Franz J.T. Lee, March, 2009

Super Depression: Economic crisis or systemic collapse of Capitalism?

Is the global capitalist system breaking down? In times of severe crisis, millennia ago, Heracleitus of Ephesus (ca. 540-ca. 475 BC) gave us sapient advice for praxical understanding: Everything flows; dialectics, contradiction, is good for us; and War is the Father of All Things. Many centuries later, at the advent of bourgeois capitalist society, Hegel, the Prussian State philosopher, clarified the dialectical limits of any planetary reality, of any closed system: Everything that comes into existence merits to pass away!

Three years ago, in January 2006, we were discussing these issues, inter alia, whether after the collapse of the Soviet Union soon the Big Crash of the United States of America would follow. Now that this scientific anticipation more and more is becoming a global reality, many serious questions arise which we have to debate in the corresponding academic and political environment.

We know that the Roman Empire fell, so did the British Empire, also the 'Third Reich' and so also the very American 'Empire' will disappear. Capitalism cannot live forever, it is not an eternal, absolute God. Its laws of existence Marxists have identified and along these lines violently it is giving up the ghost. At the moment we have to clarify the following, for the sake of workers' class struggles, of socialism, of global emancipation.

* Is this a simple 'financial crisis' caused by a few criminal bankers?
* Are we experiencing a complex 'world economic crisis'? Eventually will we solve all problems and capitalism will live happily after?
* At last, are we facing the end of the American Empire, that is, the total collapse of global capitalism?
* Is this the end of the world?

None of these questions can be treated within a short commentary, but it is important to underline their possible apocalyptic answers.

At different times across the last millennia similar questions have been asked and specific answers were given. However, previous financial and economic crises were remedied or postponed, until now.  In spite of the Great Depression of 1929 including its violent, terrorist aftermath, capitalism did not collapse completely as yet. Furthermore, as we can see, for us the survivors Jesus did not come for a second time and the world has not ended as yet. Also on a world scale the proletariat has not conquered social power as yet. Concerning the total collapse of the capitalist system within the next years or decades, the answer is much more complicated, and we need profound stringent studies. Below just some delicious food for serious thought.

There is a big difference between the past recessions and depressions and the current ones. Our 'Big Crash' occurs in the epoch of globalization, at the end of full realization of the bourgeois democratic capitalist French and Industrial Revolutions. The financial and economic crises are just symptoms, appearance forms, of the total collapse of an obsolete mode of production which has become a Moloch of world destruction, and it could spell doom for life on the planet as we knew it till now.

Among other things, to understand our quo vadis, to try and answer the above questions, we need materialist dialectics, scientific praxis and philosophic theory.  We must have sound knowledge about class consciousness and struggles, political economy and sociology, also we need knowledge about the theories of imperialism, fascism, globalization and the collapse of the capitalist mode of production.

No need to be scared or defeatist ... it is the easiest thing in the world  to acquire all the above abilities and capabilities.

One just needs to live and study, to think and embrace anti-capitalism, that is, scientific and philosophic socialism,viz, to become a revolutionary, emancipatory Marxist.
Marxists have explained over and over again what is a financial crisis, what is 'finance capital' (Hilferding). Marx himself explained the 'world economic crises' in his 'Das Kapital'. Together with Engels they drew up the first 'theory of globalization' (Manifesto of the Communist Party). Lenin explained to us what is 'Imperialism, the highest Stage of capitalism'; Ernest Mandel explained what is corporate capitalism, the 'long waves of capitalism', its slumps, crashes and depressions in his 'Late Capitalism' and in other works. Rosa Luxemburg told us what the 'military and industrial complex' is all about and explained its relation to the accumulation of world capital. Modern Marxist and non-Marxist scholars have updated this knowledge.

Concerning recession, depression and 'the theory of the  collapse of world capitalism',  the Dutch Marxist Anton Pannekoek described their political essence in his work "Die Zusammenbruchstheorie des Kapitalismus", first published in The Netherlands in the review 'Raetekommunist,' No.1 of June 1934.

Lenin and Trotsky treated its emancipatory praxis in their theories of imperialism and permanent world revolution.

Precisely by focusing itself on the Great Depression of 1929 and on the rise of Nazism and Fascism in Europe and elsewhere, collapse and crisis theory became very topical in the 1930s in Marxist debates. The endeavor was to diagnose scientifically whether capitalist imperialism was simply in a passing crisis and would eventually recover itself, or whether the capitalist system as a result of its profound contradictions would collapse and perish. Another aspect was to analyze  whether its so-called capacity to 'adapt' itself, was not simply a postponement of its agony, which every time would become worse, more fatal, and finally would reach a stage of total collapse, a state beyond any salvation.

 Precisely this discussion should interest us in the present serious depression.

Three years ago, we formulated this crux of the matter as follows:

"Like today, in the 1930s, the question was whether the workers of the world should sit back, fold their arms ... cultivate class reconciliation to overcome boredom, breed reformism, participate in senseless dialogues and whether they should await peacefully the final inexorable breakdown of capitalism ... or whether by revolutionary praxis and theory they should do away with capitalism and imperialism even before its total globalization, before its own inevitable collapse."

With reference to the above, for Lenin and Trotsky it was crystal clear, that no matter how weak or how strong the capitalist economic system may become, automatically it will not breakdown by itself, it must be overthrown by conscious revolutionary workers' class struggles.

This is also our current opinion.

Modern analysts, like Peter Goodspeed of the 'National Post', think that the "global mess may give birth to a new era", may be changing the "global geopolitical landscape".

He paraphrases the current fiasco as follows:
"The world's financial and banking systems have had a near meltdown; entire economies have been swamped; trillions of dollars worth of assets have evaporated; and millions of people from Windsor to Wuhan have lost their jobs. Governments have collapsed, tent cities have sprung up for foreclosed families, senior executives now work as janitors, once-mighty financial institutions have been humbled, investors devastated, consumers terrified and governments bewildered.".

Although he also sees a intrasystemic 'world economic crisis', he goes beyond the daily fluctuating Wall Street statistics and can see that "the current economic crisis is giving birth to a new perilous era.". Of course, according to his "theory of collapse and of crisis", which is typical and topical today, this new era will not be proletarian, anti-capitalist, trans- or even ex-volutionary, that is, it will not cross the capitalist Rubicon towards  other modes of human creation and emancipation.

Also in this case, on a world scale, theoretical confusion is rife. One thing is a world economic crisis, another thing is the economic collapse of a global capitalist system. Peter Goodspeed informs us:

"Economic collapses have already touched Brazil, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Pakistan, Russia, the Baltic republics and Central Asia. Anger has spilled out onto the streets of Europe, with anti-government riots in Lithuania, Bulgaria, Latvia and Greece.

There was a rash of wildcat strikes in Britain by workers who claimed they were denied construction jobs by contractors who used cheaper foreign workers. If unemployment continues to rise, France fears a return to burned-out cars, masked youths and arson attacks in its industrial suburbs."

Considering the above, and taking into consideration that within a matter of months, the economic collapse of world capitalism has changed itself into a mode of self-destruction, by destroying nearly half of human productive wealth, then really the danger, the road towards global barbarism becomes very clear. Since 2008, this economic Moloch ... measured in values of tens of trillions of US dollars ... has already destroyed the annual global gross international product of the planet. Soon many major states could become bankrupt and this would seal the total collapse of the imperialist global system.

The exploitative and productive capacity of planetary life and resources have reached their utmost limits; the ozone layer is damaged, the planet is heating up, causing climatic disasters, progressively the planet is becoming a radio-active stinking quagmire, in the Middle East an energy crisis results in genocide, potable water and life sustaining oxygen are becoming scarcities, millions of workers are being pauperized on a world scale, huge corporations vanish into thin air, arsenals of weapons of mass destruction are being stockpiled across the globe, modern fascism is knocking at the door .... all these are conditions neither to rejuvenate imperialism nor to establish classical socialism. It is a total collapse of all the modes of productions which we have known until now.

We better come up pretty fast with a new, authentic mode of creation and emancipation.

Now, from what we had to emancipate ourselves in the epoch of  'good', liberal, competitive capitalism, Marx and Engels have explained to us in their 'theory of globalization' and of 'the economic collapse of the capitalist system' as was expounded in the 'Manifesto of the Communist Party' in 1848:

"A similar movement is going on before our own eyes. 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."
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Yes, the sorcerer, modern capitalist society, with his ravenous spells has conjured up the powers of the nether world, his own economic collapse: his own contradictions and his inherent global class struggles. What corporate imperialism fears most is the 'specter of communism', that is, in modern terms, a new coming mode of human creativity and creation, a historical process which he, the sorcerer, can no longer control. Currently we are witnessing the international chaos, anarchy, decay and collapse of the world capitalist system; in space and time, it will vanish much faster than its terrorist and violent birth in Europe.

Meanwhile more and more from all over news flashes about the collapse of world capitalism reach the public, and the reports confirm our scientific approximations.

According to the 'Sunday Times' of March 15, 2009, now "turmoil pierces heart of the global economy".Furthermore, "the stark collapse in industrial output in countries such as Japan, Germany and Korea shows that the firestorm that has engulfed financial markets for the past 20 months is now sweeping into the real economy. This will have an immense impact on future corporate earnings."