Think about all of the unexpected ways in which the current crisis is beginning to take shape. Just this week, protesters in cities across the South and Midwest drove around in a socially distanced automotive mobilization, demanding that state governments reopen local economies by ending shelter in place orders. Of course, this was a directly political mode of engagement, with these protesters channeling Trump’s insistence the day before that he had sole authority to force these economies open. Meanwhile, as Democratic governors publicly sided with science, science itself became something to oppose, a populist instinct articulated to partisan identity.
In the process, all sorts of positions assume political form – Hall’s “whole range of issues which do not necessarily, in the first instance, appear to be articulated with politics, in the narrow sense, at all.” Science, freedom of the press, public health, sexuality, education: all of these and more, through an extended chain of mediations, are articulated to a fundamental struggle between parties. Meanwhile, this partisan competition becomes increasingly disarticulated from the struggle between classes. Workers disaffected by decades of Democratic dithering looked to Trump, only to be met with additional waves of upward redistribution.
When workers no longer trust their political representatives, they begin to turn elsewhere. And given the timidity of most union leaderships, wildcats increasingly become the norm as workers slough off these chains of mediation and confront their employers directly. We began to see this with the teachers’ strikes that swept the country, and as David McNally shows in the first issue of Spectre, these mass strikes are on the rise across the globe. While politics often assume unorthodox forms in organic crises, these are also periods that tend to be marked by an upsurge in working class militancy as elected leaderships of all stripes turn out to be emperors with no clothes.
While all of the various crises that comprise the larger organic crisis are inextricable, I’ve tried to map out in schematic form a number of the crises I see cascading across our conjuncture. As you will see, it’s nearly impossible to talk about one without talking about all, but that’s what I’ve tried to do here: provide a roadmap to the organic crisis that’s only just begun.
Economic: Don’t believe them when they tell you that the emergent recession is a fluke, that we couldn’t have predicted the novel coronavirus, or that the crash is merely a consequence of the pandemic. It was many months before the first death on US soil that the Fed began pumping repo loans into Wall Street trading houses, fearful of an impending liquidity drought. And in January, we learned that industrial production was down nearly a percentage point from a year prior. This is to say nothing of longstanding concerns over an inverted yield curve and an enormous stock market bubble. The failure of profitability to recover after the last recession lies at the root of the current downturn.
Political: Never have the signs of a crisis of representation been so apparent. Around the globe, center-left and center-right parties have been hemorrhaging support as voter turnout continues its long slide. With left-wing parties only occasionally able to compete in earnest – in Greece, Spain, France, and Brazil, for example – right-wing authoritarians have tended to fill the void. After decades in which nominal working-class parties clearly represented capital more effectively than labor, workers around the globe have turned to nationalist populists. For all their proto-fascist tendencies, at least these leaders are able to successfully appeal to working-class interests, even if only in rhetoric. At least they make proletarian voters feel recognized. The rare left-wing populist who attempts to do the same – Sanders, Corbyn – is predictably marginalized by a party apparatus with its head in the sand. People may be wary of Trump, but when the alternative is Biden’s tragedy-and-farce act, his approval rating continues to climb.