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The road to barbarism

by Robert Kurz
Capital is losing its capacity for productive investment and is turning to the financial markets, which are more profitable. It is with this money that the war machine and the trade deficit are financed. The US is under great pressure to constantly show that it is in control. Even the countries of the European Union have a major interest in the maintenance of this order.
The road to barbarism - an interview with Robert Kurz - Anselmo Massad
A brief 2011 interview with Robert Kurz about the ongoing slide towards barbarism caused by the crisis of capitalism.

The Road to Barbarism – An Interview with Robert Kurz – Anselmo Massad

Anselmo Massad (AM): You came to Porto Alegre to participate in activities regarding migration. What is your assessment of this phenomenon?

Robert Kurz (RK): Migratory flows are nothing new in the history of modernization. Generally, however, they were flows from rural areas toward urban centers in response to a violent process of land expropriation. The English peasants were dispossessed of their means of survival in a forced movement during the 18th century. This was a typical case. The poor were free to sell their labor power because they no longer exercised control over their existence. Today, migration has a universal character, caused by the crisis of the capitalist system of commodity production, which arose with the third industrial revolution: the introduction of electronics. It is a transformation of society by means of a negative globalization, whose result is social exclusion on an ever expanding scale. Microelectronics brought an intense rationalization of production, rendering labor superfluous. In the peripheral regions of the world, the process is even worse because the social base of capitalist reproduction cannot be put to work by microelectronics, due to a shortage of capital. Capital is in no condition to absorb labor power. This represents a new, cynical concept of economic growth. The former concept of economic growth was related to an entire country, to a national economy. The new concept is based in very small areas. It is the production of these oases that guarantees economic growth. For the rest of the country, there is only crisis management.

AM: But not everyone migrates….

RK: Yes. As I mentioned before, national territories no longer exist: all that remains are oases of productivity. There are no cycles of growth capable of absorbing all the labor power. Beyond the new migratory flows of refugees who are fleeing towards Europe and the United States to escape rape and murder, the major consequences are the global wars for the preservation of order, waged by the White House. Their purpose is to make a show of force in order to retain access to markets. Contrary to the motives imputed by traditional theories of imperialism, the objective of today’s military occupations is not the conquest of the resources of a country, except perhaps for oil, but that is not the most decisive factor. Their purpose is economic. The last world superpower possesses overwhelming military superiority. The US has become the guarantor of capitalism’s continued functioning. Capital is losing its capacity for productive investment and is turning to the financial markets, which are more profitable. It is with this money that the war machine and the trade deficit are financed. The oases of prosperity scattered throughout the world, which are becoming smaller and fewer in number, have been concentrations of export industries for the US market over the last ten or more years. An entire export zone exists in China merely because of the North American deficit. Control is exercised by war, which has direct economic implications. If the US were to lose any of these wars, the entire financial sector would lose confidence, which would lead to the collapse of the global economy. The US is under great pressure to constantly show that it is in control. Even the countries of the European Union have a major interest in the maintenance of this order. I am afraid that, as the collapse approaches, the US and its allies will accentuate their military actions to an inordinate degree. I am even afraid that they will use nuclear weapons in this attempt to demonstrate that they are in control.

AM: If the situation of capitalism is leading to such a reality, what comes next: total barbarism?

RK: It is barbarism. And we do not have to wait, it is here now. Capital is no longer capable of utilizing labor power. This will continue until the critique of this society, and of this model, is pursued to its ultimate consequences. Unless this happens, the road leads to barbarism.

AM: What alternatives can be constructed?

RK: It is necessary to construct something new, a more profound critique. Traditional Marxism and the national liberation movements were captives of the old paradigms, always related to economic growth. The workers movement always fought for the goal of compelling capitalism to recognize the worker as a subject, that is: eternally embedding the worker in the system. The same thing happened with the national liberation movements, which sought recognition as subjects in the world market. These two conditions are disappearing because labor is becoming superfluous due to the innovations in electronics, and the international world market, in terms of imports and exports, no longer makes any sense in its current form.

AM: You often speak about the need for transnational social movements to fight against capitalism. What form will they assume?

RK: None of the previous national resistance movements that assumed traditional forms were capable of abolishing capitalism. If the anti-capitalist movements want to act on that same level, they must be transnational. This is different from a simple sum of international movements that only assume the nation as a basic element. They have to be transnational and from the bottom up.

AM: Do the World Social Forum and the movements that participate in it have some of these elements? Are they helping to make critique more profound?

RK: I do not have enough information about the participants in the Forum, since this is the first time I have attended. My impression is that it is developing on the basis of social movements rather than parties, which is good. They are movements that already have this perception of the need to act transnationally, like the anti-globalization movements that I am familiar with in Europe. My criticism of the Forum is with regard to its content. The form seems to be adequate, but it still has the old, traditional contents, oriented towards becoming involved with politics, rather than towards the abolition of capitalism. Attac (“Action for a Tobin Tax to Assist the Citizen”), for example, in all of its proposals, remains on the playing field of political economy, seeking influence in politics.

AM: Were you not invited to the previous sessions of the Forum, or were you just not interested?

RK: I have no problem with the Forum, it’s just that I was not invited. I see the Forum as a motley and diverse mixture. The path it has taken needs to be reconsidered, in my opinion.

AM: Do you see, in terms of practice, anything taking place that is helping to abolish this order?

RK: In the whole world, all we have is a mixture of old ideas with a few more appropriate critical observations. But the new way has not yet appeared, it is still germinating. The problem is that part of the social movements seem to be afraid of this new way. It just so happens that one cannot take small steps forward without thinking in terms of great processes of emancipation as a whole.

AM: By “small steps forward” are you referring to some kind of action taking place today?

RK: I do not see these small steps so much in terms of the abolition of capitalism, but in the resistance to crisis management. An offensive on behalf of social transformation can only take shape by concentrating its forces: less in the combat against the way the governments manage the crisis, and more in finding a way to put an end to it. The big problem is knowing just which kind of intervention the social movements should set in motion. The traditional form was the strike, but today the great weakness of the movements resides in the fact that their actions are exclusively symbolic. An example was recently provided by the vast demonstrations against social services reform legislation in Germany. The “Monday demonstrations” (as the weekly protests in various cities of the country beginning in August 2004 were known) attracted as many as 100,000 persons, a very large number. The government quickly recognized that these were merely symbolic actions, without any real impact. That is why it did not hesitate to ignore the movement.

AM: Do you even have any suggestions? Are we supposed to just sit around and engage in critique?

RK: Yes, even those who still have jobs in the oases of productivity need to concern themselves with this question, because they are still in a precarious position. They are what we call in Germany, “dead men on leave”. They are fine now, but their fate is imminent and terrible.

AM: But if there are emergency situations, as groups of people face starvation or fall into extreme poverty, is it even possible to ask them to engage in critique?

RK: The trick is to carry out this mediation between the immediate and the theoretical. The example is complicated. It is clear that if one can organize actions to put an end to the hunger of a group of unemployed persons, this does not prevent one from articulating a radical critique rather than a critique of the particular way that the government is managing the crisis. The crisis of the Marxist movements is their theoretical formulation. For new phenomena, we need new concepts, we need to reconsider the theory. The concept of revolution is very much a prisoner of the concept of the nation, which no longer functions. For us, the revolution is very important, almost a synonym for radical transformation, but today this radical transformation is another thing entirely, different than it was in the past.

AM: Is that why certain thinkers like John Holloway talk about changing the world without taking power?

RK: Maybe Holloway’s reflections are more a sign of not knowing what to do.

Published in Revista FÓRUM, no. 24, 2011.

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