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Re: <nettime> Peace-for-War
Brian Holmes on Sun, 6 Aug 2006 00:50:04 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> Peace-for-War


[Post from Ed Philips, ed {AT} cronos.net, addressed maybe 10 
days ago to me and nettime, never made it on nettime. -BH]


Brian, thanks for posting another thoughtful essay to nettime:

I want to start this response by saying that I agree with 
your assessment that we are in your words "lacking a common 
language to describe" the politico-economic global 
environment in which we are swimming as both economic and 
political actors.

The situation is as daunting for so-called experts in 
individual fields of understanding as it is for the casual 
amateur historian on the net.

I'm going to start as well by attempting to find some mutual 
ground before I start pulling rugs from underneath our feet. 
The last place that Karl Marx has any kind of broad respect 
outside of leftist intellectuals circles is in the field of 
Economics and in the history of Economic theory. Many 
economists even of the most baldly neo-liberal stripe will 
at least acknowledge Marx's contribution to the study of 
Capital and his readings of Smith, Ricardo, et al. So we at 
least have some terms form Marxian economics and from 
contemporary economics that we can use.

On to your essay:

"The essence of contemporary power is to provoke crisis and 
to ride it out toward profit, without revealing strategies 
or goals."  Really. Is that so? Whose thinking or what set 
of thinking leads to this summary at the start? Is it Harvey 
or a climate shared by Harvey?

Harvey has tremendous problems coming to grips with 
attempting to describe global capitalism and political 
hegemony in the new imperialism. Hardt and Negri barely 
achieve anything more than muddlement. This is less a 
condemnation of them than an appraisal of just how difficult 
the attempt to understand the situation is.

I'm going to dispense with introductory explanation in part 
because I am no didact and also because I want to cut to 
direct discussion. Harvey and Arrighi are some of the more 
credible leftist political economists, and both of them 
offer some analytic terms and interpretive machines that are 
useful. Harvey may be too given over to exaggeration in his 
descriptions of the state of civil society within Empire 
coming apart at the seems, but his analysis is not without 
some fitness.

Arrighi's long twentieth century thesis which is a kind of 
rethinking of Marx'x MCM formula has some fitness as well. 
To quote Arrighi, "financialization (the capacity of finance 
capital 'to take over and dominate, for a while at least, 
all the activities of the business world') has been the 
result of a recurrent overaccumulation of capital ('the 
accumulation of capital on a scale beyond the normal 
channels for investment'.) Witness the unprecedented scale 
of financial capital and the current need of this capital to 
invest in new spaces and new ventures. His work, with 
Braudel's help is interesting for its long view. In this 
long view, we are already experiencing the rise of Asian 
long century and the end of US hegemony.

The endless accumulation of capital is itself 
"crisis-prone." It is not that the steersmen of the 
Apocalypse need provoke crisis. Certainly those steersmen 
who are still in the game seeking return on investment will 
take advantage of such crises. They move to where they can 
make money.

In addressing the tendency of corporations to merge and 
attempt to benefit from consolidation and in what you have 
defined as a strategy of breadth, you say:

"It's associated with speculative fever, as corporations 
double or triple in market share overnight."

It is hard to understand what the above sentence is 
attempting to say about either financialization or 
investment or production of new spaces or the exploitation 
of new markets. The financial markets create liquidity that 
then must be invested elsewhere, endlessly as Arrighi says 
or in a never-ending cycle as Arendt said.

A "depth" strategy is then mentioned in which streamlining 
or cost-cutting is placed together somewhat problematically 
with the raising of prices. The breadth and depth strategy 
of consolidation combined with streamlining and cost-cutting 
combined with competitive reduction of prices is evident in 
many areas of the economy.

the Oil wars:

I appreciate how you avoid the simple causality of naive 
conspiracy theory even as I see it all, including Freddy 
Jameson's attempts, as "a poor-man's cognitive mapping."

Further skepticism may be warranted nonetheless than even 
you grant about a connection between the price at the pump, 
the disastrous Iraq quagmire and our proverbial steersmen.

I'd grant that a major impetus for the naive attempt to 
"secure" Iraq was indeed probably the control of world 
markets in Oil. The proverbial steersmen are probably 
thinking or attempting to think in their own poor way ahead 
twenty or more years. And probably not in terms of short 
term profits, or in terms of short term economic stimulus.

The current "revenge of the natural resources" and the rise 
in the price of natural resources may actually swing back in 
the next few years. The major oils are investing their 
ridiculous profits back into their precarious futures. The 
refinery industry which is in sore need of infrastructure 
investment is taking significant windfall, justified with
the need to shore up against future risk.

The revenge of the "resource commodities" can be seen as 
detrimental to the interests of the US and against the grain 
of financialization which has been accompanied by a steady 
decline in the value of the "resource commodities" over 
time. Iran and Venezuela are, for example, benefiting in the 
short term from the current rise in Oil prices.

The attempt to impose order has engendered further disorder, 
and the US is spending a tremendous amount of "deficits 
don't matter" money along precisely the kinds of lines of 
both the war and the security machines which are in fact 
tied to what you are calling the technodollar affiliations. 
They are feeding into each other. There is also a tremendous 
amount of financial capital that is being invested in new 
ventures, precisely because it has to be.

The so called crash of the internet bubble is a mere blip, 
and will probably be seen as such.

The "breadth" phase is already here, with large investment 
in new technologies, and with the opening of new spaces.


Relative failure:

"It seems to me that as cultural activists, we have to 
consider the relative failure of the attempts to overflow 
the preceding breadth phase by introducing more-or-less 
arbitrary information and unpredictable behavior into the 
system."

That makes sense and is a thoughtful rejoinder to those who 
celebrated the apparent exuberance of the 90's.



Who are these steersmen?:


You say:

"Why did the post S-11 political-economic hijacking by the
party of war, oil and engineering meet with such ineffective
resistance from the other fractions of dominant capital? Was
it, as Bichler and Nitzan suggest, that their prospects for
further accumulation were simply exhausted, by virtue of
their very success in the preceding decades? Was fear of
deflation enough to make them pass the baton? Did all of
dominant capital simply acquiesce in the repetition of a
pattern that had characterized accumulation throughout the
twentieth century? Or would it be possible, for instance,
where the European Union and its separate nations are
concerned, to map out which corporations and key officials
came down on which sides of which dividing lines?."


Both Harvey and Arrighi seem reluctant to perceive that 
despite the apparent protests of EU states against 
unilateral deployment of the unprecedented US war machine, 
much of the protest was on the surface and merely apparent. 
Despite the fact that the US is indeed footing the bill and 
that its coalition was Anglophone, the EU tacitly agreed
to the deployment and acquiesced while appearing to protest. 
Much of the diplomatic brouhaha was staged for consumption 
by liberal polities unaccustomed to naked action. The 
resistance was largely staged.

Arrighi makes the valid point that the US as debtor nation 
is dependent upon its Asian creditors and that the relative 
drop in the dollar was beneficial to the US and detrimental 
to the creditors. The current explosion of the US GDP 
combined with the relative drop in the dollar makes for an 
opportune time for Statist neocons to invest in big 
government as military apparatus without the need for direct 
monies from other nations.

This is an opening to discuss internal US politics and why 
the dread word liberal is anathema to the neocons even as 
they are Statists. Their state is not the welfare state but 
the military state, and state of socialized risk. They are 
bureaucrats who are more successful as fake conservatives 
than their more bureaucratic sounding half-heartedly liberal 
counterparts on the other side of the aisle. Bush's 
swaggering impersonation of an individual is a much better 
strategy than open policy wonk talk. Bush's approval rating 
drop is only matched by a greater drop in the approval of 
the open liberals as opposed to the hidden liberals on the 
right. There is nothing remotely religious about these 
avatars of neconservatism. It is merely piety, fake 
religiosity, that finds in parallel in the fake statist 
bureaucratic mullahs in power in Iran. Their beards are 
props as much as the aw shucks I'm just not comfortable with 
big words style of Bush is.

It is much more strategic in the US today to be a fake 
conservative than a half-hearted open liberal. Or so it 
would seem. More analytical mileage is to be gained it seems 
from realizing that the appeal to individualism and its 
props has long legs with the US polity. Harvey has it wrong 
I think when he says that Bush appealed to a need to bring a 
moral compass to a crumbling civil society.

We are in reality I think already in the era of what you are 
calling "breadth" and of loosely affiliated nations or 
empire(s). The appearance of the US as sole actor is largely 
an appearance.




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