Marx Predicted Our Present Crisis, and Points the Way Out

“We need more robots, better solar panels, instant communication and sophisticated green transport networks. But equally, we need to organise politically to defend the weak, empower the many and prepare the ground for reversing the absurdities of capitalism. In practical terms, this means treating the idea that there is no alternative with the contempt it deserves while rejecting all calls for a “return” to a less modernised existence.”

“Capitalism’s reach is so pervasive it can sometimes seem impossible to imagine a world without it. It is only a small step from feelings of impotence to falling victim to the assertion there is no alternative. But, astonishingly (claims the manifesto), it is precisely when we are about to succumb to this idea that alternatives abound.“

In light of world governments pushing their citizens to “reopen economies”, the oncoming financial crisis sparked by lagging consumption and massive unemployment, and the further consolidation of capital from firms like Amazon, Yanis Varoufakis‘s Guardian article on the Communist Manifesto (adapted from his introduction of a recent edition) for the old man’s bicentennial is as relevant as ever:

If the manifesto holds the same power to excite, enthuse and shame us that it did in 1848, it is because the struggle between social classes is as old as time itself. Marx and Engels summed this up in 13 audacious words: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”

From feudal aristocracies to industrialised empires, the engine of history has always been the conflict between constantly revolutionising technologies and prevailing class conventions. With each disruption of society’s technology, the conflict between us changes form. Old classes die out and eventually only two remain standing: the class that owns everything and the class that owns nothing – the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

This is the predicament in which we find ourselves today. While we owe capitalism for having reduced all class distinctions to the gulf between owners and non-owners, Marx and Engels want us to realise that capitalism is insufficiently evolved to survive the technologies it spawns. It is our duty to tear away at the old notion of privately owned means of production and force a metamorphosis, which must involve the social ownership of machinery, land and resources. Now, when new technologies are unleashed in societies bound by the primitive labour contract, wholesale misery follows. In the manifesto’s unforgettable words: “A society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.”

Everyone reading this has lived in the capitalist realist world with no first experience of anything else. Marx was born at precisely the right time in history to see capitalism being born. As such, his analysis is relevant to us, even if he didn’t understand ecology, gender, and technology in quite the same way we do now.

It is the end of ‘the end of history’. There is an alternative to the unequal American reality, regardless of what the political and capitalist classes say. You can see it for yourself in the human-centered responses.

The End of the End of History

The blog Cosmonaut has a lengthy and important article regarding the necessary work to be done in the western imperialist core to stave off 21st-century fascism and neoliberal neglect, especially after the the failed political revolution of the the Sanders left, all in the face of ecological collapse. Read the whole thing.

Regardless of what exigencies arise in the coming years’ political landscape, most of which are entirely obscured to us now, we can be certain of the crux of every political question: ecological collapse. Beyond the most obvious horror of this central question, the high-visibility catastrophes which will increase in magnitude and frequency, the tendrils of crisis will reach outward into every level of our social systems. Drought will spark agricultural collapse, which will cause multiple deluges of human migration, often all at once. Severe storms, flooding, weather-pattern changes, and sea-level rise will render major metropolitan areas functionally uninhabitable. The desertification of regions now devoted to large-scale monoculture or husbandry will disrupt critical commodity chains. This will doubtless cause armed conflict within and between nations.

Climate change is the skeleton key that unlocks the barred gate between us and the better world we struggle for. Every demand we now pursue in the interest of social justice, proletarian self-activation, and relief of sheer human misery will become a critical factor of our social system which has to be radically transformed in order to mitigate climate collapse. This means that any progressive, affirmative program of socio-ecological collapse constitutes, by the very nature of the adaptations required, a minimum program– a suite of demands which, when implemented, create the dictatorship of the proletariat and bring into the world real democracy for the first time. All other potential courses of action responsive to the general crisis coming down the pike are not only reactive and politically reactionary but will be insufficient to the scale of the calamity they respond to. The disastrous, sublime, terrifying situation we are now faced with lays down the gauntlet: we must either overcome our inhumanity and for the first time realize our collective potential, or consign the project of humanity to ignominy and extinction.

No More “How Will You Pay For It?”

Stony Brook University professor of economics Stephanie Kelton wrote about the recently passed $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus for the Intercept:

Congress has ignored millions of people who have existed in a state of crisis for decades. The people of Flint, Michigan, (and elsewhere) still do not have safe drinking water. Millions of kids go hungry each day. Half a million people, before the pandemic, were homeless on any given night. And on it goes. There has been no multitrillion-dollar spending bill to combat these and other domestic emergencies. Instead, lawmakers have deprived communities of critical investments that could have attenuated their emergencies, often hiding behind the excuse that there isn’t enough money in the budget to deal with problems like these.

She would know. Kelton served as the chief economist for the DNC on the U.S. Senate Budget committee (2015/2016). This article elucidates the methods Congress uses to pass a budget that is ‘paid for’. But the stimulus is not paid for.

That is not what Congress is doing today. Instead of writing a bill that would send two sets of instructions to the Fed, Congress is pushing through a $2 trillion spending bill that will send just one set of instructions. No one is bothering to try to offset — i.e. “pay for” — that spending, because the goal is to get lots of money to people (and companies) without subtracting a lot away.

I keep thinking about republicans and liberals hyperventilating about the ‘cost’ of some of the progressive movement’s policies: Medicare for All, cancelling student debt, tuition-free college, etc. Many of these could be ‘paid for’ yes, by raising taxes on the wealthy. Or they could have been wiped away with a stimulus similar to this one. Arguably keeping money in everyday working people’s pockets during a crisis would have eased the trauma.

Beyond Bernie: Assessing the New Politics by the Collective Power Network

Collective Power Network, a Democratic Socialists of America caucus “focused on realizing DSA’s potential to become a mass political organization of the working class”, wrote a statement in their publication The Organizer about the crossroads the left finds itself in with the Bernie campaign winding down and the global pandemic ratcheting up:

Even though we are in the midst of a crisis, it would be a serious mistake to believe that left politics are off the table or to resort to doomerism. Democratic socialist demands, which eight years ago were the fringe of the fringe, have gone mainstream, with demands like Medicare for All polling with incredibly high favorability and “socialism” polling at 47% in states like Tennessee. This is a jaw dropping shift in consciousness in the U.S., one likely to be heightened by the exigencies of widespread public health and economic crisis. While both right-ward and left-ward shifts are possible neither are by any means certain. […]

These campaigns are especially powerful when DSA acts within an alliance of organizations raising common demands. At a moment when elected officials and neoliberal institutions are scrambling for solutions, forceful demands from broad coalitions have an opportunity to shift official responses towards meaningful social-democratic reforms, simply by reacting quickly and being loud.

It’s also important that such campaigns do not remain confined to the local level, and that we take advantage of our capacity as a national organization to apply local campaign lessons across chapters and regions. The recovery from the immediate effects of the pandemic and the ensuing economic fallout will be a sustained national political issue. This creates an opening for socialists to advocate for lasting social democratic reforms on a national scale.

A Humane Approach to Dealing with the Coronavirus

In These Times web editor and writer Miles Kampf-Lassin wrote about the intersection of coronavirus and social policies during last night’s democratic debate between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders:

The crisis shows not just the callousness of the current system but the potential for radical change. Pushed by necessity, governments have been responding with measures socialists have long called for: Cities such as Miami and New York are halting evictions. Others like Detroit are reversing their water shutoff policies. Even Trump has announced that those with student loans administered by the government will see their interest fees waived during the crisis.

These policy changes reveal that government has always had the power, and the ability, to protect the most vulnerable residents—it’s just previously chosen not to pursue them. But with the virus becoming a clear and present danger, Americans are realizing more and more that the function of our government must be to provide safety and care for its people. According to a new Morning Consult poll, 41% of adults now say that the outbreak has made them more likely to “support universal healthcare proposals, where all Americans would get their health insurance from the government.”

Joe Biden continually sought to downplay the necessary action of every major crisis that is unfolding in the United States and the world; climate, public health, inequality, fascism.

I will shout it from the rooftops of our quarantined, locked-down country with the capital as the new epicenter of this virus; there is no going back to a pre-crises world. This is the new normal. Let’s rise to the challenge and act accordingly.