Although they are not real economic categories, the first of the above two words, has surfaced in recent economic and financial discussions. Given this attempt to popularise complex economic phenomena, I think there is enough room to include the second. Originally popularised in books and films and emanating from myth and fiction, the two terms characterise satanic forces of a distorted human origin. They are ‘dark’, parasitic forces that ‘haunt’ and periodically plague humanity. It is for this reason that the shadow-banking and speculative financial sector of the capitalist mode of production, has been judged to have such fictional parallels.
In myth, the Zombie is a form which after death is animated by constant infusions of a sub-prime (derivative) power. This gives the Zombie a semblance of animated activity but it no longer functions as a positive part of the community. A Vampire in this mythical world is very much alive, hard to kill off and needs regular infusions of life-sustaining liquidity drained from the people around its zone of operations. Vampires in fiction also contribute nothing to the well-being of the community but suck the life out of the people they encounter. So as an alternative conceptual format to view the current economic and financial situation, let us see how well the terms can be applied to the real world of banks and bond-holders.
a) Zombie banks and businesses.
Zombie banks and businesses have been given these ‘titles’ because for all normal capitalist intents and purposes they are economically dead – but still appear to be alive. In the case of banks they have borrowed, speculated and loaned out to other speculators, all the assets made available to them from depositors – and lost huge amounts of them! In the case of businesses, in many cases they too have speculated either in terms of their cash balances or in speculating how much of something they could profitable sell – and got it wrong! Both these type of near-dead entities should have been long ago declared bankrupt, wound up and their failure certificates buried in the relevant ministerial archives. That is how capitalism is supposed to work. The successful ones exploit people and resources when and wherever they can and in the process reap the bloated rewards. On the other hand the failures are allowed to peacefully (or forcefully) expire. Apparently not any more! These all but terminated capitalist entities are being kept semi-alive by regular infusions of cash liquidity.
The current version of capitalism, stewarded by left, centre and right political parties, is designed to allow these ghoulish entities to continue exploiting their workers and at the same time prey on ordinary citizens. By the actions of governments feeding them cheap credit, they continue to exist in this near-dead state and in doing so continue to absorb and manipulate money and the pension funds of ordinary people. Supposedly cash-strapped governments, whilst they are tightening austerity, squeezing the white and blue-collar working class and poor, are pump-priming infusions of cash into these shrivelled-up banks and businesses. At the same time, in some cases, these Zombie banks and businesses have had their self-inflicted wounds patched up by governments taking on their accumulated debt. If this sounds sensible then ask yourself where does the government get its money from to bail out the banks etc.? The answer is of course, you the consumer and tax-payer. In other words, these Zombies are indeed feeding off our communities! Meanwhile there is also;
“..the vampire thirst for the living blood of labour.” (Marx. Capital Volume 1 page 256.)
b) Vampire bond-holders and speculators.
There are another mixed group of financiers and speculators who hover around the stock-markets, futures markets and corporations. Cloaked in obscurity, these Vampires of the financial world are constantly on the lookout for potential victims to sink their fangs into and drain out the life-blood. One group of such Vampires, often using large amounts of borrowed money, speculate on the rise and fall of asset and currency prices and even create such rises and falls by their speculative trade. These parasites have devised complex computer-driven trades which ensures in most cases that they gain wealth whatever the outcome for others. Another group of hedge-fund, blood suckers, circles struggling businesses and again using large amounts of borrowed money, buys them out, sucks out the healthy assets, culls the workforce by sacking many workers, parcels portions of the business activity up and sells these off. After a sustained period satiating their greed for money, they re-sell what is left and look for another victim. These Vampires are also feeding off our communities!
Yet another part of this international coven of financial Vampires speculate on the future prices of essential raw materials and often buys up almost monopoly futures options or positions for foodstuffs and raw materials. As they compete with each other to gain the most, they can push up the cost of living for workers and the poor, to such high levels that at a minimum, malnutrition and hardship ensues. At the maximum level, premature death of the young, old and the weak will follow, their nefarious activities. One more group of this Vampire class have cleverly positioned themselves in such a way that they need not directly drain the life-blood out of their victims. They have special agents who do it for them. These bond-holding Vampires have over the years trained government agents (politicians) to extract huge amounts of their necessary nourishment from their citizens and deliver it directly to their bond-holding blood-banks. This continual nourishment keeps the Vampires bond-holders alive and ensures they do not have to risk being caught in the act of directly attacking their victims. These latter are the aristocracy of the Vampire class and in the process have helped create their own group of part-dead institutions.
c) Zombie governments.
Such is the collusion between the political and governing class throughout the world and the elite bond-holding Vampires that governments themselves have become Zombie institutions. Governments around the world are now being kept functioning by thinning out the life-blood (quantitive easing) of their currencies and by demanding further wealth transfusions (via austerity) from their citizens. Capitalist states are no longer kept even partly functional by current levels of taxation. In economic terms, they are in effect totally bankrupt. Having squandered all the human and material assets of their respective countries on themselves, their families and their cronies, the political classes are failing to deliver on their promised amounts of life-blood essence (wealth extraction) to their Vampire masters. This particular group of high-class blood-suckers, are not best pleased by this current state of affairs. They are demanding that the political classes internationally squeeze even more out of their citizens. Austerity is the name given to this policy of forced transfusions and the bond-Vampires are insisting it be done as quickly as possible.
In fiction the Zombie and Vampire slayers are the mass of ordinary citizens galvanised into action by some charismatic hero. Prior to the emergence of the charismatic, selfless leader, the citizens have just had to suffer from the age-old attentions of the depraved Zombies or Vampires. However, the clean-cut fictional champion does the thinking for the crowd, provides the intellectual ‘solution’ organises, leads and directs the massed citizens in searching out and destroying the individual Zombies or nests of Vampires. They eventually take back control of their work-places, towns and communities. In fiction, the finale usually involves a titanic struggle between the individual hero and the individual villain or coven. In doing so he (!) is justly rewarded by the adulation of the masses. Amazingly, this fictional scenario is not a million miles from the outlook of some of the left political groups who consider a vanguard with a charismatic leader, (Lenin, Trotsky in the past, or a modern equivalent in the future) is necessary to intellectually and organisationally lead the suffering masses toward a new dawn of exploitation-free existence.
d) Saying NO! To capitalism. (Vampires and Zombies included.)
However, leaving fictional analogy behind and returning to the real world, hero’s turn out to be villains and leaders turn out to be either benign or malign dictators. [See for example ‘Totalitarianism‘ Religious and Political‘ and ‘The Revolutionary Party’] The real world financial exploiters and their political agents can only be satisfactorily dealt with by the collective efforts of the blue and white-collar workers, the poor and their supporters, who in this case also need to take back control of their own production, work-places, towns and communities. But alas we are still some way from that. Nevertheless, at the moment a movement against austerity is gathering strength in Europe, North America, and the Middle East. As yet this embryonic citizen alliance is leading toward an increasingly collective – NO! For historic and practical reasons this movement – as yet – only collectively knows what it doesn’t want – austerity and corrupt political governance! There are considerable historic reasons why there is no coherent vision of what is wanted. There is – as yet – no collective – YES!
This cannot be surprising. The positive vision of what a post-capitalist society might look like has been distorted by the post-capitalist efforts of the Bolsheviks in the former Soviet Union. If, due to the unique fortuitous conditions of crisis in 20th century Russia, there had only been a short-lived example of a humane worker-led society, then there would be a much shorter path to collectively identifying what is needed and wanted in face of the present crisis. Sadly, as matters stand, there is very little clarity among the anti-capitalist left on what went wrong in the Soviet Union and how the mode of production can be revolutionised in the future. As I frequently suggest, the current task for non-sectarian anti-capitalists is to work together toward evaluating the past shortcomings and disasters of the anti-capitalist struggle. A corollary of this collective task, is to positively re-assert the potential of a post-capitalist humanist perspective alongside and within the developing anti-austerity, anti-cuts movements.
Roy Ratcliffe (March 2013.)
[See also ‘Crisis: so what else can we do?’ and ‘Defending Public Services’.]