150818PincerStrategyColor

First appeared in Skewed News.

The stagnation of the global economy is structural. Everything capitalists do to try to overcome it just makes it worse. From Greece to Puerto Rico to China to the US to many other places, its weakness is spreading.

Easing credit has failed to spur growth, as has the lowering of interest rates to almost 0%. An executive I chatted with randomly while traveling invoked the well-worn but evocative metaphor of “pushing on a string” to describe these futile efforts. Investors aren’t motivated to pull their end of the string. The generally low return on investment is keeping many capitalists waiting on the sidelines, hoping the game improves.

The capitalists have been trying to save their collective asses with some massive structural changes, imposed over the last few decades. Elements include increased austerity, deregulation, free trade agreements, slave labor, underemployment, debt, and imperialist conquest. All this brings massive pain to the vast majority. Capitalists know we can only take so much of their assaults, and that odds are increasing for broad and sustained social upheaval.

Thus far workers have not coalesced into an autonomous movement, but capitalists know there’s a chance the working class will wake up like a lion roaring for blood. They’d rather prevent this, because if workers organize, they will be the one social force that could take down capitalism altogether.

While Occupy and protests against police brutality mostly reflect internal contradictions within capitalism and don’t fundamentally challenge it on their own, they do demonstrate—to all of us—the potential of rapidly spreading mass mobilizations. Capitalists know that if revolutionaries start investing their energy in constructing a working class movement, workers could be next.

Preventing working class-led revolution is a matter of survival for the capitalist class, their top priority to ensure their sole reason for existence: the accumulation of surplus value (i.e.: making money). They’ve consolidated and perpetually adapt their entire social structure to ensure the prevention of their overthrow, from the media to the arts to the political framework to the physical infrastructure.

But their Titanic is leaking, and the masses locked in the hold are growing more outraged. While the balance of forces currently favors the capitalists, this could flip quickly. So capitalists are implementing a pincer strategy to handle both the current situation and smother a potential working class uprising.

In a pincer movement, military forces split to attack an advancing enemy on two sides. This two-pronged form of attack, used victoriously by Hannibal, Genghis Kahn, and many others throughout history, is now being used by the capitalists on the working class. Though it’s being played out in society overall, it’s most clearly visible in a concentrated form in the electoral campaign, with each of their political parties representing one side of the pincer.

On the one hand, the Republicans are making clear that if workers remain disorganized and collectively weak, then it will be possible for capitalists to continue terrorizing and assaulting us with impunity. They make no pretense of caring about our concerns; quite the contrary. They don’t have to: the capitalists’ hyper-militarized and über-aggro police force has not been cultivated by accident. Fascistic measures in the political field reflect developing fascism in the economic field.

On the other hand, in case workers grow unruly, the Democrats are ready to divert us into a harmless dead end. They’ll dissuade us from the need to organize ourselves by offering us a spectacle of respectfully conceding to our need for improvements in our wages and conditions. They promise workers a minor adjustment in the minimum wage, in the hope that we’ll accept it with gratitude (at least relief) and not demand more.

Capitalists can retain dominance if they prevent us from organizing. It’s even more effective if they act preemptively, allowing us to believe that we’ve organized ourselves, when really we’ve been organized by them, into structures under their control. When collaborationist unions support the Democratic Party and send their members out to canvas for it, they are actually disorganizing workers, preventing our autonomy, serving the interests of capital.

Once workers get wise to this and start organizing autonomously, outside this framework, the next tactic for capitalists to divert us will likely be a fake Labor Party, or even a fake Socialist Party, to make the whole charade look more real. (How do we know a fake one from a real one? If it’s run by workers, combative against capitalists, internationalist, and fighting for the interests of the working class, then it’s real. If it’s run by bureaucrats, conciliatory to capitalists, nationalist, and sells workers out, then not so much.)

Small concessions from capitalists—even inadequate, even fake—are certainly preferable to being subjected to outright fascism. No doubt. We’ll take the concessions, even while fighting for more. But we can’t be placated or pacified by them.

This is a dangerous moment. Historically, in periods of capitalist crisis, when revolution has loomed on the horizon, liberal reforms have been used to shift the balance of forces in favor of capital, to weaken working class movements and bring them under their control, so that fascism could be then imposed. The anti-fascist pledge of the “lesser evil” fraction of the capitalist class is merely a postponement of fascism while preparing the ground for it.

In Chile, Pinochet came to power after Allende weakened working class militancy by refusing the need for armed struggle. In Haiti, Aristide’s non-reliance on the working class made possible the Cédras coup.

Germany 1918-1919 is a stark lesson about the betrayal of liberals siding with capital to crush an incipient working class revolution, while opening the door wide for fascists to come to power.

Following World War I (which was not actually a world war but an inter-imperialist war), the German working class rose up in a revolutionary movement. As striking workers and mutinous sailors and war-weary soldiers took control of large areas of the country, revolutionaries and reformists contended sharply for different outcomes. The petit bourgeois (middle class)-led Social Democratic Party collaborated with the dominant classes to institute a parliamentary republic (later known as the Weimar Republic), in order to bypass and prevent a working class seizure of power.

The SPD reformists allied with the imperial forces and nationalist death squads (Freikorps) to violently suppress the revolutionary movement. This weakened the left and the masses so severely that they were unable to unify in the face of rising fascism. Nationalists took advantage of this weakness, culminating in the takeover by Hitler’s Nazi Party.

Today we see tragedy repeated as farce, without even an organized autonomous working class movement that could possibly make a serious bid for power. Social democrats and other reformists and liberals on one side, fascists and other reactionaries on the other, are mutually playing out a good-cop-bad-cop drama with the ultimate common aim of keeping a potentially revolutionary working class from even coming into being, much less gaining power and overthrowing capitalism.

Let’s not keep playing the part of the victim in this repetitive narrative.

In today’s pincer maneuver, the two attacking sides (Republicans and Democrats, roughly representing industrial capital and finance capital) stream forward and strive to come together in the rear, encircling their enemy (us). By taking the side of either one, we strengthen them both, and cut off our escape route. Both work together to ensure that we stay trapped in the capitalist framework. Encirclement is a strong play that often leads to defeat or surrender of the surrounded targets. Whoever wins the election, all we’ll get is more austerity and exploitation, more imperialist conquest abroad, more repression at home.

The only way to escape an encirclement is to break out with force, likely leading to major damage to ourselves even if successful. The best plan, of course, is not to be caught in the pincer in the first place. Thus the importance of organizing a powerful and autonomous working class movement—let’s take up our responsibility to do so.