Is there a commonality between the Spanish Indigados, the Occupy Movement, hosts of other social protests from Israel to Greece, and now showing itself in Turkey and Brasil?
The current economic and social crisis is certainly a deep one and is driving capitalist states and capitalist companies towards some desperate measures to try and stabilise the system and restore (and where possible) increase real profit levels. But this is not to assume that particular capitalist governments or companies are stuck with only one set of inflexible policies. The problem is that isolated struggles by workers in the context of intense capitalist competition will give the capitalists more abillity to offload any gains made by one sector onto other workers The generalisation of struggle will make that harder for them to achieve this and can potentially push back the austerity measures accross a wider front at least on a temporary basis.
Alexander Berkman, the author of the ABC of Anarchism, put it "Capitalism will continue as long as such an economic system is considered adequate and just".
Until people see through it capitalism will continue to stagger on from economic crisis to war to ecological crisis. To simply denounce finance capitalism as the main enemy is to side with industrial capital in the struggle between the two over how much each is to get of the wealth produced by the worker class. When we challenge capitalism, we challenge it all or we do not challenge it at all.
Can crisis, in certain circumstances provide an accelerant to the class struggle? And what will motivate the working class to overthrow capitalism if not the crisis of the latter? For decades self-proclaimed "Marxists" (especially Trotskyists) fetishised the word "crisis", and describe every economic downturn and political turn of events as the "crisis of capitalism" or even prophesising the "inevitable" end of capitalism. It’s proposed that in a crisis, the closer we are to revolution. The worse conditions become - the more politicised and inclined to take direct action the populace become. Some communists welcome the economic crisis of capitalism and claim there is no perspective of revolution without it. Some of those "Marxists" say "Bring on the crisis" because for the working class things will not be able to continue as before. It is argued that without some form of crisis there's no reason at all for the proletariat to revolt.
As long as capitalism can offer us palliatives (or at least the illusions of them) to soothe our exploitation, the system will survive It is argued that crises opens up the possibility of revolution, even if it doesn't guarantee it. But without crisis there is no possibility whatsoever. There unfortunately won't be a perspective of revolution with it, either. Genuine socialists prefer that working class living standards aren't severely cut. How do we agitate workers around this issue? "Cheers for the crisis"!! Most of the vanguard Left seems to be basing all of its activity around either recruiting workers into their particular party, or upon the vague hope that the working class will engage in some kind of spontaneous communist revolution. Wishing the massive impacts of a massive economic crisis/recession upon people's lives just in the hope that their fringe ideas will get picked up and perhaps adhered to by a handful of additional people, the contempt that it shows for humanity is disdainful. It also lays bare the complete and utter impotence of said movements in the first place. This overly optimistic wish fulfilment mixed with its crude utopian determinism does no justice to Marx.
Historically, it hasn't shown crises capable of producing anything that is favourable to the process of implementing a sustainable social and economic system that could both eclipse and be more progressive than the current form of organising society. The track records of crises are such that they have not produced a lasting positive effect on any attempts to eclipse the current method of organising society. We've seen countless crises since the birth of capitalism, all of which the effects of have been disproportionaly visited upon those who can least afford to bear those consequences, and none of which have ended up leaving the position of class struggle or even progressive social democratic politics in an enhanced position after the event, maybe for blips of time, but in the long run, crisis have been kinder to capitalism than they have to us - and those going into a crisis with power will invariably come out of the other end of it in a far better position than those who went into it with less power. Anyone who had a realistic view of the implications of the coming crisis relating to the environment, resources, food and population pressures would not be so gleeful in their wishing those effects upon an already downtrodden working class. Crisis in the main are useful to capitalism. Capitalism needs crisis to continually move onto the next stage and it is odd that those who are supposedly against capitalism wish for things that will help capitalism to reassert itself even wider and deeper than it currently is.
Socialists will not bring consciousness to the working class from the outside but awareness will be developed in the workers' struggles to defend itself against the inevitable intensification of the attacks against it. There's nothing inevitable about this and if the working class cannot rise to the occasion overall, it gets defeated. The economic crisis (like war, etc.) can provide a stimulus for class struggle, but this is not always the case. In some circumstances it can demoralise the class or, even if the class struggles it can be dragged onto bourgeois terrain like the strikers in France in the 30s who supported leftist governments and marched under the national flag. Despite the considerable militancy, the class struggle was contained. What can happen is that the working class could be beat down more than it already has been in the previous decades. The working class is mostly under the sway of bourgeois ideology, is not organised even into class fighting organisations, and therefore is presently unable to threaten the bourgeoisie's power. The Great Depression produced no revolutionary upsurge and the appalling conditions of workers in the 3rd world haven't automatically led to social revolution in those countries either. We can perhaps even expect to see reactionary ideology make a resurgence amongst the working class, in the midst of any coming crisis. If the working class is not already prepared it will be divided and defeated. That is not appealing prospect.
Economic crisis and increasing misery for the working class doesn't necessarily and inevitably lead to revolution. Relying upon the effects of the crisis seems to be the lazy way to try and approach social change, scrap all the groundwork and hope the crisis does it for you. While it is argued that downturns make people angry and more susceptible to revolutionary ideas, the opposite may be true. It may be downturns just lead to despair, fatalism, acceptance of misery and cynicism to things getting better. Upturns in the economy make revolution more likely because it is the human condition never to be satisfied and when you've got the job, house, wages, car and all the mod cons then you want more - security, control over your own life which can only be got by workers ownership and control of our own work, residents ownership of their own homes and individuals control over our lives, all of which can only be got by way of socialist revolution.
When crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That is our basic function: to develop alternatives, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable. The best we can hope for is to use this as an opportunity to re-group, in order to get the working class in a stronger position to start from when the boom returns. All we can do is to try to negotiate the best terms possible and try to resist as effectively as we can the increased downward pressures on wages and working conditions (for which we need collective organisation and action, even within the existing trade unions). As to what revolutionaries can do, at the moment being so small a minority, we can't do much more than keep on arguing that the only way-out is to replace capitalism by a system based on common ownership (instead of class ownership) and production solely for use (instead of production for profit) and to keep on urging workers to self-organise themselves democratically to bring this social revolution about
The whole point of class struggle is about winning gains, making our lives better, getting better conditions at work, at home and in society, things that the bulk of the population can easily measure in terms of the direct affect on their day to day lives. We are not going to get much support for our ideas if we come out with argument like "well your living standards may well have declined, your worse off now than when we started, and we haven't gained anything in terms of changing the incredibly unjust system of organising society, but just look at the enormous gains we've made in terms of the class struggle" - the whole point is to win real tangible gains that in turn can bolster people and show it can be done, thus allowing momentum to build, more people won over to a critical analysis of the society they live in, more ideas developed for such a time that when the crisis does come so that the right ideas are lying around, in sufficient depth and breadth, that they can be picked up and used, and some good made out of a crisis. But until that time comes it's just pissing against the wind. Struggles should be aimed towards achieving real gains for the sake of those gains or delivering 'an increased confidence, autonomy, initiative,participation, solidarity, egalitarian tendencies and the self-activity of the masses', but all of these are a means to and end and that end should be measurable in terms of improvements in our lives. Workers benefit from their struggles in terms of learning how to organise, discovering their collective power, etc.
Like it or not but capitalism did deliver huge increases in the standards of living over various phases, take the post-war golden age of the Welfare State for example. Capitalism in the social democratic era brought about a flourishing of consumer capitalism. The intention of this was not to increase conditions and the general living conditions of the working class, but it was a means to an end for capitalism to accumulate more, and as we know capital will do anything if it means being able to accumulate more, so from that point of view capitalism was happy to, and indeed was required to, deliver a vast increase in living standards and quality of life compared with previous periods of history. In order for it to do this it meant wreaking havoc in other areas and storing up problems for the future, but the bottom line was that the general conditions of the working class have improved under capitalism. You could argue however that conditions have just improved because time has moved on and those improvements would have been seen in any method of organising society, but that would be indulging in what-if's. A substantial amount of the demands of early reformists and the like have actually been delivered. It is it's galling to perhaps admit these things but it does help if you want change, to actually know where you are before embarking on any activity, practical or theoretical, aimed at bringing about that change.
Marx said in the Holy Family:-
"Not in vain does it go through the stern but steeling school of labour. It is not a question of what this or that proletarian, or even the whole proletariat, at the moment regards as its aim. It is a question of what the proletariat is, and what, in accordance with this being, it will historically be compelled to do. Its aim and historical action is visibly and irrevocably foreshadowed in its own life situation as well as in the whole organization of bourgeois society today."
Consciousness is something that workers has to acquire, even if it does not want to.
The liberation of our class will only come about when we, the class ourselves, for ourselves, do the hard work of organising, which needs that we class conscious workers doing the equally hard work of convincing our fellow workers. At the end of the day, as pro-revolutionaries, it is not in our interest to try and save capitalism but rather to destroy it and to encourage current struggles to develop on an independent, self-organised, class basis and extend across national boundaries which may well give rise to an escalation of the social crisis and starts to challenge capitalism as a whole from a position of some class strength. Only the self-organisation of the proletariat contains the potential to defend its own interests both in the short-term economic and the longer term political. A working class that can't defend itself is also a working class that is incapable of making a revolution.
Marx wrote "Philosophers have only tried to understand the world. The point is to change it."
The IWW sang "Don't moan, Organise!"