From now on there is only action - open letter ( via email )
From now on there is only action. The theories are nice to have – the theory
of horizontalism, of communes, of erotic revolt against the capitalist
oppression of our bodies. But the global crisis is moving fast. Whether you
are the Greek Communist Party, or UKUncut, or Anonymous, or Die Linke or
Lulzsec, or Zizek or just some gang of kids on a corner that likes one kind
of music and hates another: there is no time left for convincing others.
We have to act together.
Capitalism is about to experience a moment of breakdown. The Eurozone’s
financial system is bust: the result will be either a chaotic series of
defaults, provoking involuntary nationalisations and temporary abolition of
market forces by the ruling elite (short selling bans, bans on CDS); or we
will be saved from this by a pre-emptive abolition of the market in
sovereign debt, bank debt, credit derivatives etc.
This stark alternative explains the inaction of Merkel, Trichet, Barosso,
Lagarde: the only plan possible to pre-empt disaster is, to them, disaster:
it is the involuntary socialisation of the finance system.
We have got to this moment of mass, simultaneous, global occupation of space
in the cities of the world through a painful process.
Committed minorities put their bodies in the way of harm: from Climate Camp
to Gaza to Tahrir Square to Syntagma to Wall Street. There is a natural
feeling of jealousy, of ownership, among those who got us this far: that the
new masses being dragged onto the cold pavements do not understand the finer
points of theory, were not kettled the year before, were not part of this or
that iconic Facebook group.
But get ready for something bigger: the labour movements of the world are
grinding slowly into action. Cumbersome, slow, bureaucratic, hierarchical,
given to forming a committee to solve a problem that can be sorted out with
an iPhone. Yes. But decisive. In Greece right now, workers are doing what a
molotov cocktail cannot: stopping the printing of tax forms, stopping the
IMF delegations from even checking into their hotel rooms.
Right now the problem of the spontaneous movements, wherever they have set
up camp, is their failure to articulate with the levers of control currently
held by the rich elite. In a period before a crisis, or a period of
hopelessness, this is not a problem: creating the alternative nucleus of a
better world does not need one to get dirty in the business of the possible.
Living despite capitalism was a good idea and still is. Demanding the
impossible was, and remains, an act essential to liberate one’s mind.
The crisis is going to bring the impossible onto the agenda. It will be
necessary to construct a pathway from where we are to what we want to
Failure to connect with the levers of power, of policy, of the actual, of
the concrete always leave opposition movements open to being used as a walk
on army for the reformists: reform by riot – a division of labour by which a
kid in a hoodie goes to prison for two years and a man in a suit gains
sudden acceptance of his liberal reform plans – is as long as the history of
It is too late for that now.
The movement needs to have demands: not impossible ones but concrete ones.
Not schematic, drawn from the theories of various left philosophers but
based on action. The movement should combine demands, objectives, with the
new means of achieving them: where the social democrat calls for
nationalisation, the movement of the masses calls for decentralised social
ownership and takes physical control of the seized assets.
It will come down to this in practice. Soon numerous European banks are
going to go bust; maybe even some states. In some places ATMs will close.
There will be a right wing backlash: the authoritarians and the racists are
swarming to join the riot squads and the reserve military formations to get
their chance to break our heads. They will break the heads of migrants, the
oppressed; narratives of racial and religious purity will appear; narratives
of “national economic interest: dead for decades will be revived. It is
possible to live "despite capitalism" - it is not possible to live "despite
quasi fascism": there is no space in right wing crisis capitalism for
anything - first books burn, then bodies.
In the 1930s fascism won because the workers movement and the progressive
left refused to unite in action, letting their differences –not just of
politics but of lifestyle and of historical rivalry – get in the way of
Today, with social media, instant unity is possible between a variety of
people, and it can last microseconds or long enough to take and hold a
square. The united front is replaced by the flashmob. Soon we are going to
have to take and hold banks, insurance companies, pension funds. And we are
going to have to keep the system running – the system many of us would see
destroyed – until it can be morphed, reformed, dismantled in a way that does
not smash the lives of a whole generation.
We cannot leave politics to the politicians and economics to the economists,
reserving for ourselves only the streets, the camps, the symbolic act,
hilarious graffiti and acts of kindness.
We have to deconstruct and replace both mainstream politics and economics;
we cannot become passive consumers of the alternatives offered by the “great
and good” of the liberal left. It is for the exploited and oppressed to
create these alternatives themselves.
Comrades – do not be frightened of demands. They need not dominate us or
entrap us into hierarchies or timetables from the 20th century. The can
liberate us from the role of being the opera chorus: the spear carriers with
formidable presence whose ultimate role is as warm-up act for the political
divas of Labour, social-democracy, Stalinism and Green Party politics.
I demand – and you may join me if you wish, or amend, delete, reject – the
Nationalise all banks that cannot raise capital to withstand the coming
sovereign debt crisis. Break them up. Create a state guarantee for deposits
but impose 100% losses on shareholders and bondholders. Repurpose what’s
left as development banks and small scale credit for working class
communities and business loans.
Create a socialised banking system – a mixed economy of utility banks,
non-profits, ethical banks, credit unions and mutual societies.
Impose – immediately and universally across Europe and wherever possible
elsewhere – uniform minimum standards for wages, employment rights, rights
for precarious workers. Impose from below: by refusing to work without them.
This will, at a stroke, remove the possibility of the parallel,
cheap-labour economy that has corroded social solidarity in the rich
countries and regions of Europe. Commit ourselves to a high wage, high skill
economy, with massive state spending on upskilling and education.
Once this is done, the debate on how much growth we actually want and need
is a real one. Ie, it has a real outcome, not a theoretical warm glow in our
Statism and central planning are dead, discredited. But now, too, the free
market has failed. Rationality can be imposed on the economy, but from below
as well as above, and using the state as enabler of competition, creativity
and invention, destroying forever the Hayekian objection that rationality in
economics leads to “serfdom”.
Any fiscal union for Europe must be created on terms dictated by the
workers, the poor and the oppressed, not the dim elite who fucked things up
so badly. It will involve transfers – of taxpayers money from the north to
the south. We are sorry about this, but it will.
The prize – and the only condition for this merger – is that we create a
unified social Europe – from Iraklion to Rekyavik – where social justice is
an inalienable right, and speculation, inequality and exploitation are a
Our crisis is coming. The American crisis and the Chinese crisis will not be
long following. If we do it – this continent with its 1000 year traditions
of revolt, utopianism, bloodshed and craziness – it will prove to the world
it can be done. Others will follow.
Out of these meagre tents and chickpea soup kitchens will come the new
world. There is nowhere else for it to come from.