On Capitalist Crisis or Crises.
The term ‘crisis’ appears frequently in the mainstream media, but it is rarely applied to the capitalist mode of production as a whole. With the exception of the 2008 financial crisis, it is also rare to see the term applied to more than one serious problem of modern life. Yet there are six areas where the fundamental contradictions of the capitalist mode of production are dangerously destructive. The six areas are; economics, finance, politics, social-welfare, environment and education.
Economic activities (producing food, water, clothing and shelter) are the foundations upon which all human communities are based. Yet exceptions aside, within capitalist modes of production, these basic needs can only be purchased with money. Yet sufficient money can only be normally obtained by paid employment and large-scale unemployment therefore creates a socio-economic crisis.
But alongside that basic-needs contradiction squirms another. The motive for capitalist production is profit which requires the constant production and sales of commodities and services. Production in turn needs constant supplies of raw materials and accessible markets. Capitalists compete for these and in extreme cases, encourage their political and military elites to declare hostilities on another country to secure such resources. Creating enemies and wars – are symptoms of capitalism in an international phase of crisis.
In stark contrast to the poor, the elites have so much money that they not only obtain obscenely high standards of living and accumulated wealth, they can use their money to do two things. First, use it to invest in more efficient production and distribution, thus creating even more goods/unemployment/rubbish. Second, they use it to speculate in commodities (or contracts) buying and selling to make more money.
This stock-market ‘trading’ not only increases prices for essential commodities but speculation can make everything more expensive. It can also lead to regular speculative bubbles like the one which burst in 2008. Speculation is currently pumping up bubbles in many more commodities which will burst and again paralyse general economic activity. Bursting bubbles are a symptom of capitalism’s financial crisis.
Few can can doubt that the political systems and politicians in most countries are in crisis. Most are incompetent, motivated by self-interest, collectively corrupt and committed to the continuance of the capitalist mode of production. It is this commitment to capitalism with its unsolvable contradictions, which also makes them part of the problem. Over the last century or so of governing capitalism, all the possible political forms have been tried and failed.
Capitalist countries have been run by aristocratic, right-wing, left-wing and liberal political elites; Fascist dictatorships, Bolshevik sectarians, former slave and peasant revolutionaries, military elites, religious elites and even the occasional female leader. All failed to overcome capitalism’s inbuilt contradictions, which remain irreconcilable with the needs of the majority of humanity. Unequal economic relationships inevitably create unequal political forms and vica versa. Ownership and control, of production by the producers is what is needed, but politics stands in the way.
Social programmes in the areas of unemployment pay, health-care and end of life care programmes are all in obvious crisis. Under capitalism these should be funded from high earnings and purchases. Therefore, reduction in savings and taxes caused by unemployment and low pay results in a welfare funding crisis. Less taxes means less money for benefits, health-care and end-of-life care.
Under capitalism, a disproportionate amount of the combined annual value of all economic activity in each country goes into the private bank accounts of elites in finance, business, commerce, entertainment, sport and government. Consequently none of this finds its way into social-welfare programmes. Furthermore, the capitalist mode of production by developing science and mechanised production has enabled the human population to expand and consume a multitude of products at a rate which mean global resources are being rapidly exhausted.
Over 7 billion people (and rising) now potentially over-consume on a planet which prior to the industrial revolution supported less than one billion. For the world’s poor sufficient water, food, shelter and are already difficult to acquire. The better off countries of the world are running out of places to ‘dump’ their rubbish. More production and distribution by capitalist methods equals more social-welfare problems.
Environmental issues are currently the most featured aspect of capitalist crisis. However, this area of concern is usually considered in isolation from the other five aspects of crisis. Its direct connection with capitalism is generally ignored. Otherwise knowledgeable commentators, describe the effects of ecological damage, climate change, floods, fires and pollution, but demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of the dynamic of capitalist production which make these symptoms inevitable.
This intellectual disconnect between cause and effect in capitalist productive relationships, has led to large-scale denial, indifference, addictive consumption and a focus on cleaning-up rather than eliminating pollution. Arriving at different environmental conclusions from different class perspectives, is itself an element of the crisis facing humanity. If a critical-mass of people cannot think holistically, (and self-critically) then there can be no short or long-term serious efforts to reverse the environmental damage being done.
Education under capitalism is predominantly training for an occupation within its evolving system of production. The training is simultaneously ideological in order that people support the capitalist system and think there is no acceptable alternative to it. The resulting lack of questioning has become a symptom of crisis since it obscures the clarity needed by people to analyse the role of ‘capital’ in the many aspects of crisis we face.
Consequently, a great deal of self-education is required to navigate through the propaganda, half-truths, fake-truths and self-serving bias which are promoted by supporters of the capitalist system. An associated problem lies in the prevalence of dualistic either/or modes of thinking and in assumptions and opinions borrowed from supposedly authoritative sources. Seriously questioning everything is sadly the only wise course of action for anyone wishing to understand the world – as it is – in order to change it.
Roy Ratcliffe (January 2020)