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Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and the Question of Revolutionary Agency

Shaun May

The entry of the capital relation into its epoch of structural crisis forms the material basis for the development of the author’s conception of revolutionary agency. Drawing on the work and achievements of both Marx and Hungarian socialist thinker István Mészáros, May relates the emergence and deepening of the structural crisis of the capital system to the decline of trade unionism as the traditional and universal form of organization deployed economistically by workers against capital. In the relationship between the «defensively-structured», universal trade union form and the growing and sharpening contradictions of the global capitalist system, he seeks to unearth the possibility of a higher form of agency which is more adequately adapted and sufficiently flexible to address the immediate and long-term objectives facing millions of people today worldwide in the age of capital’s «destructive reproduction». Looking back in order to look forward, he also subjects the form of agency evolved during the course of the Russian Revolution to a critique which relates it directly to the conditions prevailing in Russia at the time. In so doing, he questions its supposed, unconditional validity as a form of revolutionary agency for the historic struggle to put an end to the global capitalist system today.

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Chapter 7. Capital’s Offensive against Social Provision


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Capital’s Offensive against Social Provision

The social gains made in public provision (health, education, housing, social services, etc.) after 1945 were, contradictorily, ‘a necessary and positive constituent of the inner dynamic of capital’s self-expansion itself’ after the carnage and destruction of the second imperialist world war.1 Not only did they provide a direct social medium for the realization of value, resulting capital accumulation and expansion. The actual salaries paid out also augmented the increase in the post-war circulation of capital. This post-war inflationary expansion of the capitalist order was only made possible on the bloodied ground of the mass destruction of imperialist war.

Today, in the age of increasing labour productivity, the falling rate of profit and the growing destructive overproduction mediating capital’s crisis, such Keynesian economics of displacement could not find an enduring, long-term ontological foothold. Such measures would, if attempts to apply them were universally activated, only serve to exacerbate the historic and daily worsening problems of the capitalist mode of ‘destructive’ reproduction.

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