[Audio] Why the US Is Heading toward Revolution | NYC Marxist School 2022

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Welcome to Socialist Revolution podcast. Today, we take a look at how the impasse of capitalism is paving the wave for a revolution in the US.

[Theme Music]

In this episode, we’re publishing a talk by Socialist Revolution editor Antonio Balmer, who answered the question of “Why the US Is Headed to a Revolution” at the 2022 NYC Marxist School. This event brought together 130 socialists from across the US Northeast, Canada, and Puerto Rico, for a weekend of discussions on revolutionary theory and strategy.


A revolution today?

50 minutes for a question like “Why the US Is Headed for a Revolution” and what the meaning of a capitalist impasse is in our epoch, it’s a pretty tricky task, but I’m going to do my best to do it a bit of justice in the time that I have. And I think that it’s a question about mass consciousness. It’s a question about what are the factors in history that are shaping the thinking of millions of people around the world?

I think the context for this is what’s happened in the last six years or so in the US political landscape. It’s been a complete transformation, almost something you wouldn’t recognize. If you think about the attitudes of people toward society, toward capitalism, where society is headed—particularly the attitudes in public opinion towards terms like socialism and capitalism.

In the years leading up to the 2016 election, the word “socialism” was the single most searched word on Merriam-Webster online. That’s one indication. Here are some of the headlines from the six years since. See if you can pick up on a common news item that a lot of the media was picking up on.

The Guardian: “Why Are There Suddenly Millions of Socialists in America?”
Newsweek: “Why Is Socialism Suddenly so Popular?”
New York Magazine: “When Did Everyone Become a Socialist?”
The New Yorker: “Why Socialism is Back”
The Nation: “Why Millennials Aren’t Afraid of Socialism”
Washington Post: “The Socialist Youth: Why Millennials Are Embracing a Bad Old Term”
Bloomberg: “Get Rid of Capitalism? Millennials Are Ready to Talk About It”
Cato Institute: “Why so Many Millennials Are Socialists and What We Can Do about it”
The Independent: “More than a Third of Millennials Approve of Communism”
NY Post: “Communism Is Trendier than Louis Vuitton for Clueless Gen-Z Americans”
Teen Vogue: “Class Solidarity Is Our Only Hope for Survival”

Many of these articles, they talk about the same things. They’re looking for indicators of the shifting mood, and it’s not hard to find them. A lot of them talk about the popularity of Sanders, particularly among young people, the rise of self-described socialists in office like AOC, growing membership of socialist organizations like DSA, and organizations far to the left of DSA as well.

And aside from the headlines, if you want to find the best indicator of what’s happening in public opinion, the best way is to ask ask young people. The polls say everything. I love these polls, these annual polls that have been sponsored by Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, from 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020. Every time these polls come out, you see millions more young people are turning their back on capitalism. Millions more young people are opening up to radical ideas, and not just to socialism. This is not just like the Sanders moment. It’s not the vague socialism that you get from DSA and other outlets on the on the left. They’re turning to communism, to Marxism, to ideas like public ownership of the means of production.

I think that they may have realized that these polls were just extremely encouraging for the communists, and so maybe that’s why they stopped publishing them in 2020. But the latest figures indicated the following breakdown. Numerically, this is just among Gen Z and millennials put together:

  • 34 million young people view communism favorably in the United States;
  • 39 million view Marxism favorably in this country, after so many decades of propaganda;
  • 45 million support the elimination of capitalism, 65 million view socialism favorably.

What is the goal of the movement?

So when you have these kinds of figures, the question becomes, what is the goal of the movement? You have something surging into the political landscape. What do these young people want to achieve? And along with this surge of polls, of political currents, you’ve had the rise of left-wing media, of magazines, of podcasts, reading groups, Youtubers, blogs, hundreds of book titles. The rise of a strategic debate about what is it we’re after? What is it that we’re trying to achieve? What does it mean to fight for socialism? And that’s a strategic debate that we’re very interested in in the IMT.

A few years ago, the Washington Post published an interesting article by a historian, Andrew Hartman. It’s called “The Millennial Left’s War Against Liberalism,” and it says:

The millennial left is not a return to the New Left of the 1960s—the student radicals and hippies
who raised hell in their efforts to end the Vietnam War and change American culture. Rather, it invokes the ideas of the old left of the 1930s, the militant labor unions, socialist, and even communists, who, in the context of the worst economic depression in American history, sought a genuine alternative to capitalism.

That’s what I think this new current radicalization represents. It’s nothing we’ve seen since the World War II. It’s a striving for a genuine alternative to capitalism. It goes on to say:

In the 1930s, hundreds of thousands of workers joined the mass labor unions of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. The CIO, even the Communist Party, always suspect in American political life, enjoyed a surge in its American ranks, thanks to the relatively common view that the Great Depression sounded the death knell of capitalism.

Think of that political environment, what it gives rise to among widespread layers. So, as revolutionary Marxists who defend revolutionary socialism in this debate, one of the basic messages that our comrades are putting forward systematically across the US, across the world, is that, yes, we live in a revolutionary epoch today. Our goal is the overthrow of capitalism. And yes, we’re absolutely convinced that there’s a possibility of achieving this in our lifetime. That’s the kind of epoch that we live in.

But I want to start by acknowledging that that’s not the dominant view on the left, and it hasn’t been since the postwar era. The dominant views, the currents that have been speaking as the representatives of this new left-wing trend, the views behind the books that are being published at Verso and Haymarket, the leading currents within DSA and its strategy, above all, publications like Jacobin.

Jacobin recently celebrated its ten-year anniversary with an editorial that talks about having become a major voice on the global left, and it claims that the magazine has made “the most significant contribution towards creating an intellectual space of debates for socialists and progressive intelligentsia of our time, mostly by drawing on the academic world.” They say:

Jacobin has become a magnet for the left strongest thinkers. By its gravitational pull, Jacobin has managed to attract those scattered socialists among the professional classes who otherwise would have been absorbed by the university system.

So, it is very exciting. Let’s hear the advice of the left’s strongest thinkers, what they have to offer the growing socialist movement. One of these authors wrote a book that was published a couple of years ago, called How to Be an Anti-Capitalist in the 21st Century. It’s by a University of Wisconsin professor. He gives the following advice:

Give up the fantasy of smashing capitalism. Capitalism is not smashable. One way or another, you have to deal with capitalist structures and institutions. Taming and eroding capitalism are the only viable options.

So, apparently, that’s the anti-capitalism of the 21st century. Not like the old-fashioned anti-capitalism where you try to overthrow the system. It’s the one where you accept capitalism, figure out ways to tame it and erode it. That’s lesson one.

Another title, The New Communist. It’s all about what’s “new.” It’s the “new era,” referring to the fact that interest in communism itself is rising in this country. Here’s what it has to say, just a few different quotes from the article:

Today, 100 years after the Russian Revolution, the world has turned. The world’s working classes have moved on. Today, the probability of such a revolution is infinitesimally small. What haunts the socialist left today is our inability to move on from these dreams of apocalyptic rupture fantasies; of new, unfathomable worlds.

Another editorial the final the final one I’ll treat you to. This is “Our Road to Power,” an editorial by Vivek Chibber, who teaches at NYU. He’s presented as a kind of “left celebrity” in the media. He goes on New York Times podcasts, he is the “Bolshevik,” you know, the one representing the “radical” left. Here’s what he has to say about the Bolshevik Revolution:

There’s no doubt that the decades from the early 20th century all the way to the Spanish Civil War could be described as a revolutionary period. It was an era in which the possibility of a rupture or break with capitalism could be seriously contemplated, and a strategy could be built around it. But starting in the 1950s, openings for this kind of strategy narrowed and today, it seems entirely hallucinatory to think about socialism through this lens.

These are the views of the dominant current on the left, the public spokespeople of the rising left current, the ones that are speaking for the movement. And it has been the dominant view for decades, this idea that we don’t live in an era of revolution anymore, that you’re in a dream world if overthrowing capitalism is the goal that you’re setting for. So you need to move on.

An era of revolution

If you move outside of the space of this “progressive intelligentsia”—if you move outside of the university offices of these professors and you look at what’s happening around the world—in country after country, we see mass uprisings that have brought down governments. In every corner of the globe, we see rebellions and full-blown revolutions.

In 2019, there were mass uprisings in a quarter of the countries on earth. We have comrades here from Puerto Rico, where one-sixth of the population poured into the streets and brought down the government of Ricky Rosselló in 2019 through mass demonstrations and strike action. Three years ago this month, you had the October rebellion sweeping through Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, in country after country. These were not just demonstrations. It wasn’t just general strikes. You had the rise of elements of dual power, armed bodies of workers’ defense arresting military personnel, disarming the police, erecting barricades and checkpoints, seizing control of all major highways, setting up revolutionary assemblies not just for discussion, but also for making decisions and carrying them out.

These are the scenes that have sprung up around the world. In Algeria, 3 million people flooded the streets in a revolution that brought down the 20-year dictatorship of Bouteflika. In Sudan—talk about a classical proletarian revolution. You had the masses organized in a general strike that had 100% participation of the working class. Not only did the workers organize themselves and take over industry, the workers in all government ministries organized themselves into councils and declared their allegiance to the revolution. You had power in the hands of the working class, basically all day-to-day administration is going into the hands of the working class. This is a revolution that is happening in our period, that brought down the 30-year dictatorship of al-Bashir.

The serious analysts are not the professors that are talking about living in a “post-revolutionary era.” It’s the ones who are warning the ruling class that this is a revolutionary era, that there’s a threat of revolution everywhere. Compare the quotes we heard earlier to the comments from Paolo Geraldo, a political sociologist at King’s College in London. He says:

These protests are popular insurgencies. They reflect the failure of nation states in the global era. They’re not a passing crisis that can be remedied through the regular levers of the state. These movements may be the early symptoms of a new global crisis. They’re like seismographs. They’re like the dials that announce things that are coming on the horizon.

That’s a much more perceptive analysis than anything you read in Jacobin. And in the years since 2019, it’s been a continuation of this process. We had mass uprisings in Kazakhstan, in Myanmar, in Sri Lanka, the second wave of the Sudanese revolution. Now you have these revolutionary developments in Iran, the largest uprising since the 1979 revolution.

And it would be one thing to dismiss these kinds of developments if they were only happening in far-away places, and if they were never covered on the news—which they often get very little coverage. But the US lived through its largest mass movement in history in June 2020, after the murder of George Floyd. A movement that took on insurrectionary proportions and sent the president himself hiding underground in a bunker under the White House.

It really should be the end of the question of whether a revolution is possible in this era in this country. Is it possible for tens of millions of people to pour into the streets of every city from coast to coast? Is it possible for them to defy curfew orders in 200 cities, to confront tear gas, rubber bullets, and mass arrests? Is it possible for mass demonstrations in the US to escalate even when National Guards are deployed in 30 states? History has answered these questions.

Two years ago, protesters burnt down the Minneapolis police precinct—an open act of insurrection—and 54% of the population saw that as a justified act, according to the polls in the following weeks. At its height, the mass movement had the approval of 78% of the population, who said that the anger that led to the protests was justified—way more than the 26 million people who actually poured into the streets. An uprising on that scale is possible in the 2020s. The debate is over. Revolution is possible. It is a fact.

By the way, those events very easily could have escalated into something much bigger than what actually played out. In June 2020, Trump was threatening to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807. He had ordered army bases across the country to be ready to deploy within four hours to police demonstrations within US borders. And this provoked a whole crisis, with dozens of military officials, Pentagon officials, generals, and retired generals openly defying the US president. Because they realized that you play that card, you play the “send in the troops” card—and you’re out of cards. We came very close to a situation like that in this country.

Does that sound like a ruling class that has things under control, a ruling class that has “internal cohesiveness and political stability,” as Jacobin says? To this day, one of the pillars of bourgeois traditional rule in this country is a party in the grips of Trump, that talks about casting doubt on the legitimacy of US bourgeois democracy itself. They don’t have a grip on this thing! It’s time for the left to recognize these facts and to stop acting like we’re in a post-revolution era. This is a revolutionary era. We need to stop acting as if we’re headed for another period of calm and peace like the postwar boom.

And really, most of society understands that we’re headed for a crisis. If you look at polls, most people think we’re headed for chaos, for turbulence—young people in particular. They try to look at their future, and what they see is a world on fire. We’re headed for a climate catastrophe. And if you look at the polls, we’re also headed for a major fight against these events, a fight against capitalism.

Marxist theory: what drives an era of revolution?

This mood in society, it’s not just a fleeting, temporary phenomenon. It’s not something that’s just going to pass. It’s a growing desperation. It’s a search for a way out of an impasse. And when millions of people start to question the structure of society, that’s a big deal. That’s an indication that something fundamental is changing, something profound in the foundation of society.

In order to understand that, you need Marxist ideas, Marxist theory. Marxism for us, it’s not just a method of analysis, it’s not just a philosophy of class struggle. We need these ideas to make sense of the world in the 2020s. The Communist Manifesto of 1848 sheds more light on the world of the 2020s than it did in the decade when it was written.

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” What does that mean? It means that class societies are not eternal. Capitalism is not eternal. It’s not going to be around forever. Marx explained that class society is like everything else in nature. They have a life cycle. A social system is born. It develops up to a certain point. It reaches a peak. It enters a phase of decline. Just like a human life, just like anything else in nature. And eventually it comes to an end. That’s what’s happening with capitalism. It’s lived long beyond its limits.

The question for us is, what determines that life span? What is it about capitalism that we can say it’s lived past its limits, it’s reached that impasse? Marxism explains that a social system can be viable, it can move forward, it can develop, as long as it’s developing the productive forces. That is the key to progress. The key to the historical thread of human progress is the development of the productive forces, the ability of humans to meet their needs. When we have an improvement in that ability, an improvement in technology—in technique, scientific knowledge, social organization, productivity—that makes it objectively possible for more people to live without starving, for more people to have housing, to have their basic needs met, and for humanity to spend less years and hours of their life working just to make that survival possible.

When you improve that, society moves forward. That’s the thread of progress that we’ve seen over the last 6000 years of class society. What makes a particular society enter an impasse is and go into a decline is when it stops developing those productive forces. Instead of helping them move forward, it starts to constrain them. It becomes a straitjacket. It keeps the productive forces from moving forward. And when that becomes a historic fact, it expresses itself in countless ways, as a general sense of decline. It becomes a historic crisis on all levels because the realization starts to sink in that life is getting worse. It’s not getting better from one generation to the next.

That realization is a powerful one. The widespread mood of discontent starts to grip mass consciousness, and that’s the background for a revolutionary situation. It doesn’t automatically mean the beginning of a revolution, but it marks the start of a revolutionary era, which we are definitely knee-deep in. And this process has run its course under capitalism. I want to try and explain how capitalism exhausted its progressive phase.

How capitalism exhausted its progressive phase

In the Manifesto, Marx and Engels give the devil his due. They talk about the rise of the bourgeoisie and what it achieved. They say the bourgeoisie historically has played a most revolutionary part during its rule of scarcely 100 years. It has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations put together. Of course, it wasn’t a pretty process, they acknowledged that as well. It was the most vicious, bloody, brutal exploitation and oppression humanity has ever seen. But this drive for profits, this drive for growing markets, provided an impetus in society that had never existed before.

It’s the single-minded logic of the system. It has one purpose: accumulate capital. All human activity has been organized around that one purpose for the last 200 years, and for a while it had a progressive byproduct because as a result of that drive, that motor force kept running. Humanity started to harness the forces of nature like never before. All the major advances we’ve had in natural science, in the application of chemistry, the explosive development of industry, machinery, the mechanization of agriculture, steam power, electricity, railroads, transport, air travel… These developments are the basic justification for the rise of capitalism.

But that mechanism, that motor force, has its limits. There’s only so far it can bring society forward before it turns into its opposite, and it becomes an obstacle for society.

Concentration of capital

For one, competition in the market leads to concentration of capital. This is something that Lenin explained. He didn’t call it the “late-stage capitalism”—he called it the highest phase of capitalism, imperialism. After so much competition, larger and larger sums of capital are required even to compete, to participate in the market, until you reach a point where every industry is completely dominated by a handful of monopolies.

That’s one factor that signals the end of capitalism’s progressive phase. When you have a national market that is totally maxed out, there’s no more room, there’s no more land out there to take over. There’s no more markets to expand into. You have it carved up by a handful of monopolies intertwined with finance capital, with the power of the banks. The only other place to expand is into other markets. You have this pressure start to rise and it becomes irresistible to seize other markets, to invade other countries. Imperialist powers start to seize to try and exploit their resources, their labor forces. You have this muscling around to establish more of a sphere of influence.

This is the drive behind imperialist wars, like the war that we’re seeing in Ukraine—the proxy war between US imperialism (in the form of NATO) and Russia. It is the result of NATO’s expansion over the last 30 years, the encroachment to surround Russia. What we saw in Lenin’s time was the fact that this driving force led to the two world wars. With capitalist nations carving up the world into a new arrangement at the cost of 40 million lives in the First World War, and another 75 million in the second. Of those, 27 million were sacrificed by the Soviet Union. That was history’s way of announcing that capitalism has reached the end of its progressive phase.

We have the historic fact of the postwar boom. It’s something very important that we understand. That period from the end of World War II until the early 1970s was an extremely exceptional period in the life of capitalism. A number of historically unique factors aligned to give the world market, and US capitalism in particular, a new lease on life. Some of those factors are: the war-time destruction of Europe, the fact that it wiped out the industry of all of America’s capitalist rivals; massive state expenditure on armaments, which was the main force that brought the US economy out of the Great Depression; and unprecedented state intervention.

When it’s life and death, questions of war, they don’t leave it to the market to compete and figure out how the economy is going to take care of its needs. They have wide-scale nationalizations. The US government took over railroads, mines, armaments, other basic industries. And you know what? The US in this industrial machinery doubled over the course of World War II. All of it was paid for by the US government. New markets and technologies obviously came out of the the war effort as well, because it wasn’t just the weapons. You had new chemicals and plastics, and other industries that could develop. And of course there was a need to rebuild Europe after the war. That was decades of rebuilding, which created a massive new market.

Those were the factors that gave rise to this block of time, all the way up to the 1970s, where it seemed like things were actually stabilizing, like things were getting better. But that came to an end in the 1970s. And by every measure, conditions in society have been in a steady decline since then. Sometimes they talk about “neo-liberalism,” a set of anti-worker policies, like it’s a policy decision, but it’s not. It’s the return of capitalism to its normal course after an abnormal period, an exceptional anomaly, the post-war upswing of capitalism. If we analyze what’s happened over the past 50 years, we see the return to this course of the historic impasse of capitalism, that has no solution.

I talked about Lenin’s Imperialism and about the monopolization, the concentration of capital. This has reached levels that would have been unimaginable in Lenin’s time. The revenue of the Fortune 500 companies in the US represents 70% of GDP, a record $16.1 trillion. The top four banks have 68% of total banking assets in this country. The top eight banks have $11.5 trillion in assets. That’s half of the country’s GDP. 80% of mobile telecommunications is in the hands of just three companies. Just three companies control 95% of credit cards. Four companies control 89% of baby formula—we saw what that led to not too long ago. Four companies control 85% of corn seed. Four companies control 85% of the steer slaughtered in the US, 66% of pork, half the chicken…

This is every industry. Three, four, or five companies control every corner of every basic industry. That is what the economy has become. And it’s not just concentration of capital. That’s the problem. It’s not that it makes it harder to compete, for other capitalists to get into the market. The problem is that the basic forward mechanism of the productive forces is no longer moving forward.


Marx explained that one of the fundamental contradictions of capitalism is the inability to escape increasingly disastrous crises of overproduction. It’s a contradiction that stems from the fact that workers produce everything in society, the goods and services that are sold in the market. The value that workers receive back in the form of wages is just a fraction of the value that they’re producing. The difference is surplus value, and that’s the profit of the capitalist. So far, so good—for the capitalist.

But there’s a problem, because it means that the working class as a whole can never buy back the full value of what they’re collectively producing. And it means that, inevitably, the market reaches a point where more is being produced than what the capitalist can actually sell for a profit. It starts to end up sitting on the shelves and when they reach that point, they’re starting to lose money. They have to respond. They lay off part of their workforce, they scale back production. But in turn, you have more workers laid off, also spending less. That reduces consumption further. More products are unsold. More capitalists curb production and lay off their workers.

You have this downward spiral that is the fundamental source of recurring slumps, and there’s no way of escaping that under capitalism. Marx talks about this in the manifesto, that “the conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? … By paving the way for more extensive, more destructive crises and by diminishing the means whereby the crises are prevented.”


One of these methods that they’ve used—and they’ve used it systematically in an unprecedented scale—is the massive expansion of debt and credit to try and artificially expand the limits of the market. And this is something they’ve done since the end of the boom.

The US was the world’s largest creditor in the postwar boom, and now it’s the world’s largest debtor. It’s reached a public debt of $30 trillion, surpassing the combined debt of the next three top indebted countries combined. In the 1970s, debt represented just a third of US GDP. It’s nearly 130% of GDP today.

And it’s not just the public debt, it’s not just the government debt that they’ve used. It’s the massive expansion of credit. It’s debt at all levels. Households, corporations. The total market credit was $1.5 trillion in the early 1970s. By 2008, it grew to over $50 trillion. That’s part of what created that degree of instability, that degree of devastation in the 2008 crisis. Since then, it’s grown to over $91 trillion today. That’s the degree of attempting to artificially expand the natural limits of the system.

Declining investment in production

The basic progressive feature of capitalism at earlier stages was that the companies would take a portion of their profits and invest it back into production. That drive was the good thing about capitalism, and that’s basically come to a halt. It’s come to a complete stop over the last half century because of this chronic state of overcapacity. If the market can’t absorb the products, there’s no real drive to actually become more productive. As a result, industry across the board has been utilizing less than 80% of industrial capacity for most of the past two decades. By contrast, in the 1960s and 70s, they would frequently get above 85%, sometimes 90%. In the last two crises, it’s actually fallen below 65%.

That means that somewhere between 20–35% of industry is always just sitting there idle. It’s not being used. From a business perspective, the capitalist would say, “Well, why should we invest in expanding production or improving productivity, when we’re already more productive than we need to be? We have more productive capacity than the market can actually even make use of.” And that is a fact. As a result, the level of investment in production has been steadily declining since the 1970s. Since the end of the postwar boom, we’ve had six recessions. Each time, the capitalists have cut back the spending that they’re investing on production. And it’s never once gone to pre-recession levels afterwards. That’s what’s been happening for the past 50 years.

At the height of the postwar boom, over the course of a decade productivity was growing somewhere around 25–35%. Meaning that in ten years, the industry would become that much more productive. In the decade after 2008, it grew by just 8.7%, less than a third of that rate. In the last few years, productivity growth has slowed to almost nothing. Economists are starting to talk about a global productivity slum. In the last two quarters in the US, productivity actually suffered its worst contraction since records began in 1947. That’s the last two quarters of 2022. We’re not talking about the pandemic in 2020. That’s where the US economy is at today.

Hoarding and speculation

So, instead of taking a portion of their wealth and reinvesting it into something that’s beneficial for the rest of society, what are the capitalists doing with their record profits? For the past few decades, there’s been a huge accumulation of corporate cash, hoarding, speculation. It’s sitting there. It’s not really being used for anything. For example, in the year 2000, corporations had $1.6 trillion in cash on hand. By the beginning of 2020, that was up to $4 trillion. Today, two years later, it’s gone from $4 trillion to $5.8 trillion. A mountain of cash that is just sitting in bank accounts. It’s not being invested in any form.

There’s also the rising trend of stock buybacks. You have companies that use their revenue to purchase their own stocks in order to just drive up the cost of shares and use it as a way of enriching their shareholders. Here’s one example. In the decade before 2020, the top five airlines, which control 80% of domestic flights, spent 96% of their free cash flow on stock buybacks, and delivered huge payouts to their owners. American Airlines alone spent $15 billion in six years just on stock buybacks. And when the pandemic hit, they claimed bankruptcy and they said, “we need a bailout for the survival of the industry.” That was the words of CEO of American Airlines, who makes $12 million a year. They received a $54 billion bailout after 96% of their free cash—billions upon billions—was used just to enrich their shareholders.

This is what the impasse of capitalism represents. Instead of developing the productive forces, you have blatant parasites, just taking as much wealth as possible and sucking it away from society, and just accumulating the wealth through these kinds of methods. The wealth of the top 1% increased by $6.5 trillion just last year. Almost half of the stock market is represented by the 1%. The stock portfolios of the top 1% are now worth $23 trillion. That’s 100% of GDP. That doesn’t mean the whole country is just in their hands, because the stock market is actually at $46 trillion. Since 2010, the market value of the top 500 companies has tripled from $11 trillion to $32 trillion. That is the result. Has life gotten any better for the working class over the course of accumulating these mountains of wealth? Of course not.

Organic crisis of capitalism

The capitalist crisis, this recurring boom-slump cycle, it’s part of capitalism. Since the beginning of the system, you had booms and slumps, even during the postwar period. But when the system enters a terminal phase of decline, that’s an organic crisis of capitalism. We’re talking about something broader, because the booms are no longer improving life. It’s no longer perceived as a good time for the working class. And the slumps become increasingly catastrophic. They end up wiping out life savings, totally changing the course of lives for tens of millions of working-class families. This is what we saw, for instance, in 2008, when 10 million people lost their homes and around 9 million people lost their jobs. And many of them haven’t come back.

During the postwar boom, the world economy was growing by 6% each year. The US economy had a huge share of that pie. Half of world GDP was represented by the US economy. Today we have a totally different picture. The world economy has grown by just an average of 2.4% each year from 2008 to 2020. And the US share of world GDP has declined from 50% to just 22%. So, during the boom, the US would frequently have GDP growth each year of 6%, 7%, sometimes 8%. Average GDP growth between 2008–2020 was less than 1.3%. It’s grinding to a halt.

If the US represents a shrinking share of world GDP, and the system is no longer developing, if there’s no more new markets to expand because it’s all concentrated—what this means is a consistent 50-year fall in the standard of living for the working class. At the start of the postwar era, one-third of the working class had union jobs in stable industries with wages that would just keep increasing. Today, one-third of the working class is earning $15 an hour or less. Participation in the labor force has declined steadily since the year 2000, and is currently at its lowest level in 45 years. Manufacturing jobs have been in decline for 40 years. One-third of all manufacturing jobs were destroyed in the decade from 2000 to 2010. Obviously, many of the jobs that were lost in the the 2008 crisis, compared to the kinds of jobs that are coming back are much lower-paying jobs.

Real wages have been stagnant for 50 years in the US, starting in the early 70s. What this means is that the median income for a 25-year-old worker with a high-school diploma is $10,000 less than what it was for a worker in the same situation during the postwar boom. And I think our generation is aware of that. I think what you’re seeing is a response to that fact, which feeds into every other aspect of living standards. Now we’re seeing the highest inflation in 40 years, which the ruling class has no way to control. Everything they’re trying to do to bring it under control is only creating more chaos and pushing the US and world economies back into the brink of another catastrophic recession.

Even before the onset of this inflation, 112 million people struggled to cover health care costs. Now, the cost of living is making everything impossible. Half of the American workforce does not earn enough to rent a one-bedroom apartment. A full-time minimum-wage worker in this country can’t afford to rent any apartment anywhere in the country, statistically speaking. Rents have risen 20% just since the start of 2020. In New York, they’ve risen 35%. In some cities, it’s even worse.

And it’s not just due to inflation. This is also the result of capitalist speculation at a time when there’s less available housing for sale or for rent than any time in the last 30 years. One in five houses sold in this country are being bought by investors who don’t even move into them. Investors bought one-third of all homes for sale in Atlanta last year. Tens of thousands of units, just like. And just like that, the housing prices climbed by 14% almost overnight. That’s what the capitalist housing market offers. We’ve seen similar situations in other major cities since the 2008 crisis. A lot of those homes that were foreclosed were bought up by private equity investors. So you now have massive corporate landlords controlling huge portions of the housing market. Of course, this means we have a simpler task for the logistics of a planned economy, because you simply nationalize those huge corporate landlords, and you can boost off a voluntary plan of a socialist housing.

Conditions determine consciousness

So these are some of the factors that are fueling this deep-seated discontent. They’re putting society on a collision course with capitalism. When we talk about the necessity of revolution, the historical justification for a revolution, these are the kinds of factors. It’s the fact that capitalism is holding back the productive forces and it’s making life impossible for the working class. You have decade after decade of decline. If a revolutionary situation is like the earthquake, the culmination of this pressure that builds between tectonic plates—these are all the factors that are increasing, exerting more and more pressure along this fault line.

And it’s not just this gradual thing that happens. It’s the experience living through shocks, living through great events that wake people up. The experience of growing up during the 2008 crisis and its aftermath has completely shaped the outlook of what has become the largest generation in US history—the millennial generation. It’s also not just the largest in US history, it’s also the largest within the working class. Within three years, the millennials are going to make up 75% of the global workforce. US millennials are working an average of 45 hours a week.

This is what the working class has become, a generation that was shaped by the experience of nothing but capitalist stagnation and crisis, along with Gen Z. Millennials are the most racially diverse generation in US history, the most conscious of questions of inequality and oppression, they’re the most educated generation in US history. And yet, the incomes for millenial households are 11% lower than Gen-X, and 14% lower than baby boomer households. So it’s also the most class-conscious generation of the working class at least since World War II. Most millennials identify as working class. They reject the middle-class label because it’s meaningless.

Because of all of these factors that have fueled that radicalization of this layer, which is now the majority of the working class, the US is headed for revolution. Because all of those factors are a result to the impasse of capitalism. They’re not going away. They’re going to intensify. It’s not going to calm down and get better. It’s going to go in the other direction. And it’s the fact that capitalism has outlived its usefulness to humanity. There is no reversing that fact. There is no turning back that wheel.

It’s usually not a normal thing for human beings to question the structure of their civilization, to question the mode of production. Most people go about their lives without giving a second thought to whether capitalism is the only thing, the best thing that’s out there, or whether there’s the possibility of some alternative, some way that we could organize human activity in a fundamentally different way. But because of the impasse of capitalism, this decline is starting to wake people up. There are now actually tens of millions of people who are thinking about precisely the impasse of capitalism.

It takes time for something like that to normally register in the conscious thinking of tens of millions of people. People don’t just wake up with a full-fledged Marxist perspective of what’s happening in history and say, “Well, I feel like lately the the productive forces have been held back and that we need a new mode of production and it’s probably time for a revolution. What it actually looks like is these polls, recent polls that say 85% of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track. 87%—that’s nine in ten—say they’re dissatisfied with the way things are going. 71% of Americans feel angry about the state of the country. 82% of Americans feel that wealthy people and large corporations have too much power and influence in today’s economy.

When you have these kinds of moods intensifying, that’s the kind of fuel that can give rise to a revolutionary situation. And you have the emergence of a generation that’s been shaped by precisely the kinds of historic conditions that give rise to a revolutionary outlook. It’s not just the class consciousness, not just the discontent that ends up reaching a boiling point. It’s this iron will to do something about it, because what are you going to do with this life if you’re faced with these kinds of prospects? What are you going to do with this life except for dedicate it to the fight to overthrow this system? That’s a force that is becoming a shaping psychological factor for millions of young people.

The liberals, they can’t understand this and they complain that too many people are getting obsessed with the “politics of grievance,” and people are “too negative,” and they’re “too angry.” And it’s probably “caused by social media.” Actually, this anger in society is actually the explanation for the rise of polarization, for the rise of Trumpism, this collapse of the liberal center ground in politics, this growing hatred of the establishment, the suspicion toward all media and other institutions. But Trumpism is also going to have its rise and its fall, because it offers no solution to the working class. It doesn’t offer a response to the impasse of capitalism, these underlying historic factors that are driving this decline, this relentless decline in living standards. There is no solution to that. What Trumpism really represents—it’s not just a section of the working class. It’s a middle-class phenomenon, primarily. You have a middle class that’s vacillating, that’s starting to lose confidence in the traditional status quo. That vacillation can go to the right, and it can also go in another direction.

Lenin talked about the conditions for the rise of a revolutionary situation. The ruling class being unable to control society and rule in the old way. They start to have crises, they start to split, they start to have disagreements with different wings about how to proceed, how to move forward, crisis of institutions, crisis of confidence. We absolutely see that in a total collapse of the legitimacy of the Supreme Court today, you’re going to see that with every single institution. It’s already underway, shattering illusions that bourgeois democracy has any real meaning for the working class. But the middle-class vacillation is a part of a revolutionary situation. You have this polarization, which ultimately ends up bringing the middle class—the petty bourgeoisie, the people who have some stake in the system, but they’re being crushed, they’re being ruined—to a position to say “capitalism doesn’t really offer me the security that I need. It doesn’t offer me a future.”

The other condition is you need the working class to be ready to move, to have that discontent, not just building up and accumulating, but fueling where millions of working people are ready to take matters into their own hands. As we’ve seen since 2019, in country after country, that point has been reached, over and over again. Of course, the final condition of Lenin’s four conditions for a revolutionary situation is that you have to have a revolutionary leadership present that can connect with that. In that moment where the upsurge is actually ignited, they can connect with it. Put forward a program for revolution, for what it actually means to transfer power from the capitalists to the to the working class.

So we see that conditions determine consciousness. That’s a basic idea of Marxism. But consciousness isn’t determined in a mechanical, direct way. It happens dialectically. You have this long, gradual accumulation of experience, this accumulation of disappointments with what life under capitalism represents, coupled with dramatic shocks, coupled with those moments that they call “once-in-a-lifetime” crises. But they keep happening over and over, and it keeps impacting consciousness, and it changes the way that people think about the system.

Going back to this idea of the “old left” and what happened in the 1930s. There used to be meetings of the Communist Party filling Madison Square Garden with 21,000 communists, with symbols like this, with the hammer and sickle. And now people at Jacobin treat it like we’re on the fringes of society, like we can’t let go of these dreams. Well, what was it about the conditions, about the historic environment, that led millions of people to draw revolutionary conclusions? Not just that, but to get involved? What was it that pushed all of those young people to become cadres of mass Marxist organizations, of socialist parties, communist parties, to the point where they were a major factor in US politics? Maybe not the mass revolutionary party that could have taken power at the moment, but they were a major factor. What was it that pushed them? It’s precisely experiences like the Great Depression, like World Wars.

Socialism or barbarism

We don’t have to search very far for the kinds of experiences that are radicalizing the young generation, the 2008 crisis and what it meant to grow up in the aftermath of that. And now you have 2020 and this period that we’ve entered. We can only imagine what events are going to be added to this list. The point is that we actually live in a period where we’re going to have even greater crises on the horizon than anything like the Great Depression, even greater than the World Wars.

If you look at the rising tensions between the US and China, and what this conflict between the two greatest imperialist powers on the face of the planet represents—that’s 40% of the world economy represented by two countries. And, in typical imperialist fashion, they’re muscling their way to domination of greater and greater parts of the world. There’s no question the US imperialism dominates the world economy still, but it doesn’t dominate it like it used to 20 years ago. It’s going through a relative decline in its domination. The problem is that, while the US share of world GDP has fallen from 50% to 22%, China’s share has increased from 1% to 15%. It’s no longer a situation where you have one totally dominant imperialist power, and a certain stability comes from the fact that that’s the one world policeman. It’s no longer so stable. It’s a new alignment of the balance of forces in the world powers. China is the world’s number one lender with more outstanding loans than the IMF, the world banks, all OECD creditor governments combined, it has the world’s largest navy, it has double the number of active troops as the United States.

So far, US imperialism has refused to even call a no-fly zone in Ukraine. They don’t want to send boots on the ground. They’re not in a position to do so. The relative decline in the strength of US imperialism is a historical fact. If something were to erupt over Taiwan in the coming years, you may still have a situation where both countries are willing to avoid open, direct warfare because of the nuclear threat—which neither ruling class has an interest in. They want to dominate the world economy. They don’t want to be completely wiped off the map. So, that may still be a fact that you have both countries willing to avoid this.

But even full-scale sanctions, a full-scale economic war, a blockade between the two largest economies in the world that represent 40% of world GDP—that would be a devastating event far greater than the Great Depression. It would affect every country on the face of this planet, because those economies are intertwined with every economy in the world. The dislocation that we’re seeing now in Europe because of the war in Ukraine, the fact that you have skyrocketing inflation—the fall of Liz Truss is one of the the results of that. You have 80% increase in utility bills for people in Britain. You have households in Germany, the powerhouse of Europe, collecting firewood so they don’t freeze over the winter. That’s nothing compared to the kind of dislocation and economic chaos that we would have if you had a full-scale confrontation between the US and China.

The workers of China have no interest in that. The workers of the United States have no interest in that. Of course, the workers of Taiwan, of no country on the planet, have any interest in that kind of a scenario. And yet that’s the direction that the ruling class is driving in society. That’s the kind of thing that can provoke an unprecedented crisis, a crisis of the regime, a crisis of the legitimacy of the entire US government. It can provoke an uprising in China. We’re seeing that there’s a crisis there as well that’s brewing. There’s a lot of discontent that’s been accumulating. And it can provoke a revolutionary response by the masses in the United States. That’s just one example of what are these factors that can be the boiling point.

There’s an even greater threat than that. In the Manifesto, Marx says that the capitalists unleashed something they couldn’t manage:

Modern bourgeois society is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world, whom he has called up by his spells.

The ruling class brought this into being, but it’s something that goes beyond its control. And I think this describes the climate crisis. The dire warnings of the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—this is something that tens of millions, hundreds of millions of people have read, and it impacts people. You read these reports, they’re coming out regularly and it’s nothing new. We have to understand that governments have known for decades, the fossil fuel industry knew full well what was happening. These warnings have been issued for 40 years. The IPCC was organized 40 years ago. Fossil fuels have been burning, of course, since the Industrial Revolution. But of all the atmospheric carbon that has been emitted since pre-industrial times, half of it was emitted in the last 30 years. The capitalists knew what they were doing.

In effect, the response of the ruling class was to say “We could pull the emergency brake, but it would mean a major loss of some really profitable markets. So instead, we’re going to send our species hurtling toward an existential catastrophe.” That’s the response that the ruling class has given. This is a crisis of their making. If that were the only factor—that alone guarantees, that society is on a collision course with the profit motive, with capitalism. That alone guarantees the inevitability of revolutionary uprisings and events in response to this fundamental contradiction. Because the realization dawning on millions of young people that the capitalist system itself is responsible for threatening humanity’s chances of survival on this planet. It’s not government in action. It’s not lack of information. It’s the inability of the capitalist system to respond, to cope to this existential threat of its own creation. And the socialist revolution is the only solution to that. That’s a historic fact. And it’s going to continue to become more and more conscious in the minds of this generation of the working class.

Despite these kinds of scenarios, there is an inherent revolutionary optimism in a Marxist understanding of human history, because the picture before us is not just one of crises and catastrophes. It’s a picture of a system that’s expressing its historical exhaustion. It’s run its course. It deserves to be overthrown. That’s the historical fact that’s being expressed in all of these crises that we see.

But Marx explained that the system also creates its own grave diggers. The very conditions of capitalist impasse have given rise to this new generation of the working class that has everything going for it to be the social force that can carry out the historic mission of our class. To the extent that we understand that, comrades, we are duty bound by history. We have a duty to humanity, to our class, to do everything in our power to achieve the socialist revolution in our lifetime by building the forces of Marxism into a powerful enough force to bring that revolution to victory.

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