The transitional phase of the crisis: From restructuring to rebellion
Day by day, the wind of revolt sweeping regions of Africa and the Middle East is increasingly felt. One country after another appears in the headlines of international press; the issue always the same: conflicts between protesters and the police or para-state thugs of every local, usually totalitarian, regime. Despite all the efforts by global spectacle to conceal the proletarian nature of the uprisings and over-emphasize their internal contradictions, presenting the events just as a political “movement for democracy” or as political confrontations between the supporters of such and such politicians in the region, the obvious truth cannot actually be concealed: class is against class. The proletarians use stones, Molotov cocktails and sticks, the cops are fully armed and so scared that they shoot and kill indiscriminately. The proletarians occupy buildings, block roads and burn cars, they burn down prisons, releasing the inmates, and they sabotage infrastructure. Capital gets prepared to impose even harsher dictatorship. It will not be easy for the transitional regimes to stabilise themselves, as they will not be able to meet any of the major standard-of-living demands of the insurgents. Egypt and Libya are, so far, the most serious manifestations of this insurrectionary phase of the crisis. Egypt is important because of its economic and geopolitical significance within the global inter-capitalist competition and Libya, not only because of its significance as an oil-producing country, but also because the state rapidly lost control of the situation, which has caused panic worldwide.
The current accumulation regime is the result of the first restructuring which took place in the ’70s and ’80s; its crisis is the flip-side of the success of this restructuring. It is the deepening of neoliberalism itself which produced this historical crisis, because capitalism is a contradictory system of social relations. No matter how stable each mode of accumulation appears externally, it carries the development of its internal contradictory dynamics within, which eventually leads to the outbreak of the crisis. The achievement of the restructured capitalism, namely the triumph of the subsumption of the entire life of the proletariat under capital has made the reproduction of the proletariat (and of capitalism altogether) desperately dependent on the ups and downs of the economy, i.e. more vulnerable to the crisis than in any previous historical period. In the present historical moment we are in a transitional phase of the global capitalist crisis that erupted in 2008 and is still developing. In this transitional phase, global financial capital is trying to skip its direct devaluation through the imposition of the draconian second phase of the restructuring across the planet. The consequences of this effort are visible everywhere, but they differ in terms of the intensity and the quality of the attack against the proletariat, which depend on: a) the position of each state within the global capitalist hierarchy, b) the already achieved progress of the first phase of the imposed restructuring and mainly c) the history of class struggle in each region. Across the world (excluding China) the restructuring means the reduction of the direct and indirect wage (pensions, benefits and public services); it means the becoming illegitimate of the wage demand; it also means the increase in the prices of essential goods, which is due both to the objective mechanism of the crisis and the fact that certain factions of capital clearly speculate with food prices. A result of this gambling is that the most undervalued part of the proletariat has literally no longer anything to eat: “Prices have risen so much that if I buy a few lemons for my sore throat, I will be bankrupt for the whole month” said a worker in the Ministry of Transport in Egypt.
Amidst the storm of the economic crisis, the state subsidies for the survival of the surplus workforce disappear and the result is the proliferation of informal labour and poverty. Proletarians have no other option but to work (mostly informally) in order to survive and at the same time, as a result of the crisis, they find it impossible to find a job or have an income that would cover the cost of the reproduction of their labor power. Proletarians demand their survival, so they demand the lowering of food prices, wage increases and jobs. Their demands desperately request from capitalists to save capitalism itself. When demanding stable employment and “decent” wages, proletarians in fact say to capitalists: “you need us, without us there is no extraction of surplus value, there is no capital”. Capital on the other hand responds that it cannot afford the survival of the proletariat, and makes it clear that a (significant) part of the latter is useless (in terms of value) and, most important, that the desired recovery does not include any re-integration of this over-abundant part of the proletariat; it follows that these proletarians structurally form a surplus population. Historically, then, the wage demand is produced as both necessary and (structurally, not cyclically) a dead-end. The uprising of this surplus, and thus without future, proletariat is confronted with the clearest, the most cruel form of capitalist domination, the police. It is precisely the fact that the exit from the crisis, from the capitalist point of view, does not include this surplus proletarian population which makes the police the general form of current capitalism.
Proletarians, all over the world, experience their precarious situation as suffocating, its context defined by poverty and ghettoization. The most striking examples are Frontex (the EU border police), the respective military and police that has been deployed in the U.S. border with Mexico, the wall in Palestine, the guarded by the army camps of workers in China, the gated communities in Latin America and their equivalent, the favelas, vast slums, and of course the Greek version of this situation, the 12.5 km fence in the borders with Turkey. The entire planet is slowly but definitely becoming an apartheid ruled space; modern bantustans are constructed for the working class. This urban repression makes proletarians suffocate and negates a basic capitalist condition, that of the free sale of labor power. In Cairo, this type of urban planning was implemented at a rapid pace over the past decade. The dictatorship of value and economy as a whole, in all regions of Africa and the Middle East that now see the proletarian uprising, has the political form of a dictatorial democracy. The reason that these riots have alarmed capitalists around the world is that democratic dictatorship, totalitarianism, is now the fantasy of the bourgeoisie in the more developed countries as well, since this seems to be the only way to enforce the second phase of the restructuring.
The demonstrations and riots started in all these countries from the field of reproduction and the question is whether the turmoil will encompass the field of production of value, the epicenter of capitalism, as well. The strikes that followed the fall of the socialist dictator Mubarak seem to point towards this direction and capitalists eagerly look at that corner of the world having their finger on the trigger, since “El Dorados” suddenly became traps for capital in volatile regions whose future is highly uncertain. The “huge competitive advantage” became, almost overnight, “an unmanageable risk”. Subcontracting, tourism, construction, the textile industry but above all oil and trade routes (Suez and the Gulf) are now met with the fire of proletarian uprising. After Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, where the insurgency is still ongoing, Bahrain, Yemen, Iran, Iraq and Algeria kill proletarians in their attempt to forestall the uprising.
The regime in Greece is also trying to operate proactively, against the upcoming revolt: on the one hand it prepares for the formal imposition of some form of dictatorship (perhaps through elections) and on the other it seeks to direct reactions towards a populist-nationalist right-wing or left-wing (as a second scenario) road. The functionaries of the global financial capital, who temporarily hold the Greek state power, now try to quickly sell off state property, following their success in reducing the wages. This sell-off is nothing but an attempt to valorize capital which is trapped in (mainly) the Greek and European financial system and is in an immediate danger of massive devaluation. On the other hand, proletarians oppose this sell-off because they understand that it means even greater reduction in the indirect wage and the deteriorating of living conditions in general; they refuse to pay tickets and tolls, they occupy buildings, they try to reduce the effects of crisis by making as much noise as they can, but so far only in the sphere of circulation and reproduction. The strikes in sectors affected by the restructuring do not correspond to the intensity of the attack; they are nothing other than the spending of the last mediation capacities of the unions.
Both the probable strategies of the Greek bourgeoisie cut both ways. The imposition of a dictatorship in Greece will possibly cause the virus of rebellion to cross the Mediterranean, with all the implications something like that would have for other European countries. On the other hand, the deceleration of the restructuring is likely to question the participation of the Greek state in the politically unified Europe, something that will relegate it to the third zone of capital. This development would seriously jeopardize the interests of a major faction of the Greek bourgeoisie
For the proletarians who live in Greece, there is only one road, whichever scenario is implemented: the increasingly radicalised class struggles. Probably, the unions will not call soon for a 24-hour general strike, like today, but the class struggle fronts will multiply as time passes; and the eruption of insurgency cannot be postponed much longer. The demand-oriented struggles of the proletariat, focusing on the existence of wage and being against the general deterioration of living standards, through their development and their objective failure, will be led to a rupture with their revendicative content. This rupture is already announced in cases like that of Keratea and will appear as a distinct event in any localized conflict. The content of ruptures makes political unification of the struggling proletarians and thus effective mediation of conflicts impossible. For example, the repression which the “we will not pay for the crisis” social movement will probably be faced with could bring the conflict to the point of putting in danger the very existence of present means of transport. The development of the dynamics of ruptures can never be completed and stabilized in “working class gains”; it can only be the beginning of the historical revolutionary process