History is pressing...
While it is self evident that global capitalism is in a protracted crisis that, in itself, does not lay down conditions that will lead to its collapse.
It is clear that bourgeois economists are incapable of explaining or resolving the capitalist crisis but Leon Trotsky, many decades ago, also made that same observation in his essay 'Marxism In Our Time' when he wrote that 'official political economy is dead.'
He went on to observe that the basic error of classical economics was its view of capitalism as humanity's normal existence for all time, instead of just one historical stage in the development of society.
But, equally, Trotsky warned that there is no inevitable ' final crisis of capitalism', which was a restatement of Marx's own position.
In a similar vein, it was Lenin who wryly observed that capitalism can survive anything as long as workers pay the price for its survival.
This is evident today. Throughout the advanced capitalist societies , including New Zealand, workers are the victims of vicious austerity drives. In order for capitalism to survive workers are being forced to carry the economic burden. Jobs are being lost. Wages, welfare benefits and pensions are being cut. Public assets are being sold off.
Meanwhile the banks and the financiers, on the back of huge taxpayer bailouts, are announcing record profits and giving each other massive bonuses.
Here in New Zealand John Key, fresh from giving large tax cuts to the wealthy and announcing further privatisation plans , has announced that the economy is fine - its just the welfare state that 'is broken'. A fresh attack on what remains of the welfare state will occur if John Key and his cronies are re-elected.
In recent months I've had conversations with people in my local community who are profoundly disillusioned by the sporadic and negligible level of resistance to the capitalist offensive and, frankly, don't see things getting any better anytime soon. They, of course, don't put it in such explicit terms but when they declare that 'New Zealanders are apathetic' and 'Phil Goff is useless', it is what they mean.
Personally I draw some encouragement and inspiration from the huge anti-austerity demonstrations that have - and are - occurring in western Europe, not to mention the struggles occurring in the Middle East, but, at the same time, the worsening of economic conditions does not automatically lead to a level of prolonged political resistance. 'A' does not automatically lead to 'B' in a linear and mechanical fashion. You don't necessarily pass 'Go' and pick up a card marked 'Revolution'. It can equally lead to another trade union 'leader' selling out another working class struggle.
While the few remaining social democratic reformists, who draw comfort from the likes of Eduard Bernstein, may believe in the 'progress of history', they are deluded souls seeking some half-baked validation for their meek surrender to the demands of capitalism.
Marx emphasised that consciousness always lags behind the course of history. There is always a 'lag' before there is a political response to immediate economic conditions. History is the product of class struggles but there is always an uneven development of these class struggles.
In a very interesting article in the Financial Times historian Simon Schama recently observed:
Far be it for me to make a dicey situation dicier but you can’t smell the sulphur in the air right now and not think we might be on the threshold of an age of rage. The Spanish unions have postponed a general strike; the bloody barricades and the red shirts might have been in Bangkok not Berlin; and, for the moment, the British coalition leaders sit side by side on the front bench like honeymooners canoodling on the porch; but in Europe and America there is a distinct possibility of a long hot summer of social umbrage. Historians will tell you there is often a time-lag between the onset of economic disaster and the accumulation of social fury. In act one, the shock of a crisis initially triggers fearful disorientation; the rush for political saviours; instinctive responses of self-protection, but not the organised mobilisation of outrage. Whether in 1789 or now, an incoming regime riding the storm gets a fleeting moment to try to contain calamity. If it is seen to be straining every muscle to put things right it can, for a while, generate provisional legitimacy.
Act two is trickier. Objectively, economic conditions might be improving, but perceptions are everything and a breathing space gives room for a dangerously alienated public to take stock of the brutal interruption of their rising expectations. What happened to the march of income, the acquisition of property, the truism that the next generation will live better than the last? The full impact of the overthrow of these assumptions sinks in and engenders a sense of grievance that “Someone Else” must have engineered the common misfortune. The stock epithet the French Revolution gave to the financiers who were blamed for disaster was “rich egoists”. Our own plutocrats may not be headed for the tumbrils but the fact that financial catastrophe, with its effect on the “real” economy, came about through obscure transactions designed to do nothing except produce short-term profit aggravates a sense of social betrayal.
The 'Explosion' may have been delayed but it will come nonetheless.
The other problem that we are confronted with is the failure of traditional workers organisations to act decisively in this time of crisis.
Here in New Zealand, as elsewhere, we have had to endure the unedifying sight of reformist leaders trying to prop up a failed economic system and maintain the status quo. That has been the role of the Labour Party and its allies in the trade union bureaucracy. It is little wonder that more and more workers no longer have any faith in these organisations to defend their interests? Is it little wonder that Phil Goff can gain no political traction when he tells workers there is 'no alternative' to the free market and neoliberalism?
However when social consciousness catches up with history, when there is no longer 'a time-lag between the onset of economic disaster and the accumulation of social fury.' then these discredited and dismal leaders will be swept aside by people demanding leadership that genuinely represents their needs and their aspirations.
The capitalist class has had lots of assistance from the 'leaders' of the workers organizations both in keeping the system afloat and suppressing any sustained resistance, but history is pressing and that situation will inevitably change and possibly when we least expect it.