Feb 18, 2009

Responding to Thinking and Acting in Real Time and a Real world

posted at BTR

Hi Don,

First of all, thanks for doing this. We certainly need some clarity
about the crisis and what may be coming down the road. I had a few
comments – not really any differences that are very significant as far
as I understand the points you are making. But these points are
important to the way I am trying to understand things. Also, I have not
read the pieces you were commenting on nor have I read your entries on
fascism that I guess were posted on some anarchist blogs. So this is a
limitation of my response. I would particularly like to read the Akuno
paper. I got his blog “Navigating the Storm” but couldn’t seem to find
the paper you were referring to. Can you give me a web address and /or
citation for that?

First of all I think your criticism of the Midnight Notes formulation
that the crisis is a tactic to discipline the working class is very
important and could be even more of a focus for your piece. Clearly if
leftists don’t see this crisis as the appearance of capitalism’s
fundamental contradiction, then you can get very off base about what is
coming and what the left should be doing.

My own formulation of the contradiction is a little different from yours
but we are talking about the same thing. My formulation is heavily
influenced by the work of Loren G. and is that global capitalism
generates greater claims on the value that its workers produce than the
amount of value that can be produced with existing technology and
surplus accumulation mechanisms. This chokes off the surplus value that
capitalists can accumulate and leads to falling profit rates and general
economic crisis.

I also think it important to stress that this is distinct from the
normal “business cycle” of recession-upturn-recession. But it has
happened a number of times throughout the history of capitalism – three
times in our lifetime (last 70 years or so)—1929-46; 1974-82; 2008-?.
Each time the contradiction has appeared, global capitalism has
responded with a shift in the mode of accumulation including a new round
of primitive accumulation as capital goes outside of the capitalist
system or into a separate geo-bloc of capitalism to expropriate value,
super exploit labor or both. Preceding the shift there have been efforts
to destroy claims on value starting with the working classes but also
including businesses and sometimes physical destruction through warfare.
I think many of these elements are just around the corner now.
Importantly, historically the nature and process of a shift in the mode
of accumulation has shaped the direction of worker movements in
opposition and it will this time as well.

I agree with you that in the post 1982 shift, flexible labor was a key
element of the mode of accumulation. So was flexible production that
ended Fordism as a production process and enabled capitalist commodity
production to happen anywhere and everywhere . And U.S. foreign policy
and militarism has been guided by the goal of protecting multiple
production locals and access for both financial and industrial capital
to wherever they can accumulate surplus value. All of this in my view is
a form of primitive accumulation as it moves outside of the core of
capitalist production. Trade agreements and organizations like IMF,
World Bank, regional development banks and the WTO institutionalize the
mode of accumulation. The generation of huge amounts of fictitious
capital including so called “third world” debt, growing corporate and
household debt, corporate debt and government debt have played a key
role of fueling this mode of accumulation. But beyond this, debt/credit,
starting really in the late 80s to early 90s became treated like a
commodity and is uncoupled from the commodities that were supposed to
underlie them. Futures, options, collars, swaps, swaptions, credit
default swaps, and of course mortgage and debt back securities came into
their own and grew at a tremendous clip during the 1990s. And there was
absolutely no value behind these things. The policy that enabled this –
much during the Clinton administration was not simply bad policy but
vital to the mode of accumulation itself. The system also spawned the
Harry Madoffs and Robert Rubins.

The unraveling of all of this has brought us to a reappearance of the
capitalist contradiction. The nature of the shift will again shape
resistance. I think your perspective will helpful to leftists who want
to aid struggles that are moving in a positive direction.

In this regard I have several questions about the fascism discussion.
First I haven’t had access to the discussion you refer to in your piece.
I really liked your formulation of a “right wing ruling class
“anti-fascism” but wanted to see this spelled out a little more. Do you
see this as a part of Bello’s notion of GSD or in opposition to it?
Also, I don’t understand the term “neo fascism as a reactionary,
radical, anti bourgeois mass movement.” Where do we see this today and
why do you consider it “neo fascist”?

I think that militarism has taken a specific form in the present period
and that form lays the groundwork for military aspects of the coming
shift. I’ve written on this; a big topic in itself. Briefly my view is
that the super mobility of capital during the present period has
required a highly mobile military and many outposts that are linked to
the trade agreements (coalition of the willing). This can potentially be
the basis for a repressive apparatus in the coming period.

To me fascism has a very specific historic context that can’t easily be
transferred to today. The way I see it is that in the course of a shift,
blocs of capital have generally rallied around a new mode of
accumulation. But during the Great Depression, capital split into two
antagonistic blocs. One ended up codified in the Bretton Woods Agreement
– Fordism whose center was in the U.S. We agree on this I believe. In
Germany, however, industrial and finance capital united with the
military, eventually forming the Nazi Party. Their alternative was
nationalistic industrialism with a very necessary element of primitive
accumulation due to the devastation of WWI that was achieved by
plundering other capitalist nations in Europe. Russia was a third
capitalist bloc that had the alternative strategy that was essentially
state capitalist. Stalin at first was ready to ally with Germany
(Hitler-Stalin Pact) but after being attacked decided to go with the
rest of Europe. I can’t quite see fascism outside of this context. You
seemed to be saying that you don’t agree with the tendency to use
Fascism simply as a pejorative and a synonym for repressive militarism.
So I need a little more to understand. Perhaps you can send me something
you have written on that.

The only thing I see that is close to fascism is the route being pursued
by Sarcozy in France as pointed out by Bello. But I feel that the likely
rush of a global social democracy approach that Obama might institute
would overwhelm this fairly quickly. This is the biggest danger to us
who wish to seize the moment because we might find the potential of an
anti globalization movement that would cut off access to primitive
accumulation undermined as liberals embrace both Obama and his smiley
faced globalization. There is also a real danger in my view of a
militarism that would be directed at all who get in the way – both at
home and overseas. And I am thinking of the danger of some sort of right
wing anti globalization mass movement such as waged by Perot, Pat
Buchanan etc. Is this what you were talking about as neo fascism?

Anyway I would appreciate your response to this. I have not been
involved in blogs but could be. Also feel free to share these comments
if you feel it appropriate.

Best wishes,


The above post is a reply to Dan Hamerquist, "Thinking and Acting in Real Time and a Real World" (posted to Three Way Fight on January 27, 2009).