Thursday, 24 September 2009

BAD BANKS: Targeting late capitalism’s exploitation of labour and nature

by GRANT MORGAN World capitalism’s boosters, led by US Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke, are welcoming economic “green shoots” and proclaiming “the end of recession”. Nobody has a crystal ball, and yes, at some stage the global economy will start to recover, even if only partially and temporarily. But we need to look at the bigger picture if we are to have any idea of what might lie ahead. SHARE MARKET BUBBLE At present, the economic “recovery” is first and foremost a recovery in share market prices, while global unemployment continues to rise and real wages are being driven down. The levels of unemployment and wages are a much safer way to assess the real state of the real economy than share market fluctuations. What we are now seeing is a share market bubble disconnected from rising unemployment and falling real wages. Late capitalism increasingly depends on financial and asset bubbles which are disconnected from the real economy. PROFITABILITY CRISIS Obviously, that means financial and economic instability is going to be not only more endemic than during early or middle capitalism, but also more catastrophic in its effects. That we saw during the Great Implosion of September 2008 which came close to collapsing the world system’s financial structures. Late capitalism’s increasing dependency on financial and asset bubbles is a key symptom of something deeper. The world system is finding it much harder to translate the mega-accumulation of capital into the maximised profit margins which alone can sustain the global rule of ever fewer monopolists. Many analysts have pointed to the increasing disconnect between rising labour productivity and falling consumer demand, leaving the world economy awash with unwanted consumer goods and excess productive capacity. That is an obvious driver of the world system’s profitability crisis. REVENGE OF NATURE But there are other drivers as well. Hand-in-hand with the exploitation of labour, the exploitation of nature is creating an existential gulf between human sustainability and corporate profitability. Since its birth 500 years ago, capitalism has been dependent on the free lunches provided by labour and nature. Without the state-sanctioned looting of nature, the world system could not meet its profit needs, any more than it could without the state-sanctioned wage slavery of workers. Now we are seeing the revenge of nature, most notably in the rising tides of global warming, but also in the resource depletion and chain-reaction pollution which will intersect with climate change in dangerously unpredictable ways. TERMINAL CANCERS Unless checked by a global mobilisation, climate change will kill millions and perhaps billions of people on the planet, unleashing a mega-crisis which kills capitalism. Yet any such global mobilisation will fatally undermine corporate profitability and thus kill capitalism anyway, maybe even quicker. Late capitalism is being eaten away by terminal cancers. Yet we cannot simply stand by and wait for something better. The elites who run late capitalism will stop at nothing to transfer their power and privileges to a post-capitalist world which is almost certain to be even more barbaric. That is the road to a mass die-back of humanity and other life forms. MANY GOOD CAUSES So the question is: what can we do, right here and right now, to prepare the ground for a post-capitalist world which is more democratic, more equitable and more ecological than the present system. There is no single or simple answer to that question. The struggles of many leftists in many countries around many causes all help, cumulatively, to make the grassroots stronger and the elites weaker. Among the good causes that New Zealand leftists are currently promoting are the living wage, climate justice and pro-MMP campaigns. ASYMMETRIC WARFARE There exists a vital need to shape all such campaigns into a sharper challenge to the world system which creates the evils that necessitate the campaigns in the first place. Otherwise we are forever fighting the symptoms, leaving the system’s elites far too much leeway to perpetuate themselves. Yet any call to “fight capitalism” would lack mass appeal because it’s too distant from most people’s consciousness and capabilities. How then can we proceed? The fundamental principle of asymmetric warfare, where the weak confront the strong, is to strike wherever the enemy is most exposed and wherever the most damage can be inflicted. WIDESPREAD PUBLIC HOSTILITY The big banks, whose colossal investments shape the very structures of all economies and, therefore, their governing politics and ideologies, are already the object of widespread public hostility. If we direct our fire against the big banks, and get a good public response, then late capitalism will be weakened at an increasingly vulnerable yet important spot: the financialisation of the world system. That is the strategic objective of Socialist Worker’s Bad Banks campaign, launched in Auckland not long ago. It is an objective in harmony with the fundamental principle of asymmetric warfare. WIDESPREAD PUBLIC SUPPORT The Bad Banks campaign targets the key investment drivers who are responsible for rising unemployment, falling real wages, climate change and other evils flowing from capitalism’s exploitation of labour and nature. It is therefore a campaign which fingers the causes as well as the consequences of the evils of late capitalism. And going by early results at Bad Banks street stalls, there is widespread public support for the campaign. For more information on the Bad Banks campaign go to To help out at a Bad Banks stall, email

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