Lessons from the Crisis
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A writer from the German Marxist quarterly GegenStandpunkt
Lecture and Discussion
September 3, 2009
Unfortunately, what the overwhelming majority has learned from the recent collapse of the financial sector and the general breakdown of business is how much they need the success of banks and business in general. The worse things get for them in this crisis-stricken economy, the more they are convinced that basically everything in the capitalist system is their means for making a living – including bank profits, booming stock markets and even complex derivatives. Faced with capital’s failure to grow and with the malfunctioning enrichment of the rich, the masses and the elite demand that all of that be made to function again. The public’s initial outrage at the machinations of investment banks has long since turned into the hope that these greedy speculators get back on their feet again and do business in a more stable fashion. Meanwhile, capitalists are rescuing their property and protecting their profits by passing on the damages to their employees, sacking them and exposing them to greater deprivation. And the victims – they accept that sacrifices will have to be made in order for “our” economy to get off the ground again.
For those on the democratic left, the crisis has confirmed their doubts about the beneficence of “the market” and its capacity to ensure the greatest good for the greatest number. They demand more state regulation, perhaps even the nationalization of certain banks and key industries, so that “the economy” can function more reliably! For the more radical left, capitalism’s real flaw is that it is prone to crises; without them, one wonders whether they would have anything to criticize about it.
In drawing these lessons from the collapse of finance and the subsequent “great recession,” both these groups show disregard for the lessons that the crisis itself is teaching. All the more reason to raise some critical questions:
What sort of an economy is this, if failed speculation in the most remote spheres of finance brings production to a halt and radically increases the poverty of the masses?
What sort of a society is this, if banks are its most crucial element? What do unprecedented government bailouts of the banks reveal about the wealth of modern nations?
What sort of a world economy is this, if a nation’s standing is determined by its ability to successfully uphold its collapsed financial sector? Every nation knows that crises are times of dramatic shifts in terms of national wealth and power and they all are eager to take advantage of “the worst crisis since 1929” to revise the global “balance of power.”
The answers to these questions suggest that the capitalist system doesn’t deserve to get back on its feet, but to be abolished. The domination of capital reveals its absurdity and brutality all the more in times of economic crisis, when the expansion of capital – because it doesn’t succeed – strangles the entire material life-process of society.