By Lal Khan
The genesis of capitalism was based on the power of steam. Ever since, for almost three hundred years, capitalism evolved through different processes and changes that gave it a new impetus. But the basic mechanics of labour exploitation for extracting profits, competition between humans leading to vicious wars and bloodshed, subjugations of nations and oppression of women and weaker sections of society have been its fundamental features.
The methodology of oppression periodically changed through the ages. Through the evolution of machinery, industry and trade and technological ‘revolutions’ gave it new leases of life. From steam to electricity, telegraphs, railways, industrial conveyor lines, automation, computers, Internet and now the advent of Artificial Intelligence were such inventions. The advent of containers in the last few decades revolutionised trade and commerce. However, these technological wonders remained firmly within the control of ruling classes. These were exclusively aimed to enhance the rates of profits.
However, there were certain social reforms during economic booms mainly in the advanced capitalist countries. Yet there were social upheavals and revolutionary movements that challenged the states and the system recurrently throughout its history. The bourgeois industrial revolutions initially took place, albeit in different forms and shapes as capitalism was a national system in its inception and the nationalist characteristics of its character, occurrence and social impacts were clearly diverse in the different countries of Europe, USA, Japan, Canada, Australia and others. But that didn’t lead to society’s socioeconomic emancipation or equality, as was the promised motto of the French bourgeois revolution of 1789. Neither did it eliminate depravity and alienation of the working masses. These concessions to pacify them and human development through these advances were mainly designed to create a healthy and skilled proletariat to increase the productivity of labour for more profits. But above all, they needed a social stability at least domestically to enjoy their plundered wealth and obscene luxuries.
Nevertheless, these ‘revolutions’ also had profound effects on social life and structures of society and changed the social relations, cultural values, economic interactions, living conditions, human emotions and styles of cultural life under modern production. The primitive accumulation of capital nevertheless continued.
The main tasks of these revolutions were the creation of new nations and states, the overthrow of feudalism; the formation of a political suprastructure of parliamentary democracy where the representatives both conservative and reformists factions of the elite could vent the seething discontent of the masses in society. These national democratic revolutions were based on the industrial revolutions that created enough surpluses to built the social and physical infrastructures that gave foundations and an impetus to the relatively rapid growth of the economy and industry. Despite the shortcomings of these revolutions, in that period, capitalism had a relatively progressive role in history.
However with this rapid growth of production, the national markets soon became saturated, as the rates of the profits declined and could not be sustained. Capitalism’s basic incentive and essence as a historical socioeconomic system is the rate of profit.
As the limits within the nation-state were exhausted, capitalism began to expand its economic domination beyond its boundaries. This led to the formation of modern imperialism at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. These imperialist powers had belligerent economic and militaristic designs to capture more lands, enslave the inhabitants, extort resources and compete with rival powers in this imperialist’s crusades for greater plunder.
This rivalry led to wars between imperialist powers for their hegemony of markets and colonies. The balance of power among the imperial capitalist states continually changed after these wars.
However the capitalist industrial revolutions were accomplished on less than one-third of this planet, two-thirds of the countries were still in different nascent stages of development and the imperialists technological and military superiority and advanced weaponry was ferociously used to subdue their economic development and crush the valiant struggles against imperialism by the colonial masses. Lenin explained this process in ‘Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism’;
“Capitalism has grown into a world system of colonial oppression and of the financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the population of the world by a handful of “advanced” countries. The natural resources flow from a periphery of poor and underdeveloped countries to a core of wealthy and developed countries, enriching the latter at the expense of the former, because of how the poor countries are integrated to the global economy.”
Although the Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, French and other imperialists occupied several parts of the so-called ‘third world’, but it was the British Imperialism that colonized most territories. By I901 Britain ruled a formal empire of 11.2 million square miles, with a population of almost 400 million spread across the world. After the Second World War, British Imperialism was debilitated, as had other imperialisms in history from Egypt and India to Rome and Napoleonic France.
The post-war imperialist power that arose was the United States. However, after seven decades the US imperialism is also in terminal decline. Its waning economic and technological hegemony on a world stage is being challenged by China and other powers. Its military failures, record debts and trade deficits have eroded its economic and military dominance. In this epoch of the world capitalist decay prospects for the rise of China or another large economy to the stature of a new world hegemon is absurd. The organic weakness of capitalism has made it an obsolete historical system.
US imperialism’s decline has given rise to mayhem and instability unforeseen in history. Eight individuals own more wealth than half the planet’s human race. Capitalism has long contravened its own economic, legal and financial parameters. It is no more a system of surplus through production. Derivatives, stock exchange speculations, hedge funds, casino economy and financial manipulations are being applied. To call capitalism the destiny of mankind is an insult to the intelligence and labour of the human race. Humanity’s emancipation and prosperity lies in transforming this rotten system into a planned socialist economy — collectively owned, democratically run, extinct of profit and competition. Mankind’s destiny lies in a victorious socialist revolution.
Published in Daily Times, November 12th 2018.