WHAT? WHY? HOW? (1)
September 11, 2001 has brought about a new consensus: the anti-US attacks are described, as the price capitalism has to pay for its over-triumph. "Globalization" is said to have overcome the crisis of the 60's and 70's, established the domination of what is supposed to be the heart of capital, i.e. finance, launched a computer revolution and an unprecedented consumer age, tamed labour, neutralized the old workers' movement, swept aside its "State capitalist" rival. But this "globalized" capital is also said to suffer from an expansion that knows no bounds. According to common wisdom, the victor has gone over the top, recreating inequality and poverty that cause anti-capitalist movements in the rich countries, and revolts in the poorer parts of the globe. Marcos and bin Laden are regarded as absolutely opposite twins, but the palatable democrat and the reactionary fanatic are supposed to come out of the same destabilizing unheard-of neo-growth. In other words, September 11 would reveal the inner contradictions of a new historical phase.
This essay will try to show that, if a different era undoubtedly started in the early 1980's, it is not approaching maturity.
This point is far from being academic.
Capital can be questioned when a production cycle reaches its peak and starts getting into a critical situation. There's no dynamic proletariat without a dynamic capital. The progression of the First International in the 1860's, the wave of strikes after 1915, both occurred in a capitalism that integrated into modern labour a new workforce, young workers and women particularly: in May 1917, 3 French strikers out of 4 were women. Likewise, in the 1960's, the worker could revoIt against work because he knew he could change jobs. Capital then solved part of the worker's problem (getting hired): so why lose one's life earning a living? It's only when a social movement can question the wealth proposed or promised by capital, and not just the poverty imposed by capital, that this movement is able to manifest communist potentials.
On the contrary, economic breakdown is never the best time for a critique of the economy. The workers' main concern is finding a job. 1929 came after revolutionary defeats that mass unemployment exacerbated but finally made worse.
We can't expect capitalism to become as capitalist as possible, treating the proles in the toughest possible way, and thus forcing them to react. (How could a movement that means both collective and individual self-awareness and autonomy, be based on a determinism that would push us into action almost unconsciously?
What matters is not how and when restructuring will impoverish labour, but whether or not restructuring is maturing, i.e. entering its first large structural contradictions, and meeting a resistance aimed at its core, not just at its effects.
The bulk of this essay was written between 1999 and Summer 2001. So it was started at the time when the us boom and new technologies made the news every day, and finished before what's presented (until the next one turns up) as a major historical landmark: September 11, 2001. We haven't altered the general line of the text. Our analysis does not depend on whatever positive or negative fluctuations capital goes through. We'd like to emphasize a "long term trend", and the impossibility for capital to solve basic issues without a social crisis, from which it could emerge victorious.
In 1999, the Kosovo war already highlighted a situation which becomes even clearer in the September 11 context. (2) In any case, focusing on the Indu Kush won't help much.
The essential never can be measured. Averages truly are outrages upon real individuals, Marx wrote in 1844. Statistics set reality in the form that's most convenient to management. "GNP" combines pollution, depollution, PR firms working for the polluters and the Greens. Every road casualty means a cost and a profit. We don't measure the world by economic values. What contradicts figures is what we're after.
Data are valid as far as they lead us towards the social profitability of a system at a given time, that is, its capacity to produce its own general stability, and to reproduce its ruling class in the best possible conditions.
The extent of the restructuring can only be understood if we start from the contradiction that the restructuration is trying to solve.
"What's the technical system that will enable capital to rebound? Where are the new energy supplies, the new materials, the new tools? Above all, where's the new organization of labour that will make up for the defects of Taylorism, and raise to hitherto unknown heights the domination of capital?" (3)
So the GLAT asked in 1977. According to this group, the introduction of new technologies could only increase production costs that it was vital for capital to cut down. In any case, the GLAT was convinced that such a reorganization (like the coming of Scientific Management) implied a class confrontation that would go much deeper than what had been happening since the mid-60's.
Twenty-five years later, we know that confrontation took place, but was different from expected. Although the bourgeois counter-offensive took a heavy toll in Latin America and Asia (as far as China, Sri-Lanka, etc.), it was less harsh in Europe, in the US and Japan than in 1917-37. Still, it was similarly resolved to the advantage of the capitalists. So it might seem obvious that history has clearly answered the question asked in 1977.
We doubt it's as obvious as it seems. What we need to assess
is not the consequences of the restructuring, but its nature.