9 January 2007
“China’s growth is replacing the US as the engine of the world economy. China is the world’s largest consumer of steel, cement, copper, aluminum and zinc and the second largest oil consumer. Says Robin Bhar of UBS, “The fact that growth in the developing world will offset the decline in demand from the US represents a turning point for commodity markets, which have been historically tied to the expansion and contraction in the US economy.”
Depending what date you like to measure things from, either way the US ‘empire’ is the shortest-lived ever, at most fifty or so years if you take 1945 as the beginning or barely 100 if you use the date 1918 which signals when it took over from the UK as numero uno imperialist.
“For the first time the euro has overtaken the dollar in terms of the value of notes in circulation, roughly hitting $787 billion. About 10 to 20% of euros are held outside the eurozone.”
In part the rise of China and of the euro explains why the US capitalist class is behaving with such desperation, it’s barely got started on conquering the planet when it seems the game is up already.
And interestingly, it also seems that it isn’t being buried by Socialism but by rival capitalisms, now there’s a turnup for the books, if I ever saw one! However, before all the ‘end of history’ buffs start crowing, it’s worthwhile considering just exactly what is going on:
“Far from being buried under the rubble of the Berlin Wall, Marx may only now be emerging in his true significance. He could yet become the most influential thinker of the twenty-first century.” — ‘Marx’s Das Kapital A Biography’ Francis Wheen.
Unlike many of my compatriots, who talk endlessly of ‘failure in Iraq’, global warming and allegedly immanent invasions of Iran and other points East, I contend that things are actually looking up. Now you might well ask what do I base this wildly optimistic view of events on?
Several things really: first, the events of the past two hundred or so years reveal that things are speeding up; what took centuries to come to maturity are now taking only decades and now even a handful of years. Second, it’s obvious to anyone who has even the vaguest understanding of the workings of capitalism that it is rapidly running out of road. China for example, is no aging Europe, the sheer size of its economy is staggering even by US standards but consider that it too, and probably in an even shorter timespan will hit the brick wall of diminishing markets (as will its local rival, India).
And, as Subcomandante Marcos pointed out “Neoliberalism is … the chaotic theory of economic chaos, the stupid exultation of social stupidity and the catastrophic political management of catastrophe,” a revealing and profound observation on the nature of late capitalism.
Far from being omnipotent, their actions reveal a frightened and deeply insecure ruling class driven to taking desperate measures, actions which although extremely dangerous because they skate along the edge of an abyss, are doomed to failure because there is no ignoring the fundamentals of the economics of capitalism, regardless of the boosterism of the MSM to try and reassure us that everything is under control, when we know that the reality is that of system which not only has no understanding of the implications of what an interlocked, global economy is, but has no plan, merely, as the Subcomandante points out, hysterical and ever more desperate reactions.
In order to appreciate the significance of this we have to return to our pal Marx who spent most of his life studying not socialism but Capitalism. Indeed as Francis Wheen says in his excellent essay on Das Kapital:
“There has been nothing remotely like it before or since — which is probably why it has been so consistently neglected or misconstrued.” — Marx’s Das Kapital A Biography by Francis Wheen.
“whatever its fate, whether it lasts for a century or a millenium … depends on exploitation.”— Das Kapital, p.12.
It’s worth restating some fundamentals here, fundamentals that neither the boosters or the doomsayers amongst us seem to have never understood or in their rush to judgement, ignored:
“We may read on one page that the worker owes a debt of gratitude to capital for developing his productivity, because the necessary labour time is thereby shortened, and on the next page that he must prove his gratitude by working in future for 15 hours instead of ten.”
Whereas the reality is not the reduction of the length of the working day but of reducing the labour-time necessary for producing a commodity!
Were he alive today, I am sure he would not be amazed by the sheer productive power of modern capitalism but instead feel that his life’s study and his conclusions, completely vindicate his analysis. And in fact, the arrival of the international division of labour or globalism as it is called has created a crisis of over-production unparalleled in history even by Victorian standards. So much so that Marx’s observations on this fundamental paradox of capitalism, today appear to be an understatement:
“[T]he commercial crises that by their periodical return put on trial, each time more threateningly, the existence of the entire bourgeois society. In these crises a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed. In these crises there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity — the epidemic of over-production.”
He continued that Capitalism had only two ‘solutions’ to these periodic crises:
“On the one hand by the enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces [that is to say War]; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented. [my emph. WB]” — Marx, The Communist Manifesto
Which in today’s world might well be an apt description of the ‘War on Terror’. Marx described it in Das Kapital as:
“The real barrier of capitalist production … is capital itself. The last cause of all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses as compared to the tendency of capitalist production to develop the productive forces in such a way that only the absolute power of consumption of the entire society would be their limit.”
Thus whilst a tiny fraction of the world’s population is wealthy beyond compare, by destroying the national character of capitalist production, the real poverty of consumption of the masses is hidden from view, at least from us in the so-called developed world. Instead, we are presented with people who are allegedly the victims of their own inability to consume, what we mistakenly call under-development!
“The richest 2% of the world’s adult population own more than 50% of the global assets while the poorest 50% own only 1%.” — UN Assets Report
This reality explains much about the inability of the left of the developed world to come to terms with the real nature of capitalism, why it takes a Subcomandante or a Hugo Chavez, or indeed a Fidel Castro to remind us.
Thus, whilst we get all worked up over ‘peak oil’, ‘resource wars’ and other red herrings, the real issue is the periodic crisis of over-production! Crises now complicated by the realisation that over-production has now resulted in the disaster of climate change to add to our woes. And as if to reinforce Marx’s brilliant insights, not to mention adding insult to injury, we in the developed world are now being pressured to reduce our consumption in the name of slowing down global warming!
I think it’s not an overstatement to view the crisis of globalisation as the erstwhile ‘swan-song’ of capital if for no other reason than the simple fact that there now is no place left for capital to go. It should be obvious even to the most myopic of observers that by exporting production to China and India for example in order, as Marx says, to reduce “the labour-time necessary for producing a commodity” it has created yet another crisis of over-production, a crisis that can only be resolved either “by the enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces” or through the destruction of capitalism itself.
It is, I’m sad to say a sorry indictment on the plethora of ‘blogs’ allegedly offering analyses of imperialism that few, if any, have much to say on these fundamentals. It falls to a voice from the ‘belly of the beast’ as it were, to tell it like it is.
“The longer I spend on Wall Street … the more convinced I am that Marx was right. There is a Nobel Prize out there for an economist who resurrects Marx and puts it into a coherent theory. I am absolutely convinced that Marx’s approach is the best way to look at capitalism.” — Quoted by John Cassidy, economics correspondent for the New Yorker magazine from a conversation with a British investment banker working on Wall Street.
Cassidy, who had never read Marx before, found:
“riveting passages about globalisation, inequality, political corruption, monopolization, technical progress, the decline of high culture, and the enervating nature of modern existence — issues that economists are now confronting anew, sometimes without realizing that they are walking in Marx’s footsteps.” — Quoted in ‘Marx’s Das Kapital A Biography’ by Francis Wheen.
What an irony that it takes an investment banker to rediscover the genius of Marx! But then given the bankruptcy of the left and its poverty of theory let alone action, it should not come as a surprise.
Postscript: I am indebted to Francis Wheen for the quotes I’ve used from his superb biography of Marx’s Das Kapital, an extremely readable and (mercifully) short book on Marx the artist. Buy it from Amazon (UK) (it doesn’t appear to be available on Amazon US).