In what circumstances, and within what limits, would it be possible to conceive of a capitalist society in which there is no voluntary unemployment and the living standards of the masses are on the rise—say, with Wallace’s ‘pint of milk a day’ for every child?footnote1 Assuming that the means of production and the labour force for full employment and for a rising standard of living already exist, and could easily be multiplied, the economic side of the problem can be reduced to the question of whether there are now more levers available with which to overcome periodic crises than existed in the nineteenth century.

To answer this we need first to explain why, at least until 1914, repeated crises could regularly be overcome while overall production kept on growing. This calls for a short reflection on the causes of crises. Briefly, we may distinguish between three forms of ‘disproportionality’—in other words, disruptions to the manifold conditions that produce the equilibrium needed to bring about the expansion of production, while fully exploiting all the available ‘factors of production’:

In the nineteenth century, these disproportionalities were overcome in the main by the following ‘remedies’:

These remedies have not functioned effectively for decades now. The consequence has been the extreme intensification of the three types of disproportionality. Today, however, the following new ‘remedies’ are available:

Result: through a combination of old and new ‘remedies’, all three groups of disproportionalities can be overcome, and with them the causes of periodic economic crises. This achievement would involve adapting the relations of production to the growing forces of production. Does the ruling class have any interest in seeking this adaptation—and does it have the power to bring it about? Up to this point, the economic aspect of this problem has been considered in isolation, but what about the political implications?

It would appear that the crucial sector of the ruling class in every industrial nation has come to accept that the achievement of full employment will in future be the premise of its own existence. There is therefore an evident motive at hand. Structural changes in the ruling class seem to be laying the basis for the necessary concentration of power, or are in the process of developing it. The limits of such a society can be seen in the fact that social antagonisms remain. But how will the subjugated classes respond once hunger has been abolished and gradual improvements in the standard of living are guaranteed?

Theodor Adorno, Günther Anders, Bertolt Brecht, Hanns Eisler, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Rolf Nürnberg, Friedrich Pollock, Hans Reichenbach, Berthold Viertel