Susan George has a world wide reputation as a searing critic of capitalist globalisation and as an activist for international social justice. Her first 'Lugano Report' more than a decade ago attracted attention in part because she wrote it in the persona of a sinister international cabal planning the future neo-liberal world economic order. In it George predicted, well ahead of the event, the near collapse of the world banking system in 2007 and a looming global warming catastrophe as well as warning of the emergence of a super rich ruling class throughout much of the capitalist world. Her predictions went completely against the grain of the “conventional wisdom” of the time – but were chillingly prescient.
Susan George returns to the conceit of the global conspiracy as the framework for her latest book. This approach allows her, tongue in cheek, to track just how far the financial, economic, ecological and social crisis has intensified over the past 16 years and has neutered so much of the democratic life of out societies. George is also able to sketch out an utterly bleak prospect if a global coalition of organised labour, radical democrats and new social movements cannot find ways to halt and then reverse the blind forces of unregulated capitalist anarchy.
In this follow up book she quotes Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor (and by no means the most reactionary of his peers) as saying: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it is my class, the rich class, that is making war and we are winning.” Indeed on present trends the system is drifting from near global financial collapse after 2007, through the worse depression since the 1920s (maybe since before 1914) and now into a “recovery” which – for the US, Europe and Japan – threatens a further decade of stagnation or minimal economic growth. This threatens declining living standards for many, a continued widening of the obscene rich/poor wealth gap, and continued undermining of post-Second World War social standards and citizens’ rights. George also leaves us in no doubt that the clock is ticking to a global ecological disaster (as the recent typhoon in the Philippines is surely a shocking reminder.)
This book is an invaluable resource for activists involved in the day to day struggles in all these arenas and can easily be mined by activists wanting concrete evidence for what is happening behind the public face of politics. It also highlights more recent trends, including evidence of the relative “decline” of western capitalism, the stark link between the financial cost of militarism, war and the massive growth in state indebtedness and also the growing phenomenon of population movements by desperate peoples in regions devastated by war and desperate poverty.
Although it promises to unveil “How to win the class war”, this part of the book is far less sure footed than the searing analysis of a system in crisis. Understandably given what has happened on the ground, Susan George is not optimistic about the current state of the left and the wider anti-capitalist movements.
In my view the metaphor of a sinister global conspiracy employed in this book is, in this context, more of a hindrance than a help when it comes to exploring how to win the class war in the book’s title. One reason is that the current crisis is better understood as the outcome of the chaotic inter-capitalist rivalries rather than any clever strategy orchestrated by the super-rich, all knowing and all powerful elite.
The book does not really deal with the popular reaction to the global crisis which is in many “developed” countries resulted – sad to say – of growing support not for the left but for right wing, populist, anti-immigrant and anti-European parties. It also does not help that Susan is a bit too quick (admittedly in her conspiratorial persona) to dismiss would be social democratic reformers, like the French social democrat former Commission President, Jacques Delors, as merely “useful idiots” for the global elite. Much of what passes for social democratic “reform” policies at present is frankly pathetic. But we might remember the old adage: “Revolutionaries are reformers – those but who mean it.”
Few if any on the left are currently in a position to offer more coherent and credible formulae about how to unite and build on the disparate anti-austerity social and political forces angered and – increasingly – made desperate by the crisis pulverising our societies. We need greater imagination as well as determination and readiness to forge a European and a global as well as national and local socialist politics to meet this challenge.
There is evidence of a growing public readiness to look sympathetically at the case for political and popular action to challenge neo-liberal, free market doctrine and the neo-liberal order run by the ultra rich. In building such a progressive alternative we can also draw strength and clarity from the sombre message brought by Susan George.