Or, Capitalism Self-Pwned
Every truly radical person dreams of revolution. Preferably global, preferably progressive and preferably successful. We differ only in our assessment of the amount of blood that needs to be spilled for the revolution to succeed, and – even more – in our ideas of what the world should look like the day after.
This collective dream of ours has gone on long enough, sometimes almost within reach, sometimes just over the horizon. And it would have continued like this if capitalism had not taken matters into its own hands….
Old greybeards’ tales
The thesis that capitalism must collapse under the weight of its own unresolvable contradictions has many fathers (and probably mothers). Until recently, it has been interpreted primarily in economic terms (exhaustion of resources to be seized) and social terms (escalation of social tensions to the point of general explosion).
More recently, however, we have been observing another phenomenon – the depletion of the planet’s ecological capacity. The terms ecological, raw material or climate crisis, the synergy of which can be described as an omni-crisis, have already entered our language permanently. It is also clearly visible what impact the combination of the monetary base of capitalism – credit money – with the dependence on fossil raw materials (not only fuels) has.
Capitalism’s way of dealing with crises has always been to run forwards – taken to its logical peak in the form of globalisation, and extrapolated still in the form of various doctrines of transplanetary or transhumanist expansion. But the breakthrough is still not there, and the resources required for it are shrinking relentlessly. It may be that the owners of the world will manage to escape annihilation by a hair’s breadth, whether to the moon, orbit, the asteroid belt or Mars, but then the likelihood of capitalism’s survival on Earth will greatly diminish, and certainly its popularity will fall to zero.
Marx, Lenin and other prophets of capitalism’s demise probably never imagined that such could be its end. We – until a few years ago – neither.
Political ecology of capitalism
Historically, the expression of capitalism is a particular type of social organisation and infrastructure, called industrial civilisation. As Professor Jem Bendell writes in his book “Breaking Together”
…the majority of the people in the world today live either within an industrial consumer society or are partly dependent on its products and services. A key aspect to such societies is they need mass consumption to continue to grow for them to be stable, just as a bicycle needs momentum to stay upright.
In addition to the obvious limits of a finite amount of individual material resources, we are now faced with structural constraints that affect the ‘nervous system’ and ‘circulatory system’ of capitalism, that is, the dynamics of political power and logistics. Changes in these areas result both from physical events (disasters of various kinds damaging and limiting the operation of infrastructure) and from political changes anticipating the progress of collapse.
Looking for a coherent account of these processes, we find them in the concept of ecological succession. Organisms (biocenosis) inhabiting a certain area (biotope) form a relatively stable ecosystem. However, its stability is threatened by both external and internal factors.
The collapse that is taking place is due to internal (on a planetary scale) factors: industrial civilisation has so transformed its own ecosystem that it is no longer friendly to life in general and to this civilisation in particular.
What we perceive as collapse, destruction and the next great extinction is therefore – from the planetary point of view – a transition to a new ecosystem. The inhabitants of the previous one have the choice of migration, extinction or adaptation.
No other revolution
Quoting Bendell again:
People seeking to change society have tried politics, whether local, national or international. They’ve tried improving the knowledge base on the problems. They’ve tried raising awareness in society. They’ve tried harnessing the power of technology, business and finance. They’ve tried living differently.
But none of it has worked at scale. As the systems of modern society were so impervious to these tactics over decades, if they were not collapsing now then there would be no chance of any real change.
Indeed, capitalism has wrought its own demise and given us the chance to undertake the construction of a new society on the ruins of the old one. It is we who have built the world that the capitalists and their servants have appropriated. It is we who will build the next one – from the remains of the previous one. As we are not afraid of ruins.