This book is a disdainful explanation of how capital has reached its global limits, and can now only create more destruction and death. The options of unexplored areas of expansion or a world war or a vast discovery of commodities or new technology that might give capital breathing room are vanishing. This is why more war, more environmental destruction, more unemployment, more intense labor exploitation and more austerity and dictatorship are what are in store for the workers of the world. Mészáros thinks there is no reforming this expansive profit system – so the only alternative is the dialectical growth of a global self-managed social movement in opposition to it - a ‘New International’ that intends to replace capital on a global scale. He calls the period we are in a “structural crisis of capital.”
As you can see, Mészáros, a former Hungarian who worked with György Lukács, takes a global view at all times. Now living in the U.K, he left Hungary after the 1956 insurrection. This book is a series of his essays, with the first one published in 1971 and since added to. The essays are undated, which makes it difficult to gain context for each one Since the book contains much repetition, many $25 words and mostly theory, I will distill some major points that I see. Unlike most book reviews, I am not interested in some vague, gauzy description of the text, as the specific ideas here are key.
1. 1. Global capital means a world-wide ‘leveling’ of labor costs. Different rates of exploitation still exist obviously, but they are giving way to “the equalization of rates of exploitation” across the whole world. The totality of the labor force’ – skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labor – are all under attack by capital. As a result, Mészáros does not spend his time guilt-tripping European or American labor, because he knows what is in store for them.
2. It is not enough to ‘expropriate the expropriators’ and institute a nationalized economy run by a bureaucracy, as was proved by the Soviet example. The revolution must continue until the “second order mediations” of capital are also overcome by the organized “self-management of the freely-associated producers.” Socialism means “social ownership of production;” “workers control of production” and “consumption based on communal needs.” This did not happen in the USSR or China.
3. Capital’s “second-order mediations” include:
a. the nuclear family
b. alienated means of production
d. sterile production objectives
e. labor divorced from control
f. capital / state form
g. the world market
4. Socialism in one country is impossible. The choice is on a global scale - now more than ever.
5. ‘Precariousness’ is the leading character of labor in our time.
6. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Internationals failed for different reasons. The 1st International in retrospect was premature because capital was still expanding worldwide. The 1st International failed through defeat; the 2nd by the adoption of the ‘evolutionary’ road to socialism and national capital’s ballot box; the 3rd was dissolved by Stalin after being turned into an arm of Soviet national policy; and the 4th because its ideas did not grip the masses. According to Mészáros: ‘Today the situation is radically different.’ He thinks it is time for a “New International” based on a global confrontation with capital from a general socialist perspective, not on the basis of some narrow ideological purity. In American terms, the ‘hatchet must be buried’ – just not in each other’s skulls.
7. Issac Deutscher wrote, “Humanity needs unity for its sheer survival; where can it find it if not in socialism?” and Mészáros agrees.
8. Present science is embedded in capital.
9. ‘Free time,’ increasing skills and education are threatening capital and are a form of social dynamite, turning the subordinate/ruler dialectic into an anachronism. Religion and the ‘cell of the family’ are also disintegrating – two more pillars of social control.
10. All-out world war is off the table, thus hampering capital’s ability to destroy the means of production and reinvent itself. The many small wars are not sufficient.
11. Capital’s state intervention in the economy actually hastens the ‘maturation of contradictions.’ It reveals that the state is not neutral and drags the state into the contradictions of the economic system itself.
12. Marx was not an ‘economic determinist.’ His whole point was to free human life from being determined by economics.
13. Parliamentarism in Europe made both the Social-Democratic and the Communist parties into accessories of the capital system. In response, Mészáros believes the labor movement must have a strong ‘extra-parliamentary’ approach or it's leaders will be bribed and co-opted.
14. The future of socialism will be decided in the U.S.
15. Capital breaks down at the moment of its supreme global power, because it cannot control or restrain itself. Capital is not future-oriented, but only reactive and retroactive. Capital’s has reached its world-wide limits and the limits of its system of “social metabolic control.”
16. The situation of women in the world is an “Achilles heel of capital” because women are everywhere, in every class, ethnicity and nation, and they still sit at the bottom of each social layer.
17. The public purse is not bottomless. Public debt went from 35% to 71% from 1974 to 1994. It is much greater now.
18. There can be no world government under capital. As Clinton put it, the U.S. is the only ‘essential country’ in the world. This is the essence of the imperialist attitude.
19. China is the largest target of U.S. military and political efforts.
20. Mészáros praises Sartre, Diderot, Rousseau, Babeuf, Bolivar and Deutscher. Like many thinkers, he admires French intellectuals. He spends a lot of time debating Hegel, which I find somewhat unnecessary at this point.
21. Environmental sustainability must involve a planned economy and controls on production. No other path will work. He mentions the environmental crisis a lot.
22. Keynes prediction that everyone would have so much leisure time they wouldn’t know what to do with it has not come true.
23. The collapse of the USSR has instituted a “new historical epoch.” Its collapse was a by-product of the crisis of world capital.
24. Capital attempts to control, not just economic processes, but all areas of human activity, up to “the most sophisticated intellectual and cultural domains.” Take note, professors.
25. The national question has been neglected. Mészáros sides with Lenin against Stalin in the last debate about the national question in the USSR, in which Lenin understood Stalin was pushing Great Russian chauvinism. As a humorous aside, Rakosi, the party leader in Hungary before the 1956 insurrection, said that “the criterion of Hungarian patriotism … is our love of the Soviet Union.” In a world context, national resistance to U.S. imperial domination should be understood and supported, as a socialist global response is based on equity, not any great nation’s chauvinism.
26. The left needs to unite and the world labor movement needs an international organization. I.E. we have to ‘act globally’ - unlike the lame bumper-sticker. The “multi-faceted groups of protest” and the “great multiplicity of social groups” need to unite on the ‘emancipatory side of the class divide behind labor’s hegemonic alternative to capital.’ I.E. a broad class front. The new international cannot succeed as a “self-oriented sectarian organization.” Mészáros points out: “…the adherents of the much needed socialist alternative are fragmented and divided among themselves, instead of internationally combining their strength for the cause of a successful confrontation with their adversaries.”
27. Marx said in the 1850s that “the historic task of bourgeois society is the establishment of the world market.” However Marx continued that a revolt may “be necessarily crushed in this little corner of the world…” In 1870 the Paris Commune was crushed, with German capital supporting French capital. Marx understood that capital was a world-wide phenomenon even at that point.
28. Liberalism is the method by which workers in one core capitalist country are galvanized to support their own bourgeoisie in its rapine attacks on the rest of the world.
It is hard to miss that Mészáros opposes ‘socialism in one country,’ (an idea invented by Bukharin); supports the ‘continuation of the revolution’ (the ‘permanent revolution’ of Marx); calls the caste in the USSR a bureaucratic one overseeing a non-capitalist society (very similar to the ‘degenerated workers state’) and opposes Stalin’s Great Russian chauvinism. These were all positions taken by Trotsky at the time of their occurrence - but Mészáros is evidently content to elide over the disagreements of the past in pursuit of future unity…
Mészáros understands that without a strike/occupation/street/counter-institution movement, no electoral work can succeed. He also understands the reverse, as the capitalist state is essential to the defeat of strikes and other struggles. Ignoring the state and politics is fatal to any real strike or occupation movement. He contends that the state and capital are completely connected and few would argue with that except anarchists and libertarians.
It is also hard to miss the fact that Mészáros abhors ‘single-issueism,’ of which the left is inundated. The fact that social struggles are disconnected; that the multiplicity of organizations have few bonds with others; that no common ideas or ideology connect the various fights (which ARE connected); that people view the world from their little rabbit-hole – all this radiates pathetic weakness. Yet it is only through world-wide working class unity that the capitalists can be defeated! This means that the oppressed have a long way to go to understand what is necessary, and frankly, the ‘left’ in many of its recent forms has been of little help.
And I bought it at Mayday Books!
September 18, 2015