Notes on the Changing Mood inside the Capitalist Class
By Michael Pröbsting, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 31.1.2014, www.thecommunists.net
During the past few weeks a number of articles and reports have been published which reflect the growing insecurity and fear of the ruling class about the coming crises and upheavals of their capitalist system. These strategists all recognize a massive increase of social inequality, as well as the growing resentment of the rich and their fake democracies, behind which lurks the authoritarian repression state.
Let us examine a few examples. The Financial Times – one of the most prestigious newspapers of the imperialist bourgeoisie – published an article about the World Economic Forum (WEF). The World Economic Forum is a gathering of the political and economic global elite which takes place annually at Davos (Switzerland). The Financial Times reports:
“In 2014, however, the sense that something is wrong with the way the rewards of globalisation are distributed has entered mainstream debate. One common trend in recent years – linking the rich economies of the west, with the emerging powers – has been outbreaks of large-scale social protest, highlighting inequality and corruption. The examples keep piling up: the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, the Indignados in Madrid, the anti-corruption protests in Delhi, the mass demonstrations in Brazilian cities last summer, the Gezi Park movement in Turkey and the rallies that followed last year’s coup in Egypt – all seem to demonstrate how quickly anti-establishment sentiment can be fanned in the age of social media. Since the WEF is, essentially, a gathering of the global elite, its delegates will be concerned by evidence that “populism” (to use a favourite Davos term) is on the rise.” (1)
Here we will not deal with the senselessness of the term “populism” as used by the bourgeoisie, which conflates so-called “left-wing” and “right-wing” extremist ideologies and movements. The essential point here is that the ruling class understands that the masses are progressively losing their trust in the capitalist order and are looking for radical alternatives.
The British journal The Economist, another mouthpiece of the super-rich, reported discussions at this year’s World Economic Forum. In one session, 64% of the audience said wealth concentration was “corroding democracy”. (2) When the people at Davos speak about democracy, of course they don’t mean democracy for the popular masses but rather bourgeois democracy – i.e., parliamentary democracy which camouflages the rule of a small group of monopoly capitalists. In other words, capitalists fear that their bourgeois-parliamentary democracy may collapse due to popular hatred.
The World’s 85 Ultra Super-Rich
This is hardly surprising given the obvious inability of the capitalists to run a system which serves popular needs. In a recent study which received great attention not only at Davos but around the world, the British NGO think-tank OXFAM stated: “Global elites are increasingly becoming richer”. It found out that “the wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion.” At the same time poverty and hunger are increasing. Global inequality has now reached such proportions that “the bottom half of the world’s population owns less than the richest 85 people in the world.” (3) In other words, the world’s 85 biggest and most greedy parasites have more wealth than the poorest 3.5 billion of the world population!
It is beyond the scope of these brief notes to analyze this development more closely, as we have done in our book The Great Robbery of the South. (4) However, we draw the reader’s attention to the fact that this massive increase of inequality is the result of both the increasing exploitation of the working class in all countries as well as of the increasing super-exploitation of the semi-colonial countries (the so-called “Third World”) by the imperialist monopolies and Great Powers. (5) The capitalist class – to be more precise, the monopoly capitalists, who are the dominating layer among the bourgeoisie – have raised the rate of accumulation of surplus value at the expense of the workers in all countries and have increased the value transferred from the semi-colonial peoples to the imperialist metropolitan centers.
For Marxists these developments are not surprising. Karl Marx himself already explained in Capital Volume I that the laws of capitalist accumulation unavoidable create mass impoverishment:
“It establishes an accumulation of misery, corresponding with accumulation of capital. Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole, i.e., on the side of the class that produces its own product in the form of capital.” (6)
Fear of Revolution
As revolutionaries, we have been aware of the increasing potential for revolutionary developments in this new historic period for a number of years. (7)
The bourgeois strategists are aware that the growing inequality increases the dangers of uprisings and revolutions. In one of the major studies conducted in preparation of this year’s conference in Davos, bourgeois analysts warn about the threats to the bourgeois order: “Widening wealth disparity affects every part of our lives. It’s impacting social stability within countries and threatening security on a global scale” (8)
As it is commonly known, the youth is particularly affected by the decay of the capitalist world economy. In a number of countries, about half of the youth are unemployed. Another study prepared for the super-rich at Davos warns that a whole generation may be “lost,” which clearly fuels mass protests as we have seen in Turkey, Brazil, and the Arab world. It warns: “The generation coming of age in the 2010s faces high unemployment and precarious job situations, hampering their efforts to build a future and raising the risk of social unrest.” (9)
Another example for this fear is a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a sister company of the The Economist. According to the EIU, 65 countries (43% of the 150 countries analyzed) will be “at a high or very high risk of social unrest in 2014”. For 54 countries the risk of instability is medium, and for the remaining 31 countries it is low or very low. Among those countries at “high or very high risk” are many in the Middle East and North Africa, eastern and southern Europe including the Balkans, the countries that formerly composed the Soviet Union, a number of African countries, and China. The Economist concludes:
“From anti-austerity movements to middle-class revolts, in rich countries and in poor, social unrest has been on the rise around the world. The reasons for the protests vary. Some are direct responses to economic distress (in Greece and Spain, for example). Others are revolts against dictatorship (especially in the Middle East). A number also express the aspirations of new middle classes in fast-growing emerging markets (whether in Turkey or Brazil). But they share some underlying features. The common backdrop is the 2008-09 financial crisis and its aftermath. Economic distress is almost a necessary condition for serious social or political instability, but it is not a sufficient one. Declines in income and high unemployment are not always followed by unrest. Only when economic trouble is accompanied by other elements of vulnerability is there a high risk of instability. Such factors include wide income-inequality, poor government, low levels of social provision, ethnic tensions and a history of unrest. Of particular importance in sparking unrest in recent times appears to have been an erosion of trust in governments and institutions: a crisis of democracy.” (10)
Some bourgeois commentators even go so far to see a validation of the Marxist dictum that the working class struggle is inherently international. The bourgeois-liberal US-journal Foreign Policy recently published an article entitled “Marx Is Back – The global working class is starting to unite”. It predicted: “In fact, it is exactly because the rich and poor will look increasingly similar in Lagos and London that it's more likely that the workers of the world in 2030 will unite.” (11)
A Historic Period of Revolutions and Wars
In the past few years we have repeatedly pointed out that the decline of the capitalist system reached a watershed with the Great Recession of 2008/09. Since then, productive forces have and continue to decline, and political and economic instability has greatly accelerated. This is why the RCIT and its forerunners have characterized the period which opened at end of the last decade as a worldwide historic revolutionary period, one marked by an historic crisis of the capitalist system. It is a period in which the inner contradictions of this system are so acutely faced-off against one another that they unavoidably provoke pre-revolutionary and revolutionary, as well as counter-revolutionary situations. This is why The Economist has pessimistically warned that in nearly half of the world’s countries, unrest and social explosions are likely in the near future.
For revolutionary communists, the further aggravation of class contradictions will culminate in pre-revolutionary and revolutionary developments; or, in other words, it will pose the question of power – which class rules society – more than in earlier periods. For this reason, the present period is one in which the destruction of capitalism and the historical leap forward to socialism is definitely on the agenda. (12)
The historic task is to replace the current leadership of the masses, a leadership which has proved, time and again, that it can lead the working class to nowhere. As Lenin often stated, the working class cannot spontaneously reach a revolutionary consciousness. To transmit the revolutionary program to the working class, and to fight treacherous leadership, a combative communist organization is the necessary pre-requisite. Such an organization will be a collective of revolutionary workers, as well as activists from other classes who have broken with their class origins, all of whom will completely dedicate themselves to the struggle for working class liberation. The RCIT is dedicated to build a revolutionary International which understands the programmatic and practical lessons of the new historic period. Such a new International – which, in our opinion, will be the Fifth Workers International – must fight for a Transitional Program which combines struggles for everyday economic demands as well as issues of democratic and national liberation, with the strategy for achieving working class power in the state and its economic enterprises.
(1) Gideon Rachman: Populism puts global elite on alert, Financial Times, January 21 2014, http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/25f9df3e-7784-11e3-afc5-00144feabdc0.html
(2) The Economist: Of plutocrats and progressivism, Jan 27th 2014, http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2014/01/inequality-1
(3) OXFAM: Working for the Few. Political capture and economic inequality, 20.1.2014, p. 5
(4) See Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South (2013), www.great-robbery-of-the-south.net
(5) See on this also the interesting study of the bourgeois economist Branko Milanovic: Global Income Inequality By The Numbers: In History And Now.-An Overview, 2013
(6 Karl Marx: Das Kapital, Band I, MEW 23, pp. 674-675; in English: Capital, Vol. I; Chapter 25
(7) See e.g. the recent RCIT documents Aggravation of Contradictions, Deepening of Crisis of Leadership. Theses on Recent Major Developments in the World Situation, Adopted by the International Executive Committee of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, 9th September 2013, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-september2013/ and The World Situation and the Tasks of the Bolshevik-Communists (March 2013), Theses of the International Executive Committee of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, March 2013, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-march-2013/
(8) World Economic Forum: Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014
(9) World Economic Forum: Global Risks 2014, Ninth Edition, p. 10
(10) The Economist: Where protest is likeliest to break out, Nov 18th 2013, http://www.economist.com/news/21589143-where-protest-likeliest-break-out-ripe-rebellion
(11) Charles Kenny: Marx Is Back. The global working class is starting to unite -- and that's a good thing, Foreign Policy, JANUARY 21, 2014, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/01/21/marx_is_back_global_working_class
(12) A more detailed discussion of the character of the new period can be seen in the RCIT’s program The Revolutionary Communist Manifesto (Chapter 2 “A new historical period of revolutionary character”, http://www.thecommunists.net/rcit-manifesto/a-new-historical-period-of-revolutionary-character/) as well as in Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South (2013), www.great-robbery-of-the-south.net (Chapter 14. “Some final remarks on the Perspectives for Class Struggle”)