Sunday, 31 July 2011

Capitalisme ou Barbarie?

We find ourselves incapable of even imagining another society, a better world and an alternative to capitalism. It is even easier to imagine the end of the world itself than the end of the capitalist system. The motto of the ideological constellation which currently holds us hostage might as well be a pun on the old socialist saying, instead of "Socialisme ou Barbarie" the capitalist can say "Capitalisme ou Barbarie". As the system can only defend itself at this point as the only way, all other roads have led to barbarism, so we must stick to this last route carved out by the managerial aristocracy on the way to a plutonomous future. According to this view, all the "experiments" with socialism have failed and that proves there is no alternative to capitalism available. Any attempts to change the world are doomed to fail, to descend into totalitarianism and horrors beyond our wildest dreams. In Celsius 7/7 the neoconservative Michael Gove posits Islamism as the new great evil of the world, in line with National Socialism and Communism.

Unsurprisingly, the radical Left is the natural ally of radical Islam in the eyes of Michael Gove and for him both have to be combated. First of all, the presupposition is that the problems of the 21st Century are ethical-cultural (e.g. the right to choose, free-speech, niqabs etc.) and that socio-economic issues have been solved. This in itself is a result of the ideological struggle that has repressed the socio-economic dimension in recent decades. For Gove the Left are simply the purveyors of a backward economics that impoverished and killed millions in the 20th Century. So the economic system is unquestionable, the debate is about freedom which is under threat from Islamism. Even though it was the economic crisis of the early 30s that led to the rise of National Socialism and the sustained deprivation under the Tzars which preceded the Russian Revolution. It can hardly be said that the rise of Islamism is unconnected from the failures and collapse of Arab nationalism, which was dedicated to economic justice along secular lines.

The way that the problem of economics has been submerged is befitting in a world in which capitalist realism is prevalent. Mark Fisher defined capitalist realism as "the view that it is now impossible even to imagine an alternative to capitalism. Capitalism is the only ‘realistic’ political economic system, and, since this is the case, all we can do is accommodate ourselves to it." As a product of the emergence of capitalist realism, we seek to solve societal problems within the narrow framework of which we are allowed to think about change. In the midst of crises we seek refuge in a business ontology, in which everything will be remodeled on the practices and forces of the market. This is what lurks behind the austerity measures which are sweeping the Western world right now. The cuts to public spending are an expression of the inability to even imagine a better world, in Britain we dare not tax the 10% of the population who owns £4 trillion in wealth. Instead we revert to the neoliberal shibboleths of austerity measures, debt reduction and fiscal responsibility etc.

In the 21st Century we have found this extends to health-care, education and warfare, but also as far as terrorism. We ought not forget that al-Qaeda is active in private-terrorism which funded by the Saudi bourgeoisie, Osama bin Laden inherited his wealth from his father - who died in a helicopter crash in 1968 - which would swell through lucrative investments over the years. In other words, the attacks on the World Trade Centre were cross-subsided with money extracted from the stock market as well as the generous donations made to the group by wealthy Arabs who are sympathetic to the cause. Consequently, the military-industrial complex has in turn been able to secure greater and greater funding for the stated purpose of "defence". Due to the interconnected nature of high-tech industry and the military in the US the increased funding functioned as a huge injection of capital into the economy. The convergence of interests which benefited from the attacks then went on to invade Iraq on the basis that the war was necessary to prevent another devastating attack on American soil.

The US had made it out of the Great Depression until the early 40s just as the country began to build up for war as Japan attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941. By 1949 the US government was concerned that the country could fall back into economic depression if the military apparatus was dismantled and so Truman opted for perpetual war for perpetual peace. The military functions as a cover for the state-sector of the American economy and has done for a long time. Since then the US has spent over $7.1 trillion on defence and today the US military budget accounts for 50% of military spending in the world. Incidentally, from the end of the Second World War to today the US has "intervened" in over 70 countries around the world. This has played a vital role in the development of the US as a economic superpower, without it Bill Gates and Steve Jobs may not be so wealthy today. It was massive state-intervention which created the internet and computer technology before it was handed over to the private sector. This is the dirty secret of the American economy.

When reminded that "capitalism works" and "socialism fails" we ought to remind the reactionary  that the system only works as long as 3% compound growth can be attained forever. That if we can just find profitable investments for just $1.5 trillion a year and every year forever, even as the amount rises to $3 trillion and beyond, then we let billions of people slip into poverty and starvation. The Right are sceptical of climate change because it threatens growth ad infinitum but are comfortable with Peak Oil because it seems to be another "obstacle" for capitalism to circumvent in order to go on indefinitely. Suppose climate change is a hoax and the energy crisis can be solved, that will not alter the potentialities of capitalism to push onwards to new crises. We may find ourselves in a position where the banks are too big to bailout and we are dragged kicking and screaming into the darkness of the abyss which we have managed to avoid for so long.
At one of his more gloomy moments Karl Marx thought that the class struggle might lead to the "common ruination" of all classes and he did not have the thrill of living in a world of nuclear weapons, chemical warfare and environmental decay. It would seem the infinite growth paradigm is incompatible with a world of finite resources and the ultimate trajectory is fatal in destination. Thus capital is an abstract parasite, an insatiable vampire and a zombie-marker. As Mark Fisher notes "the living flesh it converts into dead labour is ours, and the zombies it makes are us." We are edging ever closer to an unprecedented state of crisis which has been generated by the system and all the while we can envisage the end of the world but not even begin to think about the alternative. The dichotomy of capitalism or barbarism keeps us chained to the status quo. That is the intended goal of those champions of the free-market who cheer on the entrepreneurial spirit of Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch.

No comments: