BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky

Socialists Ponder Repeated Capitalist Crises

Like harsh weather, capitalist crises recur. Contributors to The Crisis This Time, Socialist Register 2011 by Leo Panitch, Greg Albo and Vivek Chibber deepen our grasp of the current turmoil and prospects for humane change. In a preface and 15 essays, the topics include austerity, finance and the economy, gender, ideology and society, from the EU to Japan, South Africa and the US.

Panitch and Sam Gindin survey radical thought, beginning with Marx, on capitalist crises from 1857-58 to 2011. What makes for the differences and similarities in the crises? Are they cyclical or structural? Such questions and answers get at the roots of the system’s contradictions.

The authors focus on capitalists and workers, in finance and production, arguing for popular thinking and acting that supports “the time people need for changing the world” to be “an essential strategic precondition for creating the new movements and parties” to create a more humane way of living and working.    

Hugo Radice looks at narratives of the Great Recession/Financial Crisis. He argues against a “states versus markets” viewpoint and for an analysis of class relations. This is a useful departure point amid the rise of the financial sector and the related “debt peonage” of households over the past three decades.

That pivotal 30 years also concerns Anwar Shaikh. He situates this period as the driving force for what in his words is a great depression, the 21st century’s first.  Shaikh focuses on “the movements of the rate of profit,” pinpointing its rise since the 1980s as laying the groundwork for the current tumult.

The two main causes are stagnant real wages relative to employee productivity combined with low interest rates. Johanna Brenner fleshes out the under-covered impacts of economic hardship on females and their families in working-class households. Hers is a concrete analysis of women’s paid and unpaid labor.

Brenner’s approach to what happens at and away from homes and workplaces in terms of class, gender and race relations deserves a careful reading.

Sam Ashman, Ben Fine and Susan Newman bring the contours of the crisis in South Africa into clearer focus.

There, what has emerged after the formal end of race apartheid offers a cautionary tale on the disempowering of progressive social forces.

Increasingly, the South African state, rich in vital minerals, serves elite class interest at home and abroad, giving rise to protest movements against worsening social conditions.

Karl Beitel, like Shaikh, views the rate of profit as the primary driver of employers’ restructuring of the US working class. He, and in their essay, Gregory Albo and Bryan Evans, argue that elites’ attempts to devalue the public sector by weakening its union workers and defunding vital government services, are an exit strategy from austerity. Its entry point was the federal government’s bailout of big banks and Wall Street.

The Crisis This Time ends with Noam Chomsky’s keen critique.

His thoughts on the life and death of Joe Stack, who died crashing his private plane into an IRS building, amplifies the threats of alienation and exploitation given the rightward drift of US economics and politics since the 1970s.

The January 2011 Arizona shooting rampage has focused many on such dangers. Chomsky makes the case that the rise of the political right stems from the absence, or void, of left, radical organizational pressure on the political bipartisanship that represents upper class power.   

Seth Sandronsky writes in Sacramento, Calif. Email

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2011

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