The 91st anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution comes in the wake of the deepest crisis of world capitalism since the great depression of 1929. The current crisis of international financial capital that spearheaded imperialist globalisation in the last two decades is, by many estimations, far graver than any other crisis in the history of capitalism.
The crisis is still unfolding and its full ramifications will be realized only much later.
Many feel that we, as Marxists, must feel resoundingly vindicated that Karl Marx’s penetrative analysis of capitalism has, once again, proven itself to be true. Marxists do not derive satisfaction for the vindication of their world view and revolutionary analysis at the expense of the ruin and misery of millions of victims of this capitalist crisis. As Marx himself once said, “nothing human is alien to me”. Marxists work to ensure that the common working people are not subjected to such inhuman trepidations being at the mercy of the rule of Capital. This shall happen only when we “change the world”, not remaining satisfied with the correctness of our “interpretation of the world”.
Capitalism, as Marx has shown, is a system that is based on the exploitation of man by man and nation by nation. It can never be a crisis-free system. Hence, the true emancipation of humanity from such miseries is possible only through a liberation from the capitalist system. We shall return to this aspect later.
Two decades ago, the capitalist world was in a state of delirious euphoria in the build up to tearing down the Berlin Wall. This was accompanied by vituperative ideological offensive : End of History, End of Ideology etc. There was great delight at the collapse of this wall that symbolized, in many ways, the Cold War and world socialism’s power to confront imperialism in all respects. The collapse of the Berlin Wall has been eclipsed by the virtual deletion of capitalism’s so far considered impregnable wall – the Wall Street. The `big five’ global investment banks – Bear Sterns , Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs – that led and lorded over the world of imperialist globalisation have either been liquidated or severely emasculated.
Such has been the gravity of the crisis that the most unabashed votary of capitalism, The Economist describes it as “capitalism at bay”. Referring to the spate of bailout packages advanced in various western capitals, it says that the future points towards “a larger role for the State and a smaller and more constrained private sector” and hoping “profoundly that this will not happen”.
World capitalism has embarked on a spate of nationalizations that would have surprised the former socialist USSR. When the time to defend capitalism from such a crisis comes, all ideological attacks against State or public property and nationalization with the accompanied extolling of the virtues of private capital and their laser beamed God - market – appear to be mercilessly abandoned.
Britain, that heralded modern privatization, nationalized, today, most of its banking sector. (Recollect that Margaret Thatcher once said, “It is not the business of the government to be in business”.) USA is pumping in $ 2.5 trillion of tax payers money to shore up its financial system. France’s Nicholas Sarkozy, says, “Laissez-faire is finished”. There is a profound paradox here. Defending capitalism, in this present crisis, means greater State intervention. This may be a paradox for capitalism’s ideologues, but the fact remains that the State of the ruling classes has always defended and enlarged the avenues for super private profits. We, in India, have our own experience of the State establishing the public sector to promote private capitalism. At a later stage, with this objective largely achieved, the State embarks on large-scale privatisation, again to benefit private capital. All this is done behind the illusory mask of `States’ `neutrality’! These bailouts, as the future will testify, are designed precisely to first save and then to create new avenues for profit generation.
Current Crisis: Marxist Understanding
This crisis is an inevitable consequence of the path of globalization that was unfolding in recent decades. In order to understand this, it is necessary, in the light of our assessment and experience of the socialist USSR to briefly recapitulate the CPI(M)’s understanding of the science of Marxism-Leninism and its relevance in analyzing contemporary developments. This essence is contained in the CPI(M)’s 14th Congress resolution, `On Certain Ideological Issues’ adopted following the collapse of the USSR in January 1992.
The CPI(M) firmly believes that Marxism-Leninism is inherently materialistic, creative and intrinsically dialectical. It is hence supremely anti-dogmatic. It is a world-view that embraces the vision of liberation and expresses emancipatory ideals. It is a tool for understanding and analysing the multitude of phenomena that constitute changing historical situations. It is a guide to action that defines programmatic objectives for the people's struggle against all forms of exploitation, subject to the necessary adaptations as required by changing historical situations.
As a creative science, Marxism-Leninism identifies the tendencies and directions of development. In doing so it provides the possibilities for popular mass intervention in these developments in the pursuit of establishing an exploitation-free society.
It is, hence, incumbent upon all Marxist-Leninists to make a concrete analysis of the concrete conditions, both internationally and domestically, in each country and on that basis to chart out the course of human liberation.
Following this, in 1993, the CPI(M) had organised an international conference at Calcutta with the participation of 25 Communist and Workers Parties from all over the world to underline the continued relevance of Marxism in understanding contemporary world realities. In 1998, at the initiative of the Communist Party of Greece, regular annual meetings of similar nature began leading to the regrouping of the Communist forces in the world. This has now become a regular annual feature with this year’s meeting being held in Brazil this month end. At the 1998 meeting discussing the role of the Communist Parties in the current conditions, the CPI(M) presented the following:
“The main new element in the present phase of capitalist development is the emergence of globalisation of finance capital. It has specific features, in our opinion, which distinguish it from the period when Lenin analysed imperialism. The present process is not a nation-state based finance capital engaged in struggle with rival imperialist nation-states. In a sense, it has transcended the nation-state. This, however, is not to suggest that the relevance of the nation-state and its sovereignty has ceased, as some seek to argue.
“It is, however, important to note that the present day finance capital is highly globally mobile sucking in finance capital from individual countries dominated by finance capital originating from the advanced countries. Further, this finance capital is more pre-occupied in its search for quick speculative gains rather than its amalgamation with industrial capital leading to economic development. It, therefore, truly represents the parasite that thrives at the expense of real economic growth.
“The emergence of this finance capital is an important factor that explains the relatively low growth rates accompanied by high unemployment rates in the advanced countries. This happens because in order to appease international speculators, there is a competitive reduction in tax rates and restrictions on the size of the fiscal deficit. In other words, governments are forced to cut back expenditures and thereby deflate both employment and domestic demand leading to lower rates of growth.
“This, in turn, leads to a situation where the advanced countries turn to the third world economies and intensify exploitation. The imposition of neo-liberal policies serves this purpose of removing obstacles to the free operation of internationally mobile finance capital. In addition, it seeks to impose a new form of international division of labour, this time not through direct colonial occupation but through coercing third world economies to dovetail to imperialist interests.” It is the consolidation of this process over the last decade that laid the basis for the current crisis.
Marx’s analysis of capitalism tells us that as capitalism develops, there is the tendency for concentration and centralization of capital. As he said, over a period of time, there will be “fewer and fewer but larger and larger capitalists”. Accumulation under capitalism is, thus, a coercive process. So is the process of technological innovations. Without either of these, the capitalists cannot survive the rat race where the `big fish consumes the small fish’. It is this processes that has led to the internationalization of finance capital to gigantic levels, hitherto unknown in capitalism’s history. It is this process of globalisation that imperialism utilizes to seek its political objective of economically recolonising the developing countries.
Two important features of globalization, however, require attention to understand the present crisis. First, this process has been accompanied by growing economic inequalities both within countries between the rich and poor and between the rich and the poor countries. Secondly, globalization has given rise to the phenomenon of `jobless growth’. This is so because the trajectory of profit-maximisation invariably replaces human labour by investing more in developing technology rather than developing human resource capacities. The growth of employment, during this period, has always been lower than the GDP growth rate globally.
Both these features put together mean that the purchasing power of the vast majority of the world’s population has been declining. Now, capitalism inevitably plunges into a crisis when what is produced is not sold. Under these circumstances, the only way that capitalism can sustain its levels of profits is by encouraging people to procure loans whose spending will maintain the levels of economic activity. However, when the time comes to repay these loans, there is the inevitable default.
This is precisely what happened in the USA in the current sub-prime (loans given at interest rates lower than the prime rates initially to lure borrowers, only to be re-set higher later or loans given to borrowers whose credit worthiness is suspect.) crisis leading to large scale defaults.
Defaults should not have really come as a big surprise. The Wall Street Journal, reported on October 12, 2007 that the wealthiest one per cent of Americans reportedly earned 21.2 per cent of all income in 2005. This increased from 19 per cent in 2004 and exceeded the previous high of 20.8 per cent in 2000. In contrast, the bottom 50 per cent earned 12.8 per cent of all income which was less than 13.4 per cent in 2004 and 13 per cent in 2000. The consequence of such growing inequalities would lead, according to Merrill Lynch, to a fall of $360 billion in consumer spending during 2008-09. Obviously, Merrill Lynch, now emasculated, did not take its own assessment seriously.
Capital, in search of higher profits, continuously creates new commodities through which it expands its market operations. As Marx had said, `production not only creates objects for the subjects, but also creates subjects for the objects’. The present day advertising industry is testimony of this. Under the rule of international finance capital, capitalism creates new financial commodities. One of these that has played havoc and generated the current crisis is known as the `derivatives’.
Derivatives are shadow financial instruments that include futures, options, forwards trading etc. If one buys or sells a share in the stock market, then it is actual trade. However, if one buys or sells the option to buy or not to buy a share, then it is derivative trade. The seller of the option, believe it or not, need not own that share. Likewise, the buyer need not pay the full money for the share.
According to the Bank of International Settlements, as of September 2008, the total value of derivative trade stood at a staggering $ 600 plus trillions. This has grown from $ 100 trillion in 2002. Thus, this shadow economy is 12 times larger than global GDP ($ 50 trillion) and more than six times larger than the actual trading in shares in the world’s stock exchanges ($ 100 trillions). While these are the figures from the official commodity exchanges, it is variously estimated that the total value of financial exchanges including in derivatives, whose trade takes place even outside of the commodity exchanges, was a staggering 40 times the total global GDP. It is this speculative financial bubble, pumped to inflate to infinity, that had to burst, and, it did.
In the meanwhile, independent sovereign countries like India can protect only by insulating ourselves from such massive speculation. To a large extent, if India has been spared a full throttle devastation, it is because the Left parties prevented the current UPA government, during the last four years, from embracing greater financial liberalization. Even our worst detractors are forced to admit this, though most reluctantly!
It would, indeed, be suicidal if the government embarks, as it appears to do, on a path of relaxing the regulation on the flow of international finance capital in the name of injecting greater liquidity into our economy. This is expected to generate greater expenditures and, hence, boost aggregate demand, thus, fuelling growth. This process cannot be done through importing speculative capital. This needs to be done through greater public investments generating employment and, thus, feeding the cycle of demand led growth.
Reams of analysis seek an explanation for this crisis (obfuscating the systemically inherent dynamics of the capitalist system), in the greed of a few, a violation of some ethical norms, a la Nobel laureate Paul Krugman’s “moral hazard” or, the lack of transparency and the weakness of regulatory mechanisms and credit rating agencies.
Karl Marx’s penetrating analysis of capitalism is reportedly being sold much more in the western capitals today than any time in recent memory (profits are to be made through these sales too!). Marx shows that despite appearances of decisions and choices being taken or made by `free’ individuals, capitalism functions on the basis of laws that operate independently of the will or desire of individual capitalists. Take the issue of exploitation under capitalism. Exploitation does not take place under capitalism because the dishonest capitalist cheats the worker in the market place by giving lower wages. Even if the capitalist is supremely honest (rarest of the rare possibilities though) exploitation, nevertheless, takes place. This is so because in the capitalist production process, the value of the product produced by labour is always greater than the value this labour power (measured as wages) commands in the market. This surplus value generated by the labour process under capitalist production is the source of profit whose maximization is the raison d’etre of capitalism.
Profits, thus, can be generated only through exploitation. The overthrow of capitalism is, therefore, not only a moral question, it is a scientific necessity if exploitation of man by man must end, if human emancipation has to be achieved.
In Das Kapital, Marx concluding his chapter on the genesis of the industrial capitalist states: “Capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt”. He buttresses this with a quote, in a footnote, from a worker and trade union leader (Marx consciously drew on the writings and experience of workers to validate his analysis) T. J. Dunning : “With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 per cent will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 per cent will produce eagerness; 50 per cent, positive audacity; 100 per cent will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 per cent and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, nor a risk it will run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged.” It is this pathological drive to maximize profits at any cost, the inherent character of the capitalist system and not the individual greed of some or weakness of regulatory mechanisms that is the root cause for the present crisis.
Under globalization, by arm twisting all independent countries to embrace financial liberalization, the avenues for super profits were enlarged through hitherto unknown levels of speculation. Post crisis, this pressure is bound to intensify seeking greener pastures in the third world. Thus, this process of globalization has, once again, shown itself to be simply unsustainable. Consequently, globalisation’s ideological mask – neo-liberalism – has shown its thorough bankruptcy.
If profits were reemployed into enlarging productive capacities, then through the consequent employment generation, the purchasing power of the people will grow leading to larger aggregate demand, which, in turn, would give a further impetus to industrialization and growth of the real economy. The gigantic accumulation of international finance capital, however, given the inherent laws of capitalism, supercedes this process, seeking predatory profits through speculation. It, in fact, decimates this process by enveloping it under the speculative financial bubble. This is similar to when monopoly capital emerging from free competition, decimates the latter completely.
To summarise: under globalization, with sharp decline in the purchasing power in the hands of the majority of the world’s population (like the growing hiatus between `shining’ and `suffering’ India), finance capital, in its eagerness for quick profits, chooses the speculative route of artificially enlarging purchasing power by advancing cheap (subprime) loans. Profits are made while these loans are spent but when repayment is due comes default, ruining the loan taker, also crippling the system. To put it simply, as seen above, this is precisely what happened on a gigantic scale. Capitalism’s supreme diabolic irony lies in the fact that in the name of protecting those who have already been ruined, the banks and financial institutions are bailed out using tax payer’s resources! Indeed, privatization of profits and the nationalization of losses! In the process, intensifying exploitation further.
Marx summarises the inherent dynamics of capitalism and its historical direction: “The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialization of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.” In the absence of a powerful socialist political alternative, however, capitalism reemerges from every crisis, through new expropriators, by destroying a part of the productive forces, to keep intact, or, create new profit avenues rather than using these resources for people’s welfare. The true inhuman character of capitalism.
Capitalism’s Collapse Inevitable, Not Automatic
CPI(M)’s 14th Congress resolution notes: “The inevitability of capitalism's collapse is not an automatic process. Capitalism has to be overthrown. An erroneous understanding only blunts the need to constantly sharpen and strengthen the revolutionary ideological struggle of the working class and its decisive intervention under the leadership of a party wedded to Marxism-Leninism -- the subjective factor without which no revolutionary transformation is possible”. In those countries where this process is advancing, like in Latin America, we have already seen the electoral defeats of the neo-liberal forces.
In the absence of the advance of the revolutionary movement, capitalism will remerge, in a different form, to consolidate its predatory search for profits. As Marx and Engels said in the Communist Manifesto: "the bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production and thereby the relations of production and with that the whole relations of society". But such a reemergence of capitalism would be at a tremendous cost. Remember, the great depression of 1929 laid the foundations for the rise of fascism.
Clearly, therefore, the current phase of imperialist globalisation and its ideological construct – neo-liberalism – appears to have run its full course. Whatever be the form and content of its restructuring, capitalism is inherently an exploitative and a crisis-ridden system. This is engendered in its fundamental contradiction between its social nature of production and the individual nature of appropriation. As the CPI(M) updated Programme notes: “Despite the fact that the international correlation of forces favour imperialism at the end of the twentieth century and capitalism continues to develop productive forces with the application of new scientific and technological advances, it remains a crisis-ridden system apart from being a system of oppression, exploitation and injustice. The only system, which is an alternative to capitalism, is socialism.”
On this occasion, on the 91st anniversary of the October Revolution, learning from its experiences and drawing the correct lessons from its disintegration, we have to carry forward the struggle for socialism. This requires, as noted above, the sharpening of class struggles to advance the popular revolutionary movement. The experience of socialism in the 20th century demonstrates that the disintegration of the USSR and former socialist countries in Eastern Europe negates neither the revolutionary science of Marxism-Leninism nor the pursuit of the socialist ideal. The current capitalist crisis, on the other hand, tellingly demonstrates the vacuity of the “eternality” of capitalism.