Whither Capital V: An Alliance Is No Friendship, Research Time, 05/06/2018

Being a revolutionary academic already puts you in a strange and possibly hypocritical position. You depend on an important institution in the social-economic system you want to change, for your publication platform.

Worse – because most of your theoretical publications are in heavily paywalled research journals, they aren't even physically accessible to people outside university institutions.*

* Which is why you should just steal these publications. I encourage theft of intellectual property in purposely inaccessible venues. Steal every journal article you can – it’s not like anyone who writes them ever gets paid.

No matter how much politicians like Bill Clinton may have genuinely
wanted to improve the lives of people through the actions of their
governments, they fell to the corruption of their offices. Institutions
that foster authoritative power encourage elitism and indulgence.
The inability to perceive the real consequences of your actions.
Nonetheless, thanks to their university positions, those intellectuals are regarded as leaders of the social movement against the rapaciousness of industrial capitalism. We can’t have a social movement without its leaders, after all. Any revolution needs a vanguard.

Please be aware of how sarcastic I was being in that last paragraph. Social movements don’t need leaders. In fact, it’s better that social movements don’t have leaders at all.

I’m going to follow up on this point farther down the road, when I go through Negri and Hardt’s Assembly on the blog. But the basic idea that movements don’t really need centralized leaders – and tend to work better without them – has been gathering steam since the start of this century. Because they do work better.

Here's how Jeremy Gilbert set things up in his history of Cultural Studies. The breakup of the USSR pretty much solidified the triumph of new liberal politics and economics. The authoritarian, centrally-controlled, ideally autarkic state economy failed miserably. That meant marketizing liberal individualism was the only kind of economy worth having.

Please be aware that the sentence ending that last paragraph was extremely sarcastic. I’m trying to explain what the mainstream liberal economic position was – the globalization of trade networks and the reliance of the planet’s economy on the financial sector. In the West, this stream of politics dominated the American state through an uneasy alliance with grassroots Christian nationalists.

The progressive side of politics over the turn of the century was a similarly uncomfortable alliance. The leaderless ‘movement of movements’ was kicking into gear in critical hubs around the world. The other head of the hydra was the Third Way of politicians like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

In 1999, you could make a fairly reasonable argument that the
theatrical protest and occupation actions of anti-capitalist social
movements couldn't be productive. You could argue that they needed
leaders to guide their protest activity, translate their desires into state
policy, negotiate on their behalf with the powerful for concessions. But
nearly 20 years later, it's turned out that what the organizers of
alternative community spaces – protests, occupations, art events –
needed wasn't leadership to calm their energy. They needed to intensify
and grow their followings until there were actions nearly every day.
The Third Way was basically a program of governance of concession to the economics of new liberalism, which refused to bow to the Christian nationalists. In the more positive light, you can call it concessional. In the more critical light, you can call it a capitulation.

These days, I think most people would call it capitulation. Throughout the West at the turn of the century, all the major political parties agreed with some version of the new liberal idea.

Let all sectors of the economy organize themselves by market networks, subsidize everyday purchases with debt and credit, raise all dimensions of the cost of living by futures and derivative speculation. Call the bulging of stock portfolios an accurate measure of GDP.

We know now that these policies laid the conditions of the global economic depression of 2008. But the major political parties cleaved apart along social and religious moralities – economic policies were indistinguishable where it counted. The secular parties just wanted slightly higher capital gains taxes.

These Third Way concession leaders share one thing in common with orthodox marxists – they still believe that political movements need leaders to guide them. Executives to guide their political programs and force them into coherence.

Was there ever any coherence among the political programs of Christian nationalists and financial oligarchs? Political alliances are marriages of convenience. Let’s be honest with ourselves.

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