Very Late Capitalism?

Very Late Capitalism?

            Late capitalism is the epoch in history of the development of the capitalist mode of production in which the contradiction between the growth of forces of production and the survival of the capitalist relations of production assumes an explosive form. This contradiction leads to a spreading crisis of these relations of production. (Ernst Mandel, 1972:500).

                It is a delicate operation to discern what, within any social critique, is itself ideology, is itself millennialism, is itself despair, is itself anxiety. Greta Thunberg’s first book calls for a sea-change in world systems, but specifically in that economic. And while it is certainly the case that humanitarian crises as well as those environmental have been exacerbated by a cut-throat dog-eat-dog system of exchanges and values, it is also equally the case that, as Marx himself suggested much closer to its advent, Bourgeois capitalism has been ‘the best system yet invented’. It has created unprecedented levels of wealth and spread that wealth far wider than any other economic dynamic in human history. It has levelled both systems of caste and class. It has elevated the Bourgeois class to political power. It has made the genders far more equal. It has invented technologies that can aid a radical democracy of the kind Thunberg envisages, and most importantly, in its dogged doggerel of individuated ideology, it has exhibited no respect for either gods or kings alike.

            And all of this Marx realized in his own day. For he and Engels, communism would surpass its predecessor in both its humanity and its equalizing force. Thunberg’s too easy dismissal of such an idea that has never been tested at a national level contradicts the entire heritage of her own critique. With some minor local exceptions, the communism authentic to Marx and Engels is as yet an untried device. Given the remainder of her basic suggestions for change, her own view is essentially the same as was theirs.

            Now this is not necessarily a terrible thing. ‘Communism’ is, at least in theory, simply a more equitable and humane version of capitalism, for in the transition from one mode of production to the next, in this case, the means of production remain unchanged. Indeed, Marx had himself to understate this issue within his own dialectical modeling due to two problems: One, purely theoretical, which had Engels’ historical evolutionary scale-level model cohere on the basis of a double change; both means and relations of production were altered in each of the world-shifting limens that had preceded the proposed, and still hypothetical, ‘communist revolution’. And two, purely political; Marx and Engels could not afford to extoll overmuch the system they desired to overthrow.

            And thus neither can Thunberg. Overcoming capitalism is made possible only by the presence of the dynamic forces within capitalism itself, just as Marx understood the case to be for the potential communist outlook. For him, the nation in which he was eventually exiled was in fact the ‘closest to communism’, that of Victorian England, replete with its world-wide colonial empire so derided by Thunberg. That pseudo-communist revolutions occurred in backward, non-capitalistic nations such as Russia and China were world-historical events, to be sure, but ones doomed to failure on Marx’s rubric alone. The ‘small is beautiful Star Trek technocratic humanism’ which settles down like a light drizzle upon the umbrella of future visions of a better world could only be had with the high technologies that capitalism invented. This is not capital ‘selling the communist the rope’ by which the latter will hang the former, but rather presents a series of opportunities for the more ethical use and deployment of resources unimaginable in any other economic system, in any other mode of production.

            And it is not a case of mere technology. The greatest triumph of capital rests not in its products nor its wealth, but in its human liberation, the very human freedom Thunberg so casually denigrates as being delusional within capital. Not quite so. Freedom is a modern construct that is ‘value neutral’, in that it can be manipulated as a sacred ideological cow – and all political parties in the Bourgeois state do this – or it can be realized by the individual in his or her own existential journey, and indeed, only there. The ‘pathless land’ of Krishnamurti is our unwitting and perhaps ironic guide to this kind of authenticity, and the very idea that a human being, fragile, mortal, subject to both ‘the insolence of officials’ and ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ alike, should even be able to dream of such an existential business is nothing if not astonishing. And this dream, realized in a yet few persons but available in theory to all humanity, is the central dream not of communism, but of capitalism.

            Why so? Because along with the idea of freedom comes the conception of the individual. Though its Enlightenment sovereignty and holism is long gone, even in its fragmented and fractured ‘postmodern’ form it is yet more free. Gone are its loyalties to family, to credo, to crowd, even to vocation. The modern self replaces only itself with a further, hopefully wiser, guise of itself. We do ‘die many times to become immortal’, as Nietzsche intoned. That capital places the privileged in a position where they may exercise this basic human freedom on the backs of others makes most attempts at such unfree. Hence the alienation that Marx stated was a hallmark of Bourgeois relations of production. Even in our radical freedom, we are divorced from our shared birthright, our common humanity. So much so, that we do not tend to think of the distant others who are yet enslaved by our very attempts to end the slavery of the modern self.

            This much is true of capital. Even so, the idea that it must be overthrown as its own dialectical force is likely overblown and premature. For within it lie the keys to its own evolution, not revolution. An equitable taxation policy, a surcharge on stock trades of the Tobin variety, an emphasis on sharing innovations, especially in the climate and medical fields, an awareness that we are one species and one world, an adherence to Ricoeur’s dictum that ‘the love we have for our own children does not exempt us from loving the children of the world’, none of these need be sought in a system other than the one we have today. In his day, Marx was understandably coy about his discovery that the essential characteristic of communism were already present in capitalism, but we today have no need to be so. For Thunberg and others to be ignoring this historical insight makes it much less likely that their vision of the future will indeed occur at all.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over fifty books in ethics, education, social theory, health and aesthetics, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

The Chasm of Dark Sarcasm

The Chasm of Dark Sarcasm

            The human past is mostly worthless. The culture that has been bequeathed to us over the millennia represents a drop in the bucket of action that made up the rest of history and prehistory alike. Certainly, the tears of billions made possible the glories of the species; the arts, philosophy, science and religion. But that suffering, in and of itself, was nothing, and the time has come for our species to be rid of it, for it is that very lexicon of loss which now seeks to destroy us.

            And it is the youth of our time that will see to it that the past is vanquished. The past itself, that is, for the very concept is the Ursprach of delay, of nostalgia, of the clinging, clawing, clasping hand that lunges at life from beyond the grave. Let the dead bury the dead, yes, but one has to kill them first.

            Two seemingly unrelated movements, that seeking to protect GSAs (gay-straight alliances) in the schools and the FFF (Fridays for the Future), seeking to alter our planetary fate – as its founder stated, ‘climate change is an existential crisis’ – are wondrous signs of life that youth is indeed alive at all. In spite of being force-fed ideology, consumerism, ‘commodity fetish’ and fetid entertainment, in spite of being surveilled by mindless homework, mindless parents pretending to be mindful, in spite of being physically assaulted in some regions yet, in spite of their naivety and inexperience, youth have begun to speak.

            And what is this tongue that falls upon the dead? It has no name, for it is the language of the future, the very concept that seeks life and the fore-having of the beings that we are. It dares to open the unopened, it desires to write the unwritten, it disavows the grammar of grade and gradation, graduation and the gravel of groveling servitude. It senses that human freedom is poised upon unknowing, but that this state will be knowable in all its noble blessing.

            But forgive me now; ask the sharpest of questions: will twenty minutes change the world, or one day a week? No, shut down the schools entirely, indefinitely, and worldwide. This will in turn disrupt the workplaces and adults will have to respond. Most of us will eschew violence against our children and will censor those who do not. There are simply not enough police to stop you. Use the power that you are.

            It doesn’t matter what started it. Some of us don’t believe that climate change is due to human action. Who cares? What matters is the effect – the present – and the result – one possible future – which is threatening us. Another young person aptly stated, ‘why study about human history when there won’t be a world in which humans can live?’ Very nice. To the point. We also no longer live in a world where one’s sexual inclinations matter a jot. Again, who cares? Property will still pass on, gay or straight etc.. People will still love and fall out of love, there will be the bliss of wedding and the misery of divorce and your desireful tongues will finally fail you.

            Your critics speak of ‘ideology’. Climate change is a ‘socialist plot’, GSAs ‘promote a sexual politics’, the classroom is about ‘learning’ and could not possibly be political. No one older than eight could ever be taken in by such bald-faced hypocrisies. Lying abortions of bigots. What of the ideology that the schools reproduce? What of the war fought daily in which the billions of poor take too casual casualty? What of the politics of straight-laced pig-faced bourgeois sex? What of the pearls before the swooning swine?

            Now is the time to think. Action will come. Question everything before you, for it is actually behind you, rearing up, ready to crush your spirit in its vicious vice. It is the dark sarcasm of a world-species history, learned in the classroom, taken into the world and making it but a hobbling hobby of itself. You can do better, and indeed, you must. Young people of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but our past.

G. V. Loewen is the author of over thirty-five books on ethics, education, religion and aesthetics, and recently metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades.