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From new introl to ‘High Tech, Low Pay’

Capitalist impasse and socialist future

Published Sep 18, 2009 8:12 PM

Following is the sixth and final part of an excerpt from the introduction by Fred Goldstein to an upcoming reprint of the ground-breaking work “High Tech, Low Pay,” which was written by Sam Marcy in 1986, during the early stages of capitalist restructuring. Goldstein is the author of “Low-Wage Capitalism: Colossus with Feet of Clay.” Read parts one through five in the Aug. 13, Aug. 20, Aug. 27, Sept. 3 and Sept. 10 issues of WW.

The days when the conservative labor leadership has been able to hold the working class in check are numbered. Its base is shrinking with each round of concessions it makes to the bosses, with each sweetheart contract it signs. As Marcy noted, at the beginning of each crisis the workers are thrown back onto the defensive. But sooner or later they will cry “Enough is enough!” Then the tide will turn.

There is no bourgeois economist who can see ahead past one quarter. Yet Marcy’s analysis of 25 years ago, proceeding from Marxist theory, put a sharp focus on trends deep within the organism of capitalism and outlined the forces that have shaped the present.

The inevitable imbalance between production and consumption has finally led to a protracted and profound crisis of overproduction. This is certainly the worst crisis in the post-World War II era. As of June 2009, it has lasted the longest—19 months. The measures taken by the world capitalist class to overcome it are by far the greatest. It follows two previous jobless recoveries, the second far more pronounced than the first, which were only overcome by extraordinary, nonreproducible measures (expansion in the wake of the collapse of the USSR, massive bubble-creating measures in the dot-com and housing markets).

Even the most optimistic bourgeois economists concede that a recovery of capitalist production would still leave massive unemployment, as the system will be unable to reabsorb a large proportion of the workers laid off in the present crisis.

Furthermore, in the era of imperialism and the scientific-technological revolution, each round of new technological innovation by the ruling class makes it more and more difficult to start the capitalist system up again after a bust. The two most important reasons are that technology reduces the skills and buying power of the workers, while at the same time increasing productivity, thus insuring that production saturates the markets at a faster and faster rate.

The question that remains for the working class is whether or not quantity has turned into quality in the matter of the capitalist recovery—that is, whether or not the scientific-technological revolution and its effects, so profoundly analyzed by Marcy, have brought capitalism to the point where society will not be able to go forward. Has the profit system reached an impasse?

Because of the previous period of expansive globalization of capital, this crisis is the most far-reaching in terms of the numbers of workers affected. The world socialization of the production process has been brought to an extraordinarily high level. Private property is becoming a more and more intolerable brake internationally.

The ruling class is trying to shift this crisis entirely onto the backs of the workers and the oppressed, just as it did during the Great Depression.

Many are promoting the notion that crisis automatically leads to uprisings and the collapse of capitalism. This is sterile, abstract thinking, far removed from the reality of the working class. It fails to take into account the disintegrating forces exerted upon the workers by a capitalist crisis of unemployment. The workers become atomized and lose the sense of strength derived from being together on the job. Their sense of confidence and of their potential power is undermined by a crisis.

It takes great efforts by working-class leaders to find strategies and tactics to counteract the effects of the downturn, develop methods of resistance to every attack and take advantage of every upturn in the economic situation to push the struggle forward onto the offensive.

This was the principal purpose of “High Tech, Low Pay” and of much of Marcy’s life work, for that matter.

Marxism has no crystal ball. It does not dole out prescriptive formulas for how a major, global capitalist crisis of profound dimensions will play itself out.

Capitalism experienced a global economic collapse during the Great Depression. A decade of mass unemployment ensued that could not be overcome except by rearmament in the U.S. and Europe and ultimately war. Thus the manifestation of the absolute, general crisis of capitalism has been economic collapse. This variant must be taken seriously. But the possibility of a protracted period of weak and short-lived recoveries alongside growing and irreversible mass unemployment must also be considered. There could be a temporary delay in a sharp crisis as a result of massive financial manipulation and capitalist state intervention. However, that it could end either in collapse or war or both must also be considered.

The precise, immediate future cannot be known. What is known is that genuine working-class leaders must prepare for struggle and adapt to any eventuality to assist the workers in dealing with the crisis, whatever form it takes. Above all, the working class must rise to assume its historic destiny as the subject of history and lead the way out of the state of permanent crisis, into which capitalism has led humanity, towards a socialist future.