Global Capitalism in crisis:
Universal, Particular, and Singular aspects
By Savas Michael-Matsas
Paper presented to the Conference on the Fall and Restoration of Capitalism (95th anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution) organized by the Association of Marxist Organizations (AMO), the Russian National Library, the Plekhanov House, “Alternativy” Foundation, and Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Leningrad, Russia, 4-5 November 2012
Two decades after the implosion of the USSR and the collapse of what was called “actual existing Socialism”, actually existing Capitalism plunges globally into the abyss of the worst crisis in its history, worst that the Great Depression of the 1930s following the Crash of 1929. The announcement of the “end of history” proved to be quite premature, and the triumphalist statements of 1989-91 about the “final and complete victory of liberal capitalism” sound today more than ridiculous.
More than five years have passed after the eruption of the current world capitalist crisis, starting with the collapse of the US sub-prime mortgage market in 2007. It had spiraling into an international banking crisis, the dramatic collapse of the Lehman Brothers in September 2008, a threatening immediate world financial meltdown, the ensuing Great Recession, which continues without a real recovery, and is deepening into a Long Great Depression, the non ending European sovereign debt crisis, the disintegration threatening the Euro-zone and the entire EU project, the threat of bankruptcy of its member-States such as Greece, Portugal, Ireland but also of the fourth and fifth most important economic powers in the euro area, Spain and Italy, the huge threats posed to the “core countries”, France and Germany itself.
Despite all these dramatic developments and the unprecedented massive “non-conventional” injections of liquidity by the States and central banks from 2008 up to now, there is no a visible way out from the crisis in the horizon. On the contrary, the world situation, in all its social economic and political parameters, is deteriorating rapidly.
Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF in her recent speech during the annual meeting of that organization in Tokyo, predicted not only the dangerous worsening of the world crisis but also its prolongation at least for the entire coming decade.
The October 2012 World Economic Outlook (WEO) issued by the IMF starts by stressing that the “global economy has deteriorated further since the release of the July 2012 WEO Update, and growth projections have been marked down […] Indicators of activity and unemployment show increasing and broad-based economic sluggishness in the first half of 2012 and no significant improvement in the third quarter. Global manufacturing has slowed sharply. The euro area periphery has a marked decline in activity, driven by financial difficulties evident in a sharp increase in sovereign rate spreads. Activity has disappointed in other economies too, notably the United States and United Kingdom. Spillovers from advanced economies and homegrown difficulties have held back activity in emerging market and developing economies. These spillovers have lowered commodity prices and weighed on activity many commodity exporters”
In relation to Russia the IMF WEO points out that “activity has also lost some momentum recently”.An article by Neil Buckley in Financial Times is very explicit: Russia’s “growth is half of its pre-crisis peak […] Russia’s pre-crisis model experts agree, is exhausted. Oil prices are unlikely to rise much. Russia’s oil output has peaked. Consumer spending is no longer exploding. So now Russia badly needs investment, domestic and foreign. But a lousy business environment is holding back both […] …even with continued high oil prices but without an improved business climate, annual Russian growth between now and 2030 would average 3.1 per cent. Under “moderate” oil prices, it would be 2.1 per cent. With the same scenario forecasting average global growth of 3.7 per cent over the period, Russia’s share of world output would fall. The poor climate is also contributing to capital flight of tens of billions of dollars a year. ”
Russia is far than insulated from the huge impact of the deteriorating world economic environment. As the above mentioned IMF WEO put it mildly “the outlook has become more uncertain” and “risks for a serious global slowdown are alarmingly high”. The deepening world depression affects both the dominating state sector of oil and gas industry as well as the orientation for a new round of privatizations attracting foreign capital. From this standpoint, the recent Rosneft’s $55 billion takeover of TNK-BP-“the biggest reconsolidation of the oil industry under state control for 20 years”– could be seen just as an aggressive re-assertion of the State’s role on economy but primarily as a defensive response to the building up of enormous foreign pressures from the worsening world crisis.
Post-Soviet Russia was always vulnerable to changes in the situation of the world capitalist economy. The IMF imposed “shock therapy” for rapid turn towards capitalist restoration and the wild “privatizations” schemes of the 1990s, the biggest theft of public wealth, led to no to an actually existing capitalism but to Russia’s default in August 1998 under the impact of the 1997 world financial crash centered in Asia-Pacific. The re-imposition of state control to the key oil and gas exports industry and the political transition associated to it benefited a lot from the recovery of the world economy based on a tremendous building up of mountains of credit (and increasing demand from China appearing as the new “workshop of the world”) in the years 2002-2007 that ended abruptly and irrevocably with the implosion of global finance capital in 2007 and the Great Recession that followed.
Three major dangerous areas- the EU monetary, debt, banking and manufacturing crisis, the coming “fiscal cliff” in the US, at the end of the year, strengthening recessionary tendencies, and now the slowing of the growth in China- all of them are deepening the plunge of the world economy into depression, with huge implications for all countries and Continents, including the so-called BRICs. The worst disasters and explosions are not behind but in front of us.
Global capitalism always was dreaming in the post-1917 period to re-absorb the vast space where capital was expropriated by revolutionary means. But then, when this historical “opportunity” emerged at the end of the 20th century, senile capitalism in decline proved to be quite impotent to “fertilize” the ex-Soviet space by penetrating it two decades now with capitalist relations. The so-called “actually existing Socialism in a single country”, ignoring developments in a world still dominated by capital, proved to be a tragic Utopia that imploded. Now the historical decline and bankruptcy of global Capitalism is torpedoing, in manifold different ways, the process of capitalist restoration in the ex-Soviet space, in Eastern Europe and even China.
The “mainstream” economics in disarray
In the aftermath of the Lehman Brothers collapse, in the middle of the slump, Alan Greenspan, the longstanding former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank, asked in the US Congress to explain what happened, he responded: “I am in a state of shocked disbelief”. Then, House Oversight Chair Henry Waxman questioned him: “In other words you found that your view of the world, your ideology was not right, it was not working.” “Absolutely” Greenspan replied “precisely, you know that’s precisely the reason was shocked, because I have being going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well ”.
The complete collapse of world view and ideology confessed by this American Pope of neo-liberalism, until quite recently all powerful and undisputed, epitomizes the disarray of all the “mainstream” economists of all schools, either neo-liberal or neo-Keynesian. None of them could predict the current crisis nor can now rationally explain it in depth or foresee the possible outcome. In the 1930s Great Depression at least, Keynes and the New Deal School had emerged bitterly debating with the “orthodox” Treasury School and the first generation of neo-liberals. In the present crisis, the disarray is overwhelming, nothing theoretically “new” emerges under the sun, despite the on-going polemics between the proponents of neo-Keynesian measures like Paul Krugman and the neo-liberal preachers of “austerity” in the US Republican Party, the British Tories, and the fanatics of Ordo-liberalismus in Germany. In all these cases not only what is presented is a rehash of the old recipes or an eclectic mixture of them but above all it is proven totally ineffective. Both unprecedented State interventions like those that followed the Lehman Brothers debacle, with trillions of dollars, euros or yen( or yuan) injected as “stimulus packages” or “quantitative easing” or “Long Term Refinancing Operations”(LTROs) or the new Outright Monetary Transactions(OMT) program by the European Central Bank could not have but very short term holding effects, avoiding an immediate collapse, without any medium term or long term perspective of a way out from the developing and worsening world capitalist crisis.
“As a matter of fact”, we had stressed in another occasion, “the divisions and bitter infighting among the ruling classes of Europe, including the split in Berlin, the most powerful centre of the EU, reflect the lack of any coherent long term strategy to solve the systemic crisis. The strategy of neo-liberalism imploded in 2007 and no return to the Keynesian strategy of the post war expansion (which has collapsed in 1971-73) is possible. There is a strategic void, expression itself of an historical impasse in which is irreversibly trapped the declining capitalism in Europe. The growing impossibility for a mediation of the driving contradictions of the system defines precisely what decline is.”
Keynesianism as the post World War II international framework of the Bretton Woods Agreement did work and produced a long period of expansion but because previously, during the devastations of the war gigantic amounts of surplus capital had been destroyed overcoming the capital overproduction that was driving the Great Depression and the falling rate of profit. Now the unprecedented over-accumulation of debt, of fictitious capital, during the 30 years of finance capital globalisation and speculation has compounded the equally unprecedented post war productive capital overproduction that broke down the Bretton Woods framework in the early 1970s. Despite the current rhetoric about the need of “growth measures”, investment of capital stagnates because no adequate return (rate of profit) is expected. Although there is a lot of liquidity and the mass of profits is growing, thanks to over-exploitation reaching a climax with every “austerity measures package”, these profits are not invested. Most of the time, investment turns again in speculative outlets, producing new and even more destructive “bubbles” than these that burst the last five years, proving the words by Warren Buffet that they are “financial weapons of mass destruction”.
The recession deepens, and with it the debt grows further becoming unsustainable. Unemployment reaches such dimensions that even Bernanke, the Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, spoke, introducing the QE3, about “irreversible systemic damages” produced by the growing jobless population. The mountains of debt crash the “real economy” i.e. the production sphere. “Deleveraging” , writing off and defaults on debts, bankruptcies of banks, companies, households, and of entire nation states, is only in its starting stage because of the unprecedented volume of an ocean of fictitious capital. To restart the blocked process of accumulation of global capital, it is needed a mass destruction of surplus capital on a scale surpassing that of the Great Depression of the 1930s- inescapably producing social disasters and political explosions.
In the middle of this process of historic catastrophe, mainstream economics in disarray reflects the void of an alternative long tern economic strategy for the rulers of the capitalist system as well as the advanced historic decline of the system itself. As we have analysed elsewhere, global capitalism in decline experiences now the death agony of homo oeconomicus.
Actuality of Marx and of the Marxist method
It was expected that in conditions where mainstream economics remains in stupor in front of the world, structural, and historical crisis of global capitalism that not only Marx’s magnum opus, Das Kapital, becomes again a best seller but his work is recognized now as an “indispensable tool of analysis” even by well known representatives of capitalism like Nouriel Roubini, George Soros, even the ineffable Francis Fukuyama, the pseudo-Hegelian “gravedigger of History”!
Bourgeois political economy, not only in its late ‘vulgar’ degeneration but also in its initial, path breaking, and ‘classical’ form was sharply criticized by Marx as unable to grasp and theorize crises. From one side Sismondi and the like did not grasp the internal contradictions in the nature of capital but they saw only particular external, artificial barriers in capital’s development; from the other side “Ricardo and his entire school” who saw only an unstoppable universal development of capital “ never understood the really modern crises, [emphasis in the original] in which this contradiction of capital discharges itself in great thunderstorms which increasingly threaten it as the foundation of society and o production itself.” Both schools of bourgeois economic thought divorced the universal from the particular and ignored capital as the living contradiction, as Marx defined it.
Trapped in formal logic, Ricardo denies the possibility of a general crisis of overproduction of capital; but as Marx points out “in a general crisis of overproduction” [in allgemeiner (universal) Krise der Überproduktion] “the contradiction is not between the different kinds of productive capital but between industrial and loanable capital-between capital as directly involved in the production process and capital as money existing (relatively) outside of it”. Precisely what actually happens today!
“The foundation of overproduction” according to Marx is uncovered in “the fundamental contradiction of developed capital”: “capital contains a particular restriction of production-which contradicts its general tendency to drive beyond every barrier to production”. “By its nature nature, therefore, it posits a barrier to labour and value creation, in contradiction to its tendency to expand them boundlessly. And in as much as it both posits a barrier specific to itself, and on the other side equally drives over and beyond every barrier, it is the living contradiction ”[emphases in the original]
It is this fundamental living contradiction that drives the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, disproportionality between the different branches as well as under-consumption- all the contradictions of the bourgeois economy that explode together into a world crisis, which Marx has defined as : “the real concentration and forcible adjustment of all the contradictions of bourgeois economy”.
Bourgeois “mainstream” economics, to use again a remark by Marx referring to John Stuart Mill, “is as much at home in absurd contradictions, as [it] feels at sea in the Hegelian contradiction, the source of all dialectic.”
A turn to this “source of all dialectic”, especially a Marxist re-reading of Hegel’s Logic as a logic of contradiction, is today more indispensable even from the time when Lenin has returned to it, at the beginning of World War I.
The syllogism of crisis
Lenin underlines approvingly and pays specific attention, in his Philosophical Notebooks, to the following sentence from Hegel’s Wissenschaft der Logik: “All things are a Syllogism, a universal which is bound together with individuality through particularity”.
It is quite true also in studying the current world capitalist crisis. David Harvey, on the contrary, in a recent lecture, had criticized what he calls the “weak syllogism” of Marx, in the Grundrisse and in Capital, which wrongly is considered as formulated in terms of bourgeois political economy, limiting himself to an abstract research of the general laws of motion of capital, which is insufficient to grasp and analyze the specific historical character of the post 2007 world crisis.
It is not the place or the time for a much needed detailed critique of Harvey’s important lecture relating it to his own appraisal of the current crisis. For the moment we notice only that the arbitrary separation that he does of universality from generality, in his discussion of Marx’s presentation of the syllogism of the production process in the Grundrisse, reduces universality into abstract universality and the laws of motion of capital from contradictory tendencies, unities of opposites, into an abstract generality, abstract identities.
We argue, on the contrary, that Hegel’s syllogism, re-elaborated on a materialist basis by Marx, not as a schema externally imposed on reality but as a dialectical i.e. contradictory reflection of objective historical reality is indispensable to trace the interconnections and transitions between universal, particular, and individual aspects of the current world crisis.
The case of Greece in bankruptcy could illustrate the dialectical connection of the universal with the individual through the particular: the world financial meltdown (universal) following the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008 is connected with and it has driven the transition into the eruption of the European sovereign debt crisis (particular) afterwards that has broken the weakest link in the Euro-zone, Greece (individual).
Greece’s predicament is neither an exception nor the result of the “laziness” of the Greeks, of their “prodigality”, “systematic tax evasion” etc. as the outrageously racist discourse of the “lenders”, particularly in Germany and North Europe uses to claim.
The individual, with all its specific and original features created by the uneven and combined world historical process that made Greece the “weakest link”, contains the universal capitalist development with all its contradictions. Greece is a microcosm containing all world contradictions and the capitalist world as a whole is a Greece in becoming. The “contagion” of the catastrophe is well under way involving now not solely small peripheral European countries like Ireland and Portugal but giants too, Spain and Italy, hitting France, pushing Germany, the industrial powerhouse of Europe, and the EU as a whole into recession, and the euro currency system into collapse. Nobody ignores that disintegration of the Euro-zone and of the EU will have devastating implication of the entire world economy.
All the “salvation packages” by the EU, the ECB, and the IMF to Greece, tied with draconian austerity measures of social cannibalism that plunged the Greek economy into a depression similar to the Great Depression in Germany and the US in the 1930s, as well as all those advocating a “Grexit”, a forcible expulsion of Greece from the Euro-zone, both they try to “insulate” the Greek disaster by a “firewall” and avoid contagion and devastating international implications. In both cases, they indirectly recognize that Greece (the individual) is connected to the Euro-zone and the EU (the particular) through the world crisis (the universal). In Hegelian terms, it could be formulated as a syllogism of necessity.
A world, structural, and historical crisis
From another vantage point and on another level of generality, to use Bertell Ollman’s dialectical terms, the current crisis and its syllogism should be defined as a concrete universality with all the wealth of particularity and singularity: it is a world (universal), specifically structural/systemic( particular), and historical( singular) crisis.
First, it is not the sum of national crises but a world process dominating and determining, indirectly, in an uneven, contradictory, mediated way, all the continental, regional and national situations. The primacy of this universal character is founded on a historically developed international division of labour, of the ever-deepening interconnectedness of the uneven parts of a world economy and of a world market.
Again this is based on the mode of existence of capital itself as living contradiction. Marx writes in the Grundrisse: “The tendency to create the world market [emphasis in the original] is directly given in the concept of capital itself. Every limit appears as a barrier to be overcome”. Commerce in the world market “no longer appears as a function taking place between independent productions for the exchange of their excess, but rather as an essentially all-embracing presupposition and moment of production itself.”
The world character of capitalist economy and a world market was already established at the end of the 19th –early 20th century, and it was debated in the classical works on imperialism, particularly by Lenin who considered it initiating the “the latest stage of capitalist development”, the epoch of capitalist decline.
The internationalization of economic life, globalization in its non apologetic, scientific sense, and the imperialist stage of capitalist decline interconnected with it are not, of course, in stasis; they develop in different phases up to now. A first phase of globalization, analyzed by Lenin in his famous pamphlet, ended with World War I and the Russian Revolution; a second phase followed the end of the World War II, in the framework of the Bretton Woods and the gold exchange standard with the fixed convertibility of gold to the US dollar as the world reserve currency; after the collapse of the Bretton Woods system and the eruption of the world crisis at the end of the 1960s- early 1970s connected with an international revolutionary wave, started the third phase with finance capital globalization- which imploded in 2007.
Globalization in capitalism can never lead to the formation of a unified universal capital, a kind of an “ultra-imperialism” that Kautsky had dreamed for, neither on a world nor, even, on a continental scale. It contradicts the inner nature itself of capital, which cannot exist but as many capitals in competition. As Marx has analyzed “…competition is nothing other than the inner nature of capital, its essential character, appearing in and realized as the reciprocal interaction of many capitals with one another, the inner tendency as external necessity. Capital exists and can only exist as many capitals, and its self-determination therefore appears as their reciprocal interaction with one another. ” 
The often referred as “unbalances” between Europe, America, and Japan, between the US and the EU, between the UK and the EU, between the Northern and Southern or peripheral Euro-zone, between the US and China etc. express this inner nature of capital as external necessity.
The dominant tendency to universality driving capital as self-expanding value collides with barriers its inner nature that Marx specifies as: “(1) necessary labour as limit of the exchange value of living labour capacity;(2) surplus value as the limit of surplus labour and development of the forces of production; (3) money as the limit of production; (4) the restriction of the production of use values by exchange value”. And, immediately he adds: “Hence overproduction: the sudden recall of all these necessary moments of production founded on capital; hence general devaluation in consequence of forgetting them.”
The expansion of “the entire credit system, and the over-trading, over-speculation etc.” rest on the necessity of leaping over these barriers. (Thus, Marx says, “the English forced to lend to foreign nations, in order to have them as costumers”. The same in our days, with contemporary German and French lenders in relation to the Greek and other nations of Southern Europe…)
The same points raised in the 1858 Manuscript reappear in a developed form in the famous – and so actual!-pages on “The role of credit” in volume 3 of Capital: “…the self-expansion of capital based on the contradictory nature of capitalist production permits an actual free development only up to a certain point, so that in fact it constitutes an immanent fetter and barrier to production, which are continually broken through by the credit system. Hence, the credit system accelerates the material development of the productive forces and the establishment of the world market […] at the same time credit accelerates the violent eruptions of this contradiction-crises-and thereby the elements of disintegration of the old mode of production. ”
Thus Marx stresses the dialectic of credit expansion: “The two characteristics immanent in the credit system are, on the one hand, to develop the incentive of capitalist production, enrichment through exploitation of the labour of others, to the purest and most colossal form of gambling and swindling, and to reduce more and more the number of the few who exploit the social health; on the other hand, to constitute the form of transition to a new mode of production” .
The unprecedented expansion of the credit system during the three decades of finance capital globalization, and particularly its “purest and most colossal form of gambling and swindling” during the years of 2002-2007, after the so-called “securitization revolution” and the building by derivatives of an astronomically high Babel Tower, led both to a world-wide implosion, accelerating all the elements of disintegration of the old mode of production but also- something that is mostly disregarded- constituting “the form of transition to a new mode of production”, world Socialism.
Second, the current world crisis is a structural/systemic crisis. Most of economists, both bourgeois or Marxists, agree to this characterization but they give often to it a static, non dialectical, and a-historical meaning, which underestimates the specific character, depth and dynamics of the current social economic maelstrom. Capitalism has experienced in the past many crises, non-restricted to the business cycle or to particular branches or national economies, which could be defined as structural and systemic. From a Marxist perspective based on Marx’s method, it is historically developing contradictions that are structuring capital relations into an organically evolving and functioning system, a dialectical totality. The question is not what contradictions in general are driving the post 2007 world crisis, repeating a list of them found in Capital or eclectically isolate some of then “is it a falling rate of profit or a realization crisis?”). The central question is in what specific historical stage of development are now these contradictions structuring the capitalist system. What is the specificity, the particularity, of the current crisis differentiating it from previous ones, and, first of all, from the post -1929 Crash world crisis and Great Depression, a constant point of reference and comparison?
Historicity, thus, is essential to grasp transition and specificity, the third characteristic of this post 2007 world, structural/ systemic crisis as a historical crisis.
Historical in two senses:
a. It embodies and synthesizes all previous world systemic/structural crises, particularly in the imperialist epoch, the Long Depression of the end of the 19th century, the Great Depression of the 1930s, as well as the collapse of the Bretton Woods framework, and all the important world financial shocks during the long period of neo-liberal finance globalization, especially the “heart attacks” of the system in 1987 and in 1997-2001 that prepare the ground for the implosion of globalized finance capital in 2007;
b. The current world crisis is historical as a dialectical Aufhebung of all past historical developments, not solely incorporating them but also terminating and superseding them. The syllogism of the present crisis, of its universality through particularity generates its singularity, its uniqueness.
It is a break in the historical continuum and a gigantic qualitative leap into a future still unknown, which will be determined by the social political confrontations of living class forces on a national and, above all, on international scale.
Already, social convulsions and political explosions are taking place: the sharp social conflicts and regime crises in Greece and in Europe; in their vicinity, the yet unfinished and uncompleted revolutionary Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa threatened in every step by imperialist wars, invasions, repression and mobilization of forces of local reaction and obscurantism; the heroic upsurge of the miners in South Africa marking a qualitative turning point in the post-apartheid period and in the struggles all over Africa; the Occupy movement in the US; the on-going workers’ and popular struggles in Latin America.
95 years after the 1917 Great October Socialist Revolution, the beginning of the uncompleted world socialist revolution, the signal from the cruiser Avrora is heard again from Tahrir Square in Cairo and Kasbah in Tunis to Puerta del Sol in Madrid, Syntagma Square in Athens, even to Wall Street in New York!
The syllogism of the crisis is in transition to the syllogism of revolution.
Athens, November 1, 2012
 IMF World Economic Outlook , October 2012 Chapter 1, p.1
 op. cit. p.5
 Financial Times , October 25, 2012
 Financial Times op. cit.
 Quoted in Michael Roberts blog, The dilemma of the mainstream, entry posted on October 17, 2012
 Savas Michael-Matsas, Greece and the decline of Europe, paper which was presented first as a talk in the Critique Conference 2012 GLOBAL CAPITALISM AND THE ECONOMIC CRISIS-PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE, London School of Economics, 25 February 2012. A short version in Portuguese is published in the book edited by Raquel Varela Quem paga o estado social em Portugal? Bertrand Editora, Lisbon 2012 p.431
 See, Savas Michael-Matsas Grèce Générale (in French), revue Lignes, Octobre 2012.
 Karl Marx, Grundrisse, Penguin 1973 p. 411
 Op. cit p. 421
 Op. cit. p. 413
 Op. cit p. 415.
 Op. cit p. 421
 Karl Marx, Theories of surplus value, Part II, Progress –Moscow1975 p.510
 K. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, Lawrence and Wishart 1974 p.559, in footnote.
 V. I. Lenin, Philosophical Notebooks, Completed Works Progress Moscow 1980 vol. 38 p. 177
 David Harvey, History versus Theory: A Commentary on Marx’s Method in Capital Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize-Lecture, Historical Materialism 20.2, 2012 pp.3-38
 See Savas Michael-Matsas, Grèce Générale op. cit.
 See Bertell Ollman , Dialectical Investigations Routledge –New York 1993
 Grundrisse op. cit p. 408
 Op. cit p.414 emphasis in the original
 Op. cit. p.416 emphasis in the original
 K. Marx, Capital , Volume III, Progress-Moscow 1977 p. 441
 See among other works, Osvaldo Coggiola, A Crise de 1929 e a Grande Depressão da década de 30, in Raquel Varela ed. op. cit. pp. 197-289