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Re: <nettime> Peace-for-War
Alex Foti on Tue, 22 Aug 2006 17:20:38 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Peace-for-War


Dear friends,

This is a byproduct of an email exchange I had with Brian and Felix
few weeks ago.

In both the Peace-for-War and the reply to the project identity posts,
I was struck by the uncanny references Brain and others made to the
global geopolitical and socioeconomic crisis that preceded the onset
of fordism and how it parallels the present historical phase. I would
like to share with you my convergent stuff that also explores the
larger question of how major boom-and-bust cycles affect political
mobilization and influence social agendas. As Brian, Bichler and
Nitzan seem to imply, near the end of long booms revolutionary agendas
bloom, while in the troughs of depression, radical pressures on future
institution-building carry the day.

I agree that postworkerist thinking harbors an unwarranted faith in
the bounty of capitalism and mistook the new economy for a utopia of
socialist abundance, but it seems to me reductive to look at the
present historical shift as merely a reshuffling in the US composition
of capital (from the dominance of technomerger to petromilitary
capitalism). It is much more than that. It's likely to be a historic
break, which marks the crisis of multicultural, unipolar, globalizing,
peace-waging neoliberalism toward a  monocultural, multipolar,
regionalizing, war-mongering, new (and unstable?) type of regulation.

You find my ideas on the historical taxonomy and interpretation of
major capitalist crises summarized in the table linked above. It's my
pet project and high-time DIY wannabe social theory (the information
age being the era of the amateur;). I've been working on it since a
paper I wrote as a grad student at the new school in the early 90s.
Then after 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, I went back to to work and
published a much rougher version of this synoptic table in Italian on
the rekombinant list in 2003. Since then I have refined it, modeled
the variables, and translated it into english. The column and row
headings are really what's relevant, rather than the content of every
cell which need to be improved. My approach is a pragmatist mix of
regulation and neoschumpeterian approaches with castellsian
informationalism, mann's historical sociology, and neorealist theories
of great power politics. I value world systems theory, but only for
pre-napoleonic times. The centre-periphery approach and arrighi's
modelling of long waves in my view do not explain the discontinuities
of the 20th and early 21th centuries. It's telling that arrighi
forecasted a japanese ascent and an american demise precisely when the
contrary was happening, i.e. on the eve of the roaring 90s. In
general, there is almost no role for statecraft, ideology and
historical agency in the wallersteinian approach, and way too much
stress on macrocyclicality over secular periods: capitalism is a
crisis-prone system, but crises tend to be concentrated affairs
following longer periods of fairly stable growth, rather than
symmetric downturns of long-term upswings.

The grid that you see above lists the macrovariables that I consider
relevant in modelling the structural socio-economic dynamics and
political-institutional responses in advanced capitalism
(core+semiperiphery countries, if you like). Technology and the
environment (the forces of production) are considered exogenous.
Accumulation (private investment) and Regulation (state agency) are
really what matters for the dynamics of the system in conjunction with
the differential effect of ideological power: in times of regulation
crisis, ideology (the superstructure, if you wish) becomes of
paramount relevance in affecting the re-design of political and
economic affairs: within the same digital economy based on flexible
accumulation, various institutional settings are conceivable depending
on whether anglo-american occidentalism prevails or not over religious
and nationalist ideologies being enemies or rivals of the west.

The possibility of radically different historical outcomes is what I
call historical bifurcations, clearly echoing chaos theory. Example:
both national socialism and new deal liberalism were effective
economic answers to the great depression. Their social and political
implications could not have been more different. In the end, Hitler's
Germany was more threatening than Stalin's Soviet Union for America:
why? Because it embodied an alternative model of mass modernity,
unlike Russia, which was simply catching up on its backwardness by
unorthodox means, much as China is doing today. Global fascism was a
greater danger than regional communism. When communism became global
with expansion in Eastern Europe and revolution in China, the cold war

The core mechanism is simple and has to do with the tension/balance
between capitalist accumulation and state regulation, the two
endogenous variables (the X and the Y) on which the model depends. An
accumulation crisis such as that of the 70s occurs when a consolidated
technological paradigm hits against social (students and workers
rebel) and economic (rising costs and decreasing profitability)
constraints; while a regulation crisis occurs when the laissez-faire
responses to a new technological paradigm show all its socioeconomic
limits (not enough effective demand, no social legitimacy) and leads
to geopolitical instability (open power rivalry with a concurrent
crisis in world hegemony). Regulation crises are instead those of the
interwar period and the early 21st century. Again, my contention is
that ideology matters most in regulation crises, when rival
institutional setups are proposed and fiercely fought over. "A
possible antidystopian future" is an overoptimistic illustration of
how a radical/progressive/secular/cosmpolitan response to the clash of
civilizations look like. It's more a testament of the
antiglobalization movement than a viable political alternative, which
we have to build together, by exploring and cultivating a new science
and culture than can expand beyond critical minorities, as Brian says.

My hope is that this grid (and the paper I've been planning to write)
would help building new and shared interpretations of major historical
issues on the heretic left. Clearly there are many errors to be
corrected and changes and additions that need to be made (thanx,
Brian, for the suggestion on containerization). But only if we
construct a sufficiently shared narrative on the parable of capitalism
and communism in the 20th century, and especially on the exhaustion of
neoliberalism at end of the century, can we create the bases for that
new radical, secular, cosmopolitan, ecological, transethnic,
multigendered culture that can give new thrust to movements, fight war
and rebuild the world.

love+solidarity, lx

On 8/9/06, Felix Stalder <felix {AT} openflows.org> wrote:

> On Monday, 7. August 2006 00:34, Brian Holmes wrote:
> > There seems to be a difference in the way the groups of
> > steersmen operate, both on the diplomatic and economic
> > levels.
> <...>
> > Generally the Marxist theorists give you a
> > systemic explanation; capitalism does this or that, it has a
> > long-term trend. I have always thought that the only way to
> > help get the Left moving again is to say, groups and
> > individuals do this or that; and we can stop them.
> I think of the reasons why understanding the present -- in the amateur
> world-theory mode that we are engaged in here -- is so difficult is that
> we have a number of very different dynamics and we do not really know how
> they intersect, reinforce and transform each other.

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