The analysis of Karl Marx, believed archaic and irrelevant only a few short years ago, have again become highly relevant. Our social and economic conditions, for all the bluster and noise of the 20th century, are fundamentally unchanged from where they were in the 1800s.
The 20th century was a time of optimism. The American dream was validated. The radicalism of the previous century was forgotten after World War 2. Radicals like Karl Marx were proven to be wrong. Since 2008 however, the jury has reconvened. And in that jury box we come cannot help but be impressed. Consider, for an example, these two quotes from the Communist Manifesto, written 1848:
The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.
Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers. This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry, and that place the workers of different localities in contact with one another. It was just this contact that was needed to centralise the numerous local struggles, all of the same character, into one national struggle between classes.
If Marx were alive today, if he were witness to the struggles through Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and America he would not be surprised. He saw it coming. He saw it coming because he understood the nature of capitalism.
While we may not want to run out and join our local band of communists, we may want to reconsider many of the observations that were relevant in the 19th century not only from Marx, but from others. Strangely enough, for all the progress we have made over the past century, we seem to be back, more or less, where we started from.
Through the latter part of the 20th century, the belief that we were on the right track was widespread. It seemed the sky was the limit. That the energy of private capitalism would eventually float all boats. This success depended greatly on the influence of Fabian Socialism.
In Canada, progressive voters tend to vote for the New Democratic Party. In the UK, they vote Labour and in the USA, they vote Democrat. Fabian principles represented by social democratic policies pushed for universal medical care, state pensions, adequate social assistance and so on. Tremendous gains have been made and unions helped ensure that workers were paid decent wages. This all contributed to vastly increased demand for goods and services and in turn, manufacturing firms thrived.
Since the 1980s small business owners would parrot the ideological madness of right wing predators, unwittingly taking part in their own demise. Globalization, cuts to social services, cuts in union wages were all initiatives they supported. Used like useful idiots, they too fell victim to the ravages of monopoly capitalism and its concomitant neo-liberal ideology. They didn't know it, but the social democrats (aka socialists) they decried were their collective meal ticket. The attack has been especially virulent in the USA where the term 'socialism' has become unequivocally pejorative.
Austerity budgets are turning social progress back to 1930s levels, rendering the gains made by unions and progressive social democrats over the decades, void. Three decades of cries to 'get lean and mean' in the New World Order's race to the bottom has resulted in the middle class getting lean and the billionaire class meaner than ever.
We now live in a time of ruthless, predatory capitalism. It takes no prisoners and when it does, it tortures them. Since the 1980s workers have faced stark choices. Threats to move manufacturing abroad have actually been promises. Unions have become crippled and powerless.
The influence of social democratic idealism has been relegated to non economic issues. For example, social democrats may still make progress in terms of women's and minority rights or other types of soft liberal legislation but when it comes to anything related to money, the soft left is powerless. While the Governor of Wisconsin rapes the workers, and while workers are under attack in every corner of the Western world, the elites maintain and increase their wealth and power. The stock market thrives while the people on the street suffer. And the war on the working class is just beginning.
The two pillars of working class strength, strong unions and public spending, have been reduced to ineffective shadows of their former selves. The social democratic response is limited to asking for more, for a larger piece of the pie. That is because the fundamental ideology of social democratic movements and parties are reformist. The aim is to reform capitalism; to redistribute wealth. In the past this objective has been met in some places more so than in others. And if we learn anything from history, we know that you don't 'ask' the billionaire class for anything. You demand and you are prepared to back your demands, or stay home.
Today, unions are powerless because the bosses have become radical and right wing to the extreme. The only principles they adhere to beyond cold pragmaticism are cold and calculating neo liberal policies, policies that boldly proclaim, it's every man
The Growth of Monopolism
The ideology that best serves the monstrosity that is monopolism is neo-liberalism. Neo-liberalism was proclaimed the New World Order by disciples such as Reagan, Thatcher, the Bushes, and fascists like Pinochet in Chile. And it has been followed to the letter by 'new labour' and other so called moderate Western governments.
Neo-liberalism isn't in fact neo (or new). It is essentially the doctrine of laissez faire economics; the doctrine that suggests that the market is self correcting if governments would stop meddling. It abhors social programs and public infrastructure. It is rehashed classical economics. It is worth noting that when the crisis of 2008 occurred, those same neo liberal ideologues that caused the crises in the first place saw nothing wrong with socialism for the ultra wealthy.
Neo liberal policies have been devastating for developing countries. Enforced by the IMF and the World Bank, they ensure easy pickings for the vultures. Loans are conditional on the recipient nations adherence to widespread privatization, further impoverishing those that need aid.
There is nothing stable about capitalism. To survive, it needs constant growth. It is a virus and a virulent one at that. It has exploited the post industrial world and is no longer satisfied with the terms of exploitation. It has naturally gone where it can get the most bang for its buck.
The old and cozy arrangement where business would invest to the satisfaction of local politicians and in turn receive favourable treatment in terms of taxes, standards, regulations, and subsidies isn't enough. Now they are coming for the social safety net. They will scour the meat from every bone before they are through with us. They are salivating at the profits that could be made if they could privatize Canadian and European public health care. They will privatize those programs, it is only a matter of time.
The fight back is just beginning. The people of Wisconsin, North Africa and the Middle East have been the first to stand up in this immense struggle; a struggle we cannot afford to lose. We are locked in and there is no turning back. The virus is pernicious and can't be reformed. That ship has sailed. Who or whatever within that system is humane or soft will perish. A CEO that may decide to increase wages or offer better benefits will be thrown to the wolves and with good reason. If they don't, a more ruthless and efficient enterprise will destroy us.
We live in interesting times. Whether we want to or not, we are in a fight for our lives. We need to be clear about that and we need to understand, the enemy does not respect weakness. They have not a wisp of fear. They believe we are powerless. And that will be their fatal mistake.
The time has come to organize general strikes from Beijing to Mumbai, from Al Jubayl to Tel Aviv, from Wisconsin to Lima and from London to Moscow.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.