Left Accelerationism, or Inventing the future of dystopia
Badiou’s argument that capital has outgrown the nation state is having absolutely no impression on the Left. This is my conclusion after having read Matthijs Krul’s review of Srnicek and Williams new book, Inventing the Future.
I haven’t personally read the book yet, because, like all the nonsense spewed from the pens of academics, I don’t buy this stuff. If I can’t find it for free on the net, I just don’t bother reading it.
In any case, my reaction to Krul’s review is based solely on this statement:
“The first section consists mainly of the authors’ critique of what they call “folk politics”. By this they mean the tendencies among the left to the rejection of power, scale, and universality: a retreat into localism, prefiguration, refusal to seek power, escapism, and so forth. For Srnicek and Williams, the core of this folk politics is immediacy, the desire for the small over the large, full participation over representation, horizontalism and localism over potentials for scaling, and other expressions of what they see as a lack of will to develop a larger strategic vision. Although the authors are careful not to claim that these things are all inherently bad, which would surely be overegging the pudding, they do argue that the left has been held in thrall by such ways of thinking as a ‘common sense’ to its detriment for too long. It should take a considerable part of the blame for why the left isn’t winning, as the first chapter’s title indicates.”
Krul seems unaware that the criticism of localism applies, above all, to national politics itself. The criticism of localism, as told by Krul, is applied only to sub-national forms of localism. In Krul’s telling, localism is rejects because it does not seek the conquest of national state power. In fact, the ultimate form of localism is nation state politics, which the entire Left, almost without exception, treats as Holy of Holies. Even global instances of struggle are conceived of as a mere collection of national struggles bound by ‘solidarity’ or “internationalism” among otherwise autonomous national agents. Since the Left can only imagine communism as the result of a conflict between classes and since the struggle between classes is always a political struggle, the nation state is by definition the center of gravity for the Left.
But what happens when capital strips off its national form? When national power, national economic management and national regulation is attacked by the forces of the world market? Simple: the Left strategy, which has always been premised on seizure of national power, collapses into complete ruin.
In both Venezuela and Greece, the Left came to power and discovered the long sought for state power is an empty formalism in face of a global capitalism. In Greece, SYRIZA suffered relentless criticism for sticking to the European Union, and was accused of capitulation for not pursuing the same policies that have now completely failed in Venezuela.
Further, the Left still has no inkling of the breadth of the catastrophe these two failures portend. The Left refuses to face up to economic reality — and I am not just talking about Sandernistas and Corbynites. Politically, the working class has been deprived of every conventional weapon to fight capital. The Left strategy of seizing national state power is dead and the Left — stumbling around like zombies after the apocalypse — does not even realize it yet.
If this situation has any hidden benefit for us, it is that monopoly capitalism is inconceivable without state management. By stripping off the nation state, capital is stripping off the political form that made monopoly possible in the first place. The super profits of monopoly and imperialism that cannot be invested back into production require nation states to absorb them as public debt.
At the same time, nation states are increasingly suffocating under the burden of existing public debt with fewer resources to service it. Sooner or later, nation states will buckle under their debt burden and collapse altogether in a cascading string of sovereign bankruptcies.
At the same time, to pay their debts, national states will turn on their own citizens with unprecedented ferocity. All states will be attacking their citizens together and all citizens together will be forced to fight back. The stage will be set for a single global struggle against the state. Although it is not yet obvious to most people on the Left we have long since passed the point where the nation state can play a positive role in even the limited reformist social democrat sense of the term. That means the Left can no longer look forward to rising benefits from political struggle, no matter how tepid those benefits.
Instead, we can only look forward to the state progressively eroding the existing benefits we now enjoy. Those benefits will be taken away and converted into means to service present public debts, even as new public debt is incurred by states. Existing state services and property will be privatized to create new profit centers to feed the insatiable appetite of a now global capital.
This development is not an accident, nor is it a mere policy that can be reversed by vigorous anti-neoliberal political action. The state has always been just a committee for managing the affairs of the capitalists; the difference now is that the capital for which it is the management committee is global. This fact pits the needs of a now global capital against the needs of still national voters — and democracy will lose this battle.
I say democracy will lose this battle not because voters are unable to impose their will on the state, but because voters are themselves economically dependent on a capitalism that is now global.
This means the same mobility of capital that forced the workers at Boeing and GM to capitulate to capitalist demands also forces voters to capitulate. The working class does not leave its economic concerns on shop floors, but takes those same concerns into the voting booth. You cannot, on the one hand, assume wage labor as the premise of society and, on the other hand, assume the voter is autonomous of a now globalized capitalism. The requirements of capital will win over democracy because these requirements must appear politically necessary to the worker for the very same reason that wage labor appears necessary to her.
Materially, the Left cannot win so long as the working class remains dependent on the sale of its labor power. And this means no Left government — no matter how ‘revolutionary’ it imagines itself — can ever win against global capitalism. The nation state can only be used to further the exploitation of the working class for global capital; it has no other reason to exist.