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Too much 'civilisation'

Nothing sums up the insanity of the capitalist system more than unemployment. Just think about it. People want to work; the means of production like offices, shops, factories, plant and equipment all exist; yet all of a sudden, workers are thrown on the dole.

People desperately need affordable housing, for example. Yet tens of thousands of building workers have lost their jobs this year, developments have been abandoned and stockpiles of bricks are growing. And so does homelessness. The causes are not difficult to establish and lie right at the heart of capitalism.

Developers and house builders can’t make a profit because house prices have soared beyond many people’s reach and sales have slumped; the banking system has seized up so there are no mortgages in any case; and levels of personal debt weigh like millstones on the population’s necks. So, no profit equals no building work equals unemployment.

While the bankers are bailed out to the tune of £37 billion – with taxpayers’ commitments possibly rising to £3 trillion – the people who actually do the work and create real wealth as opposed to fantasy finance, are discarded without as so much as a by your leave. No bail-out for them!

Long quotes from 19th century philosopher-revolutionaries can be a bit dry and seem remote from 21st century global capitalism. But when you read what Marx and Engels had to say in 1848 in the Communist Manifesto, you are struck by how fresh their summary of capitalist crisis is:

Modern bourgeois society, with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells. For many a decade past the history of industry and commerce is but the history of the revolt of modern productive forces against modern conditions of production, against the property relations that are the conditions for the existence of the bourgeois and of its rule.

It is enough to mention the commercial crises that by their periodical return put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on its trial, each time more threateningly. In these crises, a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed. In these crises, there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity — the epidemic of overproduction. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation, had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why?

Because there is too much civilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce. The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them.
Brilliant! The productive forces are too powerful for the system of private ownership of the means of production. So they must be and are destroyed, jobs included. This is what bringing “stability” back to the banking system actually means in practice. The case for reorganising society on co-operative, not-for-profit lines has never been stronger. That would give us the control over resources to keep people in work and meet basic needs like housing. Creating the means to turn the old order upside down is the immediate challenge.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor
16 October 2008

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