Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Fight the Future: Mass Default as Anticapitalist Initiative

reposted from
This grim present is marked by unremitting unemployment. Where did all the work go? It went into the future. And not in a cool science fiction way. Work has gone into the future in a way that assures our misery indefinitely. That’s what debt is. It is the guarantee that you will spend all the hours of your future laboring to make good on a promise you were forced to make by an economy that can’t provide either the minimum nor the maximum (for these are one and the same) of what we want from life: to live.

Debt has more faces than a yearbook. Some of them seem to face us from a distance: the sovereign debt of nations now perpetually at risk of default, precipitating crises across the Eurozone. The massive debt of corporations deemed Too Big To Fail. But all of this turns out to be our debt. The inherited debts of deficit spending and massive bail-outs. All the “personal” debt we have been compelled to take on, to make ends meet as real wages have declined since the Seventies. The mass of mortgages injected into the economy in fallow capital’s desperate search for alternate avenues of profit. The trillion bucks in outstanding student loans we have been pushed to “accept” as tuitions have ascended twice as fast as inflation. Our shoulders and backs are where this crushing weight of debt always comes to rest, we citizens of capital.

Debt is a book of years, not a fortune but a kind of fortune-telling: it knows what you’ll be doing three decades from now. You won’t like it. Debt will like it just fine.

Let us agree on three things about debt:

Debt is not natural. But it is native to the soil of capitalism, which must both intensify and extend itself ever further in both space and time. Globalization and financialization are the two vectors of this appetite for extension. There is no capitalism without increasing debt; this is logically necessary, and historically evident. An end to debt (and let us remember that “debt” is always a polite term for “your prolonged immiseration”) requires an end to capitalism.

Austerity is an attempt to solve the debt crisis with more debt. Confronting insolvency at every stratum from local libraries to the nation-state, austerity’s idea is to tighten our belts. But have they promised to lower the prices of everything correspondingly? Hardly. Instead, austerity’s lower pay, fewer jobs, and vanished services mean that we will have no choice but to indebt ourselves further so as to stay afloat so as to search for jobs that are even worse than the awful jobs we never wanted in the first place.

Capital requires debt to function. Capitalism is in catastrophic crisis. It can no longer sustain the accumulation it needs via the simplicities of buying and selling, the minimums of the marketplace. It needs to displace its contradictions in space and time. It needs credit and debt more than we do. In fact, we don’t need it at all. We don’t need a given rate of accumulation. We’re not capital, we’re humans. We’re too small to fail.

THE TIME HAS COME FOR MASS DEFAULT. Every debtor an Iceland! This is in some sense already happening as if by accident, as lives shudder under the unsustainable burden. It’s time for default as an organized, general strategy of self-defense and war on the owners of our present and future misery — a form of solidarity with strikes, sabotages, squats. It will require the organizing of communities to provide basic needs for the garnished, the liened, the excluded. This is both strategy and a renewed social order. This will be the practical meaning of a politics of friendship.

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