MANY CRISES - ONE SYSTEM: COUNTER-POWER IN CATASTROPHE CAPITALISM
Corona, climate change, poverty and racism: it's many crises, but one system. We look at leftist ways out of the "crisis of the century".
By Martin Haller
[This article published on July 14, 2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.marx21.de/viele-krisen-ein-system-gegenmacht-kapitalismus-corona-klima-rassismus/.]
"A rat bit my sister Nell the other day / When the white man is on the moon. / Her face and arms are swollen / And the white man is on the moon / I can't pay medical bills / But the white man is on the moon (...)" Fifty years have passed since Gil Scott-Heron published his poem "Whitey on the Moon" - a biting critique of racism and social contradictions in the "land of the free."
On May 30 of this year, two more "Whiteys" were launched into orbit - for the first time in the history of space travel in a space capsule belonging to a private company founded by an eccentric billionaire with the aim of colonizing Mars. After a storybook launch, the two U.S. astronauts float off into the vastness of space. Meanwhile, deep below them, the largest nationwide uprising in U.S. history since the 1960s is raging. In the midst of a collapsing global economy and a pandemic that has already claimed the lives of well over a hundred thousand people in the U.S. alone, a mass movement is rising up against state violence and oppression.
Another eccentric billionaire - the U.S. president - is threatening to use the military. He, too, is desperate to see "Whiteys" on the moon again. He has earmarked twelve billion U.S. dollars for this purpose in next year's budget. Meanwhile, the lines at the food banks are growing endlessly.
Crises, polarization, uprisings
The feeling that we are living in the final stages of capitalism is not new - and this does not only apply to the USA. The past decade has been marked worldwide by crises, social polarization, growing imperialist tensions, and uprisings and even revolutions. While social inequality continues to grow, climate change has long been a tangible reality, and more than 80 million people worldwide are on the run, more and more people are turning away from the established political establishment and radicalizing - to the left as well as to the right.
Whether climate, economy, social affairs, politics or health - there is no sign of stability, let alone progress. The "crisis" has long since become a permanent state. Then came Corona.
The pandemic threatened the existence of millions. At the same time, it triggered the worst economic slump in post-war history. But Corona merely exposes the disease of capitalism. The virus appears at a time when capitalism has still not overcome the last economic crisis.
For decades now, elites have been trying to prop up flagging capitalism and maintain profit rates. The living standards of the wage-dependent population were increasingly attacked under neoliberalism, while corporations received tax giveaways. Capitalism can now only keep itself alive by destroying the environment to cut "costs," redistributing wealth from the bottom up, privatizing profits and socializing losses.
For banks and corporations, as is now customary in crises, government bailouts in the trillions are underway. The goal is to return to "normal" capitalist operations as quickly as possible. But nothing has been "normal" here for a long time.
Corona as an accelerant of the crises
The Corona pandemic acts as a fire accelerator on the existing crisis dynamics. Germany and many other economies were already threatened with recession before Corona. Last year, Chinese industrial production grew more slowly than at any time in 17 years. Now the global economy has imploded in one fell swoop. Social division is reaching unbearable levels. While millions of people are losing their jobs, super-rich people like Amazon boss Jeff Bezos are earning billions in just a few days. While the car and aviation industries rake in billions in subsidies, the planet's last rainforests are being destroyed at record speed.
Yes, we are living in times of a "multiple crisis." But the simultaneity of multiple crises should not obscure the fact that their common cause lies in a system that has long since become obsolete. There are many crises, but one system: capitalism.
Almost everywhere in the world, rulers are relying on repressive measures such as border closures, increased surveillance or curfews to combat the corona crisis. Testing autocratic means of control is a hallmark of disaster capitalism gone off the rails. It is precisely in times of crisis that class antagonisms become more pronounced. But in the face of a pandemic that affects society as a whole, the view of these contrasts also threatens to blur.
No, we are not all in the same boat. The German government's crisis policy is anything but "neutral. It, too, is primarily trying to protect the profits of the economy instead of putting up a protective umbrella for the people and tackling the massive expansion of public services, especially the health care system. The logic of capital and the constitutionality of bourgeois-capitalist states prevent an effective fight against the pandemic. Responsibility for containing the coronavirus is individualized.
In connection with the crisis of global capitalism, imperialist competition is also growing, and with it the conflicts and the danger of war. Each bourgeoisie is trying to rehabilitate or save itself at the expense of others. A relative loss of power by the U.S. and the rise of China continue. European middle powers are responding to Trump's national-protectionist course by calling for a "strong and united Europe," while the EU crisis continues unabated. It is in this context that the further steps in the militarization of the EU must be placed. Tensions between the great powers as well as some regional powers have been increasing for years, which is expressed in a new arms race as well as in regional crises, proxy wars and the internationalization of civil wars.
Hegemonic crisis of neoliberalism
Domestically, too, the potential for conflict is growing almost everywhere in the world: frustration is rampant after decades of neoliberal restructuring of society, regardless of the party. Anger over stagnating or declining living standards, poor prospects for the future, and an undemocratic ruling class that is accountable to no one is coming to the surface in more and more countries.
The global hegemonic crisis of neoliberalism after forty years of bottom-up redistribution, growing social division, and the rise of precarity is manifesting itself in increasing social polarization. It can mean both a rise in class struggles and the emergence of new social movements, and the advance of the radical right.
Against the background of intensifying global economic and military competition, we have witnessed the return of economic and then also political nationalism in numerous countries in recent years. Parts of the bourgeois class advocate an authoritarian solution to the crisis. They are rallying authoritarian political forces to impose a more radical line of crisis management within their own class.
The legitimacy crisis of the political and economic system weakens the traditional political center. The rulers' response to this almost everywhere is to foment racism as a divisive ideology. The result is a rise of nationalist to (neo)fascist formations in numerous countries, which try to channel the discontent into their own channels. Whether Trump in the USA, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Putin in Russia, Modi in India, Duterte in the Philippines, Erdogan in Turkey, Orbán in Hungary or Johnson in Great Britain - right-wing demagogues or authoritarian market radicals are striving for power on all continents. Where they do not govern, they put pressure on established politics from the opposition - Salvini in Italy, Le Pen in France, the AfD in Germany.
The "crisis generation" rises up
But polarization also has an opposite side: around the world, we have seen an upsurge of mass movements in recent years. The "Generation Crisis" is rising up. Millions of people, especially young people, are politicizing themselves and resisting the prevailing policies. The most visible expression of this development is the global climate movement. Last year, it brought the climate crisis to the center of world attention with massive protests.
Equally part of the global movement upsurge are the anti-racist movement, the third wave of the women's movement and the diverse mass uprisings up to revolutions of 2019: Sudan, Algeria, Lebanon, Haiti, Chile, Ecuador, Hong Kong, Iraq, Catalonia - this is the certainly not exhaustive list of mass mobilizations that have recently made the rulers break out in a cold sweat and that in many cases continue or could flare up again at any time. Revolution is in the air in parts of the global periphery - and not just since Corona.
The legitimacy crisis of the ruling classes is so deep that in many countries the established political system is cracking under the pressure of populations protesting en masse. The powerful are faltering, trying to suppress the uprisings with concessions or violence, and still not managing to restore "calm".
The overwhelming majority of the supporters of these movements are the "children of the crisis," i.e., those who have grown up in a world in which political, social and economic conditions have begun to slide for the worse.
In many of the protests and mass uprisings, solidarity with oppressed groups plays a crucial role. It is not only in the U.S. that we are seeing the beginning of a wave of class struggle centered on anti-racism with the uprising following the murder of George Floyd. Also in Europe, India, Latin America or the Middle East, the struggle against racist and religious division is an important driving force of movements and revolts.
Mass movements from the left
Even if the mass movements have different concrete causes - poverty, oppression, climate change - their common cause lies in the intensifying contradictions of capitalism. And just as the different dimensions of the crisis are mutually reinforcing, the different movements also inspire and cross-fertilize each other. A new generation is politicizing itself along various capitalist contradictions. Author and climate activist Jonathan Neale writes, "When people have participated in one protest, it is easier for them to join the next. When they join the second protest, which is about something else, they begin to generalize and question the system as a whole." This is exactly what is happening right now in numerous countries around the world.
Germany is no exception. On the contrary, it is an epicenter of the climate movement. With 1.4 million participants, the protests for the third global "climate strike" were the largest in the Federal Republic since the general strike of 1948. And even if Corona caused quite a stir in the 2020 protest calendar, it is clear: This movement will not simply disappear again. The reason is simple: climate change is the most important social challenge because it threatens the entire existence of humanity. But so far, no government in the world is willing to take serious action that could radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But it is not only the climate movement that has brought masses onto the streets in this country. While workplace struggles remain at a historic low, we are seeing a movement upsurge on several issues at once: It started at the latest with the anti-racist mass movement from summer 2018, including #Ausgehetzt, #Seebrücke, #Unteilbar, #WirSindMehr, and the ongoing mobilizations against the AfD. To a lesser extent, the rent movement as well as the women's movement also saw an upswing. All together, they have led to a significant political shift in discourse. While the racist right had previously dominated the political debate with its agitation against refugees and Muslims, the federal government came under increasing pressure from the left as well.
Weakness of the organized left
But despite the upswing in the movement, the organized left remains weak. Yet it is in greater demand than it has been for a long time. For social mass movements are always ideologically and strategically contested. It is not automatic that the climate movement, for example, sees its main opponents in the fossil fuel corporations and the governments that support them. In the same way, individual critiques of consumption or antisocial market incentives can come into focus. And in the fight against racism, too, left-wing responses compete with other ideas. DIE LINKE is needed as a political pole!
Moreover, political organizing is needed beyond the various movement contexts, because movements come and go. They can shoot through the roof in a short time, but also collapse just as quickly. And it takes political generalization. Struggles need to be brought together. The goal of DIE LINKE must be to orient the protests toward the common cause of exploitation, oppression and destruction of our livelihood - against the capitalist system.
Above all, DIE LINKE needs the movements. It is crucial to develop an attractive political offer for the young activists that ties as much of the left side of radicalization as possible to the structures of DIE LINKE in order to renew them at all levels.
What are power perspectives?
Yes, DIE LINKE needs a power perspective. But focusing on taking over capitalist government is a dead end. It is a fallacy to believe that left politics can be implemented primarily through parliaments and government participation. The promise that the election of a government - rather than the struggle of the many - could change the social balance of power has never yet been fulfilled. Instead, the central task of the LEFT must be to organize, connect and strengthen social struggles. Instead of providing administrative staff for the state apparatus, left parties must be catalysts for social struggles. They must help people to help themselves in building resistance. They must be protest parties-but not ones that passively reflect existing discontent, but ones that become organizers of a protest that offensively fights capitalist injustice.
Electoral success always brings with it the danger that the balance of power between the party base and parliamentary factions will shift in favor of the latter. This is not automatic, but a focus on party building, social struggles, and extra-parliamentary protest requires a constant counter-pressure against the forces of adjustment created by involvement in parliaments, legislation, and the bourgeois state apparatus.
The biggest conceivable mistake of DIE LINKE would be to sacrifice its programmatic principles for participation in government, as not a few are currently demanding under the catchphrase "new left majorities". For a coalition government with the SPD and the Greens would amount to nothing else.
In view of the hegemonic crisis of the ruling class and the rise of the right, it would be a catastrophe if DIE LINKE were to make itself the administrator of the neoliberal status quo. Neither the SPD nor the Greens are in favor of a fundamental change of policy. With government participation, DIE LINKE would lose its independent political utility. If it fails as a protest party, the AfD wins, which can pose as the only "anti-establishment party." Instead of hoping for a possible left-wing alliance, DIE LINKE must work to build up social counter-power. To do so, its profile must become sharper and more militant. DIE LINKE must make clear that we need a fundamentally different model of society and a new political system.
Class struggle in crisis capitalism
Particularly against the background of the capitalist multiple crisis, we need a resolute opposition to the crisis policy of the federal government instead of a statist course, as the leader of the parliamentary group of DIE LINKE, Dietmar Bartsch, pretends when he praises the federal government for its handling of the Corona crisis or defends the police against accusations of racism. In the face of the Corona crisis, the trade union movement and DIE LINKE must not become system-supporting advocates of economic aid for banks and corporations and ever new repressive measures, but must organize resistance to them. LEFTISTS must never trivialize police violence and racism and must always stand unconditionally by the side of people who stand up against repression and oppression. The police are not a discriminated group, but an armed force of the state. Racism, sexism and other forms of oppression are a direct result of capitalism and the class society in which we live. The struggle against this is as much a part of the class struggle as the struggle for higher wages or better working conditions.
To meet the challenges of the capitalist crisis in all its dimensions, DIE LINKE must become a force for organizing local counter-power. Because the core problem is not a wrong program, but strategic helplessness in implementing it. This has not worked so far, either in government or by invoking the party program in opposition. Real social forces must be bundled behind the demands. To achieve this, left-wing parties must become capable of acting where social conflicts come to a head, where movement arises, and must not get bogged down in everyday parliamentary life. There are plenty of opportunities for this in these turbulent times.
CORONA: "OPENING OF SCHOOLS YES, BUT ONLY WITH HEALTH CONCEPT!"
Interview with John Hegerty
[This interview published on Sept 2, 2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.marx21.de/corona-schuloeffnung-ja-aber-nur-mit-gesundheitskonzept/.]
Trade Union / International / September 2, 2020
School opening despite Corona - an issue all over the world. How a British teachers' union managed to engage thousands of shop stewards in the fight for health protection in times of the pandemic
In the height of the pandemic, you launched a nationwide organizing campaign against a hasty reopening of British schools. Unusual. What prompted you to do this?
John Hegerty: The problem was that the British government at the time was incredibly reckless in its handling of the crisis. As it became increasingly clear that this crisis would take on life-threatening proportions, only arbitrary measures on the part of the government followed. The handling of the schools was correspondingly irresponsible: First, they were hastily closed at the height of the pandemic, and immediately after Easter, there were already discussions about reopening them. But there was no discussion of the urgently needed protection concepts for the schools. Our response to this was clear: without appropriate health protection, reopening would be disastrous. Because we can't expect anything from this government, it's up to us. Thus began our nationwide campaign for safe school reopening and against the government's health policy failure.
Considering the extremely stressful situation of parents - cue homeschooling - isn't it pretty tricky to argue for the continued closure of schools?
John: Yes, we had to be very deliberate. People tried to corner us with arguments like "You don't want the schools to reopen"; or "The kids will suffer if they don't go to school." Our union was even attacked on television. It was therefore important that we communicated two things at the same time: "We need speedy school openings, but this can only be done if the health of teachers*, students* and the surrounding community is ensured." Accordingly, it was important that we focused our campaign not only on the schools, but also on the parents and the community. This is not just about the safety of our members, but the safety of the entire neighborhood. This speech was successful: the government did not get a tailwind for its course. People were behind us. We rarely experience this level of popular support.
Campaign for safe school opening
Jacinta Phillips: Basically, the crisis has actually led us to expand our relationships with local parents and our outreach to the broader community. Our trusted advisors can now build on those connections. For other campaigns, that's incredibly valuable.
John: In order to have a good relationship with parents, it was very important that we as a union created materials and guidance for homeschooling. Contrary to the common narrative that schools didn't do enough during the crisis, we made sure that most of our members were able to homeschool their students*. Statistics show that of our eight million children, less than five percent received any learning materials at all.
It's not easy to organize broad support for a union campaign, especially under these conditions. What was your key message?
John: Our executive board likes to remind our members that there are people who are only alive today because of the work of our shop stewards. For a union leadership, that's a remarkable thing. We were able to say to the activists in the school, "You saved people's lives." That empowers people, and I think it's true.
How did the Johnson administration respond to your resistance?
John: When the government realized that we were opposing the plans to open schools, they launched a series of attacks, including personal attacks, on us, including in the newspapers. You would expect that a government taking action against a union would do so in an organized and efficient way, but that was not the case. They really didn't know what they were doing. We were well organized, while the government was a mess! That's how we won the conflict. The schools were only opened when it was justifiable in terms of health protection.
What exactly did your campaign for safe school opening look like?
John: The central tool of our campaign was a checklist with five criteria. The principle was simple: no school should be allowed to open its doors until it met these criteria. The guidelines laid down by the Ministry of Education served as a basis, which included physical distance, the maximum number of students in a classroom, and also how to deal with staff and students at risk.
Union shop stewards on site
Our on-site shop stewards were able to independently assess the risk of reopening based on these health and safety guidelines. They were able to use this as a basis for discussion with the school administrators and, above all, to make clear what measures were necessary to make a safe school reopening possible.
How can you think of this checklist?
Jacinta: We had a printed version of the checklist that each member could use to do the assessment in the school directly. In addition, we developed a digital app so that the checklist could be accessed via smartphone. Through the digital version, we were able to access the statewide status of the campaign at the same time. In this way, we were also able to identify schools where there were not yet any shop stewards, i.e. no representatives of the union. In this case, we asked volunteer colleagues to fill out the checklist. In the end, thousands responded to our call. This was also due to the fact that the activists were able to communicate their concerns clearly and understandably in the neighborhood using the checklist: If these criteria are not met, opening the school is not justifiable, not for the teachers, not for the students, and not for the neighborhood itself. Thus, our campaign was never just a campaign for the schools, but was about the safety of the whole community. Our approach was very activating and inclusive: for the union activists, who could fight for the safety of the schools in a self-determined way, and for the community, who supported the struggle of our members out of their own interest.
That sounds like a lot of work...
John: Working with the app was far from all. We organized thousands of video conferences and meetings on Zoom. This involved not only working with the checklist, but also introducing new shop stewards to the campaign work. In some videoconferences, we also discussed the situation in individual schools in more detail.
How were you able to get such a campaign up and running so quickly? Nobody expected the pandemic and school closures at the beginning of the year.
John: The most important thing is that the recent successes and strength of our union didn't just come out of nowhere. They are the reward for many years of active grassroots work. Many members who played an active role in the campaign had participated in our training sessions beforehand. So we were able to draw on an existing structure, on a common attitude. Most of the colleagues were ready to network with others and get started together.
How exactly did you build that strength?
John: To understand that, you have to know the context: Over the last twenty years, there have been two developments that have changed working conditions in UK schools and fragmented the education system. This has led us to refocus our work. Since the 1980s, teachers* have lost their right to collective bargaining through a series of neoliberal education reforms. In 2010, the Conservative government expanded the Academies Program, transferring state-funded schools, previously the responsibility of local authorities, to the ownership of private foundations and corporations. This also means that salaries vary from school to school.
Organizing in the workplace
Phillips: Before, we had national collective bargaining, so we could negotiate with government and local authorities. In order to continue to oppose the neoliberal restructuring of the school system, we decided to focus more on organizing our rank-and-file members in the workplace, rather than just bargaining at the state or local level. So we started recruiting shop stewards locally and tried to build local groups and networks. The strength we gained from this was crucial to our successful handling of the crisis.
What exactly was the advantage of having a strong membership base during the crisis?
Jacinta: At the schools, many decisions had to be made quickly. If we knew that a school was likely to close, we had to clarify many things in a narrow window of time: Which children and staff* would be able to continue coming to school? Who would have to stay at home? Thanks to the active membership structures we have built up over the past ten years, we were able to react quickly. From day one, our local members got involved in the discussions and stayed involved in the weeks that followed.
John: So when the pressure to reopen the schools increased, we were able to draw on a network of shop stewards in many schools and support teachers* directly in the workplace. We now have about 13 thousand shop stewards in 25 thousand schools, almost half of all schools nationwide.
In one of your nationwide Zoom conferences, 20 thousand members participated. How did you guys manage to do that?
John: We gave it our all: We emailed our members two or three times a week and set up a phone system where all members could call and ask. Hundreds of our staff* and activists* were hanging on the phones. We tried to call every single trusted person and ended up talking to three and a half thousand of them. And only then did we start holding Zoom meetings.
Organizing instead of deputizing
Jacinta: It was also important that we were there immediately after the lockdown. We created a platform where people could talk about what was coming. That was met with a great response: people who were afraid of self-isolation were able to connect with each other and with us. Ironically, more people attended the virtual meetings during the isolation period than before, and at all levels, whether at work or in the district. And then there were countywide meetings that were getting bigger - because people valued community and had a direct say. So they were involved at all levels.
Let's take a step back and look at the big picture to paint a more general picture of your experience: What is the difference between your approach to organizing and the traditional methods of many unions?
John: I would describe it as the difference between being a proxy and organizing. It used to be that you pay your dues and get a benefit in return. But organizing is about understanding where power really lies. It's about shifting power from full-time officers to union members. That's where the real strength of a union lies. Most importantly, we need to strengthen the membership base at the point of work by recruiting, training and supporting shop stewards. Our job is to train people to effectively lead the process "from the bottom up." Members take the leadership role.
Based on your experience, do you have any specific tips for other organizers?
John: First of all, be brave! We dared a lot, and it paid off. We didn't hold back, we made clear demands. And the other thing is: don't be afraid of failure. It's worth trying things, even if they go wrong. That's the only way to learn what works.
Stronger by fighting to open schools
Jacinta: At every moment, in every interaction with our members, one question is central to us: How can what we do strengthen and empower our members? No matter what the task. That's why trainings for new activists* are so important. The shift of power resources "downward" is of course also associated with fear - not necessarily because people want to keep power in other places, but because they doubt the organizing capacity of workers*. They believe their jobs and daily lives are stressful enough already. But where does the strength of a union come from? From the store stewards themselves, from the members, from the solidarity of the colleagues.
John, I remember you once saying, "When everything goes back to normal, we need to be stronger." What did you mean by that?
John: In membership meetings and training programs, I always say, "If your school leadership has been fair in this fight and has done right by you, ask yourselves: What can we fight for next when we return to school in September? Against performance-based pay? For a lighter workload? If you feel ready for that - then go for it." And if the dialogue with school leadership was difficult and you had to fight, realize that you gained agency as a group in the process. All the activists and members have seen their power grow over the last few months. You can now say, "We can close our school and make it safer - we can win." We've won thousands of victories in thousands of schools, and now we're saying, "Don't lose momentum, keep fighting. What should education actually look like? How can we make schools better? Do you want to, as Black Live Matter strongly does, tell and teach a different story of this world? If so, do it. Realize your own strength!"
Jacinta and John are active in Organizing For Power (O4P), an international training program that brings together unionists*, organizers*, and organizing groups from around the world. Led by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and trade union activist and organizer Jane McAlevey, O4P has trained some 5,000 organizers from 60 countries on core organizing methods since 2019. Her book, No Half Measures (No Shortcuts), has been translated by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and published by VSA.
In September, the third lecture series will start, organized by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in cooperation with Jane McAlevey and organizers from all over the world. This time it is entitled "Strike School".
BETTER WITH A PLAN! - WHY CAPITALISM IS FAILING IN THE PANDEMIC
Why capitalism is failing in the pandemic and how a socialist economy would deal with the corona crisis is explained by economist Thomas Walter
[This interview published on July 13, 2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.marx21.de/kapitalismus-corona-pandemie-planwirtschaft-sozialismus-interview/.]
marx21: The Corona pandemic triggered the deepest capitalist economic crisis since 1929. Would the pandemic have hit other economies just as hard?
Thomas Walter: It certainly would not have. The fact that the pandemic leads to such an economic collapse is a specifically capitalist problem.
But when the economy comes to a standstill by necessity, the collapse is inevitable. What would be different in a non-capitalist system?
There was no economic standstill at all. In hardly any country was non-essential production stopped. Even in hot spots of the Corona pandemic, it was always true that work should continue as long as it was somehow possible, despite curfews and contact blocks. The manufacturing sector in particular was largely exempt from the so-called lockdown. The temporary production stop in the automotive industry, for example, had nothing to do with health protection, but was the result of collapsing supply chains in just-in-time production and the foreseeable collapse in demand in an industry already plagued by massive overproduction.
Nevertheless, Corona hit the capitalist economy with full force.
Capitalism is a system that is highly susceptible to disruption. It's like a bicycle: If it doesn't run, it falls over. Similarly in capitalism, money is invested only if it returns money with profit. Capitalism depends on growth, otherwise the investments are not profitable. The money then remains in the cash box. If the cycle G-W-G', i.e. money-commodity-more money, is disturbed, the capitalist economy collapses. The shock to the system can then be much stronger than the actual trigger would suggest.
Some kind of chain reaction?
Exactly. The mere fear of a crisis can trigger one.
Why is that?
Investments carry risk in capitalism, since profits are not realized until they are sold. Once the system falters, uncertainty grows as to whether future profits can still be realized, and a vicious circle begins. Capitalism means chaos on the markets and at the same time mutual dependence of the market participants. That's what makes the system so crisis-prone.
So, the Corona shock has plunged the global economy into such a vicious circle?
Yes, but that is only part of the answer. In fact, the causes of the economic crisis that is now setting in lie much deeper. At most, the pandemic is the trigger.
What do you mean?
The Corona pandemic is hitting a capitalism that still hasn't overcome the last financial crisis. Since its trough in 2009, both world output and world trade have been growing even more weakly than before.
But the stock markets, which collapsed as a result of Corona, continued to record new highs until the end.
But not because the corporations were flourishing, but because shares and real estate were valued ever higher for lack of profitable alternatives. The only reason why many companies did not go bankrupt was because they kept their heads above water with cheap loans, ultimately from the central banks. However, these loans were not used for investing, but often only to buy back their own shares. This drove up their prices and stimulated consumption by those rich people who sold these shares back to the companies. But investment failed to materialize, and so did growth. Capitalism was sick even before Corona. The virus merely exposed the disease.
How do you evaluate the crisis reactions of the capitalist states?
It is becoming abundantly clear that the demands of the capitalist economy are at odds with health protection and pandemic control.
In what way?
It starts with health care systems broken by economization and ends with the inability to manage the production and distribution of protective equipment and mass testing, at least for medical personnel. At the same time, capital is pushing for a rapid ramp-up of production. The media scare with reports of how badly aviation, the auto industry, the hospitality industry or mechanical engineering have slumped. The auto industry demands "purchase premiums" from the state for car buyers so that it can make a profit again. Macabre discussions are being held about whether life really is the highest good.
But the question of the right "exit strategy" is also disputed in the bourgeois camp.
There are also voices on the capital side that warn against premature "easing" because they fear a renewed "lockdown" that would exacerbate the capitalist crisis. But only a small minority has such a forward-looking perspective. The short-term business interest in returning to capitalist "normality" as quickly as possible prevails, and politicians largely give in to this.
Because it serves the interests of capital?
It is about coming out of the crisis "stronger" than the competition. The state itself is in international competition with other states. In the event of a crisis, it is its task to protect national capital on the world market and to save profits over the crisis. For example, the state is first concerned with how it can protect domestic capitalists against foreign competitors.
And for this it is also prepared to sacrifice human lives?
The task of the capitalist state is not to save lives, but to get the capital cycle going again. It is not about people, not about "the interest of all of us," not about jobs, but about getting G-W-G' going again.
And how does the state try to do that?
It spends money that it borrows from the capitalists, who no longer want to invest it themselves in the crisis because there are no more profits to be made. Instead of investing, they now lend the money to the state. In the crisis, strong capitalist states like Germany are considered "safe havens." Later, however, the capitalists want the money back, if possible, with interest, although they have become somewhat more modest due to the crisis: G-G'. This is how the state finances the bridging aid. Government debt is rising. In addition, the central banks fire up the printing presses to print money. And debates begin in the bourgeois camp about how the money can be recovered later at the expense of the working class. They are already thinking, for example, about future cuts in pensions or other social spending.
In the face of the crisis, bourgeois ideologues are drawing a contrast between the "free market" and the authoritarian, oppressive, bureaucratic state. What's the point?
It's hypocritical. The Corona crisis, like the financial crisis before it, exposes the need for the state to bail out the capitalists. The state serves as a piggy bank for capital that seeks investment opportunities and finds none in the crisis. The state helps capital with loans. It serves as a crisis fire department or crisis insurance for capital.
How would a socialist system react to a pandemic?
A democratically planned economy can grow, but unlike capitalism, it does not have to. Production is decided democratically. In the event of a pandemic, production is scaled down until the danger is averted. Afterwards, one or two things may have to be repaired. But then life can go on.
So in a planned economy, production would also be cut back, but without the devastating chain reaction?
Yes, if such an epidemic were to occur at all. Less of some goods would be produced to protect people. Car production, for example, could be paused. All this would not immediately be accompanied by an existential threat to the entire economy.
Why would a pandemic be less likely to occur in a planned economy?
Because in a planned and democratically controlled economic system, precautions would be taken against pandemics and other disasters. It's not as if there haven't been warnings about this very scenario for years.
Why are the warnings ignored under capitalism?
Under capitalism, whoever can compete survives. Even bourgeois economists see a problem here, as this forces short-term thinking and action. Those who cut costs and maximize profits in the short term survive against competitors. When the crisis hits, any "reasonable" competitors who think in the long term will have long since competed away. It doesn't help when even bourgeois commentators have been warning of a pandemic for years. They are powerless against the logic of competition.
But there is a certain amount of precaution or planning in capitalism as well.
However, it is not about people, but about longer-term competitiveness. Corporations or states that can expand their competitiveness on the world market have a certain amount of leeway for strategic planning. They prepare for the next crisis and take precautions to defend their own competitiveness on the world market. German capital, for example, is one of the strongest on the world market. In times of crisis, Germany has reserves and can obtain loans cheaply. Thus, in 2009, on the occasion of the financial crisis, Angela Merkel was able to hold out the prospect that "our country" will emerge from the crisis stronger than it went into it.
Isn't that what it is?
"Our country?" If anything, it's German capital. Ultimately, however, German capital has also emerged from the crisis weakened, albeit stronger compared to some of its competitors. In capitalism, however, it is also an ideological problem who should organize precautionary measures.
Ideologically, the "free" markets are responsible for everything. Even a precautionary state acting fully in the capitalist interest endangers the political interests of the capitalists simply because it is there. Ideologically, therefore, alleged "natural disasters," such as Corona now, which can only be repaired after the fact, fit the "constraints" of the market. Therefore, in capitalism, the child must always first fall into the well before the capitalist state is allowed to act.
But good and preventive health protection is above all a question of cost.
Yes, definitely. In capitalism, health, the environment and the standard of living of workers in general are costs that reduce profits. The working class must constantly fight for these values against profit interests. That is why jobs in the social sectors are mostly precarious and low-paid. That is why there is cost pressure in hospitals.
What would that look like in a socialist economic order?
In a democratically planned economy, people decide about protecting health and the environment, for the benefit of everyone, not just the rich. It is decided democratically what resources should be allocated for this and whether more should be done for it in the future. It is not the "constraints" of competition, i.e., "competitiveness," that dictate what should be done. Democratic planning does not have to wait until the crisis is here to then justify doing something. It's not about repairing the capital cycle after the fact, but about protecting people in advance.
Do you have a concrete example of that?
Right now, there is a race to develop a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, but under capitalism the development of vaccines is not approached as a central task, but is left to private pharmaceutical companies. Many costs are thus doubled and tripled, because each company conducts its research in secret and in competition with others. In addition, there is a general problem: Vaccines do not fit into the concept of the pharmaceutical companies at all.
Why is that?
People would then possibly be healthy. The goal of the pharmaceutical industry is to sell expensive drugs to the sick after the fact, instead of protecting the population from disease in advance.
How is production organized in a democratically planned economy?
Production is not coordinated through the "equalization of profit rates" (Marx) between industries, which is only possible in a crisis and with a time lag, with sometimes too much, sometimes too little production. Rather, production is organized through self-managed enterprises. Democratically elected councils coordinate production between the enterprises. The goal of the economy is to satisfy needs rather than to force growth.
But hasn't experience with planned economies like those in the Soviet Union or the GDR shown that the plan is rarely fulfilled and that the system as a whole is inferior to capitalism?
The Soviet Union and the GDR may have been planned economies, but they were not democratic ones. There, planning was done, but for competition on the world market and for the arms race. People's needs were "costs," just as in capitalism. At the same time, actual costs, such as the overexploitation of nature, were externalized, just as in capitalism, i.e. passed on to the general public. It was not the working people who determined production, but the party and state bureaucracy. That was not socialism. A democratically planned economy is not about world market competition or "system competition." A socialist economy plans for needs in the long term.
Doesn't it have to worry about its own competitiveness?
This is the problem with the doctrine of "socialism in one country" as introduced by Stalin in the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s. Its failure proved once again that the success of socialism ultimately depends on world revolution. Internationalism is not merely a nice accessory for socialists, but imperative.
So, wait for the world revolution?
By no means wait! After all, a revolution does not come out of nowhere, but emerges from the struggles in the here and now. The point is that we can only fight for social or ecological progress against capitalist principles.