Thursday, September 18, 2008
Planet of the toppling giants posted by Richard SeymourHow fabulous. Everyone is scared, insecure, ready for the brown envelope and the foot in the arse, because of a totally irrational, wasteful and destructive system of production whose beneficiaries and apologists have not ceased to laud as the most efficient and benevolent institution mankind has yet invented. The latest financial giant about to tumble is Morgan Stanley. Say what? Yeah. Morgan Stanley, which last year posted a net income of over $3bn, which manages $779bn of assets worldwide, that services states and corporations the world over, is hitting the fucking bricks. There are potential buyers for Morgan Stanley. Both HSBC and, which is more interesting, the China Investment Corp are making their bids. Actually, there will probably be a few more, since so many banks are heavily exposed to that company. But that just means any suitor will take on Morgan Stanley's weaknesses, and large numbers of jobs will still be shed anyway.
Of course, I don't care about their shareholders or their gold-plated investors, but the simple fact is that we have a struggle to make sure they don't make us pay for their crisis. After all, the capitalist class has a procedure for situations like this: cut your losses, shred papers, fire staff, take the profits, retreat behind some gated communities with armed guards, let everyone else fight over the scraps, and wait patiently for a decent investment opportunity. Didn't these motherfuckers just come for your social security recently? Wasn't it only months ago that the UK government was talking about cutting disability benefits and the entitlements of single mothers? Aren't they pushing for a roll-back of your state pension entitlements? And how many people no longer have a pension to speak of because it has disappeared into a financial black hole? If these people have the monopoly of political initiative, they'll be able to use this crisis to roll back your rights even further. They'll say that trade unions are distorting the market by artificially raising wages and discouraging hiring, and they'll want new laws restricting membership. They'll say that social security distorts the market by disincentivising labour and encouraging widespread abstention from work. They'll say that pension entitlements are unsustainable with an ageing population, that the retirement age needs lifting since people are living so long, and that the taxes paid by corporations and the rich to help fund such bleeding-heart programmes are discouraging investment. If people resist, they'll say that violence is being promoted by political extremists and that for the time being certain rights need to be suspended until such time as people prove themselves mature enough to have them restored. Oh, but, don't worry: they're your friends, and they're there to help you. Just be patient and the wealth will trickle down.
Being equal to this situation is difficult in part because this is a crisis with no real historical precedent. In many ways, it could be worse than the Depression. The urgency of this moment has to result in a strong protest at the Labour conference, a good attendance at the Convention of the Left (Guardian report here), and some serious weight being put into such initiatives as People Before Profit. It has to result in a grassroots push in the trade unions for a massive fightback against the incomes policy, and for a radical new economic programme. The government, another toppling giant, has nothing to offer. It is spent. This, for example, is some lame-ass shit, the latest of a series of embarrassingly puny moves by an administration on its last legs. The best they've got to offer is the head of Gordon Brown, and so what? Whoever takes over will lead the Labour Party to a humiliating defeat, and the most likely successor is some right-wing scumbag like Alan Johnson or John Reid anyway. Or there'll be a 'dream ticket', whatever the fuck that means. There are those who still want to 'reclaim' the party - good luck to them, but they haven't got a choirboy's chance in Winchester. No, it's time to move on, regroup, and urgently get our shit together.