Capitalism, Communism, and The Dialectics of History
Eddie J. Girdner
A few days ago a colleague said to me: “Well, the US succeeded in destroying the Communist system. They succeeded in destroying Communism in the Soviet Union.” It is amazing how many people still believe this piece of propaganda that the US and the global media spread after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I told my colleague that the US did not destroy Communism but rather destroyed capitalism. The U.S. destroyed capitalism, the way it had operated for half a century before the onslaught of neoliberalism.
Its simple Jack, the Americans destroyed capitalism and the Russians destroyed Communism.
Leaving aside the fact that capitalism, as described in theory, has never really existed anywhere, the post-war Fordist system of industrial capitalism was a functioning system of “capitalism”, of sorts, successful largely due to the special conditions which gave the US its special hegemonic position in the world market following World War II. But as Marx predicted, over time, the rate of profit fell in the mature capitalist system. This trend was exacerbated by the rise of competition from Japan and Western Europe by the l960s. In order to reverse the trend of the falling rate of profit, and the situation whereby workers in America had won the political right to a decent wage through great struggle, US policymakers decided to dismantle the system. This, despite the fact that American workers never enjoyed as many benefits and holidays as the workers in Europe and Japan. Americans, who are lucky enough to work, normally work some 42 days a year longer than Europeans.
The US political and economic establishment, the ruling class, proceeded to dismantle the US capitalist system after the l970s. This resulted in the deindustrialization of America. The US now no longer produced consumer goods but lived off imported goods from cheap-labor countries. Most profits of American corporatiaons came to be made from thin air, in the financial sector, on speculation.
This raised the household debt to unsustainable levels as people had to borrow more to live. With most good jobs exported, Americans were increasingly giving back whatever wealth they owned back to the capitalist class just to live. Like Woody Guthrie said in one of his songs, they gave their fish back to the finance company. And then capital got the state to keep them afloat by running up the national debt to bolster their accumulation of capital. This was done through periodic bail-outs and wars which shot up corporate profits. The so-called arms race with the Soviet Union was a fine tool to keep profits up, while also serving to keep down social welfare benefits and keeping up the national debt.
Capitalism, as we knew it, when I was growing up in the l950s in the U.S., was obliterated. The US destroyed its own capitalist system, simply following the logic of capitalism itself. As Marx wrote, the greatest barrier to capital is capital itself. This could be done as the working class was weak and propagandized, crushed by the McCarthyism of the l950s, and TV. Propaganda worked its miracles. The American people were sold a bill of goods. Ronald Reagan and the ruling class said they would turn the bull lose in America. But they didn’t tell the people how many who worked for a living were going to get trampled by that son of a bitch.
Ironically, it was that relatively successful model of American capitalism that the Soviets under Communism often envied, but claimed they wanted to bury and overcome with a superior model. Actually, there were quite a number who saw the opportunity to get filthy rich if they could just take the Soviet system apart. Theoretically, the command system of production had been figured out, down to the last nail needed to produce the great society. But the over-bureaucratic state system of controlled production couldn’t work as planned. The system became bogged down. The state elites came to control the wealth of society for their own good. The workers pretended to work and the state pretended to pay them. The system failed to produce any degree of human freedom or consumer goods, of which the Western World was flooded. The market, to a considerable extent, did work for the people in the US, in providing relatively plentiful consumer goods in the heyday when America was on top of the world economy, and good jobs too. They could buy on installment, as long as they had jobs, from mass marketers such as Sears and Monkey Wards (Montgomery Wards).
Therefore, at some point in the l980s, the state elites in the Soviet Union saw that the system must be dismantled. They saw that the American System of capitalism was working better. At least the grass looked greener from the other side of the fence, and they began to think of grasping the opportunty to get rich by massively ripping off the state. Stealing what the people had produced. The people in America had consumer goods, cars, toys, VCRs, TVs, Christmas goodies (thanks to credit cards), McDonalds and somewhat more political freedom.
In other words, the Soviets had suffered their own falling rate of profit and production. The Soviet people were disillusioned with the system, no longer believed in it and no longer gave a shit. The Soviets jumped for crony capitalism, ironically, just when American capitalism was being dismantled off the stage of history. The US capitalists saw greener pastures in globalization, in capitalism without the people. The Soviets saw their opportunity to get rich by stealing the state assets, getting the nation’s wealth in their own pockets, the private sector. The new business mafia would run the system from the top. This was primitive accumulation of capital as a basis for Russian crony capitalism.
Yes, just as it was the Americans who destroyed Capitalism, it was the Soviets who destroyed Communism, not the Americans.
And when the Soviet Union collapsed, the Russians loaded up whatever old broken-down jalopies they could get their hands on, ancient minibuses, limping Ladas, and Skodas, with whatever they could steal and load into them from collapsing state institutions. Among these were the hospitals, from which they robbed all the utinsels and equipment, tools from navy yards, and so on, and whatever consumer goods there was in the country. Then they headed for the Georgian-Turkish border. From Hopa on down to Istanbul, they sold whatever they could just to survive and get a new hold on life. I remember the Russian markets in the towns along the Black Sea in Turkey in l992. My God, but it was appalling to see the goods which were produced for consumer goods and were now sold for nickels and dimes outside the country. Enormous boxes of matches, which would not strike. Shaving lotion, which smelled worse than gasoline. Toothpaste, resembling tile grout. Wind-up clocks, nice and tough with ear-blasting alarms, but old fashioned, decades out of date. Something which resembled a camera. I still have my collection of these trinkets. I remember thinking: “Well, no wonder the son of a bitch collapsed if this was the best they could do in supplying the every-day needs of the people.” More sad and appalling, that the people’s facilities, hospitals and agencies had been robbed blind when it was the hard labour of the people which built up the institutions. But seeing all this did explain a lot. It was sobering, that they made such a mess of things. It was a wonder that it had not collapsed or been taken apart sooner.
When one boils it down, however, not too much difference. The capitalists in the US robbed the state, by getting the system to bail them out again and again, and provide huge subsidies to business. The Communists in the Soviet Union robbed the state, by collapsing the state, and stealing the people’s wealth. The ruling classes in both countries robbed the people, robbed them blind. The Americans invented a “To hell with the people” system called “Neoliberalism.” They created banks and financial institutions “too big to fail.” The hell with the 99 percent system. The hell with the 99 percent that produced the capital that now the Americans took to China to renew their profits under their new system of neoliberalism, which was to be spread to every country of the world. The people looked for jobs and, unlike under the old Fordist industrial capitalist system, could not find them. They didn’t exist. The people had to borrow money on their credit cards and houses just to buy all the cheap crap coming in from China, in order to live.
The ruling class in the US got richer by destroying the old system of industrial capitalism, which did provide considerable social welfare for the people, for the new Mecca of Neoliberalism, where the people were tossed out to sink deeper into poverty. The system no longer had to deal with the people as workers, but simply as consumers, who would flock to the shopping malls and buy all the flimsy consumer goods produced by the cheap wage slaves in cheap-labor countries. The people would finally be put in their proper place as consumers and nothing else. Just open up your mouth and eat it.
The ruling class Communists in the Soviet Union and others in the new mafia class, got richer and richer by destroying the Communist system and turning state wealth into private capital, by joining the capitalists in their game of private accumulation. In both systems, the people, the very souls who had produced 99 percent of the wealth, were made to suffer, tossed onto the scrap heap to fare for themselves. In the Soviet Union, comrades who had worked a life-time for a pension were suddenly cut off and tossed into the street. Old women sold home-made maceroni on street corners, after losing their pensions. In the US, many too lost their pensions, and the Republican Party kept spreading fear that the Social Security System was about to collapse. That would not be a lie, of course, if the Republicans could get their grubby hands on it. They are doing all they can to make sure it collapses.
In both systems, the ruling classes increased their consumption of luxury goods.
Each system destroyed itself in a dialectical fashion, creating antithesis. In both cases, new contradictions were produced, more inequality in both countries, leading to new struggles. Neoliberalism in the United States thumped and stumped the people by exporting jobs and creating greater and more widespread poverty. Crony capitalism in the Soviet Union, while making more consumer goods available for those who could buy them, thumped and stumped the people while the new mafias got away with most of the wealth.
But more broadly, this is the dialectic of history. Great empires, great powers collapse, eventually, and become backwaters ruled by others.
In recent history, Mao’s China gets transformed into Deng Xiaoping’s state export-oriented capitalism. The Shah’s secular Iran turns into Ayatollah Khomeini’s theocracy. Turkey’s radically secular Kemalist regime gets undermined by religiously oriented head-scarf-loving political parties. Nehru’s Indian Socialism, based upon import substitution industrialization, becomes an export oriented open rising capitalist power, and chews up the masses who got so many guarantees and rights promised in the Indian Constitution. The Hindu religious party strengthens and comes to power. The glorious European Union, founded upon the ideas of a Banker, Jean Monnet, for economic and financial stability collapses under its own logic. The elite schema to keep the bankers rich forever, by leaching off the state, now collapsing due to the failing political and financial system. Again the people are asked to bail out the banks. The Lisbon Treaty made the system so democratic, that not an iota of democracy is left. Not a democratic deficit, as Europeanists love to decry, but a totalitarian surplus, as all the shots are called in Brussels by the bureaucrats and technocrats. The slightest peep of democracy, such as allowing the people to vote on their own constitution, or allowing the Greek people to say whether they want to be screwed down with tighter austerity to help the banks, cannot be allowed by Merkl and Sarkozi, the guardians of the system. Save the almighty Euro at the expense of the people and everything else. And they ain’t done yet! No sooner do they clamp on the Lisbon treaty than the commisars decide that they still do not have enough power to screw the people properly and call for yet another treaty. “Euro or Bust,” they inscribe upon their banners. Old Jean Monnet must be smiling somewhere up there above the clouds as the Brussels Commisars carry on with his method and honor his tradition. Glorious integration turns into inglorious disintegration.
Well, as I explained to my colleague, nothing surprising. Each system ends up destroying its own system. After all, that is the dialectical logic of history. The people in the pores of society get crushed, of course, when these political and economic earthquakes collapse the existing structures of society.
My colleague got a good laugh out of this and acted like I was some sort of idiot inventing my own crazy theory. He was sticking strictly to what it said in the textbooks. Well, go ahead, my friend. And good luck!
November 10, 2011
Akarca, Izmir District, Turkey