The argument is won: capitalism as an effective system to organise society and provide for human needs has expired. The evidence is conclusive. Trillions of dollars to kickstart the economy in the US and Europe may have given an ephemeral lease of life to the financial class to spin the casino wheel once again, but it is more apparent by the day that the tentative “recovery” has spluttered to a standstill. Gridlocked by unprecedented levels of personal and national debts, the engine of production – the real economy – is in a state of rigor mortis.
This collapse has been a long time in the making. Decades of easy credit was up to now a way for the ruling class – government, corporations, financial institutions – to let the majority of workers subsidise the chronic loss in their livelihoods, which have been drained since the mid-1970s by the oligarchy’s self-aggrandisement from wage cutting, regressive taxation and public spending cuts. The political class – whether liberal or conservative, right or left – have facilitated this giant wealth-siphoning process.
However, the point is that the economic system is now objectively shown to be moribound. And it is impossible for so-called mainstream politicians to think of any other way of doing business. They are ideologically blind. Recall former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s arrogant assertion: “There is no alternative”. Likewise, US President Barack Obama insists on throwing billions more dollars at the banks and financiers on Wall Street. But that won’t kickstart an economy in which millions of workers are without jobs and homes or who are on crumby wages and up to their necks in debt. The profit system has hit an historic dead-end and this gridlock is a result of deep trends to do with the decline in capitalism as a mode of social production (falling wages and profits and the concomitant explosion in financial speculation and debts).
Widespread poverty and human misery is now seen on a massive scale in the so-called developed world. Some 40 million Americans, for example, are subsisting on food stamps. The distinction between “developed” and “developing” economies (always a myth anyway) is blurred. The ranks of the world’s long-suffering poor are swelled with dispossessed blue and white-collar workers and their families from across the US and Europe. Together more than ever, they stand shut out from those gated havens of obscene wealth for a global minority.
Similar historic junctures have been witnessed before when capitalism floundered from its inexorable tendency to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Disturbingly, the release valve for the system and its bankruptcy has always been war. Death and destruction is the lender of last resort to an economic system that – despite itself – inevitably polarises wealth to an unworkable degree. The First and Second World Wars – claiming more than 70 million over a period of less than 10 years lives – were effectively the ultimate, grotesque bailouts.
In our time, war, it seems, has already begun. The US oligarchy and its NATO allies are waging a veritable war on the world: killing, disappearing and incarcerating millions of civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan – a war that is expanding into Yemen, Somalia and the rest of the Horn of Africa, with the militarisation of sea lanes and oceans (see Chossudovsky, www.Globalresearch.ca) and the setting up of “forward projecting” military and missile bases in every continent (see Rozoff, ditto). On top of ordinary poverty and misery, the world is truly seeing another historic descent into barbarism. Given this war-mongering dynamic, the growing US antagonism with Iran, Russia and China is far from an idle threat. It is the logical next step for a deeply illogical economic system.
But history is not inevitable. We are not necessarily programmed to repeat its horrors. A combination of global communications among citizens and political and social consciousness may be enough to prevent a military conflagration and overthrow the misrule of the oligarchy. What is needed is a) a widening of the recognition that capitalism as a system of social production is finished; and b) the case has to be confidently made that an alternative is very possible. That alternative is socialism (the subject of a further article). To those who remain skeptical, they should bear in mind the stark choice that Rosa Luxemberg foresaw for humanity: that is, socialism or barbarism. And we already have the latter.