The Cybernetic Revolution and the Crisis
of Capitalism (page 1 of 11)
By Jerry Harris and Carl Davidson, The Chicago Third Wave Study
In the early
1970s U.S. capitalism began to suffer a deepening crisis of accumulation.
This crisis sprang from the very heart of the modern industrial
system, arising out of fundamental contradictions in its exploitation
of labor and its conditions of production. But this crisis also
occurred along side a postmodern revolution in microelectronics
and computer technologies, creating significant changes in the forms
of accumulation and wealth creation. The two dynamics have created
a new historic juncture for rethinking established theories of political
and social change.
such as Paul Sweezy have long tracked the crisis of accumulation.
Recently key extensions have been added by eco-Marxist James O'Connor.
But radicals also need to take note of the important contributions
of Alvin and Heidi Toffler and their three waves theory. The Tofflers
describe agricultural society as the first wave and industrial society
as the second wave. They have added new insights into the nature
of changes in the economic base where knowledge has become the most
important tool of production. This became possible because of the
revolution in the means of production, or information technologies.
Toffler calls this information society the third wave, or what we'll
call information capitalism.
For about 200
years "second-wave" industrial capitalism was generally
expanding and dynamic. Although punctuated by cycles of economic
crisis, it grew into imperialism and built a world market. In the
metropolitan countries, the circle of wealth grew wider, as a substantial
number of workers organized unions and attained "middle class"
living standards. But in the early 1970s industrial capitalism hit
new limitations to its growth. The crisis was all sided, including
both labor and nature. In a frantic race to maintain profits, the
system began to toss huge numbers of people into the wastelands
of unemployment and insecurity.
In itself this
is nothing new. Capitalism has always contained the contradiction
between expanding profits and lowering the cost of labor. Each business
is driven to maximize its accumulation of capital in order to survive
and grow on a field of ruthless competition. In order to do so,
the pressure to reduce wages and benefits is constant. But this
time, the downturn was not followed cyclically by a "boom"
or recovery that could be measured in higher wages or new job creation
for those who had endured the "bust" period.
Post War Expansion
While every periodic crisis has roots internal to the nature of
capitalism, each crisis also has an historic context. At the end
of WWII a number of factors came together, which gave renewed life
to capitalism, particularly in America. There were four basic factors
that gave rise to a tremendous expansion of the U.S. economy and
- First and
most important was a period of vastly reduced competition from
foreign rivals. The post-1945 world was America's market because
the industries of Europe and Japan had been destroyed by the war.
In such circumstances U.S. capitalism quickly grew with an expanded