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23 Theses on the Capitalist Crisis

Since the middle of the 1990s, the real economy only grew on account of the expansion of credit. All floodgates were opened after the dot.com crisis. In the following four years, the Fed brought more dollars in circulation than in the whole 200-year US history.

by Wildcat

[These theses are translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.wildcat-www.de/aktuell/a064_thesen.html.]


1) In 2001, real estate prices in the US ended their high-altitude flight that had continued for years. In 2007 they began to fall. There was a clear over-supply in houses and apartments. With rising interests and falling home prices, masses of heavily indebted homeowners fell into arrears in repaying their mortgages. This triggered the subprime crisis and immediately spilled over on the investment banks [1]. In March 2007 sharp exchange losses suddenly occurred on the stock exchanges of New York and Shanghai. In the meantime, we are in the greatest financial and banking crisis in the last 77 years, perhaps at the beginning of the most serious crisis in the history of capitalism.

How could a very normal pig cycle [2] (oversupply in houses) have such a tremendous effect? With falling real wages, the US working class could only maintain its living standard by running into debt. This is the first explanation. In 1995 less than two percent of all mortgage loans [3] in the US were "subprime" [4]. In 2005 that percentage had already soared to 25 percent. In the last years the indebtedness of the US proletariat has strongly increased. In 2007, Americans on average spent 14 percent of their income for the repayment of debts.

2) The second explanation lies in the expansion of credit altogether. The history of capitalism since the end of Bretton Woods in the early 1970s can be understood as capital seeking profitable investment possibilities. Capital seeks other "investment forms" because it cannot sufficiently exploit itself in productive investments in factories and the like: currency speculation, derivative trade [5] and real estate speculation ("investment emergency" in the bourgeois terminology). One of the "financial innovations" of the last decade was the trade with securities based on debt prescriptions and mortgages that were often "bundled." These CDOs [6] allowed "rotten" credits to be rated as absolutely safe so institutional investors like pension funds, legally obliged to invest their funds in safety, could buy these securities. Through high credit shares, the profit on their own capital could multiply. With the collapse of the credit pyramid, this "leverage" becomes a boomerang. In the subprime crisis, it was revealed that through the bundling no one knew where "rotten" credits were hidden ("contamination") or which bank was threatened with collapse. Trust in the orderly course of history is one of the material prerequisites of capital exploitation. Mistrust between the banks made a banking crisis out of "finance."

3) Since the outbreak of the crisis, whether and how strongly the financial crisis strikes the real economy has been controversial. In reality, a downswing of the world economy (from 2007) is often intensified by financial mechanisms. The same financial mechanisms that made possible "growth" now force the collapse. Therefore the crisis appears as a financial crisis. However the core of the crisis is not embedded in the insolvency of banks or in their "liabilities" (passiva). The real problem is the "activa of the banks, the high indebtedness of the so-called real economy."

4) The financial bubble was the foundation of the so-called "real economy," not an avoidable malformation. Since the middle of the 1990s, the real economy only grew on account of the expansion of credit. The world gross social product only increased between 2 and 4 percent since the 1970s (in the 1950s and 1960s, it increased between 4 and 7 percent).

All floodgates were opened after the dot.com crisis [7]. In the following four years, the Fed brought more dollars in circulation than in the whole 200-year US history. The greatest expansion of consumer credits and mortgages in the history of capitalism occurred. The banks gave credits with less than 3 percent interest - below their own costs. This was a manifestation of the over-accumulation crisis (see above "investment emergency," investments in plants and factories remained very low in these years). To repress this, the money supply M3 [8] in the US has not been statistically reported since 2005. Despite all these measures, the gross domestic product of the US since 2005 only grew on account of the real estate bubble. The boom from 2002 to 2006 worldwide was also strange: the unemployment numbers did not fall.

5) The third explanation why the subprime crisis served as a match-stick is that the US debt-financed and consumer-driven economy with an annual budget deficit of $800 billion depended on enormous capital infusions from China which simultaneously became the industrial center of the world for consumer goods. The main capital donors China, Japan and South Korea altogether hold $4 trillion as currency reserves. This machinery can be summarized as follows: Goods produced in China are consumed in the US and paid with dollars that accumulate in China. China then lends these dollars to the US government so the circulation can continue. Such a construction can only have a limited duration. In fact, since 2007 Europe has been the largest sales market for Chinese goods and no longer the US. The limits of the model were manifest - and intensify in the crisis.

The infusion of foreign capital in the US dramatically decreased in the summer of 2008. Instead of the $40 billion monthly that had to find foreign buyers in the form of government bonds, there was only $8.6 billion in July and August. In September, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were "rescued" or nationalized to keep China happy. China had invested $500 billion there.

6) In the auto industry, economic cycle, overcapacities, deficient investments, high indebtedness (both of firms and customers) and product cycle (satiated market, congested streets, "end of the petroleum age") combine. Therefore the crisis now strikes very intensely the auto industry and its suppliers.

7) We witness an enormous monopolization process of banks and corporations on the global plane. In this process, the ruling class recomposed and declared a state of emergency (for example, "finance market stabilization law" as an "enabling act"). From their structure and from the persons who are "enabled" carte blanche, the bailout measures show the governments do not stand in the way of these developments but flank or even tighten them (Robert Scheer spoke of "finance fascism" in relation to the bailout [9] of the US government.)

8) Unemployment insurance, pension insurance and the communities are the next bankrupts in the train of the crisis and the crisis measures. On one hand, these institutions speculatively invested their funds (German pension insurance had Lehman-securities, American pension funds partly shifted their investments to "vulture funds" after the real estate- and raw material crashes [10]. Life insurances and business pensions are completely encumbered in the risk of possible bank failures.

On the other hand, governments make use of these funds (in Russia, banks were rescued with pension funds, the Argentinean government tapped the private pension fund and so forth).

The current crisis strikes community budgets like the crisis in the middle of the 1970s (New York). Many cities in the Ruhr and Freiburg areas face massive payment problems.

9) After the financial branch, whole states are now targets of bailout: Iceland, Hungary, Pakistan, Turkey, Argentina, White Russia, Serbia and Taschichistan. A domino effect is feared because the IMF needs up to a half trillion dollars for the rescue packages and does not have half of that at its disposal. That Iceland first sought aid from Russia, Pakistan from China and Argentina from Venezuela is politically significant. The money for supporting assailed countries also runs short. It is very unlikely that the financial summit at the end of November will agree on a new Bretton Woods [11].

The myth of the national economy crumbles. This myth will collapse when it gets hold of a land like Switzerland! Nationally regulated labor markets that divide the world working class in individual segments break down.


10) No "de-coupling" - whether for the EU or for BRIC-states

The BRIC-states with their mammoth domestic markets should extend the exhausted model of credit-financed consumption into the metropolises. Still the demand of the new middle classes cannot replace the consumption of the US working class in the foreseeable future. The exaggerated hopes in the BRIC-states were already an expression of the crisis. For a year, these hopes have also skidded. In Russia, for example, foreign direct investments fell almost in half in 2008 compared to 2007. Enormous re-financing problems threaten. Mass layoffs have begun.

Iceland's state bankruptcy was only a foretaste. The threshold countries form the ring of the next explosion wave of the world crisis. Far greater sums are involved here than in the subprime crisis. China cannot refuse the begging of the US and West Germany for financial aid in the crisis! A withdrawal of Chinese funds from the US would be their suicide. The survival of all regimes depends on the US financial system not imploding in the crisis.

11) The disastrous economic situation of the US after 9/11 was often described as the "twin towers of deficit": the highest state indebtedness and the highest foreign debts in history. In a few years, a third tower had grown and collapsed: private households are indebted far above 100 percent of the gross domestic product. The capital flows necessary to maintain this fragile situation (see 5) depend on two prerequisites: the US dollar as "world money" and the military dominance of the US army. This situation has become precarious through the two unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The hegemon is in the boondocks. We are not convinced that the new hegemon does us good. The revolution would be better for us. How long this will last is uncertain. While Immanuel Wallerstein recently wrote such a transition normally takes 50 years, 2008 was the year of the dissolution of neoliberalism. Such a moment raises all sorts of questions.

12) Unfortunately the debate on the left is not at the height of these questions. Many hope for a new Keynesianism and a strong state. However the foundations for a new Keynesianism are lacking. There is no national economy any more that can resist the pressure of the world crisis. Stimulating national demand does not succeed any more. On the contrary, a state that gives guarantees for "its" banks puts all other states under a "short-selling" pressure. [12] The bailout of one leads to the devaluation of other banking houses, businesses or states. How can "demand" be stimulated when both proletariat and banks hoard the money? No hegemon can enforce such a program like the US in the 1930s - in reaction to the class struggles there!


13) The core of "neoliberal economic policy" consisted in forcing down costs (including wages!). Through a policy of low interests (often negative or below the rate of inflation), the amount of credit was greatly expanded to finance consumption (both the consumption of the working class and also the "consumption" of machines, that is "entrepreneurial investment"). Thus business profits soared, income distribution drastically changed and large parts of the working class were impoverished. This strategy was basically unsuccessful worldwide with the ravages that were inflicted: real investments remained low.

14) "Development" was only possible in this framework through aggressive expansion of capital: penetration in previously undeveloped corners, recruiting migrant workers and industrialization of the "periphery." In the last 40 years, there was a worldwide proletarianization at an unparalleled speed (see Wildcat 82). This expedient is barred today; the periphery is industrialized.

15) Neoliberalism was not a new "model" (as the gossip of "post-Fordism" wanted to make us believe) but a long drawn out crisis since 1973. The deregulated but politically managed financial system was the response to the decline of effective demand. This deregulation was another word for precarious work. The attack on the working class in the last decades is reflected in the global systemic "financial risk." Since the 1980s this strategy was shaken by "financial crises": debt crises in the first half of the 1980s; savings account crisis in the US in the second half of the 1980s; peso-crisis in Mexico, 1994/5; Asian crisis 1997/98; ruble crisis 1998/9 and the dot.com crisis 2000/1. But while all these crises could be limited regionally or sectorally (at the price of further expansion of credit), the long drawn ou9t crisis strikes its limit in the current collapse. Global capitalism faces the abyss in this "crisis of the crisis."


16) Prelude to what?

"1929" was not the crisis but its announcement. The current crisis will continue a very long time and have its peak at the end of 2009. Afterwards there will be a long drawn out depression (the 1873-1878 crisis also lasted five years). The "early indicators" look pitch-black. Industrial production declines in double-digits, the oil price fell in half in three months, raw material prices fall worldwide and world trade shrivels. All these are signs for the depth of the recession. Middle-class commentators compare the current crisis with the Lisbon earthquake (November 11, 1755) in order to mark the turn of the epoch. The Lisbon earthquake is commonly seen as the prelude to the French Revolution.

17) Deflation

The ILO (International Labor organization) calculates an 11 percent increase in worldwide unemployment to 210 million in 2009. This is true as long as the crisis is not "under control." The worldwide mass layoffs speak another language (in the Canton district of China, 2.5 million persons could lose their jobs by the end of 2009). On the other side, this means consumption will decline massive. A deflationary development is likely. A deflation has a self-reinforcing effect: falling prices depress the profit margins. Then even more people are dismissed, consumer spending declines again and profits of businesses fall. In fiscal policy, little is possible against deflation - even where the key interest in the US is at 1 percent and in Japan at 0.3 percent!

18) Reformism is impossible

The demand of Attac to rescue the real economy and let the banks go bankrupt cannot be fulfilled because the banks are indispensable for the functioning of capitalism. But the dilemma is shown in that banks either horde or spend the "bailout funds" to buy smaller banks - or even pour them out as dividends or bonuses! How can consumption be stimulated and income re-connected to productivity? The Bush plan [13] at the beginning of 2008 did not function: people used the money to repay their debts and save for the coming bad times. This economic program would only have worked if the checks were spent immediately.

Many measures against the crisis (the massive interest reductions, the availability of cheap credits, guarantees of every kind) have fueled the financial crisis - because the banks used the money for high-risk speculations to escape their losses. The injection of more money will not solve the problems but refuel them as long as the system is not regulated. But regulations as Lafontaine proposed as finance minister only function when the working class is made to work more intensively. (As the other side of the coin, Lafontaine was the first to propose abolition of unemployment assistance as converted with Hartz IV). Without a runaway victory over the working class, individual bailout attempts and regulations only intensify the tensions between competing fractions.


19) Battle for Minds

Speaking of "financial crisis" helps legitimate rescuing banks and bankers with the savings and tax payments of the proletariat. Making "speculation" and "greed" responsible for the crisis should divert from a crisis of the whole system. Bellofiore/Halevi [14] speak of the "trinity of traumatized workers, indebted consumers and manic-depressive savers and that people are forced to become actors on the financial markets." In the propagandistic mastery of the crisis, the "little people" were also "greedy" and invested their money in foreign banks and so forth (which is also doubtlessly true).

The "greed of little people" should be a scapegoat and legitimation for intensified work coercion. In a Spiegel interview, Horst Kohler said: "In principle, everyone wants to become rich with a minimum of personal expense. One thought this happened fastest with currency trading since one did not have to work to the bone. This mentality is unfortunately normalized. If we want to understand the value of money, we should develop a new consciousness for the value of work."

This is the accompanying music for the brutal austerity programs. But Kohler also said in the same interview: "A general suspicion could now arise that all who are `at the top' are not those `at the bottom' or `committed to the whole'." What a chance! The crisis is a system crisis demanding fundamental clarifications. The answer to the crisis must name things by their names. Reformist projects are impossible. As soon as workers - of necessity - grapple with the basic functioning of capitalism and go to the root of things, all these questions will become burning again.

20) Technically there is already a worldwide working class.

We cooperate in production chains and are interwoven by the computer and the Internet. Electronic money races around the globe and makes possible billions of transfers of work migrants to their families. In the past, the crass wage-differences between the "global South" and the old metropolises were an important instrument of division. While social inequalities in the countries increased in the last years and even intensified in the crisis, the differences between workers in the global South and those in the North have decreased and will be increasingly smaller.

21) Divisions

Will the crises divide people or can a political re-combination become real in the crisis? The form of the crisis ("financial crisis") strengthens class divisions (people with financial investments against people without those investments; regular workers against subcontracted workers; young against old in the question of pensions for example). The crisis could take away the basis of material divisions. Politically all themes are open. Everyone should understand epochal upheavals are on the horizon.

22) The Left

The crisis has brought a little enlightenment. Joachim Hirsch, the father of the German post-Fordist left, says: the term "post-Fordism" is a "helpful term." This is clear in the crisis. Great, for nearly 30 years, this "helpful term" has haunted the minds of the left: no working class any more, industrial production as a discontinued model and so forth. But unfortunately the crisis brainwashes the left. Hopes are raised for Keynesians and the state. One hastens to the sickbed of capitalism to bring medicine, not with dagger in hand.

23) ..or political reconfiguration of the worldwide working class

For generations now living, the necessity and possibility for forming history were never greater. We should not rely on "impoverishment theories." There is little evidence in history that workers can fight better when mired in distress. On the other side, there is no reason to think nothing can happen. The worldwide revolts in the spring of 2008 were only a beginning. In China, spontaneous battles against the waves of dismissal occurred in the last weeks. The question is what is arising? Do the battles reflect the drama of the world crisis?

The battles in the global South have blocked the crusades of capital (Iraq, Afghanistan, Latin America, Asia-migrant battles). The current crisis erupts in the metropolises and is really a "crisis of capital." The working class can do nothing politically and only live as over-indebted consumers, as a thousand micro-strategists where everyone covers and entrenches himself with individual expedients and opportunism knows no limits. Regarding Germany in particular, the battles in the spring can hardly be ignored (in Spain and Great Britain, there were truck driver strikes). In Germany, there have been battles, learning processes, strikes against plant closures and mobilizations in schools and universities. In the past, all these movements ran separated. Now since the summer they face a tremendous threat scenario through the crisis. The crisis strikes individual branches very hard (auto industry, insurance- and bank employees). Since the crisis can befall anyone, solidarity gains a material foundation. The crisis creates the possibility for combining previously separated developments and promoting mutual battles.

Global crisis and global class struggle. Is a new configuration conceivable between riots in the banlieves, striking workers and student movements, the strike in the ocean of proletarianization, the battles in previously "guaranteed" sectors (financial- and insurance-systems) and initiatives against rising water- and energy-prices? Why not? Look at Argentina with its furious savers! Can a re-configuration include the battles of Chinese workers?

What we should do in every case is gather, produce, circulate and discuss information about struggles and movements all over the world.

Militant research instead of "transition programs"!

Criticism of the policy of the state of emergency (right to proletarian force) and centrality of labor!

Discover the potentials aiming at overcoming exploitation in social development, in crisis and in the battles!

The worldwide y8outh revolts, the struggles of factory workers in the North and the revolts of the proletariat in the South have blocked capitalist exploitation. The flight of capital in the fictional exploitation on the financial markets was also a flight from the new threatening revolution. With the expansion of the money supply and credit volume, governments indirectly prevented the crisis in its full rage from striking the working class. The increasing crisis of state indebtedness and the rising share of social spending in the gross domestic product are consequences of flight from the class conflict.

[1] Investmentbanken betreiben Vermögensverwaltung ihrer (reichen) Kunden, Handel mit Wertpapieren sowie Unterstützung von Unternehmen bei Kapitalaufnahmen (etwa Börsengänge). Das Geschäftsmodell »Investmentbank« ist durch die aktuelle Krise am Ende.
[2] Schweinezyklus ist ein Begriff aus der Agrarwissenschaft und bezeichnet eine periodische Schwankung auf der Angebotsseite. Bei hohen Preisen kommt es zu verstärkten Investitionen, die sich allerdings wegen der Aufzuchtzeit erst verzögert auf das Angebot auswirken und dann zu einem Überangebot und Preisverfall führen. Infolgedessen kommt es zur Reduzierung der Produktion, die sich ebenfalls erst zeitverzögert auswirkt und dann ...
[3] Bei einem Hypothekendarlehen handelt es sich um ein durch ein Grundpfandrecht auf eine (oder mehrere) Immobilie(n) besichertes Darlehen. Als Grundpfandrechte kommen hierbei heutzutage weitgehend Buchgrundschulden zum Einsatz (über 90% aller neu vergebenen Darlehen).
Buchgrundschuld (im Grundbuch eingetragene Grundschuld) ist das dingliche Recht, aus einem Grundstück oder einem grundstücksgleichen Recht (beispielsweise einem Wohnungseigentum oder einem Erbbaurecht) die Zahlung eines bestimmten Geldbetrages zu fordern. Die Grundschuld ist eine der wichtigsten Kreditsicherheiten.
[4] Als Subprime-Markt wird ein Teil des privaten (also nicht gewerblichen Zwecken dienenden) Hypothekendarlehenmarkts bezeichnet, der überwiegend aus Kreditnehmern mit geringer Bonität (»Kreditwürdigkeit«) besteht
[5] Derivate sind gegenseitige Verträge, deren Preisbildung auf einer marktabhängigen Bezugsgröße (Basiswert oder Underlying) basiert. Basiswerte können Wertpapiere (z.B. Aktien, Anleihen), marktbezogene Referenzgrößen (Zinssätze, Indices) oder andere Handelsgegenstände (Rohstoffe, Devisen) sein. Derivate können auch Basiswert von anderen Derivaten (2. Grades) sein. Grundsätzlich kommen als Basiswert oder Underlying Asset auch nicht-ökonomische Größen, wie etwa das Wetter in Frage.
[6] CDO - Collateralized Debt Obligation - »besichertes Darlehn auf Schuldscheine« (siehe ausführlicher in Bellofiore/Halevi)
[7] Dot.Com-Krise , der im März 2000 einsetzende Kurseinbruch von börsennotierten Unternehmen, deren Geschäftsmodelle primär auf Internet-Technologien beruhten (sog. Dot.Coms), von denen die Mehrzahl jedoch in der Praxis keine Gewinne machte. In der Folge entstand eine Finanzierungskrise auch bei nicht börsennotierten IT-Unternehmen, die in vielen Insolvenzen mündete. Die Dot.Com-Krise brachte die sog. Dot.Com-Blase zum »Platzen« und beendete neben den überzogenen Erwartungen an die »New Economy« auch den Aktienhype, von dem viele Kleinanleger gegen Ende des letzten Jahrtausends erfasst worden waren.
[8] Geldmenge M3: Die US-Zentralbank Fed definiert M3 als: alle US-Dollar-Bar-Bestände in Banknoten und Münzen, plus die laufenden $-Girokontenbestände plus alle $-Einlagenzertifikate (z. B. $-Staatsanleihen) und alle $-Geldmarkt-Kontenbestände unter $100.000, plus alle größeren Guthaben über $100.000 (u. a. die Eurodollar-Reserven, größere übertragbare $-Wertpapierbestände, und die Dollar-Devisenbestände der meisten nichteuropäischen Länder.
[9] bail out - Schuldenübernahme und Tilgung durch Dritte
[10] »Geierfonds« (vulture fund) - geschlossener Investmentfonds (Hedge-Fonds), der auf den Kauf von Wertpapieren anderer, bspw. zahlungsunfähiger oder fast bankrotter, Unternehmen spezialisiert ist, um aus dessen Überresten Einnahmen zu erzielen.
[11] Bretton Woods - »goldhinterlegte Leitwährung der Dollar« - nach Aufkündigung der Bindung des Dollars an die Goldreserven und der Goldeinlösepflicht durch die USA 1971 brach das Bretton-Woods-System 1973 durch die Aufkündigung der festen Wechselkurse endgültig zusammen.
[12] Beim Leerverkauf (auch »short selling«) werden Wertpapiere über die Börse verkauft, obwohl der Verkäufer zum Zeitpunkt des Verkaufs die Wertpapiere noch nicht besitzt. Mit dieser Strategie kann der Verkäufer mit überdurchschnittlichen Renditen von fallenden Börsenkursen profitieren. Im Gegensatz zu Optionsgeschäften mit festen Optionsterminen handelt es sich bei Leerverkäufen um sehr kurzfristige Geschäfte, da die Wertpapiere nach sehr relativ kurzen Fristen nachgeliefert werden müssen. Beispiel: Ein Leerverkäufer (»Shortseller«) verkauft über die Börse 1.000 Aktien der »Mustermann AG« zu einem Kurs von 100,- Euro. Liefern muss er die Wertpapiere aber erst drei Tage später. Sinkt der Kurs der Wertpapiere zwischen Verkauf und Liefertermin auf 90,- Euro, kann der Leerverkäufer 10.000,- Euro (vor Transaktionskosten und »Finanzierungskosten«) Gewinn erzielen.
[13] Bush-plan - ... zwischen 140 und 150 Milliarden Dollar (zwischen 96 und 103 Milliarden Euro) wurden als »Steuercheks« an die amerikanischen Haushalte ausgegeben.

zum nochmal Nachlesen:
[14] Ein Minsky-Moment? - Die subprime-Krise und der »neue« Kapitalismus [pdf]
Puzzlesteine zum Ende einer Weltordnung
Wildcat Sondernummer zum Krieg, 2003:
Im Kampfzyklus 1968-73 hatten die weltweiten Jugendrevolten, die Kämpfe der FabrikarbeiterInnen im Norden und die Aufstände des Proletariats im Süden die kapitalistische Verwertung blockiert. Die Flucht des Kapitals in die fiktive Verwertung auf den Finanzmärkten war auch das Zurückweichen vor der erneut drohenden Revolution. Mit der Ausweitung der Geldmenge und des Kreditvolumens vermieden es die Regierungen, die Krise in voller Wucht auf die Arbeiterklasse durchschlagen zu lassen. Die zunehmende Krise der Staatsverschuldung, der immer weiter angestiegene Anteil der Sozialausgaben am Bruttosozialprodukt sind Folgen des Ausweichens vor dem Klassenkonflikt.
»Zur Krise: Ein Blick in die Werkstatt« vom Mai 2000; Zirkular 56



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