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Capitalism in crisis: Times of reform or of revolution

The scale of capitalism’s current crisis is giving rise to all sorts of predictions, from those who minimise in the extreme its most acute characteristics to those who forecast a sort of ‘final crisis’.


 Juan Diego García


These affirmations, which range from a sort of responsible pragmatism to calls to the final battle, forecasting the birth of a new civilisation, can also be heard in the ranks of the left.

Such analyses replay similar debates that took place in the bosom of the left when the system appeared to be collapsing (First World War and the October Revolution) or when similar processes seemed to be starting after the defeat of fascism in the Second World War and the emergence of the Socialist Camp.

Some elements of the capitalist system’s current crisis are certainly of enormous impact and could justify predictions of this type.

Indeed, the 2008 economic crisis has not been overcome despite the governments’ measures and it seems to have turned into a form of permanent behaviour of the system (with ups and downs of varying intensity but without reaching the levels of the Great Depression of 1929).

The covid-19 pandemic has illustrated the huge limitations faced by states tackling such a challenge, just as is happening with the current war in Ukraine whose outcome seems increasingly unpredictable and which, according to the most pessimistic voices, could even lead to nuclear war, although with atomic bombs of lesser impact than the classic ones and giving a new sense to the “cold war”.

The profound deterioration of the capitalist system’s institutions is also a fact.

Political parties offer a panorama of deep decay, with leaders whose function as puppets of big business is so obvious that it diminishes and even eliminates public confidence.

This crisis of politics would explain the deep decay of those institutions of the capitalist system, even where great confidence in leaders and institutions existed: this is confirmed by phenomena such as growing electoral abstention even in countries where participation has traditionally been high and by the resurgence of the crudest and most primitive forms of politics encouraged by a far-right reminiscent of the fascism and traditional Nazism that were believed to have been overcome.

Abstention affects the parts of society with little political culture and a significant part of the youth who see little or nothing deserving of the slightest trust in institutions and political parties.

The progress of a far-right that is winning supporters among sectors of society with little or scant political culture and, especially, among petty bourgeois sectors that always look with hostility on salaried employees and on critical intellectuals, is no surprise. It is the new version of the classic ‘corner shop owner’ that served as the initial basis for the Nazis in Germany.

As always, big business is waiting to see how events play out: if the dilemma is solved in a civilised manner, it will use the traditional bourgeois parties. But if the system collapses with unpredictable consequences, it will try to give the decisive role to the far-right, just as happened in the past with fascism.

That is the current panorama and the debate is focused on knowing whether the system can resolve its contradictions by holding on to the rules of democracy or if it will be necessary to allow fascism to take control.

This panorama in the metropolises is repeated more dramatically in the New World.

And here the left debates in very similar terms, although to the internal factors must be added the external factor, the modern forms of imperialism.

If Lula wins in Brazil it would expand the progress of the centre-left on the continent, which in general supports reforms agreed with the political and social centre, seeking favourable international alliances with the new economic powers and thereby nullifying the danger of a triumph of ‘creole’ fascism.

At heart, these centre-left governments coincide in general terms with the policies of many European governments that promote partial reforms of the neoliberal system which, at best, would involve a certain return to the dismantled welfare state. Here the opposition of big business is substantial but as long as it does not cause a very deep crisis it is highly likely that they will choose the reformist path.

In Latin America, centre-left governments promote reforms that harmonise the interests of the majorities with a key sector of the local business community very much affected by the policies of ‘opening up’ (neoliberal).

If in the Old World it is a matter of rebuilding, even if only partially, the old welfare state, in the New World it is a matter of overcoming enormous social inequality and economic poverty, provoking fierce opposition from the big bourgeoisie.

Here as in the rest of the world the big bourgeoisie does not represent more than 1% of the overall population but it does have not insignificant support, including among popular sectors, which allows it, in some cases, to win elections or take a lot of power in the institutions from the forces of the centre-left.

The left has, then, the challenge of convincing the popular sectors that support the right that its reforms coincide with the interests of those sectors.

As there is no evidence the system is about to collapse, the prudent thing for the left to do is to promote whatever reforms are possible and try to prevent the advance of the far-right.

It is a matter of finding civilised ways out of the crisis (even if it is within capitalism) or finding itself having to face new forms of fascism.

Capitalism has found ways out of its crisis and frustrated the appearance of an alternative social order. These alternatives were not always fascism, although they were world wars with an immeasurable cost to humanity.

Revolutionary outcomes of the sort formulated by some elements of the left that believe we are faced with the system’s ‘final crisis’ and that therefore the only outcome that must be supported is that of installing a new social order, essentially different from capitalism, do not appear to correspond to the real balance of power.

Reformist forms of capitalism could be applied and give then a way out of the crisis of the system even if only temporarily; fascism is not necessarily its only alternative.

The idea of ‘specific analysis of the specific situation’ is what allows the design of an appropriate strategy and indicates if it is time for reform or revolution. Something else entirely is how that immediate reformist objective is harmonised with the medium and long-term revolutionary objectives.

(Translated by Philip Walker – Email: Photos: Pixabay

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