The American Crisis
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(1921 - 2006) ~ Father of Social Ecology and Anarcho-Communalism : Growing up in the era of traditional proletarian socialism, with its working-class insurrections and struggles against classical fascism, as an adult he helped start the ecology movement, embraced the feminist movement as antihierarchical, and developed his own democratic, communalist politics. (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "...Proudhon here appears as a supporter of direct democracy and assembly self- management on a clearly civic level, a form of social organization well worth fighting for in an era of centralization and oligarchy." (From : "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)
• "The social view of humanity, namely that of social ecology, focuses primarily on the historic emergence of hierarchy and the need to eliminate hierarchical relationships." (From : "The Crisis in the Ecology Movement," by Murray Bo....)
• "...anarchism is above all antihierarchical rather than simply individualistic; it seeks to remove the domination of human by human, not only the abolition of the state and exploitation by ruling economic classes." (From : "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)
The American Crisis
The so-called "Iranian Crisis" and Russia's heavy-handed invasion of its Afghan satellite have completely deflected public attention from the deeper waters of American domestic and foreign policy. One would have to be blind not to see that the seizure of the American embassy in Teheran by a ragtail group of Maoist students spared both Khomeini and Carter a sharp decline in domestic popularity. The students, whoever they may be, functioned like a deus ex machina in promoting the political interests of the Iranian Ayatollah and the American President -- the former, from a civil war that was brewing among Iran's middle classes, women, and ethnic and religious minorities; the latter, from the lures of Camelot and the Kennedy dynasty. By the same token, Russia's ugly invasion of Afghanistan, a country that remains distinctly within the Soviet orbit, assumed a crisis-like character that by far exceeded her savage invasion of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1969, invasions that evoked virtually no serious response from Washington. That Russia's attempt to catch up her tyranny over the Afghans should have aroused fears of military confrontation between the "superpowers," not to speak of nuclear war, is evidence more of the media's capacity to manipulate American public opinion than to inform it of the simplest rudiments of foreign policy.
There is no danger of a war with Iran -- and, in all probability, there never was one. Warlike rhetoric, an economic blockade, a military show of strength -- yes; but outright war remains unlikely, to say the least. Neither Khomeini nor Carter could have maintained their commanding positions without each other's support in creating "crises" that demanded "national unity" and the muting of criticism. In both cases, more deep-seated crises were concealed by surface storms that degraded the entire level of social and economic conflict. Nor was there any danger of nuclear war between Russia and the United States over the Afghan invasion. Here, too, crude satire-rattling by Carter made it possible for a cynical president to shrewdly alter the entire level of political discourse in an election year. Even the "new nationalism" or jingoism generated by the White House with the media's complete complicity served as a substitute for a real ideology -- for a political ethics, if you will -- around which to focus American political consciousness. To wave the flag, to join in spectacularized "prayers" for the hostages, to replace moral decency by a martial bellowing of "patriotism" while damning Iranians on billboards and pissoirs, or even more disgustingly, by selectively arresting, taunting, and browbeating them -- all of this may have even served as a welcome outlet for the Neanderthal sectors of the public that live in helpless desperation over their ability to reconcile the American ideology of public virtue with the reality of brothel-like practice at home and abroad.
This is not to say that there are no real crises that confront Americans at home and abroad. Indeed, we are faced with a historic turning point in our morality, institutions, economy, and freedoms comparable in scale to the crises opened by the Civil War. But our crises do not center on Iranian oil, the hostages, or the Russian "drive" to warm-water ports. Nor are we faced with a crisis of scarcity in energy resources and raw materials, of un balanced budgets, or an unaffordably "affluent" lifestyle. All myths of this kind notwithstanding to the contrary, we are neither short of oil nor of raw materials, nor have high governmental expenditures, high levels of consumption or imbalances in international payments produced the present galloping inflation. Considerable evidence can be adduced to show that there is a glut of petroleum and many strategic raw materials; that government and public spending provide no serious explanation for inflation; that the international balance of payments is not a significant factor in the present inflationary runaway.
On this score, many environmentalists and the political careerists who exploit environmental issues for their own ends have done us no service in beating the drums of "scarcity" That fossil fuels and certain "natural resources" will eventually dwindle to unconscionably low levels goes without saying, but these problems -- and they can be rapidly resolved -- are not upon us today. Resource depletion provides environmentalists with no excuse for joining the corporate and bureaucratic wolf pack that is beleaguering the American people and their remaining democratic institutions.
The real American crisis lies elsewhere today and for the remainder of the century. It lies in a fundamental tension between democratic rights and institutions that were formulated in a pre-industrial, fairly libertarian agrarian society and a multi-national corporate economy that is paving the way for a highly authoritarian industrial society. It lies in a fundamental tension between an idiosyncratic, highly individuated philosophy of a self-reliant way of life and the need to create a well-controlled, easily manipulated massified population. It lies in a fundamental tension between an ideal of self-sufficiency, based on a virtually autarchical commitment to national and regional decentralization and an interdependent, highly specialized, global economy and labor force. It lies in a fundamental tension between a sizable middle-class that tends to be socially and politically independent and the need I or a well-disciplined working class that can be technically and logistically placed in the service of a corporate factory structure. It lies in the fundamental tension between a traditional, fairly labor-intensive industrial machine and a highly automated, scientifically orchestrated technology.
In short, the real American crisis lies in the fundamental tensions between two American dreams: the first, rooted in a more or less preindustrial, premarket body of social relations, technics, and values; the second, rooted in a highly industrial, monopolistic, corporate body of social relations, technics, and values. Carter, the bouquet of various Rockefeller commissions, the heavily veiled business councils, and the political bureaucracies of the United States are grappling not with the Ayatollah, the Russians, or the remaining bones of the American "Left"; they are grappling with the American past as it exists in those vast numbers of people who live by its quasi-libertarian values, ideologies, and institutions. The tension between these two versions of the "American Dream" cannot be permitted by the ruling elite of the United States to pass into the next century without either tearing down the existing corporate structure or producing one of the most authoritarian societies in human history.
The nineteenth century did not come to an end in 1900. Nor did it come to an end in 1914, with the outbreak of the first World War, as cultural historians would have it. History does not conveniently begin or end its epochs according to wall calendars and cultural cross-currents If one looks for the real but elusive chasm that separates our time from its historic past (say, retrospectively, with the keen eye of a Karl Polanyi), the truth is that the nineteenth century with its liberal credo of "free enterprise" and "minimal government" came to an end in the late 1940's and early 1950's. It is not merely liberal ideologies that came to their end but an entire way of life: neighborhood forms of urban society, a well-layered retail middle class, the extended family, a high degree of regional self-sufficiency, the labor-intensive factory system, and, finally, the radical (presumably, "revolutionary") workers' movement, mobilized in combative socialist and syndicalist federations, in militant trade unions, and supported by a uniquely class culture that was continually fertilized by its contact with a still-viable rural, indeed, agrarian life. Say what one will about the increasing centralization and rationalization of industry, of growing "trusts" and "joint-stock" companies, of Roosevelt's efforts at state intervention in the economy, of the waning tradition of the small farm, of "five-and-dime" or department stores, of increasingly nuclear families, of radio, telephones, and movies, of the League of Nations and economic imperialism, of assembly lines and the CIO, of strikes, labor parties, Sacco and Vanzetti, of Hitler and Stalin, the fact remains that vast areas of social life were still largely premarket, preindustrial, and precapitalist in character. However much these areas were invaded by capitalist relations, whether individually or severally over the generations prior to the fifties, they were not fully absorbed by them. All the liberal and social credoes aside, the neighborhood or farm, the retail shop or small industrial enterprise, the family or region, or, for that matter, the workers' movement itself still retained a core that gave them a vital continuity with a centuries-old way of life. The great demonstrations of American workers in the 1930's with their placards inscribed with slogans like "Work - Not War!" or "Bread -- Not Guns!" would have been thoroughly comprehensible to the Parisian workers who raised red flags on the barricades of June, 1843. Spain of 1936 was cut from the same historical fabric as the Paris Commune of 1871. With the end of the Spanish Revolution, the era of workers' revolutions also came to an end. World War II ushered in not only a nuclear age, cybernetics, spacecraft, and television; it ushered in a Euro-American world fundamentally different from any which had existed in the past -- a world that has been changing our very perception of ourselves as well as society.
The significant factor in this change has been the total colonization of every aspect of life by the market. A great deal of confusion has been produced by arguments over whether the "true" market is "free" or "controlled," a confusion generated by the "libertarian" tendency in capitalism and the socialist, both of which form ideological expressions of different phases of the market's historical development (see my "Marxism as Bourgeois Sociology," Telos, No. 43 for a critique of the ideology of controlled or state capitalism). However we may conceive of its origin and development, the market has expanded to a point today where every individual is reduced to a buyer and seller, be it of goods, sex, culture, love, "concern," personality, or ideologies. The appalling degeneration of certain "founders" of the anti-nuclear alliances, not to speak of the environmental movement, attests to the extent to which "protest" has itself become a mere ware in the marketplace of "ideas." The marketplace permeates areas of life that have never been strictly economic, except, perhaps, in a technical sense like the sexual division of labor in the family. Not merely has every aspect of life become "commodified," to use the dubious terminology of Marxism; perhaps, more significantly, it has become de-socialized, more strictly bureaucratic, and in this sense more "politicalized" in the modern sense of the term as distinguished from the Hellenic.
What I am saying is, as Buber so perceptively emphasized a generation ago, that the "cell-tissue Society," with its richly articulated non-statist forms such as family, neighborhood, associative forms of culture and profession, and local assemblies have been absorbed by political institutions, as described in the best of the Anarchist literature. People have not only become "commodified" or "reified"; individuality itself has dissolved into atomized forms, personality into egotism. The very fact that society disappears into "politics" yields an appalling passivity and powerlessness rather than activity and control. Not merely has the extended family dissolved into the nuclear family, but in ever greater degree the nuclear family has dissolved into the soloist who inhabits a highly commercialized, soulless "domestic" singles' world. Not only have the "brothers" and "sisters" of the medieval town degenerated into citizens of the modern city, but in ever-greater degree they have dissolved into the "tax payers" of the Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area. These are now individuals who view the city not as an ethical community but as the arena for municipal services. One can follow this downward trajectory in education and educational norms, in culture, in industry, in religion, even in radical or protest movements. What is crucial to every aspect of this dissolution is the erosion of the internal powers of individual self-assertion, ultimately, of the individual's control over her or his everyday life and social activity.
The role of the market in explaining this degenerative development became visible most clearly in the 1950's, when bureaucratic relations began to replace personalized ones in the most intimate details of daily life, even in those areas of home, neighborhood, church, cultural activity, and club-life in which the individual took refuge from the demands of the social order and economy. The absorption of the small farm by agribusiness has its urban counter part in the absorption of the small shopkeeper by the supermarket, finally, by the huge shopping mall. In her or his loss of the small family-owned enterprise, the individual lost the personal dimension of trade itself -- a traditional face-to-face process still rooted in ancient relations of reciprocity. Just as the shop was replaced by impersonal, corporate retail chains, so the verbal negotiation of trade, its logos so to speak, was replaced by the "punch-out" line, a deadening computerized process that fixes use-values as pure exchange values. The tendency of trade to swell to the level of ruthless plunder and organized social piracy divested even exchange value of the element of need. Need, now intermingled with mere egoistic interest, has lost its integrity to a point where we often no longer know what we need nor can we clearly identify our interests beyond those of mere animal survival and security. We no longer "buy" things, in effect; we are "sold" them without the dialogue of the bargaining process or the interchange of information. Hence the "demos," from which democratic concepts and institutions emerged, is faced with extinction. As Camus warned us, we are all becoming functionaries with the result that bureaucracy has replaced family, neighborhood, and popularly based collective institutions as the sinews of what we euphemistically call "society."
I have emphasized the decline of the traditional retail world because the retail outlet, be it family or corporately owned, directly faces the individual, the family, and the neighborhood or town. The factory was "zoned" out of this private world all the more to protect its privacy, more precisely, its sociality, from the ravages of rationalized production and industrial domination. It remains one the great idiocies of Marxism that the decline of such protective barriers was greeted as "progress" and a token of "proletarianization." The emergence of chain stores, supermarkets, and shopping malls "zoned" the factory into private life -- obviously, not as the domestic craft activity of the medieval town or as a producer of goods in any sense of the term, but as a distributor, scaled to immense, warehouse-like dimensions. The highway network that was constructed after World tier II did much more than divide neighborhoods and destroy urban greenbelts; it literally dissolved them by opening suburbs and perhaps more significantly, by changing the nature of trade. Like a vast lymph system, it absorbed communities into shopping malls and consequently into what we may reasonably call the retail factory, thus qualitatively altering our very image of "goods and services" The crowded routes that led to shopping malls in urban, suburban, and even rural areas form a new spiritual landscape; its historic metaphor is the dissolution of the gift into the bargain, of giving into competition, of quality into quantity. "Muzak" replaces music and the stupor of "buying" replaces the discriminating, rational choice of useful and lasting goods. The public intelligence that rarely soared to the level of "high culture" is even eroded on the level of "low culture." Cunning is thereby divested of its own rationality in dealing with the ordinary details of everyday living so that television advertising with its infantile and gullible detergent users, its hen-pecked, idiotic husbands, its naive fathers, and its slinky, well-machined mannikans begin to reflect the human condition. Packaging serves to conceal the poverty of goods just as fashion serves to conceal the poverty of personality. Both the consumer and commodity are wrapped up together on the "check-out" counter line.
Hence the public's intuitive opposition to shopping malls, highways, MacDonald-like food emporia, and department stores has become more than an issue of esthetics, congestion, or repellent food; it has become an issue of social identity that involves the sanctity of personality and society, of human scale. and the right to spontaneous lifeways. Like the growing opposition to high-rise buildings which architecturally can pass for office buildings, hospitals, or prisons as well as homes, opposition is directly or indirectly concerned with the texture of social life -- indeed, whether or not social life is to have any texture. Perhaps less visible, but no less important, are the grave injuries technical changes in industry have inflicted on society. Historically, we are now well past the traditional labor intensive factory, the old assembly line, even the national division of labor. The traditional industrial base of America is undergoing major disintegration and is sharply confronted by an almost futuristic restructuring of its technics, work force, and output of commodities. The impact of these changes may well represent the fulfillment of capitalism in its purest form and its technical "contribution" to history in its most negative terms. In this respect, it is not the supremacy of a "technical" or "instrumental" rationality that threatens reason, but the supremacy of a rationalized technics. What is in the balance is not merely technique and mind, but the substitution of a cybernetic technics for both.
According to a fascinating survey by the Pacifica News Service, "U.S. industry in the 1980s is headed for integration into a modular world economy based on small, flexible units. This new economy compares to older methods of organization the way the microprocessor compares to a crystal radio set." Technically, a modular economy is an ensemble of mobile, standardized machine components, highly computerized and robotized, that involves a very limited and interchangeable labor force, generally clustered around machine units which perform much of the routine industrial operations previously assigned to workers. By standardizing the components of complex products like motor vehicles to a point where the units, often partially assembled, can be sold to different corporations all over the world, the industrial module itself be comes a substitute for the traditional factory. The producing units, in this respect, become very similar to their products: not only is the product a module but so too are the cybernated units and work force that produced it. Technical interlinkage and product interlinkage yield corporate interlinkage and new industrial alliances, if not actual conglomerations. Accordingly, "Motorola and Toshiba build computerized engine modules for Ford; GM'S Delco division has turned to Texas Instruments for design aid as well as microcomputer devices, and Chrysler relies on RCA and Motorola for digital dashboards, engine computers, and control modules for exhaust emissions."
Interrelatedly domestically, these industries -- auto may be taken merely as an illustration of similar examples elsewhere - have reached out to many areas of the world, most notably the cheap labor markets of the Third World. Indeed, the very structure of employment has changed. While the Japanese tend to hire a stable, adaptable, company-controlled workforce that renders traditional images of the conflict between wage labor and capital absurd, American corporations seem to rely on high mobility and rapid job turnovers. Part-time or limited employment has increasingly invaded work schedules based on seniority, long job tenure, and community-rooted stability. A workforce, sizable sectors of which tend to more closely resemble migrant farmers than a stable proletariat, is not easily mobilized around class issues, especially when the industry's commitment to a locale is highly tenuous. By the same token, a workforce that it itself highly mobile has nothing to defend but its own access to jobs. This workforce is now fairly considerable: fully twenty percent of the labor force is made up of "permanent" part-time employes, a figure that is likely to grow in the years that lie ahead.
From the "retail revolution" to the latest "industrial revolution," what we are witnessing in effect is a complete restructuring of American society itself. Instability is the emerging form of stability -- and, with it, a high degree of manipulability, domestic and global interdependence, homogenization of industrial technics and vocations, of commodities, human personality and human needs. Much as we may have bemoaned the emergence of a "mass society," a "mass culture," and a "mass media," we are now approaching a point where society, culture, and media threaten to give way to bureaucracy, advertising, and manipulation. Commerce and industry, futuristically oriented toward the divesting of the last vestiges of uniqueness in personality, threaten to create a spiritual, political, and economic landscape denuded of the most elemental human qualities of mind. Indeed, the "American Crisis" can be regarded not only as the invasion of social life by the factory, but by a modular industrial system that reduces women and men to components of the module. The design literature that deals with the technical problems of this phenomenon has adopted (without cynicism, irony, or humor) its own term for the ideal modular "labor force": the robot. The term may well describe not only the technical restructuring of human personality but its grim historic destiny within the prevailing social system.
Perhaps the most immediate victims of the "American Crisis" are the middle classes created by the post-World War II era -- not only the poor who, together with women and ethnic minorities, always suffer during social "transitions." The erosion of various middle strata of American society is not a new phenomenon. In the 1930's the Great Depression basically victimized the small farmer. This development was of primary significance; it was the farming class, rooted in small agrarian holdings, that formed the most important support for American republican institutions. Between 1860 and 1930, farmers dropped from nearly 60 percent of the population to about 22 percent, although in numbers they still remained fairly considerable, some ten million in a work force of about fifty and, with their sizable families, at least forty million in a population of 127 million. Thereafter, in the forty years that followed, the decline was disastrously precipitous: less than 12 percent in 1950 and 2.9 percent in 1970. The passing of this yeomanry might well have prepared the demographic texture for a highly authoritarian and militaristic state in which republican institutions would have been reduced to decorative political trappings.
But in the decades that followed the war, American republican institutions found a new source of support, notably in a new suburban and urban middle class. Highly stratified, regionalized, and culturally variegated, this new stratum of small industrial and commercial entrepreneurs, retailers, professionals. small contractors, students, and even well-to-do farmers who had survived the "dust bowl" era -- all, in their unique ways, replicated in their myths and realities of in dependence and self-reliance the decentralized, often libertarian yeomanry in which American republicanism had anchored its historic hopes. By "Left-wing" standards, neither the old yeomanry nor the new middle classes were radical; indeed, generally, they were sol idly conservative. But an authoritarian and certainly totalitarian political structure conflicted sharply with their basic values and interests. This middle class has not only been conservative in its response to basic social change; it has been equally conservative in its response to bureaucracy, centralization, social regimentation, and corporate control. In this respect, it has actually opposed the most authentic authoritarian tendencies in the government and the economy which can plausibly tear down the republican institutions of the past. That is most significant about this middle class is that the remaining decades of the present century threaten its existence as surely as the 1930's completed the destruction of the American yeomanry.
The primary threat to the existence of this class is the al most confiscatory inflation of the past decade. I use the word "confiscatory" advisedly because it points to elements of the inflation that are rarely emphasized in the economic literature. Firstly, the inflation is totally inexplicable on the basis of strictly fiscal, budgetary, or consumption premises. One must go back to the era of classical "free market" economics to believe that trade imbalances, governmental expenditures, high demand for goods in short supply can cause inflation rates to nearly double in a decade, indeed, reach a staggering, almost usurious rate of 18 percent per year. By the same token, the interest rate for preferential bank loans soared in less than a year from an unprecedented high of 10 percent to nearly twice that figure, or 18 percent. That the price rises reflected by the inflation figures spell terrible impoverishment for the poor, particularly individuals on fixed incomes like the elderly, hardly requires emphasis. For the middle classes it spells social extinction, a historic annihilation of its long existence a s a social buffer. The doubling of prime interest rates in a few months forecloses the attempt of small enterprises to effectively deal with the seasonal rhythms of cash flow, not to speak of capital maintenance and investment. Price inflation means a drastic reduction of the market; more precisely, it means the usurpation of the remaining market by retail chains and shopping malls. Thus the retail factory closes in not only on private life but on the economic basis of that private life, notably the small enterprise.
By contrast, the large corporations are internally financed. Their staggering profits have turned them into self-sufficient credit institutions that have radically diminished their reliance on traditional financial institutions. Many of them, in fact, are lenders rather than borrowers. They are free to capitalize at will or to export capital to areas that yield favorable returns -- accordingly, to benefit from low wages in some regions or countries and from reduced transportation costs in other areas. The global nature of the multinational corporation provides it with a financial, economic, and political power that tends increasingly to transcend the nation-state; to literally plan the economy of the world with an effectiveness that would have been the envy of orthodox socialist ideologists.
The point is that "free-market" economics explains nothing about the present inflation because the market, from factory to shopping mall, is almost completely controlled. Its freedom, like its competition, is completely fictitious. In the energy industry, chemical industry, transportation industry, steel industry, electronics industry, aerospace industry, nuclear industry, and to a surprising extent, even in the seemingly competitive auto industry, prices can be fixed at will with only a marginal expectation of rivalry from domestic and foreign enterprises. Where the "free market" rears its ugly head (for example, when the American steel industry faced the challenge of dumping by foreign rivals or when Chrysler faced bankruptcy), the state can be expected to intervene and rescue the corporate giants, often in the name of perpetuating "free enterprise." Thus the production levels of highly corporatized industrial sectors tend to be meaningless. If demand declines or, as in the case of energy, attempts are made to curtail usage, the corporate sector merely increases its prices. As the energy industry has revealed with spectacular vividness, reduced demand in the name of specious "shortages" actually becomes a device for acquiring shamelessly high profits. It was not primarily as a result of increased petroleum consumption of the cutoff of Iranian oil that Exxon netted four billion dollars in profit. Such a massive plundering of the public's income occurred as a result of price increases, even when sales threatened to fall precipitously. The debris of abandoned gasoline filling stations on the very roads that lead to shopping malls is visual testimony to the usurpation of small middle-class enterprises by corporate giants and their retail excresences.
What clearly illustrates the high measure of economic control is the ability of the economy to generate increased unemployment, decreased effective demand, declining capital investment -- indeed, virtually all the typical characteristics of an economic depression -- without any decline of profits or prices in its major corporate sectors. The 1930's, like later albeit more shortlived "recessions," were marked not only by high unemployment but sweeping declines in prices, profits, and investment. The most recent "recessions," by sharp contrast, present a picture of reduced demand, reduced employment -- and soaring prices. Although unemployment officially stands (at this writing) at six percent, wholesale prices compounded at an annual rate have increased approximately 20 percent. The classical notion that a "recession" will produce deflation has now become a national myth. If a "recession" is to have any function, it should be deflationary, but viewed from a more historical stand point, its effects are likely to be more sinister than even radical theorists are prepared to admit.
Economically, American corporate capitalism must recapitalize. It must accumulate the funds to structure its technology along highly cybernated and modular lines. A widely-cited model is the Japanese economy, where the labor force has been melded to a highly sophisticated and automated technology, yielding high productivity rates that overshadow the American ones. This rationalization of Japanese basic industry, reinforced by a patronal system of portal to-grave job security, has produced immense profits, high output, minimal labor discord -- and minimal inflation. The patronal system should not be exaggerated. It is actually underpinned by a large flotsam displaced urban population that is hired sporadically when labor is needed, only to be ruthless fired when production needs are met. Thus the labor force is stratified and easily manipulated, partly by the lure of job security for one stratum, partly by competition for jobs by another. What is unique about Japanese industry is its versatility, its highly sophisticated, electronically controlled technology, and its eerily faceless proletariat for whom class war is as meaningless as nuclear war.
Until now, the traditional source of capital accumulation has been the agrarian world, be it domestic farmers, colonized farmers, or both. Primitive accumulation in England and Stalinist Russia left the peasantry devastated. To some degree, the recapitalization of America during and after the Second World War occurred on the bare remains of its traditional yeomanry. No such social sector from which to plunder the domestic economy for capital exists in America and Europe. Agribusiness, which replaced the family farms of the United States and Europe, is itself a corporate peer of the steel and petrochemical industries. The resources to recapitalize technically "archaic" industries must be acquired elsewhere -- and today, they constitute the once-"affluent" middle classes. Unorthodox as my view may seem, what the current inflation may well represent is the recapitalization of American industry and the industry of many European countries at the expense of its middle-class strata.
This is not to say that the inflated spread between retail prices and production costs is necessarily motivated by so far-reaching a social vision. The bourgeoisie has never been more piratical today -- more prone to sheer pilfering, not to speak of plundering -- since the days of the first Industrial Revolution. The Watergate scandal, while an affront to republican virtue in the political sphere, would be viewed as astute cupidity in the economic sphere. The executive brothel is merely a tax write-off hardly more morally degrading than the expenses of maintaining an executive pissoir. It is no longer shocking to learn that industrial espionage, surveillance, and possibly assassinations are part of the "free enterprise" system, certainly not since the public learned of the connections between the Mafia and key economic enterprises.
But the capacity of the American bourgeoisie to develop a futurology of crises in anticipation of its overall class interests should not be underrated. Perhaps at no time in its limited history has capital become more organized, more integrated, and more coherent than it is today -- not only in its control of the market, but in its endeavors to control its own historic policies. Laurence H. Shoupts fascinating, indeed, schematic work, The Carter Presidency and Beyond (Ramparts, 1930), reveals an apparatus of corporate policy-formulating institutions and lobbies than can be regarded only as a state within the state. Between the Business Council and the Trilateral Commission, corporate capitalism is served by councils, institutions, academies, committees, and media that reach into every sizable community in the United States and in many European countries as well. That the Trilateral Commission alone has provided the Carter administration with its Vise President (Mondale), its Secretary of State (Vance), its most prominent national security adviser (Brzezinski), its Secretary of the Treasury (Blumenthal and Miller), its Secretary of Defense (Brown) and a bouquet of highly placed advisers at the very summits of government can no longer be regarded as testimony of a mere "conspiracy." It is compelling evidence of a melding of the political and economic spheres of what was once a comparatively decentralized federal state into state capitalism.
Inflation, in effect, may well be evidence not of an economy "out of control," but rather one that is remarkably well-controlled. This economy may be controlled not only to meet the insatiable appetite of highly interlocked corporate enterprises, multinationals, and conglomerates for profit, but also to meet their needs for recapitalization on a historic scale. Summed up in brief: the "American Crisis" may well be a crisis in a sophisticated accumulation of capital that overshadows the social consequences of Marx's account of "primitive accumulation" of capital. These social consequences could reach into every aspect of American life, with results that even the Trilateral Commission, the Business Council, and the various sub-councils and committees of this state infrastructure can barely foresee.
(Note: Owing to the considerable printing and mailing costs of this very sizable issue of COMMENT to over a thousand readers, it will be necessary to interrupt my discussion at this point. The next issue of COMMENT will examine the social, economic, and political consequences that follow from this issue. Subscribers will receive No. 5 as soon as it is delivered by the printer. Readers who may not wish to subscribe to the newsletter can acquire the next issue by sending eighty cents in postage stamps.)
-- Murray Bookchin
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