[...] the recognition of capitalism's bankruptcy does not ineluctably translate into anticapitalist politics [...]
The obstacles to conceiving a new emancipatory politics are formidable [...] Neoliberalism has meant a gloves-off form of class war, borne out by the assault on militant unions, relentless restructuring of employment, speed up, wage slashing, and intentional unemployment as a means of disciplining workers and breaking organinzed labor. [...] the increasing precariousness of employment has put a damper on workplace militancy, as workers are hesitant to take actions when they may easily be put out on their ears.
Yet neoliberalism has operated in other ways, which are subtler, but no less destructive. The enormous growth of finance over the past three decades and the integration of the working class into financial circuits, through pensions, mortgage, and credit card debt, have bound people into the system [...] This has been significant for the recent trajectory of capitalism, as more and more people kept the system afloat by borrowing money [...] it has caught workers up in the system, giving them a stake in its survival. The hope of individual advancement within the system, or simply hanging on, has become in many cases a substitute for collective social change. [...]
There is no quick fix for the Left’s impasse. The attempt to revive ideas of self-management are admirable in that they highlight the fundamental importance of challenging private property.
But the project’s dominant populism underestimates the limits of doing so within capitalism and overlooks the fundamental necessity of comprehensively challenging and overturning existing property relations — which cannot happen without developing the class cohesion and institutional capacity to confront the capitalist state.
The result is the worst of all worlds: while self-management is confined to the fringes, the dominant corporations continue on their merry way; the hated state is ignored and left to continue hammering us; there are occasional outbursts that absorb energy but leave little of substance behind; the working class, for all its potentials as an actor, stumbles aimlessly on.
Until the discussion is politicized such that it can go beyond a (legitimate) critique of statism, and begin to see the democratic transformation of the state as part and parcel of economic democratization — and the development of the class capacities to address this is made a priority — this “next big idea” will only be the Left’s latest failure.
christ this is good
It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed and cynical about the state of the digital economy right now. In return for what mainly amounts to small measures of consumer convenience, massive economic control has been ceded to platforms. But this consolidation has also changed the configuration of capital and the terrain of class struggle, as I discussed in a previous essay for Real Life.
It’s important not to turn this reconfiguration into a desire for what Gavin Mueller has describes as “digital Proudhonian” solutions, which overemphasize a critique of monopolies from the perspective of “creatives” and artists at the expense of class struggle in solidarity with the “noncreative” workers (think Uber drivers and warehouse workers) whose socialized, collective labor makes platform-based monopolies possible. If such solidarity is to challenge capital’s endless bloody appetite, we will have to understand how these platforms work and where they are most vulnerable. As platforms centralize commerce and labor, this makes them nodal points that, with the right organization, can be disrupted by militant labor action. The strike called by Spanish workers for a consumer and worker boycott of Amazon on Prime Day is just one example of the early rumblings of this.
Consumerism promises to fill a void created by the profound lack of democracy and political participation many feel in their day-to-day lives. Platforms are the means by which tech companies have sold us the empty calories of consumption cloaked in the rhetoric of freedom. So-called multisided markets promise an endless buffet of culture and commerce with no strings attached because they are designed to hide their real costs. But in prior periods of struggle, new forms of organization and resistance arose to meet it. Any realistic political project that could move us beyond this new age of monopoly consumerism that has taken hold will necessarily take platforms as its object and its opportunity.
[...] The lineage of the control and ownership of land traced back invariably to violence. Behind possession of any sort: dispossession. Today's notion that wealth testified and attached to merit - to the quality of ideas and tenacity of labor - made an attractive but thin veneer on the true store of wealth accumulated in earlier dispossessions. It was this capital, after all, that invested in the good ideas and profited from the hard work of others. We held out hands to catch the crumbs falling from the master's table and called it meritocracy. [...]
Warehouse workers have the capacity to make history, but not as they please--the circumstances inherited require innovation and novel forms of organizing and resistance. The obstacles to organizing posed by capital mobility, automation, political/legal uncertainty and the sheer structural power of capital requires multi-site, coordinated campaigns throughout the global supply chain and across the boundaries of firms. Workers face the daunting task of overcoming the tension between local demands and the demands of workers in other nodes of supply chain networks. Yet these impediments are not insurmountable. Just as capital has adopted new organizational forms to overcome the power of workers in the past, warehouse workers and other workers can and will adapt novel organizational forms in their struggle against neoliberalism and global capitalist hegemony.
You are part of the leadership of a popular movement that has just seized power in your country. Your commitment is not to bourgeois nationalism, but to socialism. You are from a country that had been under colonial rule and then neo-colonial subordination or else from a country that was not formally colonised but nonetheless experienced the full weight of imperialism. Your economy is in tatters, its raw materials drawn out of the country, its people reduced to labour on the global commodity chain gang. Your country has not been able to forge an independent foreign policy, nor a capacious social policy. A popular upsurge that began with an anti-IMF riot brings you to power. The window of possibility for your government has begun to close just as its opens.
What will you do?
The US ambassador – accompanied by a delegation of local representatives of monopoly capital firms and the local oligarchy – comes to see you and your comrades. This gaggle of important people flutter about, coming to ensure that your government will set aside its grand promises to the people and – after some mild transfer payment schemes to tackle the terrible poverty – will resume the status quo. After all, says the US ambassador, the status quo has been good for the country. The FDI flowed in, the IMF report of its staff visit has been productive, the GDP is high, the currency is relatively stable and the oligarchy – well, the oligarchy has been the pride of the nation. The ambassador wags a finger in your face – arms deals have to be signed, military agreements have to ratified. The boat is on an even keel, says the ambassador. No sense in rocking it.
You knew that this delegation would come to see you. Nothing they say or do surprises you. Countries like yours – countries of backwardness (takhalluf) – do not control their destiny. Colonial rule altered the structure of politics and economics as well as of society. Old notables had been side-lined or absorbed into the new world where they become merely representatives of forces that lived elsewhere. The new elites that emerged represented the interests of themselves certainly, but also of external forces – not their own populations who had been reduced to rubble by the plunder of colonial rule. Poverty came alongside illiteracy and disease. Backwardness was not the fault of your culture, but of this imperialist history. Your movement came out of the slums, where the bulk of your people live. They have spoken to you. They have given you their programme of action. They want you to act.
When your people won independence or overthrew your monarchy fifty years ago, the new elites seized power. They offered up your raw materials and your workers for rock bottom prices, as long as they got a cut of the profits. That is what they had won independence for – to increase their share of the theft. This large-scale bribe was then replicated down the class ladder as your country became a country of bribe-taking rather than social initiative. No development could come to your country, whose social advancement was blocked by structural obstacles such as the terms of trade for your primary products and your reliance upon finance from the old colonial powers. Your rich minerals and rich agricultural products find their prices fluctuate and remain low, while the prices of manufactured goods that you import from the imperialist powers increase. The gap between these two leaves your public exchequer in permanent debt. You borrow money from the banks of the imperialist countries and you use their currency for your international trade – both drawing you in to what you know is the imperialism of high finance. Underdevelopment is the only development that your country experiences.
Your group of revolutionaries had spent the decades under the clouds of IMF warfare studying the ‘unilateral adjustment’ thrust upon your country. You discover Samir Amin, who gives you that concept of unilateral adjustment. It means that the policy framework for any government of your country will be channelled by rules devised elsewhere, rules that benefit the old colonial powers and impoverish your own country. Even socialists are trapped by this unilateral adjustment. Structures such as unequal exchange and old-fashioned plunder vampirically diminish the wealth of your country. Your country was forced to adapt to the needs and interests of the old colonial powers. You can never be free.
This is the moment for you to test the theory of delinking – the concept you absorb from Samir Amin. To delink is not to break from the world and isolate oneself. Isolation is not possible. If you do break with the unilateral adjustment, you will either be overthrown in a coup or a military intervention in the name of saving civilians or you will be under sanctions and embargos for decades. You do not want to isolate yourself. You are an internationalist. To delink means to fight to set an alternative framework for your relations with the world, to force others to adjust to the needs and interests of the working-class and peasantry in your country and in other countries. Delinking, you read in Samir Amin, means to ‘modify the conditions of globalization’.
fucking hell, this is so good
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