Deflation (final) - or, can capitalism go green ?

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Mon Jul 14 03:13:04 MDT 2003

Dear Nicholas,

Thanks for your reply. Really you know, we are probably not so far apart
intellectually, although you seem to live in Aussie whereas I am in The
Netherlands...You wrote:

nd to argue - as you do - that the problem of
anthropogenic climate change is just a "speculation"
on my part, and is not related to capital's inability
to transform its technical basis to overcome the
limitations of the original, hydrocarbon,
non-renewable industrial model, or the grotesque
inflation of the reserve army, is rather heroic, like
old Nelson holding the telescope to his blind eye.

Yeah, well maybe I was a bit like old Nelson yesterday, but as the Metallica
song goes, "every day there's something new".

I don't disagree with the problem to which you refer, but I have a slightly
different take on it. Historical experience suggests that, if cornered, the
owners of capital will search a way out, and will seize on anything that
works to protect private property and the private capital accumulation
process, ensuring the survival of the system. If it was true in Germany in
1933, it is true today in Argentina. Indeed, modern incormation and
communications technology allows for a much greater flexibility in this
sense than ever before. I believe this is an important point.

With a sharp intuition, Paul Mattick once referred to Marxism as "the last
refuge of the bourgeoisie", suggesting that under certain conditions, the
bourgeoisie would be very interested in what Marxists have to say for the
purpose of keeping the system going and assisting the preservation of its
social coherence (and, mutatis mutandis, the Green party or any other
political strand). The classic example is that of Rudolf Hilferding. Some
French "regulationists" who were Marxists in their younger years, advised
the Jospin government, Jospin himself being originally a member of the
Lambertist variety of Trotskyists. Marxists often have a better political
sensibility, broader intellectual interests and social awareness, a greater
savvyness about where people are at, and a greater willingness to cross
narrow discipinary boundaries to solve problems (it is not accidental that
Salvador Allende was originally also involved with some or other Trotskyist
or communist group, although he was to the Left of Jospin of course; and
somebody like Lula, whom I admire as a person, whatever disagreements I
might have, was also schooled in Marxist thought, being associated with the
Fourth International). The owners of capital themselves with their sectional
interests are ultimately unable to construct the social and human
identification required to bind citizens to their own commercial  system,
even with the most sophisticated media techniques, and for this they look to
individuals who, falling foul of the system, were compelled to forge bonds
with others on a different basis than wheeling and dealing, and in which
people have more trust, because they seem to have no personal stake in
self-enrichment, or in apologising for the woes of the propertied classes.

So, if you are some sort of materialist, then you know that the social
reproduction of capitalist society does not rely on any particular set of
ideas or any particular political policy, it is compatible with a very wide
range of ideas and policies, provided private property and the accumulation
process remain intact. This is the true source of the endlessly repeated
bourgeois claim that capitalism offers freedom, and not the idea that the
market is somehow "democratic". And therefore what seem to be unsurmountable
obstacles for capitalist development today, might be also tackled at
astonishing speed if the system's survival depends on it, if there is no
other way to safeguard private property and the accumulation of private
capital. Yesterday's conservatisms can be quickly overturned tomorrow, it is
just a matter of the acuteness of the crisis situation.

This is the spirit in which Lenin remarked, at the time of the 2nd Congress
of the Comintern, "there are no absolutely hopeless situations for capital",
there is always another way out, another way the save the system, if given a
chance, and you ought not to rule out any possibilities apriori in this
sense. The implication of Lenin's somewhat surprising statement is, that (1)
getting rid of capitalism is a political act, which must tackle the
foundations on which the system is based, namely private capital ownership
and the ability to trade in assets, goods and labour without serious
restrictions, (2) an economic collapse of itself implies nothing at all
about the ability of capitalism to survive, because, provided private
capital ownership and the ability to trade remains intact or is restored,
then the system can always find a means to revive. At most you can say that
an economic collapse provides a climate more conducive to the "political
act" Lenin talks about, because it robs the system of its credibility in
failing to deliver the goods that people need. But even this, might
conjuncturally not be the case, in a place like Argentina, because a very
severe crisis might make any political option unworkable for quite some

The prophets of doom, who are forever saying that the final, unresolvable
crisis of capitalism is at hand, and focus on the tendency of the system to
break down, are therefore engaging in an irrelevant activity. The real task
of socialists is to discover in the potentialities and possibilities of the
old society, the foundation for a new politics and a new society, which
breaks with the logic of capitalism and establishes an alternative - and to
do so without somehow being co-opted into the quest of the elites for
self-enrichment at the expense of others.



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