At thursday evening’s talk at the occupied Empros Theater in Athens, Tiziana Terranova and I gave presentations on the political economy of social media to a diverse and engaged community.
The Empros Theatre is in central Athens, part of the overall urban geography that has been besieged by occupations, protest and police brutality in the recent surge of class conflict stirred by crisis and the accompanying austerity being inflicted on the Greek population. The theater was occupied by a collective of artists a few months ago, and hosts talks, presentations and events, often engaged in the cultural and political questions surrounding the resistance against the politics of austerity.
The financial crisis has pushed the greek economy into extremely dire straights. Eurozone pressure and speculative attack on government debt has forced the greek government into counterproductive austerity measures which are hotly contested by the population. As demand falls as a result of austerity-driven spending reduction, the economy sinks further into stagnation, in turn reducing taxation levels, leading to more austerity, and so on. A classic vicious circle.
The situation has unmasked the folly of the Euro. If Greece had monetary sovereignty, the government would have recourse to all sorts of monetary and fiscal means to stabilize demand and stimulate the economy, but because Greece is part of the Euro monetary union, it’s hands are tied. As a user, and not an issuer of it’s currency, Greece can not control it’s monetary policy, and as a result, has concrete limitations on its fiscal policy as well. It can neither increase spending to stimulate the economy, nor can it issue bonds and adjust lending rates to influence interest and control the cost of servicing its debt. All it can do is raise taxes and cut spending, and while these may stave off default and move towards Eurozone dictated fiscal constraints, these do not do what the greek economy desperately needs to recover, that is,
create demand, and thereby employment, increase tax levels, etc.
Within Eurozone Monetary policy is centrally managed. Yet, Eurozone nations may be, and usually are, out of sync at any given time in terms of what sort of policy best suites their current economic situation, and policy is naturally driven by the bigger economies, such as those of Germany and France, and not according to the interests of smaller economies like Greece. Thus, the greek people pay the price for a financial situation that was not of their own making. While other nations, especially the financial elite within them, are able to escape consequence.
Yet, while one could conclude that if Greece left the Euro and regained monetary sovereignty it would protect it’s people, sadly, not even this is likely to be true.
The political elite of Greece are beholden to the global financial elite and remain fully committed to the neoliberal program of wich the Euro was once shining jewel. The destruction of the welfare state, and immiseration of the workforce is not just a unhappy consequence of the neoliberal agenda, it is the goal. Thus, the Euro and the constraints it places on a nation’s ability to pursue the public good is quite intentional. And as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Even without the Euro, the intent remains. There is no reason to doubt that the henchmen of neoliberalism would, in any case, find ways to continue to push greek workers towards destitution. This is the case in the US and the UK, where despite possessing monetary sovereignty, these governments seems to be more interested in insulating financiers from loses, rather than actually stimulating the economy and thereby benefiting the whole of the people.
The problem is that the role of the State is to mediate among the classes on behalf of the ruling class. This is a simple political fact that can not be changed. The ruling class controls the bulk of the wealth in society and thus has the means to relentlessly push it’s own interests, and always eventually get its way. And with each victory, strengthen its position further.
Not ambitious politician or party can represent any other class, though they can represent different factions within it. To fail to attract the support of at least some faction of the ruling class amounts to handing victory to your rival, at least in most cases, and certainly in the long run.
The structure of the social order is the mirror image of the structure of wealth in society. It should be fairly safe to believe that even if the Greek government had the monetary sovereignty to intervene in the economy of behalf of their people, they would not.
Within a capitalist economy, wealth flows to owners of capital, and thus concentrates in fewer and fewer hands, while the share of wealth available to the great masses of people gets ever smaller, and with it, there political influence as well.
But for the largely autonomist crowd at the Empros theatre, the loss of political influence is not directly the most critical loss.
As with mutualist, syndicalist, “P2P” and other political views that can be described as autonomist, which can broadly include the free culture and free software movement, Occupy Wall Street, the Indignados of Spain, etc, a large current in the Anti-Austerity movement in Greece also believes that we must create our own institutions, our own alternative structures that move beyond the meagre choices offered by bourgeois society and prefigure the future society we are fighting for.
And that is right, that is also the main form of political struggle that Venture Communism proposes and explores mechanisms of realizing. Thus, the most important direct loss is not political influence, but rather mutual capital. Our capacity for investing in alternative structures comes from a single source: The amount of wealth that we, as workers, can consistently divert from consumption. Thus, as the share of wealth accrued by capital increases, not only does our political influence decrease, so does our capacity to invest in alternatives.
We can understand this as the macroeconomics of class struggle. The total wealth available for both political influence and alternative initiatives comes from the “monetary base” derived from the amount of wealth that workers can sustainably divert from consumption. Capitalism, as manifested in the neoliberal agenda, will work towards pushing this base towards zero, to increase its own base, its accumulated capital. Thus, the first dimension in the macroeconomy of class struggle os our collective will to fight to resist reduction of our base wealth. Mass collective struggles against further reduction of benefits and wages are crucial. “Counterpoltics.”
Yet, this is but one dimension, since our base of mutual capital is not only smaller than the accumulated capital of the capitalist class, but far less intensively utilized.
We must intensify the application of our base wealth. We do this by investing in alternative ways to produce and share, this means both the organisation of the surplus working power of unemployed and underemployed members of our communities, but also by making whatever money we can spare have available for social investment in commons-orientated means of creating wealth. “Venture Communism.”
And yet, these are still not likely to be enough. For not only is the Capitalist base far larger and more intensivly utilized, capital is also much more leveraged. Systems of capitalist finance multiply the amount of money by borrowing and lending. Much of the money available for investing and spending in the economy exists as a result of such activity.
We must not only protect our base wealth by means of counterpolitics, and intensify our application of wealth by means of venture communism, but we must expand the size of this wealth by means of “Insurgent Finance.” That is we must draw capital inflows into our social economy by drawing the existing accumulations of retained wages; worker’s pension funds. Pension funds are currently under the control of capitalist managers, and not only are they not being utilized to capitalize a people’s economy, but pension funds have historically been some of the most predatory financiers in the industry, most often working against the interests of workers.
We need to create securities that underwrite social ventures and convince pension funds, and workers in general, to hold them. In addition to the securities used to build capital for social enterprise, we must employ other mechanisms such as crowd funding and mutual credit to further stimulate our social economy. Insurgent Finance must not only capture capital inflows to finance the means of social production, but also create liquidity to capture demand.
We transform our society as we build the means satisfy our needs outside the financial cycles of capitalism. When we take demand away from forms of consumption that reproduce capital and further concentrate wealth, and instead satisfy the needs and desires of our communities by other means. When we produce and share according to our mutual needs and desires, and not according to the logic of profit capture.
While there is certainly much more that could be said about these dimensions of the macroeconomy of class struggle, the implied strategy is straight forward: Protect our base wealth with counterpolitcs, intensify it with venture communism, expand it with insurgent finance.
See some of you at Cafe Buchhandlung Tonight, I’ll be there around 9pm. (http://bit.ly/buchhandlung).