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ASAYAKE

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Loren Goldner speaks on the crisis of American Capitalism

Live on KPFA's "Guns and Butter", definitely worth giving an attentive listening to.

I promised to put up some comments and I'm afraid that they are mostly just scribblings, trying to catch up with the obviously deep pool of knowledge that Loren is working with. I've been inspired by this broadcast to deepen my own understanding of financial markets, and especially how American and Japanese capitalists contain crises through them. Give it a listen, I'm sure it will give you food for thought (and action).

Goldner opens by describing the post-September 11th wars as among other things, American capitalists "running forward to avoid crisis in the rear", which is characterized by the need to prop up the dollar standard internationally, and therefore assert American military influence. The crises of the dollar standard stems chiefly from the expansion of lines of credit to American consumers, one expression of this being the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

This is an example of the consumer-centered expansion that American capital underwent after WWII, a process that was pregnant with contradictions, because while simultaneously allowing for increased working class consumption, the consumer boom increased imports from places like China, East Asia and the Middle East, creating a dependency relationship of US capital on these economies for their low-priced commodities, and the reverse, a massive investiture of third world capital in the US dollar.

In the post-war world, the new international system was backed by the dollar, which became the international currency standard when the gold standard was finally abandoned in 1971 by the US. Goldner mentions how this gave the US a unique vantage of being able to inflate or deflate the world economy by withholding or printing dollars. And yet, the reconstructed economies such as Germany and Japan, as well as America's ballooning trade deficit (from 1 trillion to 4 in the Reagan era) were soon to threaten this hegemony. Not to mention that, when national inflation hit the states, those foreign countries that held stock in US treasury bonds or dollars generally began to feel the decline in value of their investments.

The 1960s also saw a renewed cycle of working class wildcat strikes and struggles, such as the wildcats of the Appalachian coal miners, which helped push the American energy sector into a search for foreign sources of energy. Goldner describes third world accumulation movements like these as 'looting'. He points out that this looting is simultaneously a local feature of the domestic capitalist economy. Not only is loot found internationally in countries with cheaper wages and natural resources, but also inside the US, by looting what seems to the capitalist class to be unnecessary for immediate reproduction: social services, education, health care, pensions etc. Labor from the third world is also brought in as loot, in order to bring domestic wages down.

Goldner mentions that by the end of the 1960s, socially necessary labor time had been reduced to such an extent by gains in productivity that it could be superseded by a better system (communism). Although the preconditions for such a revolution were present in this period, one did not occur. What did happen was an international revolt of the working class against older forms of fordist labor such as the assembly line.

That absence of revolution leads problematically to what Goldner describes as 'real retrogression', wherein capital turns on society in order to 'loot' when it has reached a barrier of expansion (of course capital also 'escapes' and flows into other countries in search of cheap labor and raw materials). Goldner makes it clear that this crisis begins in the sphere of production and not in the sphere of circulation (the anti-globalization movement holds the reverse to be true). He describes how capitalism undermines the paper value of things, wherein real depreciation (not only physical depreciation but relative depreciation via falling average fixed capital prices) of assets lead to attacks on wages. This happens because the loans for these now-depreciated assets have to be repaid at the same amount they were taken out at. When this occurs at an industry level, you have the beginnings of a crisis.

He mentions the ambitions for a leisure society in the 1960s and how this ideal has mostly been forgotten. Certainly it is almost a taboo in this country (Japan) to even come out in favor of leisure. Working long, unrewarding overtime hours is simply de-facto. The initiative to investigate the circumstances that demand these sacrifices is also nearly non-existent. So it's good to see that someone is still willing to shout out loud that this turn away from leisure is absolutely a 'real retrogression'.

My curiosity was peaked when Goldner mentions Brzezinski's statement that East Asia represents the main potential rival to the United States. Surely there are already movements in Japan towards a base anti-Americanism, and if what we are seeing today in Iraq, with the bombing of the Green Zone and the anti-enlightenment nationalist/Islamist insurgency continuing appeal, American power is in severe decline. One of the key allies of the American government is Japan, whose SDF have been dutifully carrying munitions on cargo planes for the Americans after having a remarkably unsuccessful go at reconstructing Iraq's Samawah province. Today we can see the changing shape of imperial relations, with Japanese prime minister Abe Shinzo welcoming Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to Tokyo. The absolute media spectacle accompanying this visit is a site to behold. The morning and evening news were almost filled with pissant images of Wen sauntering about Kyoto looking at Koi and saying 'delicious' after being fed things. It's almost hilarious to watch Abe's government making this effort to heal wounds with the same East Asian countries that have been relentlessly demonized in the Japanese media for years. But China's continual neo-liberal reforms mean that its economy is attractive for Japan in particular but also other countries, and its military power has the potential to put down not only domestic unrest, as it does regularly (never forget that this man is a butcher) but also revolt or separatism in East Asia at large.

Back to the subject at hand, following his analysis of American decline, Goldner recommends Emmanuel Todd's "After Empire" which examines this collapse. To combat the decay of confidence in the dollar, Goldner argues that creating chaos in certain sections of the world would serve US interests in keeping the world from bolting away from the dollar-dominated financial economy. Obviously this is true to a certain extent, although the word 'chaos' is too vague and prone to manipulation.* American policy abroad is, like any capitalist-driven endeavor, not driven by vague dart throwing, but by finding the path of least resistance, the local ruling class that will cooperate for the least amount of blood and treasure. The support given by the American government to the death squad-linked Iraqi governments (especially Maliki) as well as past support for the Afghan mujahideen, Chechen nationalists and so on, has certainly created 'chaos', but this chaos is actually imperialist warfare. Now after four years of war in Iraq, the Americans have turned to arming local ruling classes in place of direct intervention. This can be seen most recently in the American effort to upgrade Saudi Arabia's military for what will ultimately be the regional war whose contours have been visible at least since the second Lebanon war.

Goldner, however, reminds us that there is still a path out of the barbarism that characterizes the methods and compromises of the imperialists and the anti-imperialists, that a society organized on truly socially necessary work time is still possible, and that such a society could eliminate the market imperative to an average rate of profit, one which produces an uncontainable pressure within the capitalist economy that, as history has shown, leads to crisis, which can only be overcome by an outward push for loot or domestic cannibalization. The society that could overcome this violence is still called communism, despite the liars who claim its mantel even today.

Break their Haughty Power (Loren Goldner's website)
Left Communism and Trotskyism: A Roundtable

*We could note how much a counter-productive focus on conspiracy and chaos can distort analysis, leading to the sad situation where even 'Guns and Butter', the show that hosted the interview, with an obviously intelligent host, is deeply immersed in conspiracy theorist ideology. See their archives for some examples of "real retrogression": http://www.gunsandbutter.net/archives.php

Comments:
Really good talk.

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