“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph” – Thomas Paine, The Crisis, December 23rd, 1776.
We are now entering the fifth year of the first Great Depression of the 21st Century. The crisis was brought about by the contradictions of neoliberalism, and the ideology of neoliberalism – and capitalism in general – is increasingly suffering from a legitimation crisis.
Despite this, neoliberalism perseveres, the system has maintained itself, albeit in a zombie state.
A Revolutionary Moment?
The opposition to the system required to transform the current crisis from a crisis in capitalism to a crisis of capitalism has not yet formed.
There is opposition, outbreaks of resistance, particularly in the European periphery, and the ‘Arab Spring’ cannot be understood outside of the economic crisis. Even in the capitalist core itself, in Western Europe and North America there is opposition, perhaps best represented by the since brutally repressed Occupy movement in the USA and the UK.
But no where has the opposition reached an order of magnitude sufficient to challenge the system itself (although the Southern European movements are developing the most advanced forms).
All economic crises, and especially one of the current magnitude, offer potential for rupture, for a revolutionary moment away from capitalism and towards socialism. But they only open the potential, the actual realisation of such moments depend on the balance of forces and the various unique circumstances involved.
Currently the oppositional forces are too weak and too disorganised to adequately challenge the system. This is a legacy of the general ideological disarmament of those forces which could constitute such opposition.
The reasons for this disarmament are many, but the key ones are the defeats of the 1980s during the neoliberal revolution, the collapse of the flawed ‘actually existing socialism’ in the form of the Soviet Union and the Chinese turn under Deng Xiao Peng, and the ‘Third Way’ turn of social-democracy in the 1990s.
The failure of the oppositional forces, even of a social-democratic Keynesian revival attempt, has allowed the system time to regroup and reorganise. The system is increasingly moving from zombie form to a new and aggressive version of neoliberalism, although it is not quite clear what form it will take.
It seems clear that the main thrust will be a global attempt to discipline labour, particularly in the capitalist core.
This will involve moves to crush what is left of ‘strong’ unions, notably the public sector unions; to remove what little remains of public welfare (the general thrust will be an aggressive ‘personal responsibility’ attack); further lift restrictions to capital accumulation (especially the privatisation of public sector areas); and a strengthening of police forces.
Moves to ‘open up’ markets (consumers, workers, resources) remains ongoing, and the potential for outright military force to help carve up the world remains on the table (notably Iran and North Korea, but the Libyan and Syrian conflicts may be seen in this light too).
It seems unlikely that oppositional forces will develop sufficiently to mount a proper challenge and convert the crisis to a crisis of capitalism.
It seems, at the moment, that the best option is to resist resurgent neoliberalism and the austerity turn as best as possible, albeit more in a defensive action than anything else.
There will be defeats. Glorious defeats. These will help prepare the opposition and help forge a more cohesive opposition for the future, one that can pose a proper challenge and, conceivably, emerge victorious.
And the level of resistance will determine the level of defeat. The greater the resistance the lesser will be the losses. Some ‘battles’ will even be won, even if the likelihood is the ‘war’ will be lost, this time.