Structural Crisis of Capital and Forms of Organisation of Labour
The structural crisis of global capital is unfolding and deepening as the century opens up. This structural crisis brings in its wake a very deep and profound crisis for labour as regards the old defensive forms of organisation. They – the old ways of organising in trade unionism – are fundamentally unfit for purpose in their present structure and organisation and this will become increasingly evident as capital’s crisis matures. The need to throw off the old defensive forms and replace them with new offensive forms of struggle against capital and its state powers will increasingly assert itself. The historic precedence of the question of revolutionary agency now becomes clearly posed. On this immediate question of ‘agency’, how can the proletariat, in its present global situation and changed occupational structure, move onto the revolutionary road, that is, initiate the historical process of the transcendence of the capital order?
The structural crisis of capital, on the whole, now means that capital’s reproduction is now a “destructive reproduction” (Meszaros). In this sense, it is not simply developing the means of production (as it has done previously, despite widespread destruction in wars, etc) but is actually destroying them in its struggle to reproduce itself. It is destroying the fundamental natural and socio-cultural conditions for human life on the planet. Socialism is necessary for human survival on the planet now that capital has entered this final phase of destructive reproduction as its structural crisis deepens and widens. Meszaros goes into this in his work. Luxemburg’s dictum of “Socialism or Barbarism” (The Junius Pamphlet, 1916) has only now come into its own.
What is implied in his conception of ‘structural crisis’ is the antithesis and end of the phase of ‘conjunctural’ and cyclical crises. His analysis implies that these cyclical, conjunctural crises are part of a past historic temporal phase (during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries) beyond which the capital system has now moved globally into a terminal structural phase. This ‘cyclical’ phase necessarily leads to the ‘structural’ phase central to which is the historic mediation of the process of the tendency of the organic composition of capital to increase and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. ‘Capitalist breakdown’ – within the context of structural crisis – can mean only one thing : the destruction of the necessary socio-cultural and natural preconditions for human life itself on the planet, for all sentient life. This is analysed by Meszaros in ‘Beyond Capital’.
The continuously unhindered and expanding realisation of surplus value implies a constantly expanding global market which is not possible. This is one of the reason why the capital system has arrived at “the activation of its absolute limits”. But crises of overproduction are not simply “realisation problems”. They indicate that the forces of production within the framework of the social relation of capital have actually outgrown that framework. In other words, it demonstrates that capital itself has become a fetter on the actual development of these forces. Today, that contradiction is now being expressed in the widespread ecological, social, human destruction which comes with the destructive reproduction of capital on a global scale. The mass of surplus value produced is actually increasing on a global scale but, critically, the ratio of this surplus value to the value of machinery and labour power is falling because of the phenomenal increase in the ratio of the value of machinery to labour power. It is the quantitative increase in this latter ratio which is driving the mad rush for an absolute increase in surplus value. And this underlies the widespread ecological destruction and degradation of human beings. Capital is becoming emptied out of its very “notion”, its historic development has reached the stage where it is “imploding in” on itself. Capital has fallen into the stage where its very development is undermining its own nature. To paraphrase Hegel, it is contradicting and self-abnegating its own “Concept” in the course of the unfolding of its global structural crisis.
Before this, crises were cyclical and capital could then displace its internal contradictions with a new phase of value expansion and accumulation. But in structural crisis, absolute expansion and accumulation merely serves to deepen its crisis. This drive for absolute surplus value (more factories in China, India, etc) is a response to this self-abnegating involutive process and brings in its wake all the destruction we are seeing, “destructive reproduction”. And, of course, it does not matter what is produced and destroyed as long as it produces realisable value and capital reaffirms itself as self-augmenting value. This is the irrepressible, untransgressable and insane logic of the capital relation. The drive for the realisation of surplus value and capital accumulation regardless of the “costs” on humanity and Nature.
This structural crisis is driving the destruction of public provision, transference into the grasp of private capital, mass structural unemployment and the driving down of workers’ conditions and wages. This is intrinsic to the global tendency towards an increase in the rate of exploitation in the “West” (equal to that in Asia and Latin America) and the falling rate of utilisation which comes with generalised waste production; disposability which serves the needs of capital because it creates space for value-production within whatever rapidly disposable use-value form it can embody itself. All this, of course, introduces new, and intensifies, existing contradictions. For example, wage cuts mean less purchasing power and therefore less value realisation despite increasing the mass, the quantity of surplus value produced as a result of the increasing organic composition of capital.
How can we put an end to the capitalist order bearing in mind that where we are at the present stage with our present organisations is totally inadequate. We need to discuss what sort of organisations we will need to carry through this great historic task. The trade unions in their present form are no longer fit for purpose and we need to create new, offensive forms of organisation to conduct this struggle to put an end to capitalism as a global system.
The most urgent question of the epoch is, therefore, how do we put an end to this epoch – the epoch of capital? And create a totally different type of society for future human generations. But pivotal in this question is what sort of organisations will we need to carry through this task, to the end, no matter what it takes and regardless of the sacrifice which it will almost inevitably involve. Humanity must put an end to the epoch of capital or capital will put an end to humanity.