Having born and brought up in a communist country as well as reading Marxism over the years in both social and economic disciplines, I can’t help asking myself the question: “How would Marx respond to this financial crisis?” The question lingered for weeks. Yesterday, I finally did a quick search on this subject. Unsurprisingly, there has been a revival of interest in Marx ever since the crisis started. Das Kapital, one of Marx’s most known analyses on the economy of capitalism have once again become the best seller all over the world. Last year, Phillip Collins of the UK Times published an article under “Karl Marx: did he get it all right?”. After a quick scan through Marx’s Ten Steps to Communism, the author gave Marx 3.5 over 10 for his assumed prophetic ability in predicting our financial crisis. Collin stated the obvious: Mark was right about the nature of crisis embodied in capitalism, but not much more.
I found the article a fun read with good review of Marxism, as well as was amused with Collins' British sense of humor. But it did not satisfy my curiosity. What is more? What do our American Marxists think about this issue? Robert Brenner, a Marxist and economic historian of UCLA, seems to offer a solid yet provocative perspective through his interview with Seoul’s economist, Jeong Seong-ji titled "A Way out of the Global Economic Crisis?"
Back in December 2007, Brenner was almost prophetic about the upcoming financial crisis while at least half of the world was still relatively optimistic about economic downturn. By late December 2008, Brenner once again stressed that the crisis is much more substantial than most people expected.
According to the Marxian professor: “The basic source of today’s crisis is the declining vitality of the advanced economies since 1973, and, especially, since 2000.” Brenner contends that capitalists solved the problem of slowing capital accumulation by calling forth to the ever greater levels of borrowing to sustain stability. Thus, our economic system requires the crisis that has so long been postponed since “it’s by way of crisis that, historically, capitalism has restored the rate of profit and established the necessary conditions for more dynamic capital accumulations” said the Marxian historian.
The interview covers controversy issues such as the role of the US’s hegemony in maintaining the world order, Keynes monetary policies as a solution for the crisis, the depth of the Chinese crisis and its role in financing the our debts over the past decades.
In addition, the professor also made a comparison between Obama’s future performance as with Roosevelt’s and how our country can only change the system under a class struggle namely revolving pressure from the workers and unions. He asserts: “like Roosevelt, Obama can be expected to take decisive action in defense of working people only if he is pushed by way of organized direct action from below.”
In responding to Jeong’s question on Korea, Brenner maintains that as deep and troublesome the Chinese crisis is revealing, China may be able to contain the crisis better than Korea due to its low-cost labor force and large domestic consumption. This is due to both Korea and China reliance on globalization for their growth, which turn out to be a weakness at the moment. “It’s not necessarily because Korea is doing the wrong thing,” the author continues, “it’s because I don’t think there’s going to be an easy way out for any part of what has become a truly global, interdependent capitalist system.”
For Brenner, the only way for countries to reestablish healthy capitalism appropriate for growth and further capital accumulation is through strengthening the movement of labor organization. The class struggle promises to balance the distribution of power necessary for readjustment.
I wonder if one could find a more Marxian solution to our financial crisis than what Brenner contends. On the other hand, this approach has never been so out of reach given the current feeble and fragmented state of our labor unions and the worker’s strength in taking the action necessary to protect their long-term interest.
Disputing Keynes monetary policy in effectively changing the landscape of our crisis
"But there is reason to doubt that Keynesianism, in the sense of huge government deficits and easy credit to pump up demand, can have the impact that many expect. After all, during the past seven years, thanks to the borrowing and spending encouraged by the Federal Reserve’s housing bubble and the Bush administration’s budget deficits, we witnessed what was, in effect, probably the greatest Keynesian economic stimulus in peacetime history. Yet we got the weakest business cycle in the postwar epoch."
China and East Asia as the US’s largest creditors
"To have a significant effect on the economy, the Obama administration will likely have to contemplate a huge wave of direct or indirect government investment, in effect a form of state capitalism. To actually accomplish this, however, would require overcoming enormous political and economic obstacles. The U.S. political culture is enormously hostile to state enterprise. At the same time, the level of expenditure and state indebtedness that would be required could threaten the dollar. Until now, East Asian governments have been happy to fund U.S. external and government deficits, in order to sustain U.S. consumption and their own exports. But, with the crisis overtaking even China, these governments may lose the capacity to finance U.S. deficits, especially as they grow to unprecedented size. The truly terrifying prospect of a run on the dollar looms in the background."
The US hegemonic role in maintaining the world order
"I see the elites of the world, especially the elites of the capitalist core, broadly conceived as being very happy with U.S. hegemony, because what it means for them is that the U.S. assumes the role and the cost of world policeman."
Future possibility for the working class to influence our political environment
"The problem is that there is very little organization of working people, let alone any political expression. So, one can say there is this very big opportunity created by the change in the political environment, or the ideological climate, but that by itself is not going to provide a progressive outcome."
Following note: Just as Brenner stresses the capitalist exploitation of labor and social resources as well as insists on importance of worker's union in order to improve our political and economic landscape. Look at what have just happened here (pdf).