Consequences of Our Long Depression
The specter of the coming economic crisis is not a new one. It is the ghost of the past, haunting a new generation; a demon that refuses to be exorcised, yet which possesses the present society. To say that it has been with society since its inception, however, would be incorrect. Economies haven’t always expanded and contracted in this way; in fact, not all economies in the world at the moment expand and contract in the way that the United States’ does currently. Some of them, in social democratic countries such as Cuba or Venezuela, have not suffered in the same way that more purely capitalist countries like ours have. Indeed, the problem of the present is one that is bound both in time and place, a crisis that is very historically and socially specific to the present American society.
The economically precarious of the present are disadvantaged by the measures put in place in the past. This is not a controversial or daring idea. Past legacies transmit themselves into the present, which will transmit itself into the future — it is how linear time works. At the same time, the past is transmitted only imperfectly into the present, a necessity ensured by changes to the concrete conditions of past and present. What does this mean to communists? Our present conditions are the results of past conditions; we must learn from the past to transmit it into the present. For this reason, we draw comparisons between past and present, the past failures of capitalism and socialism informing how we act on failures to the present economy and build its alternative.
Enough babbling, I guess. Let’s get to the meat of it. We are arriving at a critical moment like that Gramsci described when he wrote about the “crisis of authority,” an “interregnum” where a “great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” The capitalist market is unsustainable; given time and crisis, it will eventually cease to function. This was plainly visible during the earlier days of the pandemic, when grocery shelves somehow emptied in a matter of days, and supply backlogs delayed deliveries of food, water, and other necessities to stores seeking to sell them. After this ended, stores had surplus that they could no longer sell. Where I worked, there were large pallets of items in the back room that were still there when I left in August of 2020. Homicides skyrocketed. Rates of domestic and child abuse similarly increased. Rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses exploded.
At the same time, the unemployed burned through their savings, a great number failed to pay their rent, and a homelessness crisis had arisen to the point where we presently cannot even get statistics on those who are without homes. Rent strikes went up throughout the country. Last year, in 2021, the Biden administration failed to even count the homeless who were unsheltered, only arriving at an average number in homeless shelters. This serious omission makes it impossible to even judge the scope of the problem, since the majority of those without homes do not stay in shelters. Homelessness and tenant conditions have been ignored because paying serious attention to them would decrease the support of the current economic system. The government has deliberately refused to publish adequate statistics to get a grasp of what exactly must be done.
We have an overriding question put best by Lenin: “What is to be done?” Past attempts to establish socialism in the United States have begun with serious investigations of what exactly is wrong. Labor unions first adopted this strategy, and as they became socialist, social investigation became a primary tenet of establishing an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist platform. Labor unions in the past were community organizations with much of the local leadership derived from local workers. Political actions were carried out by a careful analysis of political conditions in the region and the nation as a whole. Socialists today must use the same method of investigation. We must go and speak to those suffering under the current society in order to determine how the society must be changed.
Tenant and worker unions are necessary now more than ever, and organizers can easily leverage the precarious economic imbalance in favor of the workers to the advantage of all oppressed groups. Tenant unions are similarly privileged, since mortgage interest rates are increasing, and landlords have the most to lose if they are attacked in the present. The current long depression must be fought tooth and nail, not to reverse the economic backslide, but to seize control of the economy itself.
And now that the immediate crisis is over, it will be labeled a temporary blip on the timeline by most people. As suicides, murders, and general signs of social collapse fade back into the background, the most pressing question remains: When will it happen again?