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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 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 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 contradictions of the global capitalist system, May seeks to unearth the possibility of a higher form of agency which is more adequately adapted to address the immediate and long-term objectives facing millions of people today worldwide in the age of capital’s «destructive self-reproduction». Looking back in order to look forward, he also subjects the form of agency within 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 validity as a form of revolutionary agency for the 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.

The structural crisis of the capitalist order has now driven it on to a trajectory (since 1979) of the progressive withdrawal of the funding and continuation of social provision. However, by running down this provision it must, at the same time, necessarily constrict an arena in which capital finds an important outlet for the sale of its commodities. Increasingly, capital seeks to resolve this contradiction through the transfer of all public...

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