Brian Holmes on Sun, 11 Jan 2015 16:01:50 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Crisis 2.0 - the political turn

Just before Christmas, Joschka Fischer - a man who incarnates the institutionalization of 1968 - published an article on the Project Syndicate website entitled "Europe's Make-or-Break Year." At stake, for him, was the failed recovery, the divisive policy of austerity, the rise of economic nationalism. The banks, in short. "When the turmoil comes," he wrote, "it is likely to be triggered -- as with the euro crisis -- by Greece." How ironic. The former leftist who took Germany to war in Kosovo in the 1990s did not say a word about the military situation.

There is a New Cold War in the Ukraine, an extremely hot civil war in Syria, a branch of Al Qaeda alive and well in Yemen and a tremendous global insurgency spilling out of Iraq. Not just recession and unemployment, but fear and racism are stalking Europe. In my view, the assassinations that just happened in France will mark the turning point of the crisis that began in 2008. The last "liberal" plank - the EU - just fell out of neoliberalism. We're in for a definitive change of era.

The European Union as we knew it grew out of the crisis of the 1970s, when the Dollar Standard broke down, the new international division of labor emerged, and the USA, having lost its war in Vietnam, could no longer manage global hegemony on its own. The solution was to share economic power with Europe and Japan, which were home to the two other great currencies of the postwar era, the Deutschmark and the Yen. "Liberalism," as understood in the old British imperial sense, signified free trade cosmopolitanism, open borders for commodities and the pretense of global citizenship. That was the rhetoric, I mean. After the turmoil of global class struggle and Third World insurgency in the Sixties, the strategic plan was to structure a tight communications network across all sectors of the elites - corporates, financiers, politicians, educators, scientists, religious leaders - and use it to manage a new economic expansion. Shared economic power would be much more difficult to criticize than raw political power coming out of Washington. The publicly accessible archives of the Trilateral Commission show how this was done. The Davos meetings in Switzerland continue to express the results. The EU - which sublated the Deutschmark into the European Single Currency - believed that it could become the ideal type of this Brave New Economic Order.

The solution worked four about 25 years, from 1982 to 2008. After its low point in the early 70s, the US went on to create neoliberalism's global currency (derivatives), its global security system (the 34-nation Coalition of the Gulf War) and its global infrastructure (the Internet). Each of those things was necessary to manage the new just-in-time production and distribution system that had been largely invented in Japan. All three centers became fabulously wealthy hyperconsumption societies, with bloated financial sectors, world-class educational systems, robotized factories and lots of cultural veneer, especially in Europe.

Each pole of the Triad had its exploitable periphery: Latin America for the US; Southeast Asia and China for Japan; North Africa and much of the former Soviet sphere for Europe. Throughout the period, the focus of global war was sharply narrowed to the Middle East, where a system of US client states (above all, Israel and Saudi Arabia) served to maintain control over energy supplies while stoking the permanent war economy. The whole thing seemed to function until the Asian Crisis of 1998, which also swept through the former East and Latin America. But after that all the big producer countries, including China, Brazil and Russia, set about securing relative political and economic autonomy. This allowed them to take full advantage of the unbelievable growth unleashed by the new productive system. Meanwhile the came home to the neoliberal heartland in the form of the dotcom crash of 2000 - and the US responded in its usual way, by seizing the military pretext of 9/11 and simultaneously inflating a new financial bubble. As for Japan and Europe, they apparently believed they could just do nothing.

They were wrong. Since the 2008 crash and the total failure of the US wars - a double failure worse than Vietnam - we are living through a major crisis of capitalism, comparable to the 1970s and the 1930s. It is a global social and ecological crisis, whose burdens are distributed unequally, according to a regionalized and racialized class structure. So far this crisis has had no political expression whatsoever. It has everywhere been conceived in strictly economic terms, as a banking crisis, and it has been treated in the most facile way imaginable, by printing money for the banks. But the resolution of a major economic crisis requires a change of social order. And that can't be achieved without a political turn. Unfortunately it's now set to happen in the EU just the same way as it happened in the US a decade ago - under the pressure of war and racism.

We live in a planetary society with a totally integrated world market. After decades of globalization rhetoric that sounds like a simple statement. In reality it means we have reached the limits of capitalism itself. There are no more "peripheries" to exploit: every periphery is integrally part of the center. There are no more "externalities" to production: every ton of waste comes back in its producers' faces. Above all there are no more "foreign wars," for oil or anything else. Each new terrorist bombing proves it.

I guess that despite himself, Joschka Fischer was right. This will be Europe's make or break year. A neocon political turn is now imaginable for Europe. The French socialist prime minister Manuel Valls - who's what they call a "social-liberal" - is probably the perfect man to launch it. It can be done in the name of Charlie Hebdo, a '68-era satirical weekly that has often shown how the secularist left can be just as racist as anyone.

In the early 1990s, as Western capitalism was being hailed triumphant, Michel Serres opened his book "The Natural Contract" with the analysis of a Goya painting showing two combatants sinking into quicksand. "Let's make a wager," he wrote. "You put your stakes on the right; we've bet on the left. The fight's outcome is in doubt simply because there are two combatants, and once one of them wins there will be no more uncertainty. But we can identify a third position, outside their squabble: the marsh into which the struggle is sinking."

A real political turn - and not just a blind man's walk into authoritarianism - would have to begin with a full recognition of the quagmire of the present.

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