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System Transformation or Barbarism

by Tomasz Konicz
Overcoming capital is thus a necessity for survival. Consequently, the climate question is not a question of burden sharing, it is not a question of social security. The global exploitation process of capital, in which resources and energy are burned to make more money out of money, must be overcome.
System transformation or barbarism
Without overcoming capital with its exploitation compulsion, averting the worst consequences of the climate catastrophe is impossible
By Tomasz Konicz
[This article is translated from the German on the internet,]

The climate debate is undoubtedly the most depressing battlefield of the full-blown federal election campaign, because here the abyss between ideology and reality has now reached dizzying dimensions. The measures that are being publicly discussed and those that would be necessary to avert socio-ecological collapse are so far apart that memories of the final phase of real existing socialism involuntarily arise, when ossified state and party apparatuses proved absolutely incapable of reversing course in order to counter the infirmity of their societies.

Actually, it's much worse than that, because now it's simply a matter of the sheer survival of humanity: In the Federal Republic's late capitalism, the Greens are coming under pressure as the "prohibition party" because speed limits on highways, higher fuel prices or the abolition of short-haul flights are under discussion - while at the same time the climate crisis is already assuming catastrophic dimensions and is simply getting out of control. This became evident not only during the unprecedented floods in southwestern Germany, but also during the extreme heat wave in the northwestern United States and Canada, which caused irreparable damage to the ecosystems there.1 Be it the Amazon, which no longer functions as a CO2 sink, the Arctic ice sheet, a large part of the permafrost in the far north - everywhere there is a threat of crossing tipping points that will completely derail the climate system, while Germany discusses high-horsepower electric cars and cheap flights to Malle. The world is literally coming apart at the seams: Due to increasing ice melt, the earth's axis of our planet is shifting.2

At the same time, the capital relationship is unable to effectively counter this existential crisis due to its compulsion to exploit. The facts speak a clear language here, as CO2 emissions have increased every year in the 21st century - with the exception of the crisis years 2009 and 2020. And this will not change within the capitalist world system: The International Energy Agency (IEA) published3 an emissions forecast back in April that global CO2 emissions would likely rise by five percent this year, nearly offsetting the historic slump of 2020, when greenhouse gas emissions fell by seven percent due to the economic slump that accompanied the pandemic. Emissions this year are expected to be only "slightly" below 2019 levels, according to the IEA.

What's more, greenhouse gas emissions are also expected to blithely continue to rise in 2022, as global air traffic, which is currently still largely dormant due to the pandemic, is expected to resume in full next year. This could drive CO2 emissions up by a further two percentage points. Conclusion: Despite all the apologetics of the journos4 , capitalism has impressively demonstrated empirically that it can only "lower" global emissions at the price of a world economic crisis (this was, as I said, also the case in 2009).

The abyss between the climate policy discourse in the FRG and the climate reality is thus simply absurd. And it is not only the crisis-related swelling identity shit that - propagated by AfD, CDU to Wagenknecht - serves new-right narratives and blocks the view of the climate catastrophe that is now clearly emerging. The monstrosity of late capitalist ideology, which reveals the character of the capital relationship as a veritable cult of death, is already clear from a glance at the cover of Der Spiegel, as a leading Federal Republican leading medium, which in issue 22/20215 showed the Green top candidates having arrived in a stormy "reality" against which their ideals were shattered. The perverse twist in this ideologically distorted reality principle is that here it is not the objectively occurring climate crisis that congeals into the determining reality, but the absurd constraints of the late capitalist economic disorder together with its ideology conveyed by the mass media. A look at the debris landscapes in North Rhine-Westphalia exposes this homicidal nonsense, which acts as a mostly unspoken basis of discourse, especially in the "center" of society and published opinion.

Yet precisely such naturalization of capitalist rule, common in the mainstream, carries a grain of distorted truth, since rule in capitalism is in fact subjectless and thus appears natural. The capital relation as a real abstraction develops a momentum of its own on the overall social, global level, characterized by increasing contradictions, in which, on the one hand, the utilization of capital qua commodity production appears as a factual constraint on which - in the form of wages and taxes - the reproduction of the entire "labor society" depends. On the other hand, it is precisely this constantly swelling process of exploitation in which the entire world - in the form of resources and energy - is literally burned up for the sake of the permanently invoked "growth" of abstract monetary values.

Above all, the greater the productivity of the capitalist surplus value machine, the greater its hunger for resources, since wage labor is the substance of capital. Thus, in the climate crisis, two kinds of constraints collide with each other: the objectively given constraint of the fastest reduction of CO2 emissions and the "growth constraint" of capital, for which the entire concrete world is only the material of abstract valorization. This incompatibility of capital and climate protection can be seen, for example, in the solar industry in California, which is now too cheap6 to be profitable. Due to the deflation of the electricity price on the great capitalist markets, subsidies are meanwhile being discussed again in California.7 The share of wage labor that goes into the production of solar cells is simply too low to initiate a new accumulation regime along the lines of Fordism - which also leads to the fact that the necessary infrastructural restructuring, for example of the energy sector, hardly makes any progress.

The fetishism of capital, as formulated by Robert Kurz,8 is revealed precisely in the climate crisis, as even the most powerful capitalists are unable to avert it - and thus to preserve their business base. Instead, the billionaire egomaniacs spawned by capital's over-accumulation crisis fly into orbit in metal tails9 to chase their dreams of escape and fever of lunar and Martian colonies. Ultimately, this means that this fetishistic exploitation dynamic of capital will continue with its world-burning process until it drives the society that forms its necessary transit stage into socioecological collapse and thus itself expires - or until it is transformed into history by an emancipatory movement. Emancipation in this context means overcoming social fetishism, in which people are subjected to the murderous factual constraints of capital run amok, in order to move to the conscious shaping of social reproduction in the course of a system transformation.

Overcoming capital is thus a necessity for survival. Consequently, the climate question is not a question of burden sharing, it is not a question of social security. The global exploitation process of capital, in which resources and energy are burned to make more money out of money, must be overcome. It is a question of the whole. Should this not succeed, the drift into a barbarism that would degrade Auschwitz to a mere historical prelude is inevitable, since parts of the earth would simply become uninhabitable in the foreseeable future. In view of the far advanced climate crisis, the strategic objective of progressive forces can actually only be to attempt to survive the coming catastrophic effects of the climate crisis within the framework of a system transformation without a break with civilization.

In the current election campaign, therefore, the German citizens - as so often in the bourgeois political establishment - have only a sham choice, even in the literally existential field of climate policy, between the death drive of an authoritarian CDU fossil like Laschet, which is drifting into the fascistoid, and the lie of ecological capitalism as propagated by the Greens. The business model of the Greens is based on providing the exploitation compulsion of capital - the tautological movement of limitless money multiplication through commodity production - with an ecological tinge, in order to be able to hold on to the very system that continues to fuel it on a daily basis, even in the manifest climate crisis.

By means of high state investments, this Green New Deal is supposed to create the infrastructural foundations of a new "ecogical" accumulation regime, which, however, remains illusory due to the high global productivity levels, as illustrated, for example, by the wave of bankruptcies in the German solar industry after the end of "Red-Green". The irrationality of the current plans, on the other hand, can be seen at first glance: In the case of the automotive industry, for example, this amounts to the dangerous fever dreams of green influencers, according to whom 50 million electric cars10 are to be built in the midst of the incipient climate catastrophe - even if studies on CO2 emissions during their production have to be fudged afterwards.11

The propaganda of well-connected influencers such as Jan Hegenberg, who is able to sell the mass production of electric cars as a climate policy feat in the cross-front organ Telepolis, is thus on the one hand like a modern trade in indulgences in which climate protection takes on the form of a commodity.12 The German middle-class snob wants to have a clear conscience when he picks up subsidies and buys electrically powered horsepower monsters whose production emits many tons of CO2. On the other hand, the world-burning process of real-abstraction value - the irrational, boundless accumulation of dead labor, in which goods are ultimately produced for the landfill - is passed off as an act of climate protection.

In view of the globally accumulating ecological crisis phenomena, the ideology of a "green" capitalism will in the future play a central role in legitimizing the capitalist mode of production. The misguided belief in an ecologically "sustainable" capitalism, as propagated by the "Greens," can thus contribute to transforming the widespread dull feeling that "it can't go on like this" into a commitment to the continuation of precisely this capitalist treadmill. The "green" capitalism apologists can easily transform the suspicion that the capitalist mode of production is reaching its ecological limits globally into a plea for a "green capitalism". This ideological approach is characteristic of a political milieu that sold the extensive disenfranchisement of those superfluous on the labor market under the "Hartz IV laws" under the cynical slogan "promote and demand" and legitimized the first war of aggression in Germany's postwar history on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as a "humanitarian intervention."

The resulting intimate embrace between business and the Greens was the subject of an article in the Handelsblatt newspaper at the beginning of the year.13 The former eco-party's path to power led via the lobbies of capital, where party functionaries had long occupied "important interfaces between business and politics. Just a few years ago, party membership in the Green Party was an "exclusion criterion" in the political lobbying machine, but now it is a "clear qualification criterion," especially in industry associations, because it is difficult to "accuse a Green of not taking climate protection seriously. Who would have thought that in capitalist democracy the path to power leads through economic lobbies?

Instead of offering themselves as a "social corrective" of the illusionary Green New Deal of an opportunistic Green Party, which for example legitimized the war of aggression against Yugoslavia with Auschwitz14 , left and progressive forces should offensively address the foreboding of the coming upheavals, which has long been present in the population, and look for ways to steer the objectively pending system transformation in confrontation with the threatening barbarism in an emancipatory direction. The Greens must finally be put under pressure from the left with clearly anti-capitalist argumentation - precisely because the above-described constraints of the climate crisis demand this.

The dynamics of climate change are just as indifferent to opportunistic election campaign tactics as to coalition calculations as they are to the sensitivities of middle-class snobs in their family homes or the sales targets of VW and Daimler. It advances unaffected by the state of mass consciousness, by the state of the discourse on the climate issue conveyed by the mass media. The left, if it does not want to fall into Wagenknecht's cross-front trap15 and still act in a progressive manner, must therefore first and foremost say what is the matter: that progress is only possible beyond capital, that profound upheavals are inevitable, the course of which must literally be fought for. This plain language is not necessary because it brings advantages in the election campaign or votes at the ballot box, but because it is a question of the collective survival of the human species to transform capital as a fetishistic real abstraction into history.

It would be decisive to no longer allow one's own existence to be pre-calculated, but to demand social, material and ecological needs against their financial viability. The fact that everything and anything has to pass through the needle's eye of exploitation has to be radically questioned. The craziness of the prevailing social forms must be made conscious and held against those who think that global problems can be solved by these forms of all things. This includes, for example, that in production all material and energy flows have to come into focus and not the expected returns. "Sustainability" of a production can therefore only be attested if the conditions and consequences of the production from the extraction of raw materials to the disposal are planned and accordingly ecologically mediated with the "metabolic process with nature" (Marx).16 It is obvious that a business management point of view can basically not be able to do this (as one can easily see with the electric car).

It would therefore no longer be a matter of the usual social democratic acting as a doctor at the bedside of capital, but of sounding out concrete ways of steering the inevitable transformation in a progressive direction, in which people would finally learn to consciously shape the process of social reproduction.^^^
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