Monday, 30 March 2015

The Long Wave - Part 20

The other feature of the Long Wave, besides its effect in generating a cycle of exploration and development, as well as of innovation, which in turn create new material conditions that impact productivity, and the value of the elements of capital, is that it also affects the social conditions under which people live, and through which their ideas are formulated. Reference has been made to this in relation to the Autumn or Crisis period of the cycle previously. It is a period during which distributional struggles reach a peak, because during this period the constraints of extensive accumulation reach their most acute point.

It has traditionally been during this phase of the cycle that wars and revolutions have broken out. It is not just that the material conditions arising from the acuteness of the aforementioned constraints reaches a peak during this period, but also the effect of the preceding periods on determining other subjective factors. For example, during the Spring phase of the cycle, the demand for labour-power rises sharply, but with ample supplies, and high levels of productivity, wages do not rise as fast as if labour-power was in short supply, other than in particular spheres. But, it does begin to create confidence amongst workers, because the fear of the previous period of stagnation tends to disappear from their minds. 

As Trotsky puts it,

Trotsky illustrates this curve of capitalist
development, and the corresponding social
and political events.
“This circumstance reinforces our conviction that the effects of a crisis upon the course of the labour movement are not all so unilateral in character as some simplifiers imagine. The political effects of a crisis (not only the extent of its influence but also its direction) are determined by the entire existing political situation and by those events which precede and accompany the crisis, especially the battles, successes or failures of the working class itself prior to the crisis. Under one set of conditions the crisis may give a mighty impulse to the revolutionary activity of the working masses; under a different set of circumstances it may completely paralyse the offensive of the proletariat and, should the crisis endure too long and the workers suffer too many losses, it might weaken extremely not only the offensive but also the defensive potential of the working class...

In contrast, the industrial revival is bound, first of all, to raise the self-confidence of the working class, undermined by failures and by the disunity in its own ranks; it is bound to fuse the working class together in the factories and plants and heighten the desire for unanimity in militant actions.

We are already observing the beginnings of this process. The working masses feel firmer ground under their feet. They are seeking to fuse their ranks. They keenly sense the split to be an obstacle to action. They are striving not only toward a more unanimous resistance to the offensive of capital resulting from the crisis but also toward preparing a counter-offensive, based on the conditions of industrial revival. The crisis was a period of frustrated hopes and of embitterment, not infrequently impotent embitterment. The boom as it unfolds will provide an outlet in action for these feelings.”

(Flood Tide) 

Particularly, where the demand for labour-power rises sharply, this creates the conditions for workers to begin to rebuild their organisations, or to build them from new, where these are completely new workforces. That has been seen in Asia, during the previous period, as well as in Latin America, and in the Middle East.

This creates a basis, for the further and more rapid development of these workers' organisations as the cycle moves into the Summer phase, where the reserves of labour-power begin to be used up, and where the previous productivity gains begin to wane. The Spring phase of the Long Wave that began around 1890, for example coincided with the development of the New Unionism in Britain, which began to organise the rapidly growing number of unskilled and semi-skilled workers. It also coincided with the creation of the Second International in 1889. But, it is not until the start of the Summer phase of that cycle, around 1903, that this begins to manifest itself in more powerful organisations. The German SPD, for example, went from a membership of around 400,000 in 1903, to more than 1 million by 1913. By 1912, it was polling the largest number of votes.

A similar pattern could be seen in Britain. Although, there had been Labour candidates standing as Lib-Labs, or under the banner of the ILP and SDF previously, it is from 1905 that the most rapid advance takes place with the formation of the Labour Party. Something similar occurs with the start of the new cycle after 1949. Workers' organisations begin to be rebuilt, wages rise, despite the recruiting of new labour reserves in the shape of married women, and commonwealth immigration, as the economy grows rapidly. But, it is in the 1960's, as the cycle enters its Summer phase, that this becomes reflected in the growth of the shop stewards movement, and other rank and file organisation that undertakes sharp, successful wildcat strikes, and also begins to be reflected in the development of political organisation, both in the shape of the Labour Party, and its left-wing, as well as in the development of more militant, syndicalist organisations such as the International Socialists, whose politics for “building the party” revolves around the idea of “more militancy”, i.e. the encouragement of strikes.

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