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Crisis of Capitalism and the Left

A new crisis of capitalism, in the style of 1929.  The theories of casino capitalism are confirmed.  The US government contradicts itself again and heavily intervenes, demonstrating that its confidence in the market isn’t as great as its propaganda displayed.  Neoliberal capitalism spills its guts, and the theories of the Left — Keynesian or anti-capitalist — critical of neoliberalism are corroborated.

Our theories about the anti-social and perhaps terminal character of capitalism borne out, we leftists smile, rubbing our hands, eager for social and political consequences of crises.

Should we?  Or perhaps should we ask ourselves how prepared we are to confront this new crisis with left-wing alternatives?  Not just with theories, but with the social, political, and ideological force to contest hegemony in crisis.  Are we ready to ask ourselves if the measures taken by governments wouldn’t mean more suffering for the poor, more desperation, abandonment, unemployment, and precarious labor, without people being able to see alternatives?

If we are to merely play an intellectual role of being critics of capitalism, the new crisis is a great feast.  We can rejoice and churn out, day after day, week after week, new articles that foresee — “as we have written already” — the end of capitalism in short order.

But every catastrophism is self-deceiving.  In the 30s, the Communist International subscribed to the theory of economist Eugen Varga, who revisited Lenin’s theory to diagnose that the crisis of 1929 brought capitalism, finally, to its final stage.  As the New Deal rescued capitalism from itself, the category of the “second phase of the final stage of capitalism” was introduced.  By now we must be in the fifth or sixth phase.

Giovanni Arrighi recalls that, in the 70s, the debate was not about the end of capitalism but about when, where, and how capitalism would end — the subject that was apparently accepted by even theoreticians in favor of capitalism.

Nevertheless, as Lenin himself reminds us, capitalism doesn’t collapse, nor will it ever collapse, unless it gets defeated — as shown by the revolutionary processes that ended up with capitalism, temporarily or definitively.  It doesn’t collapse on its own, and it even demonstrates capacity for recovery.  Who knew that the homeland of Lenin, of the first worker-peasant revolution in the history of humanity, would see restoration of capitalism, in a gangster version?

Who knew that the United States, “mortally wounded” by the crisis of 1929, would preside over the longest and deepest cycle of expansion of capitalism in its history — its “golden era” according to Hobsbawm — after WW2, pressuring the USSR and defeating it technologically and economically, before facilitating its political implosion?

I’m not saying this to be characterized as a propagandist of apologetic visions of capitalism or to encourage demoralization, but to perform a salutary affirmation of Brecht, who said that “we must attack the strongest flank of the enemy,” so as not to deceive ourselves about the real conditions of the battle against it, so as not to underestimate its forces, and, above all, so as not to overestimate our forces.

Every crisis that the Left faces with hand-rubbing glee leaves it even more defeated than before, for such a Left is one content with contemplating the last days of a capitalist Pompeii, which however persists and survives thanks to the lack of alternatives — theoretical and political — on the Left, the very Left that appears to believe that finally one day, in the not too distant future, peoples of the world will be persuaded of its apocalyptic theory, without it having made its theory real as an economic, social, political, and ideological force.

For the time being — as Marx said of the petit bourgeoisie — it seems that the people are not yet mature enough to understand the theory of a Left that is satisfied with itself, with our marvelous theory that tells us that, whether in the long, medium, or short term, inevitably history will reveal that it’s advancing toward socialism.

The turns — both revolutionary and counter-revolutionary — of the 20th century have taught us nothing if we are still waiting for the corpse of our enemy to turn up, rather than meticulously preparing to make our dreams and utopias a reality, as recommended by Lenin’s revolutionary realism.


The original article “A crise do capitalismo e a esquerda” was published in the Blog do Emir section of the Carta Maior Web site on 18 September 2008.  Click here for a Spanish translation by Insurrectas y Punto.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi (@yoshiefuruhashi | yoshie.furuhashi [at] gmail.com).



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