A Future Beyond the System

In these days of pandemics and pandemonium, as our horizons shrink and our communities fragment, it can be hard to keep a grip on the real, hard to hold a bearing on the lodestar of transformative change that this world so desperately needs.

How easy it is just to sink into the daily grind of just surviving, to let lockdown and corona fatigue limit our vision to just getting by. Think yourself lucky that you have some kind of income, bring home the vegan bacon and just let the world wash over you. Binge out on Netflix or whatever does it for you, pursue your addiction of choice, succumb to your own personal world-weariness and micro-hell, feel the cold familiarity of despair.

You have to look long and hard to find the crumbs of positivity among the detritus and the dross that drips down to us from on high. You have to want to find them, those nuggets of hope, those gems of resistance. But contrary to what the powers that be would have us believe, they are there. 

The wave of “Kill the Bill” protests currently happening throughout the UK in resistance to proposals for further draconian powers for the police, are also a direct result of the oppressive police tactics against the Sarah Everard protests, where people mourning the abduction and killing of a young woman at the hands of a police officer were beaten by police in an unprovoked attack.

On International Women’s Day, demonstrators protesting Mexico’s horrendously high femicide rates confronted police barricades erected around the presidential palace. In the same vein, women and LGBQTI protesters have been bravely demonstrating against the government’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, which provided a minimal degree of protection to women against male violence.

While Amazon workers in Alabama vote to unionize, fellow-workers in Italy and Germany have been staging strikes in protest at atrocious working conditions and low pay, at a time when the richest man in the world has managed to increase his wealth by over $73 billion during the pandemic alone. 

And of course, the heroic people of Myanmar continue to resist the increasingly brutal military dictatorship, in a struggle which has so far cost hundreds of lives.

And yet, even though these stellar moments of resistance provide us with a glimmer of hope in these dark times, we are far from weaving them into a coherent revolutionary narrative. Broad brush, the backdrop of events is relentlessly negative, the global trends in our early anthropocene, late capitalist era remain set on a hellish trajectory.

In the face of all the warnings from the global scientific community, the calls from NGOs and the General Secretary of the UN, and the worldwide protests by the climate movement, the world remains on a headlong rush into planetary catastrophe. All the indicators of global crisis are long past red: CO2 parts per million, ocean acidification, species extinction, deforestation, global heating, changes to ocean circulation and jet stream trajectory, increased wildfire risk and desertification, to name but a few. Our life support system is degrading in real time before our eyes, but world leaders, with perhaps a few exceptions, insist on the implacable logic of profit and power, über alles.

There is no long-term capitalist game plan at work here, no maniacal view to the millennia. Capitalist governments and industry leaders are lost in fantasy. From the cozy fantasy of green business as usual to the outright delusional fantasy of the conspiratorial Trumpist right, a consensus of short-termism rules, across the board. For what is our extractivist, casino economy if not a bet on its own survival? A quick buck is the name of the game, another billion squeezed from the pandemic here, another speculative billion made there, a couple of million in kickbacks and corruption thrown into the bargain.

The politics of capitalism is dead money. Dead, even as it flows. The dead money flowing into the accounts of Amazon chief Bezos directly contributes to the cumulative death of our world. We have more than enough money, resources, knowledge and technical capabilities to deal with all the problems facing the planet – in spite of the environmental catastrophes already baked into the system. Yet the logic of capitalism dictates that wealth belongs to individuals, and must only be used to create more of the same.

At a time when our common survival depends on our acting together, for the good of humanity, our legislative and economic systems are primarily concerned with defending the obscene wealth of the machines of capitalist accumulation, aka corporations.

Of course, our inability to act on these things, our disempowerment, is a measure of the short-term success of the system.

It is a measure of the political crisis of our movement, our movements. Our lack of togetherness, readiness, organisation and orientation.

It’s a lack we need to address. 

Yet how many of us are hunkered down right now, weathering the pandemic storm, focussing our efforts on keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe from infection? Balancing a need for safety with a hunger for anything resembling normalcy? Watching in disbelief as the familiarities of even a year and a half ago recede into a past era that will never be retained. Keeping our eyes fixed only on the here and now?

Time to take stock of our trial-run apocalypse.

You don’t have to be a right-wing conspiracist Q-Anon-supporting corona denialist to be unhappy with the way that governments are flexing their authoritarian muscles in these times of crisis. If all it takes is a virus to cause border lockdowns, travel bans, curfews, selectively applied bans on public gatherings, states of emergency, radical extensions to police powers, and the like, how much greater will be the state response when say, drought-related crop failures affect food supplies in rich countries, when weather-related catastrophes such as flooding, wildfires or mega-hurricanes simply exceed our ability to cope with them, or when the quality of available breathable air takes a sudden turn for the worse?

When the population at large is hit by some shock to their basic life-support system, and decides it is time to take to the streets?

The police and the state are going to need lots more power to enforce stay-at-home orders, curfews and city-wide lockdowns, and to defend the status quo.

In times of systemic crisis, capitalist governments turn to authoritarian solutions, with the unfettered fascist mob playing the role of useful idiots, driving the discourse rightwards. Meanwhile the heavy hitters of the capitalist economy, the power networks, transportation, retail monopolies, the extractive industries such as mining, oil and gas, have decided that the best response to the approaching crisis is to double down on business as usual, foot on the gas until we hit that wall.

I’m reminded of the old joke about a tourist arriving in some isolated village and asking one of the locals about how to get to the nearest town: “Oh, you want to go to X? Well I wouldn’t start from here”.

You want to get to an equitable, just, post-capitalist society in balance with the earth and its climate?

Yeah, well I wouldn’t start from here.

I wouldn’t start from 30 years of prevarication, procrastination and downright lying. I wouldn’t start with decades of inaction, turning the goal of keeping to 1.5 degrees of planetary warming into a nigh-on impossibility. I wouldn’t start with setting the biosphere up for the biggest crash imaginable.

Yet here we are.

But what does a unionization drive in Alabama have to do with stabilizing the climate? What do women demonstrating on the streets of Istanbul have to do with helping to ensure human survival?

They are challenges to the divine right of capital.

Ever since the Eighties, neoliberal governments in the industrialized countries, to say nothing of the absolutist, authoritarian and fundamentalist regimes around the world, have fought tooth and nail against any and every advance by women, the working class and the oppressed.

Even a change to a slightly more liberal regime in the USA is not going to undo that one basic fact.

So every step that increases our confidence, our level of organisation, our basic wellbeing, our aspirations and goals, is a step in the right direction, a crack in the dam. Every step that puts capital and power on the back foot, is the way we want to go.

Every struggle, be it ever so small, can lift our sights from the confines of the here and now, the prison walls of just surviving. In these days, when the system tells us that nothing can be changed, that our fate is sealed, we have to know that there is a future beyond the system, that another world is possible. 

But it’s not enough just to know that there is something beyond the system.

We have to turn the great beyond into the here and now.

We have to take our visions of how we want the world to be and fight just that much harder to achieve it in our own lives, wherever we are.

Sure, the goal now has to be the swift, global transformation of our ecocidal economy. But who’s to say where the first crack in the dam will occur? Nothing is set in stone anymore. Will a push for workplace democracy send a shockwave through the body politic of global capitalism? Will women standing up to the outrages of patriarchy become a broader call to challenge injustice and authoritarianism in all spheres?

If the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas, who can say what the actions of millions of determined people can have?

Who’s to know until we try?  

Author: Mike