We are living in a period of profound historical
change. After a period of 40 years of unprecedented economic growth, the
market economy is reaching its limits. At the dawn of capitalism, despite
its barbarous crimes, it revolutionised the productive forces, thus laying
the basis for a new system of society. The First World War and the Russian
Revolution signalled a decisive change in the historical role of capitalism.
From a means of developing the productive forces, it became transformed
into a gigantic fetter upon economic and social development. The period
of upswing in the West in the period of 1948-73 seemed to promise a new
dawn. Even so, the benefits were limited to a handful of developed capitalist
countries. For two-thirds of humanity living in the Third World, the picture
was one of mass unemployment, poverty, wars and exploitation on an unprecedented
scale. This period of capitalism ended with the so-called "oil crisis"
of 1973-4. Since then, they have not managed to get back to the kind of
growth and levels of employment they had achieved in the post-war period.
A social system in a state of irreversible decline expresses itself in cultural decay. This is reflected in a hundred different ways. A general mood of anxiety and pessimism as regards the future spreads, especially among the intelligentsia. Those who yesterday talked confidently about the inevitability of human progress and evolution, now see only darkness and uncertainty. The 20th century is staggering to a close, having witnessed two terrible world wars, economic collapse and the nightmare of fascism in the period between the wars. These were already a stern warning that the progressive phase of capitalism was past.
The crisis of capitalism pervades all levels of life. It is not merely an economic phenomenon. It is reflected in speculation and corruption, drug abuse, violence, all-pervasive egotism and indifference to the suffering of others, the breakdown of the bourgeois family, the crisis of bourgeois morality, culture and philosophy. How could it be otherwise? One of the symptoms of a social system in crisis is that the ruling class increasingly feels itself to be a fetter on the development of society.
Marx pointed out that the ruling ideas of any society are the ideas of the ruling class. In its heyday, the bourgeoisie not only played a progressive role in pushing back the frontiers of civilisation, but was well aware of the fact. Now the strategists of capital are seized with pessimism. They are the representatives of an historically doomed system, but cannot reconcile themselves to the fact. This central contradiction is the decisive factor which sets its imprint upon the mode of thinking of the bourgeoisie today. Lenin once said that a man on the edge of a cliff does not reason.
Back to homepage