Some Minimum Reflections on Our Situation in the US Social Formation

By Jan Makandal

It is the task and role of any political organization at either the mass level and/or revolutionary level to constantly both understand and appropriate the situation we are in. We need to do that to constantly formulate a theory, and simultaneously a political line, to guide us.

Even when we don’t fully understand the systemic structure of capitalism, at least we need to understand particular moments in the structure of capitalism. These moments are conjunctures in capitalism.

A conjuncture is a moment in the development of a social formation (a society, a country) and, specifically, a moment in the political struggle of a social formation. As a moment in the development of political struggles in a social formation, it is thus objectively part of the dynamic development of that phenomenon. If we have to consider the dynamics of the development of this phenomenon (conjuncture) we must go directly to its contradictions: fundamental, principal and secondary contradictions.

If it is a moment, there are other moments. This moment is part of other moments that are more global, that form a whole, a totality. This leads us directly to consider the relation of the whole with its elements. For example, the social formation of a country forms a whole, a complex reality, but it doesn’t exist by itself—it exists with other social formations in the world. They are all part of the universe, our world.

In the US social formation, we have seen already many conjunctures: the Civil War, the Great Depression, the civil rights era. And worldwide, fascism in Germany, Glasnost in Russia and Eastern Europe.

Nowadays, with the so-called “economic collapse” (more precisely at the end of the Bush era), we are now entering a new moment.

Some elements of that new moment/conjuncture:

·   The first type of contradiction is within the dominant classes, specifically within the capitalist class. This type of intra-ruling class contradiction is universal to all social formations, but the particulars are specific to each social formation, because of the historical structure of class struggle. In the US social formation, with which we are mainly focused at present, the internal contradiction of capital is advancing in a very complex reality.

·   Schematically, one of the complex aspects is the interplay of opposing tendencies of different fractions of capital to both fuse and to resist fusion (banking capital, “investment capital” (all forms of capitalist speculative activity), and industrial capital). This contradictory relationship occurs within the whole material base of all relations of production as well as the circulation of goods (which includes money).

·   The resistance to fusion and the dominant role of “investment capital” is creating a downward spiral in which capital is reluctantly discovering that there is no solution. The compounded interests inherent to “investment capital” promote the generation of “fictitious” values, bubbles and crises. This particular tendency in the crisis of capital is not simply an effect of capital, but is rapidly turning out to be a structural crisis. Capital and capitalism are forced to enter structural adjustment in the US social formation in order to buy time, to generate a relative passivity among the masses while tumbling full speed into catastrophe. One way or the other, capital will have to face its internal problem.

·   One of the difficulties capital is dealing with is their inter-class struggle over how to enter a process of resolution to escape this mess. The different forms of concentration of capital are so intertwined, that even though they are all talking about bringing back manufacturing (productive capital), none can offer a real autonomous alternative to the hegemonic form of extraction of non-productive surplus value. They have no solutions, and are running out of even short-term fixes.

·   Structural adjustment (changing the basic framework of an economy to resolve its internal contradictions, which today widely includes measures such as austerity, trade liberalization, privatization, and deregulation) not only assaults the masses, especially the working class, but also brings into question the very forms of concentration of capital.

·   The “fiscal cliff” being discussed recently is an effect of the structural adjustment of capital. This is not the first time capital is faced with the need to structurally adjust itself. The US was formed when the capitalist class achieved a certain level of consciousness, and understood that it could run the land under its control without sharing its surplus value with its counterparts in England. US capitalists went to war to seize political power, and adjusted capital structurally for the sole interest of their class. This adjustment was mainly aimed at making capital more private and kicking England to the curb.

·   Banking capital (money-lending) has fused with industrial capital (capitalist production of real goods) to form finance capital. “Investment capital” (multinational finance conglomerates dealing in speculative trade in shares of companies, bonds, commodities futures, currency speculation, government issued securities, mortgage backed securities, insurance, etc., through various trade instruments such as derivatives and credit default swaps) has emerged as a dominant non-productive, toxic form of surplus value extraction that has become hegemonic and globalized. A crisis in any part of the world has repercussions all over the world.

·   This has created a level of contradiction so intense that the existing bourgeois democratic structure is being overwhelmed. This is not a debate about taxes and who should be paying more. This is a structural adjustment affecting the capitalist class as a whole—the hegemonic fractions in particular. Another fiscal cliff is being approached, where for capital to adjust itself, it has to reform itself internally. This is creating very particular sets of problems with all kinds of contradictions and historical tendencies.

·   Although an economic problem, the solution will be realized in the political field.

·   This conjuncture is mainly a contradiction within the capitalist class. Different sectors (forms of concentration of capital) are attempting to bring their own solutions to the structural crisis.

·   At the stage of imperialism, this is not only a moment in the US social formation. It is globalized (Arab Spring, European uprisings, etc.).

·   It is important that we assess the capacity of the people’s camp to dampen the rhythm of these fractions of capital to offer alternatives.

·   Various forms concentration of capital will lean on the petit bourgeoisie and sectors of the working class, in order to build their social base (balance of power) for the solution to be in their interests (as well as in the interests of the power bloc as a whole).

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