- The left’s real trauma might be that neoliberalism died without them actually killing it. ‘Agency’ now seems to reside with an inhuman agent, reminiscent of Heidegger’s claim that ‘only a God could save us now.’ The left waited for ten years for someone to finally bury the neoliberal settlement; no one arose, and now an extra-human agent will take care of it.
Capitalism has always had ‘private’ and ‘public’ moments. As Howard Brick noted in his Transcending Capitalism, “there is a two-sidedness to capitalist social development that socializes and privatizes simultaneously.” The ambiguity of capitalist “social development,” therefore, is that it “may spawn an illusory faith in the progressive promise of the status quo, but it also fosters the confidence, at the heart of Marx’s historical vision, that a break toward a new, genuinely ‘associated’ mode of production can follow on the basis of institutional resources provided by capitalism itself.” We are clearly now moving from a private into a public capitalism, and it is tempting to view the moment like Karl Polanyi, who saw a twisted hope in the fascist ‘counter-movements’ which arose in the 1930s. The very tension between property relations and productive relations is what drives the system forwards; contractions and expansions are a part of its very nature.
Undoubtedly capitalism’s public moments are objectively more interesting to the left than the private ones. But they will always be a necessary but insufficient condition of positive change—also needed of course are left strategy and organizing. Left populists didn’t think the politics of class were enough, so they sought to craft a cross-class coalition against austerity. This strategy underestimated both the desire for normality in part of the population and the desire for agency in another (think Biden, Trump).
Now the politics of survival will create a new universal, precarious subject. This subject can hardly claim more independence and now just wants bare survival. The tragedy is that any form of political independence will be forfeited for that survival itself.