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This morning, in the most important newspaper in Africa, Johannesburg’s Business Day, I come across this remark in the publisher’s weekly column: ‘The thing is that Americans, in a way none of the rest of us fully appreciate, are driven by an unshakeable conviction that if they work together they can do almost anything better than anyone else. That sort of conviction only occurs in democracies and the more pure the democracy, the stronger the consensus in society.’
Fortunately I can quickly turn to an antidote sitting on my desk, a vast tome that took more than a decade to construct, but that bullshit-detects such romanticism by revealing – better than anything else now available – Washington’s combined, uneven and fatally contradictory processes of imperialist expansion, catastrophic financialisation, excessively liberalised trade, intensifying class struggle and crisis mismanagement.
In The Making of Global Capitalism, Canadian political economists Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin provide a masterful century-long history of US corporate activity and state economic strategy. Insofar as capitalist states are where class interests are codified, their spicy reading of dry officialdom’s milquetoast narratives is absolutely vital to our knowledge about power.
Having worked with Panitch and Gindin during 2003-04, I can testify that their on-ground practices and building of a formidable community of radical scholars at York University’s political science department and in the Toronto left are exemplary, as is the Socialist Register project, which is properly catholic in treating the most crucial debates.
Grappling with the past five years of world turmoil, Panitch and Gindin were probably shaken by the recent period, for it was my experience that the very word ‘crisis’ was previously frowned upon in their Empire seminar, so convinced were they that mechanisms of accumulation and class domination were firmly in place. Financial markets did, then, appear smooth and seductive, especially to workers who shouldered unprecedented debt burdens along with widespread belief in ever-rising real estate prices. But this in turn created both a collaborative labour aristocracy steadily losing privileges, and the repo man’s knock at the door of the sub-prime house. As Panitch and Gindin explain, this was a divisive and atomising process in the US, compared say to earlier collective-action episodes such as Mexico’s 1995 ‘El Barzon’ debt rebellion or early 1990s South African ‘bond boycotts’.
It is here that Panitch and Gindin add so much to our understanding of too-clever elite displacement of persistent crisis, in my view. Still, though, they would describe the mid-1980s-2000s as an era of growth in which crisis tendencies of prior decades – born of a ‘profit-squeeze’ (i.e. worker militancy) – were actually resolved. But given those steadily rising debt ratios from the early 1980s, which can only partly be explained by technological advances in financial engineering , I still don’t buy it. My sense is that, like David Harvey’s argument in Enigma of Capital and Limits to Capital, global capitalism relied upon the spatial fix (globalisation), temporal fix (financialisation, stretching out payment times), and ‘accumulation by dispossession’ (imperialism) as crisis management techniques: i.e. shifting, stalling and stealing instead of the restructuring required to restart accumulation properly.
Yet thanks to Panitch and Gindin, we know much more about how this was arranged. Writing in their Washington-centric world (so unlike Hardt and Negri’s Empire), there are two corollaries that I hope are further debated. First is their tenacious denial of ‘the collapse of investment due to general overaccumulation’, which is disputed in other recent books by John Bellamy Foster, David McNally and Alex Callinicos. We could unpack whether vast software investments during the late 1990s splurge were real or bogus from the standpoint of surplus value extraction. And then, regarding profit rates, we might strip out rentier profits earned by most of the west’s biggest ‘productive’ firms and conclude with a different interpretation of genuine corporate health, contrary to the tycoons’ botoxed, steroided appearance, disguising their muscle-bound paralysis.
Second, we need to consider the lack of inter-imperialist rivalry in this story, at a time when world–1 per cent fragmentation foils globo-governance initiatives such as renewing the World Trade Organisation Doha round, legitimising the Bretton Woods Institutions, refashioning the currently anarchic world financial ‘architecture’, subduing Latin America’s pink tide, or making the UN security council work better for imperialism.
Most valuable, though, are the ways these Canadians set out anti-capitalist principles and critiques of reformism, and defend socialist aspirations. In perhaps no other site in the English-speaking academic world are such committed, principled and generous leaders so warmly received by colleagues and students, and more importantly, by workers and communities in struggle. This means taking with utmost seriousness both their analysis and strategy, for even if they do not always jump the gap perfectly, no one I know has a better working model.
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The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
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New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi