The election of Justin Trudeau in Canada is another in a long series of elections around the world signaling a leftward lurch in reaction to the age of austerity. Unfortunately, the likelihood that these movements through the electoral system are going to accomplish much of anything is small. Trudeau, the son of a former Prime Minister, and a millionaire who became wealthy the old fashioned way, through inheritance, is more reminiscent of Barack Obama than Eugene Debbs. While many of the stated goals of political parties and politicians like Syriza, Podemos, Justin Trudeau and Bernie Sanders are admirable they are merely one side of a coin.
None of the political events of the last seven years that have provided indications of a genuine change in the status quo have produced said change. The election of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party in 2008 produced a health care bill that will likely save and improve numerous lives while further enriching insurance and pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and doctors. Two years after that election a reactionary resurgence returned control of Congress to the Republicans. Liberal disillusionment and apathy can always be counted upon to provide ample opportunity for Conservatives to lie, cheat, and steal their way into power.
At this late stage in the development of global capitalism there is nowhere for working people to apply pressure to the system in an attempt to force reform. The nationalist period of capitalist development is gone. No longer do capitalists see their interests aligned with a particular country. Their interests extend across the globe, enveloping the planet in a class hegemony heretofore unknown in world history. No mere political party or politician, regardless of which country they represent, is going to be able to roll back the developments of the last several decades. Attempts at piecemeal reform through “legitimate” mechanisms of power will accomplish nothing.
This dynamic has played out repeatedly since the emergence of Neoliberalism in the 1970’s. The Conservatives gain power and then lose it to the Liberals, the Liberals gain power and then lose it to the Conservatives, the pendulum swinging back and forth with hardly anyone noticing that what seems like genuine, uncontrolled, unmanaged, representative democracy is in actuality a predetermined course, a weight tied to a string and swinging from a pivot. Therefore, what seems most likely is a short period of political upheaval followed by stagnation and the inevitable swing back in favor of the conservatives.
The only variable potent enough to instigate real revolutionary change is the forthcoming economic crisis. The capitalist class and it’s allies within the state have jerry-rigged this economy with gum and twine, hoping to drain as much wealth and resource as they can while they can. At least the smart ones are doing this, the rest are likely too delusional about the nature of the system to understand just how precarious is the situation. As Marxist economist Michael Roberts has detailed the capitalist system is in a sharp decline. Profitability, the driving force of the capitalist system, is at its lowest point since it reached its peak in the 1960’s.
Profits drive investment and investment drives employment. Without sufficient profitability the capitalists will begin to pull back further and further on investment. Investment is already incredibly low, but the free flow of credit from governments has bridged the gap. However, this measure cannot last forever as the burden of both public, and private, debt weighs on the system, further inhibiting capitalists from investment and slowing economic growth. How the working class responds to this crisis will determine if we are able to save ourselves and our planet from capitalism.