Monday 13 October 2008

Riding High Upon a Deep Depression?

I guess our blogs might be documents future social historians could refer to when they talk about the great stock market crashes of 2008. In general left blogs have acquitted themselves well, in my opinion. There are no hostages to fortune, no predictions of imminent economic apocalypse or an unravelling of capitalist relations of production. Most I've seen have soberly analysed/commented on the crisis, noting its immediate impacts, the strategies open to governments and how capitalism might be reshaped in the longer term.

But what about left bloggers themselves? We're very good setting out what we're thinking, but what are we feeling? I guess it's something we're not used to talking about seeing as we are part of an activist culture that always tempers moral outrage with scientific analysis. But then there's the question of how to feel when it comes to something as large as this crisis. For most of our class at present (and leaving aside the ridiculous increases in food prices this past year) it is something intangible and abstract, and whatever we might be feeling right now is not yet coloured by the misery and despair crisis drags in its wake. But I am going to stick my neck out, and say a few things that might come back and haunt me at a later date.

Despite the scale of what's unfolding before our eyes, I'm not feeling the same sense of foreboding that clouded my brain in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. I cannot avoid schadenfreude. It feels good to see the arrogant financiers, bankers and other witch doctors of voodoo economics despair as their world crashes around them. Its pleasing to see Thatcherite dogma disintegrate in the face of great events as the free marketeers of yesterday go cap in hand to previously neoliberal governments for bail outs. And very, very satisfying to see these former masters of the universe thrash around for some kind of explanation, no matter how absurd.

But there's more than a touch of self-satisfaction. I'm filled with a sense of political optimism I haven't felt in a long time. Can one have the audacity to hope, again? What is sure is the old neoliberal certainty is gone, even if its rotten stench might linger around for a while yet. But there is a new space for ideas. Keynes has been disinterred from his crypt and the necromancy of the 'new' state intervention is reanimating his ideas. But more importantly the spectre of Marx is abroad once again, haunting the nightmares of the bourgeoisie. The attempts at exorcism by the likes of Simon Heffer and Rowan Williams just go to show how anxious they are.

In this period of ideological flux there is an opening of political space that hasn't meaningfully existed in Britain since Labour's defeat at the 1992 general election. There are new opportunities for socialism to provide answers and alternatives to new audiences, and deep down every socialist knows this. If you do have a bit of a spring in your step, there's no need to feel guilty about it because millions are facing unemployment and hardship. Embrace that feeling, get active and organise!


Organized Rage. said...

Sitting here writing this as I look out on the med, little seems to have changed, the sun is still shinning, however with this weeks budget in the south of Ireland, it is clear that it will be the working classes who will pick up the tab for these creeps running the finances of western nations as if it was a giant casino for ever on pay-out.

It will not be long before the Brown government begins to cut benefits etc. It is vital the left start to organize an alternative.

Seán said...

It is interesting to highlight what we feel as well as what we think. The feelings vacillate between schadenfreude and fear, optimism and caution.

All in all, though, I haven't felt this optimistic since before, during and after the anti-poll tax days. I was young and naive then. I had a belief in socialism that stemmed firmly from the heart and thought it was merely a matter of action and activism.

After the defeat of the Liverpool dockers, I have been in hibernation and have not read much in the way of political theory.

Now, however, picking up Marx (Capital) and really engaging with the text - and viewing the economic landscape around me - gives me cause to think that the working class will, through the economic stresses put upon us, have to fight back.

As Orwell once wrote, if there is hope it lies in the proles. If not, barbarism I'm afraid.

ajohnstone said...

"I guess our blogs might be documents future social historians could refer to when they talk about the great stock market crashes of 2008."

Well for the one and only Socialist Party in the UK still in existence from the Big Crash of 29 and the ensuing Hungry Thirties , you might find what the speaker has to say about the current crisis at the SPGB's Saturday 730pm public meeting of some interest.

As the 1932 pamphlet said contrary to the soothsayers of capitalism doom in the ILP and CP at the time :-
" The lesson to be learned is that there is no simple way out of Capitalism by leaving the system to collapse of its own accord. Until a sufficient number of workers are prepared to organise politically for the conscious purpose of ending Capitalism, that system will stagger on indefinitely...So long as the workers are prepared to resign themselves to the evils of Capitalism, and so long as they are prepared to place in control of Parliament parties that will use their power for the purpose of maintaining Capitalism, there is no escape from the effects of Capitalism. The workers will continue to suffer from the normal hardships of the capitalist system when trade is relatively good, and from the aggravated hardships which are the workers’ lot during trade depressions."

Phil said...

*Mick, no disagreements from me there.

*Sean, I hope you get stuck back in as well. I'm sure your local Socialist Party branch would be happy to have you come along ;) Re: Capital, I must confess I'm slightly envious because my three volumes have been glaring at me but I haven't had the time to open them up. I hope you enjoy!

*Ajohnstone, as degenerate and ultra left the CPGB was at that time, I thought it wouldn't have been daft enough to argue the collapse of capitalism was around the corner. Socialist revolution yes (this was, after all, the period of class against class), but this is a different position ...

ajohnstone said...

Phil , as i said in an earlier post the advantage of being a political party with the longevity of the SPGB is that like elephants we don't forget ( and also have the archive material to delve into).

In 1922 the Socialist Standard carried an article titled "collapse of capitalsm " criticising Palme Dutt's analogy that capitalism was a house beyond repair and ready to collapse to add weight to the 3rd International statement that " The present is the period of the breakdown of Capitalism"

The CPGB IN 1922 asserted that plans of the CP for world revolution were bound up with the acceptance of this catastrophic view of social development.

The Socialist Standard returned to the topic in 1927 and again in 1931 and again in the 1932 pamphlet we provided these quotes

" The communists provide the clearest example of a party holding this theory and trying to act upon it. In The Communist (22nd October, 1921) it was frankly stated that those who founded the Communist Party of Great Britain were “impelled by the conviction that the capitalist economic system had broken down”, while Mr W. Paul, a prominent communist wrote in the communist journal, The Labour Monthly (15th February, 1922):
“The most important fact in modern history is the breakdown of capitalism . . . there is the greatest possibility that the social revolution may take place in the immediate future”.
In July, 1926, The Labour Monthly stated that:
“The decline of capitalism in Britain, whether measured in the figures of trade or of production, has developed at a startling and accelerated pace between 1921 and 1926”.
In 1928, in a Communist Party book, The Decline of Capitalism, the author, E. Varga, declared (p. 7):
“It is no longer a ‘dying’ capitalism, but one already in the process of mortification . . .”
In the October, 1931 Labour Monthly (just before the General Election), Mr. Dutt, the editor, wrote in a manner indicating the utmost excitement at the likelihood of a decisive crash: “The fight is here”, “the crisis marches on relentlessly”, “it is the whole basis of British Imperialism that is now beginning to crack”, “the whole system is faced with collapse”, “the hour of desperate crisis begins”; and much more to the same effect.
Mr. James Maxton, M. P., putting the I. L. P. point of view, has been as confident as the communists. He made a speech at Cowcaddens on 21st August, 1931, reported as follows in the columns of the Daily Record, 22nd August, 1931 (Reprinted in Forward, 12th September):
“I am perfectly satisfied that the great capitalist system that has endured for 150 years in its modern form, is now at the stage of final collapse, and not all the devices of the statesmen, not all the three-party conferences, not all the collaboration between leaders, can prevent the system from coming down with one unholy crash”.
The Daily Record report goes on to describe Mr. Maxton's speech:
“‘They may postpone the collapse for a month, two months, three months, six months’, he cried, forefinger pointing at his audience, and body crouched, ‘but collapse is sure and certain’”.

To sum up the SPGB postion that we still hold today

" It is of no use waiting for the system to collapse , nor preparing a new economic structure to replace it . It will not go until the workers determine that it will go , and the pressing service revolutionary organisations can perform is to prepare the workers minds for the possibity of the immediate establishment of Socialism" Feb 1922

"Capitalism might conceivably be rent asunder and destroyed in a long drawn out struggle for mastery betwen the contending classes but barring the failure of the natural physical basis of human life [ as an aside , that possiblity considering the present enviromental crisis is a serious probabilty these days-aj], it cannot fall and cannot be revolutionised except by the actions of the men and women who compose it" April 1927

I'm sure you and i agree that capitalism won't go until the recognition by the working class of the inherent contradictions within capitalism and then as the agents of change we decide to act . This is where i think yourselves and ourselves may part company ie on the tactics and strategies of what actions .

The period of revolution begins not because life has become impossible and intolerable but when the workers eyes have their eyes suddenly opened to the fact that their problems which they have been led to believe as unavoidable are capable of a solution . Mere suffering from the consequences of the Depression and the inevitable cuts in working conditions and wages etc which will soon be arriving will not automatically produce that result .

The real confidence of the capitalists rests on the docility of the working class because the workers unthinkingly accept it and capitalism will only end when workers consciously organise to bring it to an end . And for the SPGB to educate the workers and hopefully organise workers for that purpose is our only concern .

Robert said...

We are told income support the back bone of the welfare state, is to be replaced with JSA, also Incapacity benefits will become ESA but we are now told out of 2.7 million only about 600,000 will actually get ESA the rest will be transfered to JSA.

The Welfare state is being broken up mainly I suspect to help pay for a war.

But when you see bonus payments for the banking professions hitting 37 billion last year, and I had £2.25 benefits rise and my rent alone went up by £3.56. My council tax by £2.30 and gas and electricity by nearly 40%.

I would not have minded a bit of that £37 billion.

But never mind many people might be asking Labour to allow then to pop over to Switzerland for a quick dose of pain killers.

WS Davey said...

The only feeling worth its motivational potency I would suggest is optimism. The pain, the fear- they'll take care of themselves, and need merely be acknowledged.
The narcotizing consequences of the post-thatcherite consensus, the ultimately anti-democratic, weakness-masquerading-as-pragmatism politics of the third way may have taken a fatal blow, and what an unutterably wonderful thing that would be.
And for the majority, hardship, dare I say it, will be a very good thing. I don't wish to indulge in any kind of Christian fetishization of suffering, most definitely not. For those the wrong side of the poverty gap(who I cannot genuinely claim to have too great a knowledge or understanding of), the crisis means that rediscovering how to engage in political activism with unapologetic self-interest and group solidarity must surely be a desperate necessity.
But for the likes of me, middle-class, preoccupied with self-identity and social status, often afraid of people despite myself, frequently in tedious negotiation with my prejudices, the crisis should bring better times.
The most devastating legacy of Thatcherism, the ideology of greed-is-good and the meritocracy delusion at last may begin to loosen its grip upon our collective consiousness. An ideology that doesn't allow for any purity of altruism, sneers at the will to be good, I would suggest represents something as devastatingly self-alienating as religious doctrine's extreme power to emotionally cripple through manufacturing guilt and self-loathing. In placing the self so completely before the other in terms of the state's strategies to influence people's behaviour, neoliberalism represses one of the cornerstones of the human condition (if the human condition is still a valid idea in a postmodern age): the desire to experience the wants and needs of the other as our own.
We may dare to hope that the credit cruch may produce the rebirth of eroticism in the public sphere, and begin to lead us towards a much needed feminisation of political discourse. That great masculinist, the iron lady, may finally begin to loosen her boney grip. Read as much irony into this as you please, but its not intended.

Anonymous said...

I think it wull be remembered that a Socialist government brought us to this place and that an Opposition which never opposed and that a useless centre/left tail never even wagged.The many houses of the arch Socialists Balls and Crudass will not be forgotten either.
It will be remembered that the Left welcomed immigrants who never paid for the resources they used up, and how the white working class was abused and villified for noticing.
It will be remembered how fertile was the ground for the rebirth of the Right

Phil said...

Do you tell yourself that fairy tale every night?

Robert said...

What about the black working class you moron, it's people we are talking about not the colour of the skin.

Duncan said...

If Jon 'help save my seat' Cruddas is a socialist then I'm the King of Norway.

anonymous, you can call me your majesty!