Revolutionary lessons from the Pandemic
Growth has to stop. The pandemic proved that mass lockdown and economic shutdown was needed to stop it. It took a while for biological science to catch up with Covid 19 because it was new and rapidly evolving. As the lockdowns brought economies to a halt growth stopped and the next long depression loomed. The world has been in recession since. As each quarter ticks over it will become depression. The US leads the way since capitalism rots from the head down.
Things will have to get much worse before they get better. Worse will be the effects of the huge debts run up pumping life into a dying capitalism. Workers will pay for that for generations if they survive. Much worse will be the riots, uprisings and the fascists, police and military unleashed to keep the ruling class in power. Each attempt to prolong the life of capitalism with rescue attempts only prolongs the misery of the masses. Capitalism needs ‘growth’ to live like Covid 19 needs living bodies to survive.
Science tells us what we face with pandemics. Science tells us what we face with climate change. Science also tells us what we face if we do not end capitalist growth. Never ending depression, more pandemics and more global warming until it is too late. The problem is that against all science there is a rising mob of unbelievers who reject science for delusions about social reality. The mob is not responsible for its ignorance. Its delusions are sown by the mythology of capital.
The mythology of capital is that it is a moving equilibrium that uses the market as a regulator of economic activity. This required a backstory such as Robinson Crusoe, where heroic capitalists arose by saving the wealth from their own labour. We know that is a lie. Man Friday was a slave. Capitalism was born out of slavery. When capitalism developed industry another myth rapidly followed. Workers were now paid a wage and became the equal of their employer as a buyer and seller of commodities.
So, next myth. Workers, forcibly removed from their land, sold their labour to employers for a wage so as to buy the goods and services they needed to continue working. Exchange of equivalents! Another lie! The economists of the day like Adam Smith knew that without labour the profits of employers and rents of landlords would not get paid. But they disguised this fact by describing profits and rents as the rewards for providing land and jobs. Sound familiar? Economists have been singing from the same hymn sheet ever since.
But this mythology never corresponded to real life lived by workers and peasants, and was reflected in the social science of the day by Chartists, socialists, and communists who recorded the reality and argued the case for some form of socialism. None however took apart the system scientifically until Karl Marx. Marx showed that capital is no more than expropriated surplus labour time (surplus to the value of the wage) and that without profit, investment stops and depression follows. That is, capital dies when it does not grow.
It follows that to stop growth capital must die. But that doesn’t mean humanity dies. Capital is different from most living systems in that it is not a self-regulating system. It is an unstable crisis-prone system because it lives by sucking out the wealth of nature including that of human labour. But there can be no equilibrium when the parasite eats its host. Equally the parasite without its host cannot maintain homeostasis. By the late 19th century capitalism could only survive by destroying more wealth than it created in depressions and wars. Typically this destruction is seen as the price of ‘progress’ i.e. growth of profits.
During the 20th century the market was replaced by monopolies as the bigger corporations ate up their weaker rivals, extracting rent or super-profits from them driving down the wages of workers and peasants. That is why the share of wages fell over the century. Rent accrues where monopoly prices are set when competition is suppressed by monopoly power. The capitalist ‘growth’ that followed became ever more parasitic as finance capital is blind to the fact that it is destroying its host by sucking dry nature’s energy.
21st century monopoly capital proves that Marx was right. Today the destructive effects of state monopoly capital are clear. The gap between rich and poor is widening. The billionaires profited greatly from the pandemic. The big four tech giants‘ profits surged as the US went into depression. Huge numbers of the working poor and peasantry in the semi-colonial world are dying of hunger and disease. Monopoly capitalism cannot be reformed as its growth is backed by authoritarian states. To overcome capitalism’s parasitic relation with nature we have to restore the equilibrium with nature.
The growth we need is not capitalist but socialist. This does not mean emulating the failed ‘socialist’ states of the Soviet Union or ‘Communist’ China.To survive these states attempted to impose socialist plans in isolation of the world economy. Their plans could not compete with the capitalist monopolies that dominate the world economy. Restoring capitalism leaves them facing the same fate as monopoly capital. The socialism we need has to be based on scientific socialism that expropriates the stolen material and technological wealth of capitalism and applies it to the collective needs of the working people on a global scale.
Some people will object that this is a leap into the unknown. There are two replies to this. Do you know your own society? If not you are already in the unknown so good luck to you. If you do know capitalism then you also know that we cannot survive capitalism except as socialism. Do we need a working model to prove the infallible nature of socialism? No. All we need is the knowledge of the fallible nature of capitalism. Nobody believes in the perfection of any social system except in their dreams.
When reflecting on the pandemic, the lockdown and the coming long depression, what are our prospects? That scientific socialism is necessary for humanity to overcome all these existential challenges. It means ridding ourselves of the mythology of capitalism as the peak of human evolution, understanding its threat to survival of the natural world, and then working together to break the hold of capitalism over our lives.
All this puts the upcoming election in New Zealand into perspective. None of the political parties standing has any conception of what is needed to embark on the struggle for socialism. At best it is “too little too late”. They highlight that failure and what must be done to replace them. Looking to the future, to have a future, those who create the wealth must take power and build the new socialist society for our survival. We know what is possible only when we do what is necessary.