Out of the gloom

By Hilary Wainwright

August 8, 2019 · 3 min read

It may be summer in the northern hemisphere but politics is more gloomy and the lack of light demoralising. The latest information about the precariousness of our planet and, at the same time, the relentless rise of the racist right, from Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil to the Brexit Party in Britain, makes Fredric Jameson’s famous remark, ‘It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism’, as realistic as ever. As it does Mark Fisher’s explanation in terms of all the work that has gone into ‘persuading people that it is the only viable system’, so that ‘capitalism seamlessly occupies the horizons of the thinkable’.

A glib response is to take up the challenge by simply resolving that we anti-capitalists had better get our act together to catch up and convince people that there is an alternative after all.

It is glib for several reasons. First, because it is not evident who the anti-capitalist social forces are that have the capacity to ‘catch up’ with the pace at which the end of the world is looming into sight. They are certainly not just the anti-capitalists of the past. Many (and I include myself) have been too slow fully to understand the Promethean character of capital accumulation, appropriating nature to fuel its rapacious drive for profit, and the racialised nature of capitalist exploitation.

New generations of activists are coming together, however, in ways defined not only by their youth but also by a qualitatively greater diversity of race, gender and relation to wage labour. They are awakening the imaginations of many others who until now have feared irreversible damage to the planet but never imagined an end to the capitalist system of production that caused it. These new and determined organisers come from communities at the frontlines of both climate change and the attacks of the far right.

Indeed, it is the convergence of these two threats that begins to undermine capitalist persuasion. Such persuasion has worked in the global north because its employed population has a vested interest, albeit partial, in the present system. It is, relatively speaking, privileged in the context of climate crisis – what Cameron Joshi describes as ‘the greatest act of systemic racism in human history’.

The other side of this is that the people who suffer most, north and south, are those on whom the system depends and who therefore have a significant source of power when they refuse to comply with its reproduction (see ‘Open Letter to Extinction Rebellion’). And since it is corporate power that is at the centre of the racist climate crisis, then the revolt of the most dispossessed – whose growing self-organisation is described by Shaista Aziz (page 27) – makes it possible to imagine the end of corporate capitalism.

But revolt from below alone is not sufficient. For the transformational power of the dispossessed to be fully realised we also need legislative power. It is the hope of this combination of state power with the transformational power of the dispossessed that Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to the Labour leadership embodied.

We cannot afford to lose this dynamic under the pressure of Brexit and of Westminster. But we have a lot to do to keep that hope alive. Look out for the next issue of Red Pepper as Labour meets in September, hopefully to renew its ability to support the new forces of change to take control alongside the old.

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