Dysfunction and disintegration.
In the 21st century, the capitalist mode of production more and more resembles a science-fiction dystopia – on a truly global scale. Despite the extremely functional efficiency of modern technology driven by the profit motive, economies, societies and ecologies around the globe are increasingly dysfunctional. As a result, large numbers of the worlds citizens are in a state of unease or general dissatisfaction! Uprisings, demonstrations, occupations, petitions, sectarian killings abound and movements for regional disconnection (autonomy and self-rule) within many nation-states are now gathering pace. These events along with rapidly growing numbers of refugees, are all social and political symptoms of the crisis-riddled nature of the 21st century capitalist mode of production.
The capitalist-led economic models have long been known to be dysfunctional in that social productive powers have been skewed toward satisfying private profit, rather than social need. Production is further skewed in that (apart from the luxuries for the rich), the quantity of items produced dominate the market regardless of quality. Additionally, amidst abundance of essential life-sustaining products, (often over-abundance) there are millions left starving, homeless and oppressed. It has now also become abundantly obvious that the unwanted by-products of capitalist production – pollution, ecological exhaustion and environmental destruction – are eliminating the present and future material resource bases for all forms of economic and social organisation.
Not surprisingly, the capitalist and pro-capitalist political models of governance which arise from this economic mode are also dysfunctional for the vast majority of human beings. These bourgeois political forms only represent the interests of a tiny elite minority and they use the past and present wealth created by the efforts of the majority of working people to protect their own parasitic existence. The sham of bourgeois forms of democracy, in which the governed are allowed to vote every few years for a self-selected party elite of career politicians, who then govern according to their own elite-driven agenda’s, is everywhere exposed as dysfunctional.
So neither is it surprising that separatist movements are gathering pace in many parts of the globe. Not just Crimea, recently separating from Ukraine and its knock-on effects there, but similar movements are gathering momentum in Spain, (Catalonia), Italy (Venice) Britain (Scotland). These and others such moves on the continents of Africa and North and South America, are initial reactions to this global dysfunction and disintegration. Uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, mass demonstrations in Spain, Greece, Italy, South America, east Asia etc., are also adding to the global picture of the dysfunctional nature of nation-state governance under the capitalist mode of production.
More and more nation-states have emerged which can be best described as ‘failed-states’. Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, etc., for example represent the extreme end of this spectrum of failure. Some of these failures have been brought about by capitalist driven super-powers and weapons manufacturers who have manipulated and intervened in other countries affairs. At the less extreme ends are states who are close to bankruptcy and are failing to adhere to the welfare and benefits programmes they contracted to deliver to their citizens. Not surprisingly then that the capitalist systems dystopia is also reflected among those masses not yet calling for ‘separatism’ as the opposite of euphoria – dysphoria.
Indeed, I also suggest that this unease and disintegration is spreading to the capitalist and pro-capitalist elites who presently govern the system. As these elites see their system steadily crumbling under the combined weight of economic crisis, unsolvable sovereign debts and large-scale corruption, some are becoming anxious. However, their class-based responsibilities to uphold the modern economic, financial and military system – based upon capital – cause most of them to become reactionary and increasingly turn on their own citizens. In every period of downturn and adversity, unrest against the capitalist system increases in proportion to the severity of the crisis.
In the 21st century we have again entered a period which perhaps can also be characterised politically as one involving ‘the state versus the people’. In this war against its own people, the elite defenders of states have taken to labelling those campaigning against their rule as ‘terrorists’. Using the terminology of terrorism and any laws passed against real terrorists, state officials and politicians in many nation-states are already criminalising protest and incarcerating protestors. With this last authoritarian development in mind it becomes important to understand the relationship between the state and the economic system upon which it arises.
The state versus the people.
In every state which is constructed upon a definite economic system, the ruling elite controlling it must use its forces to defend that economic system. This is because that economic system is not only the underlying source of the elites individual incomes and wealth, but is also the source of sustenance for the states activities. These activities may vary but among them are included the two essentials for any state; bureaucratic administration and armed bodies of men. The administration duties of a state include the crucial levying and collecting of taxes and resources to fund and supply the state bureaucracy and to employ a class of armed men to defend the privileges of the elite and their system of politics.
There is a proportional relationship (often on a sliding scale) between the size or extent of the economic resources available and the possible size of the state. In general the larger or more complex a state becomes (via its bureaucracy and armed forces etc.), the more extensive (or more productive) the economic base must become in order to maintain it or sustain its further development. And of course the more productive the economic base becomes the greater the surplus wealth appropriated by the elite. Conversely, the larger the territorial control a ruling elite wishes to exercise, the larger the state and its armed bodies of men will need to become.
Hence ancient empires, such as the Roman, the Islamic and the Ottoman, tended to continually extend the extent of their tribute-paying territories by conquest and annexation. They thus needed to augment their armed forces in order to control and administer their new acquisitions. Once embarked upon such oppressive practices, the ruling elites of these states and empires had to defend themselves and the economic system against two possibilities. First, from possible rebellions by its own subordinated populations and secondly, from any predatory actions from other organised elites, including rival empires. It was an overall process which continued, for generations, until contradictions within the system began to reach extremes and either gradual or relatively quick power erosions or collapses took place.
In the middle-ages, for example, the Princely feudal ‘realms’ of Europe were replaced by Princely states, which in turn were eventually eclipsed by Kingly feudal states, later still to be superseded by bourgeois states displaying vastly superior wealth and power. Despite many changes in economics and technology during these long periods of transition, an ongoing contradiction was (and still is) the above noted oppressive nature of the state against its own citizens.
The form the bureaucracy and military took necessarily changed over many centuries from ecclesiastical roots and voluntary peasant armies to more secular state forms with full-time professional (often mercenary) armies. Now all modern armies are state-funded, as are the increasingly militarised police forces. There has, therefore, been a long transition from medieval ruling elites professing to be ‘good Samaritans’ to a procession of bourgeois ‘democratic’ elites becoming seen as nothing more than ‘good Charlatan’s’.
Capitalisms’ ‘long-war’ of exploitation and competition.
The formation of modern capitalist states has been no different in this general regard, than those which preceded them. These too have been erected upon and further developed on the basis of an exploitative economic system – the modern competitive capitalist mode of production. Since, due to the development of industrial methods, this particular economic system is very productive, the size of the state elite and its functions have also increased exponentially.
However, the triumph of capitalism introduced another aspect to simple elite greed for extending their personal wealth. Capitalists once they fully developed ‘mechanisation’ and allied it to industrial methods of production, created more products than could be profitably sold in localised markets. In addition, apart from a few well favoured places, capitalist production methods required huge quantities of raw materials to continuously manufacture commodities.
Faced with these problems of competition and the desire/need for uninterrupted production, the national-based capitalist elites introduced a new era of wars and conquests between capitalist nation-states for domination of international markets and sources of essential materials. Variously termed Colonialism, Imperialism and now neo-liberalism, this ravenous need of capitalists for the conquest of markets and materials, has via the modern state and its powers over its citizens, dragged working people the world over into fighting each other on a regular basis. This competitive ‘long-war’ between national based and now international-based capital, (frequently interrupted by military wars of varying magnitudes), is conducted merely to achieve the continuing potential for the capitalist and pro-capitalist elite to make profits and accumulate wealth.
These twin needs are the economic basis of all 20th century competitive trade wars and their frequent transformations into open military conflagrations such as the first and second world wars. Not only in the case of these two ‘total wars’, but these needs are also the basis of the many military incursions and atrocities since 1945, and those still occurring. Continents containing what are termed ‘strategic raw materials’ and sources of energy such as petroleum are particularly prone to interference by strong and therefore ‘needy’ capitalist powers.
Whenever opportune markets and resources cannot be assured and guaranteed by advantageous trade agreements, the capitalist and pro-capitalist elites (these also include the top military elites) secure them by installing or supporting pliant or compliant governments. If such black-op strategies fail military occupation becomes the preferred option. The most assertive and frequently aggressive pro-capitalist elites in this tradition of market and resource acquisition, are clearly the Anglo-Saxon firm of North America and the UK. Kept somewhat in check for decades by the military strength of the previous Soviet Union, the USA and the UK elites have become more assertive in pushing the market and resource needs of capital.
They have now been joined in this quest by the elites of countries belonging to the European Economic Community. Against the wishes of vast numbers of their own citizens they have whole-heartedly supported the invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq and the sanctions against Iran. They have helped beat the drums of military action in Libya and assisted or applauded the advent of the cowardly US-led drone warfare programme – no matter what collateral damage is being inflicted upon ordinary people and their families. Such actions are framed in their public discourse as the export of democratic norms when it is exports and import of profitable materials which lie behind such rhetorical smoke-screens.
Although since the end of the cold war, the Russian and Chinese elites have minimised invading countries militarily, they are not immune to considering such possibilities. The rising capitalist influenced powers in these two huge countries have the same pressing need for sources of raw materials, cheap labour and markets for their surplus products. The profit motive in these two countries is no less intense and compelling than elsewhere, particularly during the current period of global crisis. Already a partial economic war in the form of sanctions is unfolding.
Stuck in the middle with you.
Fascists to the right of us; Sectarians to the left; I am stuck in the middle with you. (Apologies to Rafferty and Egan) Stuck in the middle of these competitive economic and potential military wars of national and international based capital conglomerations are the working people of each country. Leaving aside the two world wars, this invidious position for the majority of working people is no less devastating and tragic in the 21st century than it was in the early 20th. For generations the lives of working people – who create the wealth of societies by hand or by brain – have been relegated to the status of easily disposable wage-slaves and into being citizens subordinated to the wishes of the capitalist and pro-capitalist elites.
Using the physical and intellectual resources of the state the working classes have been used as the professional or conscripted cannon-fodder for pursuing the interests of the capitalist and pro-capitalist elites. Despite a fifty year period of welfare state-capitalism in Europe after the second world war, the essence of the exploitative and aggressive capitalist mode of production has remained the same. Wage-slavery and intellectual subordination to the capitalist intellectual apologists has over the same period, protected the system at the expense of countless working class lives.
Under propaganda and disinformation pressure from elites (or prior uncritical conviction), a retreat by working people – white-collar or blue – into nationalism, religious sectarianism or political sectarianism is to act directly or indirectly in the interests of the existing mode of production. Such reactionary ideologies will only serve to continually divide working people and in this way perpetuate capitalisms disastrous effects upon humanity and the planet. For capitalism and the state are two sides of the same dystopian enterprise. The nation-state form everywhere in all its guises (capitalist or allegedly socialist) has routinely declared war upon nature, its own citizens and the rest of humanity.
It is time for more than just petitions, protests and uprisings against existing dysfunctional states and their pro-capitalist elites. Changes in the personnel running the capitalist system alters nothing of sustained benefit to working people and the majority of ordinary people. Revolutions against the existing mode of production are what are ultimately needed. However, all such fundamental economic and social revolutions need a revolution in human thinking as well as in the forms of mass anti-capitalist activism. The former has unfortunately – as yet – not reached a critical-mass among anti-capitalists, let alone the working classes.
Roy Ratcliffe. (April 2014.)