This is my third article detailing an aspect of my new Marxist theory, which I laid out the basic distinctions of here. This article focuses on the following point that was laid out there:
-The 20th century witnessed the emergence of bourgeois nations (empires wherein most of the population consisted of property owners). These have no future. The bourgeois status of these nations is being gradually phased out by the capitalist class.
Let me start this off by saying that America will be a very different place in another 40 years. If current trends continue, then in another 40 years, America will be…
–> an essentially matriarchal society (i.e. basically run by women),
–> majority-minority (i.e. lacking a majority race),
–> probably bankrupt due to a very real structural debt problem we’ve had since the ascendancy of finance in the 1970s and ’80s,
That’s the America of the future, like it or not. The American progressives (like yours truly for example) is tasked with adapting themselves to these realities sooner rather than later.
Okay, with that big picture of America’s future in mind, I want to get into why the current bourgeois status of the bourgeois nations in general and America in particular is structurally unsustainable:
All one must do is look to how things were for the average American before the existing social safety net and collection of moderating business regulations existed to see essentially how they’d still be (at best) if we had never created one. Before the New Deal, things really were tending to follow the basic direction that Marx predicted, with recessions (and most of them were full-blown depressions back then) tending to get successively worse and more extreme over time in successive installments. The Great Depression was the worst of these, and the last before major economic reforms were implemented. Unlike in previous crises, the Great Depression (1929-33) only seemed to get worse and worse over time, with no end in sight. Capitalism seemed to be in a self-perpetuating structural downward spiral. The Communist International went as far as to predict that this crisis would mark the end of the capitalist system, with the world either subsequently adopting communism or reverting back to more primitive forms of social organization. (“Communism or Barbarism!” was their formulation during the Depression years.) Indeed much of their forecast proved correct: fascism did arise to support the continuation of capitalism in Europe and it did indeed, as the Comintern predicted, yield a Second World War that was worse than the first. What the communists of the day underestimated was the potential for capitalism to moderate itself when under such distress and with growth potential yet remaining. But the larger point here is that it was only by way of its mitigation that capitalism survived that crisis. And, to a substantial degree I’ll add, it didn’t. Many countries went communist during and after the Second World War. All of Europe probably would have too if not for the Marshall Plan. The whole point of the Marshall Plan was indeed to eliminate that likelihood because post-war Europe was a disaster zone rife with a growing and increasingly radical discontent. My point here is that if the capitalist class had not learned to be more temperate and generous than their natural instincts would allow, they would not have survived as a class. They survived only by bribing their way out of disaster, and as much was only possible due to a certain gargantuan American victory in the Second World War that left it with no war damage, much unlike most everyone else.
During the First Cold War, this regime was, in many ways, sustained for ideological purposes, given the growing global influence of communism and communist ideas. Eventually though, as Doug Henwood recently pointed out in an opinion piece for the New York Times, this regime became intolerable for the capitalist class, which was starting to grow less and less profitable under the new constraints, with class relations breaking down and workers and the poor getting more and more demanding. The solution was a crackdown (so that workers and the poor would get less demanding) sustained by an expanded system of borrowing that enabled for the continuation of a middle class standard of living for most. The financial sector grew rapidly to facilitate the latter transition. You can easily the problem with such a shift though (shifting from a unionized model of capitalism to a debt-driven model): it yields a borrowing economy, which is unsustainable by definition.
Here are the particulars as to how the First World borrowing economy emerged: At the government level, the modern economy of the First World came to be based on borrowing because the propertied classes have awarded massive tax breaks over the last several decades, which has produced decreasing value intake on the part of the government, which must nonetheless spend at the same level at minimum in order to maintain a social safety net and system of businesses regulations and thus relative social peace. At the individual level, workforce unionization has plummeted, which has resulted in crappier jobs with fewer benefits; people taking in less value. When you’re taking in less value, the only way to maintain a middle class standard of living is to go into debt. The result of both of these situations has been the expansion of the financial sector, as the provider of debt. It’s expansion, in turn, has resulted in increased political influence; an increasing ability to get financial sector regulations (like the Glass-Steagall Act for example) overturned, thus producing especially severe crises like the recent recession.
The collapse of the Soviet Union unnaturally extended the resultant profitability rebound by affording the capitalist class a new world of markets ripe for the plucking. Now though the financial sector has started to reach its limits. Borrowing potential, both on an individual level and on a large, government scale, is starting to become exhausted. Thus the new method of sustaining this system too now is failing. In the 1970s reformism proved unable to sustain the capitalist system and since 2008 we have begun to see that the new solution of a crackdown on workers sustained by unlimited borrowing cannot do so either, or at least not in the long run. What then is next?
In the olden days it was often said in this country that reformism was realism and revolutionary politics were naive idealism. Today it’s increasingly starting to seem more and more like the opposite is true. Though we have seen a rise in progressive activism and politicking lately (ranging from the Occupy movement and the movement to unionize the working poor based mainly in the Northeast and Far West to the Moral Mondays movement that’s expanding today in the South), one still cannot imagine a revolution in today’s America due to how large the middle class here remains, but imagine 50 years from now, or even 15 or 30, after our government runs itself into bankruptcy like southern Europe has and like Venezuela did at the end of the 1980s. Thus will the class composition of the nation become far more proletarian (as in to say impoverished) yet than it is today. Moderating reforms are not an option the rich are willing to accept anymore because they lead to a breakdown in class relations. Hence why they’re slowly doing away with the existing ones. This leaves one alternative: their overthrow by a proletariat that most certainly WILL be in the immense majority well within this century, and probably well within my lifetime. I don’t see any getting around this.
In other words, yeah I basically feel that Marx was right…in the long run. The trends he spoke have emerged in somewhat different ways than he anticipated and have taken much longer than he anticipated to develop, but slowly they’re happening. Things are indeed unfolding much as Marx predicted, but simply on a slower timetable than he imagined. Marx believed that the industrial revolution had abolished scarcity, at least in the West, while impoverishing the laboring masses to a greater degree than ever before, thus creating a contradiction reconcilable only by way of communist revolution. In reality, scarcity has yet to be abolished even today, though it’s abolition now appears in sight finally, with the advent of near-free reproduction, increasingly, of most everything. And imperialism also provided the capitalists of some countries with the means to buy the loyalty of their workers temporarily, but that model is proving unsustainable in the long run and is now on its way out. We’re headed back to the 19th century class relations. So essentially Marx was right, but like I said, just on a slower timetable than he imagined.
Let’s talk a little more about the current and future balance of class forces in the United States. Contrary to the belief of some, the American working class has not become a right wing institution. There exists a difference between workers in the generic and the working class specifically. As I pointed out in my earlier article Redefining the Proletariat, “working class” is a term that alludes specifically to low-wage workers, as in those who barely get by, who live paycheck-to-paycheck. Not all workers belong to the working class. There are also the ranks of the working poor (i.e. those who actually DON’T get by) and, furthermore, there are, additionally, middle and upper class workers; workers who are net beneficiaries of the capitalist system. In this country, the latter groups (middle and upper class workers) compose nearly a majority of the workforce. When you combine the middle and upper class workers with the business community proper, you arrive at a considerable majority of the American population: 58% if you believe the most recent poll of how Americans classify themselves. 2% say they feel rich, another 8% say they feel upper class, and another 48% say they feel middle class. Those three figures, which describe property-owning classes, add up to 58%. On the other side, 27% say they feel low-income (or what we used to call, and what I still often call, working class) and another 15% say they feel poor. Those two figures, which describe the unpropertied classes, add up to 42%. Thus the current balance of class forces in the United States, if we take people at their word (and I believe we should), is this: 58% bourgeois and 42% proletarian. Therefore America is basically a nation of property owners; of people who materially benefit from capitalism. It has been thus since the Second World War. It is for that reason that I describe America and other nations with a similar class composition as bourgeois nations. Don’t overestimate the loyalty of the working CLASS to this system though. And their ranks are growing these days, post-2008-crash. Think: what kind of jobs are replacing those lost to the recession? It is this kind of trend that I refer to as re-proletarianization.
Southern Europe (countries like Greece and so forth) serves as an example of how a full-scale re-proletarianization works and what it looks like, both in the practical and politically. The financial aristocracy has bankrupted these countries and they’ve consequently been compelled to impoverish their workforces in order to assure the financial capitalists that they’ll never lose “their” money again. The political implications have included a revival of both communism and fascism throughout the region as the political center of gravity shifts leftward toward resistance. General strikes and riots are routine occurrences in many parts of southern Europe now. Don’t believe for a second that that’s not a preview of our future; that that won’t happen to us too. The re-proletarianization of the American workforce IS coming, with all of its implications.
The longer-term future, as in to say what kind of situation and set-up ultimately emerges from a 21st century bankruptcy crisis / mass impoverishment situation, might be better spoken to by the case of Latin America in general and Venezuela in particular. Venezuela, for example, has already gone through this whole bankruptcy process back in 1989 and the ’90s. The final outcome was a sort of political revolution that included the drafting of a new national constitution, the ascendancy of Chavez, of Chavez’s conversion to democratic socialism, and of his creation of parallel state and government institutions: an ideological militia loyal to the political left (since he felt that he couldn’t trust the regular army after the 2002 military coup) and town-hall-style communitarian councils tasked with applying direct democracy at the local level and recommending national policies directly to the president (thus enabling the masses themselves to serve as a de facto branch of the national legislature). His United Socialist Party is still in power today. I feel that this is the best and most plausible glimpse we have available to us as to what American politics might look like 40 years from now, though it is also possible that the continued development of information technology and the Internet of Things may very well make for the advent of national town-hall-style direct democracy, which would historically outmode republicanism entirely by enabling society itself to decide on its policies collectively without need of the elected middle men that form the national legislature. We would then only need to elect an executive branch to enforce the laws thereby decided. This appears to where things are headed in the long. It’s only a matter of how soon e-democracy will be sufficiently developed and secured that it can replace national parliaments.