Looking at the Contours of the Crisis

capitalismisnotworking.jpg capitalism isn't working picture by adam_freedom

  With “Contours of the Crisis” in the latest issue of Upping the Anti #8 (see two posts previous), Aidan Conway interviews three leading thinkers on contemporary capitalism who also each happen to be professors of political economy at York University in Toronto as well. They are David McNally, Sam Gindin and Leo Panitch. Below are three highlights that raise worthwhile points to think about around the financial crisis and building “the other world that is possible” as we might say.

  Here on the relationship between class struggle at home and imperialism abroad, which are intracately interwoven.

  Sam Gindin: If and when, during the next decades, the foundations of American empire were to really crumble, class struggles within the imperial heartland itself would likely play a major role in bringing this on – precisely because of the way in which the external and internal dimensions of American empire are intertwined. At the same time, the ability to pacify the citizens of the empire is critically dependant on the ability to maintain wider structures of global exploitation and integration. (emphasis added)

peopleneedjobs.jpg picture by adam_freedom Why has there yet to be widespread resistance to the effects of the downturns by workers, the unemployed and displaced homeowners? Is America too conservative? This excerpt points to the last episode of major financial crisis, the 1930s, and that the signifigant points of resistance did not begin until several years into the crisis and after a brief upturn in the economic situation. This connects with the wisdom that rebellion happens less when folks are at their lowest and more so when raised expectations have been unfulfilled (think where folks will be at with Obama in 2012). As they say “You can’t fight a revolution on an empty stomache.” And further, when the economy begins to take an upturn, workers rightly feel that they have better leverage to press their demands. Now is the time to start thinking, preparing and laying the groundwork to organize.

  Sam Gindin: We’ve been thinking about this by looking at when people began to rebel in the 1930s. You don’t really see much resistance until about 1932. So it was a good three years before the big marches of the unemployed in Detroit, for example. And it’s not until 1933 or 1934 that the sustained efforts at organizing got going. People were really shocked and numbed. What’s interesting is that around 1934 there was a real economic upturn. … It was only really when the economy started to improve that the people had the confidence to begin to fight back. After the second collapse in 1937, the United Auto Workers union was almost completely destroyed at General Motors. In Canada, the union survived by setting up bowling leagues and rod and gun clubs. They had almost no base in the plants then, and that didn’t really change until the war. (emphasis added)

  What type of reforms should left social movements and radicals put forward? Some are calling for increased regulation as well as nationalization, such as with the banking sector and auto industry. But will these build our power from below and allow us to further our demands? or will they empower a bureacratic state to intervene in the economy with the goal of perserving the long term interests of capitalism as a system? I tend to think demands of nationalization, while not harmful, fall into the the later catagory.

  Leo Panitch: Most people on the left think that state intervention and re-regulation is where we ought to go. This is limited and naive. If you look at what happened in the 1930s, what happened is that the state stepped in and saved financial capital as a fraction of the capitalist class, and then nurtured it back to health for thirty years. It would be a tragedy if the outcome of the crisis were a re-regulation that merely saved capitalism again. It’s misleading to think that the state as it is presently constructed is going to intervene in ways that serve left objectives. What are needed are the kinds of reforms that could be built on as part of a process of more fundamental change. Socialists didn’t think enough about this in the 1930s and 1940s. Many of those reforms were good and necessary, but they involved a bureaucratic capitalist state, distant from the working class, introducing reforms of a kind that didn’t lay any basis for moving forward in a more radical way. Now, you’re not going to get anywhere as a socialist without offering and fighting for immediate reforms (you can’t say “wait for the revolution”), but the danger is that in the process you promote, as in some ways was done in the wake of the Great Depression, reforms that will meet certain needs but won’t help lay the basis for moving beyond the system.

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2 Responses

  1. This is a wonderful piece. I’ve heard much of the analysis in various conversations I’ve had with people over time but it’s nice to hear it articulated so succinctly. Thanks for putting this out!

  2. I really like your blog… I will link to it on mine http://anarchology.wordpress.com

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