Tuesday, September 30, 2008

That Financial Meltdown

On the agit prop "let's get our message out there" level, the left is not worth listening to when it comes to the financial crisis gripping the capitalist world. Or at least not yet.

It's not that what is being said is wrong, it's that what's being said is just so plain obvious. An ignoramus such as myself could think up the stuff most left groups and commentators have churned out so far, and the op ed and business pages of most ruling class newspapers have just as informative analysis.

This isn't a criticism, just an observation. And it's probably normal in the midst of rapid change, of the sudden transformations that the ruling class are calling catastrophe, that even superpowered theory can at best keep up with and explain what is going on, rather than provide some kind of philosopher's stone with which to extract what we want from the crisis.

So rather than try and map out the minutiae of where the ruling class misstepped, or guess at what saves and stumbles lie ahead, i'm just going to note a few perspectives from amongst the dozens of angles folks must have. i could be full of shit, in which case let me know, but better to be wrong trying to understand where we are is what i figure...

The ruling class is almost unanimous in supporting massive state intervention to save their economy from a bloody nose. How long it takes them to do so may be a barometer of how dysfunctional their political culture is, but they will do so. And this is neither inconsistent not a break with tradition: despite the hype, the capitalists have always supported state spending, but in their "neo-liberal" stage it has been important to clothe this in acceptable militarized or repressive garb: the war on drugs, war on terror, etc. What is key about the current situation is their need to do it in the open, and for something as mundane as their economy.

The middle classes who support and benefit from this system are mixed about the idea of massive state intervention to support the financial sector. They fear that the money is going to be used to save the big rats while the small rats like them get proletarianized. They may be right, but it's hard to see what alternative they have: it is just stupidity to think of the system they support as some productive machine being exploited by nasty parasitic financiers, while it is in fact a wholly and unambiguously nasty parasitic machine, of which the financiers constitute a key part. These people, in their disgust at seeing the system's true nature, could swing far to the left or far to the right. Depending on the political weight of this panicked middle class, those sects which try and court them may find themselves in fact being pulled into their frenzied gravity well.

Different kinds of "solution" may be found depending on this interplay between the ruling class and the middle classes, but for the most oppressed no solution will be forthcoming "from above". Either neo-keynesian "managed capitalism" (is there any other kind?) or the spectre of "every MAN for himself" barbarism, in both cases the implication is continued exploitation, regimentation and pain for the oppressed.

However, gotta be clear: the levels of misery could certainly be ramped up dramatically either as part of the "solution" or as a result of further breakdown.

Other "crises" facing the capitalists - the lost wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, climate chaos, interimperialist rivalries from Georgia to the North Pole - will all be accelerated by the financial turmoil.

The only question of importance at this point is whether it is possible to use the current juncture to organize today for resistance tomorrow. It takes more than an opinion or a point of view to be able to do so, one needs more than a plan, one needs to be actively following that plan.

The military thinker Clausewitz referred to the consequences of such a concrete plan as a "state of tension". In the book On War (posthumously compiled by his widow and co-thinker Marie von Clausewitz), it is explained that:
if neither party [in a conflict] wills something positive, there is rest, and consequently equilibrium... As soon as even one of the two parties proposes to himself a new positive object, and commences active steps towards it, even if it is only by preparations, and as soon as the adversary opposes this, there is a tension of powers…
What's more:
In a state of rest and of equilibrium a varied kind of activity may prevail on one side that results from opportunity, and does not aim at a great alteration. Such an activity may contain important combats – even pitched battles – yet it is still of quite a different nature, and on that account generally different in its effects.

If a state of tension exist, the effects of the decision are always greater partly because a greater force of will and a greater pressure of circumstances manifest themselves therein; partly because everything had been prepared and arranged for a great movement. The decision in such cases resembles the effect of a mine well closed and tamped, whilst an event in itself perhaps just as great, in a state of rest, is more or less like a mass of powder puffed away in the open air.
i think it is undeniable that in the metropole for years now there has been nothing but a "state of equilibrium" between the revolutionary left and the state, to the point that one really has to wonder in what sense "revolutionary left" remains a useful term in North America, for anyone. This was true during the antiwar mobilization of 2003 ( for "Such an activity may contain important combats") and remains true today, and as such even this great crisis of capitalism risks passing without our making any meaningful intervention ("like a mass of powder puffed away in the open air").

The challenge is reversing this situation quickly, and intervening in a way which lays the ground for something new.

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