As capitalism’s social crises smash into escalating environmental crises, capital and the state respond. Now that the supposedly smooth ascent of progress has been decisively replaced by the turbulence of permanent crisis, the left’s relationship to the state must become one of attentiveness to the dynamics of crisis management.
How is this vast new omnicrisis being managed, both at the sharp edges of borders and through mundane and brutal processes of impoverishment and humiliation? What pulls is capital exerting on the state and vice versa? What does the authoritarian turn in politics have to do with the nebulous threat of ‘ecofascism’? What kinds of emergency might the state in the climate crisis invoke, and how can we – as Walter Benjamin wrote – bring about the real state of emergency?
Crises have long been productive for the state, capital, and radical movements alike: productive of new forms of control, new investment opportunities in the flux, and new bonds of solidarity. The last decade and a half have presented themselves as something of an all-consuming crisis, from the Great Financial Crisis and the imposition of austerity, to the Arab Spring, to the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, to the state-produced ‘crisis’ of migration into Europe in 2015, to the global resurgence of the far right, to the pandemic, to the war in Ukraine and the deepening cost of living crisis now. Each crisis has been managed by the state and capital so that it turns in their favour.
The aspects of this management are broad: massive but arcane shifts in monetary policy, media spectacle, doubling down on the centrality of security, all expressing a logic of failure and containment – in which the state responds to crisis by failing and generating a market solution that contains the crisis.
The next century will be no different, except that the crises will be more and more climate-related: famines and other ‘natural’ disasters, the possibility of climate-related conflicts and the urgent movements of people whose lives have been made untenable where they were. Each of these crises are likely to be presented as security threats to capital and the state. What does securitisation have to do with the better-know history of climate denialism? What contradictions does the management of crisis produce?
The question of the management of crisis touches on many of the most profound questions on the left. The climate crisis demands co-ordinated action of the scale and scope that only the state can accomplish; but the state as it stands is one of the main blockages to the world we must create. What forms of organisation does a left attentive to the complexity, rapidity and scale of the coming crises need? How can we make the immediate bonds of solidarity that these crises produce last?
Nebulous threats such as ‘ecofascism’ appear in the background of the present. Are they more than the products of an overheating imagination? And if not ‘ecofascism’, how can we resist the pull of other forms of environmental authoritarianism? How do we deter the formation of authoritarian state in the context of the climate crisis while still attending to the importance of action at the scale the state has monopolised in dealing with the environmental crisis?
Profound contradictions structure the crisis on a global scale; under capitalism, much of the wealth of the Global North is conditional on its extraction in the Global South. How can international solidarity work in this context, working through the deep conditions of racism in the crisis? How does the UK’s comparatively secure position from the immediate effects of climate change and the UK’s historical responsibility affect what the UK left should do?
How can we push from a crisis of the symptoms to a crisis of the causes?