The 2008 crisis never ended. The recession was followed by a stagnation, the famous sawtooth, which revealed its objective difficulties in maintaining accumulation and which, as a trend, showed an irreparable destruction of productive forces. It must be clear that under the logic of capital, accumulation, when it develops freely, does not produce a stationary state, but increasingly rapid growth, increasingly steep GDP curves. And yet, eleven years after the financial crisis, in December 2019, with no pandemic on the horizon yet, 2020 forecasts were those of a general worsening of economic conditions, accelerated in turn by the trade war with which each state or group of states was trying to scrape out opportunities and internal markets for its own national capital.
The pandemic outbreak and lockdowns produced an abrupt fall in global production and trade, accelerating the process. And now, measures of recovery href=”https://elpais.com/economia/2020-10-18/espana-renuncia-a-pedir-ahora-70000-millones-en-creditos-europeos.html”>herald a new austerity even before executing and recovering anything at all.
Since covid is not the cause of the crisis, we should not think about the end of the lockdowns or general vaccination as its solution. By first affecting China, the great engine of world trade, the epidemic quickly showed its economic consequences. But China is also the only country that has known how and wanted to effectively control contagion. Faced with an outbreak, however small, China massively mobilizes resources and generates new knowledge and protocols to be applied from them. And yet, although it has recovered growth, it achieved significantly less than expected growth.
In fact, the new Chinese five-year plan is not based on a global expectation of worldwide recovery, but on what they call dual development. It is basically a defensive response to the trade war and the uncertainty in economic relations with the EU, the US and their allies. The goal is to reduce dependence on foreign trade and investment in any region that is insecure in the medium term for Chinese capital. The new strategy consists of redirecting surplus capital to investments in the a href=”https://www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3104316/chinas-new-economic-dual-circulation-strategy-may-not-just-be”areas of Chinese direct influence, where there is no fear of sudden political changes, and the west of the country, which is more secure militarily. The strategy implies, domestically, to accelerate the forced proletarianization of millions of peasants and, externally, to consolidate relations where the advantage to be obtained in the short term could become insurmountable for competitors, as in Argentina or Central Asia. Meanwhile, at the same time, the technological fracture is accelerating, turning any trade partnership with China into an adoption of a complementarity with increasingly strong exit barriers.
What does this all mean? That even if the Chinese figures recover the momentum of a decade ago, which is more than doubtful, they will increasingly have less impact outside their direct area of influence. China is going to be less and less the locomotive of global capital. It is passing, in its own way and more smoothly, to the same thing that happened to the United States with Trumpism and that, if he finally achieves victory in fifteen days, will be maintained, under other forms, under Biden.
The period 2008-2019, which we can only see as the first stage of this crisis, put the achievement of positive trade balances at the forefront of the priorities of all national capitals. The US itself redefined its security policy to make it subject to the renegotiation of trade agreements with allies and competitors. A country with much weaker capitals, such as Turkey, has created an arch of conflict that goes from Azerbaijan to Libya through Syria and Sudan to try to get into negotiating tables from which to renegotiate their access to markets controlled by Germany and Russia and to dispute the gas resources off their coasts. India has been maintaining hot borders and permanent war tension with China for months in order to recover commercial space and internal destinations for its own capital. And if we broaden the perspective, year after year, week after week what we see is a multiplication of armed conflicts with more than two external powers involved, a new military-spatial race underway and a boom in the development of nuclear weapons alongside trade war and growing currency conflicts.
Will this change in the new phase of the crisis? The trend we see is more towards an extension of the regions in conflict and an increasingly direct and open involvement of major powers. The tensions and continuous movements and military deployments on China’s maritime borders and in the Himalayas are the model of what is to come. The entry of South America and the Arctic among the hot zones has already become a common scenario of military planning. The Mediterranean is already one and is likely to become even more so in the relatively near future.
For most of the period ending with the pandemic, all these systemic contradictions translate into a rise in the rebellion -necessarily sterile- of the petty bourgeoisie. Spain is a good example for its diversity: from 2011 with the 15M to Vox’s motion of censure the day after tomorrow, in the middle the Catalan independentist boom and the proclamation of independence, the rise of Podemos and the regionalist forces, the denialist demonstrations during the pandemic… Everything concurs in a crisis of the political apparatus that in turn aggravates the fractures within the ruling class and the state always bordering on institutional crisis. The phenomenon is global, growing spectacularly since 2017 (Algeria, Italy, Germany, France, Hong Kong, Ecuador, Chile…). They are, without a doubt, a stick in the wheel of the ruling class and its policies of recovery of capital in the face of the crisis.
But we must highlight two more facts that were very visible in 2019: in the first place, that throughout the period and in an increasingly open manner as big capital recovers, what these movements are demanding under the most colorful slogans and demands, is the participation of the petty bourgeoisie in the transfer of income from labor to capital that the anti-crisis policies have put into effect and from which the petty bourgeoisie feels excluded. Although they are trying to close the gap through the discourse of transversality, the contradictions between the popular movements and the needs of the workers are manifesting themselves ever more clearly. Secondly, their own political powerlessness tends to make these movements candidates for implementation by rival powers as we saw in Iraq or Hong Kong.
Once the pandemic began, the evolution of these movements has been uneven. Institutional parties are still trying to absorb them with varying degrees of success. Some quarters have been driven to delirium, others have been enthusiastically integrated into the push towards new ideologies of war. In no case can they be considered as finished. On the contrary, the development of the crisis can only revive some and revive others, surely transpiring even more desperation and, at least in their leftist expressions, seeking to frame workers in order to march even more decisively towards nothingness.
The end of the first phase of the crisis, since the end of 2017, brought us the reappearance of the mass strike and in general the emergence of class demands from 2017 Iran to Matamoros (Mexico) in 2019 and the wildcat strike of the railway workers in France. We even had the first student mobilization that really raised class demands.
In other words, the period 2008-2019 closes with a global tendency towards the reappearance of workers’ struggles in increasingly clear terms of confrontation with the trade union structures and their messages of subordination of demands to profits, whether those of the company or the national economy (=capital). This qualitative change, which revises and in many cases overcomes or puts in place the elements to be overcome, the impasses of the last great world wave of struggles that ended in the mid or late eighties, becomes quantitative with the pandemic. Strikes are growing again, although with them, for the moment, are also growing the unions and therefore their limitations.
Where is all this going?
Taking some perspective, the current situation is one of an acceleration, mediated by the conditions of the pandemic, of the contradictions that had been developing with increasing violence in the previous period. Capitalism is in a long historical crisis. Accumulation has been in an increasingly difficult global situation for ten years and the strategies of each sector and each national capital are only making it worse. The extension of wars and armed conflicts increasingly dangerous, potentially more globalizable is the expression of the maximum level of contradictions reached so far. For the same reasons, within each state, capital needs to transfer income and resources to regain its dynamics. The result in terms of pauperization and precarization of massive sectors of the proletariat is evident and daily.
But in the face of this multiplication of contradictions and attacks, until now it has been the petty bourgeoisie in its different factions and sectors that has taken the lead. Not to stop them, obviously, but to take cover from these attacks, more and more clearly at the expense of the workers. The workers, for their part, began to react with more and more strength after 2018 and with broader movements during this same year. And yet, all these movements and struggles, in general, continue to lag behind the situation’ s evolution, although … they are increasingly less behind, increasingly closer to being able to represent a real force capable of offering and imposing a historic departure.
What is clear is that for this to happen, it is also necessary for workers to provide themselves with tools and political expressions able to serve as catalysts for these processes. That is, you are needed.