In four points, Vladimir Unkovski-Korica considers how a global economic depression could affect global politics.
1 An immediate impression is that the West is failing and the East is still on the rise, confirmation of a trend that became clear in the aftermath of the long crisis starting in 2008. The difference between the US-UK debacle of a response to the current crisis (and the disarray in the EU) by comparison with the Chinese response is stark. Like in the 1930s, too, this could be interpreted as failed market vs successful state planning, ie, West after 1929 compared with the Soviet Union after 1929. There is nothing necessarily 'leftist' about this: authoritarian states are not what the left is about, and this time round the battle for interpretation will be all the more open than then.
2 As with 2008, governments and institutions will begin to buckle globally, as when the Arab Spring spread from the periphery to centres of global power. Demands for democracy will again be heard because the class power behind the liberal democratic facade will be easier to see. While the ultra rich hide away on private islands, most of us worry about not getting ill, juggling the kids and making a living, and worrying about how long this will all last. My feeling is that the health emergency and accompanying social distancing measures in some form are here to stay for some months and up to two years, on and off. The longer it carries on, the more social and political anger will build up.
3 Even more starkly than in the 1930s, the challenge will be to kickstart economies - which at the end of the 1930s only occurred as a consequence of the Second World War and massive state intervention to build up military capacity for total war. Here, we will also have a constant push to get back to work in some fashion, with major health and safety repercussions. But what will kickstart economies? This remains a dangerous question. The left can argue that the coronavirus is part and parcel of the neoliberal global capitalist model that produces global climate change, environmental stresses that create virus spread, and the austerity climate that leaves us all exposed as health and safety infrastructures get eroded to save a few bucks for the finance sector. More radical variants on the 'green new deal' - if coupled with industrial action to protect health and safety - can begin to push an alternative global socialist response. But we can expect a series of localised and maybe not so localised wars at the same time as countries struggle to cope and states try to get better of one another as opportunities for their aggrandisement arise.
4 In times like these the Keir Starmers and Joe Bidens of this world do not represent tomorrow's alternative. They act as yesterday's men, acting out parts in a collective consciousness that lags behind the times. But consciousness will begin to catch up, here slowly, there by leaps, in sharp twists and turns, and yesterday's men will be confined to the dustbin of history, as new faces and forces emerge to fight the battles that are emerging now. Yesterday's men will play the part of loyal defenders of the status quo. They will play a part in the response that the hostile brothers of the global capitalist class, divided by nation states and imperialist blocs, divise in the coming period to restructure the world, our lives and bodies, our working conditions, our cities and landscapes etc, to fit their struggle for power and profit. They will only fail if the revolutionary left rises to the challenge. Our central idea that the world needs fundamental and rapid - REVOLUTIONARY - change is likely to be popular, so we should be bold in the coming period. The times will be tougher than many of us have imagined or experienced but I am convinced that world changing events are upon us.
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