18 April 2013

If the left won't go global, it can’t win

I want first to rescue Callicles’s very valuable observation from the obscurity of the comments section:
[T]he experience of previous generations has shown that labor organizing repeatedly suffers from failures to update targets and strategy as the nature of the economy changes. So worker organizing becomes anachronistic and (as a result) stagnant. The flip side is that there can be transformational bursts of activity when the right target comes into view. When the UAW made the jump from plant-by-plant organizing to taking on the giant of GM in its entirety, at the national level, this was such a moment. Capital was coming to operate as a nationwide system, and needed to be confronted at that level. 
My thought is that, today, we can't make a dent in class forces in our country because class forces can no longer be confronted on the national level; taking on something like the Walmart global supply chain would then be analogous to taking on GM as a whole.
To this I would only add that the legislative and regulatory framework that provides the terrain for labor politics should be included as well. In other words, an effective progressive agenda would have to move to the global level both to directly confront corporations and to change the global rules that corporations play by.

As Callicles implies, there are some very strong and instructive parallels between the situation in which the left now finds itself and that which prevailed in the early days of the Great Depression in the United States. During the prosperous years of the Roaring Twenties, progressives had been left disoriented and demoralized by the failure of “the masses” to mobilize against the elite. The stock market crash of 1929 and deepening economic crisis after a brief false recovery opened up new possibilities both within the political elite—parts of which slowly began to question the old laissez faire doctrines—and within the population as whole, whose hopes of a prosperous future were brutally revealed to be as bankrupt as the financial system.

After several years of indecision and infighting, a (largely uncoordinated) two-prong progressive offensive took shape. The elite faction that came to power with the election of Franklin Roosevelt advanced a legislative program of improving the working conditions and raising the standard of living of the working class. By guaranteeing the right to collective bargaining, outlawing child labor, establishing a national minimum wage, setting standards for maximum hours and overtime pay, creating a national pension (Social Security), and investing federal funds in infrastructure and other collective goods, the New Deal not only created jobs for some of the unemployed, but established by law a baseline of wages, benefits, and workplace treatment that became the foundation of the postwar middle class.

Emboldened and empowered by the legislative initiatives of the political elite, organized labor fought the second prong of the progressive offensive: a new strategy and tactics of pressure against corporate power. The CIO broke with the conservative AFL, which represented the old guard of craft unions seeking to preserve the privileges of skilled workers by excluding their unskilled fellows. In contrast, the CIO sought to organize all workers within an industry, skilled and unskilled alike. Rather than prosecuting plant-by-plant campaigns as in the past, it made the integrated corporate production chains of the most powerful corporations the object of attack. And it struck at strategic points in the production chain, bringing the entire production process to a halt in order to demand industry-wide concessions. In the course of only a couple years, starting with the dramatic Flint sit-down strike of late 1936 to early 1937, the CIO won an incredible series of victories in the most important industries in the nation: autos, steel, mining.

The labor breakthroughs of the 1930s were epoch-making not merely because they won dramatic improvements in wages and working conditions. More significantly, they created the foundations for a completely new form of capitalism—Fordism—that was in many ways far more humane than what came before. Central to this process was a new political imaginary that created, for the first time, a truly national politics. Prior to the 1930s, although an integrated national market had taken shape over the previous four decades, there was no national politics capable of intervening in and reshaping it. The legal consensus and institutional reality was that the federal government had almost no power to regulate the national economy. Although the AFL was a national federation of labor unions, it did not act at the level of the nation—what would have been the point, since there was no authority capable of responding to such demands? The many projects that sought to alleviate the great suffering generated by industrialization, such as Hull-House in Chicago or the Henry Street Settlement in New York, primarily acted at the local level. Reform struggles associated with the Progressive Movement—for a minimum wage, public utilities, democratic representation, &c.—were fought at the state or city level.

Only after the national economy collapsed over the years 1929 to 1932 did a national politics become possible—and then only by defeating the powerful advocates of austerity and free-market dogma. And it was only by making demands that previously seemed impossibly ambitious that the economy was rescued and reshaped to overcome the extreme dysfunctions that had crippled it. Out of these huge structural changes came the unprecedented prosperity of the postwar period, when corporations that had once violently resisted the demands of labor instead worked cooperatively with the unions.

The parallels with our current bleak situation are notable. Over the last four decades, a truly global economy came into being for the first time (its nineteenth-century forerunner reached across the globe, but only weakly incorporated the vast majority of the global population). Like the national economy of the US in 1930, the global economy now teeters on the edge of disaster. The transnational corporations, like their national counterparts a century ago, grew rich by exploiting and excluding the majority of the population—but now the exploitation and exclusion that built neoliberalism threatens to bring the whole system down. The capitalists are on the verge of destroying their own prosperity and sinking everyone else into even greater suffering, yet there is no global politics capable of preventing the disaster by stepping in and remaking the global economy.

The parallels extend to political actors as well. Like the craft unions of a century ago, today’s unions are fixated on defending the disintegrating privileges of a prior age or fighting “realistic” battles for a narrow constituency rather than demanding an entirely new system that embraces the entire (global) population. Elites now, like those in 1930, are paralyzed within the ideological categories that made sense before the crash but now only push the crisis further.

Today every single political actor, whether they benefit from the status quo or suffer from it, is still thinking in the anachronistic terms of the past. If our near-term political goal (five to ten years) is to revive social democracy, or achieve a “New New Deal”, then the lessons of the Depression are clear. We must begin thinking in terms that are relevant to the future. We must confront corporations at the only level that can change them systematically: the global level. We must demand regulation at the only level capable of addressing the structural disadvantages suffered by workers: the global level. We must organize a movement at the only level with a chance to save the global economy, and all of us, from complete catastrophe: the global level.


  1. Just to stir the pot and perhaps play devil's advocate a bit, what would prevent the consolidation of a Neo-Fordist formation from simply pacifying the working class, as it largely did during the post-War era in the metropolitan capitalist countries? Assuming for the sake of argument some basic similarities between that moment and the program being outlined here and elsewhere on this blog, what is to prevent the great majority of people from deciding that things look pretty good with a decent job and good pay, particularly compared to how it was before, so what's the point of struggling really hard to try to overcome capitalism? I think if we're using the New Deal analogy, we should think about the limitations and the problems that the original New Deal entailed, particularly with regard to consciousness.

    There are some important historical contingencies, of course, such as the purging of virtually the entirety of the radical element from the labor movement in the U.S., and a uniquely galvanized global ideological situation between western liberalism and Soviet communism that made domestic brainwashing really effective. But there is also the important fact that the actually existing communist alternative is now gone, which was the basis for the revolutionary anti-colonialist, nationalist struggles throughout the global south during the Fordist period. Perhaps if we're thinking about some kind of global political-economic shift it would be useful to consider the different ways it would unfold in the metropole and the periphery, particularly insofar as much of the latter regions of the world would presumably be emerging into the circuits of capital accumulation for the first time, while in the global core it would be re-starting, so to speak. This is all sheer speculation so I don't wanna make too much of it, but it does seem like this distinction might be an important one to consider in any Neo-Fordist vision.

  2. The first thing to say is that, if somehow something like global neo-Fordism comes together, then it's really hard to say exactly what the political consequences would be, or what subjectivity would look like under those conditions. Structurally, the biggest difference with Fordism would be the role of the nation-state, which was fundamental to Fordism but would have to be increasingly marginalized if neo-Fordism were to be viable. Incidentally, I'm not sure I'd label the Cold War as a contingency, I think you could make an argument that it was the expression of the global systematicity of capitalism under Fordist conditions. But if that's true, then there are basic structuring practices of Fordism that are excluded by the very concept of neo-Fordism.

    At the same time, it seems like the integration of working class subjectivity into neo-Fordist society probably is part of the concept. That actually doesn't bother me too much. First, because that is infinitely preferable to the other potential futures that are on offer right now. But second, because we know from the Fordist experience that capitalism cannot shed its contradictory nature, that it will always produce dissent, and that it will eventually blow apart any particular regime of accumulation that manages to stabilize it for two or three decades.

    So in terms of politics, I see the current task of the left to be realizing neo-Fordism. If that were accomplished, the anticapitalist current would probably be marginalized for some decades, during which time we would need to prepare the ground, both conceptual and organizational, for the collapse of neo-Fordism, to ensure that the failure of the '60s doesn't get repeated. Part of that would involve bringing neo-Fordism closer to realization - e.g. pushing global equality further, just as the civil rights movement pushed for the integration of people who were still excluded from Fordism even after its advent. But alongside such an affirmation of neo-Fordism, we would have to sustain a critical position that points beyond it, something like the Frankfurt School but politically relevant.

    We should try to think through all of these issues a lot more in the future, it's something that hasn't even begun yet and the research and conceptual agenda is huge.

  3. There are some significant problems with your story.

    "Emboldened and empowered by the legislative initiatives of the political elite, organized labor fought the second prong of the progressive offensive: a new strategy and tactics of pressure against corporate power."

    This whole sentence is questionable from end-to-end. The labor bureaucracy was frightened by the fact that in 1933-4, as the economy gained a little ground, workers in Minneapolis, San Francisco, Akron, and took actions at a metropolitan-wide scale led by the Trotskyist Worker's Party, the American communist Party, and Muncie's American Worker's Party, respectively. Only the textile strike, which hit the previously seemingly strike-immune Southern textile industry at it's heart, was not led by some manner of socialists.

    in the south, the CP was organizing sharecroppers' unions and, against the AFL, de-segregated unions in mining and steel, which the CIO would later crush in combination with the KKK.

    The CIO was a response to the AFL's failure to respond to this crisis of leadership and the radicalization of American labor.

  4. "The labor breakthroughs of the 1930s were epoch-making not merely because they won dramatic improvements in wages and working conditions."

    This is just wrong, empirically. Most of the CIO strikes led to union shops and contracts, but most definitely not to improved wages and working conditions. Those would come about during and after WWII, in the wake of a tight labor market and then the extensive wildcat strikes that began in 1944 and lasted through 1946.

    What's more, they did not create the grounds for Fordism. The transformation of the labor process was already underway before the 1930's and it was the successful suppression of workers' struggles that was part of the saving and restructuring of capitalism, the creation of "Fordism". Keynesianism (The New Deal) was the other side of Stalinism and Fascism and it played a significant role in driving fascism forward in continental Europe thanks to U.S. monetary policies as well as promoting an insular isolationism in the U.S.

    Also, claiming that Fordism was "more humane" is rather laughable. It marked the incorporation of the worker as a mass consumer, but that was on the basis of the continuous separation of the producers from their own activity, a constant mechanization and automation that has also relentlessly made a large part of the world's population "redundant" from the point of view of capital.

    I really recommend watching "Finally Got the News ", reading Linhardt's "The Assembly Line", and consider reassessing your rose-colored view of "Fordism".

  5. I think we might be talking past each other a bit here. The historical details you raise are important for a precise understanding of the events that produced Fordism, but I don't think they really contradict the broad narrative I spelled out in the post.

    We might also be using the concept of Fordism in different ways. For me, Fordism is a global totality that revived and sustained accumulation, which was consolidated around 1949. It brought together a number of organizational, ideological, and cultural innovations that had emerged separately in the decades before World War II (some as early as the mid-19th century), but remained isolated until they were generalized by the events of the 30s and 40s. The labor process (what is often called Taylorism) was part of that, and that emerged well before the 1930s. But other key elements like the incorporation of organized labor into firm administration, the provision of secure jobs, and ongoing wage increases are rooted in the labor breakthrough of the 1930s. You're right that the suppression of radicalism during World War II and in the postwar period was central to saving and restructuring capitalism, but so was the initial burst of radicalism in the 1930s.

    I think it makes sense to group Keynesianism and Stalinism together because they were both viable variants of Fordism. Fascism was, in aspiration, a form of Fordism, but it was not viable. And though the constitution of a national economy in the US was involved in the rise of fascism, I wouldn't put the blame there. By 1933 the entire global social regime had collapsed, and assembling more or less self-contained national economies was by that point the only way forward.

  6. I should be clear on this point - I didn't say Fordism was humane. But I think it's hard to deny that it was more humane - both more humane than its predecessor, liberal capitalism, for most of the population, and certainly far more humane than the state of chaos and mass death that followed the collapse of liberal capitalism and that its advent put to an end.

    I think we're in a similar situation right now. Neo-Fordism would still be a form of capitalism, and as such a fundamentally undesirable form of social life. But I don't think the potential futures immediately before us include a desirable society.

    Neo-Fordism is both the most humane possibility, and the only one that could lay the groundwork for a real movement against capitalism. I'm certainly open to a different suggestion, but so far I haven't seen one that is very convincing.

  7. '' the actually existing communist alternative'' was not communist and, by my experience, was not required as it did
    little/nothing to assist in nations such as Guatemala -- Of course the elite and official military as well as many in the U.S. emphasized exactly the contrary notion.

    I may be reaching back into the 1970s and '80s, but primary gravity of the opposition[s] flowed from, acted because of, indigenous contradictions such as class antagonism between simultaneous yet different modes of production within same nation.

  8. By neo-Fordism Walker seems to mean a government-regulated industrial system that would integrate global populations into the production process, producing prosperity at the cost of a certain ideological conformity, but also releasing the potential for dissent and struggle that is intrinsically contained in full employment.

    In my view, the increase in productivity brought about through labor-saving (and wage-repressing) capitalist technology make this whole scenario very unlikely. If the system remains capitalist, it cannot employ a majority of the population.

    What's more, both the Soviet and Western versions of Taylorist-Fordist production depended on vast global markets without advanced technology. These are disappearing. As Minqi Li points out in "The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World System," the global economy is now moving to the point where it will be composed almost exclusively of core and semi-peripherical countries. That leaves no undeveloped periphery to exploit.

    And then there's another thing: Keynesian Fordism depended on national borders within which production factors - like labor - could be regulated, for better and worse. But those national borders (including currency controls) only held tight so long as war-devastated countries remained on an emergency footing. In Europe those conditions remained only until 1958 with exchange-market liberalization, and then the stagnation of growth began already in the late 60s. There is no use hoping for a re-run of that series.

    For these and many other reasons I think Fordism is a dead category and it does not help us to imagine, predict or forestall the future. In the late 60s and early 70s, many people on the left (from elements of SDS to the French economist Michel Aglietta) expected the coming of a neo-Fordism. It never arrived - and the just-in-time industrial production of Asia and other outsourcing zones bore no relation to Fordism. Neoliberalism superseded it and history does not run backwards. We have to be alert to actual and emergent conditions.

    Sill in all, great debate on a valuable platform, thank you.

  9. Thanks for your comments Brian. I completely agree that "we have to be alert to actual and emergent conditions." I think that's what differentiates what we're trying to do on this blog from what most other radicals do in their writing, which tends to either stop at critique without developing a politics, or formulates a politics that is wildly unrealistic. One of the main reasons I'm arguing for neo-Fordism as our near-term political goal is that this is the only coherent progressive alternative that has widespread support right now (with some important problems).

    I thought this line was interesting: "Neoliberalism superseded [Fordism] and history does not run backwards." I certainly agree that history doesn't run backwards, but the very name of neoliberalism indicates that previous configurations of capitalism may reappear on a new foundation. Neoliberalism brought back forms of market mediation, inequality, and individuality that people living under Fordism were certain could never be revived. But it did so on the basis of Fordist innovations such as mass consumerism. As I indicated in some of the comments above, global neo-Fordism would have to be fundamentally different from Fordism in key respects, especially because it would need to overcome the nation form rather than be based on it. That would not be easy to achieve, but its achievement would finally abolish one of the biggest obstacles to ending capitalism.

    I'm not sure why you say, "If the system remains capitalist, it cannot employ a majority of the population." Before Fordism, the prospect of full employment seemed structurally impossible - might we not be facing a similar situation now? There are huge pools of potential workers and consumers who have been simply cast aside by neoliberalism, not because productivity is too high but because neoliberal forms of accumulation are incapable of the kinds of investment that would be needed to reconstitute these people as workers and consumers. Simply integrating the 1/2 to 2/3 of the world's population living off the scraps of the global economy or mired in low-productivity agriculture and commerce into large-scale production would dramatically raise the rate of productivity growth in the global economy, allowing continuous wage increases that could sustain the realization of value.

    As you note, Fordist accumulation remained healthy for two decades (well past the period of reconstruction from the war). Since the state of material deprivation of billions of people in the poor countries is tantamount to war devastation, I think it's well within the realm of imagination that production could be sustained for several decades under neo-Fordism. I'd be very comfortable with two decades of neo-Fordism before the crisis of that regime of accumulation gave us the chance to end capitalism once and for all.

    1. Thanks for the answer, Walker. I'm sorry that traveling kept me from continuing in a timely way. There is much to say. One crucial thing is that the postwar economies - especially in the US - depended for their expansion not only on the void of wartime destruction, but also on a neocolonial condition of cheap resources and captive markets. US Fordism also depended on a Cold War military-ideological component which gave it a global reach. But I think it's hard to go beyond these kinds of isolated observations without a strong historical concept of Fordism, or what I would call Keynesian Fordism since it was, after all, a political-economic arrangement. Your point that capitalism can rework earlier formulations in new ways is well taken and it would worth having a much closer look at Fordism and at the promise of some kind of Fordism 2.0 that is common sense for many many people.

  10. As Walker argues, the grinding poverty of huge numbers of our brothers and sisters around the world is a key condition of possibility for establishing a new, globally-oriented economic regime. Even in rich countries, huge projects remain—most notably the replacement of the energy and transportation infrastructures. This isn't just a day dream, it's very much a necessity that can't be put off until "after the revolution" because that would likely doom a huge percentage of the world's population. And it's also potentially possible to achieve under capitalism. A switch to sustainable energy sources would involve the destruction of huge amounts of value that would constitute a large potential for growth. How we can make such a political project real is a question that is very much up to us to answer.

    While the prospect of global regulations on labor seem very remote, I think that current trends could indeed lead in that direction. As my comrade Ed Sutton was just pointing out to me, one of the most important characteristics the we see in new and exciting labor actions is the pitching of demands on new and broader scales. Neoliberalism battened down not just national boundaries, but the bounds of traditional employment. Accordingly, dominant conceptions of union membership and strategy have and are changing.

    The most exciting labor actions that we are seeing are ones that are taking on broad issues that are only resolvable through government action. I'm currently listening to Sarah Jaffe and Josh Eidolson's Belabored podcast, and they're discussing the strike by SEIU members in Oregon demanded that the government seek redress of the LIBOR fraud from banks. The CTU strike was so important because it articulated a concern about investment in education (an investment in workers of the future, in one sense) that was very widespread across the city.

    These are promising in that they evade the charge of 'sectional interest' that has plagued so many other labor struggles. It would not be easy to take such campaigns to a global level, but free trade agreements and institutions, global supply chains, and instant digital communication have already made this a real possibility. Nothing in the physical arrangement of the global system needs to change to bring a global struggle into being. The only requirement is that people become conscious of this possibility, and that is a process that has perhaps already begun.

  11. "In other words, an effective progressive agenda would have move to the global level both to directly confront corporations and to change the global rules that corporations play by."

    I don't disagree, but I'm wondering what it means to move "to the global level." I am skeptical of the ability of workers to challenge the power of big multinationals without legislation. I don't know of any global legislative institutions, and I'm having trouble imagining their erection anytime soon. Shouldn't we be talking about internationally coordinated attempts to implement neo-Fordism at the national level?

  12. Surely you're correct that the left must have an internationalist perspective. I agree that it's global or bust. But could it be that you're overstating the case slightly? The major weak points in the system are still located within the horizons of particular nation states. Even Walmart in the US is vulnerable to national level actions--especially t the logistics/warehouse level which is highly centralized. Walmart can't flee the US market even if it can get away with closing particular stores. That's not to deny the essentially internationalist road to challenging capitalism. It's just to say that there may be a dialectic between local and global struggle at work which means that many of the "old" lessons of the struggles of the 30s--or, for that matter, the rank and file rebellions of the early 70s--are still very much relevant for working class radicals today. The main obstacles seem not strategic, but ones having to do with the challenges of building rank and file self-organization capable of pushing asides entrenched labor bureaucrats as well as the bosses. Great post, btw. Key questions and a thought provoking critical perspective these issues desperately need.

  13. I definitely agree that there needs to be "a dialectic between local and global struggle". I emphasize the global side here because I think people on the left basically understand the need for local organizing (despite the significant obstacles) while they're either indifferent or actually hostile to internationalism (I started to explore why that would be here).

    I have to disagree when you say that "the main obstacles seem not strategic". At this moment, I think the task of the left is not simply to further destabilize neoliberalism but to help assemble its successor (see the exchanges above). That requires a strategic embrace of certain aspects of neoliberalism, like its globality, alongside a withering attack on other facets, like finance, and all of this with an eye to rerouting the flow of capital to those populations that have been starved of investment for decades (or longer) rather than simply demanding redistribution. Not to mention the need for a strategic ranking of priorities that could allow us to concentrate our fire on the foundations of neoliberalism rather than the current progressive tendency to disperse our energies across a hundred secondary and tertiary issues.

  14. "Shouldn't we be talking about internationally coordinated attempts to implement neo-Fordism at the national level?"

    I think you're right, this sort of thing might be the most useful way to work on the issue right now. But I also think it would be difficult to sustain a really global neo-Fordism without much stronger transnational regulatory institutions, in particular those that could ensure rising wages and improving conditions for the poorest workers. The patchwork of NGO inspection bodies is completely inadequate to the task right now, even if the multinationals embraced what they were doing.

    If we take the analogy to the 1930s seriously, then there's a real prospect that the global economy could collapse in next few years. If we don't have some kind of international body that could coordinate a progressive response to that sort of crisis, there's a real danger that capitalism will fragment among a set of competing nation-centered alliances or imperial formations. That is much scarier than anything we're facing right now.

  15. @Walker: It's not that there aren't programmatic questions the left needs to address. But in the immediate conjuncture in the US, I would argue that the main obstacles aren't one of lacking the correct program, but of lacking the resources to build the sort of militant rank-and-file self-organization that can build large-scale working class actions that set a positive example and inspire others to do the same. To do this, one has to organize against two very different foes---the bosses, of course, but also the entrenched labor bureaucrats who are committed to class collaboration and business unionism. Even when a critical mass of unionzed workers see this as their goal, it's not easy to pull off. It can be done, however. The scale of attacks on workers and oppressed--conditions are downright catastrophic for Black people in the US--mean that millions of have an interest in a fight back. A key question is how to overcome obstacles to winning that demobilize people and convince them that militancy is impractical. One way to shatter that would be to have a big win for our side--or a couple. The 1930s provide helpful examples of how this can be won. These struggles went ahead in advance of a fully-worked out program detailing what an alternative would look like.

    It seems like the main strategic goal of the left right now should be to build workers power to resist the employers' attacks via the strike weapon, combined with movements that raise anti-austerity political demands--including redistribution--that encourage a principled disregard for the "legitimacy" of the property and wealth of the rich. Both of these demands connect to the broader goal of bringing economic and political structures under the democratic control of our class. Thus, in the course of fighting for even these modest demands, workers and oppressed people will encounter significant resistance from above. This will clarify power relations and force collective solutions to what otherwise might appear--within the horizons of neoliberalism--to be individual problems. This would open up the kind of space that would need to exist for discussions of programmatic strategy to be viable. We needn't wait for that to happen to begin the process of critical reflection on those questions... but it is a condition of possibility for those programmatic/strategic discussions being realistic for millions of workers that they arise out of a practical context in which collective action, militant tactics, and anti-capitalist impulses are at play in struggles oriented toward reforms.

  16. I'm finding myself agreeing with most of what's been said here. Acknowledging the global nature of contemporary society and the contemporary accumulation regime is vital if the left intends to understand the present and adopt tactics and strategies that might allow us to influence the future. That, and the radicalizing and politicizing act of engaging with those struggling the same or similar struggles on the other side of the world can be an important and galvanizing force in a movement.

    However, I'm skeptical of Walker's idea of a push for a neo-Fordism. If that means that in the act of organizing people we should be fighting for short-term goals like increased economic equality and universal rights, I agree completely. As you all know, it's really hard to organize people around an abstraction. I think that my disagreement comes in where Walker refers to neo-Fordism as a goal, rather than a means.

    To me, fights for rights and protections that are perfectly reasonable in the contemporary framework must always be understood as compromises - necessary ones of course, but not the real deal. I think that if we're going to think about history repeating itself (if slightly askew), we have to know that there have been, were, and are massive movements of people calling for these rights, from unionization efforts at the turn of the last century to pushes for rights for undocumented immigrants. These fights can get big, and they can get unruly, and they can spiral out of any framework that the left tries to set for them. I think that we can to easily say "we'll do it better next time" - I don't know if we can. The left today seems more thin, broken, and discredited than at any time since before 1848, or even earlier. Before we talk about trying to revive regimes of accumulation that were more conducive to organizing, we have to remember why organizing in those regimes failed. Of course I know that Walker and others aren't being idealistic or unreasonable about this - I'm just painting a cautionary picture.

    But I think that there is another problem here, one that Callicles mentioned in an earlier post: the fact that, in the time scale that Walker is talking about, the material basis of capitalism (ie, the planet) will become increasingly difficult to command, increasingly unyeilding, and increasingly dangerous. We absolutely need to have this in mind whenever we think about the next generations of struggle. I just don't see how a more widely distributed system of accumulation, one that promised more equal spread of wealth and benefits, will be possible in the coming environment - and even if it is, I think it might very possibly be worse than an alternative with less wealth (as in, fewer objects, fewer use values being made and distributed). Deckard is right in saying that capitalism has the tools to deal with these consequences, but it might not after a few decades of neo-Fordist production (especially as this new Fordism would have to incorporate two or three times as many people as before).

    Am I an anarcho-primitivist? No. I'm not saying the solution is to abandon all hope, nor to abandon all electric outlets. But I think that we need to know that our production and consumption are actively making our lives and the lives of the coming generations only more difficult; any viable leftist politics of the 21st century needs to have an answer for it. I don't.

    1. As far as climate change goes, it doesn't matter how many billions of people we need to incorporate, if we have a carbon-neutral global economy. And I think we can get that rapidly (and even go carbon-negative) once serious climate action becomes politically possible at all.

      On the other hand, incorporating 2 or 3 times as many people will cause a lot of resource depletion and other forms of environmental distress. And that will cause us trouble. But I would say that climate change stands in a class of its own.

  17. An idea like 'neo-Fordism' can only be justified as a means for the overcoming of capitalism. For me, this concept is important as an attempt to understand the new social constellations that may emerge out of the present. Something like neo-Fordism seems to be the most progressive possibility, unless it seems possible that we can go directly beyond capitalism. Of course, it is true that any idea, no matter how benign-seeming can have horrific unintended consequences. Given the myriad of awful possibilities that await, we should seriously consider but not be paralyzed by their possibility. Resistance to the depredations of austerity are inevitable, the question is how we resist, and whether our resistance will create more space intentional action towards the overcoming of unfreedom.

    My feeling is that only coordinated action at the global level has the potential to take on a problem like climate disaster. But it's certainly true that we currently have no ability to force our governments to address this problem. Pushing labor struggles to the international level could set the stage for reforms that include the strengthening of international regulatory bodies. I suspect that this may also be necessary for the better enforcement of intellectual property. There are already a myriad of institutions and NGOs that play a role in coordinating international laws and agreements, so this would be more a process of rearranging and further legitimizing these institutions rather than creating them from whole cloth.

  18. I think I've been pretty consistent in saying that neo-Fordism is a near-term goal (5-10 years) that would do three important things: 1) prevent the catastrophic meltdown of the global economy, 2) improve life in structurally very limited but nonetheless very real ways for the global majority, 3) render socialism plausible on a mass basis.

    I think some of the discomfort here is about the idea that we should be thinking about how to put capitalism back together instead of simply attacking it. That's good, we should find that unpleasant. But the alternative is to simply further destabilize neoliberalism with no realistic alternative at hand, which is potentially disastrous. We need more than just negation, we also need a creative moment that has been absent from the left for 40 years.

    As for global warming, yes that's a real concern. My question is, how are we going to solve it? As long as we're locked in neoliberalism, we are politically and conceptually incapable of addressing it. I think there's a good case to be made that something like global neo-Fordism would generate the organizational and ideological potentials we would need to defeat global warming. The only other possibilities, as far as I can tell, would be socialism (not currently possible) or complete economic collapse (all too possible).

    1. I don't disagree about our alternatives - except that you missed one, the authoritarian hellhole state.

      Probably, as you noted above, we're doing a little talking past each other (which might come with the conversation medium). If we're both saying that in order to succeed in the long term the left needs to adopt important short-term goals with global consequences, then we agree completely.

      I do think that we need to understand and have strategies for dealing with the trade-offs of that kind of organizing. It can be mobilizing, but it can also be de-radicalizing as people become more connected to existing electoral politics. It can be promising, but it can also burn people out on early fights when we're hoping to gear them up for more important later ones.

      But I'm getting ahead of myself. Obviously we need short-term, palatable goals that don't try to immediately confront people with abstractions they have no interest in learning about. I just don't know how to deal with the consequences of that strategy.