Issue #32, 2009
Verso: crises of global capitalism – reading tools

Break Their Haughty Power: Prefatory Note to Four Essays by Loren Goldner on the World Capitalist Crisis
Alexandru Polgár

In a cultural life obsessed with the exorcism of any positive reference to revolutionary socialism and/or communism, there is perhaps nothing surprising in wanting to learn more about the devilish objects of such a public craze. Similarly, in a global society living in denial of its own social, economic and political realities, while frantically celebrating itself as the most advanced stage of human progress, it is perhaps high time to start asking some real questions about the exact nature of what we live in each day. – A clear-cut response to such concerns, the following selection of essays is a necessary toolbox or first-aid kit for understanding the most recent crisis of world capitalism.

The selection relies on the educated guess that an elucidation of the historical circum­stances surrounding the crisis could grasp the capitalist continuum better than the various fragmentary accounts concocted by mainstream media and politics. These accounts are mostly content with presenting the current collapse of capitalism as an ephemeral episode of sheer human greed. – A hypothesis worthy of the pope himself (who shares it, by the way), but still a bit absurd since human greed existed well before Jesus without leading to a global capitalist crisis! Against such fairy­tales, one needs to show how capitalism was pushed, by the logic of its inner develop­ment, i.e. by the logic of its own survival as a system of production, to engage in increasingly riskier financial products (such as subprime mortgages). As elementary as it sounds, this knowledge constitutes today a well-kept public secret. Yet, instead of spreading this knowledge and making it the starting point of meaningful social debates all over the world, the overwhelming majority of our scholars, theorists, researchers, NGO and workers’ union activists, journalists and politicians shy away even from using the word “capitalism“ when referring to the fundamental reality in which we – I am tempted to say: all of us – live (for nobody is free of capitalism understood most properly, in its essence, as a mode of the world itself, the first we can call simply “ours“...). This being the case, it is all the more urgent to insist upon what is consciously hidden from the public, namely, that this crisis is not the first of its kind in our history and will probably not be the last either. Furthermore, capitalist crises are not independent from each other and they must be studied within the capitalist continuum, i.e. the type of uninterrupted totality molded by a capitalist reason that colonizes the essential structures of the world itself (i.e. the distribution of meaning).

With these thoughts in my mind, an encounter with Loren Goldner’s oeuvre seemed long overdue. It finally took place during a conversation with my friend and colleague, Kieran Aarons, who drew my attention to one of Goldner’s recent articles: “The Biggest ’October Surprise’ of All: A World Capitalist Crash“. Trying to locate the source of this article, I “discovered“ Break Their Haughty Power (http://home.earthlink.net/~lrgoldner/), a real goldmine of contemporary socialist theory. To my surprise, Goldner’s writings satisfied my intention to provide a historical picture of the crisis in more than one respect. Not only was he dis­cussing the capitalist continuum with one of the surest eyes socialism ever had, his long-term interest in capitalist crises transformed his texts into genuine historical documents, which – more than any other reality-recording tool or heuristic device – permit to follow the genesis of the current crisis in real time.

In my selection, I focused on texts that mark the “beginning“ (“Conjuncture: World Capitalism Since the Collapse of the Bretton Woods System“ – 1976) and the current state of the crisis (the already mentioned “The Biggest ’October Surprise’ ...“ – 2008), as well as on the development of the main analytic tool provided by Goldner, his re-conceptualization of fictitious capital, which first appears in one of the middle-essays (“International Liquidity Crisis and Class Struggle – First Approximation“ – 1998) and later becomes the major theme of “Fictitious Capital, Real Retrogression“ (2002), while its germs were already present as early as the “Conjuncture“-essay (cf. the so-called “paper value“ or “value on paper“ of certain assets). To my mind, intellectually the most exciting detail about this compilation is that, while selecting and translating the texts, I kept on discovering new points of convergence among the essays, points that give not only a strong coherence to the final product, but also a luminous varifocal perspective, equally sharp whatever the focus. The result of such a perspective is a phenomenologically effective superposition among the various layers of analysis, including a scrutiny of the essential characteristics of the progressing economic situation, a rigorous and convincing general direction of interpreting Marx’s writings and the meaning of socialism/communism, a perceptive reading of history according to various periods, long or short, but always finding its stakes in the contemporary, an examination of the working class movements and their strategies of struggle, and last but not least a programmatic reflection leading to concrete propositions for political action. Any of these dimensions could constitute the topic of a discussion of its own worthy of our attention; but when all of them combine in a meaningful totality, in which the strength of the immanent connections reproduces faithfully the cohesion of the world itself – or, in fact, of its world-making (or “worlding“, Weltung) –, we must greet in the author of this achievement one of the great theoretical minds of our times.

P.S. The editorial board wishes to express its gratitude to the author for the translation rights of this compilation. The translator used the originals from the Break Their Haughty Power website (http://home.earthlink.net/~lrgoldner/).