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Comment and Opinion

A New Civilization Based on Solidarity, Sharing, and Non-Commodity Exchange.

Translated Thursday 13 February 2014, by Gene Zbikowski

Capitalism is a system in evolution.

By Nasser Mansouri-Guilani, economist and CGT representative at the environmental, social and economic council (CESE).

The variations in supply and demand due to numerous factors (political, social, financial, climatic… ) result in “cyclical” crises that are more or less quickly diminished by economic policy measures (budgetary stimuluses, changes in the interest rate, etc.).

Beyond these cyclical crises, the structural evolution of the capitalist system depends on technological innovation – and social struggles – which give rise to a regime of accumulation of capital and to a mode of regulation that favors Labor or Capital to a greater or lesser degree. A cyclical crisis results from the incoherence that exists between the regime of accumulation on the one hand and the mode of regulation on the other. Thus, at the end of the 19th century, automation made possible increases in productivity, part of which went to benefit the workers, thanks to labor struggles. The development of public services and of social protection played a crucial role in the devaluing of capital and the exit from the Great Depression in the 1930s. The current crisis results from developments that are linked to a new phase in the development of the capitalist system – globalization – in the context of powerful technological innovation and significant changes in the following political and social relationships:

* The place of algorithms and sophisticated calculating machines, products of human brain work, in the productive processes, and which accomplish human physical and mental jobs, the “knowledge worker [cerveau d’oeuvre]” (1) accompanying and even replacing the labor force.

* The segmentation of productive processes and the off-shoring of activities, from the production of goods to the provision of services, and including research activities.

* The generalization of the norms of profitability of finance capital, resulting from financial globalization and the inter-twining of the productive and financial realms, leading to a restructuring of production that is governed solely by the logic of short-term profitability as dictated by the financial markets.

These developments transform the balance of power between Labor and Capital, both in terms of the creation and also the division of the wealth created by the workers. In the political arena, this change in the balance of power is accompanied by a neo-conservative orientation and increasing intervention on the part of state power in favor of the owners of capital, through deregulation of the economy and through privatization. These orientations make it easy to pit workers against each other, and to lower and even to ignore environmental and social norms. It is not solely the human being, as a producer and a consumer, who is sacrificed, but also his/her environment and eco-system. In France, the fall – on the order of 10 percent – of Labor’s portion of the value that it adds goes together with a rise in the share of income that is distributed to the holders of capital. This translates into under-investment in human capacities and in materiel and equipment, and into the development of precarious work, mass unemployment, and inequality. Permanent downward pressure on expenditures for production, society, and wages reinforces the headlong flight into the financialization of the economy and feeds capitalism’s fundamental contradiction; thus, you end up with the current multi-dimensional systemic crisis – an ideological, ecological, social, financial and economic crisis – in short, a crisis of civilization.

However this crisis does not mark the end of events. In line with Gramsci, we can say that it expresses a situation in which the old is no longer tenable and the new has not yet been born. This is an expression of the class struggle, whose outcome depends on the degree to which workers are organized around an alternative project. “The old” is the neo-free-tradism that has dominated management choices and political orientations these past decades, which comes under the heading of supply-side economics. (2) The “new” expresses the need to establish a new mode of social and economic development on the basis of the valuing of Labor: increasing social and government spending, mobilizing the financial system differently, developing industry and high-quality public services, improving the democratic mechanisms in the body politic and in business enterprises, and establishing cooperation and regulations to enforce environmental and social norms in the interest of the workers, the peoples, and future generations. It is a matter of transcending capitalism in order to build a new civilization based on solidarity, sharing, and non-commodity exchanges.

(1) The expression was coined by the economist Michèle Debonneuil.

(2) See the tribune published in l’Humanité on January 14, 2014.

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