Whether we consider the multifarious problems in Greece, Spain and other countries, or the emergence of radical Islam (as with ISIL), the continuing 21st century economic crisis of the capitalist mode of production has undoubtedly produced a profound political crisis which impacts upon the nation-state. The present crisis is truly one of global proportions and of multiple symptoms. Of course, any systemic crisis in the economic base of the capitalist mode of production, is bound to be reflected one way or another in the socio-political practice and ideology that represents the interests of those who benefit from this system. The ideology and practice which has most accurately reflected the capitalistic interests of the bourgeoisie and petite-bourgeoisie up until the late 20th century, has been that of nationalism. And it is indeed the practice of the bourgeois state and its ideological offspring – bourgeois nationalism – that is currently under serious attack.
The first line of attack upon the nation-state is coming from the representatives of the finance-capital, and multi-national sectors of capitalism. The needs and aspirations of this sector have long outgrown the territorial limitations of the nation-state, but now they aspire to control even more. As a group it is led by an oligarchy who wish to consolidate their global economic and financial domination of everything and this now includes significant ‘outside’ control over the politics and legislation of nation-states. The investment logic of the financial section of the bourgeoisie (the market fundamentalists) increasingly requires the submission of national sovereignty – in all matters related to their global financial interests. They now insist that their appointed fund managers and internally elected boards of directors in the IMF, ECB, for example, have the right to demand that elected governments ignore their electorates wishes, implement and enforce state laws and enter and honour contracts beneficial to their financial wellbeing.
The second line of attack upon the bourgeois nation-state is from extreme Islamic fundamentalism, whose representatives also reject the nation-state form – neo-liberal bourgeois or otherwise. This religious category of fundamentalists recognise only religious boundaries and also want their own form of global domination – more recently designated as (and centred upon) a resurrected Caliphate. These militant religious fundamentalists also insist that their unelected elites and religious oligarchs have the right to demand that elected governments bow to their wishes and implement laws (Sharia) beneficial to their Islamic religious interests. Whilst, the finance-capitalists ruthlessly wield weapons of economic destruction, the Islamists ruthlessly wield weapons of physical destruction. Both seek to govern either directly or indirectly and in pursuit of their respective aims. Both sets of elites seek to destroy each other and seriously harm anyone who gets in between or opposes their intentions.
In each case it is the ordinary people of the world who are suffering and will continue to suffer from these two sources of elite oppression and exploitation. This is done by creating fear of (and actual loss of) jobs, homes and pensions on the one hand, (perpetrated by the economic fundamentalist IMF/ECB) and fear of (and actual loss of) life or limb (in this case by the religious fundamentalist ISIL) on the other. Both of these increasingly powerful groups wish to control the lives and labour of ordinary people – for their own elite ends. And promoting as well as implementing life threatening actions and ideology is not the only similarity between these two different ideological positions now competing for eventual global domination.
What fuels the ambitions of the finance-capitalist sector is the arrogant assumption that the system they uphold is the best for humanity. Operating as high-level loan sharks, the logic of their economic assumptions and social aspirations are such that they consider themselves entitled to trample on other citizens rights. This amounts to a classic case of persecuting the victims (the working classes) of this current mode of production. The working classes, blue-collar and white, have no say over what is produced, how it is produced, nor do they have a say in what loans their government choose to sign up to. Yet they are the ones that suffer from unemployment by production being moved to low-cost countries or the import of low-cost labour. They are also the ones who suffer most from environmental degradation and who suffer most from taxation and the effects of governmental austerity measures.
What fuels the ambitions of the Islamists is also an arrogant assumption that Islam is the best religion for humanity. The logic of their religious assumptions and social aspirations are also such that they are convinced they are entitled to trample on other citizens rights, including the right to live. The three Abrahamic religions, of which Islam is one, are based upon ancient texts which were formulated during a period when tribal patriarchy dominated societies. Consequently these texts are deeply prejudiced not only against people of other religions but also internally against women, homosexuals and rational-based science. The existence of these ancient writings is also the textual foundation of all forms of religious fundamentalism, including those who kill in the name of God and justify it by those texts. Followers of all these religions have killed in the name of their God, Islam is just currently the one most openly committed to perpetrating crimes against humanity.
Resistance to either of these two elite-sponsored fundamentalist attacks upon the bourgeois state has been slow to develop and only began to stir in the second decade of the 21st century. This as yet ineffectual struggle to defend the bourgeois nation-state within Europe has commenced among the professional middle-classes, who have reason to fear not only the Islamists and the neo-liberalists, but also the potential for revolution among the working classes and dispossessed. All these three constituencies threaten the ambitions and the middle-class privileged nation-state positions achieved during the 20th and 21st centuries. As yet the token resistance to finance-capital has been to be rhetorically (or in a few cases politically) opposed to neo-liberal ’austerity’. In contrast the resistance to Islamism has been less effective. In pursuit of ‘political correctness’ it has been limited to denouncing ‘killing in the name of God’ as not authentic Islam. This is an assertion which merely indicates they have not seriously studied the Qur’an or many of the Hadiths.
Although the latter two fundamentalisms (economic and religious) differ considerably on intended outcome, they are both examples of the increasing attacks upon the ideal and reality of the secular bourgeois nation-state. An additional and less obvious symptom of a threat to the bourgeois state is the above noted increasing disillusion among the working classes of the economically advanced capitalist countries of the world. General support for the nation-state is waning precisely because capitalist and state-capitalist states are increasingly failing their citizens. The development of the neo-liberal phase of capitalism and its attendant crisis has served to erode the supposed ‘contract’ between state elites and their citizens. The social contract to pay reasonable taxes and obey state laws in exchange for economic participation, justice, peace, protection and security has gone. For the middle and working classes, the poor and the dispossessed, taxes have gone up but economic participation, peace, justice and security has gone down.
It is popular amongst some sections of the press and the academic media to point to the failure of ex-colonial states as they descend into either systemic anarchic dysfunction or systemic dictatorial corruption and eventual collapse. Whilst these failures are true, such orientalist/racist prejudice labelling is to miss a glaringly obvious point. In the advanced countries of Europe and North America the technically bankrupt, bourgeois nation-state, as noted above, is also demonstrably failing its citizens. After a previous profound economic and political crisis in the early twentieth century had caused mass unemployment followed by two wars of mutual mass extermination, the bourgeois elite had promised a radically different state and a more egalitarian world in future. Job creation, welfare provision, education, health, dignified retirement and many other areas of life were to be provided by the bourgeois nation-state. The capitalist mode of production and its institutional off-spring, the nation-state was in future supposed to be harnessed to these and other worthwhile ends.
In actual fact this promised entitlement for every citizen was never fully realised and for those who did benefit from it, this post-war settlement did not even last for one generation before a new political elite reneged on the promise and simultaneously accelerated a new crisis. This fact has not been lost on those citizens who care to think about it. For the second or third time (two instances In the 19th century and now in the 21st) the economic system of capitalism has proved itself incapable of providing an adequate standard of living for the mass of ordinary people – the white and blue-collar working classes. Ever since its economic domination, the fulfilling of the investment needs of capital for its preservation and augmentation has prevented this possibility. In the 21st century, ‘austerity’ and ‘zero-hours’ are the words chosen by the capitalist system to attack the living standards of the working classes. Considered open-mindedly, and from the standpoint of the working classes, employed or unemployed – the whole world is full of failed or failing states!
The investment dynamic of the capitalist mode of production, directed by its political representatives – left, right and centre – has created a global form of dystopia. Whether we consider the advanced capitalist countries of Europe and North America, or the so-called Third World countries of Africa, South America and Asia, the capitalist system and its state-forms can no longer provide economic or social stability for even its most privileged citizens. Secure careers, secure borders, secure transport, secure pensions, secure streets, satisfactory health care are increasingly no longer a permanent possibility for the middle-classes, let alone the working classes and the poor. Whether we consider, the left reformist programmes of Venezuela or 20th century Europe, the radical neo-liberal programmes of the USA, Germany and the Nordic countries, or the numerous dictatorships around the world, capitalism and the nation-state system only works for a relatively small minority.
Another glaring failure of the bourgeois nation-state has been with regard to the promotion of the neo-liberal stage of capitalist development in Europe and its economic effects. Despite the pious rhetoric, the freedom of capital and labour to move around Europe and the world, for example, was little more than an attempt by the representatives of capital to boost profitability by eroding working class advances in economic and social welfare after the Second World War. It succeeded temporarily within the European Economic Community, as a further example, because under EEC de-restricted regulations capitalists were able to import cheap labour or export capital to places of cheap labour virtually as they saw fit. For decades, this ’open-door’ policy was championed and implemented by capitalists and mainstream politicians of all persuasions. But now we see even more of the contradictions of the capitalist mode of production that are coming home to roost.
The allied global neo-liberal economic policies with their military muscle backing them up have also caused further states to ‘fail’ together with creating massive numbers of dispossessed people – particularly in the middle-east and north Africa. These millions of dispossessed, from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya etc., are now using every conceivable means to flee to safety toward the ‘open-doors’ of Europe. Suddenly the economic and political representatives of capital are having second thoughts about the ‘free movement of labour’ policy and these distressed individuals and families are now being treated like criminals or bureaucratically herded and processed like cattle in and between what amount to no more than makeshift ‘concentration camps’.
And this mass migration of dispossessed people from war-torn ‘failed states’ toward European states which are themselves already failing their existing citizens, has grave implications. There are already serious infrastructure problems, in housing, health, social services, education, pension provisions, within European nation-states, all of which will become acerbated by any serious influx of dispossessed people. So what is maturing now within and without European nation-states has revolutionary implications – at least with regard to the social fabric of European societies. Economically, the current ‘migration’ crisis is no less problematic, for the question of employment under a capitalist mode of production and nation statehood has already been revealed as unsolvable.
The system of capitalist production with profit as its motive has not been able to provide adequate full employment for its citizens in Europe for decades prior to this dislocation of economic and social life in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya etc. There is no way that the capitalist mode of production can employ all those who already need employment within the nation-states of Europe or elsewhere, let alone many thousands more who are also dispossessed and are looking for a safe and productive haven. The funding methods of the state under the capitalist mode of production has likewise rendered it unable to provide adequate, housing, health care, education, pension provision, etc., for its existing citizens, let alone millions more needing these resources as they enter and attempt to integrate into Europe. This poses the following contradictory problems for a struggling humanity: in the future there will three possible forms of socio-political struggle; the first, a struggle to change the mode of production; the second, in the form of a mutually destructive civil strife between the pro-capitalist haves and the have-nots within the capitalist state system; or a third possibility in the form of another serious war.
Revolution, Civil Strife or yet another War?
A third world war may seem an unlikely outcome of what has now become the third most serious systemic crisis of the capitalist mode of production. However, bear the following in mind. Systemic crises of relative overproduction were the actual economic tap-roots of the social discontent leading to the outbreak of both the 1st and 2nd world wars. Whilst a globalised total-war of 1938-1945 dimensions may be unlikely, there is at least the beginnings of a serious possibility of full-scale conflagration in the middle east. The stated intentions of the Islamic fundamentalists centred around ISIL is to deliberately provoke one with the west and the military and political elite in the west are already flexing their armed response muscles again. It needs to be fully understood that wars are particularly good for the capitalist mode of production when in crisis. This is not only because the profits of arms manufacturers benefit directly, but also because political and military elites become totally entrenched in power under conditions of state-regulated war. History has demonstrated that an economic crisis followed by a serious social and political crisis within an allied capitalist ‘camp’ can often be the pretext to ’bring one on’!
An important further benefit of war to the capitalist mode of production in a crisis lies in the fact that workers and materials which have become surplus to labour market requirements (ie by large-scale unemployment) can be enlisted and sequestered to serve as war materials and if necessary as expendable cannon-fodder. The millions of workers who died during the 1st and 2nd World Wars partly solved the problem of the systems pre and post-war mass unemployment in the 19th and 20th centuries. The subsequent carnage effectively removed large numbers of human beings who might have questioned the capitalist mode of production – and the nation-state which dragged them into war – had they not had their short lives truncated. Of the three possibilities mentioned it is clear that a successful struggle to change the mode of production to a post-capitalist internationalist one would be the most beneficial to collective humanity, the bio-diversity of the planet, its eco-systems and its climate. However, the route to this particular outcome will not be an easy one.
Although humanity is an international species and linked economicaly, if not yet socially, it is also currently conceptually divided on the basis of age, gender, sexuality, nationality, politics and religion. And of course, agencies in each division are prepared to manipulate and widen these secondary differences for their own benefit. Another dimension of this contradictory inclination of the human species lies in the divisions among the sectarian anti-capitalists, who themselves cling to outdated dogma and manage to cleave their ranks into smaller and smaller mutually antagonistic and disrespectful sects. All this means that the route to an alternative beneficial post-capitalist internationalist mode of production may well lie through civil strife and further warfare until the repeated folly of both bring about the eventual realisation that the capitalist mode of production, the nation-state and sectarian divisions are the problems for humanity to overcome and not the practical solutions to the ecological and sociological challenges facing us.
Roy Ratcliffe (September 2015)