Global Crisis and Global Resistance

by Ben Campbell on June 7, 2012

On the streets of Montreal, what starts with the clanging of one casserole soon gives rise to thousands marching through the streets in solidarity. In an attempt to replicate this dynamic on an international scale, similar demonstrations took place last night in dozens of cities from Chicago to Berlin. Indeed, the pots and pans, like so much else of today’s left, originated in the Global South.

Implicit in this global network of protest is the acknowledgement that the local struggles are deeply interrelated. We find ourselves in the greatest crisis of capitalism since the Great Depression, one where capital seemingly knows no political boundaries. The nation states seem an anachronism, a convenient illusion of popular sovereignty.

Occupy Chicago solidarity with Quebec students

The most obvious symptom of the global economic crisis is the omnipresence of debt. Hence the red square of the Quebec protesters, signifying that the students are squarely in the the red. Of course, nearly everyone is these days, from consumers and homeowners to governments and even corporations.

While the corporate media and political establishment put forward all sorts of one-dimensional explanations, it is readily apparent that the ballooning debt is the result of an economic system that for decades has been resorting to credit of all sorts to keep profits flowing and thus stem off the inevitable economic crisis. That crisis began in 2007, and since then, as Yanis Varoufakis has put it, the unsustainable Ponzi growth has given way to an equally ridiculous and unsustainable game of Ponzi austerity. In the new environment of tightened credit, everyone attempts to reduce their debt burden by offloading it onto everyone else – corporations to governments, governments to each other, and always eventually onto the people who resist least. It is like a game of musical chairs, except the chairs are for sale to the highest bidder.

And so the symptoms of the crisis shift round and round in circles, from America to Europe, eventually to Asia, Canada, and Australia, and back again. And just as the symptoms shift, so too does the resistance, from Syntagma square and Puerto del Sol, to Wall Street and Oakland, from Chile to Quebec. For if the people are to resist the crushing weight of capital’s “austerity,” it will require a resistance that matches the dynamism of the economic system where “all that is solid melts into air”.

The Zuccotti Park encampment was short-lived, but in that time it spatially spread to hundreds of other locations around the world. And within each such island of resistance, a new generation were inspired to carry the struggle forward, into new forms, exemplified in “Occupy Everywhere” and the “Occupy X” branding.

And so the Quebec student strike must be judged. It is, after all, centered around a fairly minor piece of policy in the global scheme of things. The Canadian media apparatus is quick to remind everyone of the comparatively meager tuition fees involved. Thus, the rest of Canada has greeted the protests with a combination of contempt and incredulity – are they really going to such extremes over so little?

One major reason for the comparative lack of support is that the full weight of economic crisis has yet to hit Canada. Canada experienced a brief recession in 2009 in parallel with the United States, but its expanding debt bubble continued onward, thus insulating it from what has befallen much of Europe:

This current Canadian economic climate makes it unlikely that the current protests will transform into the broader class struggle that the most radical of Quebec’s student unions, CLASSE, has called for (of course, these economic conditions could change rapidly). The more likely resolution would seem some sort of compromise on the tuition issue, and a temporary reprieve from the demonstrations that have taken hold of Montreal. If the crisis is thus “resolved” for the time being, we will likely hear the usual post-mortems from sections of the dogmatic left, declaring that the student strike a failure and waste of energies, just as Occupy was dismissed in so many quarters.

But this is a foolish binary to apply to a social movement. Like Occupy, the Quebec student strike must be judged not on what it is, but on what it becomes. At present, the movement has enormous potential to embolden similar student struggles internationally, and empower, radicalize, and build local networks that will be of enormous value in the years of struggle ahead, as the economic crisis and its austerity inevitably intensifies in Canada.

For now, the tumult is a distant clanging of pots and pans, and it remains to see how loud it may become.

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