Marx analysed 19th-century capitalism as being in decline, never to recover. Many claim this shows Marx was wrong, because capitalism always manages to recover from its frequent crises – so it can go on forever. Yet a longer and deeper overview of history shows Marx was right.
Capitalist forces grew up under feudalism and eventually defeated it, establishing itself as the prevailing economic system. In doing so, it created a new class, of workers who had to work in return for wages. Marx said capitalism created its own gravediggers. So from the time of its greatest triumph, capitalism never again expanded in overall form, and its decline began. Class relationships made this inevitable, and all apparent “recoveries” proved temporary.
In Britain, the working class forced the issue, seeing its own potential power, organising in trade unions to fight the capitalists. Thus it became the dominant force in society – the class which represented the future.
When workers in Russia in 1917 showed they could overthrow the capitalist class altogether and seize and maintain power for themselves, the balance of class forces in the world changed forever. Capitalism’s decline became absolute. From that point, its main aim was to destroy its future assassins – all internal and foreign policies concentrated on bloody war on workers.
This doesn’t seem obvious today. The Soviet Union eventually collapsed (having saved the world from fascism in world war two) together with socialism in China and other countries, and capitalism might seem to have won the class war. Yet the nature of class relationships is the same, and so capitalism remains in absolute decline. It is incapable of offering any kind of growth or progress for the vast majority. It can only destroy.
Now we see an increasingly fast cycle of ever deeper capitalist crises. Capitalism’s major aim is to kill the power of the working class, and decline is deliberately promoted to achieve this end, for example the closure of coal mines in Britain to finish off the miners. By its own actions, it destroys the means of production – industry and agriculture, the banks and the financial system.
Capitalism has no answers to its problems. In absolute decline, it is now exposed in its weakness, but it won’t fall unless the working class strikes it down. We could do it, but we have to want to – this is the challenge.