Does the Ruling Class Really Want to Commit Suicide?
Last March I went to the Left Forum in New York, which is a yearly gathering of liberals, progressives, anarchists, socialists, communists, hippies, punks, mystics, conspiracy theorists and anti-conspiracy theorists who are all trying to figure out how to get to a decent future from the indecent present. Nobody, of course, knows how to do that. There may not even be a path to a decent future from the indecent present, but I always find the Left Forum hopeful because a few thousand people in one place are at least putting their minds to the problem.
The panel discussion I most wanted to see (out of 300 or so) was called “The Crisis That Gives the Capitalist Class Nightmares,” because Michael Hudson was speaking. Whenever Hudson writes something, I read it, because he’s one of a tiny number of economists with academic credentials who predicted the present debt crisis. (Apparently not predicting crises is necessary for tenure in most economic departments these days.) At the panel, he explained that when labor is squeezed to the point that it can’t purchase anything, the capitalist is left with nothing to invest in, except more debt, and so we end up with Wall Street creating ever more complicated, ever more leveraged, ever more worthless junk for its gambling habit. When this collapses, as it must, half the hospitals in Latvia (which Hudson advises) have to shut down for lack of funds.
The next guy to speak was Hillel Ticktin, an emeritus professor of Marxist Studies at the University of Glasgow. Whip smart, grumpy and funny, Ticktin expanded on the theme of “fictitious capital,” as Marx called money made from money with no value added. Ticktin said we had reached the last stage of empire with this humongous array of empty numbers in computers that is our economy and recommended we all read Volume 3 of Capital. Then he closed with a question: “Does the ruling class really want to commit suicide?”
Every time I have watched the news since March, I think back to that question and have an anxiety attack.
Because, yes, the ruling class is trying to commit suicide. In and of itself, this would be a great boon to mankind. Imagine if the ruling class admitted their abject failure to get anything right, and did the honorable thing. Top management at Wall Street, the elite of both major parties, their lobbyists, the big pr firms, the worst hacks of the corporate press, most CEOs and COOs--what if they all just got in a big bathtub, conceded defeat and opened up a vein like Frank Pentangeli in The Godfather II? Who would miss them?
So suicide isn’t the problem, exactly. The problem is that they don’t know they’re trying to kill themselves, and it doesn’t occur to them to behave honorably. The ruling class is not Frank Pentangeli. The ruling class is the husband who is failing at work, having his home foreclosed, his car repossessed, his children are getting humiliated at school because they aren’t wearing the right clothes, the self-help books have failed, the church offers no solace, television won’t acknowledge his existence--so he shoots his wife and four kids and then puts the gun in his mouth.
Thus the problem is murder suicide. The husband wants to kill the only people in his life more powerless than himself, because they are living reminders of his own shame.