The 2008 financial crisis in the US led to a flurry of ink and predictions of world collapse of capitalism. None of that has come to be as of yet, but the significance of the crisis is still unsettled. This week’s piece comes to us from Scott Nicholas Nappalos, and argues that more than crisis we need to create the pre-conditions for collective struggles and to actively construct a new society beyond waiting for conditions to do it for us. The world financial crisis that burst onto the scene mostly around 2008 led to excessive predictions a total collapse of capitalism from both radical thinkers and rank and file activists. As the crisis settled into a new normal, it is worth taking stock of what those kinds of disruptions to the everyday order mean and how, if at all, they’re connected to achieving a better social order. While discussion of crisis and the dynamics of capitalism are extensive, how all that relates to movements for liberation is often absent. Even if some deeper crisis were to happen, without some movement towards a better alternative the possibilities for barbarity and other repressive societies are great.
A lot of weight is put on capitalism’s tendency to create periodic crises. Still crises are not internal to capitalism in the sense of conflicts that actually threaten the viability of continued capitalism. While conflicts are integral to capitalism (and all forms of social orders), this does not mean that inherently threatening conflicts are. Many of the worst crises of capital, such as the 1930s, actually produced recompositions that ultimately strengthened capitalism through social democracy, welfare state, and unionism. Of course what happened in the 1930s was a serious threat to capitalism, but serious threats can also help those in power and strengthen their hand in a way that relying on crisis to do the heavy lifting of liberation obscures. Crises do not inherently give us any certainty about the direction things are headed independently of how people respond to them.
The concept of equilibrium makes it easier to understand these facts, as conflicts internal to capitalism do not necessary create situations of disequilibrium for power. Conflicts, including severe conflicts, in fact are part of the health and dynamism of capitalism. Capitalism uses conflicts to reorganize, adapt, and constantly change the global structure of societies to maintain its dominance. Far from threatening capitalism, this self-transformative aspect has helped keep it dominant.
All societies maintain this character however. Conflicts emerge out of the relative limitations of societies to accommodate the needs, desires, and values of elements of its population. A certain level of acceptable kinds of struggles are internalized to different periods and compositions of power. Europe internalized peasant revolts for hundreds of years before they really got out of hand. Early 20th century USA and Spain internalized mutual class violence within a fairly stable labor regime for decades. When the boundaries of existing manageable struggles are reached, the system attempts to overcome the situation through self re-organization and recomposition.
A true crisis is a form of disequilibrium in which the order of dominant power is unable to cope with disordering forces and those rules begin to disintegrate, and new ones are created and begin vying for dominance. Rather than seeing these only in terms of objective facts (changes in technology, consumption, production, etc) or mental states (the desire for a new society), disequilibriums are created as part of ordering forces throughout society, emerging from the actions and ideas of all of us co-evolving with the objective factors shaping our actions. These emergent forces develop in threads that break from the existing order including new desires, beliefs, technologies, social relations, and elements that supplant or are themselves toxic to existing order.
Disequilibrium is not brought about then either only through prosthelatizing or waiting for the right set of events to come our way as a miracle. Within disequilibriums of dominant power are other powers. These powers have the force and function they do because they are made up of different forces of agency, and social elements. Because of our position from inside the mess of struggles as political actors its unlikely that we will be able to reliably anticipate, track, or predict how things unfold on any large scale. Regularly only emerges at higher levels of organization beyond what we see with our senses within the crowds. Still, understanding emergence and equilibriums, we can recognize that the actions of groups of agents have a fundamental role in the development of increasing deconstruction of reproduced order, and this occurs within the development of events in specifics contexts that facilitate the de-ordering of the system and emergence of a libertarian social order.
The values and aspirations of the political actors are key in helping sort the possibilities with the destabilization of power as we’ve known it. If a successful disequilibrium is able to come about a plurality of forces will step into the fray reformulating the interests, powers, and forces in choosing the path of humanity. To sustain a libertarian project defeating power alone isn’t enough. The victors have to anticipate and respond not only to the traps of today’s enemies, but also to future potential enemies and dead ends with the tools not just of capitalism but also the ideas and practices of revolution that will be turned against the populace for the sake of new minorities seeking to be rulers. For the blooms of liberty to grow we need fertile soil, but for the plant to thrive and rebuild it takes a forest with each element acting in concert to appease their drives. There are many wrong turns created by responding only to the needs of the moment, something which is moderated by a people mobilized by their convictions and ethics.
The priority here should then be in finding ways to act inside our moments that sustain and expand activities against the dominant order. Moving away from faith in the mechanics of crisis and history brings into view the role that people have. Capitalism will be overcome not merely when it breaks down, but when new orders replace it. The vision, values, and conceptions of all of us have a strong role to play in contributing to the emergence of those new orders, and have been too often ignored by many trying to find a path to another social order.
Direct action helps by exposing the injustices and weakness of the alternatives given to us while carving out sources of collective strength and a better life that is already within our immediate grasp. Likewise libertarian agitation can ferment the broader breaks in actions when married to the immediate concerns and lives of political bodies. Yet collective victories and direct action can only play their proper role when there is a people willing to fight. The willingness to carry on even when it goes against one’s immediate interest comes about through experience and an understanding of the potency of liberty and the righteousness of one’s fight with commitment to one and another. In today’s environment we are lacking in both commitment and collective clarity on the necessity to fight. The most crucial and immediate task of anarchists then is to help strengthen the preconditions for struggle, something that we can through building anarchist social struggles where our means, strategy, and tactics reflect our politics, and at the same time sustain consistent our ideas within daily existence in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and social spaces.