POPULAR UPHEAVALS, THE CRISIS OF CAPITALISM, AND THE MARXIST ANALYSIS OF THE VALUE-FORM
A presentation by the Internationalist Perspective
The “Arab Spring,” the occupation of the statehouse in Madison Wisconsin, the encampments in Spain, the occupation and violent struggle in Syntagma square in Athens, are all responses to the present crisis of capitalism, and the resultant assault on the living and working conditions of the “collective worker” in every corner of the globe.
The occupation of Tahrir square in Cairo and the toppling of the Mubarak regime cannot be understood outside of the fact that most Egyptians — indeed most Arabs — today are under thirty and youth unemployment is around 40%. The encampments in Spain cannot be dissociated from the fact that in that country youth unemployment is now 40%. The bloody struggles in Greece are directly linked to the draconian austerity that the “Socialist” government is now imposing as its response to an imminent default on the country’s huge public debt. And the tens of thousands who demonstrated for more than a week in Madison were responding to huge wage and pension cuts, and layoffs, for public sector workers.
Within these popular upheavals, and the above are only a few examples of what is a global phenomenon, there are really two battles. One is focused on demands for democratic rights, for “real Democracy,” for the right of unions to engage in collective bargaining for their members (In Wisconsin the unions had accepted the austerity measures called for by Gov. Scott Walker, only opposing the effort to strip them of their collective bargaining rights, the key to their own power within the capitalist system). That is a battle to reform the system; a battle within the iron framework of the capitalist system. It is a battle that cannot be won. The second battle is the battle to abolish the dictatorship of the economy, as a leaflet distributed in Madrid put it, a battle to abolish capitalism, the system of wage labor that is its veritable basis, and to put an end to the subjection or subsumption of the collective worker to the value-form. That second battle is only beginning, but its presence in all the popular upheavals through the intervention of pro-revolutionaries, points the way to confrontations that constitute the only realistic perspective for a struggle against the looming austerity, and an existence in a planet of slums, which is the only future that capitalism can realistically promise.
It is here that a Marxist analysis of the trajectory of capitalism, of the necessity for capitalism to impose draconian austerity in response to its present crisis, can provide a theoretical framework to understand why the survival of capitalism demands massive austerity, dramatic cuts in the standard of living of the working class, and the creation of the planet of slums that Mike Davis has so accurately described. Traditional or “orthodox” Marxism has based itself on a vision of a world in which the productive forces can no longer grow within the framework of capitalism, leading to an inevitable revolution. Yet over the past century the material productive forces, the gigantism of technology, have massively increased, even as the condition of the collective worker has stagnated or worsened over the past thirty years. Indeed, capitalism’s very survival requires the development of the productive forces, ever-new technologies, and as a concomitant of that very development the massive expulsion of living labor, of workers, from the production process. The effect of that process is the creation of a vast population whose labor power, is no longer of any use to capital — an exponentially growing mass, whether educated or illiterate, who face an existence of permanent unemployment. That is the underlying source of the present popular upheavals, and that is why unless the value-form is abolished Davis’ planet of slums will continue to grow.