We are already living in the collapse

I thought this was a really important point by James Meadway which captures something I’ve been trying to articulate across a series of gloomy blogposts:

There is a difficulty for left political strategy here. It is the same one as presented by the ongoing presence of covid: that there is an urgent need to rethink what we are trying to achieve not so much in terms of a bifurcation between utopia and catastrophe (“socialism or barbarism”, if you like) in which, at some future date, we will collectively either pick the right option, or succumb to civilisational collapse. The point is to understand that we are already living through something like the collapse, and the succession of crises – now including war in Europe – are aspects of that, rather than discrete events. (Adam Tooze has elsewhere referred to a “polycrisis”, which is quite neat but perhaps understates the extent to which the whole is greater than the sum of its crisis-ridden parts.) The point for strategy, then, is not to offer the passengers of our sinking ship a marvellous drawing of the lifeboat we would like have; it’s to find whatever bits of wood or rope are to hand, and lash together a liferaft.


He argues that the political parameters of a low-growth economy in a decaying world are fundamentally zero-sum, eroding the legitimation mechanisms (‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ etc) on which neoliberalism has tended to depend.  He points out there was no reason to assume the conditions for sustained growth (“a stable natural environment, cheap material inputs, and growth-biased technological innovations that created the conditions for further growth-biased technological innovations”) would continue indefinitely, with the unfolding cascade of crises prompting a long overdue reckoning with the reality of our shared existence. That’s why the invocation of sacrifice and its discursive connection to Russia’s war on Ukraine is so chilling when we imagine where this could lead if it embeds itself as a political strategy.

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