Occupy Wall Street movement & the capitalist crisis
Published Oct 13, 2011 8:06 PM
WW photo: G. Dunkel
Excerpts from a talk given by Fred Goldstein, WWP Secretariat member, at the Workers World Party National Conference held in New York City, Oct. 8-9.
At the past three party conferences, in 2008, 2009 and 2010, we have explained that this crisis is not just a severe capitalist crisis of the ordinary type, but that it is a crisis of the capitalist system as a whole. We said that the system has reached a point where it will not be able to revive itself by normal, economic means.
We assured people over and over again that this crisis would eventually give rise to resistance and struggle. We said that being determines consciousness, but that consciousness lags behind events. It catches up in the long run. The Occupy Wall Street movement spreading from city to city means that the ice is breaking among sections of the unemployed youth. Consciousness is beginning to catch up and is translating into some form of action. This action is bound to spread to the workers and the oppressed, and we will do all in our power to make that happen.
There have been 10 economic crises in the U.S. since World War II. The capitalist class has been able to climb out of each one and expand production and expand hiring and exploitation each time. They have used military spending and war, financial bailouts of corporations and banks, wage cutting and technological restructuring.
This crisis is different. The Federal Reserve and European central banks put over $20 trillion into trying to revive the system and make it grow again. What have they accomplished?
There are still 30 million unemployed and underemployed in the U.S. World unemployment is officially at 205 million. European central bankers are scrambling to keep the entire financial system from imploding the way it did in 2008 after Lehman Brothers collapsed.
Economic growth in the U.S. is at a snail’s pace. Germany, the engine of the European economy, has slowed to 0.1 percent growth. France, Italy and Spain have stopped growing or are in decline. Greece and Portugal are contracting rapidly. All this despite unprecedented massive intervention by the capitalist state. The Pentagon has spent $2 trillion on the war in Afghanistan and this has not made a single dent in the mass unemployment.
Why is none of this working? Only a Marxist understanding of the laws of capitalism can explain the present historic crisis.
The present youth movement grows out of the general crisis, and this crisis has arisen because of the operation of what Marx called the general law of capitalist accumulation.
I will try to give a short summary of the law.
Marx explained that all capitalists operate within the framework of cutthroat competition. The richer, stronger capitalist always destroys or conquers the smaller one. But the larger capitalist enterprise has become larger and richer because it has earned more profit, sweated more unpaid labor, more surplus value out of its workers than its rivals.
As the process of capitalist competition proceeds historically, the bosses use technology more and more in their struggle against each other. They use technology to force the workers to be more and more productive, to turn out more and more goods and services in less and less time. Each leap forward in technology increases the mass of profit accumulated by the bosses.
But every advance in technology has a dual effect. First, it means that each capitalist needs fewer and fewer workers because each worker turns out more goods per hour. Secondly, it means that more and more skills that workers have are transferred to machines and to software.
The youth rebellion can be understood in this light. There are fewer and fewer jobs available for the new generation of workers, and the vast majority of jobs available are low-skilled and therefore low-paid.
The idea that education is the answer, that all the workers need is to get 21st century skills for the high-tech economy, is total baloney. Most of the skills that the youth have — the training that they have gotten and gone into debt for — are useless because 21st century skills under high tech capitalism are low skills, just as 21st century wages are low wages.
Large numbers of educated, mostly white youth are first getting a small taste of what millions of Black, Latino/a, Asian and Native youth have known with bitterness for years as they are shuffled through the high-school-to-prison pipeline. The system does not need their labor, does not want them.
The message we have to bring to Occupy Wall Street is that it is not just the 1 percent vs. the 99 percent. It is the working class and the oppressed against the capitalist class. It is not Wall Street in the abstract that is the enemy. It is not just millionaires and billionaires as a group isolated from the capitalist system that are the enemy. It is the system of wage slavery and exploitation, which inevitably leads to mass unemployment, inequality and crisis, which must be destroyed.
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