From the Salvage Collective’s third Covid State Dispatch. The opening salvo deserves constant repetition:
The hubris of seeing in this moment the inevitability of socialism follows the shattering electoral defeat of the left, and can only end in two ways: with demoralisation; or with the predicate-shifting disavowal that leads one to find a socialist militant in Sir Keir Starmer.
However, there is nonetheless possibility and potential in the current suspension of the accumulative logic:
Shipping, the infrastructural crux of globalisation, responsible for $12 trillion of world trade, was in decline before the pandemic. It was under pressure from Trump’s trade war on China, new regulatory regimes driven by Washington’s desire to crush sanction-busters, and a general sag in world trade. Now it is in crisis. Trade is expected to fall by 13–20 per cent, as ports are closed, cargo is left to rot, and seafarers are stranded in remote countries, on board vessels, or stuck in hotels, without pay.
The fragility of long-range, just-in-time global supply chains having been exposed, the industry trend will probably be toward more digitised surveillance and roboticisation on the one hand, with less reliance on face-to-face contact, and a search for shorter routes and shorter supply chains on the other. Countries that can will have to build up national resilience, so that they can source essential goods quickly in the event that shipping grinds to a halt. Rather than globalising further, trading systems are likely to be regionalised – a long-term trend exacerbated by Covid-19. So, while pandemic management will require more international cooperation, existing trends toward deglobalisation in the economy are likely to be accelerated far beyond anything Trump achieved.
The oil industry now expects ‘peak demand’ to arrive sooner than expected, while the extraction cost of oil and gas relative to yield, is soaring. If deglobalisation advances, shipping industries contract, and aviation becomes less common – all highly plausible in the near future – then the growth expected by fossil capitalists up to 2040 is unlikely to materialise. If the profit advantage that fossil fuels have over renewables is apt to disappear soon, then the economic advantage of burning as if there is no tomorrow disappears too. This is perhaps why elements of pro-capitalist opinion are pushing for some sort of green interventionism, congruent with wider calls for sustained economic intervention.
In short, with the two lynchpins of late capitalist growth – globalisation powered by fossil burning – in crisis, this is uncharted territory. As at the start of the 2008 crisis, the popular response has been to rally round existing authorities, and hope – in vain – that their trust is repaid with a minimum of fairness. However, it is clear that global capitalism will need to be drastically restructured, not only to eliminate glaring dysfunctions exposed by the pandemic crisis, but to prevent another from occurring, to cause similar chaos. This comprehensive crisis of capitalist civilisation reaches right into its biophysical limits. With no good options for any government, this will likely be profoundly destabilising for the reactionary forces whose power was in the process of being consolidated.
The danger is that governing paralysis, soaring unemployment and poverty, and growing state authoritarianism will create fecund ground for forces well to the right of Trump, Johnson and Bolsonaro…
Right. So if you want that possible better world, then start working for it—because those who want a worse one are not wasting the opportunity.