Europe and U.S. have same problem: capitalism

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



Sam Webb
Sam Webb

Sam Webb is a long-time writer living in New York. Earlier, he was active in the labor movement in his home state of Maine.