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Re: <nettime> joxe's empire of disorder
Brian Holmes on Mon, 2 Dec 2002 01:24:24 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> joxe's empire of disorder


Keith's Hart's answer to Ken Wark is brilliant writing, because it 
takes all the terms of the arguments seriously enough, and 
historically enough, that a next step can then be envisaged. Keith 
recounts "the formation [in the 1860s-70s] of new industrial states 
by means of national revolutions from above, all in the name of 
democracy and science." I'd say the next step or the next scale of 
that kind of argument begins right here

>  In 1973, an increase in oil prices plunged the world
>economy into a depression from which it has still not recovered.

The 1973 depression was caused by the increased oil prices; but 
behind them was the larger issue of an inability of the capitalist 
states to go on extracting resources, under the conditions of their 
own choosing, from the formerly colonized countries. The increase in 
the raw materials bill coincided with a resurgence of class conflict 
in the core countries, with steep increases in the working hours lost 
to strikes (the highest levels were reached in Britain in the early 
70s). "Neoliberalism" emerged, in Britain and the US, as what now 
appears an ultimately untenable solution to this double crisis, both 
of imperialism and of the capital-labor compromise.

The "solution" was fiscal, geographic, and financial. Cut taxes on 
corporations; negotiate traties making it possible to produce 
wherever labor is cheapest, and to sell products wherever there is 
money to buy; and create a world financial market that could gather 
capital for the creation of productive plant and infrastructure. This 
was sold on the rhetorical level as being an extension of "liberal" 
thinking, i.e. free market plus democracy. What's "neo" about it is 
what really sold it: the impossibility for countries to compete if 
they don't join free-trade zones; the unrefusable offer of foreign 
investment capital once the free trade zone is installed. The 
"positive" effect was to reimpose an economic discipline both on the 
working class in the advanced countries (through fear of losing jobs 
to the south), and on the formerly colonized countries (through debt 
and dependency on investment). Call it globalization.

I think that what we are seeing now is that the disciplinary 
mechanism of financially regulated globalization doesn't work. 
Subjugated economies collapse (Argentina); fractions of the world 
population revolt (terrorism); the US cannot maintain its lucrative 
position as the banker/coordinator of world industrial development 
(stock market crash). Under these conditions, the fragility of the 
nation-state as the political form of a compromise imposed by capital 
on populations becomes too great. The crisis of the 1970s returns. 
But the real solution being proposed is obvious, and has been under 
preparation all along. The nation state consolidated in the late 
nineteenth century will be abandoned for regional blocs: NAFTA/FTAA, 
the enlarged EU, and an enlarged ASEAN including and dominated by 
China (for which the treaties now exist). These blocs would allow 
direct administration of labor and markets over large and very 
unequally developed areas, without all the pseudo-liberal 
complexities of the financially governed "borderless world." And the 
blocs would also fight to exploit what they don't directly control 
(Mideast oil, anyone?). But to achieve that "solution" means 
abandoning some of the post-89 rhetoric of liberalism and democracy - 
and for that, you'd need serious reasons. If we're unlucky, it may be 
that in retrospect a world civil war whose beginning is marked by 
September 11 will be seen to have played the same kind of role in 
cementing the unequal class relations of the new regional blocs as 
the conflicts of the 1860s and 70s did in establishing the 
capitalist-dominated  democracies of the industrialized nation-states.

Had Engels lived in the globalizing 1990s he would never have 
"feared" that society was being coordinated faster at the top than at 
the bottom: because it was painfully obvious. Only since 1994 and 
above all since 1999 have people even begun to imagine that 
alternative forms of coordination from the bottom up might be 
possible on the regional-bloc and world scales. One of the things 
that has pushed me to collaborate on the mapping work I've been doing 
with Bureau d'Etudes (more on that sometime later) is the desire to 
contribute to the very possibility of conceiving those scales in some 
kind of detail. As for the step after that, what I see, darkly, are 
efforts to make uuniversal rights substantial by constructing and 
defending "commons" where free access does not equal destruction of 
resources: this, from natural resources like water to social ones 
like housing, energy, mobility and communication. I think the coming 
battle with capital will have to take place in these areas, and not 
only over the terms of waged labor.

Now, to get back to Keith Hart, I don't know if liberalism in the 
manner of John Locke can really help in this process of imagining, 
then articulating an alternative coordination that can operate on the 
regional/world scales. But I'm willing to look at the arguments! I 
suppose it has something to do with legal and technical architectures 
allowing trade between freely associating individual producers, 
outside of the price-fixing markets that corporations create to their 
advantage under state capitalism. But haven't we had these arguments 
on nettime before ("digital artisans," "post-fordist labor," De 
Landa's borrowings from Braudel on small-scale markets)? And don't 
those kinds of alternative economies also depend on the existence of 
socialized commons? Sounds like multitudes to me. Not all the Left is 
against that kind of thinking. But whatever you want to call it, the 
tough and truly political question is how to institute some more 
egalitarian relations in this crazy world.

Brian Holmes

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