The Financial Elites and the New Inverted Totalitarianism: Smash the State or Smash the Banks? (1)

…with that domination comes different forms of ruthlessness

Recent events in the US government shutdown as well as  Cyprus, Greece and Spain are drawing attention to the role of banks and other financial institutions. One of the questions being raised concerns exactly how much power the banks have over governments. The question is a serious one with implications for future social unrest and political violence.

Among a number of street level activists, Ivy League professors, intelligentsia, anarchist theorists, social commentators and political observers, a view is emerging that the institutions of government are increasingly irrelevant. Power in society has passed from the political sphere to the financial one. The new belief is that the political leaders of the state such as Presidents and Prime Ministers no longer run the society, Their power has been subsumed to that of the “too big to fail” financial institutions. In a few cases, social activists note that the focus of protest actions and violence should be on banks and financial institutions and not on governments or large corporations.[2]

Or as the New York Times puts it: “It doesn’t really matter what ordinary people want. The wealthy call the tune and the politicians dance.”[3]

This view is also being described as a form of inverted totalitarianism. As Princeton Professor (Emeritus)Dr. S.Wolin expresses it: “In classical totalitarian regimes, such as Nazi fascism or Soviet communism, economics was subordinate to politics. Under inverted totalitarianism the reverse is true. Economics dominates politics – and with that domination comes different forms of ruthlessness.” [4]

This view is common on a large variety of social activist sites.[5] Similar views have been expressed by other such as the writings found in the highly popular book from France “The Coming Insurrection”[6] which was published in response to the French riots of 2005. The authors or the ‘Secret Committee’[7] stated that the problems are not in the political sphere but rather in the economic one. As they believe: “Thirty years of ‘crisis,’ mass unemployment, and flagging growth, and they still want us to believe in the economy. . . . We have to see that the economy is itself the crisis.”[8]

Banks also appear in a negative light in books and book reviews about the “new economy”. In a 2008 book review of the book “After the New Economy,” the reviewer noted: “this account of how the central banks operate to keep unemployment at a level sufficient to fear the sack (and so be compliant workers) should be required reading for all anarchists.”[9]

Within the democratic states, social activists have also expressed mixed views on the relationship between the police (i.e. state authority) and banks. One activist has suggested that attacks should focus on banks and not even target police forces as they are only punching bags for the state.[10]
Since the 2007/08 crisis criticism and activism against banks and bank related institutions has heightened. This crisis has also invigorated anti-capitalist, anti-globalization and anti-poverty groups in general. This has been evidenced by the burning of executive residences in Austria[11], the UK, Canada[12] and others as well as various attacks against banks in Iceland, the UK and Greece.[13] In Berlin and Hamburg social activists have taken a different approach and are burning high value cars instead,[14] with BMWs and Mercedes being attacked with simple, yet effective, time delay incendiary devices. Some 500 cars[15] have been burned over a period of approximately three years, with 400 alone having been burnt in Hamburg and Berlin in 2009.[16]

Because of this social activist focus on money and power, financial institutions will bear a larger portion of the emerging protest activity, including violent attacks. Recent events in Cyprus, Italy and Spain are not helping this view. While there is little public notice paid to such matters, there is an increasingly active three way campaign being created by individuals from the extreme left (anti-poverty groups,[17] Trotskyites,[18] Anarcho-syndicalists, Fourth Internationalists etc), native or indigenous groups[19] and Islamic radicals (Hezbollah[20], HAMAS, PFLP etc). One earlier manifestation of this direction was the repeated attendance of all of these groups at the Cairo Conference from 2002 to 2007.[21] The conference was widely attended by the radical wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, HAMAS and others (but not jihadist groups such as al Qaeda). There are a series of other activists and groups forming along these lines, most of which have anti-capitalism, anti-EU or anti-American views as their common basis, along with the common use of the language of resistance. Banks and financial institutions figure prominently in the discussions with statements such as “Throw away the Banks and the whole capitalist system!”[22]

This will be what economics looks like for the rest of us if we do not soon get to Capitalism 2,0: Hang onto your hats.

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[1] Multiple examples exist of individuals calling for activities or campaigns to ‘smash the banks.’ See, among many others, http://friendlyfirecollective.info/articles/88/smash-the-banks, http://mostlywater.org/node/28398, and http://www.pfrpc.ca/articles.php?command=show&ID=10878&tID=3.

[2] Among others, see A.G. Schwarz has written an article titled “Signals of Disorder: Sowing Seeds Anarchy in the Metropolis” which is available online at: http://theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/A._G._Schwarz___Signals_of_Disorder__Sowing_Seeds_Anarchy_in_the_Metropolis.html

[3] New York Times Op-Ed of 11 February 2011, When Democracy Weakens, available online at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/12/opinion/12herbert.html?_r=1&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha212

[4] Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, Sheldon S. Wolin, Princeton University Press, 2008.

[5] https://www.adbusters.org/magazine/88/chris-hedges.html.

[6] The full test of the article can be found at: http://tarnac9.wordpress.com/texts/the-coming-insurrection/.

[7] The author is likely Julien Coupat, a 34 year old activist who war arrested as part of the TARNAC 9. https://www.adbusters.org/magazine/85/coming_insurrection.html.

[8] See the MIT review at: http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=11879.

[9] Review: After the New Economy, Doug Henwood, The New Press (ISBN 1-56584-770-9), 2003. The review is available online at the website Anarchist Writers: http://anarchism.pageabode.com/anarcho/review-after-the-new-economy .

[10] Signals of Disorder: Sowing Seeds Anarchy in the Metropolis, by A.G. Schwarz.

[11] On 03 August 2009, there was an arson attack at Novartis CEO Daniel Vasella’s lodge in Bach, Austria. An attack on his mother’s grave took place a week earlier. The next day drug maker Novartis said animal rights militants were responsible. http://timelines.ws/countries/SWITZERLAND.HTML

[12] The house of the CEO of Syncrude in Canada was burnt by arsonists.

[13] In Greece, the Central Bank was attacked by rioters in 2008. During the same series of riots three bank employees of a commercial bank were killed when an anarchist group firebombed the premises during daylight hours. See, among others, http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-05-06/greek-riots-threaten-to-scare-tourists-key-to-economy-update2-.html.

[14] http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1881451,00.html.

[15] https://www.adbusters.org/magazine/89/coming-insurrection.html.

[16] http://english.aljazeera.net/focus/2010/04/201042995544279317.html.

[17] See OCAP at: http://www.ocap.ca/

[18] The International Socialists in Canada http://www.socialist.ca/.

[19] See the commentary “On the recent actions in Montreal and the rest of Canada” which identifies anarchist solidarity with native groups at http://anarchistnews.org/?q=node/3316. See also the video in which the FFFC claims responsibility for the firebombing of the RBC branch in Ottawa in May of 2010. It is available online at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiImoI0JdPQ .

[20] See the Montreal based website ‘Tadamon’ maintained by social activist Stefan Christoff. The primary aim of the website is the delisting of Hezbollah in Canada as a terrorist group. The site is at: http://www.tadamon.ca/.

[21] See the Ottawa Citizen news article of 08 May 2007 ‘Canadian antiwar activists sat down with terror groups.’ It is available online at: http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=5a15f760-ae58-4765-bbc6-6541fdd59e3f&k=93285.

[22] See the publication “Why do we hate” on page 47 at: http://mountingbedlamdistro.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/whydowehate-insides-2up.pdf.

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