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Capitalism's day of reckoning approaches

Published Jan 11, 2008 11:47 PM

Originally published on Dec. 7, 1995

When Marxism is discussed in the bourgeois universities, the question often arises: What accounts for the durability of Marxist theory over the years, especially considering the setbacks of the working class in various countries?

Sam Marcy, the founder of Workers World Party, died on Feb. 1, 1998. We’ll be rerunning a selection of his past articles to familiarize our readers with his analyses, and what he taught about applying the basics of Marxism and historical materialism to the challenges facing the working class and oppressed today. For more of his writings, see www.workers.org/books/.

Why has Marxism persisted as the doctrine of the working-class struggle, despite persecution in almost every land?

Some seek mystical answers. Others may go so far as to look upon Marxism as an eternal truth.

If Marxism were a religious doctrine, its persistence would be easily explained as the work of divine inspiration. But that would be contrary to everything Marxism teaches—the materialist interpretation of history above all.

Still, the question arises again and again. Why has Marxism endured in so many countries, despite the signal defeats in the USSR and Eastern Europe?

We must seek the answer in material conditions.

It has persisted because the working class needs a doctrine in order to combat its class enemies, particularly the bourgeoisie. Nowhere and at no time has the working class defeated the bourgeoisie without recourse to the theory of revolutionary Marxism.

History teaches that just to open up a serious struggle against the bourgeoisie, it is necessary to have a Marxist understanding of the nature of the class struggle.

Capitalism emerged

from feudalism

At this time capitalism is in high gear. Capitalist production is constantly expanding all over the world, seemingly without limits. Feudalism having been destroyed, first in Europe and later in the rest of the world, the gates to capitalist development are wide open almost everywhere.

The development of capitalism differs widely from feudalism. Feudalism, however one interprets its origins or development, was basically a stationary system. Only when embryonic capitalism broke away from feudal restrictions and began to expand outward did it became a serious factor in Europe.

The transition period from feudalism to capitalism was not an automatic economic process, by any means. It was accompanied by revolutionary struggles that arose as a result of capitalism’s need to expand.

Feudalism’s further existence in a stationary situation led to stagnation and the decay of the limited productive forces developed up to that time. Only a break from the confines of the feudal system opened up the road to capitalist development.

The feudal ruling classes were inherently opposed to expansion. They concerned themselves mainly with reproducing what they already had. Bourgeois historians forget to mention that all this was possible so long as the peasantry produced all the goods and services for a decadent landlord class.

Once the ruling classes of Europe began to reach out beyond their static societies, they opened the gateway to revolutionary change.

Columbus’s voyage in search of a new world, for example, was not just an individual entrepreneurial effort. It was sponsored by Queen Isabella of Spain. In the long run, it tremendously spurred the growth of the bourgeoisie in Europe.

Momentous era approaches

The question that arises in the contemporary period is whether the further development of capitalism can be accomplished in a “peaceful” way, without stepping on the rights of millions of people. The recent history of capitalism—indeed the whole 20th century—speaks against it.

After the tremendous conflagration of World War II, it was thought in some circles that the competition among the so-called great powers would end in a peaceful, general agreement sanctified by such organizations as the United Nations. But nothing of the sort is happening. The voracious appetite of the U.S. monopolies gives no ground for belief in any of this.

The same could be said of the other imperialist powers. They have not grown less voracious but are held at bay everywhere on the globe by the monstrous growth of U.S. militarism.

Yet the whole edifice of capitalism is marked by instability. It cannot avoid a capitalist economic downturn at some point.

Even among capitalist economists, there is really none who predicts an end to the severe economic crises caused by capitalist overproduction.

The cyclically occurring crises of earlier years have been held at bay by stupendous military contracts during peacetime, allowing the capitalist economy to retain a precarious stability. Yet this cannot go on for long.

The reckoning may be delayed, but it is sure to come.

What needs to be considered by the militant, more class-conscious, more wide-awake elements in the working-class movement? It is how to prepare for the coming period.

The very success of capitalism in vastly expanding the means of production through ruthlessly restructuring will disrupt the present economic patterns and lay bare the most important contradiction of capitalism. That contradiction is between the socialized character of the production process and the individual—really corporate—ownership of the basic means of production.

A momentous era is fast approaching. It will not only influence U.S. history but will have far-reaching effects throughout the world.