Flowers and chains 2
We have been lied to and have lied to ourselves. We have let class politics in by the back door and given succour to the entrenchment of class power without realising it. How has this happened ? We have focused on the (illusory) differences between parties of liberal democracy rather than on the (real) differences of class politics. The collapse of communism and the continuing success of neoliberal hegemony has led us to believe that class is no longer relevant. We have been told that class no longer applies and that voting along class lines is less important than it was two decades ago. Both are fallacies.
Let’s be very clear, the differences between left and right parties in western liberal democracy are differences mainly about the role of the state in managing advanced consumer capitalism and not about whether consumer capitalism itself is the issue.
Arguments about whether the state’s role is to only provide a framework for entrepreneurship or that the state should intervene in regulating markets more forcefully is like a family argument around the dinner table. Consensus exists around that table that the family exists, the argument is only about who should have the say over serving up the peas. Neoliberal theory and practice is now so entrenched in liberal democracy that there is now a state-finance nexus whose separate voices differ only on the best management practices.
Greece, Italy, and the crisis in the euro zone, the UK and US deficits have produced a great deal of debate about how best to deal with it. One thing is clear. The people being asked to take pay cuts and lose pension rights are not the people responsible for the crisis in the first place. That much we know. Even the most ardent of neoliberal hawks must accept that, and arguments about states indulging in overspend, poor inflexible employment practices and lack of entrepreneurship (e.g Italy) should not distract us from the real reasons liberal democracies are in a fix. Italy may well be a basket case who ignored the rules set down by the family, but it is the family’s rules themselves that are at fault. Even if Italy played ball and acted as the US and UK did over the last decade or two would that have prevented their problems? The US and The UK are no role models and are supposedly bastions of neoliberal economics, however they underestimated the role of systemic risk that is a central feature of global capital flows. China et al will not escape the system risks as they grow either, but in the short to medium term they have other ways of dealing with the various crises of capital (for example they have huge armies of reserve labour to call upon).
An example of an argument that completely misses the point is the current struggle between defenders of the public sector and those who believe the state should be whittled away to leave room for business to do it’s thing freely. Notwithstanding ‘race to the bottom’ arguments on pay and conditions or that the two sectors are not comparable in any case, this argument is one about the character of the superstructure itself rather than focusing on the economic infrastructure. Both social democrats (arguing for the application of regulation and morality to markets) and free Market conservatives (arguing for less regulation and less state intervention) are not discussing the core problem of the economic infrastructure which if not addressed results in systemic risk manifesting itself at the weak points in the global capital system.
The issue? The problem is of surplus capital accumulation at a compound growth rate of around 3%. That is to say that a driving mechanism of capital flow is the need to invest/spend surplus capital that results in a 3% rate of growth. Capital has to flow freely to achieve this end, if it does not then the system collapses. This is what David Harvey calls the enigma of capital.
This is a technical economic argument that needs much more explaining, suffice to say at this point that this is the reason class politics is under the radar because few are paying any attention to capital flow and it’s concomitant affects on labour.
The flowers are the political debates between leftist and rightist parties of western liberal democracies. The chain is surplus capital accumulation and the requirement for labour to act as wage slaves to provide this surplus value.
For a very good cartoon on this see