Claims of economic growth and a decline in imperialist interventions are false and require challenging
Author’s Comment: This paper was presented at the Left Forum held at John Jay College of Criminal Justice which is part of the City University of New York (CUNY). The conference took place May 29-31, 2015.
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Since 2007-2008, the world capitalist system has remained in grave crisis. This is the reality of the social situation despite the claims made daily by the United States corporate media.
Most periodicals and broadcast networks here in the U.S. suggest that the problems of joblessness, home foreclosures, cut backs on educational and public services (austerity) have largely been corrected. Every month the public is presented with an unemployment rate that does not take into consideration key factors in analyzing the strength of the economy.
Even though it is said that the official rate of joblessness is 5.4 percent, what is not said is that the labor participation rate within the U.S. is the lowest in forty years. This index determines the number of people eligible or desirous of being employed in the formal sector of the labor market but have been systematically excluded.
There are many ways of judging the impact of this figure. It is true that many others work in the informal sectors of the U.S. economy which involves small business transactions, employment that is not reported to the federal government and contract labor that is not necessarily recorded with the Department of Labor.
Nonetheless, the pundits who promote the notion of inevitable advancement under U.S. capitalism heavily rely on faith that the economy will eventually experience growth. Despite the virtual zero rates of growth reported by the government, these statistics are ignored or dismissed as a temporary aberration within the broader framework of expansion.
One of the leading financial analysts wrote recently that “Having come through 2015’s first quarter with virtually no growth, the U.S. economy is generally expected to pick up during the rest of this year. Indeed, as we move into a new quarter and shake off the effects of a significant West Coast dock strike and severe winter weather, forward indicators have pointed toward better growth.” (Franklin Templeton Investments, May 26)
This same report continues saying “The Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM’s) purchasing managers’ index for nonmanufacturing rose to 57.8 in April, well above the 50 mark that separates expansion from contraction, suggesting that activity in the U.S. services sector—which accounts for the lion’s share of the American economy—has continued to march higher.”
Whether these figures represent an actual “march higher” cannot overshadow that the so-called “service sector” is where wages for workers are the lowest. It is also the sector where job security and potential for promotion and pay increases is the most remote.
Contradictorily, this projection notes that “At the same time, the ISM reading for the manufacturing sector has weakened somewhat, perhaps reflecting the adverse effects of a strong U.S. dollar, which has also cut into exports and the first-quarter corporate earnings of big American multinationals. Meanwhile, global growth has continued to disappoint, U.S. inflation has remained well below the Federal Reserve’s (Fed’s) medium-term target, and US productivity growth has stagnated, leaving the country’s growth potential in question.”
Looking at the situation from the perspective of political activism we have seen an upsurge in demonstrations and other legislative initiatives carried out by service sector workers aimed at raising the minimum wage up to $15 per hour. What these workers are saying who have been organized by the service industry unions is that the current national wage base of between $7-9 per hour is not nearly enough to survive in today’s cities and suburbs.
Poverty is on the increase in the U.S. and the gap between workers, especially those among the oppressed nations, and the ruling class is expanding rapidly. These hard facts are further aggravated and reflected in the crisis surrounding access to a decent standard of life and prospects for sustainability in the immediate future.
The Crises in Housing, Water and Education
In the city of Detroit the massive job losses through the restructuring of the world system after 1975 to the present has been represented by the large-scale capital flight and outright theft of social wealth by the corporations, banks and their agents in government. It is important to recount how this crisis of deindustrialization began in Detroit during the late 1950s when the population began to decline due to both changes within the employment market as well as the deliberate suburbanization of the region through policies facilitated by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).
Since the 1950 Census, the city of Detroit has consistently lost population. A large drop occurred during the period of 2000-2010, approximately 25 percent, which was related to the continued job losses, rising utility costs and predatory lending engineered by the banks.
The Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI), founded in 2002, and the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, formed in 2008, has been demanding a long-term halt to all foreclosures, evictions and utility shut-offs. The imposition of such a moratorium could be done through the declaration of a “state of emergency” recognizing the failures of the capitalist market along with the federal government to create jobs and economic opportunities that would guarantee the people’s rights to employment and a minimum income.
Nonetheless, the local, county, state and federal government administrations have failed to take decisive action to protect the fundamental human rights of the majority of people who live in Detroit and throughout the U.S. The much championed recovery and revitalization of Detroit and other cities has not taken place amid weaknesses even cited by the capitalist theorists and analysts themselves.
Two other areas of concern for those who live in Detroit and other cities are the threats to public ownership and access to both water services and quality education. In the case of water, the city of Detroit gained global attention during 2014 when local organizations publicized and demonstrated against the massive water shut-offs that impacted tens of thousands of households.
Moratorium NOW! Coalition organized weekly demonstrations in the financial district downtown in Detroit during last summer. The organization also brought the plight of city residents into the federal bankruptcy hearing which were taking place in July 2014.
The Detroit Water & Sewage Dept. (DWSD) was prompted to impose a series of temporary moratoriums in the shut-offs, although Judge Steven Rhodes who proceeded over the bankruptcy claimed he had no jurisdiction to halt the terminations and impose an indefinite moratorium in the interests of the public. This decision was rendered despite the fact that documentation was presented to the courts that water bills were inaccurate in part due to the fact that untold amounts of water is wasted every months through abandoned industrial, commercial and residential properties where pipes are damaged and water has been running for months and even years.
Rhodes declaration of lack of authority to protect not only water services for working people, the aged, disabled and poor, but also the hard-earned pensions of the City of Detroit retirees who had $6.5 billion stolen in monetary and healthcare benefits through the bankruptcy. At present the water shut-offs have proceeded again representing the failure of corporate-oriented Duggan administration to fix the problem through an indefinite halt and the adoption of a sustainable program of stabilizing the water department.
The corporate solution has been geared toward paying bogus interest-rate swaps which ripped $537 million out of the system during 2012. The holders of these swaps are some of the largest banks in the world including Chase and Bank of America.
In the field of education, the onerous policies of the right-wing legislators backed by the corporations have left the system in Detroit and other districts in ruin. The promotion of charter schools and school authorities absent of any objective evaluations of successes and failures has caused tremendous damage.
Moreover, so-called tax captures from funds slated for educational improvements and public libraries are turned over to private interests through groups such as the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation and the Downtown Development Authority which provides no plans to employ the hundreds of thousands of jobless and underemployed in the city. The building of stadia and casino hotels during the late 1990s did not prevent the city from being declared bankrupt by the emergency manager and the millionaire Gov. Rick Snyder in 2013.
The Pentagon Budget and Militarization of Police
MECAWI in its earliest phase raised the slogan: “Money for Our Cities Not for War!” This summed up the crisis of war abroad and the consequent class struggle waged by the rich against the workers, poor and oppressed inside the U.S.
Even under Obama when there is much rhetoric about the “drawing down” of forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, other military adventures are being intensified in Africa as well as in the Arab states. The U.S. military preoccupation with growing Chinese influence in the South Seas and the Pacific threatens another war in Asia.
In both Iraq and Syria, the destruction and dislocation of millions of people is the direct result of both U.S. foreign and domestic policy. Libya, once the most prosperous state in Africa, was destroyed by imperialism with the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and NATO at the helm. Today the refugee crisis of migration in North Africa and the Mediterranean has been described by the Italian prime minister as tantamount to the Atlantic Slave Trade which ended during the 19th century.
This militarization of Africa, the Asia-Pacific and Latin America, is mirrored inside the U.S. The rebellions in Ferguson and Baltimore illustrate clearly that the capitalist state is not only in conflict with the oppressed and working poor but are preparing for an even larger war in the not to distance future. Hence the total disregard of fundamental bourgeois democratic rights to housing, water, education and environmental integrity under the guise of fostering development and urban revitalization.
Ideological Framework and the Building of a Revolutionary Movement
What the current period shows us is that the bi-polar two-party political system is being further exposed for its incapacity to address the conditions of an ever growing poor and disenfranchised population in the U.S. The capitalist parties themselves are even having difficulties in generating candidates that can articulate the rationales for chronic decline and false notions of economic growth.
The subjective factor of revolutionary mass organization is the missing link in the current crises. Uniting these struggles for the redistribution of wealth inside the U.S. and the elimination of the Pentagon war machine requires an organization which seeks to seize state power in the interests of the majority of workers, youth and oppressed nationalities. Consequently, an ideological struggle must be waged against liberalism, social democracy as well as conservatism.
Abayomi Azikiwe has written extensively on African affairs with specific reference to historical studies and political economy. He has done research on the origins and political ideology of the African National Congress, its leaders as well as other national liberation movements and regional organizations in Southern Africa.