In 2020, the outbreak of the COVID19 Pandemic, forcibly demonstrated that the capitalist mode of production had not only created a world market in theory, but in practice had made its production, sales-distribution and pollution an integrated and interdependent whole. The whole globalised human life-support system in the 21st century, depended upon the ‘just-in-time’ arrival of components and raw materials in each nation or the system of production was in danger of grinding to a halt. Any delay or break-down in this interdependent supply chain and many people would not be able to eat, clothe themselves adequately, cook any food they managed to obtain, heat or cool their homes, acquire needed medicine’s and much else. For decades, capitalism had long outgrown the limitations of the nation state and had become fully global.
Prior to this 21st century demonstration of the fragile dependency of countries on long and expensive supply chains, it had at last been admitted, that the global climate, ecology, and resources were suffering exponentially, with lethal consequences from the same globalised industrial production and distribution. Moreover, problems; food shortages, financial melt downs, ecological destruction climatic changes and epidemics could no longer be combated locally or nationally. These facts indicate that the limits of capitalist production and distribution methods motivated by profits have been reached. Further expansion is neither physically possible or socially desirable. Any disruption or breakdown in its integrated system of production, distribution and consumption causes life threatening crises everywhere, not just in and around the location of the disruption.
Yet trying to keep this integrated system working, as most capitalists would like, invites further, pollution, ecological damage and climate change. The capitalist mode of production has plunged humanity into a socio-economic Catch 22. The contradiction between national based ruling elites trying to benefit most from controlling large sections of a global system of production, distribution and consumption, has long led to conflict between national elites resulting in two 20th century world wars. Yet this struggle is again manifesting itself everywhere in 2020. Elites, in China, Russia, US, Europe and UK, are currently seeking ways to gain economic, financial, military and political advantage over each other. Some by invasions others by one-sided economic of financial deals.
This problem of economic competition and the struggle of nations conducted by their elites, was partly understood by politicians of previous generations, some of whom came up with the idea of having planned economies on an international or global scale. It was felt that individual or oligarchical capitalists and capitalist countries should no longer be allowed to decide things for themselves and thus create international crises and essential supply breakdowns. The global capitalist system, they thought, needed discipline and planning.
The 20th century radical politicians who suggested solutions to the previous century of anarchy of global competition fell into two authoritarian categories; Fascists and Communists. Both these political tendencies wanted a planned, integrated world economic and political system with themselves at the head of it. Hitler and Stalin tried for a time to achieve such a dream/nightmare before they were stopped after much killing and destruction. Yet their world government megalomania was not an isolated case. As we shall see, some notable characters of that 20th century generation even thought such a world system was an essential part of humanities historic ascent (!). For example, a Russian revolutionary intellectual, Leon Trotsky wrote;
“Mankind is impelled in its historic ascent by the urge to attain the greatest possible quantity of goods with the least expenditure of labor. This material foundation of cultural growth provides also the most profound criterion by which we may appraise social régimes and political programs. The law of the productivity of labor is of the same significance in the sphere of human society as the law of gravitation in the sphere of mechanics.” (Essay on ‘Nationalism and Economic Life’. Leon Trotsky)
The first sentence reveals Trotsky as not only having abstract idealist formulations in his head at the time but essentially having the same view on production as modern neo-liberal capitalist economic experts – albeit minus the profit motive! According to Trotsky, the historic ascent of humanity involved creating “the greatest possible quantity of goods” for the least costs in labour – on a global scale. He even suggests that the bourgeois socially created phenomenon of productivity of labour is as significant to the sphere of social life as the natural phenomenon of gravity is to the sphere of mechanics.
Clearly Trotsky mistakenly thought that the real natural world, could be constructed so as to conform to the imaginary world constructed in his brain. Yet Trotsky obviously understood that this imaginary global economic scenario was also implicit in the general ambition of die-hard Fascists. He also endorsed the struggle that every ‘normal’ capitalist is engaged in; “...the struggle for the greatest productivity of labor.” Moreover, Trotsky also looked forward the;
“…progressive task of how to adapt the arena of economic and social relations to the new technology.” (ibid)
Yet, adapting “the arena of economic and social relations to the new technology” in the 20th century was done by all capitalist countries and by the authoritarians Lenin, Stalin and the later Bolsheviks in Soviet Industry, agriculture and warfare. Gulags, the unintended draining of the Aral Sea and the intentional killing millions of peasants and dissidents (including Trotsky) were the results of adapting economics to technology, during its Soviet implementation. Automation and artificial intelligence has now been adapted to the modern arena of economic and social relations and this adaptation is also killing people, animals and also damaging the planets air, seas and eco-systems.
Both the Fascist and Bolshevik ‘whole world in our hands’ ideas for the future of mass societies were based upon hierarchical control of economic and social production by ruthless sectarian political tendencies. The object of global control being to solve the anarchy spread by liberal versions of international capitalism. Such authoritarian control would be exercised regionally at first and then used militarily to conquer the world. Only then – after all the death and destruction done to accomplish it – the final task would be to feed the world according to the plans of an expert led, world economic forum. And, as Trotsky with his own whole world framework in mind, asserted;
“Only in the historic framework of world development can we assign fascism its proper place.” (ibid)
Really! The only way to assign a right-wing authoritarian form of world governance to its proper place, is to create a left-wing, authoritarian form of world governance? It is not hard to recognise that this notion of an historic ascent and world economic development based upon the greatest quantity of products – no matter who concocted it – was a bourgeois male fantasy to be imposed upon nature (ie. all life on earth) – if given the chance. It was the product of 20th century elite imagination freed of any regard for the holistic needs of human producers, and consumers.
It was also the product of an imagination lacking an evaluation of the already disastrous effects of industrial production upon other life forms, ecological resources, climatic change and air, sea and land pollution. Yes of course, humanity needs a revolutionary solution to the contradiction between production for mass societies, the current (and any future) disparities in wealth and the potential exhaustion of the resources used to achieve this production. But really! Simply by the greatest possible quantity of goods with the least expenditure of labor – under a different name?
In the future, complete self-sufficiency may not be achievable or even desirable for countries and people’s, but expensively transporting practically everything across oceans and skies and polluting everything as it moves is unsustainable. Indeed, more and more production of unnecessary self-indulgent stuff whether produced by clean (!) electrical or atomic (!!) energy is the opposite of what is needed for the future. A human species that wishes to be sustainable needs to get back to basics; ie. adequate individual, Nourishment, Rest, Growth and Reproduction, (N.R.G.R.) for all human beings (with the emphasis on adequate not ostentatious) and achieved at production levels which sustain the ecological and climatic conditions needed for the rest of ‘life on earth’ which supports us to adequately survive.
Roy Ratcliffe (June 2022)
Roy – an immediate response to a challenging and insightful piece. On a pedantic level, I wish you wouldn’t use the notion of anarchy in a pejorative sense. My own engagement with anarchism has been of profound importance in my escape from Leninism. More importantly, I wonder what you think of the authoritarian and technocratic perspective of the World Economic Forum, its recognition that perpetual production and ceaseless consumption cannot be sustained and its strategy of imposing increasing surveillance and control under the guise of the common good. Best as ever, Tony
Hi Tony. Point taken with regard to anarchy – apologies!. I was of course referring to the ‘crazy economic disorder’ of international capitalism and in future I will try to remember to use an alternative term or terms to avoid the perjoritive implication. Yes I think the W. E. F. are responding to the same top-down hierarchical concerns – in an authoritarian manner – as are mentioned in the article. The logic of hierarchically organised mass societies when production routinely outstrips consumption or when consumption routinely outstrips production – is to seek or impose authoritarian solutions. I think the last paragraph sums up my view of the direction humanity needs to be heading – although how we get there is another question. At the moment I suggest the pathway to it is blocked by the power of capital and pro-capitalist elite, along with the hegemonic ideological hold of bourgeois entitlement allied to technological solutions – as progress. I fear the present system will have to collapse considerably before enough people (a critical-mass) start to self-critically question themselves and the system to even think differently. The concept of N.R.G.R. in the article is a conceptual tool I am using to consider what the natural essence of all ‘life on earth’ ( which is the title of a new book I am writing) is and that how this is organised by the social forms humans create negatively effects relationships between humans and nature and humans and each other. By the way great to hear from you. Thanks for the comment and reminder. Best regards, Roy