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The End(s) of Capitalism

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Reprinted from Greanville Post

This is the first of three-part series related to the upcoming U.S. elections. The second installment will be entitled "Do You Want Your Fascism Sooner, or Later?" and the third, "The 'Lesser of the Evils' Argument from the Class-Analysis Perspective."

A marker for the occupation of Wall Street and beyond.
A marker for the occupation of Wall Street and beyond.
(Image by John Craig Freeman)
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Western civilization "would be a good idea," Gandhi once observed. It's depraved and uncivilized, harming the many for the privileged few, responsible for death, destruction and human misery on an unprecedented scale while pretending respect for democratic values it deplores. America is the leading force of evil in a world increasingly unfit and unsafe to live in, ruled by its privileged class serving its own interests exclusively, exploiting others for profit and dominance.

In 1848, in The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels proclaimed that capitalism contained the "seeds of its own destruction." They saw the principal seed as the creation by capitalism of the laboring class, the workers who provided the labor power that made the increasing number of machines that the capitalists were creating, that is "the proletariat." They saw that the class conflict between the owners and the workers over what would happen to the surplus value produced by the work on the capitalists' machines by the proletariat would eventually lead to the takeover of these "means of production" by the workers and the establishment of a socialist state. That would be one in which the means of production would be owned collectively and managed for the benefit of all the people, not just the former owners.

Well, it hasn't exactly happened that way. With few exceptions, the international owning (ruling) class has proved itself to be marvelously adept at turning the workers away from active class struggle. In fact, in numbers of industrialized countries over time since the end of the First World War and the virtually simultaneous occurrence of the Russian Revolution on Nov. 7 (new calendar), 1917, which helped lead to that ending, the ruling classes of various capitalist countries have managed to enlist large numbers of workers to support their efforts to maintain control of the state apparatus. Thus they brilliantly have been able to maintain their exploitation of those very workers whose support they enlist, as well as of those workers who they don't.

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This pattern has been observed for almost a century since Mussolini created the first fascist mass base, the "Black Shirts" in Italy, to the present time in the United States where Donald Trump is in the process of creating a mass base for his own form of fascism. In the present time, in most of the advanced (and not-so-advanced) European capitalist countries, this is observed in the growth of the Right-wing parties, anti-immigrant to begin with, just like the Turmpistas.

So it would seem that the self-conscious class struggle, which Marx and Engels predicted would bring capitalism to its knees (and that self-consciousness is very important in their understanding of the class struggle that can lead to the overthrow of capitalism), is presently difficult to discern, except in some very small communist and related parties in certain capitalist countries. But it certainly does not have any broad political representation at the present time. If that is so then, how can one talk about the "end of capitalism?" In three senses:

The first is that capitalism is running down, it is running out of steam, in a way that it will find to be irreversible. Very briefly, we can consider the following. In the 1980s it was thought that Japan, then an industrial giant, might overtake the United States in industrial output (without the benefit of foreign capital one might note). Since then, for a variety of reasons, the Japanese economy has been essentially running at idle, despite numerous attempts by the government to ramp it up again. Since the financial crisis of 2007-2009, the European Union, politically wedded to "austerity" (essentially robbing the workers and the poor to pay the rich) has not entered any sort of recovery, except for Germany and a few other members. And now, even Germany is facing a slow-down with no exit in sight.

This does not mean that certain capitalists are not making money. In his book Looting Greece: A New Financial Imperialism Emerges, Prof. Jack Rasmus: "Reveals clearly who calls the shots in the Eurozone -- the hardliners, not the remnants and political residue of what was once European social democracy; Follows the negotiations in their excruciating detail as the Troika tightens the screws from 2009 to the present; Shows how Europe's financial elite enriches itself on Greek debt, privatizations and financial manipulations, turning Greece into an Economic Protectorate." But this pattern, following predictions that Lenin made a century ago, in which money is made by trading in pieces of paper, not goods and services that among other things provide employment, is an indicator of the coming end of capitalism, for it cannot go on indefinitely, as production, in theory at least, can.

In the Obama years the U.S. economy has been running at an historically low (for the post-World War II years) GDP with modest job growth (at the end of the Bush era, the GDP was negative and job losses were in the 100s of thousands), but a major factor supporting this was the printing of money by the Federal Reserve, which managed to do it without kicking off out-of-control inflation. That cannot continue forever either.

Then there is CAR: computerization, automation, robotization, which is permanently replacing manual labor of all types in all industries, from automobiles to travel services. To give just one example, Cadillac has built a new plant in China which makes automobiles almost entirely by using robots. Of course, if the profits that are being made from CAR were shared with the workers, as they would be under socialism, that would be of great benefit to everyone. But they aren't. They go to the owners, cutting labor costs. And that is one major, for the most part unrecognized, reason behind the concentration of wealth and income. The fruits of automation are not shared; their production is another sign that capitalism is running down.
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Sagen dem Teufel(speak of the devil, in German): After I finished writing this column, I came across the following item of news: "Walmart is patenting 'mini-robot' technology that could have terrifying implications for workers." This is Walmart, folks, one of the employers of last resort for workers who have lost industrial jobs either to the export of capital or to CAR. Amazing, no? But then again, we must remember: for capitalists, it is profit and more capital above all.
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The second sign that the end of capitalism is coming: As previously noted, the primary ends of capitalism, as Marx and Engels together determined, are two: the production of profit from the surplus labor of the workers it employs and the creation of additional capital, those machines and related resources that are employed to create profits. A major reason that the capitalists have been able to stay in power is that they have been able to convince major sectors of the working class that if they "work really hard," "keep their noses to the grindstone," that they too can become capitalists. In the 20th century, oddly enough it was the growth of the labor movements in the advanced capitalist countries that created the circumstances in which the capitalist myth (and it is a myth, as we can see all around us) could be perpetuated. For a relatively short period of time, organized labor was able to extract more of the products of its labor for itself, and that enabled the advancing, in economic terms, of more individuals.

But the central elements of the capitalist class in most countries could not accept this. Thus in country after country the labor movement was minimalized, and along with it its political representatives (in the European countries known as the "social democratic" parties). In turn, this has been a major factor in the massive concentration of wealth and income, nowhere more apparent than in the United States. The U.S. ruling class has made particular use of white supremacy and racism in this endeavor, now being brought to a fever pitch by the aforementioned Donald Trump and his minions.

Eventually, this process will lead to a redevelopment of class consciousness and the growth of a revolutionary movement. But the key word is eventually and there are a number of steps that the ruling class will take before that happens, or could happen. The major one is called "fascism," which will the principal subject of the next column.

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at StonyBrookMedicine (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 35 books. In addition to his position on OpEdNews as a "Trusted Author," he is a Senior Editor, (more...)
 

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