In part 1 of this article the current ‘locked in’ essence of class relationships within the capitalist mode of production was outlined. The fact that humanity is practically and ideologically stuck within its current socio-economic framework, means there is no imminent escape from the systems self-destructive tendencies. Too much production, too much ecological destruction, too much pollution, too much global warming, too much greed among the rich. In spite of every previous economic alteration or despite every natural barrier encountered, investment pressure for profit, combined with technological ingenuity has ensured these are either subverted or overcome.
Although some of capitalism’s modern elites are expressing concern (at a rhetorical level) at the state of the planet, the search for avenues of profitable production continue unabated. Agreements reached by elites, to reduce land, sea and air pollution are quickly watered down or quietly sidelined. Capitalist industry needs to plan its inputs and outputs, it thus needs total control of the human and natural resources at its disposal. Profitable trade comes before all other considerations. This, of course, is to be expected because profitable trade and wealth accumulation, are the foundation stone upon which the capitalist mode of production was built. They also remain the raison d’ être of all governing and politically active elites.
Barriers to Capitalism.
To the individual bourgeois imagination, wealth accumulation appears to be infinitely possible. However, economic activity is limited by the planetary resources available at each stage of its development. When Europe was saturated with capital it eyed the world. So the period of European Imperialism assertively incorporated the human and material resources of Africa and the middle-east into the global supply and sales chains of European capital. Capitalism was able to expand. But by the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the problem of capital needing new avenues for investment returned along with another. Computer aided automation in low wage countries along with just-in-time global supply chains, had maximised both the extent and intensity of capitalist production.
In many cases the tendency of the rate of profit to fall has occurred. However, more importantly, the mass of profit demanded (or required) by all those who – directly or indirectly – live from it has had to increase. It has done so by the increase in the mass of commodities and services produced and sold at a profit. This why a pattern of territorial expansion followed by saturation frequently repeats. For in order to satisfy it’s increasing numbers of unproductive elites, capitalism needs to continually expand its areas of profitable production. It has already partly deforested the remotest jungles and dug minerals from the most out of reach places. So in the 21st century there is hardly anywhere left for capitalism to expand!
But that’s not the only barrier to expansion. As noted, the existing levels of global production and consumption, are polluting the air, sea and land, destroying key ecological species along with their environments and has dangerously changed weather patterns. The biosphere which provides everything all life needs is being continually degraded. In the present and future, the planet needs less production, whilst the elites and their system needs more. Moreover, there is in existence yet another economic barrier to expansion. If there are fewer well-paid workers (due to automation, increased production efficiency, low pay, etc.), the less purchasers there are to buy and consume the existing 20th and 21st century production levels – let alone more in the future.
This recurring gap between capitalistic production and limited consumption, known as relative overproduction, repeatedly leads to debt crises and financial instability. At the same time, under this system, the previously noted mass of profit values, have to be shared out among more low paid non-productive workers. This has already led to further wage, salary and pension reductions for working people in the public and private sectors. In the short term this will mean further conflict over resources within countries and between countries. And then we need to think about the long term!
Three dominant ideas to choose from.
Only three sets of ideas and practices connected with the history and progress of humanity have dominated human thinking for the last few thousand years. Each are totalitarian systems in essence. The first set are the monotheistic religious views of an imaginary male God who created the entire human species and through the medium of priests, clerics or Immans of imagined ‘chosen people’ will guide and direct humanity in various ways whether they like it or not. This set of ideas dominated the thinking classes from the late ancient period and throughout long the middle ages of Europe and the Middle East.
The second set of ideas are that people were descended from different ancient humanoid stocks and evolved over long periods of time into different ‘races‘. Of these ‘imagined’ races, the one which becomes the strongest and most intelligent (ie. the so-called superior one) would – and should – totally dominate the rest of the worlds so-called inferior races. This second set (racist ideas) are a convoluted outgrowth of the first. In this case the superior people were imagined to be ‘chosen‘ by their evolutionary characteristics and abilities, rather than God.
The third set of ideas which also gained an intellectual following suggests that the recorded history of humanity was one in which classes emerged within certain settled human communities and armed groups emerged who were able to rule and dominate the rest of their communities. Many of these ‘might is right’ Kingly warriors claimed have descended from gods and consequently by force of arms, totally determined the socio-economic composition of their own communities and their relationship (usually one of conquest and tribute) to other human communities.
With these three ideological perspectives in mind it becomes clear why the first two (religion and race) are championed and supported by capitalist elites in one form or another. This is because they designate and promote a unity of purpose and compatibility between the ruling elites and the exploited people of their own religion, nation or race. This allows blame for any difficulties or existential crises emanating from the economic system to be laid upon those of a different, religion, nation or race. In keeping with the need of ruling elites for total control, these ideologies are used to ruthlessly divide people’s. These ideas seriously attack and undermine the idea and practice of a single human species.
The end of Humanity?
During the 19th and 20th centuries development of ‘race’ theories, two different strands of thinking occurred. One determined by land-based and one determined by sea-based national elites. The different strands arose because different obstacles to Imperial type expansion were encountered. On continents, (eg. Central European expansion) the barrier to Imperial acquisitions was the need to defeat and conquer whole areas of already occupied territory defended by pale skinned people – some with modern firearms. Therefore, land based Imperial conquests would be extremely expensive before profits could be realised. With the exceptions of North and South America, (Pale-Face versus Redskin) these land based Imperialisms tended to come later.
The cost problem was much reduced by the sea-based Imperialisms of maritime nations such as Holland, Spain, Portugal, France and UK. For these capitalist countries the ‘start-up’ of an Imperial enterprise involved only a European office, a sea going vessel and the establishment of a small ‘station’ to be used as a foreign base of operations. The land for these often tiny outposts were defended by a dark- skinned people armed only with spears, wooden clubs and bows and arrows. The result was predictable.
This practical investment difference is why the racist ideology of sea-born Imperialist countries focussed more on accentuating differences of skin colour (light versus dark), religion (Christian versus pagan) and socio-economic (Hunter-gatherer, Pastoralists versus industrialists). In contrast the later racism of the central European Imperialist powers such as Germany and Russia focussed more on differences in ancestry (Germanic/Aryian versus Rus/Slavic) and Industrial town versus rural agricultural modes of production.
It is obvious that the invented ideological frameworks of superiority in religion, nation and race, pit humanity against humanity and ignore the economic mode of production upon which all human life is sustained and ultimately determined. Perhaps the most dangerous ‘family’ of ideas in the 21st century are those around the invented categories of nation and ‘race’. The fundamental question needing answering in the 21st century is as follows.
Are the problems humanity faces primarily caused by the current system of production, distribution and consumption or are they caused by the skin colour or head shape of the people globally staffing it? Seriously, the answer to that question will determine how the present and future problems are resolved.
Is there to be conflict and war between ordinary people used as cannon or bomb fodder as in 1914-18 and again in 1939-45, or will there be a collective struggle to change the economic system – which of course is – the capitalist mode of production? The immediate problem humanity faces remains, I suggest, is as Hannah Arendt concluded in her study of totalitarianism;
“..racism can stir up civil conflicts in every country, and is one of the most ingenious devices ever invented for preparing civil war.”
“… no matter what learned scientists may say, race is, politically speaking, not the beginning of humanity, but it’s end…
(Hannah Arendt, ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’.)
Roy Ratcliffe (October 2021)
[Part 3 of this series ‘Capitalism Sinking Lower’ will look at where the ideas and practices come from which lead to the development of totalitarian political forms as responses to capitalist crisis. A later Part 4, will consider nationalist and racist ideas which are currently used to falsely divide humanity into hostile nations and non existent races.]
Roy Ratcliffe (October 2021)