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The System Question as a Survival Question
by Tomasz Konicz
Wednesday Jul 18th, 2018 8:51 PM
A fundamental social alternative to the permanent capitalist chaos is sought. A rational social discourse on system alternatives would be an antidote to populism and to the irrational identity-mania that spreads in crisis times. The public discusses headscarves and leather trousers while late capitalism sinks in crisis.

By Tomasz Konicz

[This article published on April 21, 2018 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Some time or other, life will collapse. Some time or other – in a few weeks, months or years – the states will not succeed any more in the escalating neo-imperialist Great Game: to deactivate one of the geo-political confrontations on time and prevent a direct military confrontation in Syria, Iran, Ukraine, Turkey, the South China Sea or Taiwan. These trouble-spots that could suddenly change the cold imperialist power poker into a disastrous mega-war are abundant.

The late-capitalist world system seems in a volatile pre-war time. The individual power blocs are always ready to risk more and more in their regional or global striving for power. Their naked interests appear eve r clearer while the propaganda is carried out slovenly and superficially as an obligatory exercise. The propagandists of the imperialist powers from Fox News to Russia Today do not believe in the rhetoric of human rights or international law. Only brutal power politics as in Syria is wearily justified with human rights or international law.

Proxy wars can quickly escalate in a mega-war. This was striking in the latest escalation in Syria, with the alleged threats of a Russian diplomat to shoot down US missiles and attack their support systems to seduce US president Donald Trump to bizarre threats spread via Twitter as in a black satire.

Trump – in the sandbox language of an Internet troll – boasts of new “smart” missiles. Russia should prepare for these missiles will come soon. These threats spread over usually closed diplomatic channels have very real consequences. They must be made true so the prestige of the respective stare monster does not suffer in the world arena. In this confrontation, both sides (the US and Russia) have blocked their retreat possibilities.

Malicious clowns and political borderliners like Trump, Erdogan or Putin drive the world to the edge of a world war. It is absurd, infantile and a fire-risk. It sounds like a schoolyard brawl impregnated with testosterone. The survival of civilization is at stake. Late-capitalism degenerates in its agony to a bloody parody of itself.

The remarks of the Russian diplomat that seduced Trump to his diplomatic tantrum could even be wrongly translated (“Trump’s Russia tweets show how misinformation can lead to global crisis, The Guardian. 4/11/2018). Egomaniac right-wing populists unstable in their character seem to repeat this scenario all the time – thanks to a new class arising in the crisis.

An end to this phase of increasing geo-political and military conflicts is not in sight. Instead, the tensions are increasing. Escalation occurred on May 10, right after Donald Trump’s cancellation of the Iranian nuclear agreement in the military exchange of blows between Iran and Israel in Syria when Israel’s air force attacked dozens of Iranian positions in reaction to Iranian missiles in the Golan Heights.

The causes of the increase in international tensions are not explained. Could the state machines of global and regional powers pass over to an ever more aggressive power politics with ever greater risks?

The rise of a populist political class executing the global trend to a risky imperialist geo-politics is owed to the global crisis process. Socio-economic dislocations occurred that brought to power characters like Trump. The symptoms of a capitalist world system that suffers under a systematic over-production crisis can be found everywhere. In the centers,
There is disintegration, indebtedness, financial bubbles, erosion of the middle class and increasing trade imbalances. At the periphery, there are civil wars and state disintegration.

These inner dislocations in late-capitalist core countries drove their state machines to outer expansion. The de-industrialized and pauperized US that Trump wants to “make great again” is not the only country in a radical crisis. EU-Europe staggering at the edge of disintegration and the rapidly indebted China are seized by crisis processes in which rapid advancing productivity increases of capitalist goods production create economically superfluous humanity that is now trying to escape the periphery drowning in chaos. The mass misery of these growing superfluous parts of the population was the basis of the rebellions in the Arab world that first made possible the subsequent neo-imperialist interventions.

However, this process of the melting away of paid labor in goods production that is the basis of the increasing social and geo-political instability will gain even more dynamic and produce a capitalist work society from which ever larger parts of the population are excluded. This risk ensures crisis ideologies and geo-political tensions. Parallels to the early 1930s can be drawn when the worldwide economic crisis of 1929 prepared the way for fascism. The difference is that a mega-war would lead to a collapse of civilization with the current state of destructive forces.

Raising the System Question Radically and Offensively

The opposition against the threatening war must reflect on these increasing capitalist contradictions driving states into conflict. This opposition must be radical – in the best sense of the word – and tackle problems at their root. This means raising the system question and connecting opposition to the war policy with the struggle for a fundamental social alternative to the permanent capitalist chaos. This is not because it will be popular. This is not popular since the political left – at most still thinks in social-democratic categories and social development is marked more by conservative or reactionary tendencies.

Formulating the system question offensively and in all radicalism is necessary for survival since the crisis process develops independent of the social state of mass consciousness. Whether people want to see this or not, the crisis will have its disastrous effect. The German export economy will end since capital shows a self-dynamic whose increasing contradictions make the market subjects powerless. Concretely, the mass of paid labor in goods production will melt away on account of competition-mediated rationalization, even if ever larger parts of the population desire returning to the full employment of the 1970s or 1950s.

The capital relation as a social abstraction develops a fetishist life of its own in the “markets” that destroys the socio-democratic illusion of “civilizing” capitalism (the state of the Social Democratic Party, the SDP, confirms this). A first step in the right direction would be admitting this powerlessness without sinking in conspiracy theories. This gloomy feeling of its “foreign determination” by a social dynamic of the greatest capital exploitation that unconsciously produces market-mediated subjects is the basis of imperialist ideology as the crisis theoretician Robert Kurz remarked: “Every society that is not aware of itself moves in pseudo-natural law end-in-itself forms of thinking and needs the specter of a foreign outward `evil one’ to repress or banish estranged moments. In a purely superficial and political sense, the `evil kingdoms’ were the imperialist rivals who were correspondingly demonized” (Black Book of Capitalism, 2002). An increase of contradictions and dislocations allows the hatred for “imperialist rivals” to boil over.

The cause of the manifold crisis tendencies, the growing danger of war, can now be radically and unequivocally named. What must be overcome can be clearly identified: the self-movement of capital driven by contradictions, the exploitation of paid labor as the irrational end-in-itself in goods production. The substance of capital is paid labor that represses capital from the production process through rationalization. This auto-destructive tendency is the central contradiction of capital relations and the current crisis periods with their political, socio-economic and ecological dislocations.

Capital is the boundless accumulation of expended paid labor as an irrational end-in-itself. Everything else – the goods and the consumers – are only means to this end. Thus, the deep absurdity of the current crisis is that capital chokes in its own productivity. The technical prerequisites for fulfilling the basic material needs of people have long existed while the irrational exploitation movement of capital comes to a standstill because of the ever-higher level of goods production. Consequently, liberating the productive forces produced by capitalism from the chains of capitalist production relations is vital. Money multiplication no longer must be an irrational end-in-itself. Rather, the maxim of a new production method must be the direct satisfaction of the population’s needs. The means for organizing such a direct satisfaction of needs has long existed in the form of IT technologies.

A broad public discourse is the social process for testing system alternatives to the permanent capitalist chaos (necessary for civilization’s survival). This is a necessary but not likely presupposition in view of the given realities. The foundations of a post-capitalist society can be controversially discussed in a process of public communication. This discourse could also function as a seed of an alternative production method.

The unconscious social reproduction process by means of the fetishist exploitation of capital could give way to conscious social reproduction. The process of a conscious, egalitarian agreement of members of society on the form and content of reproduction could replace production by mediated market subjects. People could agree on what is produced and how it is produced in a social discourse organized over the Internet. The Internet that only serves as a marketplace of crazy ideas and a stage for vanities would finally encourage something rational!

Thus, the activities of member of society would change radically. Paid labor would tend to die out while the automated production process would claim more time. This would be a conscious organization of social reproduction – not without tension and excitement – different from the fetishism of an unbridled, destructive capital dynamic. In the end, this would be like a conclusion of the civilization process in which the unconscious fetishist reproduction process of society would yield to its conscious organization. This would be the end of the “prehistory of humanity” (Marx).

A rational social discourse on system alternatives would be an antidote to populism and to the irrational identity-mania that spreads in crisis times. Its absurdity is obvious. The public discusses headscarf’s and leather trousers while late capitalism sinks in crisis.
by marc
Monday Jul 30th, 2018 12:51 PM

Raul Zelik and Elmar Altvater discuss the nature of utopia, economics, how growth and work became fetishes, how what is rational in micro-economics can become irrational in macro-economics, time prosperity, how the financial crisis shows the self-destructiveness of capitalism and how Marx recognized the contradictions in capitalism. Alternatives are possible and necessary. Viva Occupy!