Marx got capitalism right as to its structural tendencies; his mistake was to think that the inevitable, and in the long run inevitably worsening, crises to which capitalism is prone were the points at which the system itself could be overthrown. But in point of fact, not only are these crises so demoralizing that they effectively work to block any hope of action to make things different, they are positively useful to capitalist domination — and even perhaps necessary to that domination. Capitalism will never resolve its “contradictions”; and a crisis is the point at which these “contradictions” come to a head. But for that very reason, crisis is the point at which capitalism is able to reinvent itself, and prolong thhe “contradictions” that are its paradoxical conditions of possibility.
In other words, orgies of destruction of capital, such as we are witnessing now, are part and parcel of the “creative destruction” (Schumpeter’s term, very much following Marx’s observations) that is the modus operandi of capitalism. Individual capitalists may suffer (though usually far less than the rest of us do), but these convulsions clear up the system, unclog it, so that new rounds of exploitation and capital accumulation may then take place.
Crisis is the mechanism that transforms the abundance which capitalism produces into the condition of scarcity and deprivation which is necessary to its continued functioning. Or, crisis (as the flip side of manic speculation) is the way that Bataillean expenditure and excess can be reintroduced into the “restricted economy” of calculation and universal equivalence.
All this is why I don’t think the current crisis marks the end of neoliberalism and market fundamentalism. For the sole aim of all the government intervention that is happening now is precisely to restart (reboot) the currently clogged market. Whether it works or not is still open to quesiton; but if it does work, this will not mean a paradigm shift of any sort, but only the restoration of corporate and financial business as usual. In times of prosperity, the best we can hope for is trickle-down (though often even that is not guaranteed; the last twenty-five years have instead involved a redistribution of wealth from everyone else to the already-rich). But in times of crisis, recession, and depression, all we can hope for is to “share the pain” that the corporate and financial sector is feeling, and thereby to restore that sector at our own expense. The game is rigged, in times of prosperity and calamity alike.
But no matter what, the worst never leads to the better. Revolution will never come from sacrifice. It is only under conditions of (relative) prosperity and abundance — which capitalism does provide, after a manner, during one part of its cycle — that we will ever find the power to imagine things differently, and that people will have the motivation and the energy to devote themselves to hopes for the future, rather than being stuck in the moment-to-moment struggle for bare survival.
Abundance and non-commodified leisure are the only things that capitalism is unable to endure. Both the crazed accumulation and conspicuous consumption that characterized the financial sector over the last two decades, and the crazed destruction and disaccumulation that are overtaking that same sector today, serve the purpose of averting the threat of a generalized abundance and leisure for everybody. Abundance and leisure — which are technologically attainable, but economically unthinkable — must be revived as the basis for any sort of political struggle. Now more than ever is the time to (as Lenin’s Tomb suggested some years ago) “be unrealistic, demand the possible.”