Much has been said about how The Great Moderation of the 80s onward was a sufficient refutation of the Marxist doctrine of unavoidable crisis, and even more has been said about how the financial and housing crises of 2008 were a sufficient confirmation of Marxist interpretations of the internal contradictions of capitalism, but having just recently reread the Manifesto for the first time since I was a freshman in college, I want to posit the hypothetical possibility that Marx foresaw the “band-aid” capitalism of late 20th century neoliberalism, and that he understood that the power of the middle-class would need to be sutured to the false prosperity of things like housing bubbles, minimum wage increases, and the steady inflation needed to reduce debt obligations in order to avoid systemic crises.
It might even be argued that the entire neoliberal project was an attempt to foreclose the immediacy of these crises, pushing them back further and further until the inevitable return of the repressed forcefully reared its ugly head (with the Keynesian hope being that this process might be forever forestalled). In other words, systemic crises as a natural byproduct of capital growth never went away, but were only postponed – and this project was ostensibly produced by and for the middle-class. After all, it is a generally accepted point that the predicted Marxist revolution in industrial America was answered with the rise of this very middle-class, the hedge between the class antagonisms of the bourgeois and proletarian wage-labor. Here’s a passage from the Manifesto:
The lower middle-class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle-class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. If by chance they are revolutionary, they are so only in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat…
This “fight against the bourgeoisie” by the middle-class simply transferred its political power from a romanticized desire for the return of guilds, lords, and the Medieval aesthetic to the construction of a majority-based middle-class – suburbs, petty culture and all. The fact that this culture is utterly dominant as a factor of population is clearly what has prevented any sort of Marxist revolution among the now less representative working class. It’s just a small step from the romantic petit bourgeoisie of the passage previously cited to the petty, but now powerful (in theory), middle-class based band-aid capitalism of the allegedly “post-crisis” era of capitalism.
It’s almost like dealing with an angry, abusive husband: he’s semi-predictable, so you can build a routine around his outbursts, and even learn to negotiate and bargain with him, albeit in an ultimately irrational language of his own creation. Unfortunately, it’s inevitable that he’s going to have an outburst at some point that you cannot predict, that cannot be managed. Technocratic capitalism isn’t the closed system of economics everyone wishes it was, just as the claim that the abusive husband “isn’t really evil on the inside” is an incredibly hollow charge assuming a level of interiorty only matched by the model-based idealism of the efficient markets hypothesis and the like. The only sane solution then is separation and divorce.