Ability and Needs
The collapse of the financial markets, industries and associated ‘businesses’ presents us with a great opportunity as a world society. As the veil is lifted revealing the reality behind the fictional economy on which our lives depend, a number of compelling options emerge.
The first, and most appealing is to continue as if nothing has happened, perhaps offering some minor regulatory tweaks, some admonitions to a few naughty individuals and ‘move on’. This is the systemic response. This is business as usual, and is the most likely, thought the least credible outcome. Almost everyone at a UK level, Tory-Labour, Liberal, minus a few squawks here and there is coalescing around this brutally inadequate consensus.
The second would be to backlash, to hold everything up against this supreme effort to support, maintain and defend the system which has been exposed as fraudulent at every level and in every dimension. This is – in a way – what we are currently doing, or rather those who purport to be in positions of leadership are involved in. Seismic levels of finance is being re-directed to the cause, numbers on a scale that make the resources plowed into the Trillion Dollar War seem like petty cash in the global kitty. This is Naomi Kleins prediction, writing: ‘The massive debt the public is accumulating to bail out the speculators will then become part of a global budget crisis that will be the rationalisation for deep cuts to social programes and for a renewed push to privatise what is left of the public sector…we will also be told that our hopes for a green future are too costly.”Klein’s analysis was always stronger on Marks & Spencer than Marx & Engels and again here she is good on doom but soft on change analysis. In many sectors in many parts of the world there are few cuts left to made to social programmes, and, rather than privatise the American government are bringing into public ownership vast swathes of corporate America, sheltering from the storm under the wings of the entity they purport to loathe. It’s a case of ideological hypocrisy on the scale of Lenin himself donning his catering-hat and striding forward to take an order for Big Mac and Fries. The free market has at its very heart this deification of the City, its industries and its lifestyle, passed from pan-Atlantic generation to generation of elite rulers this orthodoxy of Reagonomics has this week been left degenerate and useless.
Which bring us to the third – and least likely option. This is to recognise this as a genuinely existential moment, in which the social imagination might be unlocked from the system’s ability to inoculate it against change, and own up to the reality of our predicament. The abject falseness of a society based on such vast debt, whole continents predicated on an entirely specious evaluation of house prices, a political system based around a deceit of spin and a global economy that has created the conditions where, this week, we have destabilised our natural environment to the extent that we have melted the polar ice-cap.
The crisis in financial security mirrors, drives and colludes with the crisis in food security, at the heart of which is the spectre of peak (s) oil.
Launched earlier this year ‘Birdsong Radio’ has been a great success on digital platforms. As songbirds suffer catastrophic collapse, as we learn that climate change could eliminate half the world’s species; that 25 primate species are already slipping into extinction; that biological repositories of carbon are beginning to release decades ahead of schedule and that, in effect, omnicide is at hand. This simulacra of nature is seen elsewhere and it must be seen as a brave effort to shield ourselves from some harsher (self-evident) truths. The attempt to re-model, re-create, capture and project ‘nature’ as we destroy it, is the absolute mirror of the effort to recreate, mould and ‘save’ the ‘financial sector’ as it melts down before our very eyes? Sick too that the very solution almost offered as a balm, or even a cure for socio-environmental crisis is the same – social entrepreneurialism, ‘green’ business and clever gadgets, the like of which tumble forth in a daily cascade of uselessness.
Maybe there is hope in the uselessness of the responses to this weeks tragi-comic events. ‘Where is the Lefts response?’ one friend asked, referring meekly to PARECON as the only alternate framework foothold he had. ‘Where is the Labour Party?’ he whispered but we both laughed quickly before the words were really out in the open.
As Robin McAlpine wrote in his book ‘No Idea’: ‘It is odd that we haven’t learned the lesson that change always happens.’
The lack of positioned, contrived and static ideological alternatives to global capitalism may be a good thing. People don’t trust ideologies any more. Yet the alternatives are clear. They are intuitive, self-evident, obvious to human understanding, to common sense: systems based on mutuality not profit, shorter lines of production, accountability, economy and scale. Localisation and collective ownership and control of our energy, transport, health and utilities is essential. Societies motivated by a different set of emotions other than fear and greed. We must make work meaningful and engage with the task at hand (not bailing out the spivs, narco-capitalists, thugs and elites that have accumulated wealth at our expense) but the common task of salvaging ourselves from their gross negligence.
Three elements must be foothold for a new paradigm: equity, dignity and engagement.
It’s not just with Andy Hornby in mind that we should recollect the following:
“…after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”
Beyond reclaiming the social justice agenda of the socialist movement, we need to also re-establish some sort of concept of decency in a post-formal world. Hedge Fund managers and ‘City Boys’ live in the same world as Kinga. They are shameless. There will be no-one leaping out of buildings as the collapse continues. The sexually liberated society is a great achievement but we need to replace the shame that has vanished from personal judgement with a sense of dignity and purpose beyond personal gain.
Finally as the barely disguised mayhem that is contemporary capitalism unfolds we need to develop tools by which our society can join in genuine participative planning. The most compelling examples are collected in Hilary Wainwrights ‘Reclaim the State’.
One of the most telling insights from the last weeks collapse is the extent to which they reflect ‘remote’ society, one that is encouraged to be entirely passive and dependent, one that lacks complexity and resilience and instead has single point of failure – huge institutions teatering on the brink of absurdity even by the measure of their own bizarre standards.
The system has cracked open like a gourd. It’s up to us all now to capitalise (sic) on the misfortune. To continue along the same path would be absurd. The fact is that ‘hopes for our green future’ cannot be too costly as we have no alternative. It is time to ‘live within limits’ – to begin to understand what that means and to explore the common root of ecological and economic catastrophic mismanagement.