Crisis Theory: From Capitalism and Back Again.
On examination of the current distribution of forces and potentials, it is clear that capitalism will not and cannot change. In the present ‘crisis’, there is little chance of it becoming a “more human” version of itself. It remains ‘the same’ – exploitation and class inequality are its fundamentals, and these ‘fundamentals’ remain sound.
But, keen observers of political struggles might ask, might not the left somehow profit from the crisis? Historically, from a radical wing perspective it has been in times of crisis that revolutionary change seemed possible. The first world war was, of course in complicated ways, the catalyst for the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. The second world war precipitated revolutionary success in China, and – although Nehruvian socialism did not have such a significant leftist character – independence for India. Note also, through the 1950s and 1960s, a cascading series of anti-colonial victories in Africa and Asia were achieved, in a century of revolutions, precisely on the back of the weakening of the colonial powers.
It would not do, however, to present an ambulance-chasing theory of political change. It is not only after crises that the Left can come to power, but there are no guarantees that the collapse in the fortunes of certain banks, real estate and car manufacturers means we can anticipate a more ‘humane’ less exploitative capitalism. As Marx showed (if one reads as far as volume three of Das Kapital) there are always profiteers ready to take the place of those who fail in deals that go awry: opportunism is an analytical variable that cannot be denied. This is true even if the present political predicament may or may not be usefully compared to the depression™ which more or less paved the way for fascism (in my view a limited rendering of the equation, often held by left groups, but misguided since the hostility of the European bourgeoisie to the first wave of communist uprisings – Germany, Hungary – also played its part in the rise of Hitler et al). Today, however, the conditions are patently not as ripe for a significant fascist upsurge, notwithstanding gains across Europe for the likes of the BNP or the misnamed Danish People’s Party. No, the factor of significance today is the absence of organised progressive groups able to take advantage of the conjunctural moment. There is an astonishing openness to change alive in the media and the public – nicer capitalism is on the cards, climate change aware, fair trade, less corrupt bankers and ministers… but where is the militancy that would push this sentiment forward past a mere business-as-usual capitalist restoration (capitalism with pretty window decorations)? The militant left presently seems particularly unable to organise its way out of the proverbial paper sack; the parliamentary experiment is constrained so much by tabloid and opinion poll politics that it dare not risk an idea; and the anarchist-cum-environmentalist left are torn between a corporate lobbying and an alternate lifestyle model that on both sides seems unable to forget what the 1970s did to sixties idealism.
The crisis as opportunity to change everything will therefore be a misfire. There are, of course, discussions in the highbrow press, of ethical constraint, new democracy, hope, and ‘yes we can’. This however is branding. Worse, it is the triumph of B-team bourgeois reserve politics. The brutality of armaments, automobiles and mining as the core profit stream of capital will be supplemented in the interregnum by new media, culture and service. Neither mode of production is incompatible with wage slavery. Where is the seize-the-time crew today if not already compromised with business plans and flow-chart projections? Without a Leninist organization ready to bludgeon through the idea that real change – radical root and branch uprooting of the four alls – all class relations that are the bedrock of exploitation, all relations of production that enable the owners of capital to profit from those who do the work, all social relations that rise upon these relations of production and all the ideas that justify them – without all this, there is no crisis; only a “crisis”. Stage managed and good for news entertainment. Watch carefully, CNN is going to make a documentary, with a slick, well-groomed presenter. Business-as-usual (hence the pic). Red Salute.