Crises of Capitalism and Revolutionary Situation

Elif Çağlı

2 November 2003

The new period

Under conditions of confusion and demoralisation created by the collapse of the Soviet Union, workers’ movement suffered a major setback in terms of the level of class consciousness and organisation. This allowed the world bourgeoisie, which was on the verge of a crisis, to breathe a deep sigh of relief. The capitalist class seized the historic opportunity with both hands, stepping up its neoliberal economic policies that had already been in progress. This represented an all-out attack against the gains made by the working class and plundering of social funds. It was owing to this all-out attack that capitalism secured a temporary recovery throughout 1990s. However, this recovery was not to last long. Long-postponed economic crisis finally broke out, when spasms devastated capitalist countries one after another. Yet again, under conditions where the workers’ movement is in bad shape, the world bourgeoisie have felt itself less strained in living their crisis to the full. However, as subsequent developments showed soon afterwards, events unfolded far differently than the capitalist class had expected.

Under conditions of a deepening economic crisis, events such as the revolutionary situations unfolding in Latin American countries foreshadow major changes. As has happened multiple times in the history of capitalism, a sudden change from upswing to downswing ended the old equilibrium. The world has now entered a new period, characterised by tumultuous social upheavals that have begun to manifest themselves in many ways and will continue to do so. Such periods lead to the emergence of new pursuits and polarisations within the ranks of both the workers’ movement and the bourgeoisie. Indeed, today the workers’ movement worldwide has begun to show signs of a new upsurge, while the class-collaborationist, reformist, pro-establishment forces in various workers’ organisations do their utmost to keep the movement on its old line. Likewise on the top, there is an infighting taking place among capitalist forces.

This infighting finds its most concrete expression in the conflict that is taking place in top echelons of the USA, the hegemonic power of the capitalist system, and also between the USA and the EU, over whether to expand the imperialist war or to restore old policies. Likewise, there are opposing voices coming from major international institutions of the capitalist system such as the IMF and the World Bank. On the one side stand those ideologists and economists who insist on implementation of the IMF recipes that further deepened the crises in Turkey, Latin America and elsewhere. On the other side are those who express their concern over a potential outpouring of mass discontent on the part of workers and toilers at large. Concerned over such a prospect, the latter group makes recommendations that evoke a return to Keynesian policies.

Long spasmodic periods of capitalist system generally coincide with explosive developments, mounting rivalry between hegemonic powers over new markets and spheres of influence, and wars. This should not be taken to mean, however, that it is the wars that lie behind the tumultuous interruptions in the development of productive forces during such periods of the history of capitalism. On the contrary, both imperialist wars of re-division resulted from the fact that the two barriers of the capitalist system, private property and national borders, have obstructed further development of productive forces in Europe. The tumultuous periods accompanying major crises of capitalism find their expression in the policies introduced by each ruling power or fundamental class in response to the crisis. Neither any hegemonic power of the system nor any other imperialist power fighting for hegemony has ever hesitated to resort to war to seize and create new markets in the face of a crisis.

However, by the very logic of such major conflicts, there is no way for countries to leave the crisis behind all together and simultaneously. This was indeed the case with the First World War, where the clash between imperialist powers of Europe paved the way for the rise of US imperialism. Europe, on the other hand, was plunged into an even deeper crisis and destruction. Caused by the outburst of accumulated contradictions of the capitalist system, the Second World War likewise ravaged Europe, claiming as many as 55 million lives and destroying productive forces on a colossal scale. However, as a factor that precisely exposes the true face of the capitalist system, war does not only mean destruction from the capitalist viewpoint, but it also produces an investment opportunity, where war-torn areas undergo a feverish reconstruction under the hegemony of the victorious imperialist power.

From the capitalist viewpoint, qualitative differences between commodities have no importance. In terms of capitalist “moral”, any means or anything that serves to expand the production of surplus value and to realise the profit is considered permissible. Especially in times of stagnation, capitalist state and arms monopolies give priority to the production of “guns, rather than butter”, as long as it helps pump fresh life into economy. Growing arms production and rising militarism play an enormous role in capital accumulation and world trade. Expanding output of each military-industrial complex finds its expression in growing consumption of arms, spreading military exercises, surging military expenditures by the capitalist states, escalating warmongering activities in spheres of influence for the sake of boosting arms trade, and, finally, in the actual firing of weapons in the regions where tensions have been intentionally exacerbated.

Massive arms monopolies are formed not only on a national basis, but also in the form of multinational monopolies. Intermingled on a global scale, capital derives huge profits from armament and wars. However, let us not forget that capitalist unity, by its very nature, is a unity in competition and that tendency of capital towards integration represents no decline in armament or wars at all. As Lenin put it, “To think that the fact of capital in the individual states combining and interlinking on an international scale must of necessity produce an economic trend towards disarmament means, in effect, allowing well-meaning philistine expectations of an easing of class contradictions take the place of the actual intensification of those contradictions.”[*]

Imperialist wars cause slaughter of millions and destruction of productive forces. For capitalist economy, however, they play a refreshing role, opening up new, profitable markets. In addition to that, major crises of capitalism and imperialist wars are the main factors that trigger revolutionary situations on a world scale. In sum, we cannot make definite predictions on the concrete developments of the upcoming period. However, one thing is certain: the course of capitalism and the resultant outcome will depend on the response of the world working class.

[*] Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.21, p. 227