close
Advertisement
Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

October 17, 2020

Capitalist economy

Opinion

October 17, 2020

The looming election has brought forward intensifying debates over a capitalism in crisis, rising nationalism and state power, and the possibility of a renewed fascism. Polarized politics and ideologies alongside long-accumulated social problems and movements shape the objects and tones of debate. Can fascism happen here; is it underway? Or can current capitalism avoid a return to fascism? Such questions reflect the high stakes of the election and this moment in history.

Should the state -- the institution that organizes, enforces, and adjudicates the rules governing our behavior in society -- exist in capitalism? That question has been important chiefly for certain ideologues who defend capitalism. Their major idea is that the problems of modern society are caused by the state. They are not caused by the employer-employee structure of capitalist enterprises or the markets, unequal distributions of wealth, and other institutions those enterprises support. Those ideologues imagine a pure, perfect, or good capitalism undistorted by any state apparatus. The capitalism they seek to achieve is very utopian. They conclude that by reducing the state (bad by definition), modern capitalism’s problems can also be reduced. By eliminating the state, a thereby purified capitalism will solve those problems. From libertarians to Republican Party hacks, this ideology serves to deflect the justified resentment and anger of capitalism’s victims away from capitalism and onto the state.

A contrary view holds that the state always existed throughout the history of societies in which the capitalist economic system prevailed. In them, the state -- like other institutions -- reflected each society’s particular conditions, conflicts, and movement. The capitalist economy rested on a foundation of enterprises whose internal organization divided participating individuals into a minority (employers) and a majority (employees). The minority owned and operated the enterprises, making all of its basic decisions: what, how, and where to produce and what to do with output. The majority sold its labor power to the minority, owned little or nothing of the enterprise, and was excluded from the basic enterprise decisions. One result of that basic economic structure was the existence of a state. Another result was a pattern of state interventions in society that reproduced its prevailing capitalist economic system and the employers’ dominant position within it.

Of course, the many internal contradictions of societies in which capitalism prevailed also influenced and shaped the state. Employees, for example, could and often did press the state for interventions that employers did not want. Struggles over the state and its interventions ensued. Individual outcomes varied, but the pattern that emerged over time was a state that reproduced capitalism. Likewise, in pre-capitalist societies such as slavery and feudalism, parallel patterns characterized their states. For considerable periods, those states also reproduced their class structures: masters and slaves in slavery and lords and serfs in feudalism. Usually, when a state no longer reproduced a particular class structure, its end was near.

The evolving conditions and conflicts in each society determined the size, activities, and history of its state. This includes determining whether state power is decentralized, centralized, or a mix of both. Social conditions and conflicts also determined the closeness, the intensity of collaboration, and even the possible merger between the state apparatus and the dominant class within each society. In European capitalism, initial decentralization gave way to a strong tendency toward state centralization. In certain extreme conditions, a centralized state merged with a capitalist class of large, concentrated employers into a system called fascism. The 20th century saw several major examples of fascism rise and fall. Now again fascism looms as a possible resort of capitalisms in trouble.

Usually, the transition from decentralized to centralized states reflected social conditions in which dominant classes needed strengthened state power to reproduce the system they dominated. They feared that otherwise, social conditions would provoke a collapse of their system and/or movements to a different economic system. In either case, their social dominance was at stake. Because that situation now looms on our historical agenda, so too does fascism.

Slave systems could persist in decentralized conditions. State power, perhaps localized within each slave master’s hands, oversaw the reproduction of the system’s two production positions: master and slave. Eventually, when reproduction was threatened -- by disruptions to slave markets, slave revolts, or divisive struggles among masters -- a separate state was created, given an apparatus, and strengthened. It often had slaves of its own (“state” slaves we might differentiate from “private” slaves owned by persons outside the state). Such a strengthened state was often more closely integrated with masters in a tighter, more coordinated reproduction of slavery. Violence by masters and the state conjointly against slaves recurred often.

In decentralized feudalisms, lords wielded state-type powers alongside their economic positions directing production by their subordinated serfs. Eventually, when pandemics, long-distance trade, serf revolts, or divisive warfare among lords (as dramatized in Shakespeare’s plays) threatened feudalism, a centralized state arose from among contending lords. That state -- a supreme lord or king -- shared social power with the hierarchy of what we might call “private” lords to reproduce feudalism. In medieval Europe, strengthened feudal states evolved into absolute monarchies. Those were tight alliances between kings and hierarchies of lords within boundaries defining different nations. Those tight alliances deployed violence against serfs, serfs’ revolts, rebellious lords, external threats, and one another.

Capitalism, like its slave and feudal predecessors, emerged in small, decentralized units of production. Capitalist enterprises, like slave and feudal production units (plantations, manors, or workshops), also displayed a system of two basic production positions. In the case of capitalism, those two positions were employer and employee.

Excerpted from: ‘How Fascism Has Converged With Capitalism to

Redefine Government’

Counterpunch.org