What is happening just now is so obviously an existential crisis of capitalism, such as Marx foretold though not in quite the way he envisaged it – who in the nineteenth century could possibly have foreseen clowns like Trump and Farage? – that I’m surprised everyone can’t see it. Whatever the immediate causes of our current woes and idiocies, underneath them all lie the uncontrolled development and expansion of capitalism, its logic and its ideals; a system of economics which is of immeasurable value to humanity so long as it is carefully disciplined and subordinated to the latter’s other and more basic needs, but is bound to become destructive, and indeed self-destructive, when given the run of the park.
That two such stereotypical exemplars of modern capitalism as the property developer Trump and the hedge-fund investor Farage should be the agents of this destruction was unexpected, and is worrying in many ways – it would have been better if a couple of socialists, like Bernie and Jeremy, had been at the helm at the time – but is not entirely incongruous. Trump and Farage both stand against international trade arrangements which they feel to be detrimental to their own countries, and which are, objectively speaking, undemocratic: allowing commercial considerations to override the will of the people (e.g. TTIP). ‘Globalisation’, which is the neutral- and internationalist-sounding name given to this today (it used to be ‘imperialism’), is, as Lenin argued a century ago, the ‘last stage’ of capitalism, keeping it alive and moving when otherwise it might have collapsed under ‘the weight of its own contradictions’ earlier. Capitalism, that is, as an unfettered, self-powering engine allowed to ride roughshod. Capitalism as a tool is different. Most so-called and even self-styled ‘anti-capitalists’ understand that.
So, what is to come? Marx’s prediction, of the working classes taking over and building socialism, looks unlikely in the light of the recent weakening of working-class agency, for example the emasculation of the trade unions; and the bad odour attaching to ‘socialism’ – unfairly – as a result of its hi-jacking by the tyrannical USSR. Some form of Keynesian solution might be the ideal one. Either of these is, in my view, preferable to the third alternative, which is the right-wing one: nativism, nationalism, fascism, call it what you will. That it is reactionaries like Trump and Farage who have responded most successfully to and benefitted so spectacularly from the current crisis of capitalism fills me with foreboding. Marx might have been right about capitalism’s self-destructive propensities; but we can’t depend on his analysis of the ‘next stage’ to make it all right.
Still: Happy Boxing Day.
Much more likely that capitalism will destroy itself, as it’s already doing, through the continuous extension of national and personal indebtedness, the erosion of family life and social interactions of all kinds, which add real value (i.e cashless) to people’s lives, and its eventual inability to keep distracting the mass of people with material fripperies. Unfortunately though, it is unscrupulous opportunities like Trump who are taking advantage of the growing alienation and anger.
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Pundits have looked to Italy under Berlusconi and Putin’s Russia as models of how US capitalism and society might look under Trump; however, these examples are probably too flattering to America’s new leader. One might have to look to an African republic like Ghana in the 1960s to get a feel for how badly things could degenerate in the four or eight years of Trump’s ascendancy. Under the incompetent, corrupt and vain despotism of Kwane Kkrumah, all sectors of Ghanian society degenerated to an extraordinary degree, eventually bankrupting the country. Will level-headed generals in the military also be forced to intervene in the US to depose Trump – as occurred in Ghana in 1966 – when the process of disintegration gets out of hand?
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