Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Observations on the World Situation


The financial crisis in the US has not yet developed into a full recession by devaluing constant and variable capital in the imperialist heartlands. It is a partial devaluation of capital in the most speculative and least productive areas (home financing, high-risk loans etc), which has spread into the banking system. The state banks are meeting this crisis by reducing interest rates and increasing subsidies (cheap loans) to finance capital to stave off recession.

On January 22 cut in the Fed borrowing rate of 0.75% to 3.5% means that interest rates may now be less than inflation. The tax cut package of $150 announced by Bush will barely scratch the surface of household debt. If it proves that the US has already entered recession in the last quarter of 2007, while overall production would be in decline, this will reflect a devaluation of the least productive capital and the cheapening of constant and variable capital in areas of more productive investment. This recession will act to counteract the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall (TRPF). It will lead to concentration and centralization of capital (eg. mergers of the big capitalists) and raise the rate of profit.

This financial crisis in the US takes place against a fundamental upturn in accumulation of the world economy since the early 1990s resulting from the combined impacts of of 'neo-liberalism' on the 'third world' and capitalist restoration on the 'second world'. This had had the effect of a massive devaluation of former state owned assets and privatisation of these assets in the semi-colonies and the destruction and privatisation of assets of the former degenerate workers states. A massive historic defeat of the working class was necessary to allow imperialism to impose this destruction and re-valuation of assets. It enabled the world economy to emerge out of its stagnation of the 1970s and 1980s.

However, the current financial crisis, along with the cyclic crises of the 1990s, shows that as capital goes into a period of accumulation it faces once again the onset of the TRPF and a rising overproduction of capital in the world economy. That 'fictitious' capital cannot be valorised against existing values so seeks to increase its value by speculating on the changes prices of existing values. Thus accumulation necessarily is accompanied by a succession of financial crises or devaluations as fictitious capital is destroyed. e.g. the sub-prime mortgages are written off, Latin America, Asia, DotCom etc. This proves Marx's law of value (total prices = total value) that capital cannot accumulate on the basis of unequal exchange.

It is important to acknowledge the law of value to reject the bullshit ideas of the exchange theorists that explain the growth of the world economy as the result of unequal exchange. For example, Henry Lui writing on the world economy and China in particular, credits the growth over the past period to US 'dollar hegemony'. That is, the US has stolen value produced by its trading partners by printing dollars to pay for the commodities it imports from them. This leads to global dollar reserves, which contribute to the hugely overvalued US dollar. Clearly, this explanation is a variation on unequal exchange theory, where the commodity money, in this case the US dollar, is artificially overvalued and allows the US to pay less for its imports and force its partners to pay more for their imports.

While unequal exchange is undoubtedly a major counter-tendency to the TRPF, US 'dollar hegemony' cannot account for the dominance of US imperialism. Similarly, Petras' more familiar theory of unequal exchange based on US buying commodities cheap and selling then dear is also fundamentally flawed. Imperialism does benefit from 'primitive accumulation' or 'theft' of raw materials and labor power, but cannot sustain a period of renewed accumulation on this basis.

The onset of this period of accumulation in the 1990s can only be explained by Marxist concepts. As Trotsky himself theoretically envisaged, such a new period could arise out of a historic defeat of the world's working class by imperialist globalisation ie capitalist restoration in Eastern Europe and the U.S.S.R. One which had the impact of a 'Third world war' in the destruction of value and the restoration of the rate of profit.

Today, 18 years into this upturn, we are once more facing a massive overproduction of capital that cannot be invested productively without further huge attacks on workers and peasants (by wars, invasions (re-colonization), fascism). The gain for capitalism of this would be to drive down the value of labor and of raw materials –to create a new basis for capital investment and exploitation. As the US recession spreads world wide it will see unemployment rise and commodity prices fall. Because of the real internationalisation of capital, workers and peasants in every country, including those of the imperialist states, are facing renewed massive attacks on their living standards, and are today potentially able to unite as an international class force.

The outcome of this crisis will therefore depend on the international resistance of the working class to these attacks. If this resistance is isolated and contained by the World Social Forum(WSF) in alliance with 'progressive' capitalists and 'democratic' imperialists, then imperialism will succeed in making the workers and peasants pay for its crisis. If the revolutionary Trotskyists can win the workers vanguard from the WSF and unite it in a new communist international, then we can make the imperialists pay for their own crisis.

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