Any mode of production which is contradictory and has reached the limits of its ability to expand, sooner or later is bound to disintegrate and then collapse. However, before the final demise, such modes of production go through periods of convulsion and struggle as those who benefit from them make repeated desperate efforts to stave off the inevitable end of ‘their’ system. In this sense there is not one ‘death agony’ but a series of agonising episodes before the final gasp. This was true of modes of production based upon ancient slavery, feudal semi-slavery and it is true of modern capitalist economic system based upon wage – slavery. For example, the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, as extensively catalogued by Edward Gibbon, did not occur over night, but went through a long period of expiring glory and convulsive degeneration. A similar pattern, but with varying distinctive features, can be identified in the decline and fall of the previous empires of Egypt, Persian and Greece. And despite surface appearances to the contrary, the capitalist mode of production has also been disintegrating for some time.
The relatively modern empire of global capitalism has been going through a protracted period of convulsive degeneration and temporary regeneration for over a century. These periodic agonies attending the episodic degeneration were motivated primarily by the uncontrollable desire of capitalist elites to expand their field of operations. The basis of this motivation to continually expand is the capitalists need to maintain and augment their capital. This need has driven capitalists and pro – capitalists periodically to extreme measures. Broadly these have taken the form of Colonial and imperial exploitation, two world wars with many millions killed and injured, continuous environmental degradation, rising global poverty, uncontrolled deforestation and more recently the continuing privatisation of practically everything except the air we breath.
These symptoms are all byproducts emanating from the needs of the capitalist class to continually expand and accumulate wealth despite the natural, social and any moral barriers to that expansion. This expansion has quite definately caused repeated large scale and small scale agonies for individuals and communities throughout the world. These degenerative agonies now also include the almost complete failure of the advanced nation – states of the world – and the complete failure of the less advanced – to ensure the safety and welfare of their citizens. Under the guidance of capitalist elite, we now witness the spectacle of millions of refugee civilians without a functioning country and in some cases countries without a functioning civilian population. How self destructive is that? States have also become willing to defame, arrest and incarcerate their own citizens in order to resist any serious pressure for radical change.
In short; under the pressure of its own internal contradictions, the capitalist mode of production is again coming apart at the seams!
In previous articles (‘Capitalism and Crisis’, and; ‘The Five – fold crisis of Capitalism ‘) I have dealt with many of the internal contradictions of the capitalist mode of production. In this article I wish to consider the contradictions of this mode of production in a much broader context. That is to say from a framework of ideas that consider the implications of these contradictions for the human species as a whole. It is in this latter regard that it is important to recognise that the economic life of the vast bulk of humanity is now inter -connected by a global network of production and consumption. That is now the economic and social reality for the human species. This means that ideas and ideologies based upon past tribal, religious, and national identities no longer corospond to the reality of the 20th and 21st century socio-economic networks. These ideologies were created during past pre – global socio – economic circumstances of human communities and are now clearly reactionary. They threaten to tear the human species into warring tribes, religions, and nations. It is true that the current global network is distorted and continually threatened by by the needs of the capitalists and the elites who benefit from it – but it is a global system nonetheless.
Unless we are to help extend the death agonies of capital even further or return to ealier modes of production, then we need to distil new ideas from the new realities which face us in the 21st century. I suggest and hope to demonstrate that the old phalanx of warring ideas of identity need to be replaced by humanist ideas attached to a revolutionary perspective. That is to say ideas which represent the human species as a whole and which recognise that the contradictions within the capitalist mode of production cannot be corrected without going beyond the capitalist system itself. This struggle of revolutionary – humanist ideas against reactionary ones is also one of the symptoms emerging from the ongoing death agony of capitalism. The future for humanity – if there is to be a progressive one – needs to be guided by revolutionary – humanist ideas toward a post – capitalist mode of production. This is because, as we shall see, the basic needs of all human communities – eating, sleeping, making and mating – cannot be adequately met by a socio – economic system dominated by the needs of capital.
Eating, sleeping, making and mating.
It is clearly obvious that there are four fundamental necessities for life to exist in any known individual or social form. Presupposing breathable air and the existence of advanced forms of life on this planet the first necessity is the procurement or production of food and water (eating.). The second is to provide shelter ànd rest (sleeping). The third is to create and maintain the tools of production (making). The fourth is to ensure biological reproduction (mating). Although expressed rather crudely, the terms eating, sleeping, making and mating, represent the minimum requirements for the survival of any social species – including the human species. How these necessities are met determines, to a greater or lesser extent, the economic structure of the society in question. But for a species to survive and evolve, these necessities must be met by the economic structure each day, week, month or year! Otherwise, as study of nature reveals, species decline and eventually become extinct.
What may be called the total socio – economic reproduction of species or societies (ie eating, sleeping, making and mating) is therefore an absolute given necessity for any species or group. What differentiates human socio – economic reproduction, from other earthly species, is the more or less conscious evolutionary development of different modes of how this total social reproduction is organised and achieved. Hunter – gatherer, pastoralist, herders, agriculturalist and industrial modes of production have all had their distinct group formations, divisions of labour and appropriate tools, adapted to the different resources they have had at their disposal. But whatever the mode of production adopted or adapted, they have all needed to fulfill and ensure – as far as humanly possible – the basic necessities outlined above. When the social form or habitat location ceased to allow these necessities to be adequately met then the rationality and cooperative abilities of humanity brought about a radical change. If moving away (migration or emigration) was not a solution in the past, and in many cases it wasn’t, then a revolutionary change in the mode of production became necessary. Why should the present mode of production be viewed differently than past ones?
Total social reproduction under Capitalism.
As the most recent mode of production, Capitalism was able to grow out of the circulation processes of earlier modes of production. It took the form of the accumulation of money. Hoarding and speculation in order to accumulate the monetary form of wealth took place due to the activities of those involved in commerce between countries and between communities. However, these activites and the wealth accumulated from it existed for generations before money as capital came to totally dominate the production of the necessities for eating, sleeping, making and mating. However, they do now and we should consider how they do so along with the implications for humanity.
A) Economic production – 1 (food and water.)
Where it dominates, the owners of capital have by various means appropriated the main means of food and other allied forms of commodity production and distribution. They or their agents now control the amount, cost and quality of the food we eat and the water we drink. But the domination of capital over modern societies controls much more than these qualities and quantities. The capitalist mode of production also controls our access to these necessities. This control has created a further necessity for the bulk of the population. People have to obtain a wage or salary from one group of capitalists in order to purchase these necessities from another group of capitalists. Previous modes of production, bad as they were, left at least a minimal ability for individuals to obtain, food, water, shelter and rest for themselves.
Capitalist ownership and control of nearly everything means that wages and salaries are necessary to obtain sufficient food, water, clothing and housing to survive as individuals and communities. Capitalists have become the gate – keepers to access to these necessities for individual, group and species survival. The fact that unemployment is now a large-scale structural part of the capitalist mode of production means that the gate has been closed to millions. There are now literally millions who now are unable to access sufficient food and adequate water. Hence the appearance of food banks in the advanced countries, and food aid deliveries in undeveloped ones – with all the personal and social symptoms and tensions this implies.
B) Economic production – 2 (shelter, clothing and rest)
In this category also, the capitalist class by its ownership and control of land and machinery has removed the possibility of most human families and communities to provide their own supply of adequate housing, clothing and of determining their own requirements for quality rest and enjoyable leisure. For working people, white – collar and blue, a wage or salary is absolutely necessary to obtain an adequate supply of these additional fundamental requirements. And here too, the fact of mass levels of unemployment means people can become homeless, hungry, cold and listless – through no fault of their own. Even with a wage or salary – if it is a low paid one – then humanely adequate levels of these necessities are practically unobtainable. Embarrasing short-lived charity and state benefits are often provided, but these are not a long term solution to the problems facing the bulk of humanity.
C) Economic production – 3 (tools of production.)
As already noted, any mode of production will have developed the tools and machines necessary to procure he necessaries described above. Whether the tools were simple stone flakes, shards of animal bone, horn or wood, for digging, piercing, pummeling or cutting, these needed making and renewing when they became worn out, damaged or completely broken. Under the capitalist system these tools (factories, machines, methods and research facilities) have as a result of the skills and energies of generations of working people, become so extensive and complex that they are currently controlled only by the combined resources of the capitalist elite. Whilst these tools of modern production are socially created instruments of production they are utilised only for the benefit of those who now own or control them.
The owners and controller’s (and their agents) of these means of production use them not for the benefit of society as a whole but for the benefit (via profits) of a small elite group – the one percent. When profits cannot be made these resources are scrapped or left to rot whether or not they might be useful to others, and the workers made redundant with all the problems outlined in the above sections. The capitalist mode of production would be bad enough if these were the only problems emanating from the domination of capital over the socio – economic intercourse of human communities, but there is another important one.
D) Biological reproduction.
It is only too obvious that societies need to ensure the renewal of the worn out generation, by the creation of a new one to replace them. It should also be obvious that to be effective rather than defective, this biological reproduction depends upon an adequate supply of the previously noted necessities to both the parents and children. Without adequate food, water, shelter and rest, then biological reproduction is effected in a negative way. Under undernourished, malnourished, nutrient deficient or toxic food and environmental conditions new generations are less fit and strong, more prone to illness and less able to maintain adequate levels of economic and social activities. Under circumstances of air, water, and food contamination, human life itself can become deformed and lives drastically shortened.
For the vast majority of the members of the human family, the procurement and production of all these fundamental necessities is now absolutely dependent upon the profitability of capital. That existential dependence cannot be the future economic and social basis for a species which wishes to survive the many problems facing us. It is already common knowledge that pollution and environmental degradation as well as birth defects and other health problems are a result of capitalist methods of industrial production. It is also common knowledge that the productive capacity of modern means of production are so efficient (due to automation and computerisation) that fewer and fewer workers, blue collar and white, are needed to be employed in them. More and more of these workers are becoming redundant and thus will become incapable of procuring adequate necessities for a decent life. Continuing with the domination of capital can only make matters worse.
The capitalist system is in terminal melt down – again!
It was asserted earlier that the death agonies of capitalism have included two world wars between 1914 and 1945, which involved the premature deaths of millions of working people. Any serious study of the socio – economic situation in the early decades of the 20th century will reveal the profound crisis of relative over production and the mass unemployment in Europe and North America which preceded these wars. On a bourgeois ideological (and therefore superficial) level these two wars appeared to be the results of democratic governments standing up to the militarism and fascism of Germany. However, this view misses the real underlying essence of these struggles which lay in the need of rival capitalist alliances for domination of markets and sources of raw materials. Such domination was and still is, necessary in order for capitalist concerns to continue to produce for profit and thus not only preserve their capital but increase it. Under the capitalist mode of production some sections of humanity have to die in order for others to live. Some sections of humanity have to be robbed of their resources for others to consume them.
Despite these 20th century death agony sacrifices of humanity, once again the capitalist system, driven by the greed of its elites has created huge levels of poverty and environmental degradation. Once again the capitalist system by its total domination, denies direct access to adequate food, water and shelter to millions of people around the globe. Once again the capitalist mode of production is unable to profitably employ millions of people even in its most wealthy centres of capital accumulation. Yet again its elites surround themselves with armed bodies of men to keep what they consider as ‘order’ in their countries when it is clearly a serious disorder of the system when their own citizens cannot obtain or maintain an adequate standard of living. Demanding and struggling for the right to be able to provide adequate resources for satisfactory eating, sleeping, making and mating is obviously a species necessity which the capitalist elite now consider a crime. For a few (the one per cent) capitalism is the perfect mode of production, for a further group of hangers on it is an acceptable mode.
However, from the perspective of humanity as a whole capitalism is failing the first requirements for species survival – direct access to adequate eating, sleeping, making, and mating within an unpolluted environment. Capitalism has frequently, and correctly, been condemned morally, but it is own economic logic – production for profit and capital accumulation – also condemns it as a mode of production for humanities survival into the uncertain future we face.
R. Ratcliffe (May 2016)