Voyou Désœuvré

I used to hope for the apocalypse. Now there is no hope at all.Some Marxists have seen the current financial crisis as a vindication of catastrophism, as proof that capitalism will be brought down by its own crisis tendencies. But as faithful to the line points out:

Years were spent refining an analysis of capitalism that, in the broad, stressed the improbability of debt-fuelled boom continuing forever; noted the underlying weaknesses of, not just British capital, but capitalism globally; and highlighted the continuing instability of the system, precisely so that at just this moment they could be poised to offer solutions. Yet the arrival of a genuine and epoch-making economic crisis – of the properly old-fashioned kind (bank runs, fraud and larceny on a grand scale, insolvencies, mass unemployment… you know the score) – has found them largely blinking in the headlights.

The financial crisis, indeed, is the final refutation of catastrophism, making clear the fantasy that sustained it.All the hopes that were invested in the coming crisis come crashing down now that the crisis is here; ironically, catastrophism reproduced capital’s own logic, subordinating the present to future expectations. The other unfortunate response to the current crisis is a retreat to the past, a demand for the Keynesianism that saved capitalism once before. I was most surprised to see this (or so I thought) from David Harvey, in his claim that we had to “rescue capitalism from the capitalists and their false neoliberal ideology.” Harvey, after all, was so incisive in demonstrating the political economic changes that rendered Keynesianism inoperative in the 1970s. And, indeed, it turns out Harvey’s view is significantly more complicated, as he lays out in some more detail in a further post emphasizing that “disruptions lead to a reconfiguration, a new form of class power.”

The most interesting suggestion I’ve heard for responding to the crisis, however, came in Randy Martin’s keynote at the Berkeley IMWG conference at the weekend. Martin argued that, where Keynesianism embodied a future-oriented utopian logic, in which continuous growth was supposed to ensure both continued stability and the future wealthy retirement of the worker, financialization is present-oriented, realizing hypothetical future values in the present. What I thought was interesting is that Martin suggested that this was a logic the left could use: much like the reviled figure of the irresponsible credit-card borower, buying flat-screen TVs now rather than prudently saving, contemporary capitalism gives us an opportunity to stop projecting utopias into the future, and demand the world for the workers, now.


  1. Rachel, 6:05 am, March 11, 2009

    I support rescuing capitalism through Keynsianism this time. I don’t think we have enough of a left for anything else. The BNP are probably going to benefit far more from any discontent with the system than any of the left groups.

  2. voyou, 11:16 pm, March 14, 2009

    Well, I’m not opposed to capitalism being saved by Keynesianism – if I’d had a vote in the US, I might have been tempted to cast a write in for the reanimated corpse of Roosevelt. But I’m not sure Keynesian solutions are possible now, for both economic and political reasons. One of the papers at this conference was about how the Home Guard fostered a kind of utopian collectivism that was important in the post-war construction of the welfare state. That is, 20th century Keynesianism took a lot of political effort to construct, and I think a contemporary Keynesianism might take as much effort; and anyway, Keynesianism itself might not work given the different economic constraints of globalization, informatized production and stuff. So I don’t know that Keynesianism actually is a realistic alternative to communism.

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