Sunday, December 13, 2009

Monthly Review MRZine article

Crisis of the Capitalist System: Where Do We Go from Here?
by Immanuel Wallerstein article link
The Harold Wolpe Lecture, University of KwaZulu-Natal, 5 November 2009

The depression into which the world has fallen will continue now for quite a while and go quite deep. It will destroy the last small pillar of relative economic stability, the role of the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency of safeguarding wealth. As this happens, the main concern of every government in the world -- from the United States to China, from France to Russia to Brazil to South Africa, not to speak of all the weaker governments on the world scene -- will be to avert the uprising of the unemployed workers and the middle strata whose savings and pensions disappear. The governments are turning to protectionism and printing money as their first line of defense, as ways of dealing with popular anger.

Such measures may postpone the dangers the governments fear and may assuage momentarily the pain of ordinary people. But they will eventually probably make the situation even worse. We are entering a gridlock of the system, from which the world will find it extremely difficult to extract itself. The gridlock will express itself in the form of a constant set of ever wilder fluctuations, which will make short-term predictions -- both economic and political -- virtually guesswork. And this in turn will aggravate the popular fears and alienation. ...

From here on in, we are living amidst the bifurcation of the systemic process. The question is no longer, how will the capitalist system mend itself, and renew its forward thrust? The question is what will replace this system? What order will be chosen out of this chaos?

Of course, not everyone is aware of this as yet. Most people continue to operate as though somehow the system were continuing, using its old rules. They are not really wrong. The system does continue to operate, using its old rules. But now, using the old rules only exacerbates the structural crisis. However, some actors are quite aware that we are in a bifurcation. And they know, perhaps only tacitly, that at some point in a bifurcation, the collectivity of all actors leans definitively in one direction or another. One can say that a decision has been made, even if the use of the word "decision" sounds anthropomorphic.

We may think of this period of systemic crisis as the arena of a struggle for the successor system. The outcome may be inherently unpredictable but the nature of the struggle is very clear. We are before alternative choices. They cannot be spelled out in institutional detail, but they can be suggested in broad outline.

We can "choose" collectively a new stable system that essentially resembles the present system in some basic characteristics -- a system that is hierarchical, exploitative, and polarizing. There are, no doubt, many forms this could take, and some of these forms could be harsher than the capitalist world-system in which we have been living. Alternatively we can "choose" collectively a radically different form of system, one that has never previously existed -- a system that is relatively democratic and relatively egalitarian.

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