The economic crisis
"We have to prepare for tumultuous events"
October 15, 2008
Interview with Christian Castillo
Originally published in Spanish on October 9th, 2008 in La Verdad Obrera 298.
Some first points on the political prospects of this international capitalist crisis.
LVO: How do you see the outlook of the international crisis?
The global crisis of capitalism that currently in progress will have profound consequences which will mark the coming years. We are witnessing a shift of historic features. Recall that when compared with the crises of’30, we are talking about a long process that began with the crash of’29, after which we see a very sharp fall in output until the 1932 and’33, something which the capitalist emerge from on the road to the Second World War. With Nazism, Germany launches a war economy and militarization and only then begins to absorb the high unemployment. The U.S. implements the New Deal, but the economic slump does not to finish, with 25% unemployment. Only when the U.S. turns to a war economy do these rates improve. Of course, not everything is going to be equal, today there are different poles of world power, but we are talking about a period of the same magnitude. When we say that there may be a depression in U.S. we mean that unemployment could jump from 6% to 13%, 15% or more. This is going to have consequences for the class struggle and change very strongly the mood of the masses in the prime capitalist country on earth.
We want to say that the crisis will affect all countries, even though the pace and depth of the crisis is not showing evenly. This is already evident in Europe, which already appears as a weak link in the global economy. Even the "great power" China exports 40% of its production to the U.S. which means that the economy which appeared as an engine of the world economy in recent times, will undoubtedly feel the impact. House prices in Shanghai have already been devalued by 30%, where there was also a kind of real estate bubble, and social tensions may also escalate in China
LVO: Common sense says that capitalism will be refreshed with more State regulation of finance capital ...
States are and always have there to defending the property of the capitalists and not to meet social needs. This fiction that the State represents the common good in capitalist society is also being exposed. Everyone, not just U.S. but also those of Europe, trying to rescue the bankers and big monopolies, appears to confirm almost literally the definition of Marx that States are "a board that manages the business of every bourgeoisie." Paulson, the architect of the mega-bailout of 700,000 million dollars, was chairman of Goldman Sachs. McCain and Obama are of the traditional elite, with obvious small differences between them, but they represent the continuity of the same financial oligarchy. With a discourse of moral conservatism in the case of Republicans, the Democrats with a more centre or "liberal" discourse, as it is called in the political language of north america. This is different to the fact that many of Obama’s voters have illusions that he represents a change.
The previous U.S. administrations were all directly linked to these five major investment banks that now directly disappeared from the map. It is this institutions that put the â€œcountry riskâ€ score for Argentina, or investment grade ratings to Brazil, which now, after everything else, they punish with capital flight. These have financed the campaigns of both the Republicans and Democrats. The bipartisan U.S. political system basically represents a common interest. The principal director of Lehmann Brothers will be compensated with $ 350 million, thanks to Democrats and Republicans. They ran him to the exit: widespread bankrupcy and there he goes with his pockets full. These "golden parachutes", due to the popular disgust they generated, were one of the major subjects of the debate around the bailout when the U.S. Congress voted on it. It is a great exposure. It is in this sense that, ideologically, this crisis can have a similar impact, but in the opposite direction, to the fall of the Berlin Wall for those who raised the struggle for socialism, when Fukuyama and many others came to say that was the End of History and that there was no alternative to capitalism. Today the question is raised in the minds of millions, why do we have to continue living in a system that leads to recurring crises and sends us ever closer to bankruptcy and misery?
LVO: The "end of capitalism "....
Capitalism does not end by itself, nor does it die a natural death; we have to overthrow it. But crises of this magnitude do destabilize the system, and when this happens open stages of acute class struggle and strife between states, including, of course, wars. The crisis of the 30’s led to revolutions like the Spanish Civil War, or the big factory occupations in France in 1936. And also led to aberrant phenomena such as Nazism: Hitler is a direct son of the crisis of the 30’s and its impact in Germany.
Now, some big capitalists are still doing business, they don’t all lose. This is what is happening when some bankers say that "the time to buy is now," meaning that the crisis creates a greater concentration and centralization of capital, and if capitalism is not defeated it will reappear with more aggressiveness. You also get sectors which surge to the right. Let us not forget that U.S. society is very polarized, with groups which are very reactionary. In the case of Europe, Sarkozy in France and Merkel in Germany came to the government to try to lead the struggle in dismantling the social gains that so far have been sustained. Sarkozy got to power with this discourse, but has also been shaken by a strong crisis and amongst the population there is growing mistrust in the traditional parties, a turnaround because it drops the idea that capitalism would continue to grow. "Working more to earn more" was Sarkozy’s speech to the conquest of the working week of 35 hours. That is, there are going to be very strong social tensions that are going to push left and right from this crisis.
I insist, we are facing new times, which will stem from how the ruling class acts to try to overcome this crisis and from the responses of the masses, a period which will to prove to millions around the world the irrationality of this social system. Already in the U.S. we have hundreds of thousands of homes empty and people living in parks, in what are called the "tent cities", where they camp in the outskirts of cities, sometimes in mobile home or in automobiles. And we’re going to see other irrationalities, like factories that are closed with millions of unemployed. What we saw here in argentina in 2001/2002 with the incongruity of being a country that produces food for more than 400 million people and came to Spain with a cargo ship to calm the hunger of the population. We will see the irrationality of an entire social system that some want to put bandages on and which we, on the contrary, believe that we must tear down and give rise to another type of social organization based on collective ownership of means of production, geared to meet social needs, not to feed the profits of the monopolies that control the global economy.
LVO: As the posters of the PTS say, "Capitalism isn’t working, for workers government’ ...
We launched this campaign of political agitation in response to a strategic shift of the international political map. I repeat, the ideological impact will be very strong and we have been saying that it is necessary to fight for a revolutionary socialist system and that capitalism is a system that is surviving beyond its means, and we will find a new hearing amongst new militant forces . Millions are going to experience a new journey with the crisis that is going to try to be loaded onto the backs of the working class, which will lead to resistance and, as in any crisis, revolutionary opportunities. These crises lead to new phenomena that were unthinkable until then. In the U.S. in the ’30’s there was a movement of unemployed on huge scale with a level of organization and action greater than that which we saw in Argentina. The crisis also gave rise to radicalized unions, for example there was the emergence of a new central union, the CIO, that organized black workers because before the unions were so racist that they did not allow them to organize. There was a period of major industrial strikes.
In the U.S. in 1999 we could aleady see the emergence of the new anti-globalization movement in Seattle, with marches which made visible to all a level of discomfort with the wave of globalization of the 90’s. Or the great 1 May two years ago where we saw a great strike by undocumented workers and immigrants against precarious conditions and demanding legalization. Europe has the greatest tradition of struggle by the mass movement. The shocks of neoliberalism have also been suffered in Europe with much force, but there was more resistance, from the general strike of public employees in 1995 in France, to the rebellions of the students and the youth of the suburbs. Two days ago there was a very important general strike in Belgium demanding a rise in wages at the high cost of living, in a country that is not characterized by general strikes. And in our continent we have the case of Mexico, a country directly affected by its integration into the American market through the FTA, where we are seeing again rebellions by teachers in several states, as in Morelos, using radical methods that recall the early days of fighting in Oaxaca two years ago.
We’re still at an early stage where we are weighed down by the shock at this unfolding crisis and by people thinking of what may be lost, uncertain of how the crisis will affect them. But there will be a second stage where the need to organise and fight becomes more clear. This next stage will mark the possible scenarios to be caused by this crisis. Let us not forget that the capitalist crisis in Argentina that we lived through 7 years ago led to the emergence of entirely new social actors, such as the organized movement of the unemployed, the phenomenon of working lass occupations of factories and popular assemblies amongst sectors of the middle class. We will see new movements and expressions of class struggle because unemployment will increase, homelessness and famine are going to be widespread. Having said this, we should not necessarily think that this is something that is going to happen fast. There is a very interesting fact: of the 10 strongest recoveries in the stock market in the history of Wall Street 9 took place during the Great Depression of the 30s. That is to say that we do not need to lose ourselves in the short-term movements of the economy, although we must of course study them very carefully. We have to look at the prospect of a long period of turbulent events. Revolutionaries have to have an open mind and prepare for new political phenomena and the class struggle. This means preparing to take steps in building strong revolutionary parties, which are socialist and internationalist.