi the forerunners of the imminent end of capitalism.

Capitalism did not die in its crises – capitalism makes others die

- in the refugee mass grave the Mediterranean Sea

- in Greek hospitals that cannot supply their patients

- in resource wars for oil and strategic dominance

- in civil wars through weapons of the world export master

- or in the hunger regions of this world. Hunger is the most frequent cause of death on the planet and kills more people than all current wars combined.

Crises in capitalism are above all formative transformation processes in which the capitalist system adjusts to new conditions, new production relations and productive forces and simultaneously shifts the costs of this change to working people and nature.

The new isw-report 94 describes this process of the formative change of capitalism. The authors grapple with the questions: how is overcoming capitalism conceivable? (from Marx and Engels to today’s theories of transformation) How are the different crises connected? What do “great crises” and “systemic crisis” mean? How differently has the crisis affected the diverse regions of the world? What dislocations are caused by the different development models? Does capital have the power for a “passive revolution” in Gramsci’s sense, for a transformation and further development of capitalism? Who are the subjects of the urgently necessary revolution?

I will address two ranges of problems:

1. Why are so few stirred in Germany and who are the gravediggers of the working class? and

2. Combining the distant goal socialism with the immediate target of concrete reforms under the term transformation…

The field is open for a conservative middle class interpretation of crisis, integrative efforts and even nationalist, religious-fundamentalist and other ideologies that deepen the division among the victims of austerity policy and fuel the war of the poor against the poor.

Without this class-oriented analysis of the causes of crisis, it is very harmless for the rulers, when Bild newspaper lists the names and assets of the richest 500 Germans, when UNESCO includes the first volume of Capital by Karl Marx in the “memory of humanity” and the Handelsblatt paper of October 15, 2012 included Marx’ work in the 50 most important economic books of all time.

People will only be mobilized to overcome this system when the knowledge is accepted that the logic of capital exploitation immanent to capitalism is responsible for the defects of this society, not “lazy Greeks,” “foreigners,” greedy bankers or their own incapacity.

Lack of consciousness about the social and ecological catastrophe caused by capitalism is not what helps the imperialist dominance most.

On the contrary surveys show that a majority of people regard capitalism as unjust and unsocial. However neoliberalism has successfully convinced society – above all the lower classes and sectors – that there is no alternative.

Today’s neoliberalism is based more and more on resignation, division , extortion, fatalism and the anxiety of many people of losses in setting out for new territory than on the active support of subordinate sectors. This makes difficult thinking of an alternative.

Thirty years ago Floh de Cologne described this in a text:

“Seeing hope in socialism

is hard

to people who accustomed themselves to abandon hope

in capitalism

Seeing the human in socialism

is hard

to people accustomed to enduring the inhuman

in capitalism

Seeing the solution in socialism

is hard

to people who accustom themselves

to not expecting any solution in capitalism

Seeing the answer in socialism

is hard

to people accustomed to not raising any questions

in capitalism

Seeing the future in socialism

is hard

to people accustomed to living in the past

in capitalism.”

In this transition crisis, the absence of an alternative concept of society, the weakness of a workers’ movement, the separate struggles of different progressive forces and a bizarre everyday consciousness opens up possibilities to capital for reactionary nationalist expedients.

The increasing fragmentation of the working class makes difficult class insights and common action.

Mario Candeias from the Rosa Luxemburg foundation speaks of a disintegration of the working class, a division into a “bled white precariat,” an “individualized cybertariat” and a “more or less organized residual proletariat” along ethnic, national and gender lines.

Unions – the central organization of the working class – have less and less as potential share in a transformation process when they see their function mainly in defending the interests of core employees.

The “crisis corporatism” practiced by unions like IG Metal (H.-J. Urban) and its connection to the “export offensive” lead to tensions with modern European unions and hinder the overdue Europeanization of union policy.

Berthold Huber, chairperson of IG Metal on Germany radio 10/11/2011: “We are the winners of the euro and as the Federal Republic of Germany must be anxious that this euro is maintained. I feel somewhat united with employers.”

The social protests have clearly increased with the crisis that has no continued for six years. This is especially true for the “peripheral” countries of the EU. Of the 118 general strikes in EU countries, 83% occurred in five southern European countries: 50 strikes in Greece, 22 in Italy, 13 in France, 8 in Spain and 5 in Portugal. Conversely no general strikes took place in this time period in five European countries: Ireland, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Great Britain.

However general strikes with millions of actors in Greece, Portugal and Italy in the past could not force any change in direction or prevent the crisis consequences being exacted on wage-earners and the socially excluded.

A common action of the working class is lacking in Europe, a vision of an alternative concept of the economy and society and a connection of the workers’ movement and the new social, democratic and ecological movements.

The enterprise is the main battlefield. The living conditions of people in areas where unions are not active are influenced more and more: education, media, culture, pensions, social policy, tax policy and energy supply.

Unions must claim a political mandate and insist these areas include the excluded and the precariously employed excluded from the work process.

The absence of a utopia of a post-capitalist social order capable of a majority and difficulties in showing a way there can make this capitalist system seem as though there are no alternatives.

I come to another aspect of the isw-report: the dialectic of reform and revolution – combining the long-term objective of socialism with the immediate target of concrete reforms.

From the end of the 19th century to today, the workers’ movement was deeply divided by the supposed contradiction of reform or revolution.

In his 1889 book “The Requisites of Socialism and the Tasks of Social Democracy,” Edward Bernstein defended the idea that the goal the socialist revolution was irrelevant and reform work was crucial. His motto was: the movement is everything and the goal is nothing.

Ten years later Rosa Luxemburg wrote in her book “Social Reform and Revolution”: “For social democracy, an inseparable connection exists between social reform and the socialist revolution since the struggle around social reform is the means while social revolution is the goal…”

The past failure of the separated ways leads to the discovery cited in isw-report 94: “…what is central is not either-or but a process in which the weaknesses of both alternatives are overcome and their strengths accentuated in a process of transformation…” (Dieter Klein)

The term transformation refers to attempts at overcoming the gulf between the long-term objective – a solidarity society and a democratic socialism – with the immediate target of concrete reforms.

Thus transformation means a process where the life situation of people is improved and people themselves change with the struggle for possible goals. The result of these struggles over reforms within the system can only be the furtherance of the resistance potential. The general outcome of the struggle over reforms is the advancing unification of the forces of resistance, self-empowerment and emancipation of people.

We read in the isw-report, “If only reforms remain for transformationists as a way to a better society, these reforms must have the depth of a revolutionary quality.”

The idea that one could gradually grow into a democratic socialism through reforms without a revolutionary breach is ridiculous. The opponents of a system change always knew how to oppose something powerful to this peaceful/contemplative gradualism.

Initiating a transformation process is only possible through struggle in times of crisis: social redistribution (of wealth, work and power!), socio-ecological reorganization, comprehensive democratization (“They want capitalism without democracy; we want democracy without capitalism”) and a real peace policy. This thesis is defended by the authors of the Rosa Luxemburg foundation.

Within these political areas, gateway projects could develop in a transformation process.

However successful gateway projects in a socio-ecological transformation assume the broad alliance of all the victims of neoliberal policy or all who feel threatened by this policy. This requires a closer cooperation of the workers’ movement and its unions with the new “social” movements.

If such gateway projects are realistic, become feasible in manageable time periods and lead to immediate improvements of the living conditions of the majority, these projects have the potential of mobilizing and displacing experiences of failure and feelings of powerlessness. This is an essential presupposition for a breach with capitalist conditions.

One of the problems in searching for solutions is that the way to a post-capitalist society must be sought and pursued under the conditions of the rule of capital over the economy and politics while simultaneously no solution can be expected within this system.

An alternative arises – if at all – in future struggles whose themes and character cannot be known today and whose actors are not yet formed today.

The way out of the dilemma of present conditions needs theory, utopia, fantasy and literature to make rebellion into political praxis – though we may not find a solution at a leftist literary festival.

Karl Marx called this “real rebellious movement” “communism.”

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