Noam Chomsky: America’s Decline Is Real — and Increasingly Self-Inflicted

Significant anniversaries are solemnly commemorated — Japan’s attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, for example.  Others are ignored, and we can often learn valuable lessons from them about what is likely to lie ahead.  Right now, in fact.

At the moment, we are failing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s decision to launch the most destructive and murderous act of aggression of the post-World War II period: the invasion of South Vietnam, later all of Indochina, leaving millions dead and four countries devastated, with casualties still mounting from the long-term effects of drenching South Vietnam with some of the most lethal carcinogens known, undertaken to destroy ground cover and food crops.

The prime target was South Vietnam.  The aggression later spread to the North, then to the remote peasant society of northern Laos, and finally to rural Cambodia, which was bombed at the stunning level of all allied air operations in the Pacific region during World War II, including the two atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  In this, Henry Kissinger’s orders were being carried out — “anything that flies on anything that moves” — a call for genocide that is rare in the historical record.  Little of this is remembered.  Most was scarcely known beyond narrow circles of activists.

When the invasion was launched 50 years ago, concern was so slight that there were few efforts at justification, hardly more than the president’s impassioned plea that “we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence” and if the conspiracy achieves its ends in Laos and Vietnam, “the gates will be opened wide.”

Elsewhere, he warned further that “the complacent, the self-indulgent, the soft societies are about to be swept away with the debris of history [and] only the strong… can possibly survive,” in this case reflecting on the failure of U.S. aggression and terror to crush Cuban independence.

By the time protest began to mount half a dozen years later, the respected Vietnam specialist and military historian Bernard Fall, no dove, forecast that “Vietnam as a cultural and historic entity… is threatened with extinction…[as]…the countryside literally dies under the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area of this size.” He was again referring to South Vietnam.

When the war ended eight horrendous years later, mainstream opinion was divided between those who described the war as a “noble cause” that could have been won with more dedication, and at the opposite extreme, the critics, to whom it was “a mistake” that proved too costly.  By 1977, President Carter aroused little notice when he explained that we owe Vietnam “no debt” because “the destruction was mutual.”

There are important lessons in all this for today, even apart from another reminder that only the weak and defeated are called to account for their crimes.  One lesson is that to understand what is happening we should attend not only to critical events of the real world, often dismissed from history, but also to what leaders and elite opinion believe, however tinged with fantasy.  Another lesson is that alongside the flights of fancy concocted to terrify and mobilize the public (and perhaps believed by some who are trapped in their own rhetoric), there is also geostrategic planning based on principles that are rational and stable over long periods because they are rooted in stable institutions and their concerns.  That is true in the case of Vietnam as well.  I will return to that, only stressing here that the persistent factors in state action are generally well concealed.

The Iraq war is an instructive case.  It was marketed to a terrified public on the usual grounds of self-defense against an awesome threat to survival: the “single question,” George W. Bush and Tony Blair declared, was whether Saddam Hussein would end his programs of developing weapons of mass destruction.   When the single question received the wrong answer, government rhetoric shifted effortlessly to our “yearning for democracy,” and educated opinion duly followed course; all routine.

Later, as the scale of the U.S. defeat in Iraq was becoming difficult to suppress, the government quietly conceded what had been clear all along.  In 2007-2008, the administration officially announced that a final settlement must grant the U.S. military bases and the right of combat operations, and must privilege U.S. investors in the rich energy system — demands later reluctantly abandoned in the face of Iraqi resistance.  And all well kept from the general population.

Gauging American Decline

With such lessons in mind, it is useful to look at what is highlighted in the major journals of policy and opinion today.  Let us keep to the most prestigious of the establishment journals, Foreign Affairs.  The headline blaring on the cover of the December 2011 issue reads in bold face: “Is America Over?”

The title article calls for “retrenchment” in the “humanitarian missions” abroad that are consuming the country’s wealth, so as to arrest the American decline that is a major theme of international affairs discourse, usually accompanied by the corollary that power is shifting to the East, to China and (maybe) India.

The lead articles are on Israel-Palestine.  The first, by two high Israeli officials, is entitled “The Problem is Palestinian Rejection”: the conflict cannot be resolved because Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state — thereby conforming to standard diplomatic practice: states are recognized, but not privileged sectors within them.  The demand is hardly more than a new device to deter the threat of political settlement that would undermine Israel’s expansionist goals.

The opposing position, defended by an American professoris entitled “The Problem Is the Occupation.” The subtitle reads “How the Occupation is Destroying the Nation.” Which nation?  Israel, of course.  The paired articles appear under the heading “Israel under Siege.”

The January 2012 issue features yet another call to bomb Iran now, before it is too late.  Warning of “the dangers of deterrence,” the author suggests that “skeptics of military action fail to appreciate the true danger that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to U.S. interests in the Middle East and beyond. And their grim forecasts assume that the cure would be worse than the disease — that is, that the consequences of a U.S. assault on Iran would be as bad as or worse than those of Iran achieving its nuclear ambitions. But that is a faulty assumption. The truth is that a military strike intended to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, if managed carefully, could spare the region and the world a very real threat and dramatically improve the long-term national security of the United States.”

Others argue that the costs would be too high, and at the extremes some even point out that an attack would violate international law — as does the stand of the moderates, who regularly deliver threats of violence, in violation of the U.N. Charter.

Let us review these dominant concerns in turn.

American decline is real, though the apocalyptic vision reflects the familiar ruling class perception that anything short of total control amounts to total disaster.  Despite the piteous laments, the U.S. remains the world dominant power by a large margin, and no competitor is in sight, not only in the military dimension, in which of course the U.S. reigns supreme.

China and India have recorded rapid (though highly inegalitarian) growth, but remain very poor countries, with enormous internal problems not faced by the West.  China is the world’s major manufacturing center, but largely as an assembly plant for the advanced industrial powers on its periphery and for western multinationals.  That is likely to change over time.  Manufacturing regularly provides the basis for innovation, often breakthroughs, as is now sometimes happening in China.  One example that has impressed western specialists is China’s takeover of the growing global solar panel market, not on the basis of cheap labor but by coordinated planning and, increasingly, innovation.

But the problems China faces are serious. Some are demographic, reviewed inScience, the leading U.S. science weekly. The study shows that mortality sharply decreased in China during the Maoist years, “mainly a result of economic development and improvements in education and health services, especially the public hygiene movement that resulted in a sharp drop in mortality from infectious diseases.” This progress ended with the initiation of the capitalist reforms 30 years ago, and the death rate has since increased.

Furthermore, China’s recent economic growth has relied substantially on a “demographic bonus,” a very large working-age population. “But the window for harvesting this bonus may close soon,” with a “profound impact on development”:  “Excess cheap labor supply, which is one of the major factors driving China’s economic miracle, will no longer be available.”

Demography is only one of many serious problems ahead.  For India, the problems are far more severe.

Not all prominent voices foresee American decline.  Among international media, there is none more serious and responsible than the London Financial Times.  It recently devoted a full page to the optimistic expectation that new technology for extracting North American fossil fuels might allow the U.S. to become energy independent, hence to retain its global hegemony for a century.  There is no mention of the kind of world the U.S. would rule in this happy event, but not for lack of evidence.

At about the same time, the International Energy Agency reported that, with rapidly increasing carbon emissions from fossil fuel use, the limit of safety will be reached by 2017 if the world continues on its present course. “The door is closing,” the IEA chief economist said, and very soon it “will be closed forever.”

Shortly before the U.S. Department of Energy reported the most recent carbon dioxide emissions figures, which “jumped by the biggest amount on record” to a level higher than the worst-case scenario anticipated by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  That came as no surprise to many scientists, including the MIT program on climate change, which for years has warned that the IPCC predictions are too conservative.

Such critics of the IPCC predictions receive virtually no public attention, unlike the fringe of denialists who are supported by the corporate sector, along with huge propaganda campaigns that have driven Americans off the international spectrum in dismissal of the threats.  Business support also translates directly to political power.  Denialism is part of the catechism that must be intoned by Republican candidates in the farcical election campaign now in progress, and in Congress they are powerful enough to abort even efforts to inquire into the effects of global warming, let alone do anything serious about it.

In brief, American decline can perhaps be stemmed if we abandon hope for decent survival, prospects that are all too real given the balance of forces in the world.

“Losing” China and Vietnam

Putting such unpleasant thoughts aside, a close look at American decline shows that China indeed plays a large role, as it has for 60 years.  The decline that now elicits such concern is not a recent phenomenon.  It traces back to the end of World War II, when the U.S. had half the world’s wealth and incomparable security and global reach.  Planners were naturally well aware of the enormous disparity of power, and intended to keep it that way.

The basic viewpoint was outlined with admirable frankness in a major state paper of 1948 (PPS 23).  The author was one of the architects of the New World Order of the day, the chair of the State Department Policy Planning Staff, the respected statesman and scholar George Kennan, a moderate dove within the planning spectrum.  He observed that the central policy goal was to maintain the “position of disparity” that separated our enormous wealth from the poverty of others.  To achieve that goal, he advised, “We should cease to talk about vague and… unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization,” and must “deal in straight power concepts,” not “hampered by idealistic slogans” about “altruism and world-benefaction.”

Kennan was referring specifically to Asia, but the observations generalize, with exceptions, for participants in the U.S.-run global system.  It was well understood that the “idealistic slogans” were to be displayed prominently when addressing others, including the intellectual classes, who were expected to promulgate them.

The plans that Kennan helped formulate and implement took for granted that the U.S. would control the Western Hemisphere, the Far East, the former British empire (including the incomparable energy resources of the Middle East), and as much of Eurasia as possible, crucially its commercial and industrial centers.  These were not unrealistic objectives, given the distribution of power.  But decline set in at once.

In 1949, China declared independence, an event known in Western discourse as “the loss of China” — in the U.S., with bitter recriminations and conflict over who was responsible for that loss.  The terminology is revealing.  It is only possible to lose something that one owns.  The tacit assumption was that the U.S. owned China, by right, along with most of the rest of the world, much as postwar planners assumed.

The “loss of China” was the first major step in “America’s decline.” It had major policy consequences.  One was the immediate decision to support France’s effort to reconquer its former colony of Indochina, so that it, too, would not be “lost.”

Indochina itself was not a major concern, despite claims about its rich resources by President Eisenhower and others.  Rather, the concern was the “domino theory,” which is often ridiculed when dominoes don’t fall, but remains a leading principle of policy because it is quite rational.  To adopt Henry Kissinger’s version, a region that falls out of control can become a “virus” that will “spread contagion,” inducing others to follow the same path.

In the case of Vietnam, the concern was that the virus of independent development might infect Indonesia, which really does have rich resources.  And that might lead Japan — the “superdomino” as it was called by the prominent Asia historian John Dower — to “accommodate” to an independent Asia as its technological and industrial center in a system that would escape the reach of U.S. power.  That would mean, in effect, that the U.S. had lost the Pacific phase of World War II, fought to prevent Japan’s attempt to establish such a New Order in Asia.

The way to deal with such a problem is clear: destroy the virus and “inoculate” those who might be infected.  In the Vietnam case, the rational choice was to destroy any hope of successful independent development and to impose brutal dictatorships in the surrounding regions.  Those tasks were successfully carried out — though history has its own cunning, and something similar to what was feared has since been developing in East Asia, much to Washington’s dismay.

The most important victory of the Indochina wars was in 1965, when a U.S.-backed military coup in Indonesia led by General Suharto carried out massive crimes that were compared by the CIA to those of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.  The “staggering mass slaughter,” as the New York Times described it, was reported accurately across the mainstream, and with unrestrained euphoria.

It was “a gleam of light in Asia,” as the noted liberal commentator James Reston wrote in the Times.  The coup ended the threat of democracy by demolishing the mass-based political party of the poor, established a dictatorship that went on to compile one of the worst human rights records in the world, and threw the riches of the country open to western investors.  Small wonder that, after many other horrors, including the near-genocidal invasion of East Timor, Suharto was welcomed by the Clinton administration in 1995 as “our kind of guy.”

Years after the great events of 1965, Kennedy-Johnson National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy reflected that it would have been wise to end the Vietnam war at that time, with the “virus” virtually destroyed and the primary domino solidly in place, buttressed by other U.S.-backed dictatorships throughout the region.

Similar procedures have been routinely followed elsewhere.  Kissinger was referring specifically to the threat of socialist democracy in Chile.  That threat was ended on another forgotten date, what Latin Americans call “the first 9/11,” which in violence and bitter effects far exceeded the 9/11 commemorated in the West.  A vicious dictatorship was imposed in Chile, one part of a plague of brutal repression that spread through Latin America, reaching Central America under Reagan.  Viruses have aroused deep concern elsewhere as well, including the Middle East, where the threat of secular nationalism has often concerned British and U.S. planners, inducing them to support radical Islamic fundamentalism to counter it.

The Concentration of Wealth and American Decline

Despite such victories, American decline continued.  By 1970, U.S. share of world wealth had dropped to about 25%, roughly where it remains, still colossal but far below the end of World War II.  By then, the industrial world was “tripolar”: US-based North America, German-based Europe, and East Asia, already the most dynamic industrial region, at the time Japan-based, but by now including the former Japanese colonies Taiwan and South Korea, and more recently China.

At about that time, American decline entered a new phase: conscious self-inflicted decline.  From the 1970s, there has been a significant change in the U.S. economy, as planners, private and state, shifted it toward financialization and the offshoring of production, driven in part by the declining rate of profit in domestic manufacturing.  These decisions initiated a vicious cycle in which wealth became highly concentrated (dramatically so in the top 0.1% of the population), yielding concentration of political power, hence legislation to carry the cycle further: taxation and other fiscal policies, deregulation, changes in the rules of corporate governance allowing huge gains for executives, and so on.

Meanwhile, for the majority, real wages largely stagnated, and people were able to get by only by sharply increased workloads (far beyond Europe), unsustainable debt, and repeated bubbles since the Reagan years, creating paper wealth that inevitably disappeared when they burst (and the perpetrators were bailed out by the taxpayer).  In parallel, the political system has been increasingly shredded as both parties are driven deeper into corporate pockets with the escalating cost of elections, the Republicans to the level of farce, the Democrats (now largely the former “moderate Republicans”) not far behind.

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, which has been the major source of reputable data on these developments for years, is entitled Failure by Design.  The phrase “by design” is accurate.  Other choices were certainly possible.  And as the study points out, the “failure” is class-based.  There is no failure for the designers.  Far from it.  Rather, the policies are a failure for the large majority, the 99% in the imagery of the Occupy movements — and for the country, which has declined and will continue to do so under these policies.

One factor is the offshoring of manufacturing.  As the solar panel example mentioned earlier illustrates, manufacturing capacity provides the basis and stimulus for innovation leading to higher stages of sophistication in production, design, and invention.  That, too, is being outsourced, not a problem for the “money mandarins” who increasingly design policy, but a serious problem for working people and the middle classes, and a real disaster for the most oppressed, African Americans, who have never escaped the legacy of slavery and its ugly aftermath, and whose meager wealth virtually disappeared after the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008, setting off the most recent financial crisis, the worst so far.


Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. He is the author of numerous best-selling political works. 

[Note: Part 2 of Noam Chomsky’s discussion of American decline, “The Imperial Way,” .]


Oilpocalypse? Shell’s Arctic Drilling Plans Move Forward

Shell’s plans for drilling in the ecologically sensitive areas in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas are one step closer to becoming reality.

As The Hill reports:

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is a step closer to drilling in fragile waters off Alaska’s northern coast following an EPA appeals board’s Thursday denial of green group challengesto a pair of air pollution permits.

The agency’s independent Environmental Appeals Board denied review of Clean Air Act permits that EPA granted Shell for its controversial plans to drill in the ecologically fragile Beaufort and Chukchi Seas this summer.

The Houston Chronicle reports:

Shell received conditional federal approval last month to drill six exploratory wells in the Arctic offshore region but still must secure permits for individual wells.

Environmental groups are planning their next steps. The Associated Press reports:

Earthjustice attorney Colin O’Brien, who represented groups that filed one of four air permit appeals, said it an email response to questions that the decision could be appealed in federal court, but that it was too early to speculate about potential next steps.

He said EPA took shortcuts when it issued the permits and failed to fully protect Arctic air quality as required by the Clean Air Act.

“These permits pave the way for Shell to emit thousands of tons of harmful air pollution into the pristine Arctic environment, at levels that may be harmful to nearby communities and the environment for years to come,” he said. “We are disappointed that the Environmental Appeals Board decided against us and allowed EPA’s permit decisions to stand.

In October green groups appealed the EPA’s decision to grant Shell Clean Air Act permits to shell.

“These permits mark the start of full-scale industrial oil exploitation of the extremely sensitive Arctic. Oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean comes with unacceptable risks of spills that could have catastrophic impacts on Arctic wildlife and the communities that rely on the Arctic environment,” said Center for Biological Diversity attorney Vera Pardee. “We witnessed devastating damage from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill; the turbulent, icy, dark and remote conditions of the Arctic would make cleanup there even harder — next to impossible. Drilling in Arctic waters is an extremely bad idea.”


Coca-Cola Supports Swazi Dictator

report about the relationship between Coca-Cola and King Mswati III of Swaziland has been published in the media across the world during the past 24 hours. It is based on a statement from the Swaziland Democracy Campaign calling for the drinks firm to sever its ties with the last absolute monarch in sub-Saharan Africa. Continue reading

Marx On Globalisation

For the past two decades “globalisation” has become the buzzword. In recent history hardly any other process has dominated the spectrum of social science as globalisation. From political scientists to economists, from right wingers to the ultra leftist, from academics to corporate managers everyone has been analysing and trying to understand this phenomenon unfolding before us all. Like the Russian roulette the unfolding globalisation has in itself all the tragicomic events causing a global Domino ripple hitherto unheard and unseen.

In this entire drama what is intriguing is the fact the as more and more world enters into the so-called “global age”, the analysis and ‘prophesies’ of Marx increasingly seems to be coming true.

At the dissolution of Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the “end of ideology” and capitalism’s indisputable victory and consigning Marxism to dust bin of history. Hardly did he imagine that less than a decade and half the very same bourgeoisies economist and intelligentsia would be forced to read and re-read the works of a person, termed the ‘Satan’ more than 150 years after his death. A person whom they have refuted ad infinitum and terming his views as anachronistic.

It must have been quite difficult for the international speculator George Soros – the revered new age financial guru –by the mainstream media and the bourgeoisie world over to write:

Global Capitalism “is coming apart at the seams”

John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge of the fiercely pro market The Economist in their book A Future Perfect: The Challenges and hidden Promise of Globalisation:

“As a prophet of socialism Marx may be kaput; but as a prophet of the ‘Universal interdependence of nation’ as he called globalisation, he can still seem startling relevant ….his description of globalisation remains as sharp today as it was 150 years ago”

So it becomes pertinent to understand how Marx investigated and analysed the process of ‘globalisation’. Though he never used the term ‘globalisation’ per say of capital yet the underlying meaning is clearly discernable in the Marxian term ‘world market’ and ‘foreign trade’. Both of them, being liberally used in the extant text of Marx (and of course also Engels). For Marx ‘capitalism’ represented a specific mode of production characterised by the separation of producer (i.e. the workers) from the means of production, based on wage, labour and capital.
….labour is the workers own life activity, the manifestation of his own life. And this life activity he sells to another person in order to secure the necessary means of subsistence.
(Karl Marx, Wage Labour and Capital, Pg 153, Selected Works Vol. 1, Progress Publisher, Moscow 1977, USSR)

The commodification of labour, says Marx is specific characteristic of Capitalism:
“Labour power was not always commodity.”

The Capitalist Mode of Production (C.M.P)

“….replaces and put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations”  (Karl Marx and Fredric Engels; Communist Manifesto (CM), SW 1, Pg 111).

Unlike earlier mode of production, the Capitalist Mode of Production takes the form of commodity. Labour subsumes under capital, and every occupation become a “paid wage labour” (Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto, Pg 111) to the bourgeoisie.

Here it is important to understand how the Capitalist Mode of Production differs from all the other historic modes of production that it succeeded.

Where as in all the pre-Capitalist Mode of Production, the society was driven by need, CMP replaced it with exchange. To elaborate, a product in the pre Capitalist society was in demand for its value of utilization (or need) by the consumers, it is diametrically different case in the capitalist society.

In CMP products take form of commodity.

A commodity is an exchangeable product used to satisfy human need. Every commodity has an associated value associated to it. This value can further be sub categorized into use-value and Exchange value (or simply value). The utility the thing makes constitutes its use-value. Wher as the exchange value (or simply value) is proportion in which a certain number of use-values of one kind can be exchanged for certain number use values of other kinds. A common feature of all commodities is that they are “product of labour”. Each particular commodity represents only a certain share of “socially necessary ‘labour time’. The magnitude of value is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour for the production of a given commodity.

“Whenever by an exchange, we equate as value our different products by that very act, we also equate as human labour, the different kind of labour expended upon them. We are not aware of this nevertheless we do it.”

(Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, Ch. 1, Section 4, Progress Publishers, Moscow, USSR)
Further for a commodity the exchange value constitutes the quantitative value and the use value represents the quantitative aspect of value. In determining the price of a commodity the use value constitutes the substratum of the price of a commodity.

The value of a commodity consists in the fact that its owner relinquishes its own use value and pockets its exchange value.
(Engels, Housing Question III, SW Vol.2)

The pre capitalist social formation were characterised by use-value in CMP it is the exchange value which dominates, hence the Surplus Value (SV), that though present in all class divided society assumes a much greater significance. Whereas the surplus value can originate outside the sphere of production in pre Capitalist Mode of Production, where it represents essentially a transfer value (so-called primitive accumulation of capital) and is circumscribed by the approximate fixed cycle if needs. But under CMP where capital controls and dominates the sphere of production, it assumes significance, as it represents a constant increase in value.

The Capitalist Mode of Production thus is characterised by lust of production, that drives it into a maddening rage, termed by Marx as ‘enrichment mania’

“The enrichment mania itself is impossible without money, the common form in which all commodities are transformed as exchange values. All other accumulation and passion for accumulation appear as naturally given, limited, on the one hand by needs, and, on the other hand, conditioned by the limited nature if the product.” (Marx, contribution to the Critique of political Economy)

Thus it is only under CMP that exchange value replaces the need value.

“….it is the exchange value and not use value which is the determining end-in-itself of the movement”. (Marx, Capital Vol.1, Progress Publishers, Moscow, USSR)

Further Marx writes “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instrument of production and thereby the relation of production and with them the whole relation of society”. (KM, CM, Pg 111)

While investigating the process of production, Marx analysed in detail he Theory of Surplus Value — which he described as his most important contribution to the progress of economic analysis. (Marx, Letter to Engels, 24 August 1867)

The production of surplus value was widely used by Marx during his course of analysis of Capitalist Mode of Production one finds its repeated use in Marx’s extant text. The limitation of space prohibits us from going in detail of discussing about surplus Value which in itself constitutes separate topic of discussion.

As if commenting on the current trend of imperialism and the multinationals to homoginise the word order, Marx wrote:

“….the bourgeoisie has through it exploitation if the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries whose introduction became a life and death question for all civilized nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zone; industries whose products are consumed not only at home but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes….

The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian nations into civilization.” (Marx and Engels, CM, Pg.112)

“Capital” writes Marx, “also is a social relation of production. It is a bourgeoisie production relation, a production relation of bourgeoisie society.” He further writes “Capital consists not only of means of subsistence, instruments of labour and raw material or only of material products; it consists just as much exchange values, all the products of which it consists are commodities. Capital is therefore, not only a sum of material product; it is a sum of commodities, of exchange values, of social magnitude.”
(Marx, Wage, Labour and Capital, SW Vol. 1, Pg 160)

In CMP there exists “the epidemic of over production..” capitalist production in no way produces at an arbitrary level. On the contrary the mot it develops the more it is compelled to produce on a scale which has nothing to do with immediate demands, but which depends on the continuous enlargement of the world market. (The bourgeois i.e. capital cannot stop this spiral growth of “production for production’s sake as an end in itself” (Marx, ibid)

The modern bourgeoisie society, says Marx, with its relations of production of exchange a n of production and of exchange, is like sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the power of the nether world whom he has called up by his spell (KM, CM, 113)

The bourgeoisie society has to sustain this growth not only sustain they have to augment it for their own survival. “the essential condition for the existence and for the sway of the bourgeoisie class, is the formation and augmentation of capital…” (KM, CM 119)

Let us recall that the hallmark of a Capitalist Mode of Production is the appropriation of Surplus Value. In all other previous modes of production, it was the use value and not exchange value which governed the production, but in CMP the use value is replaced by exchange value, hence unlike the pre Capitalist Mode of Production, the Surplus Value hence generated cannot be circumscribed.

On the contrary the CMP the value of surplus Value assumes far greater importance and becomes the dominant theme. The capital can only generate more Surplus Value if it keeps itself in the circuitous motion. Marx’s brilliant and much famed formula (M-C….P….C’ -M’) elucidates this motion. This circuitous motion can only sustain itself if the external trade develops and reaches to the ‘world market’. The external trade transforms the ‘market’ into ‘new market’. this develops the true nature of value of the surplus product. This world market changes the character of money that money now develops into world money while the abstract labour metamorphosis into social labour.

The edifice of CMP rests on the development of labour as social labour. The entire transformation can only happen on the basis of external trade and the enlargement of the world
As capital tends to create surplus value continuously, it creates complimentary poles of exchange, thus propagate CMP across the globe.

The world market is therefore the pre-supposition as well as result of the capitalist production.
(Marx, Theorien Uber den Mehrwert, vol 3 (1861-1863), Berlin)

Each limit from point of capital is an obstruction that has to be surmounted, even at the cost of the destruction of productive force.
“Capital tends to submit each moment of production itself to exchange, to substitute its own mode of production for modes of production (appearing earlier) which it finds too much rooted in nature. (Marx, Grundrisse der kritik der political economy)

Thus capital tends to root out all other modes of production, that it comes to view as obstructionist in its incessant growth, hence it goes on a spree of destruction of all vestiges of the earlier society.

They (feudal mode of production) had to be burst as under, they were burst asunder
(Communist Manifesto, SW1)

Then capital goes on to homoginise the world in its own image. “it compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeoisie mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst i.e. to become bourgeois itself. In one word it creates a world after its own image (KM, CM, 112)

All determination is negative, and all negation is determination wrote Karl Marx in the first manuscript of Capital

Capital in its own course of temporal spatial development, strewn with plunder, enslavement, dispersion of masses perpetrated at a scale unknown to human beings sows its own seed of negation.

The class it creates for its own development exacerbates its own nemesis. The proletariats stands directly confronting it and halting its death march to crate a new society. One hand the bourgeois society carries within its own womb seed of its own destruction; on the pother it creates the material foundation of a new society.

The CMP is credited for the development of productive forces, which it has carried forward more than any previous mode of production.

“Only such a movement on a world scale makes possible the replacement of local individuals whose horizon is world –historic (Marx, German Ideology)

Marx Economist or Revolutionary

With all analysis of Marxism a central point that one should never forget is that Marx above all was an internationalist and a revolutionary. The academia and generally the resurgent Marxist academia of the first world while discussing the Marxian theory of capitalism; overemphasizes on the “economist” Marx, while forgetting the real Marx—the internationalist revolutionary Marx.
Amidst their economic jargon and mathematical equations, somewhere the soul of Marx is completely neglected. The works of Marx and Engels above all their analysis and interpretation carries within itself the ultimate goal for which they were penned. The class anger, the historical program of awakening the working class from their slumber is today what is missing from the scores of papers produced every year from the numerous universities and research institutions. Economic Marxism cannot be isolated from its overall superset of political economy. Marxism is not another subset of Economics enumerating statistics and devoid of any human emotions. It is a methodology of analysing the ills that is plaguing the present society and how to end this impasse.

Marx profoundly wrote about the ‘interdependence of the nations’ as well as the ‘positive side of capital’ his admiration of CMP as a superior economic system can be seen from the following lines where though against the devastating effects of British imperialism in India, he appreciates the bourgeois as it [will] …

“….create the material basis of the new world—on the one hand the universal intercourse founded upon the mutual dependency of mankind, and the means of that intercourse…”
(Marx, Future Results of British Rule in India, SW 1 199)

He expressed his optimism that colonial power whatever may have the crimes of England (in case of India) she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution. Thus for Marx the process of interdependence of nation would bring about not only benefits for the bourgeois but would hasten the social transformation of the pre Capitalist Mode of Production societies.
In 1847, addressing the workers, Marx termed big industries, the free trade and world market as the ‘positive side of capital’. Without capitalism there would have been no proletariat, neither could the material means for the worker’s emancipation and the foundation of a new society could be laid. He believed capitalism as an historically inevitable, a step along the path of humanities destiny.

Based on this theses Marx declared his unequivocal support for Free Trade. While giving lecture on the ‘Corn Law’ he proclaimed his full support for free trade:

Why Marx Justified Free Trade

Justifying his ‘vote for free trade’ Marx explained “The system of free trade is destructive. It dissolves the old nationality and drives towards extreme antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. In a word the system of free trade hastens social revolution.”

On the whole the CMP to meet its pre destines fate, it has to become unbearable not only for the few but to the whole class of working people. Producing a masses of individuals deprived of means of living on one hand and at the other immense wealth confronting the deprived concentrated in hands of few; dominating their every aspect of life as an alien power. The world market then becomes the playground where this process finds its most brutal expression and the logical conclusion.

Contradiction is pre requisite for progress. The only way a mode of production paves way for the other more superior mode of production is by the historical development of their inherent contradiction. The capitalist system continuously seeks to overcome its inherent antagonism. But its crisis keeps recurring, and assumes the form of cycle.

In the opening chapter of ‘Capital’ Marx termed the inherent cyclical crisis as the character of Capitalism:

If the interval in time between the two complementary phase of the complete metamorphosis of a commodity become too great, if the split between the sale and purchase becomes too pronounced, the intimate connection between them, their oneness, asserts itself by producing — a crisis. The anti theses, use value and value (i.e. exchange value — P.); the contradictions that private labour is bound to manifest itself as direct social labour , that a particularised concrete kind of labour has to pass for abstract human labour; the contradiction between the personification of objects and the representation of persons by things; all these antitheses and contradictions, which are immanent in commodities, assert themselves, and develop their modes of motion; in metamorphosis of a commodity, these modes therefore imply the possibility, and no more than the possibility of crises. The conversion of this mere possibility and no more than the possibility crises. The conversion of this mere possibility into reality is the result of a long series of relations…..(Marx, Capital vol.-I)

In the Communist Manifesto Marx pellucidly explains the capitalist’s futile attempt to overcome the periodic crises.

“And how does the bourgeois get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other by conquest of new market, and by the more through exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented”.

“Capitalist production begets with the necessity of a natural process, its own negation. What is glaring in this periodic crises is the revolt of the bourgeoisie’s ‘grave diggers’ against their own ‘producers.’

Rising like phoenix arises the workers now not alone but as a class forming a movement that unlike all previous movement is “the self conscious movement independent movement of the immense majority.” Smashing along its triumphal march the present and all vestiges of past modes of production that hitherto were based on one class exploiting other; the proletariats march towards forming “Union of Free Individuals”, heralding the exploitation less “Associated Mode of Production.” Superior than all the other system and thus entering ushering an era of proletarian internationalism, the globalised society of the masses.

“History is Judge, its executioner—the proletariats”

Notes and Reference:

The works cited, apart from Capital, of Karl Marx, has been referenced from “Karl Marx and Frederick Engels Selected Works (in three volumes), Progress Publishers, Moscow”. The volume and page numbers cited are as they appeared in the Fourth printing 1977 of the selected works.

 This article was written in 2008 and published in Counter Currents