Europe and U.S. have same problem: capitalism

Greece4

The struggle against austerity is sweeping the U.S. and Europe. Not for decades have we seen such a surge of struggle in this part of the world. Moreover, the protest actions are massive and likely to increase in intensity and scope as time passes.

Prompting the surge is the economic crisis in general and the debt crisis in particular. Ruling circles on both sides of the Atlantic are attempting to offload government and private indebtedness onto the working class and its allies.

The most striking example is Greece, where the social democratic government in cahoots with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union has not once but twice squeezed huge concessions from the Greek people, despite massive nationwide protests. Elsewhere in the Atlantic world the assault isn't quite as draconian, but it is punishing nonetheless.

The refrain out of the mouths of the ruling elites irrespective of country is: the country is broke and there is no option but to cut wages of public sector workers, abrogate collective bargaining rights, and shed social programs that were won in earlier periods.

Don't buy this bill of goods!

This crisis is not a crisis of state finances. There is plenty of money if you look in the right places - the banks accounts of the investor class and, in the U.S. in particular, the budget of the Pentagon.

This is a crisis of capitalism. With each passing day it reveals its inability to meet the elementary living requirements of the working class in this era.

Indeed, the choreographers of the capitalist system on both sides of the Atlantic are attempting to shift onto the working class the costs of the reproduction of labor power, by which I mean the costs of livable income, education, health care, child and elder care, retirement security and more - all necessary to guarantee a fresh supply of labor for ongoing capitalist exploitation.

This is not a new feature of capitalism's mode of operation. It dates back to its beginnings. It is at the core of class and democratic struggles since capitalism emerged as a social system.

But what is unique about the current moment is that the major sections of capital in the U.S. and Europe believe that the debt crisis provides them with a golden opportunity to permanently and completely shift the costs of the reproduction of labor power to working people as well as to lacerate their fighting spirit.

But in shifting these costs there is an unintended consequence: it undermines the conditions for the reproduction of the system as a whole.

Why? Because a deeply impoverished working class and a hollowed out social safety net will severely restrain the already insufficient consumer demand for good and services, and thus block any recovery, even a weak one.

Whether the moneybags are able to impose their austerity plans is still to be decided. So far they have the upper hand.

In these circumstances, the role of the left here and elsewhere is to extend, deepen and, above all, unite the movement against the draconian plans of the ruling elites.

Such a task is as much practical as it is ideological. It is going to take tough nuts-and-bolts organizing and concrete initiatives along with efforts to bring clarity to tens of millions about the causes of and solutions to the capitalist economic crisis.

A core element of this struggle is the fight against racism and immigrant-bashing. Both are obstacles to working-class and people's unity. Both have the potency to ideologically and practically derail the building of a powerful multiracial labor-led people's movement. White and native-born people in general, and white and native-born workers in particular, must step to the forefront of the anti-racist and immigrant rights struggles, and in doing so create the conditions to roll back the austerity drive.

Photo: Capitalism's Greek tragedy: White masks are hung outside the Greek Parliament by protesters in Athens, July 7, to symbolize lawmakers who approved a new austerity package. AP/Petros Giannakouris

 

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  • Absolutely right on. Marx points out that it is completely impossible for capitalism to reduce the workers' standard of living below that which is necessary for workers to survive. However, he points out, "They always try."
    --jim lane in dallas

    Posted by jim lane, 07/08/2011 4:33pm (3 years ago)

  • Thanks, Sam, for this powerful and illuminating article. Your analysis of the personal debt crisis is especially chilling. It really shows the capitalism has entered a new phase, one where it has put in place a system by which to profit even from the necessity of reproducing labor-power, formerly considered (under the name of wage) as a cost.

    Your analysis calls to mind one of my favorite passages from the Communist Manifesto:

    "The bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an overriding law. It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him. Society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society."

    Now we've moved even beyond what Marx points out here: capital neither provides the means for the worker to nourish herself, nor directly nourishes her by poor-relief programs. We might say that it wants her to pull herself up by the bootstraps--and that it's more than happy to lend those bootstraps at heavy interest. What we're seeing is nothing other than the transformation of usual forms of class oppression into something that looks like generalized debt peonage.

    My hunch is that the personal debt question would be a good one around which to rally the segments of the working class that don't traditionally consider themselves workers: e.g. young professionals, middle management, recent college grads, etc. Should we envision doing some organizing work at corporate job fairs? Those workers are just as exposed to overwork, exploitation, insecurity, and the demoralizing effects of competition as any others.

    Posted by Harold Wallace, 07/08/2011 3:04pm (3 years ago)

  • EVERY TIME I PERSONALLY LOOK, AS A ONCE 'SECURE' RESIDENT OF A SKILLED NURSING HOME, I SEE MORE AND MORE TROUBLE.

    FIRST, THERE WERE THE CUTBACKS TO THE PATIENTS HERE, VIRTUALLY ALL OF WHOM HAVE MEDICARE/MEDICAL HEALTH COVERAGE.

    OUTSIDE DENTAL AND VISION CHECKUPS ARE NO LONGER COVERED

    ON A MORE PETTY LEVEL, HAIRCUTS ARE NOW PAID FOR EVERY 6 WEEKS INSTEAD OF EVERY MONTH. AND, THE HAIRDRESSER WON'T TRIM BEARDS AT ALL.

    AND RECENTLY , NURSE PRACTITIONERS WHO ARE CATHOLIC NUNS AND WORK FOR FREE ARE DOING THE WORK ONCE PERFORMED BY DOCTORS.

    AND TO MAKE MATTERS WORSE MY PAYEE/CONSERVATOR SISTER 6TH GRADE TEACHER HAD TO TAKE A 10% PAYCUT THIS YEAR, ON TOP OF A 4-1/2% CUT JUST LAST YEAR. AND YOU KNOW TEACHERS AREN'T PAID THAT MUCH IN THE FIRST PLACE!e

    Posted by thomas r. plant, 07/08/2011 1:44pm (3 years ago)

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