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BOOKS Everything Must Change

‘Pick 'n' mix’ proposals dilute menu for radical political action following coronavirus crisis

PURPORTEDLY a response to the coronavirus pandemic, Everything Must Change is a compilation of 20+ interviews conducted earlier last year with leftist journalists, academics, artists and political commentators.

Its editors, Renata Avila and Srecko Horvat, both prominent in Diem 25 (Democracy In Europe Now) and Progressive International, claim that the ideas and suggestions in the book will prompt readers “to know how to act, when and where to strike.”

I question if that will be the case. If the aim is to inform and guide coherent action, then I doubt that a book providing a kind of ideological “pic’n’mix” can stimulate an impetus for concerted action.

While not wishing to denigrate the very worthy aim of the authors and the value of many contributions, the book's general thrust evokes Friedrich Engels’s characterisation of the socialist utopian writers of the late 19th-century as a “mish-mash” of critical statements, economic theories and pictures of future society.

Running through all the various themes are major differences over the ability of government and civic society to exert leverage in implementing popular democratic policies. Vijay Prashad points to the continuing importance of national state institutions to provide public health, control transnational firms and stop flows of hot money to tax havens and stresses the need to challenge the primacy of the dollar and promote a debt jubilee.

Where some contributors focus on the primacy of global solutions and solidarity, others declare the primacy of “smaller self-sufficient entities” when building solidarity and mobilising people.

Presciently anticipating the collusive actions of the powerful techno-oligarchy ubiquitous in the current US political crisis, Brussels and Washington — rather than regulating these tech giants and surveillance capitalism — are instead in thrall to corporate lobbyists, Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff insists.

Regulation has in fact legalised and normalised extensive surveillance practices. Digital platforms, as recent weeks have demonstrated, can wield a political power greater than the President of the US, and have become self-appointed editors and censors.

On the coronavirus, which the book is purportedly a response to, there is relatively little analysis of its origins. There are references to the roots of new pathogens such as Covid-19, Sars and Mers in the human-wildlife interface and the industrialised global food supply chain.

Yet in spite of calls for global action, nothing concrete is proposed to resolve this fundamental ecological and social threat and Tariq Ali points out the purely nationalistic response of every European state to the Covid crisis.

On the EU, the general drift in the book is to seek leverage through reforming its institutions. But Astra Taylor, founder of Debt Collective, cites Greece as an example of the EU’s “fiscal cruelty” and advocates organising municipalities, states and federal government in order to affect global issues.

Otherwise, there are only vague hints to what the old is to be replaced with. Philosopher Slavoj Zizek is anxious to avoid any endorsement of a Soviet model “where central committees rule” and his definition of communism consists of a relatively efficient state, strong active international collaboration and local mobilisation, while Evenley Moreover seeks “a paradigm to transcend the binary,” thus suggesting neither neoliberal nor Soviet-style solutions.

The logical outcome of this lack of direction is a creeping pessimism, encapsulated in the question posed by former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis: “Is there a realistic utopian vision of a post-crisis society?”

An apposite and timely contribution is the need for strong and continuous unity to defend Julian Assange, with investigative Italian journalist Stephania Maurizi exposing the complicity of Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service in the prolonged detention and psychological torture of Assange.

Her salient contribution links to the world of big data, the internet and digitisation — all of interest but again, it’s a descent into a dystopia where few solutions seem available.

Almost anticipating the collusive actions of tech companies in the current US political crisis, the power and reach of companies forming the techno oligarchy are addressed by Professor Shoshana Zuboff, who notes that Brussels and Washington — rather than regulating tech giants and surveillance capitalism — are instead captured by corporate lobbyists.

Regulation has in fact legalised and normalised extensive surveillance practices. Digital platforms, as we have discovered very recently, can wield a political power greater than the President of the US and have become self-appointed editors and censors.

It points to the emergence of “a new totalitarian system wherein the same companies that provide our internet and phone services also have information on our health and movements and co-operate with the CIA’s drone programme,” Zuboff declares.

Published by O/R Books, £19.

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