“Decoupling” is the new slogan running through think-tanks, chancelleries and economic ministries. It means a reduction in the interdependence between national capitals. But the reality is that not only capitals will become “decoupled”, but also the institutional system and the balances between classes will.
A full-fledged offensive against the workers
Images from nighttime events in Minneapolis fill the world’s newsreels. Riots have been going on for two nights after a video was published showing the murder by the police of a detainee who at no time showed any resistance. The “National Guard”, a kind of internal army specialized in disasters and counter-insurgency, is already occupying the streets at the request of the state governor. In a country where the media describe daily strikes as being carried out by racial groups rather than workers, the events have been presented and explained as a uprising of the black population against the murderous racism of the local police … without entering into further considerations.
But the overall picture of the impact of the crisis and the pandemic in the US actually speaks in terms of class. If we go to the service sector, the most precarious sector, it’s obvious. By the end of March, two-thirds of the workers surveyed had worked fewer hours: 41 percent had been laid off; 31 percent had had their hours reduced; and only 28 percent were still working as usual. By the end of April, jobs that once seemed safe also collapsed: 58 percent had lost their jobs and only 20 percent were working normally. But among those who have been laid off, less than one in five have so far managed to receive unemployment insurance. All this is happening in a context where approximately 40% of Americans were, before the pandemic, unable to pay an emergency expenditure of $400.
A week ago the Department of Labor reported that more than 40 million workers have applied for benefits since the crisis began, and some 30 million are receiving them. Yet bills are piling up and food banks are in greater demand than ever. But now, the Senate and the President are clinging to formal excuses to prevent their renewal and push workers back to the labor market as soon as possible.
For a significant part of the American working class, what lies ahead is a real abyss. The quasi-festive nights burning buildings and symbols of the hated local repressive bodies, recording in a frenzy with telephone in hand for a souvenir, provide more relief than anything else. But unfortunately, separated from any class plane and absent from any form of assembly centralization, they only reaffirm the ideology of segregation by demographic groups and identities that is strategic to keeping the working class divided and powerless in those countries where racism is institutional.
The situation is by no means much better for workers in the rest of the world either. In Ibero-America alone, the UN estimates that 14 million people could go hungry in the new phase of the crisis. The industrial crisis is evident, the shutdowns have only begun. Renault will launch today a plan to reduce 2 billion in costs. In Spain, 80% of those surveyed believe that their salaries will be frozen or lowered. The ILO warns that youth unemployment is becoming “structural”, that is, it will remain until further notice. The Covid generation will suffer a massive precarization in all countries, even in Germany.
States under strain and political apparatuses that crack
At the same time, the tensions within the ruling class and the pressure of an increasingly angry petty bourgeoisie contribute to a growing political instability that does not even begin to affect the system in question. This week’s two examples: Spain and, of course, Brazil.
The theme of the week was judicial investigation of the government’s management during the days preceding the compulsory confinement. The reports from the Guardia Civil point out , as it was obvious in political terms, that there was a willingness not to begin confinement measures until after the 8M feminist mass, even though everything indicated that confinement was necessary if the number of infections was not to increase. The government’s response was to initiate a series of purges in the direction of the police force that have ended in the resignation, cessation or passive rebellion of the entire high military command of the organization. And in the judicial process, to present, through the state’s legal counsel, a deauthorization in all rules of the judicial power and its oversight of the government.
This confrontation between the political apparatus and the judicial and repressive heart of the state actually goes back a long way and is the result of the extraordinary pressures generated in the ruling class by the petty bourgeoisie revolt, especially the Catalan one, during the last years. The novelty is that it has reached a “trumpist” or “bolsonarist” phase, in which the executive tries to assert itself with brutality over the rest of the structures of the state.
The almost immediate echo has been a press campaign that openly asked if the Minister of the Interior should be prosecuted, an option of radicalization in the confrontation that seems to be supported by some sectors of the judiciary. To top it all off, it is not known if, due to either incompetence or Machiavellianism, the government has left “exposed” the high positions of the intelligence service.
All this at a time when, at full speed, the government is trying to implement a new “road map” for national capital and needs a parliamentary base to, among other things, impose a “structural” increase in tax revenue which, in the first drafts, could even exceed seven points of GDP. But the tension affects the political parties as well. The PP feels the tension between its systemic party inertias and the drift of part of its social base towards Vox. The parliamentary language takes a tone of aggression and continuous disqualification that reflects and at the same time feeds the delusional journey of a part of the petty bourgeoisie towards the denial of the pandemic and the most vulgar class hatred against the workers.
In Brazil, Bolsonaro is still in open war against the Federal Supreme Court, a survey by the Folha de São Paulo survey company showed this same week, that the proportion of respondents who reject the government increased to 43%, while its percentage of followers is consolidated at 33%. It is that angry petty bourgeoisie, radicalized by primary US anti-communism, which once supported Bolsonaro and now denies the pandemic or at least that its effects are worse than the closure of its businesses, and pushes him towards the final military coup:
Bolsonaro resorted to other methods to preserve his power. He began to agitate the Armed Forces even more frequently and issued open threats of military intervention. On Thursday (28), the president gave a speech in support of military action in front of the Supreme Court. No commander challenged it. The challenge of the coup serves to demonstrate strength, intimidate the authorities and energize a base that is increasingly identified with its leader. The majority of the bolsonarist core agrees with the idea of arming the population, supports the participation of the military in the government and thinks that the president only wanted to improve his personal security, and not interfere with the Federal Police. This group pushes Bolsonaro in the direction of an all or nothing confrontation.
In relation to the pandemic and the “de-escalation”, this delirium is functional to the interests of national capital. The state of São Paulo (80% of Brazil’s GDP) will reopen fully on June 1 despite the fact that the record number of infections is being surpassed day after day, we are already at 26,000 new cases a day. With unemployment rising at full speed and breaking records one side and the other expects to overcome the workers’ well-founded fear of disease by using the fear of starvation.
But the violent and insane drift of part of the petty bourgeoisie and their rejection of confinement is not a phenomenon limited to Brazil. In Argentina the pot and pan protests are back, in Spain the “Barbour revolt” is in good health, in Peru the poorest part of the Andean petty bourgeoisie, the street vendors, have massively broken confinement to sell in defiance of the police… The “new normality” is going to have that class in open revolt.
Capitals are being “decoupled”
American big business is becoming aware that a period of political instability and delegitimization of the states is coming. That is why it is hurrying to and to come to agreements reducing expectations where, as in Argentina, governments have no capacity for financial maneuvering. BlackRock, Goldman Sachs and friends are ending a phase. Covid keeps speeding things up.
But where this is most worrying is in inter-imperialist relations. It’s no longer just ring of conflicts around China or the situation in Libya and the eastern Mediterranean. What they call “decoupling”, the renationalization or at least re-regionalization of production chains is going at full speed and has an increasingly dangerous effect: weakens the interdependence between capitals by lowering the costs of conflicts of all kinds. This is what is happening between Argentina and Brazil, but also between the EU and China:
The new consensus is that Europeans should be more isolated from the whims of unreliable or dominant foreign governments, whether in Beijing or Washington. This new thinking is evident in the statements of senior EU officials. For example, Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, recently called on Europeans to shorten and diversify their supply chains, and to consider shifting their trade links from Asia to Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Africa. Playing a similar tune, EU competition tsarina Margrethe Vestager wants to change state aid rules to protect European companies from Chinese takeovers.
It is this framework of “decoupling” of national capitals that explains why ” no-deal Brexit” has gone from being a shameful thing to an accepted reality. So much so that the fact that Ireland took it for granted and started a state adaptation programme this week has not caused any scandal. Nor that what until recently would have seemed like an anachronism, the resurrection of territorial conflicts between Chile and Argentina, appeared to the amazement of the Río de la Plata diplomats.
A “decoupled” society
What lies ahead of this scenario goes far beyond the decoupling between national capitals and the danger they entail. Because “decoupling” is also social, within the ruling classes and between them and the petty bourgeoisie in revolt. A danger clearly perceived by the states because, as we saw already during the last year, they can easily become instruments of the battle with rival imperialisms.
If we add the rising number of workers’ movements and strikes as we see all over the world, in a context of ever stronger attacks on living and working conditions, the perspective is one of a constant reinforcement of the authoritarian and totalitarian tendencies of the states. These will be focused, more than ever, on compressing the contradictions within the ruling class first, between it and the petty bourgeoisie later. In countries like Spain this will inevitably take the form of territorial conflict. But we cannot forget that the aim of strengthening the state is and will be to be able to define and undertake “road maps” that will provide breathing space for accumulation in a time of recession and intensified competition for access to foreign markets. Militarism will also return… even if it will be painted in a nice eco-friendly green color.