Austerity Forever

Wheel Of Pain by ConSec / Maladjusted by Enemy / Lethal’s Hardcore Hit Parade by Lethal / The Capital Order by Clara Mattei (clockwise)

It is always an exciting day when a new set of records lands at our door, and this consignment, which arrived a few weeks back, was particularly anticipated.  The wait to achieve sufficient critical mass to make the shipping costs viable and its then rather leisurely journey from the US via Poland had rather whetted the appetite.  And while I do check out records via Bandcamp, it is really just to taste them – it’s not until the physical record is in my hands that I allow myself to get fully stuck-in.  Happily, I was not disappointed.

KAPOW!!  Swirling saxophone seizes the attention before Enemy lock into their infectiously ferocious stride, a rampantly fluid rhythm section fuelling their blistering debut LP, Maladjusted.  KRUNCH!!  Still reeling, I’m promptly floored again in brutal fashion as ConSec strap me to the Wheel Of Pain for a lesson in searing, high-octane hardcore.  THWACK!!  And as I pick myself up off the floor, Lethal stomp all over me once again with the relentless, nihilistic precision of Lethal’s Hardcore Hit Parade.

These are a great trio of records to listen to in close proximity to one other.  Straight-up US hardcore played with fierce intensity, but each displaying the craft and invention to render their own very distinctive take.  But as I listened, there was also a powerful lyrical connection that became increasingly evident.  Now that hardcore bands often share similar lyrical preoccupations is hardly news.  There was a unity, however, to not only the focus, but also the specificity of the language that was powerfully consistent.

‘Can’t afford to live, Can’t afford to die…Digging my own grave, I’m living on a killing wage’ (Killing Wage by Enemy)

The theme was that of the modern-day work environment.  Challenging the ideological underpinnings of our economic system has long been a foundational theme for many hardcore bands.  However, in wider society, economics has become a widely depoliticised subject, the realm of the technocrat, now that it has been settled that there is no alternative to the fabled market forces.  Needless to say, this depoliticisation should not be mistaken for an actual absence of politics, as the foreclosure of debate and the enforced consensus is clearly serving a political agenda.

‘Working for nothing, and living for less, pointless life, never getting rest, I’m already dead, a pig slowly bled’ (When Will I Sleep? by Lethal)

And work is one of the arenas that this political agenda is most evident.  The origins lie in the austerity that is so integral to the survival of capitalist economies.  Many aspects of our current economic inequality are rooted in how the modern-day state has been so aggressively reconstituted to serve the needs of capital – there is always much talk of shrinking the state, but the markets have, in fact, repurposed the state to create and protect their commercial ‘opportunities’.  But the roots of austerity economics run even deeper.

‘My whole life and everyone I see, has been forged with a shield made of meat’ (Meat Shield by ConSec)

A book that I found hugely insightful in understanding the historical origins of austerity is The Capital Order: How Economists Invented Austerity And Paved The Way To Fascism by political economist Clara Mattei.  It is a comparative study, firmly contextualised in our present, of how austerity economic policies were deployed with remarkable synchronicity in both democratic Britain and authoritarian Italy in the aftermath of World War I to stifle social resistance, fracture worker co-operation, and protect the interests of capital.

It is intriguing to trace the origins of austerity and identify the connections between then and our current malaise, not least in highlighting how the disingenuous narrative of balancing the books continues to be used to justify policies that are, in reality, focused on promoting the entrenchment of privilege at the expense of wider society.  Often, we think of austerity as being a case of cutting budgets to welfare provision and reducing public services and these are, of course, a central element.  But Mattei also very powerfully illustrates how regressive taxation, privatisation, wage repression, and employment deregulation are equally integral to its execution.

‘Morals for the masses, your views, ideals, flavor of the weak…validate your urban fear, social fad, moral gag’ (Compromise by Enemy)

Which brings us swinging back to the present day where much work is characterised by insecurity masquerading as ‘flexibility’, zero-hour contracts, stagnating wages, and surveillance capitalism, all in the context of soaring costs of living and entrenched inequality.  For the past four decades, the balance between labour and capital, or people and profit, has relentlessly swung back to where it was prior to the new social settlement that followed on from World War II.  Already the implications are seeping into political life with the othering of the disadvantaged and marginalised, as if bizarrely they are somehow the cause, echoing the march of European authoritarianism throughout the 1920s and 1930s as it morphs into contemporary populist forms.

‘Must be nice to be so naïve, and to think they’re just gonna change, usefully standing aside, you’re just more of their prey’ (Quick To Forget by ConSec)

I must admit I always try and take an optimistic view in these notes as change is possible, alternatives can be realised.  But in a week where we’ve seen the supposedly social democratic leader of our next likely government praising a former Prime Minister who set in motion the processes that have ravaged our public services, was complicit in the cover-up of the gross police negligence that caused 97 deaths at Hillsborough, and sanctioned state violence against striking workers, it does cause a pause for thought.  These three records vividly bring to life the attrition that this cycle of enforced austerity inflicts and remind us that it would indeed be naïve to expect those in power to be the agents of change.  And to be clear – they also boast some utterly fabulous tunes to boot!