Class and History, 8: Convergence And Conjunction, ReMix
Monday, January 17, 2005
The 1973 OPEC price increases meant that the 60s were really over, that the Beatles weren’t getting back together, that overproduction and a declining rate of profit were one and the same, and that economic growth, the reproduction of capital, and the preservation of private property were not.
The distribution of profits through the cycling of petro-dollars meant that every attempt by Venezuela to diversify its economy made it more dependent on oil, and not just the production of oil, but the price of oil; not the profit derived from the relative surplus value appropriated in production, but the general profits dissolved, subordinated through the mechanism of price. Where, in the 1950s and 60s, Venezuela had been able to record continued growth in GDP, based on output regardless of the price of oil, after 1970 GDP danced to the beat of an oil drum.
In 1979, the second round of OPEC price increases forced the relationship between GDP and oil price beyond its breaking point. Despite the dramatic rise in oil prices, there was no sudden or sustained increase in GDP. The ensuing general economic contraction, international increases in interest rates were the opposite but more equal manifestations of the problems in capital reproduction leading to the first round of price increases.
The Venezuelan economy, like that of all of Latin America, was overwhelmed. Venezuela’s GDP ended the decade where it began. Moving in lockstep with oil prices, GDP had recorded declines in 1983, 1985, and 1989. This was indeed the lost decade for Latin America, but some lost more than others. Venezuela, unlike other countries, managed to maintain debt payments, remitting more than $35 billion during the decade. As in other countries, in Venezuela the expansion of poverty became social policy. By the end of the decade, purchasing power dropped by 50 percent. Half the population was earning $2 a day or less. Per capita GDP declined by one-third.
In the reproduction of capital there is a moment, a glorious, even religious, moment for the bourgeoisie, where money reappears larger than before, larger than life. But this is a moment that can exist only to the extent that the money again disappears, submerges itself in the circulation of commodities that covers, and even obscures, the terms of production. This is a moment that can exist only if money continues to extend, deepen its exchange with labor power.
With the oveproduction of capital, that fine art of surfacing and resurfacing, is interrupted. The interruption appears as a decline in trade, the loss of markets, and of course, the demands of creditors for repayment. The essence of these manifestation is the expansion of the means of production. In that alteration of the relations between the components of production, capital finds the expropriation of relatively more labor power through relatively less labor more than inadequate, but an actual threat, to the demands of profit. Debt re-orients that demand, that need, those terms of expropriation from relative to absolute conditions. Living standards are attacked. The terms of the reproduction of capital are transformed into programs of absolute impoverishment. And absolute impoverishment requires degradation of the conditions of subsistence for labor.
Agricultural production in the 1980s increased, but utilization of that production for domestic population absolutely worsened. Net per capital agricultural output declined 3 percent. Cereal grains per capita declined 12 percent. By the end of the decade, daily per capita calorie consumption had fallen 17 percent. Here capital at its most advanced restores the backwardness of the organization of agriculture.
The fundamental convergence of advanced capitalism with obsolete property relations was codified in the hunger of the general population. When, in 1989, the government announced its austerity program, the reply came in the form of street rebellions. It is that rebellion of 1989, reappearing in Chavez’s 1992 attempted coup; that rebellion reanimated in 1993 in the face of another austerity program, that rebellion so critical to the election, restoration, re-election of Chavez, that makes the struggle in Venezuela a specifically advanced class struggle, for the emancipation of labor and the end to capital.
S. Artesian 011705
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