In 1848, in The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels proclaimed that capitalism contained the “seeds of its own destruction.” They saw the principal seed as the creation by capitalism of the laboring class, the workers who provided the labor power that made the increasing number of machines that the capitalists were creating, that is “the proletariat.” They saw that the class conflict between the owners and the workers over what would happen to the surplus value produced by the work on the capitalists’ machines by the proletariat would eventually lead to the takeover of these “means of production” by the workers and the establishment of a socialist state. That would be one in which the means of production would be owned collectively and managed for the benefit of all the people, not just the former owners.
Well, it hasn’t exactly happened that way. With few exceptions, the international owning (ruling) class has proved itself to be marvelously adept at turning the workers away from active class struggle. In fact, in numbers of industrialized countries over time since the end of the First World War and the virtually simultaneous occurrence of the Russian Revolution on Nov. 7 (new calendar), 1917, which helped lead to that ending, the ruling classes of various capitalist countries have managed to enlist large numbers of workers to support their efforts to maintain control of the state apparatus. Thus they brilliantly have been able to maintain their exploitation of those very workers whose support they enlist, as well as of those workers who they don’t. This pattern has been observed for almost a century since Mussolini created the first fascist mass base, the “Black Shirts” in Italy, to the present time in the United States where Donald Trump is in the process of creating a mass base for his own form of fascism. In the present time, in most of the advanced (and not-so-advanced) European capitalist countries, this is observed in the growth of the Right-wing parties, anti-immigrant to begin with, just like the Turmpistas.
So it would seem that the self-conscious class struggle, which Marx and Engels predicted would bring capitalism to its knees (and that self-consciousness is very important in their understanding of the class struggle that can lead to the overthrow of capitalism), is presently difficult to discern, except in some very small communist and related parties in certain capitalist countries. But it certainly does not have any broad political representation at the present time. If that is so then, how can one talk about the “end of capitalism?” In three senses.
The first is that capitalism is running down, it is running out of steam, in a way that it will find to be irreversible. Very briefly, we can consider the following. In the 1980s it was thought that Japan, then an industrial giant, might overtake the United States in industrial output (without the benefit of foreign capital one might note). Since then, for a variety of reasons, the Japanese economy has been essentially running at idle, despite numerous attempts by the government to ramp it up again. Similar conditions began to assert themselves elsewhere. Since the financial crisis of 2007-2009, the European Union, politically wedded to “austerity” (essentially robbing the workers and the poor to pay the rich) has not entered any sort of recovery, except for Germany and a few other members. And now, even Germany is facing a slow-down with no exit in sight.
This does not mean that certain capitalists are not making money. In his book Looting Greece: A New Financial Imperialism Emerges, Prof. Jack Rasmus: “Reveals clearly who calls the shots in the Eurozone—the hardliners, not the remnants and political residue of what was once European social democracy; Follows the negotiations in their excruciating detail as the Troika tightens the screws from 2009 to the present; Shows how Europe’s financial elite enriches itself on Greek debt, privatizations and financial manipulations, turning Greece into an Economic Protectorate.” But this pattern, following predictions that Lenin made a century ago, in which money is made by trading in pieces of paper, not good and services that among other things provide employment, is an indicator of the coming end of capitalism, for it cannot go on indefinitely, as production, in theory at least, can.
In the Obama years the U.S. economy has been running at an historically low (for the post-World War II years) GDP with modest job growth (at the end of the Bush era, the GDP was negative and job losses were in the 100s of thousands), but a major factor supporting this was the printing of money by the Federal Reserve, which managed to do it without kicking off out-of-control inflation. That cannot continue forever either.
Then there is CAR: computerization, automation, robotization, which is permanently replacing manual labor of all types in all industries, from automobiles to travel services. To give just one example, Cadillac has built a new plant in China which makes automobiles almost entirely by using robots. Of course, if the profits that are being made from CAR were shared with the workers, as they would be under socialism, that would be of great benefit to everyone. There would shorter workweeks with equal or bigger pay, and no unemployment. But they aren’t. They go to the owners, cutting labor costs. And that is one major, for the most part unrecognized, reason behind the concentration of wealth and income. The fruits of automation are not shared; their production, the hoarded fruits of productivity, a critical symptom of the disease, is another sign that capitalism is running down.
The second sign that the end of capitalism is coming is the following. As previously noted, the primary ends of capitalism, as Marx and Engels together determined, are two: the production of profit from the surplus labor of the workers it employs and the creation of additional capital, those machines and related resources that are employed to create profits. A major reason that the capitalists have been able to stay in power is that they have been able to convince major sectors of the working class that if they “work really hard,” “keep their noses to the grindstone,” that they too can become capitalists. In the 20th century, oddly enough it was the growth of the labor movements in the advanced capitalist countries that created the circumstances in which the capitalist myth (and it is a myth, as we can see all around us) could be perpetuated. For a relatively short period of time, organized labor was able to extract more of the products of its labor for itself, and that enabled the advancing, in economic terms, of more individuals.
But the central elements of the capitalist class in most countries could not accept this. Thus in country after country the labor movement was minimalized, and along with it its political representatives (in the European countries known as the “social democratic” parties). In turn, this has been a major factor in the massive concentration of wealth and income, nowhere more apparent than in the United States. The U.S. ruling class has made particular use of white supremacy and racism in this endeavor, now being brought to a fever pitch by the aforementioned Donald Trump and his minions. Eventually, this process will lead to a redevelopment of class consciousness and the growth of a revolutionary movement. But the key word is eventually and there is a number of steps that the ruling class will take before that happens, or could happen. The major one is called “fascism,” which will be the principal subject of the next column.
And so, in one sense, following in essence the prediction of Marx and Engels (and built upon by their great successor, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin), the End of Capitalism will be brought about by the continuing, unrelenting drive of the capitalists to destroy the labor movement and its political representations, to appropriate more and more of the surplus value produced by their workers, as noted, sharing with them less and less of the fruits of their labors, eventually leading to huge inbalances in society, and the reigniting of class-conscious class struggle and socialist revolution.
But there is a third sense in which capitalism is creating its own end: that is the one which I wrote about in my column “The Suicide of Capitalism.” Briefly, there are two factors here. First is the increasingly rapid rate at which the planet’s natural resources are being consumed (and in the case of the planet’s forests which are so essential for maintaining the key factors which enable animal life to survive, their gradual destruction). Second of all is global warming and climate change, about which the U.S. capitalists are not only doing nothing, but in their claims that the whole understanding of how the earth works and doesn’t is nothing but a hoax (see Donald Trump), they are actually accelerating the process.
And so, the End of Capitalism is coming, but at the present time there can be no time-prediction for that event. What can be predicted is that a) the ruling classes will make no attempts to reverse the concentration of wealth and income that will eventually lead to the creation of revolutionary movements and that b) in the United States (and in the United Kingdom as well — on her first day in office, the new Tory Prime Minister, Theresa May, shut down the government Department for Energy and Climate Change) the ruling class will not only not do anything to ameliorate the global warming/climate change problem, but will actually continue to follow policies that actually accelerate it, leading of course to the eventual end of capitalism or the entire human race and everything that lives on this tortured planet. The question for any thinking person, therefore, is simple: at this point either capitalism goes, or we are finished.
Part II awaits.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Senior Editor, Politics, Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books. In addition to being Senior Editor, Politics, for The Greanville Post, he is: a Contributor for American Politics to The Planetary Movement; a “Trusted Author” for Op-Ed News.com; a contributor to the “Writing for Godot” section of Reader Supported News; and a contributor to From The G-Man. He is the Editorial Director and a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine.us. Further, he is an occasional Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter, BuzzFlash Commentary, and Dandelion Salad. Dr. Jonas’ latest book is Ending the ‘Drug War’; Solving the Drug Problem: The Public Health Approach, Brewster, NY: Punto Press, available on Kindle from Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Ending-Drug-War-Solving-Problem-ebook/dp/B01EO9RGKO/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461783388&sr=1-4&keywords=Ending+the+Drug+War
His most recent book on US politics is The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A Futuristic Novel (Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013, Brewster, NY), and available on Amazon.