Friday, June 10, 2011

Civiliaztion, Capitalism and Crisis

Ruins of El Argar
Yesterday I watched a mini-documentary on the Bronze Age civilization of El Argar, which was a centralized and hierarchical state almost without doubt, and, almost naturally, the tyranny of the oligarchy and its bureaucracy became a outlined question for further debate, posited by the narrator while images of police beating citizens in modern day Barcelona overlapped with those of the ruins and the horrid plastic sea behind them. 

And the big question posited by the narrator was: are we bound to suffer oppression for reason of civilization. And not just oppression and injustice but also unsustainability, as now it seems that the Argarian economic model was totally unsustainable and initiated the desertification of the Iberian Southeast. 

This somewhat naturally brings me to the predatory and exploitative nature of Capitalism and makes me ponder how much is specifically capitalist and how much is mere civilizational inertia. Because exploitation, predation, hierarchy, inequality, injustice, oppression, tyranny... all them existed before Capitalism coalesced. In fact, in Marxist theory, Capitalism is seen partly as a liberator force, in the sense that it can muster the so-called productive (more properly: transforming) forces to heights never even dreamed before, being able to catalyze human ingenuity and put it at the service of technological development by means of, go figure, mere greed, the ritual persecution of printed paper and even mere annotations on an electronic book. 

At least that's what it did in the past, before the hidden environmental contradiction manifested so blatantly. This is an aspect that Marx was barely able to outline: the same that he uses some incorrect terminology like said production (instead of transformation), he was almost totally unable to discern the exploitation that Earth was and is being subject to and the consequences this would bring upon us. 

Jenny and Karl Marx
The notion that resources are somehow infinite is hidden under the assumptions of Capitalism and also of its main researcher and critic: Karl Marx. This is so obviously false that one wonders how so many people have managed for so many generations to ignore this fact of life. Only in the last decades we have grown really aware of the consequences of our acts of predation and contamination, and of how these bring the whole species (and many other with us) to the brink of extinction. 

However you can still find a lot of people, crucially people with some power, trapped in the Capitalist predatory paradigm ignoring the rain of warnings and driving us, like the monarchs and bureaucrats of El Argar, to our doom. And in this the parameters of Capitalism: let the future take care of its own affairs, as Keynes famously said in a different context, play a central role, I understand. 

Keynes stated that disrespect for the future in regard to mere monetary debt. As money is a virtual concept we can up to a point ignore such doomsaying and not expect much of a punishment for it (just scrap all the debt in massive jubilee maybe). But there is another kind of debt that is way too real, one that most economists are stubbornly ignoring even today: the material debt with Mother Earth, the material debt with our descendants. 

Example: nuclear energy is "cheap"... but it's full of hidden costs that only we pay decades after the power plants were built. Would there be any justice, all "investors" in nuclear energy ever would be made to pay for the damage and even to die cleaning up the mess. But nobody even bothers pointing out that investors are guilty. Not even managers are, with the very occasional ultra-rare exception, ever tried for their crimes against humanity. 

The principle is: nobody is guilty (corporations' anonymity) all pay equally for mismanagement. Similarly all are now expected to pay equally for social expenditure (indirect taxes instead of income or business taxes), etc. These are of course despicable principles that can only bring horrible consequences, as those with responsibility are more and more detached, even from a legal viewpoint, from the consequences of their actions. 

But I digress... in fact all this article so far is little more than a early morning ranting. The analysis is good but fragmentary and seems to lack wholeness. The big question I seem unable to answer is how is Capitalism different from the Old Regime? And the answer is not clear: of course I could appeal to its unique capacity to muster "productive" forces, to its distinct bourgeois (and not aristocratic) class principle... but the key element is actually best described by the genius of Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus: while agrarian civilization codified territorially and hierarchically in a paranoid-style collective neurosis, Capitalism decodifies (in a schizoid pathological pattern) and is unable to muster any new code.

In fact I have argued that all the social institutions that we usually consider bourgeois, are in fact proletarian creations: human rights, democracy, etc. are concessions to the political demands of the Working Class by a ruling class (bourgeoisie) that is unable to yield in the more crucial economic aspect of things (although welfare is a lesser concession in that aspect too).

In the end, the destiny of any ruling class is bound to its ability to deliver, to stand up to expectations. If they do not, they may be able to resist in power for some time because of inertia and delusion games but they will be eventually unseated by an angry mob. 

And while Capitalism has been able and reluctantly willing to deliver to some extent, notably at the centers of its global development, this productive phase has finished. Why? There are several reasons, including the more balanced development of the periphery, but specially because the main, absolute, external limit, the one that Marx missed, has been reached. 

And it cannot be overcome: we stand at a civilizational crossroads of unprecedented dimensions and nature. Never ever in all human history we have been faced with such immediate and self-generated threats against ourselves. Like development and consumption junkies we crave our dose of wasteful exploitation of the ecology we live in, knowing but not wanting to face the reality of our impossible tomorrow.

Impossible unless we change our way of life. And changing our way of life demands uprooting Capitalism for good, establishing other principles on which to live. 

While this destructive apogee of civilization goes on, we are faced with also internal contradictions of the kind Marx was indeed able to understand and forecast (and for which he deserves the honor to be acknowledged as the only classical economist worth that name). Capitalism suffers from a global and demand crisis caused by the greed of capitalists and their need to reduce jobs and salaries. This massive demand crisis, which may be somewhat good for Mother Earth incidentally but never for the Capitalist system, founded on perpetual growth (growth of consumption, mind you), is in positive feedback with growing unemployment.

What is triggering the uprisings in North Africa or Spain? Unemployment levels of almost 50% for the young ones! 

What can be done? Dismantling Capitalism altogether, democratizing the economy by placing all production means under democratic collective control and sharing the remaining jobs and production among all, as Marx' son-in-law, Paul Lafargue proposed. This should leave a large amount of leisure time, which can be used into democratic organization and/or private rest and enjoyment (without unnecessary consumption). 

Naturally this urgent revolutionary change will not work unless the democratization of production also implies a new respectful relationship with Mother Earth. But the only way to achieve that environmental advancement is precisely by putting the economy under democratic (and not private) control.

Call it Communism because it is no other thing and has no other name.

Paris Commune 1871

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