Don't be afraid to take a big step; you can't cross a chasm in two small jumps

David Harvey – Organising for the Anti-Capitalist Transition

In Anti-capitalism, Marxism, Zizek on February 7, 2010 at 2:37 pm

‘Of course this is utopian! But so what! We cannot afford not to be.’

A Fantastic piece drawing from David Harvey’s new book appeared online last week. If this is a taster of what’s to come in the ‘The Enigma of Capital‘  we can look forward to some incredibly interesting debate.  Perhaps the most important issue Harvey points to is the question of legitimacy which the ongoing crisis of Capitalism should raise. In the darkest days of the most recent crisis ‘the irrationality of capitalism’ was plain for all to see.  We need only consider the incredible amounts of money thrown at the crisis next to the continual and immense suffering of the poorest to view this quite unstomachable contradiction.

Harvey, however, suggests this question of legitimacy is a curious case. Curious, at least in the Sherlock Holmes sense, to the extent that it remains one rarely asked. Like Jameson, Zizek and, most recently, Mark Fischer, Harvey argues that within our ideological milieu the legitimacy of Capitalism as a system is seldom questioned.  It is a problem made all the more accute alongside Harvey’s prediction that if we continue with the current  ‘exit strategy’ ‘then almost certainly we will be in another mess within five years’.  Based on much of the theoretical work laid out in Limits to Capital, Harvey suggests that the mass devaluation that a crisis demands has been restricted by intervention with fictious money serving only to paper over the cracks. As he argues, ‘The faster we come out of this crisis and the less excess capital is destroyed now, the less room there will be for the revival of long-term active growth’

If this is the case then our fundamental task, as the title of the piece suggests, is Organising for an Anti-Capitalist Transition.  There is certainly a hint of Zizek in Harvey’s provocation that being Utopian, radical and taking risks is imperative (I was immediately reminded of Zizek’s notion that we need to invent a new mode of dreaming in times of deep crisis, as well as Adorno’s ‘the dreams do not dream’).  I think this element is all the more important when considering much of Harvey, nothing less than hugely impressive, theoretical work: when reading Limits to Capital, I have often been struck with the question of what, in practical terms, does this imply? Yes, Harvey always points to the contradictions within Capitalism, but does so on such a total global level that it often paralyses thinking through the consequences – in terms of concrete politcal action at least.  It seems like Harvey begins to address this here. He talks of a ‘co-revolutionary’ theory which rejects the notion that a singular “silver bullet” or particular event can lead to the change that we need.  Rather, change, he argues, will occur through dialectically co-evolving moments mediated by contradiction and conflict – the very mechanism that capitalism came to being through and has sustained itself by internalising.  Harvey suggests that this requires both a local and global level and his assertion that ‘there is no way that an anti-capitalist social order can be constructed without seizing state power’ indicates that we must not be afraid of finding some way of translating the particular and diverse into the united and universal.

In sum, it is an exemplary short analysis that asks that basic, but all too difficult question,  ‘What is to be done’. The traces and early drafts of possible paths, and further questions, provide much food for thought.  It is certainly a step towards linking his economic and geographical work to social and political theory and I think the most interesting questions will arise in this space.   Immediately there are issues addressed to, as well as points of convergence with the Badiou/Zizek bloc. However, and I feel more importantly, it also gravitates towards traditionally  ‘liberal’ groups:  Harvey adamantly declares the failure of NGOs and similarly ‘progressive’ organisations whilst challenging them to consider the same questions which he is addressing.  He also considers how any movement must integrate and work alongside ’emancipatory movements around questions of identity’ and particular interests.  By doing this Harvey is opening a space to enable a broad coalition and facilitate – at the very least – a debate between a myriad of individual and group interests centred around the issue of capitalism’s failings.  Indeed, it is this above all else which is most urgently needed today.

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