martin hardie on Mon, 27 Feb 2012 23:57:46 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> some reflections from australia on recent events here - the demise of zombie politics?

after watching the so called leadership struggle here in australia over the
last week i needed to purge myself of it on paper:

i was drawn to the zombie reference by a recent article on polanyi:
Double movements and pendular forces: Polanyian perspectives on the
neoliberal age 20 Current Sociology 60(1)

As Peck et al. (2010) have argued, as an intellectual project,
neoliberalism is practically dead, even while it blunders on as a mode of
crisis-driven governance. In this scenario, it is entering a
post-programmatic, ?living dead? or ?zombie? phase, ?in which residual
neoliberal impulses are sustained not by intellectual and moral leadership,
or even by hegemonic force? ? as in the 1980s and 1990s, during the
neoliberal ascendancy ? ?but by underlying macroeconomic and
macroinstitutional conditions?, including enforced public austerity and
global indebtedness, ?and growth-chasing, beggar-thy-neighbor modes of
governance? (Peck et al., 2010: 94).

Peck et al. are not alone in identifying the zombie as a metaphor
appropriate to the socioeconomic present. Mark Fisher (2009: 15, 78) drew
attention to the zombifying logic of neoliberalism, Colin Crouch (2011)
described neoliberalism as undergoing ?Non-Death? and Time magazine hailed
the zombie as representative of ?some real American values? and anointed it
as ?the official monster of the recession? (Grossman, 2009).10 Gillian Tett
(2009) had earlier recruited the metaphor to a more specific purpose, in
designating the phalanx of businesses and private equity firms that are
?too weak to flourish but too complex and costly for their lenders to shut
down?, such that they remain ?half-alive, poisoning the corporate world by
silently spreading a sense of stagnation and fear?. John Quiggin (2010) and
SOAS economist Ben Fine (2010) adapted the metaphor ? as ?Zombieconomics? ?
to refer to mainstream economics in the neoliberal age: an approach that is
dead in that its methodology has been comprehensively debunked, but undead
in that it persistently returns. (It blunders around ?looking for
applications out of the incidence of market imperfections, whether in the
dimly incorporated real world, or through appropriation and degradation of
the material of other social sciences? [Fine, 2010: 167].)

Adding to the gathering crush of zombie metaphors, finally, are Chris
Harman?s Zombie Capitalism (2009) and David McNally?s Monsters of the
Market: Zombies, Vampires and Global Capitalism (2011), for whom the
zombie, together with the vampire, symbolize capital. Capital, writes
Harman (2009: 84), ?is labour that is transformed into a monstrous product
whose only aim is to expand itself?. It is ?dead labour?, in Marx?s phrase
(in Harman, 2009: 84), ?that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living
labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks?. In this use of the
vampire metaphor Marx is making three interrelated claims: the argument for
exploitation (that capital feeds off living labour), the idea of
invisibility (like vampires, capital?s bloodsucking is shrouded in
darkness) and the notion of alienation ? the dead dominate the living
(McNally, 2011: 140). Equally, capital can be likened to zombies. Although
zombies in literary and cinematic culture of the first decades of the 20th
century figured specifically as mindless labourers (or Caribbean slaves)
and in the second half as mindless and flesh-eating consumers, analogies
with the capital?labour relation in its totality should not be overlooked,
argues McNally (2011: 141):

In awakening past labour, living labour raises it from the dead, makes it
undead. Indeed, only the vital activity of labour keeps capital from
lapsing into a death state: ?Living labour must seize on these things,
awaken them from the dead?. In so doing, living labour also alienates and
deadens itself. ?All the powers of labour project themselves as powers of
capital?, thus rendering workers appendages of the animated monster. In a
perverse dialectical inversion, the very powers of labour that re-animate
the dead also deaden the living, reifying them, reducing them to a
zombie-state. Having escaped human control, capital?s goals are determined
? like zombies ? by impersonal forces and not by conscious human volition.

Harman?s use of the zombie analogy is akin to McNally?s, although his
creatures more closely resemble one species of the zombie tribe: the
denizens of Romero?s films. Like Romero?s zombies, global capitalism, for
Harman (2009), is not only parasitic upon living human labour and dead to
the needs of living human beings but is prone to erupt in savage bouts of
activity that inflict chaos all around. The threat it poses is apocalyptic,
a catastrophic collapse of social organization ?in Harman?s allegory,
through runaway climate change.

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