"The recovery is here, we must press on!" is what we hear day in, day out. Newspapers, politicians, journalists, economists, etc. stuff our heads by way of that mindless box - the television. They explain to us, with supporting figures and graphs, that the recovery, even if weak and unsteady on its feet, is finally back. They then go on to justify sickening austerity policies by telling us to "Carry on tightening your belts and the recovery will be even stronger!". The bourgeoisie wants to chain us to the defence of the economy as well as to make us believe that this time we are really "out of the tunnel" at last.
As if "the god of the Economy" would bless us with some godsend after having ignored us for 20 years! For what possible reasons would growth (1) have returned?
In answering this question, let’s first remind ourselves of bourgeois terminology: what they mean by ‘recovery’ or ‘growth’ is an increase in their wealth in one country or a group of countries (increase in the Gross Domestic Product). Expanded reproduction is a rule inherent to capital and this is how ideologists refer to it. Recession is an insufficient increase in the GDP. Bourgeois rhetoric boils down to saying that "we" in the USA and Great Britain are richer compared to 3 or 4 years ago and the whole world is compared to one year ago.
Behind that "we" lies in fact "the people", i.e. the statistical average between classes, with proletarians and bourgeoisie lumped together. Quoting a 3% recovery over one year is the equivalent of saying that there was 3% more wealth in that country by the end of that year. It clearly does not mean that each "individual" is 3% better-off. Indeed, we will go on to show how the bourgeoisie’s wealth has increased at the expense of an intensification of proletarians’ misery. Moreover, since the 3% increase is mathematically (2) redistributed amongst all, it means that the relative increase in the bourgeois’ wealth is far greater than 3% and our poverty continues to worsen. What’s the reality behind this explosion of wealth?
Let’s talk about the USA, considered by the world bourgeoisie to be the "star pupil". The figures speak for themselves: Since 1991, 3-4% growth per year, rate of unemployment at 5-6%, 3% inflation rate and the creation of about 2 million jobs a year.
For several years, some American companies (3) have made huge profits. Records have been beaten in the computer science sector by Microsoft, in the pharmaceutical industry by Pfizer (several billion dollars), in the car industry by Chrysler (3,8 billion dollars). Obviously, these figures would give even the most blasé of stockmarket speculators a hard-on. However, we set our reality against the one-sided picture painted by the bourgeoisie. This is, therefore, another point of view, that of those who produce the wealth, those who, as always in this fucking system, are deprived of the enjoyment of their product.
How can these companies make such profits? The answer is simple: they lay off workers in order to reduce production costs and then put more pressure on the remaining proletarians.
The following is a quotation by F.Rohatyn who is, amongst others, an official adviser to Bill Clinton and the director of a bank:
"The race for productivity is accompanied by structural unemployment that spares no one: blue collar workers, white collar workers,... and it will continue. All big companies are now looking to reduce their staffing levels. For example Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company that I know well beause I am a member of its board of directors, have just decided to get rid of 4.000 jobs (10% through early retirement or sackings). And yet, the company earns billions. We live in a rather frightening period: take a look at IBM, Intel and Microsoft. They all have roughly the same stockmarket value of between 20 and 25 billion dollars. But IBM has 150,000 employees, Intel 15,000 and Microsoft 6000. This means that the creation of wealth will need a smaller and smaller but more and more qualified, adaptable and flexible workforce."
What this bourgeois is cynically telling us is that proletarians at IBM sweat 25 times less surplus-value than those at Microsoft and 10 times less than those at Intel. It is easy to understand why IBM has laid off scores of workers over the past few years. The example of Pfizer is representative of current practice.
There are many other similar examples across the globe:
• In the chemical industry in Germany, 1994 profits were huge: up 99.2% for BASF to 1.209 billion DM, up 83% for Hoechst to 1.69 billion DM, up 32.2% for Bayer to 2.38 billion DM. Manfred Schneider, Bayer’s chairman, stated that "there will not be, under any circumstances, an increase in the number of jobs". Indeed, his company has just sacked another 3,400 of us.
• In France, the 63 biggest French industrial groups made huge profits after reducing employment by 3.5% in ‘93 and 2.5% in ‘94. They are planning another O.5% reduction in 1995.
• In 1994, in the French car industry, PSA and Renault made enormous profits and reached record levels of production. To show their gratitude to the proletarians who worked themselves into the ground, these industrialists announced planned lay-offs of 3500 and 5000 workers respectively between 1995 and 1996.
• In the telecommunications sector, the steel industry, the air transport sector, the paper industry... it’s the same old story, as much in the USA as in Europe, Asia or Africa.
• In 1994, the profits of British banks increased by 100% to 176%. News that will, no doubt, delight the tens of thousands made homeless by the beneficial effects of the recovery in Great Britain in the same year.
• In the USA, more than 10% of the population live in absolute poverty and do not register in official statistics. Moreover, 25% to 35% (depending on the source) are on the threshold of poverty. This allows us to relativise the official unemployment rate (4).
As for the number of jobs created in the USA (5), what we are not told is that every year 2,000,000 low-paid industrial jobs (10 to 15 US$ per hour, with social cover) are abolished, whereas 2,000,000 new jobs, easy to relocate and with even lower wages ($4.5 per hour, with no social cover) are created.
Gail Forler, a cynical manager of capital summarised the situation very clearly:
" The well-paid industrial jobs of the ‘70’s are over!", adding that "Neither new technology, nor new markets will be sufficient reasons to create jobs. In order to solve their labour problems, employers prefer to buy a new machine or to reorganise their staff."
It is therefore crystal clear that proletarians who still have a job will not only have do the work of those who have been sacked, but will also be forced to work in a way that ensures the company produces more than before!
Still on the subject of the USA, the "mass-media" announced that poverty has increased by 10% in 20 years. This figure is nonsensical: which proletarian in the United-States can be convinced that with 1995’s wages he can buy 90% of what he bought in 1975?
Figures on inflation are meaningless. All that interests us is that wages are decreasing and prices rising! All the penpushers sound surprised:
"In total, despite the recovery, 30 million people, that is a quarter of the working population, are said to be outside the normal channels of employment (doing the kind of shit jobs that we’ve just talked about, ed.) and suffer the aberration of being both below the poverty line yet being workers."
Alain Lebaube, le Monde, Bilan économique et social 1994)
Our very point, gentlemen! Work never makes the slave rich, but always the slave-driver. If working made one rich, the bourgeoisie would have banned the proletariat from working years ago and done the work itself!
The reality or unreality of the "recovery" must be put in the much wider context of the different phases of the absurd and inhuman system that is capitalism. If not, it is impossible to understand and it becomes a religious question.
It is only possible to understand the "recovery" if we refer back to Capital’s fundamental contradiction: that between valorisation and devalorisation (see below).
We then realise that there is no "general recovery", insofar as to achieve this Capital needs destruction on a far greater scale than is occurring in current wars, which are not sufficiently widespread to allow the devalorisation required to engender "recovery". On the contrary, the crisis is deepening and speeches on the "recovery" only refer to a "technical recovery", i.e. a cyclical recovery corresponding to the short cycle of Capital, itself determined by a relative renovation of fixed capital; it is therefore a short term phenomenon that will last as long as proletarians continue to accept increasing poverty (6).
It is the proletariat’s apathy that enables the bourgeoisie to put some of us on the dole, while stepping up the pace for those still doing paid hard labour. With this kind of growth, the absolute misery of proletarians becomes generalised. Infact, the only time when the bourgeoisie can count on a fruitful and longterm valorisation is following generalised war: the period of "reconstruction". It is a privileged time for the investment and circulation of capital on a large scale, but which, for our class, signifies an ever-increasing rise in relative misery (relative to the wealth we produce).
Reconstruction then gives way to crisis (crisis of overproduction of capital) that can only be resolved by another generalised war, thus closing the circle of death imposed by value.
We do not defend any of the phases of this system, all periods of which reproduce inhumanity and for which war is the only solution.
We are not making a moralistic critique of "nasty capitalists" who are too selfish to share the fruits of their labour with the "poor exploited proletarians". No way! We know that it is Value and its cycle that impose themselves as much on the bourgeoisie as on the proletariat.
The so-called "recovery", drummed into us on a daily basis, holds nothing good in store for us proletarians. Today, just as yesterday and as always in this system of death, we can only look forward to more tears, more bloodshed, more sweat... as much on the front of wage labour as on those of the next generalised war.
2. Let us not delude ourselves. This redistribution is confined to statistics and is consequently only a virtual reality - we proletarians will still be poor for some time to come.
3. Competition is raging: that’s a rule of the system. While some companies make huge profits, others are either phagocytosed by them or forced into bankruptcy. But the result is always the same for us - more misery!
4. This is not specific to the USA. In fact, all governments doctor their statistics. For example, in Belgium the official unemployment rate is about 14% of the working population (approximately 500,000 out of work). This figure obviously "forgets" that, for the past 10 years, anyone over the age of 55 is no longer included in the statistics (roughly 50,000). '14%' also "leaves out" the 180,000 who have been excluded from unemployment benefits over last two years and "ignores" the 400,000 "ghost jobs" paid for by unemployment insurance funds. Making a very quick calculation, taking into account the 50.000 unemployed excluded for over two years, gives us a figure of 1,180,000 true unemployed. In terms of percentage, on the basis of 3,500,000 people of working age in Belgium, this shows a real unemployment rate of about 33%. It goes without saying that this kind of criticism could apply to all figures and all countries.
5. Yet another example illustrating the terminology used by the bourgeoisie to impose its point of view: "jobs created", "creation of jobs"... these words creep into everyday language and tend to present the capitalist as a "work giver" rather than as an exploiter. The State is not a philanthropic association striving to provide us with a means of survival: when employing and paying proletarians, the only aim of the capitalist class is to extort surplus-value from them.
6. This is one of the aims pursued by the bourgeoisie with their mythical "recovery": to show us our immediate future through rose-tinted glasses and thus to make us accept our ever- worsening living conditions.
The competition inherent to capital forces each capitalist to produce as cheaply as possible in order to impose himself in the face of his competitors. To do so, he is obliged to increase the productivity of his company. This productivity increase occurs by way of a growth in equipment and infrastructure (constant capital) and a relative cut-back of the labour force (variable capital). Consequently, there is less and less living work within the products with a resultant fall in the value of the means of production: this is devalorisation.
To counter this effect, the capitalists at first try to catch up by increasing the quantity of constant capital invested, at the expense of variable capital... resulting in a reinforcement of devalorisation! The mass of produced commodities will increase but each unit will contain less and less human labour and consequently less new value. Value can only realise itself if the commodity is finally sold. If there is no buyer, value won’t be realised and will therfore be lost, resulting in a further devalorisation.
With the generalisation of the increase in productivity, the quantity of work contained in each end-product decreases. The same applies to the means of production that produces these commodities. Ultimately, the value of the totality of products and the means of production decreases. The devalorisation becomes more and more violent.
All this movement leads to crisis. Existing capital experiences more and more difficulty in valorising itself. It is a period in which capitalists are forced to lay off proletarians, to cut wages, to destroy stocks of unsold commodities... Capital’s only way out is to destroy surpluses on a larger scale in order to boost valorisation: thus generalised war. Generalised war means the destruction of constant capital (factories, infrastructure, stocks,...) and of variable capital: the slaughter of proletarians on all fronts. In this way, merely a momentary solution to the crisis, Capital obtains a brutal devalorisation by the pure and simple destruction of men and objects functioning as Capital.
Fighting against decreased value by destroying value! This apparent paradox can be explained by the fact that the destruction of constant capital allows valorisation to be boosted (reconstruction) since the proportion of constant capital has suddenly dropped as compared to variable capital. And off they go again.
One could be led to believe that Capital follows an infinite circle, but this is not the case because the starting point of each cycle is never the same. Capital starts every cycle with an ever-increasing degree of technique and productivity meaning that the accumulation is greater and greater and the resulting destruction all the more considerable. It is an extending spiral rather than a process going round in circles. As time has gone by, the bourgeoisie has learned to delay the day of reckoning of the crisis (by destruction of stock, restructurisation, fictive capital, artificial increase in real demand...). But the longer it puts off the fall, the harder it will be due to the greater quantity of surplus capital.