The Problems of Capitalism….
Posted: 26 March 2007 10:21 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Joined  2003-09-24

[i:1503855003]We’ve talked in various threads elsewhere about capitalism and why I think a humanistic future needs to be a non-capitalistic one.  Here is the introduction to a section of Joel Kovel’s book, [u:1503855003]The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World?[/u:1503855003], where he lays out the problem in a nutshell.[/i:1503855003]

Let me summarize where the argument stands:

The ecological crisis puts the future at grave risk.

Capital is the reigning mode of production, and capitalist society exists to reproduce, secure and expand capital.

Capital is the efficient cause of the ecological crisis.

Capital, under the charge of the present transnational bourgeoisie and headquartered chiefly but not exclusively in the USA, cannot be reformed. It can only grow or die, and hence reacts to any contraction or slowing as to a mortal threat.

As capital keeps growing, the crisis grows, too: civilization and much of nature is doomed. Indeed, it is not unwarranted to ask whether this will prove to be the way of our extinction as a species.

Therefore, it is either capital or our future. If we value the latter, capitalism must be brought down and replaced with an ecologically worthy society.

Let me add two conditions to this assessment, the first very well-known but numbing to contemplate; the second scarcely appreciated but profoundly important:

Capital rules the world as never before; no alternative to it now commands the interest, much less the loyalty, of any substantial body of people.

Capital is not what most people take it to be. It is not a rational system of markets in which freely constituted individuals create wealth in healthy competition. It is, rather, a spectral apparatus that integrates earlier modes of domination, especially that by gender, and generates a gigantic force field of profit-seeking that polarizes all human activity and sucks it into itself.

Capital is spectral ... it gains "value" deriving from estranged human power. This has been instituted in private ownership of the means of production, along with a peculiar system of domination - exploited wage labour - in which persons are split internally and between each other and nature.

The implication is brutally simple. In order to overcome capital, two minimal conditions need to be met: first, there must be basic changes in ownership of productive resources so that, ultimately, the earth is no longer privately owned; and second, our productive powers, the core of human nature, have to be liberated, so that people self-determine their productive power.

These two conditions go together: capital’s power is so uncontested because the conditions for seriously changing it are far too radical for the great majority of people to contemplate, much less support. We should be under no illusion whatsoever: the scale of the envisioned changes, and the gap between even a dawning awareness of what would be entailed and the presently prevailing political consciousness is so enormous as to make a person want to forget the whole thing.

Why; it would be reasonable to ask, bother to burden us with ideas so off the scale of what society now proposes, that to raise them would seem the work of a lunatic?

I am not insensible to this line of reasoning. The fantastic unlikeliness of an ecological transformation has often occurred to me - say, during a walk through midtown ... Manhattan, loomed over by the ‘cloud capp’e" towers of corporate capital, the mighty banks, the whole gigantic sympholf in stone, steel and glass consecrated to the god of profit - or when I find myself surrounded there by the hundreds of thousands of scurrying people, set into motion by that great force field like so many wind-up toys in a game of accumulation, and am led to wonder whether any of them are ready to think in the terms drawn here.

Faced with the appalling evidence of just how far we have to go - not just the direct strength of the system, but its indirect strength deriving from the weakness of its adversaries, the way the crisis sinks the mind and drains the will - the idea of dropping the whole affair and settling back into creature comforts has often froze me…  But then one thinks of the stakes, and the compelling argument leads to capital’s indictment as nature’s enemy, and there is no question on whether to continue…

...The time is becoming auspicious. The spirit of struggle arises, chiefly against globalization. Signs of a radically new political direction abound, combining decentralized spontaneity with the growing awareness that capitalism itself is the problem. A new generation is emerging, to engage the crisis of the times creatively.

The name given in what follows to the notion of a necessary and sufficient transformation of capitalist society for the overcoming of the ecological crisis is ecosocialism.


Barry F. Seidman
Exec. Producer of Equal Time for Freethought