All Marxists know that the capitalist class, each time it heads towards its different limits, becomes unpredictable and dangerous as it gets cornered. In Haiti around 1802-3, after the Paris Commune 1871, and after the working class took power in Russia 1918-21, we saw ruling classes descend into convulsions of violence when cornered. But the methods of destruction at the disposal of past ruling classes were not nearly as great as those available to the US capitalist class of today. And it is heading for all manner of limits.
And today, for the first time, the entire globe is now taken over by the capitalist ruling class. The feudal system, peasants and small producers, have all been demolished or made subservient to capitalism even in their last bastions: India, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Africa and South America. So, there are absolute limits now to capitalist growth. There is no more non-capitalist society left to invade. Capitalists have even eaten into state-produced goods and services, like oil, electricity, water, higher education, health services, as they run short of places to expand into. They will get cornered more often, and more thoroughly by the contradictions in their own system.
Donald Trump is both a reflection of capitalism hurtling towards its own social limits, and a further cause for capitalism to hurtle faster towards these limits.
The first weeks of August have been an exhibition of this.
At the same time as Trump is threatening North Korea with "fire and fury like the world has never seen" and threatening that military solutions are “locked and loaded”; at the same time that he is threatening Venezuela with “a possible military option”; he is himself, as President, under institutional scrutiny about his team’s links with Russian meddling in the US Presidential elections last year. In fact, there is even an element, when he threatens war, of Trump simply “changing the subject” away from the investigations on his team! All this means the capitalist class is reaching its limits as a peaceful society.
When American white nationalists, today finally cornered in historic terms, isolated and venomous, recently “hurt” by having had to “endure” a respected black US President for 8 years, organized a fascist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and when it culminated in a violent terrorist act against those protesting against them, Trump finds himself unable either to dissociate from this hideous section of his support base, or not to. That is typical of what contradictions do to you: you have only two choices, and both are politically-speaking, existentially dangerous for you.
It is worth noting that “white nationalists” in Germany were “hurt” in a similar way to American White Supremacists were, and this with dire consequences. After the seizure of power by the socialists in the “Republic of Councils” in Bavaria, a short-lasted power that took place during the nation-wide German Revolution of 1918-19 in which Republicans at least succeeded in overthrowing the monarchy – especially coming, as the Republic of Councils did, on the heels of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and its Republic of Soviets. So, right-wing thugs in Munich let loose a blood-bath, murdering the “Jews”, “mechanics” and “communists”, who they blamed for this “stab in the back” that they believed lost Germany the First World War. And it was during this reactionary massacre of communists, workers and Jewish people that the German white nationalist bourgeoisie “discovered” and began to finance the little demagogue who would, four years later, lead the first Nazi Putsch of 1923 in Munich. And then, with continued ruling class support, and later army brass finance and backing, he became the worst dictator of all capitalist history: Adolf Hitler. See documents about his support from the German bourgeoisie and the army that historian Ian Kershaw uncovered in research for his 1999 book Hitler 1889–1936: Hubris. The historic importance of the moment that the “Republic of Councils” incensing the bourgeoisie and Hitler is noted in Hitler’s own words: “loyalty towards the honorable House of Wittelsbach seemed to me to be stronger than the will of a few Jews,” but when this was not the case, he burst into tears. “I had not wept since the day I had stood at the grave of my mother,” he writes in his melodramatic style, a style often echoed by Trump.
Today, what are the contradictions in present-day capitalism that lie behind the bizarre political events around Trump’s rule in the US today? And what are the contradictions, for that matter, behind the unstable and absurd politics in other countries today, including Mauritius? And what are the dangers?
We can outline some of the contradictions – under four headings:
- Social and
The value of products, as economists trying to understand the capitalist system have discussed since the time of David Ricardo, has a relationship to the amount of labour put into them. However, today we have some new threats to this relationship of “value” to “labour” under capitalism. And the effects on the system may be unpredictable.
1. Since mid-2017, there are two companies amongst the five largest in the world, Google and Facebook, that have accumulated enormous surplus value without paying their main labour force at all. Google and Facebook users, who collect and submit the data that produces this surplus for the two companies, do so free of charge. We are thus slaves. We are unpaid labour. We are not even given food. Then Google and Facebook sell the product of our labour as advertising tools. These tools, ironically, are then put at the service of commercial enterprises for the purpose of, in turn, manipulating us. Perhaps even worse, the advertising tools that we produce for Google and Facebook are also sold to political forces, some of who have recently contributed to manipulating the results of the US elections, to give one example.
2. Since 1944, the US dollar is no longer merely the currency whose amount printed needs to respect, to some extent at least, the amount of production within US territory. Dollars can now be printed by the Federal Reserves in almost any proportion relative to US production (leading to massive US balance of payments debts) because the dollar is also the world currency, used as reference by the IMF and World Bank. When Iraq under Saddam Hussein began his shift away from the US dollar as reserves, and when later Libya under Kaddafi wanted a pan-African gold-backed currency to challenge the US dollar’s monopoly as reserve currency, the countries were swiftly under military attack and the leaders assassinated.
3. The 2008 “bubble-popping” that bust so many US and European Banks shows that the link between loans people are accorded by Banks and the value of land they own, at a time when real estate speculation is rife, means that money has developed a new, wild-card aspect to its availability and its value.
4. As finance capital becomes a bigger proportion of overall capital, the link between labour and value become less close, because this sector of capital makes capital from capital. It is like the gambling sector.
These four features have something in common: the value of money is more closely linked to a kind of “rent” than to “labour” or “production” that are the basis of capitalism’s system of value. We rent ourselves to Google and Facebook (we are the product that is rented, as well as being the slave that works free); the US dollar’s value is linked to its being “rented” as a kind of international “gold standard”, while it simultaneously remains the money of one nation state; the amount of money, or capital, you can raise today depends on the “renting” value from real estate speculation and bubbles.
These are some of the features that cause even the most bourgeois of economists to hesitate to make predictions.
Ideology and Contradictions
Bourgeois ideology has depended on the free discussion of ideas, and has relied on freedom of expression as one of its moral pillars. Ideas, in capitalism, are typically discussed within a space that is common to everyone: typically “the town hall”, or a magazine/newspaper/radio that people contribute to as well as reading or listening to. Ideas have also been constantly checked for their basis in fact. A certain “shame” is felt if one is exposed for spreading a rumour, or saying or writing something just plain false.
Today, especially with social media, we have two related phenomenon that undermine this background social control over ideas:
First, there are the self-propelling, separate “bubbles” that social media herd different groups of people into. Once in a bubble, we are automatically fed what we have ourselves fed into the social media system. We are systematically not fed what our political adversaries are fed. And vice versa. We did not even know until after Trump was elected what lies people in the working class in the Rust Belt States had been fed by social media they were in.
Second, there is the capacity, perhaps partly because of the separate bubbles, for people to get away with spreading fake news. Trump’s right-hand woman, Kellyanne Conway claims the existence of “alternative facts”. This disregard for facts has become so ubiquitous that the new epoch is now referred to “post truth” society.
However, it is only now that it is frowned upon.
Yet it followed on naturally from two related liberal ideas that became dominant from the 1980s that “there is no such thing as objective truth” and that “everybody has his or her own opinion”. These two ideas were hegemonic when, at the very same time, there were very rigid rules of “political correctness” preventing people from expressing opinions to challenge the two inter-related liberal ideas.
Clearly, the extreme right-wing, including white supremacists, are merely continuing to act on the unchallenged dictum that “there is no such thing as objective truth,” as Kellyanne Conway does. She is merely baiting liberals. And as for the extreme right cashing in on the “everybody has his or her own opinion”, and this obviously meaning that there is no longer any high moral ground but a flat quagmire of individually held opinions, they had kept their hideous, dangerous opinions smoldering underneath the pall of political correctness thrown over them, only to come out boldly again in the alt-right movement.
Ideas must be confronted, debated, openly discussed. But they were not.
Now, suddenly we are forced by Trump’s victory to confront, even to argue against, people who have different opinions, and to try to win them over to better opinions – as we should always have been doing. We also have to convince them that there is such a thing as a fact, as we should always have been doing.
And it is at the very time, when the common space is no longer so easy to find.
The super-rich finance capitalists are as parasitic as feudal lords of times before capitalism. They participate in no production, not even via their capital, and they live off a kind of rent – rent from money, from the increase of land values, and now rent from getting data free from us (to sell). And their class becomes a smaller and smaller percentage of humanity.
Meanwhile the working class has simultaneously become huge and lost its consciousness of its being a class. Vast numbers is only potentially strength for the world working class. Meanwhile, atomization guarantees that, despite vast numbers, and massive potential strength, the working class is relatively weak. The atomization takes place on an individual level, where each person is now isolated with his/her “device”. Even “friends” have become part of the device that atomizes us.
The limits to Facebook are rearing up: there are already 2 billion users, which is a third of humanity. If you minus China, Iran, and Russia, where there is no immediate room for massive expansion. The supply of people (the product) is now drying up. So, the limits to the social expansion are potentially economic limits.
The limits are also social, as people become aware of the correlation between use of social media and isolation/depression/psychiatric problems.
And finally, the limits are political, as people realize the enormity of the manipulation performed on electors, and “the people” in general, through companies like Cambridge Analytica. On its homepage, Cambridge Analytica says it “uses data to change audience behavior. Visit our Commercial or Political divisions to see how we can help you.” Knowing that Bob Mercer is one of its main owners is quite alarming given that he bankrolls Breitbart news and that he donated the Cambridge Analytica services to the Brexit campaign. He was also a major contributor to the Trump Presidential campaign, and he and one of his daughters got Steve Bannon (and Kellyanne Conway) into Trump’s team. Cambridge Analytica brags that it can “Serve custom designed multi-channel campaigns to engage key segments of your electorate”, and “Inform your future outreach with campaign performance data.” Note the atomizing vocabulary: “multi-channel” campaigns, “segments” of an electorate.
Political limits to capitalistic forms of democracy
Trump is not the only recently elected extreme-right, wild-card President. There is Narendranuth Modi in India, and worse than all so far, Rodrigo Duterte who murders people and brags about it in the Philippines. Even Emmanuel Macron was elected without a Party at all. There was the Brexit vote which was interpreted at being an extreme-right victory.
And yet, in all these cases, it is not really true to say that somehow “people have agreed with the policies” of the extreme right. The contradictions always inherent in the political and electoral systems are being shown up. In the USA, Trump lost by 3 million votes, but won. Modi was, before Trump, the social media candidate, and won more against a discredited Congress Party than for the Hindu nationalism he represents. Duterte was an anti-establishment candidate, a maverick who, in any case, was elected on less than 40% of electors. Brexit added together in a single referendum “right wing” nationalists and anti-capitalist protesters as if they were like objects!
And we are here referring to electors. In most countries, voter registration is low, and then voter-turnout is a low percentage of this. So, we get “elected” leaders voted in the bourgeois electoral system on 25% of the peoples’ approval. This has always been the case, but its effects are forcing us to address the contradictions within the political system.
Other political contradictions are rife. Fraud is rife. The call for bureaucratic control by the State of political parties, while well-meaning, gives even more powers to the political party in power. The call for limiting the number of mandates is an anti-democratic, purely bureaucratic solution, to a real problem: political dynasties that operate within supposed democracy. In India, there was the Nehru dynasty, in Mauritius we have five political dynasties (Ramgoolam, Duval, Jugnauth, Mohamed, Boolell), while in the USA, we have seen Bush dynasties operating, and a Clinton one. Imagine using “prohibition” instead of mobilizing politically against a clan! This kind of short-cut produces the contradiction of trying to open up democratic space by decreasing peoples’ democratic choice.
All this to say that we live in times that are both interesting and extremely dangerous. As well as developing our conscious programs for change, and mobilizing behind them politically, we must always be monitoring the contradictions in the existing mode of production and its superstructure as they get worse.
And we must also be careful not to abandon the high moral ground by taking political short-cuts, whether banning some arguments for reasons of supposed political correctness (is it good for the women’s movement to push women into positions of power within patriarchy), or by seeking bureaucratic means to address political problems (use constitutional changes to prevent people standing for a second or third mandate), or by getting hemmed into a political terrain defined too narrowly by the existing mainstream currents (both, for example, using racial classification as a tool, one right-wing, the other supposedly left-wing), or simply by calling things by silly names, like calling arguments a fuzzy name: “conversations”.
[This text is an expanded version of the fortnightly "tur dorizon" that in turn LALIT central committee members share with others. This one was given by Lindsey Collen, and expanded by her.]