The present historic period which opened in 2008 is characterized by a dramatic decay of the productive forces of capitalism. As the RCIT has elaborated in numerous documents, this decay manifests itself in the dramatic depth of the Great Recession of 2008/09, the lack of any dynamic of growth since then, and the approach of the next recession.
However, the decay of the productive forces is most dramatically reflected by the deteriorating living conditions of the global working class, peasantry and urban poor – those who constitute the vast majority of humanity. Officially more than 200 million people are unemployed, but the real figure is much higher. According to the United Nations, 100,000 people throughout the world die of hunger every day, and approximately 852 million suffer from chronic hunger. This scandalous situation exists in spite of the fact that the world produces more than 1½ times enough food to feed everyone on the planet. However, in a world in which 2.2 billion people live on less than US $2 a day (in 2011), many cannot afford to buy sufficient amounts of food.
At the same time, inequality has increased dramatically. According to the latest OXFAM study, in 2015, the 62 richest individuals in the world held the same amount of wealth as the 3.6 billion people who constitute the economic bottom half of humanity. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Never before has inequality between the classes and between nations been so great on a global level. According to figures from Credit Suisse – a source which no one could accuse of anti-capitalist ideology – an insignificant minority (0.7% of the world population), representing largely the global capitalist class, owns 41% of the world’s wealth. The global middle class (7.7% of the world population) owes together about the same amount (42.3% of the world’s wealth). The next 22.9% of the world’s population, probably representing a significant share of the working class of the imperialist countries and the middle class of the semi-colonial world, own 13.7%, and the huge majority of the world’s population (68.7%) – representing mostly the working class and the poor peasants of the South – own the little which remains, only 3% of the world’s wealth.
As Marx pointed out, capitalism in decay increasingly transforms productive forces into forces of destruction. An example of this is the dramatic change in climate and its consequences for many countries and their populations. Scientist estimate that continuing today’s patterns of carbon-intensive energy use, with the resulting changes in climate that this will induce, will cause 6 million deaths per year by 2030. They also warn that “unless strong preventative action is taken, between now and 2050 climate change will push the number of displaced people globally to at least 1 billion.”
Another example of the horrific transformation of productive forces into destructive ones is the massive increase in military spending. The Great Powers – led by the US and followed by China, Russia, France, UK, and Germany – annually spend more than US$1.2 trillion for weapons and related systems.
The increasing number of wars and military occupations has led to a dramatic rise in the number of victims of war and displaced persons. In Syria alone, at least 470,000 people have been killed as the result of the Assad regime’s determination to hold on to power and privilege. According to the UNHCR, the global number of displaced people rose from 42.5 million (2011) to 63.5 million (2015), an astounding increase of 50% in just four years!
What are the reasons for the historic crisis of capitalism? Significantly, they cannot be found in the bad decisions of politicians or the greed of the capitalists – even though both of these certainly exist and are widespread. The fundamental cause of economic depression and the increasing number of wars, catastrophes and misery lies in the inner mechanism of the capitalist system itself. An ever-expanding accumulation of capital finds fewer and fewer opportunities for profitable investment – reflecting the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (which Marx considered as the most important law in political economy). This results in the accelerated antagonism between the social nature of the forces of production and the private nature of means of production (i.e., capitalist property), as well as the exacerbated contradiction between the global nature of the productive forces and the nation state.
Consequently, contrary to the mistaken beliefs of reformists, populists and centrists, the misery of humanity caused by crisis-ridden capitalism cannot be overcome by reforms (Keynesian economic policy, “left-wing government”, etc.), but only by the smashing of the global capitalist system itself, by means of an international revolution of the working class and the oppressed, which will overthrow the ruling classes and establish a world federation of republics of the workers and oppressed.