16 February 2009

The great penance

When the economic crisis becomes acute, when the rate of profit sinks towards zero, the bourgeoisie can see only one way to restore its profits: it empties the pockets of the people down to the last centime. It resorts to what M. Caillaux, once finance minister of France, expressively calls "the great penance": brutal slashing of wages and social expenditures, raising of tariff duties at the expense of the consumer, etc. The state, furthermore, rescues business enterprises on the brink of bankruptcy, forcing the masses to foot the bill. Such enterprises are kept alive with subsidies, tax exemptions, orders for public works and armaments. In short, the state thrusts itself into the breach left by the vanishing private customers. ...

In richer, more fortunate countries, the bourgeoisie seems to have succeeded, not in escaping the crisis permanently, but at least in extricating itself for the time being from its difficulties. They have been able to start up again, after a fashion, the mechanism of profit, resorting to expedients which at least have not required the substitution of dictatorship for democracy. But they used basically the same methods in both cases: the state refloated private capitalism, revived it with great public works and huge "defense contracts."

Guerin, Daniel. Fascism and big business. 2nd ed. 1973.

Originally published in 1939 by a French journalist and scholar. I found this in a used bookshop many years ago and had never got around to reading it (there are a number of books in a similar state of limbo in my library). It title on its spine caught my eye tonight and I thought the chapter titled "Big business finances fascism" might yield something relevant to our current situation. Didn't take long to find the paragraphs above. History repeating? Question is: if the "bourgeoisie" can't start capitalism back up, are we headed for fascism? Some may say that the fact that the President/Prime Minister changes every now and then just distracts us from the fact that we are already there!

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