The 'nether world' of capitalism
The propaganda that accompanies the cutting, slashing and burning of government spending is all about “securing the fragile recovery”. It is used in every country from Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Spain, to the US and Britain – to justify what in effect adds up to crashing the economy.
But don’t get the idea that anything else can be done within the capitalist framework. After decades of credit-led expansion, the logic of capital now demands its opposite – ruthless contraction. It turns public pronouncements into lies, and politics inside out. Ireland’s government won’t be the last to find itself in trouble.
The economic trajectory of country after country, region after region confirms the slide from recession to depression. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development last week cut its forecast of UK economic growth in 2011 from 2.5% to 1.7%. The Institute of Directors is forecasting UK growth of 1.2% next year. In real terms, these figures represent a decline in activity.
The eurozone, having pumped billions of euros into recovery measures, achieved relatively strong second-quarter growth of 1% to the surprise of the markets. But the “recovery” was short-lived. Despite the export of capital goods from Germany to China, growth slowed to 0.4% in the third quarter. Euro zone unemployment rose to 10.1% in September and it is forecast to go higher next year. In the United States, another round of “quantitative easing” – aka printing money – is under way in an increasingly desperate bid to boost economic activity.
The World Bank predicts that China’s growth will slow in 2011 from attempts to constrain the country’s uncontrollable credit boom. Lending by its vast, unregulated underground financial market is sending the prices of staple foods soaring and triggering social unrest. The average price of 18 staple vegetables is 62% higher than a year ago.
Inflation is eating away at incomes not only in China. Commodity speculators have driven up the price of food worldwide, while transport and energy prices in Britain are set to soar. The inexorable fall in consumer spending power – VAT is going up to 20% in January – can only deepen the contraction.
Desperate times lead to panic measures, as the so-called rescue plan for Ireland’s bankrupt banks shows. Ireland, however, is only an extreme example of the rotten core of the global financial system, which has been on state life support since 2008. All the talk of the dangers of “contagion” and the threat to the euro itself indicates that another crisis-point has been reached.
We are not the first to analyse the destructive side of capitalism. In 1848, Marx and Engels wrote in their Communist Manifesto:
Modern bourgeois society, with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells … In these crises, a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed.
No amount of counter-propaganda against spending cuts can halt the inexorable contraction of the global economy. Avoiding the consequences means that the system must be replaced as a matter of urgency. Today’s general strike in Portugal against budget cuts and student actions in Britain against soaring tuition fees are only flashes of the struggles ahead. Going beyond resistance to putting an end to capitalism is the real challenge.
24 November 2010