Things have been a bit quiet here because we’ve been trying to piece together our thoughts on crisis for an article in the next Shift. Those speculations can be found here (although we may one day produce a slightly longer version because we ended up cutting sections on wealth and value, among other things).
As we threw ideas around, one that kept bouncing back was the meaning of ‘crisis’. As we explain in the piece, “the word ‘crisis’ has its origins in a medical term meaning turning point – the point in the course of a serious disease where a decisive change occurs, leading either to recovery or to death”. It’s a fork in the road. In one sense, it’s utterly binary – you either live or die. But really it’s a lot more than that. In the current global crisis, the options are far more fluid. If capitalism recovers (i.e. if it can develop a new regime of accumulation), it won’t take the same form as the capitalism we faced 5 years ago; and if it fails to recover, it won’t simply curl up and die.
From capital’s point of view, it’s exactly this sense of openness, of possibility, that needs to be closed down. At the three major summits this year (G20 in the UK in April, G8 in Italy in July, and COP15 in Denmark in December), world leaders will be looking to contain things, to rein in our desires, and draw a line under the events of the past few months. “Move along now, there’s nothing to see here…” Every ‘solution’ that’s touted at these summits will also be an act of closure, an attempt to reintroduce capitalist temporality, one that sees the future rolling out inexorably from the present. So we’re treading a tightrope here. On the one hand, as recession deepens, we will resist any measures that restrict our immediate freedoms – and that might mean pushing for ‘solutions’ that are slightly less damaging (as lay-offs mount, it’ll be interesting to see whether the recent successful Chicago factory occupation is taken up elsewhere). But on the other hand our greatest chance of something different lies in keeping the crisis ongoing. Of keeping the wound open.