Solution to Capitalist Crisis—The Only One Is . . . Shotgun Solution
In his 1988 Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord wrote: “Modern society, which, up to 1968, went from success to success, and was persuaded that it was loved, has since then had to renounce these dreams; it prefers to be feared.” These words are truer today than ever. If May 1968 was when the bourgeoisie realized its children hated it, the last few months have augured the bourgeoisie’s realization that it hates itself. Whereas in 1968 the children of the bourgeoisie allied with workers, the historical antagonists—grave-diggers—of their parents’ class, today, the bourgeoisie are cannibalizing themselves in a desperate struggle to survive. Where once they claimed they had to destroy a hamlet to save it, now they are saying the same about their brethren, about their own hamlets.
Debord’s line was a détournement of Marx’s “18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” where Marx originally wrote that “Bourgeois revolutions . . . storm . . . swiftly from success to success, their dramatic effects outdo each other, men and things seem set in sparkling diamonds, ecstasy is the order of the day—but they are short-lived, soon they have reached their zenith, and a long Katzenjammer takes hold of society before it learns to assimilate the results of its storm-and-stress period soberly.” A Katzenjammer is a hangover. How better can we describe the present period of economic crisis than as the most brutal hangover the bourgeoisie has witnessed since the 1930s? Against George W. Bush’s claim that Wall Street “got drunk,” the logic of capital itself guarantees permanent crapulence, permanent addiction to accumulation. Nevertheless, the self-loathing thoughts that typically accompany a hangover—I’ll never drink again, dear lord, if you just make this headache go away—are found in the bourgeoisie’s stimulus plans and bailouts. Tossing free-market ideology out the window for the moment is, for some, the equivalent of the most putrid hangover remedies we foist upon ourselves. And it behooves the bourgeoisie to convince itself that it did indeed, as Bush said, “get drunk”—that way it need not face the contradictory realities of its condition. This hangover remedy is powerful, though, justifying, as it has, the cannibalistic move of sundering all bonds, including those of class, if necessary, so that the class itself may live to see another rosy dawn. The project of restoring class power that was concealed beneath neoliberalism’s rhetoric of freedom—free markets, deregulation, privatization—must persist, even as the rhetoric has been discredited. Neoliberalism is dead, says the ruling class, long live neoliberalism.
Others among the numbers of the ruling class know that three decades of free-market ideology was epiphenomenal to the project of retrenching their class—like the mixer in the drink. It’s not there to get you drunk, it’s there to make you convince yourself you’re doing something with a goal other than getting drunk. It’s just the means. These sage types are those who ordered 17,000 more troops into Afghanistan the other day. They know that the cure for the Great Depression’s vicious Katzenjammer was only a wee bit the New Deal. In actuality, the cure was mostly the permanent war economy that began even before Pearl Harbor. Americans seem less enamored of mutually assured destruction than they once were, so world war IV (V?, VI?, whatever!) is off the table for the moment. Luckily, the economy can count on Afghan irregulars to keep the US military bogged down in yet another quagmire for as long as it takes to get the juices flowing. Problem is: more juice is needed than capitalists can find sources. (That’s the simplest, crudest explanation of the current crisis that I can offer.)
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, a very smart anarchist, who said something along the lines of, “Can you believe what they did to Iceland? That’s gotta be the first time they’ve completely fucked a country like that!” My retort: “The first time they did it to a country full of white people, at least.” (No one, apparently, told the IMF that so many Argentines consider themselves Europeans accidentally born in the southern hemisphere.) When Mexico defaulted on its international debt in 1982, it was an admission that it had no more juice to offer. Not satisfied with that conclusion, particularly as other countries around the global south came to it as well, the Fed and the bankers came together and said, we’ll sell you a better juicer, called neoliberalism. And if you don’t want to buy it, we’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse. Actually, the first country sold this juicer was Chile; it came in the form of a coup, which killed Salvador Allende. And, thus, we find ourselves unable to ignore question of violence.
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Today I listened to Shotgun Solution’s song “Shotgun” at least five times. This tune begins with a very convincing parody of the sound of bourgeois ideologies. Ecstasy is indeed the order of the day for the first 90 seconds or so. Part-way through, a pick slide sounds like the market turning bearish for a moment, but then all seems okay once again. After all, even market declines offer rewards to the shrewd. And then one sir Valter Veltre lays it all out, in a paroxysm of fury that causes him to stumble over his words, in the voice of one who gargles razor blades: “I can see the only solution. Only one is shotgun solution.” Given the context (Italy 1982), there is little question what was at stake and how serious he was. (The record is dedicated to “all the guns of Rome everywhere you are.”) The sheer rage of the musical eruption that shatters the 90-second bourgeois utopia evinces their conviction.
I’ve always considered myself more or less opposed to violence. But as I look around the world today, it becomes difficult not to think that “nonviolence” is part of that ecstasy, one of the twinkles in those sparkling diamonds Marx mentioned. I have no illusions that the full weight of the warsystem can and will come crashing down on those who take up arms against it, and, as we now realize, it will profit on the deaths of these opponents in the process. But where is nonviolence when we start to look at the two Katrinas, first the hurricane that revealed the tenuousness of the success neoliberals cheered, and now the financial Katrina that is dispossessing so many from their homes and livelihoods, dispossessing all of us of hopefulness for the future?
There are a million apologists for this violence who want to blame the victim. Or, when the their class brethren bear the brunt of populist rage, however misdirected, as with the AIG bonuses, they express shock that anyone could wish them harm. A fool among them declared, “It is as bad if not worse than McCarthyism,” as if McCarthyism, a deracinated name for sadistic anticommunism, was not a project of class power, of this elite fool’s class power. And as if this populist rage has not been stoked by other members of that class—sacrificing a few so the many may survive—to divert attention from the reality of the trillions of dollars expropriated in the bankers’ coup that exploded last September. These are the same apologists who countenanced the murder of Allende and countless other Leftists whose names they will never care to hear. Unlike violence that is “over there”—so that its spiraling out of control will be mostly contained—today, the gyre of crisis is everywhere, near and far, and the tactics of controlling it are failing one after the other. The bunkers the ruling class seeks, from funding public-works projects that patch an obsolete built environment to the haven of T-bills, will forestall crisis only briefly and make the explosion of those bunkers more spectacular when it inevitably occurs.
Recently, the US Director of National Intelligence warned that joblessness was leading to unrest around the world. In Iceland. In Greece. In Colombia. In Latvia. In China. This story, reported dutifully in all the newspapers, was the bourgeoisie’s way of warning itself of the bad times to come, of saying maybe we’re in over our heads. What’s the difference between a light-bulb and capitalism? You can unscrew a light-bulb. Two-and-a-half million on the streets in January, and three milion in March, forced France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who was brought in to put a final nail in the unions’ coffin, to address economic concerns. He tried to resort to the same old neoliberal tactics, and even if last week’s 1-day general strike in France represented the unions’ predictable repertoire, general strikes of over a month in the French colonies Guadaloupe and Martinique that preceded it could not be so easily ignored. And they were not. Last year, after Greek cops murdered a teenager, a Greek anarchist blog read simply, “15-year-old shot by police. Everyone in the streets.” And they were. These protests had local specificities and were not necessarily caused by the current crisis of capitalism, but their size and strength was directly correlated with the depth of the present calamity. The point is clear: it’s not violence that will win—as someone once said, “They have the guns but we have the numbers”—but once we can admit that the reality of violence is not that it is perpetrated by the people but rather that it is perpetrated against the people, we will know why they tremble at our numbers. May they tremble at the possibility that we hand them the knife and fork with which to continue to cannibalize themselves. May they tremble at the possibility that we never allow them to assimilate the results of this storm-and-stress period soberly. May they tremble.
And if they don’t, we can at least listen to Shotgun Solution, reveling in a sound that imagines an end to this madness.