[Below: Left, Economist from January 30, 2010; Right, Economist from April 24, 2010]
[Below: Left, Economist cover from May 1, 2010; Right, cover from May 8, 2010]
Sure, the theological and apocalyptic tropes are heavy handed, but this mouthpiece of spectacular accumulation is also communicating another message. From hope and hype to fire and brimstone, political terror and troubled depths: a specter is clearly haunting world markets, as the Acropolis Now imagery really hammers home. Under erasure in this image from May 1, 2010 is the Greek Communist Party's triumphant banner, replaced with the text "the horror, the horror." Angela Merkel is portrayed as an embattled captain Benjamin Willard, dispatching her shock troops to neutralize the threat of an end of the Eurozone. Interestingly, her ruling coalition is now in jeopardy and a Left-leaning coalition threatens to turn German politics a shade of red and green.
All of this renewed fear over sovereign debt is so clearly a spectacular ruse of capital. Greece, we are told, needs a structural adjustment. Spain and Portugal must slash social spending. And in a brilliant bit of politiking California's Gov. Schwarzenegger announced new austerity measures on Friday, which will, on the one hand, eviscerate working mothers, the poor, infirm and mentally ill, and push California inmates from over-crowded state prisons into over-crowded county jails. With the other hand the governator proposes to pump over $1B into higher education to placate the liberals in the student movement, and neutralize the more militant elements. The apocalyptic excesses to be combated are not those of capital's ruthless new cycle of primitive accumulation, but rather the social gains which were wrested from its bloody hands over the long 20th century.
All of this reminds me of an amazing passage in Marx's Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, which roughly sketches the link between primitive accumulation, sovereign debt, and the spectacle:
the modern doctrine that a nation becomes the richer the more deeply it is in debt. Public credit becomes the credo of capital. And with the rise of national debt-making, want of faith in the national debt takes the place of the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which may not be forgiven. The public debt becomes one of the most powerful levers of primitive accumulation. As with the stroke of an enchanter’s wand, it endows barren money with the power of breeding and thus turns it into capital, without the necessity of its exposing itself to the troubles and risks inseparable from its employment in industry or even in usury. The state creditors actually give nothing away, for the sum lent is transformed into public bonds, easily negotiable, which go on functioning in their hands just as so much hard cash would. But further, apart from the class of lazy annuitants thus created, and from the improvised wealth of the financiers, middlemen between the government and the nation – as also apart from the tax-farmers, merchants, private manufacturers, to whom a good part of every national loan renders the service of a capital fallen from heaven – the national debt has given rise to joint-stock companies, to dealings in negotiable effects of all kinds, and to agiotage, in a word to stock-exchange gambling and the modern bankocracy [...]
Tantae molis erat, to establish the “eternal laws of Nature” of the capitalist mode of production, to complete the process of separation between labourers and conditions of labour, to transform, at one pole, the social means of production and subsistence into capital, at the opposite pole, the mass of the population into wage labourers, into “free labouring poor,” that artificial product of modern society. If money, according to Augier, “comes into the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek,” capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.