Are the banks and greedy and incompetent bankers to blame for the current economic crisis? That’s what a lot of people think and what the media seems to want us to think. Certainly, bank directors generally are greedy – awarding themselves huge “salaries”, bonuses and pensions – and some of them are incompetent on their own terms. But blaming them is to let the real culprit off the hook: the capitalist system of production for profit. There are few places in the world more pointless than a bank. There are few compelled to toil more uselessly than bank employees. In every respect, the function of banks is to facilitate a form of exchange in which nothing is produced and much can be lost. A world without banks would be a wholly better place.
For all its worth, the distinction between productive and non productive capitalists remain a question of who gets what share of the unpaid labour of the working class.
Workers are exploited by virtue of the fact that we produce surplus value for the capitalists which is appropriated and used for their own ends. Nothing to do with low wages or being harshly treated. Exploitation is something which is built into the very nature of the employment relation itself which implies the division of society into employers/owners and employees/non-owners .
In fact, capitalism is not interested in producing things as such. It is only interested in profit expressed in money terms. Investing in the production of goods and services is an inconvenience which it has to go through in order to achieve its aim of ending up with a greater financial worth than it started with. Thus the purest form of capital is finance capital and, from the capitalist point of view, the most convenient way to make more money is to do so by financial dealings of one sort or another. It’s an illusion of course. It’s production, not finance, that makes the world go round. The financial world cannot go on feeding off rising paper asset values for ever. Reality must intrude at some point. But capitalism without finance capital is inconceivable; so too, therefore, is capitalism without financial crashes.
Capitalism is not a place (‘financial centres’) or a thing (‘multinational corporations’ ), it is a social relationship dependent upon wage labour and commodity exchange where profit is derived from capital’s theft of unpaid labour. Concentrating on “nasty” financiers and multinationals and defining “capitalism” in those terms can only end up as a massive diversion from the goal of abolishing the capitalist system.
This idea that bankers are any worse than other types of capitalists is not convincing. To repeat ad nauseum. The capitalist class as a whole, and all of the individual capitalists, enrich themselves thanks to workers adding more new value to the commodities they produce than the value of the wages received as payment for their labour-power. Any party to this exploitation of labour – whether the capitalist who lends the investment funds, the capitalist who supervises the commodity production process, or the capitalist who is tasked with selling the commodities – is entitled to a piece of the action and therefore share equally in the blame. It is nonsense to argue that one type of capitalist is more or less culpable than the others. The relations between capitalists is very much like those between a gang of thieves, who cooperate to pull off a heist and then divide the loot among themselves. Conflicts easily arise from such an arrangement: as a bigger share for one means a smaller share for the others. “Wall Street vs. Main Street”. It is more a re-distribution of booty among the robbers. Such squabbles are of little concern to the person who has been robbed. In the end it is just the old “divide and conquer” approach with a subtle new twist – instead of dividing the working class, the internal divisions of the capitalist class are emphasised to deflect attention from the actual real class divide that exists.
The task for socialists is not to drive out speculators from capitalism to perfect the system but to move beyond production as merely a means of capital accumulation.
Who are the people who find a difficulty in paying for the money they use? Not the working class in any sense of the word. Not the large capitalists, for they control the powers of government and have a currency suitable to their interests. There is left the small capitalist and shopkeeping section, who, fond of calling themselves the “middle” class, find themselves unable to hold their own positions against the giant production and “chain store” system of distribution that is crushing them out in all directions. Hence this howl for an extension of “credits” and the introduction of “cheap” money for the purpose of paying their debts. There is no chronic shortage of purchasing power. Sufficient to buy the product is generated as wages and profits in the course of production. Slumps are not caused by an absolute shortage of purchasing power but arise when, because of falling profit prospects, capitalist firms choose not to spend all their profits on fully renewing or on expanding production.
As Marx identified “So long as things go well, competition effects an operating fraternity of the capitalist class…so that each shares in the common loot in proportion to the size of his respective investment. But as soon as it is no longer a question of sharing profits, but of sharing losses, everyone tries to reduce his own share to a minimum and to shove it off upon another. The class, as such, must inevitably lose. How much the individual capitalist must bear of the loss, ie, to what extent he must share in it at all, is decided by strength and cunning, and competition then becomes a fight among hostile brothers. The antagonism between each individual capitalist’s interests and those of the capitalist class as a whole, then comes to the surface…”
Marx also pointed out that “the moneyed interest enriches itself at the cost of the industrial interest in the course of a crisis” Bankers are enriching themselves at the expense of industrial capitalists in other words.
The present banking crisis is not all that complicated. When borrowing became less available and more expensive banks came unstuck. They found that, when their loans came up for renewal they had to pay more interest on them than they were getting from those they were lending money too. Since banks make a profit by paying depositors and creditors a lower rate of interest than they charge those they lent money to, this meant they were making a loss. That’s what can go wrong when banks can’t get hold of other people’s money on the right terms. What can also go wrong is that they make unsound loans - the sub-prime situation. If they buy a house and the lend someone the money to buy it, if that person defaults they are left with the house. In normal times they can resell it but because there has been overproduction in the housing market they are finding that they can’t get the same price for it as they paid for it. In other words, they lost money.
In fact this effective overproduction in the housing sector could be said to be what has provoked the present financial crisis.
What socialists say about the banks is not regulate them, nor nationalise them, but make them redundant. Abolish them, along with all the rest of the complicated, financial superstructure of the capitalist production-for-profit economy. The mythology surrounding the power of banking helps those who take the view that this vast institution is so necessary that the prospect of a world without money would be unthinkable. Let’s abolish capitalism and live in a moneyless, propertyless world without banks. That means moving from a demand for ‘regulation change’ to one for ‘system change’. Perceived wisdom is that it should be easier to make socialists in a recession when the shortcomings of capitalism are more evident. This capitalist recession will eventually end and the economy at some time in the future will inevitably return to growth. If there are more socialists at that future time, then at least one positive outcome will have resulted from this sorry and preventable mess.
“…no kind of bank legislation can eliminate a crisis” – Marx
The only way to solve the worlds problems is to escalate and intensify the class struggle. Capitalism is subject to periodic slumps and is a global system, global economic crises are inevitable from time to time. I’d like to think that this would trigger off a world-wide movement for global socialism but experience has unfortunately shown that there is not necessarily a fixed one-to-one relationship between economic crises and the growth of socialist ideas. Other factors too are involved and only time will tell how the socialist movement will fare.