Permit me, if you will, one last observation before leaving Riga.
Actually, it’s a question: does the United States now represent the weakest link?
I ask because I was thinking about the speakers invited to the Lattelecom conference and the swift emergence and expansion of the Occupy movement in the United States. Besides myself, the only American, who was invited to speak about Marx’s Capital, the other speakers included: a German, Frank-Jürgen Richter, who developed a thesis about the global shift away from Anglo-Saxon capitalism toward the East; a Brit, Martin Jacques, the author of When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order; and Neo Boon Siong [pdf], who discussed the stages of successful capitalist development in Singapore.
Now, I don’t want to make too much of this but is it possible the Latvians understand something we often either don’t think about or actively deny: that, if we consider capitalism in terms of national formations, the United States now represents the weakest link? If so, then I’d have to reconsider my ongoing references to the Second Great Depression in the following way: the First Great Depression occurred when U.S. capitalism was rising in the world (and after the UK had fallen from its perch as global hegemon), while the current crisis is occurring precisely when the United States is falling (in part, at least, because U.S. capitalists have themselves participated in and benefited from the accumulation of capital in China and elsewhere in the world).
As I was recently reminded by a friend, it was Louis Althusser who, building on Lenin’s own formulation of the weakest link argument with respect to Russia in the early twentieth century, summarized it in the following terms:
The unevenness of capitalist development led, via the 1914-18 War, to the Russian Revolution because in the revolutionary situation facing the whole of humanity Russia was the weakest link in the chain of imperialist states. It had accumulated the largest sum of historical contradictions then possible; for it was at the same time the most backward and the most advanced nation, a gigantic contradiction which its divided ruling classes could neither avoid nor solve.
So, as I pack up and get ready to leave Riga (and, finally, after days of rain, with the sun glinting off the dome of the cathedral), I wonder: is there something in that analysis of the “weakest link” that might help us understand the promise behind the combination of crisis in capitalism, the United States’ falling behind, and the widespread and growing protests against the ravages of both the crisis and the attempts to rescue U.S. capitalism from the crisis?
That’s what I’ll be thinking about as I head to the airport. . .