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The Beginning of an Epoch: The Crisis, the Upheavals and the Revolution

By Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen, 21 May 2013

Following on from his text, 'After Credit...', Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen discusses art, radical politics and the crisis from 2011 to the present


We are moving into a new epoch. The financial crisis is the beginning of the end of the neoliberal period, which started in the 1970s and was fully implemented in the 1980s, more or less all over the world. The events in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Bahrain all point forward and raise the question of a global revolution (and not just a recomposition of capital). These are the conditions and events that we as Leftists need to analyze, this is the conjuncture in which we are situated and in which we have to think and act.

The current economic crisis started back in the early 1970s when the explosive economic progress of the post-war years, in the guise of different state-led modernization projects, began to idle and run out of steam. In the longer historical perspective, the neoliberal epoch now appears to be one long crash landing after the explosive economic development of the post-war period, and the epoch has been characterized by repeated crises (1973-1975, 1980-1982, 1990-1991, 2001-2002, 2007-).1 Since the beginning of the 1970s capitalism has tried to reconstruct itself by saving on social reproduction through debt, technological development and outsourcing of production. Capital has depended more and more on cheap labour from Asia and Eastern Europe, all the while closing down the big industries in places like the Midlands in England and outside Paris. The workers who had protested and rebelled in the late 1960s and early 1970s had to be dispersed and driven out of the cities. To a great extent the mission was successful, but the financial crisis in 2008 made the debt-based reconstruction dimension of neoliberal capitalism obvious. Paradoxically, the crisis was handled with ‘more of the same’, as governments confirmed the status quo by taking over the debt of the banks and the financial sector, whereby finance capital consolidated its power and made it possible for the 1% to amass even more wealth. The forty-year long erosion of social reproduction thus continues – an erosion not entirely unlike the massive destruction that occurred in the period from 1914 to 1945 when two world wars and an economic crisis paved the way for the boom of the post-war period – this time, though, not in the guise of a finance-based ‘normalcy’ but as a more visible and escalating class war.2 We are thus talking about crisis, war and rebellions.


Debt, Slum and Rebellion


In 2008 it briefly looked as if the crash would delegitimize the neoliberal financial model at the governmental level, but that did not occur. Instead governments all over the world passed the bill on to their populations in the form of massive austerity programmes that are supposed to demonstrate the ability of the states to pay back their debt, a project which only becomes all the more implausible as the austerity programmes and cuts undermine demand, forcing the states to borrow even more. As Robin Blackburn writes in New Left Review: “The transfer of debt from private to public hands was carried out in the name of averting systemic failure, but in some ways it aggravated the debt problem since bank failure, however disruptive, is actually less devastating than state failure. Before long, the bond markets were demanding plans to cut these deficits by slashing public spending and shrinking social protection”.3 The debt was passed on to the populations, and a third of public debt in Europe today is due to the attempts to save the banks. The consequence is of course a drastic deterioration in or the complete disappearance of welfare services, as is the case in Greece, where a society is falling apart rapidly. So far the Greek economy has contracted by more than 22%, workers and pensioners have lost 32% of their income, and unemployment has reached an unprecedented 24% with youth unemployment at 55%.

The crisis thus grew from a crisis of private capital to a crisis of the state as a guarantor of value. And that might very well turn out to be the decisive event; if trust in the state and its currency fails, the situation can escalate rapidly. The images from Berlin in 1923 of wheelbarrows filled with money are the nightmare of any state governor or finance minister. Such a scenario opens up completely new perspectives that may ultimately mean the disappearance of trust in money altogether.


Image: Athens 2012 (Photo: Joen P Vedel)


In 2011 a popular reaction to the bail-out of the banks occurred with the revolts in North Africa and the Middle East and with the appearance of the Occupy movement, which spread from Spain to the USA, to Israel and onwards. The Arab revolts in which Western-backed despots like Mubarak and Ben Ali were overthrown may very well turn out to be the beginning of a process that can undermine not just the present neoliberal world order but capitalism as a social system and as a form of consciousness.4 It is this perspective that the youth of Madrid, Tirana and New York understand and support: a total challenge to neoliberal capitalism and its extreme inequality, locally and globally.5

The events of the last few years – revolts in North Africa and the Middle East where Western-backed dictators have been overturned in favour of the development of autonomy for the Arab world, the Occupy movement that refuses to accept the politicians’ bailouts of the financial sector and rejects the pretense of parliamentary democracy and its never-failing support for a small finance-capitalist elite,6 wild strikes in Africa and South East Asia where workers protest against extremely bad working conditions and minimal wages – all these events not only show that the world we have and create every day is characterized by extreme inequality and brutal exclusion; they also show that another world is possible; that we can change things. As Georg Lukács wrote in 1920: “The same process that the bourgeoisie experiences as a permanent crisis and gradual dissolution appears to the proletariat, likewise in crisis-form, as the gathering of strength and the springboard to victory. Ideologically this means that the same growth of insight into the nature of society, which reflects the protracted death struggle of the bourgeoisie, entails a steady growth in the strength of the proletariat”.7 That the capitalist mode of production is in crisis does not necessarily mean there will be more anti-capitalist resistance, but it does raise some questions about capitalism and its future because it is obviously becoming more and more difficult to control the basic contradictions of the economic system; more and more violence is needed and the complete destruction of the planet (and most of its inhabitants) seems to be the only way to uphold capitalism right now. In this situation a rupture occurs, the ruling ideology does not function any more and the proletariat starts to ask questions and begins to reject the established organizations. This takes place at first in spontaneous and uncoordinated ways, but these uncoordinated rejections cross-pollinate, linking the protests together and establishing the possibility of a critique of capitalism in its totality. The revolting masses in the Middle East and North Africa, Los Indignados in Spain, the students in Chile and in Quebec, and the Occupy movement are all reacting to the intensely aggravated economic and social conditions from which youth in particular is suffering. The statements of support from the different occupied squares and the banners of the demonstrations testify to this fusion of the protests, and to the internationalism of the protest movement: “Egypt Support Wisconsin workers. One world one pain”, “This [Puerta del Sol] is Tahrir Square”. The protests are as global as the capitalist system they are protesting.


Image: Occupy Oakland, 2011


Over the past 30 years, neoliberalism has pushed more and more workers out of the reproduction process, dooming them to wageless survival in complete accordance with Marx’s description of the general law of capitalist accumulation in chapter 23 of the first book of Capital. It is the fundamental contradiction of the capitalist mode of production that workers are at the same time reduced to labour power and excluded from wage labour.8 Workers are forced to work in order to survive, and at the same time they are unable to get a job, however temporary and miserable, and reproduce their labour power. Capital tries to free itself of labour and thereby digs its own grave. The neoliberal restructuring – the flight from real abstraction to financial speculation, and now to crisis capitalism – is an exclusion of workers. When it comes to the creation of value, a large part of the working class is simply superfluous. Already in 1995, when the 500 most important wo/men including George Bush, Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Gates and Ted Turner got together at the State of the World Forum, this was the scenario: “20 percent of the working age population will be enough in the coming century to keep the world economy going. ‘More manpower won’t be needed,’ thinks Washington SyCip. […] What about the others? Will 80 percent of those willing to work be without a job? […] The question in the future will be ‘to have lunch or be lunch’, to eat or be devoured”.9 And this was in the optimistic globalization days of the mid 1990s, when the financial bubble had not burst. Now that we are in a situation where the conflicts escalate and are visible to everyone, things look even darker. As Chris Hedges writes in “Why the revolution must start in America”:

The game is over. We lost. The corporate state will continue its inexorable advance until two-thirds of the nation and the planet is locked into a desperate, permanent underclass. Most of us will struggle to make a living while the Blankfeins and our political elites wallow in the decadence and greed of the Forbidden City and Versailles. The elites do not have a vision. They know only one word: more. They will continue to exploit the nation, the global economy and the ecosystem. And they will use their money to hide in the gated compounds when it all implodes. Do not expect them to take care of us when it starts to unravel.10

The reproduction of capital produces what Michael Denning terms “wage-less lives”, people that are part of the informal economy or have joined the enormous crowd of indefinitely unemployed. According to Mike Davis we are probably talking about 1 billion people moving back and forth between slums in the cities and the countryside, searching for some kind of temporary work. Now the 80% are simply superfluous and excluded from production because capital only buys living labour if it is able to valorize it at an efficient rate of profit. Because of this development, slum cities all over the world are growing and increasing numbers of people are becoming redundant to the accumulation of capital and entering what Marx termed “the sphere of pauperism”.11 This is not an objective limit, ‘the last crisis of capitalism’.12 But something has happened, more and more people’s lives are unbearable and the revolts in the Middle East have established a perspective that points beyond capitalism.


Revolution and Communism


With the financial crisis the condition for a rediscovery of the communist project – the supersession of capitalist society – is materializing. It is important to understand that the present crisis is not just a separate economic phenomenon, an economic crisis; on the contrary it is a social phenomenon, since it is the relationship between capital and labour which is in crisis. This objective situation raises the question of an exit from capitalist society and communism as a transgression of the labour/capital relationship. It is in the revolts in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, etc. that this question manifests itself as it did in 1871 behind the barricades in Paris.

In the present situation it is important to stress that communism in the first revolutionary phase is less the development of new social relations than the destruction of capitalist society. The complementarity between labour and capital has so far carried social reproduction, meaning that the maintenance of the institutions of society was also the maintenance of capital as surplus value and accumulation. This identity between labour and capital has only existed in the Western economies; but there too it has gone into serious crisis. Thus the revolution cannot be the expropriation of the means of production; rather, the revolution is the destruction of the self-reproducing relation where workers are – and produce themselves as – wage labour. As Marx and Engels stressed in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, the proletariat is the class that destroys all classes, abolishing wage labour, money and the state. “The proletarians cannot become masters of the productive forces of society, except by abolishing their own previous mode of appropriation, and thereby also every other previous mode of appropriation. They have nothing of their own to secure and to fortify; their mission is to destroy all previous securities for, and insurances of, individual property”.13 The proletariat is its own destruction because it can only liberate itself by destroying the whole of society including itself. This was clear to Marx in 1848, just as it was clear to Bordiga and the other left communists after the First World War. And this is also clear to the revolutionaries in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria. There is no programme to realize. There is no image of what will come afterwards. No representations and no ideas of how the world will look, no images of a better tomorrow. But precisely because of this, an ideological process is initiated that manifests itself under the guise of a certain melancholia. A discrete eidetic process that rarely appears as anything but a dedication. or a sense that vulnerability is not a natural given. This idea is like a secret – not just kept from others but also and especially from oneself – because it is not clear where it is going and because there is no certainty that the idea can become a collective ideal.

As the Hungarian philosopher G. M. Tamás writes in “Telling the Truth about Class”, the proletariat is not a coherent, distinct culture that has to realize itself, it is rather a self-negating subject that ruins capitalism as it destroys itself.14 The revolution is not an affirmation and verification of the proletariat, it is not a programme for the self-realization of the proletariat – “The making of the English working class”, as E.P. Thompson wrote; on the contrary it is the self-abolition of the proletariat as a key element in capitalism. We have to get beyond the affirmation of the proletariat, as Roland Simon from Théorie Communiste writes.15

Unfortunately the organized labour movement in Western Europe had already rejected this perspective in the first decades of the twentieth century, thus accepting the capitalist system. It adapted itself to the market economy and contented itself with the improvements of the workers’ lives that the economy provided. It was more than anything else the reformist social-democratic parties and the unions that paved the way for this internal challenge or accommodation to the capitalist system, which certainly improved the lives of large parts of the Western European working class and forced the bourgeoisie to introduce democratic reforms; but all of this happened at the expense of a transgression of capitalism and at the expense of the working class in the rest of the world. These organizations fought for higher wages, shorter working hours and better working conditions within the framework of the capitalist mode of production and the nation-state. The class struggle was thus narrowed down to a question of the improvement of the conditions of the working class within the limits of capitalism. The independent initiative of the workers was thus channeled into bureaucratic organizational forms that were only interested in wage negotiations, a monopoly of the exchange of labour, and first and foremost their own reproduction. The union’s role as a counterrevolutionary capitalism-consolidating form was a reality.

Looked at positively, the working class movement was the central actor in the realization of the liberal political rights that the bourgeois revolution had launched but not realized, as Geoff Eley shows in Forging Democracy: The History of the Left.16 Without the resistance of the labour movement (and the women’s movement) a long list of groups excluded from democracy would not have become legitimate political subjects as they did during the twentieth century in the West. The labour movement forced the bourgeoisie to realize the ideals it had itself once mobilized in the struggle against feudalism, but which the bourgeoisie had refrained from generalizing to include the working class, the poor and women. A massive push from the labour movement was needed to materialize these ideals. But this came at a great cost, as the organized labour movement transformed itself into a capitalism-internal non-governmental organization accepting the formal separation of politics and the economy, where the latter is left outside any kind of political control. As left communists from Bordiga to Gilles Dauvé have stressed, the working class thereby reduces its potential anti-capitalist resistance to a fight for the interests of the working class in a national setting. The communist perspective thus disappears. The abolition of capitalism was suspended in favour of the securing of democratic rights and a bigger paycheck.17 The dismantling of the revolutionary potential of the Western European working class was already a problem in the inter-war period and after the Second World War, but in the present situation, characterized as it is by the exclusion of more and more people from wage labour, the reformist strategy is completely obsolete. We are now in a situation where the national democracies are nothing but exclusion and deportation machines administrating chaos. Beyond wage labour, the national democratic project of the labour movement dissolves and shows itself to be a risky detour that neither limits nor abolishes the capitalist mode of production.18 We have to get past the national democracies, the unions and the parliamentary parties.


The Return of the Avant-Garde


In the present conjuncture the question of the avant-garde naturally returns. Beyond the system-internal challenges and participator-engaging spectacles of 1990s art, in which democracy and the market were rarely questioned, it is again becoming possible to envisage artistic experiments that keep the revolutionary perspective in view and are associated with a radical transformation of the world. We have already seen art play a role in the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, and in the protest movements in Europe and the USA, echoing historical moments in the past when artists joined forces with the revolution. Artists like Kasimir Malevich, El Lissitsky, Tatlin, Osip Mandelstam, Vladimir Mayakovsky and Sergei Tretyakov all enthusiastically joined in the production of a revolutionary culture after the October Revolution, and in 1968 Debord and other Situationists participated in the occupation committee at the Sorbonne.


Image: Congress of the People of the East, Baku 1920


In Tunis and in Cairo we have seen the return of Dada in the form of a sneering art of provocation that ridicules the church, the mosque and the dictator, all the while self-critically investigating what a revolutionary process is including the question of mental inertia to which the Situationists devoted so much attention in the 1960s. Graffiti in particular has played a role in the events in Egypt on the streets where it has both emphasized the demands of the revolutionaries, honoured dead martyrs and mocked the ruling powers. The first examples were often basic anti-Mubarak words like “غادر” (step back) or graffiti against the police “ACAB” (All coppers are bastards) often readable not only on walls but also on tanks and police cars. Later came regular wall paintings where Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak and Tantawi were pictured as one person with different masks, or where the heads of Tantawi and other leading members of the military council were pictured as urinal stones. Artists’ spaces and publishing houses have also played an important role in Cairo and elsewhere as gathering places for revolutionaries and as the beginning of a new alternative public sphere.

From the start Occupy Wall Street has been characterized by a creative critical gesture where the diversion of public space has been important. From the occupation of Zuccotti Park, renamed Liberty Square, the erection of a Tahrir-inspired tent camp in the middle of the financial district of Manhattan, the use of the so-called people’s microphone for the projection of Occupy slogans on the 32-floor Verizon building in Lower Manhattan, Occupy Wall Street has used post-Situationist devices where urban space becomes the object of creative interventions that question the layout of the city and make visible alternative ways of organizing it beyond the constraints of a neoliberal city council, the political system and its police.

From the beginning, parts of the progressive art milieu have played an important role in the creation of Occupy Wall Street.19 It was the magazine Adbuster which, following an article by David Graber entitled “Awaiting the Magical Spark” about the possibility of using Tahrir Square as a model for critique, called for the occupation of Wall Street on 17 September 2011. At the same time the art activist space 16 Beaver in Brooklyn had arranged a series of meetings with the purpose of starting a protest movement in New York. Adbuster’s call and 16 Beaver’s preparations formed a synthesis with the occupation of Zuccotti Park and the establishment of a general assembly following the experiments in Spain.

A subgroup of Occupy Wall Street, Arts and Labor, inspired by the Art Workers’ Coalition and their activities in the late 1960s, has intervened in the art world by pointing out the links between the Whitney Museum of American Art, MOMA and a number of banks and finance companies that have played a central role in the introduction of new high-risk loan models. Arts and Labor has also actively supported the Sotheby’s workers organized in the Teamsters who have been fired. In connection with the Whitney Biennale 2012 the group created a fake Whitney homepage announcing that Whitney had stopped the collaboration with two sponsors, Sotheby’s and Deutsche Bank:

The Whitney will find a way to open the 2012 Biennial in spite of the Museum’s difficult decision to break with the two major corporate sponsors of the Biennial. […] Last year saw record-breaking sales with profits over $100 million for Sotheby’s; the pay of the CEO alone doubled to $6 million. Yet Sotheby’s has sought to break organized labor by starving their workers into submission – locked out of their jobs and without wages since August. […] The Whitney also announces its break with major sponsor Deutsche Bank, which is facing numerous lawsuits and accusations of fraud from both investors and the U.S. government. […] The reckless and even fraudulent financial speculation by banks like Deutsche Bank has created enormous social costs in terms of lost jobs, savings, and homes.20

At the opening of the Biennale, art workers also demonstrated outside the museum denouncing Whitney’s collaboration with Sotheby’s and Deutsche Bank.

The actions of Arts and Labor are highly relevant, but it is probably the extra- and anti-institutional initiatives – the explicit break with the art system – that will prove most relevant in the coming struggle. It is in the transcendence of the institutional framework that the avant-garde position is established and endowed with an anti-capitalist perspective; it may therefore be counterproductive to focus solely on art and culture as Arts and Labor tends to do (and as the Art Workers’ Coalition did in the late 1960s and early 1970s). It is probably in the creative protests on the street and online that the most important ‘artistic’ contribution takes place. It is in the supersession of art, theory, media and politics (as separate disciplines) that the revolutionary perspective manifests itself – as has been the case in previous historical situations where art has expanded its domain and created thought-experiments as an integral part of the mobilization of the proletariat. This has been the case from Rimbaud to the Situationists and beyond.


Counter-Revolution, Global Misery and the Perpetuation of Finance Capital


However, the protests that have spread across the world are being met by a counterrevolutionary reaction that is doing everything it can to contain and cancel the resistance to the ruling order. This reaction takes on different forms: in the rich part of the world it shows itself in the form of drastic cuts in welfare and culture in countries like Great Britain and Holland, or the complete destruction of society as is the case in Greece; in Africa further exploitation is on the menu in places like Nigeria and Kenya; protests are being criminalized in Benin; and in Zambia and South Africa striking workers are being shot by the police in what can only be described as massacres. The picture is more or less the same in South East Asia, where strikers are protesting miserable working conditions and minimal wages in Bangladesh, India and South Korea. Everywhere local capitalism demonstrates its readiness to engage in warlike scenarios that attempt to prevent alternatives manifesting themselves. In all of these contexts capital is the concentration of power in the hands of a small group in accordance with Marx’s description in Capital.21 Global finance capital is desperately trying to prolong a process of expropriation and exploitation that has been going on since the middle of the 1970s. We usually term this development neoliberalism, but should perhaps term it “the new enclosures”, following the Midnight Notes Collective, as we are faced with an offensive that is distinct from traditional liberalism in being a politico-economic programme implemented by the state and a number of supranational institutions like the EU, G8, WTO and IMF.22

If it was not clear before, it ought to be after 2008: state and capital are not two separate entities; on the contrary they are intimately connected. and the state therefore cannot save us from (finance) capital and the crisis. The state is subject to the structural constraints of capitalism; it does not regulates capitalism: on the contrary it is one of capitalism’s primary agents, guaranteeing confidence in the creation of future value, as a last resort with all its military power.

As Arno Mayer has shown, a revolutionary dynamic is always confronted with a violent reaction that tries to contain fundamental changes that can lead to the destruction of former hierarchies.23 This is also the case in the present situation, where protests threaten to undermine the ruling powers. As Mayer but also Paolo Virno argue, the attempt to contain the revolutionary threat is not only reactionary; the counter-revolution is itself transformative and tries to take on the revolutionary impetus in order to defend and develop capitalism.24


Image: Athens 2012 (Photo: Joen P Vedel)


The neoliberal accumulation regime is a good example of such a process where the critique of Fordist work system led to its ‘replacement’ by flexible working procedures where the distinction between the factory and society was abolished. As such, the counter-revolution is a socialization of the transgressive energies where the possibility of social change is diverted into a transformation of modes of production, lifestyles and social relations with a view to consolidating capitalism. The counter-revolution thus addresses some of the questions that the revolution poses, but comes up with completely different answers, as when the critique of Fordism is transformed into self-management and precarious work, or when the demand for a new society leads to a grotesque presidential election where the two candidates are the old regime’s foreign minister and a representative of the new friends of the military, namely the Muslim Brotherhood. In this way the counter-revolution is a conscious attempt to dissolve the revolutionary element in the social movement.

In Egypt we have seen how the military and the Muslim Brotherhood are forming an alliance which, supported by the USA and under cover of parliamentary democracy, is trying to limit the changes the revolutionaries are fighting for. The army and the mosque now constitute a double-headed regime trying to derail the revolution through religion and nationalism. The Western reception of the protests in Egypt and in the Middle East has been a perfect expression of counter-revolutionary manipulation where the revolts are reduced to young middle-class people’s wish to get rid of local dictators and get ‘our democracy’.25 In contrast to the Orientalist representations in the Western media, the mobilizations are caused by the totally desperate situation of the populations, who can only look forward to a hopeless life unless they are connected to the family dictatorships. This is not a question of human rights and free elections – what Seloua Luste Boulbina terms “monitored freedom”26 – but the prospect of a wage-less life in the slum cities.27 As it gets more and more difficult to get from Africa and the Middle East to Europe, the local lumpen dictatorships have been transformed into huge prisons to which one is sentenced for life. The number of the poor in Egypt has grown over the past few decades – in 2011 almost half the population of 84 million lived just under the poverty line of 2 dollars a day while 6 million lived in extreme poverty. About 12 million Egyptians live in slum areas and 48 % of the people with work are employed in the informal sector as slum workers or low-paid service workers.28 In other words millions of Egyptians are doomed to slum life and have nothing to lose. This is the background for the popular revolt, and at the same time the reason why the introduction of parliamentary democracy does not make a difference.

The attempts to prolong the hegemony of finance capital in Europe have not been less spectacular than the events in the Middle East. Technocrat governments have been formed in Greece and Italy, composed of bankers and bureaucrats from the European Central Bank with the mission of carrying out drastic austerity programmes hitherto used only in peripheral countries, not in the middle of the EU. Disaster capitalism has come home to roost.29 The goal of these exercises is to ensure the repayment of the Greek and Italian debt, and as such they are a direct continuation of the enormous bailouts of the banks after the crash in 2008. Finance capital still wields the baton, and we are now in a situation where EU countries are forced to undergo structural adjustment programmes just as several South American, African and Eastern European countries were forced to in the 1980s and 1990s by the IMF. The course of events is pretty much the same every time: because of failing competitiveness and an overblown, over-costly public sector, an ‘internal devaluation’ is required that will force wages down. In many of the countries where the IMF was in charge of reforms the local currency was also devalued, but that is not an option in, Greece which is part of the Euro; in the case of Greece it is only wages and public expenditure that are being cut, effecting a kind of socialization of capitalism. At the same time large-scale privatization is taking place in order to ‘open the country to foreign investments’. In the case of Greece this means selling off public services and infrastructure at very low prices, not unlike what happened in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Wall. As in Eastern Europe, the destruction of Greece creates possibilities for new investments and innovation, since capital can find labour power and means of production at a very, very low cost in Greece.

What has taken place in Greece and Italy can regarded as a kind of “bloodless coups” where the banks and the leaders of the Euro zone have overthrown elected governments and replaced them with their own people.30 The developments in Greece have been especially dramatic: in late October 2011 Prime Minister George Papandreou announced that the Greek population will be asked to vote on the so-called rescue package that the EU and the IMF have offered; then on November 4 the vote was cancelled by Papandreou after he had been publicly humiliated by Merkel and Sarkozy at the G20 meeting in Cannes; and a couple of days later Papandreou stepped down in favour of Lucas Papademos, former vice president of the European Central Bank, who formed a coalition government composed of former ministers from Papandreou’s PASOK, but also from the extreme right party LAOS, which has not been part of any government in Greece since the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974. Later came an election in May 2012, in which the two traditional parties PASOK and ND lost ground and the old communist SYRIZA got 16 % of the votes, while the fascist XA party entered parliament with almost 7% of the votes cast in the election. Since all attempts to negotiate a government formation were fruitless, and talks about turning Greece into a protectorate arose, a new election followed in June 2012 in which ND got 30% and SYRIZA got 27% of the votes, enabling ND to form a new coalition government composed of ND, PASOK and the social-democratic DIMAR with Antonis Samaras from ND as the Prime Minister.31 In Italy Silvio Berlusconi lost his majority and was forced to resign in November 2011. In an extraordinary move the Italian president Giorgio Napolitano invited Mario Monti, who was not a member of the parliament, to form a new technocratic government after making him a lifetime senator. As a former EU commissioner with responsibility for the Internal Market of the EU, and as a former advisor to Goldman Sachs and numerous other global companies, Monti is a perfect embodiment of finance capital. Characteristically, his government is composed of bankers, lawyers and businessmen. As Enzo Traverso writes, Monti is a kind of commissionary dictator serving the interests of global finance capital put in place by the President (who is only supposed to nominate the candidate proposed by a majority in the parliament) and accepted by a bankrupt parliament.32 Monti’s mission was clear and he immediately introduced emergency austerity measures with reference to “national responsibility” and “the Greek danger” making it evident that austerity is not a transitory measure but a norm to be followed for the foreseeable future.

We must not harbour any illusions about the ruling powers’ will to defend themselves and prevent the crisis from developing into something new. The fate of the alter-globaliztion movement, which was violently suppressed even before 9/11, speaks its own language, as does the repression of the Second Intifada in Palestine. With the state of emergency, bombing, torturing and detaining became part of the ruling powers’ ‘normal’ mode of operation. Today we are in a situation where police and military are ready to manage any kind of unrest or turmoil in accordance with the radically expanded powers of the anti-terror laws.33 Thus it makes no sense to imagine that the revolution will not be met by a strong and varied deployment of forces. It will. We can already see that in Greece, Spain, South Africa… It is not likely that all conflicts will be solved without physical or verbal violence. State power will unfortunately not just disappear by itself. It will never die by itself, fade away quietly. On the contrary it will mobilize all necessary resources in the defence of the present order. Significant historical changes rarely happen peacefully. This does not in any way mean that we should fetishize violence, but non-violence is not an option. The goal is to create something different (from yet another state with an army or a police). We have to be creative as we break down the state and capital. As the revolutionaries of Tahrir Square write in their support statement to Occupy Wall Street:

It is not our desire to participate in violence, but it is even less our desire to lose. If we do not resist, actively, when they come to take what we have won back, then we will surely lose. Do not confuse the tactics that we used when we shouted ‘peaceful’ with fetishizing nonviolence; if the state had given up immediately we would have been overjoyed, but as they sought to abuse us, beat us, kill us, we knew that there was no other option than to fight back. Had we lain down and allowed ourselves to be arrested, tortured and martyred to “make a point”, we would be no less bloodied, beaten and dead. Be prepared to defend these things you have occupied, that you are building, because, after everything else has been taken from us, these reclaimed spaces are so very precious. […] By way of concluding, then, our only real advice to you is to continue, keep going and do not stop.

So where are we now? The revolts in North Africa and the Middle East and the Occupy movement have made a real change in perspective possible, and a coherent resistance to eleven years of emergency with extreme inequality, wars, ecological destruction and exclusion is being established. The global collapse of the money economy has begun. This is the place where we begin.



1 These structural contradictions have been pointed out by a number of people including: Robert Brenner: The Boom and the Bubble: The Us in the World Economy (London & New York: Verso, 2002); Loren Goldner: “The Biggest ‘October Surprise’ of All: A World Capitalist Crash”, 2008,; Jean-Luc Gréau: Le capitalisme malade de sa finance (Paris: Gallimard, 1998); David Harvey: The Enigma of Capital and the Crisis of Capitalism (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); Michel Husson: Le grand bluff capitaliste (Paris: La Dispute, 2001).

2 A ‘normalcy’ that in the first and second world was based on a dramatic fall in real wages and real living standards for the majority of the population (in the USA real living standards dropped by 20 to 30 % despite the fact that women entered the labour market in the period and thus contributed (directly) to the total household income), permanent unemployment of about 10 % in Western Europe and the almost total destruction of the state capitalist welfare system in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. If we look at the situation in South and Latin America and parts of the Middle East the picture is of course even more grim; we are talking about millions and millions of dead as a result of disease, hunger and slum conditions, and billions of destroyed lives; hundred of millions of people are trapped in a state of near-genocide. Even the East Asian ‘miracle’ is no one-dimensional success; in China alone there are more than 100 million unemployed who are barely able to survive, and 800 million farmers who have not been part of the economic upturn that has taken place since 1987. Cf. Loren Goldner: “The Historical Moment that Produced Us: Global Revolution or Recomposition of Capital”, 2010,

3 Robin Blackburn: “Crisis 2.0”, in: New Left Review, no. 72, 2011, p. 33.

4 The Arab Spring constitutes what Hamid Dabashi terms “a delayed defiance” of domestic tyranny and globalized disempowerment alike, creating “a reconfigured geopolitics of hope” subverting not just the political regime (of Ben Ali, Mubarak, etc.) but also the régime du savoir of the post-colonial capitalist world order. The Arab Spring: The End of Postcolonialism (London & New York: Zed Books, 2012), pp. xvii-xviii.

5 This was clearly stated in the statement formulated by the Egyptian revolutionaries in support of Occupy Wall Street: “To the Occupy movement – the occupiers of Tahrir Square are with you”: “Indeed, we are now in many ways involved in the same struggle. What most pundits call ‘the Arab spring’ has its roots in the demonstrations, riots, strikes and occupations taking place all around the world, its foundations lie in years-long struggles by people and popular movements. The moment that we find ourselves in is nothing new, as we in Egypt and others have been fighting against systems of repression, disenfranchisement and the unchecked ravages of global capitalism (yes, we said it, capitalism): a system that has made a world that is dangerous and cruel to its inhabitants. As the interests of government increasingly cater to the interests and comforts of private, transnational capital, our cities and homes have become progressively more abstract and violent places, subject to the casual ravages of the next economic development or urban renewal scheme.”

6 According to Le Monde there were two million blank votes during the second round of the presidential election in France on 6 May, 2012. Alexandre Léchenet: “Plus de 2 millions de votes blancs et nuls”, in Le Monde, 7 May, 2012.

7 Georg Lukács: “Class Consciousness” [“Klassenbewußtsein”, 1920], transl. Rodney Livingstone,

8 “The greater the social wealth, the functioning capital, the extent and energy of its growth, and, therefore, also the absolute mass of the proletariat and the productiveness of its labour, the greater is the industrial reserve army. The same causes which develop the expansive power of capital, develop also the labour power at its disposal. The relative mass of the industrial reserve army increases therefore with the potential energy of wealth. But the greater this reserve army in proportion to the active labour army, the greater is the mass of a consolidated surplus population, whose misery is in inverse ratio to its torment of labour. The more extensive, finally, the lazarus layers of the working class, and the industrial reserve army, the greater is official pauperism. This is the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation.” Karl Marx: Capital [Das Kapital. Erster Band, 1867], transl. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling,

9 Hans-Peter Martin and Harald Schumann: The Global Trap: Globalization and the Assault on Prosperity and Democracy [Die Globalisierungsfalle. Der Angriff auf Demokratie und Wohlstand, 1996], transl. Patrick Camillier (London: St. Martin’s Press, 1997), pp. 3-4.

10 Chris Hedges: “Why the revolution must start in America”, in Adbusters, no. 96, 2011, p. 4.

11Karl Marx: Capital, op. cit.

12 Pace Théorie Communiste: “Théorie de l’écart”, in Théorie Communiste, no. 20, 2005, pp. 7-201; Robert Kurz: Weltmacht und Weltkrise. Die Grenzen des Kapitalismus (Frankfurt: Eichborn, 2011).

13 Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels: Manifesto of the Communist Party [1848], transl. Samuel Moore,

14 G.M. Tamás: “Telling the Truth about Class”, in Leo Panitch og Colin Leys (eds.): Socialist Register 2006 (London: Merlin Press, 2005), pp. 228-268.

15 Roland Simon: Fondements critiques d’une théorie de la révolution. Au-delà de l’affirmation du proletariat (Paris: Senonevero, 2001).

16 Geoff Eley: Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in Europe, 1850-2000 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).

17 Cf. Amadeo Bordiga: “The Democratic Principle” [“Il principio democratico”, 1922], transl. anon, and Gilles Dauvé og Karl Nesic: Au-delà de la démocratie (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2009).

18 Left Communists like Henk Canne-Meijer already knew that more than 80 years ago. “What, now, must be the attitude of the revolutionary workers to the abolition of bourgeois-democratic rights? Is it a “stern revolutionary duty” to defend the political rights to the uttermost? We say: No. We are of the opinion that anyone who fights for “democratic rights” is defending a lost cause. Democracy is not in place in a society where capital is concentrated in a few hands.” “The rise of a new labour movement” [“Das werden einer neuen Arbeiterbewegung”, 1935], transl. anom.

19 For a good introduction, see Yates McKee: “The Arts of Occupation”, in The Nation, 11 December, 2011,


21 Karl Marx: Capital, op. cit.

22 Midnight Notes Collective: “The New Enclosures”, in idem: Midnight Oil: Work, Energy, War, 1973-1992 (New York: Autonomedia, 1992), pp. 317-333.

23 Arno Mayer: Dynamics of Counterrevolution in Europe, 1870-1956: An Analytic Framework (New York & London: Harper & Row, 1971).

24 Paolo Virno: “Do you remember counterrevolution” [“Do you remember counterrevolution”, 1994], transl. Michael Hardt, in Michael Hardt & Paolo Virno (eds.): Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics (Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), pp. 241-657.

25 Cf. Rabab El-Mahdi: “Orientalizing the Egyptian Uprising”, in Jadaliyya, 11 April, 2011,

26 Seloua Luste Boulbina: “Sortir de l’impuissance et de l’oppression”, in Lignes, no. 36, 2011, p. 5.

27 For a description of Egypt’s slum cities, see Amnesty International: ‘We are not dirt’: Forced Evictions in Egypt’s Informal Settlements (London: Amnesty International, 2011).

28 Gouda Abdel-Khalek: Growth, Economic Policies and Employment Linkages in Mediterranean Countries (Geneva: International Labour Organization, 2010), p. 16

29 Naomi Klein: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (London: Penguin, 2007).

30 Stathis Kouvelakis: “The Greek Cauldron”, in New Left Review, no. 72, 2011, p. 17.

31 Thomas Straubhaar: “Wir brauchen ein Protektorat”, in Der Tagesspiegel, 6 May, 2012.

32Enzo Traverso: “Le comité d’affaires de la bourgeoisie. L’Italie de Mario Monti”, in Lignes, no. 39, 2012, 122-131.

33 German commentators talked about the possibility of sending peace-keeping forces to Greece. Cf. Michael Martens: “Griechenland. Eine Schicksalswahl”, in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 18 May, 2012. In the USA the FBI are actively working against the Occupy movement, infiltrating it and accusing it of terrorism. The parallel seems to be the destruction of the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s. Cf. Arun Gupta: “Cleveland Occupy arrests are the latest in FBI’s pattern of manipulation”, in The Guardian, 28 May, 2012.