Crisis Theory

Hannah Arendt best described our contemporary “crisis” or dilemma as one that is not only contemporary and “unprecedented,” but it is also a crisis or dilemma that has no apparent or clear-cut solutions. Nor is history a clear-cut guide to get us out of the “crisis” or dilemma. Creative and novel ideas and solutions are needed perhaps more than ever. And perhaps the initial reaction or the impulse to our “crisis” or dilemma on the part of some is to deny that there is a crisis or dilemma in the first place. As Karl Marx wrote:

“In the crises of the world market, the contradictions and antagonisms of bourgeois production are strikingly revealed. Instead of investigating the nature of the conflicting elements which erupt in the catastrophe, the apologists content themselves with denying the catastrophe itself and insisting, in the face of their regular and periodic recurrence, that if production were carried on according to the textbooks, crises would never occur. Thus the apologetics consist in the falsification of the simplest economic relations, and particularly in clinging to the concept of unity in the face of contradiction.” 

Inherent in the established mode of production and thus the established organization of economic and social life is “a barrier to the free development of the productive forces, a barrier which comes to the surface in crises” to borrow from Marx. Hence, the “Great Resignation” and half the country unemployed and a downturn in productivity and growth rates over the course of the last two decades and so forth. Both overproduction and underproduction are key features of the recurring crises which Marx highlighted and is yet another contradiction or paradox of what is both a current and recurring crisis or dilemma. In sum: “In world market crises, all the contradictions of bourgeois production erupt collectively; in particular crises (particular in their content and in extent) the eruptions are only sporadical, isolated, and one-sided.”

Another contradiction or paradox of the recurring crisis or dilemma which Marx highlighted is that there is a “continuous expansion of reproduction and accumulation” of capital and thus “constant reconversion of revenue into capital” all while “the mass of the producers remain tied to the average level of need, and must remain tied to it according to the nature of capitalist production.” Money becomes a commodity that is circulated and increased in value for the aim of profit-making rather than a mere means of exchange, which in turn converts money into capital, as Marx noted. Capital, in turn, carries social magnitude. The poor seek to hopelessly accumulate through savings in the face of fluctuating commodity prices, while the rich man enriches himself “by means of throwing his money again and again into circulation.” 

As mentioned before, the two basic pillars of an economy – namely, production and distribution – are re-defined and re-shaped in modern or bourgeois society by the social relations of the society. In turn, these social relations “determine the whole character and movement of production” to borrow from Marx. Social relations are then characterized or defined by class antagonisms and class differences, and as Marx wrote: “The owners of mere labor-power, the owners of capital and the landowners, whose respective sources of income are wages, profit and ground-rent – in other words wage-laborers, capitalists and landowners – form the three great classes of modern society based on the capitalist mode of production.” 

Why people fall into one class or another is due to “the identity of revenues and revenue sources” to borrow from Marx. Class antagonisms and class differences are most pronounced in England than in any other country in the world, as Marx noted. But class antagonisms and class differences have now arisen in the United States as well, and in turn, these class antagonisms and class differences are now playing out in the American public sphere in various ways and means, all of which carries a set of political and social implications which lead to uncertain political and social outcomes.  

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