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The decadence of capitalism and you who suffers from it every day

2023-02-07 | Foundations
The decadence of capitalism and you who suffers from it every day

All the great modes of production up to now had entered into historical crises, true crises of civilization, that reflected the contradictions between the social relations that defined them and the development of the productive capacities that that same system had been increasing.

These major crises always showed a growing divergence between growth - as defined in each system - and human development, a tendency towards the subordination of production to war and growing difficulties in maintaining productive capacities in certain important sectors. The ruling classes, moreover, responded by extending the old forms of property to the point of grossly deforming them, while exuding increasingly defeatist and apocalyptic ideologies.

Read also: "Historical Materialism" in our dictionary

The present economic and war crisis is only one moment of a much larger historical scene, that of the decadence and historical crisis of capitalist society. But, precisely because of this, it demonstrates all the underlying signs clearly.

Destruction of productive capacities

U.S. housing construction.

Home construction in the U.S. increasingly demands more and more working hours.

The growing contradiction between growth (=capital accumulation) and (human) development is no abstraction, it manifests itself in a very concrete way in the lives of all workers every day and in practically all dimensions of life, from working conditions to health care, to the availability of medicines, the technologies that surround us, and the ever-increasing presence of war.

You can also read about the antagonism between capitalist growth and human development in other dimensions.:

But let's look at it from another perspective. The pure and simple destruction of productive capacities. There is no need to resort to war or to directly look at the daily slaughter and plunder that the ruling classes of the entire EU and the Anglo-Saxon world perpetrate in Ukraine. Nor to the deindustrialization of Europe unleashed by the imperialist game that the war opened. Let's look at the present with a little more perspective.

According to official US statistics, one hour of work of a construction worker in 2020 produced less than in 1970. And if we look at worldwide data on shipyards, keeping in mind that we are talking about a key sector since world trade cannot exist without large merchant ships, we would find that shipbuilding capacity today is about 40% less than it was a decade ago. It is not that they are being used less and demand has fallen, it is simply that lead times are increasing.

These kinds of phenomena, increasingly common in key sectors - housing and shipyards are no rare exception - annoy economists who sulkily respond that they are complex and multi-causal. As if all reality isn't.

What really bothers them and makes it incomprehensible to them - and taboo for the media - is that it is the long-term result of the states, producing and consuming enterprises interacting in the way that is considered rational for the system, i.e., that which is dictated by the accumulation needs of each particular capital and each national capital as a whole.

Add to that the emerging global phenomenon: the intentional fracturing of the world market in an attempt to defend or conquer markets by the major national capitals (= imperialism). However much they dress it up as high cost globalization, as the term itself reveals, it is in reality a waste from the global perspective of capital, as it involves devoting massive resources to produce globally the same amount of production... or less. How do capitalists who crave placement - because they cannot find profitable destinations - see it? As an opportunity they must develop. Result: they devote themselves to what in reality is nothing but a waste, a destruction of productive capacities, as we have seen in the chip industry... and yet capital grows.

One would have to be very short-sighted not to see here a contradiction between the development of the productive forces and the social relation characteristic of the system (capital).

Let us remember now that the main productive force is the class of wage-workers and that in a system incapable of generating in a sustained way sufficient markets for its productive capacities, capital becomes a constant machinery for the devaluation of labor. So these paradoxes of capital growth can only translate into a contradiction between capital and human development, if not between capital and human life itself.

"How did we return to the need for free food in a rich country in the 21st century?" a Guardian reader asked this summer. Looking at it in perspective, those days now seem like good times. Marianne asks, How could infant mortality rise by 7% in mainland France? No, it is no great mystery unless we examine the details so closely that we lose all perspective of the big picture: a system in extreme decline.

Deformed and baroque forms of ownership

Illustration created with AI at the command "robots in the Spanish countryside".

Illustration created with AI at the command "robots in the Spanish countryside".

A typical phenomenon of any system in decadence is the exacerbation to the point of grotesqueness of the forms of property that characterized it. The so-called intellectual property is the form taken by this extension to the limits of bourgeois property. And as we saw in the pandemic and see every day in the pharmaceutical industry, it not only goes in contradiction with the most basic human development, but it even shoots capital in the foot.

Scientists themselves are reminded of this when they protest about its effects on mRNA vaccine development, but it is also evident when in the midst of AI hype they become frozen like deer caught in headlights in the night when they realize that the infinite owners of the data used to program AI might ask for a piece of the pie.

In the AI debate these contradictions are of special interest because AI is the vanguard of the - historically necessary - tendencies towards the socialization of production and it clashes painfully time and again with the needs of accumulation. The fact that it also clashes with the most caricatured and abstract form of bourgeois property demonstrates the brutally decadent character of the prevailing social relations.

Less dramatic but surely with greater daily, or at least more visible, repercussions for workers is the famous transition to the electric car. Since it turns out to be a better, simpler, cheaper to maintain and much more durable technology... it damages the expectations of profitability of capital.

The response of the major automotive companies? To reconsider whether to sell the cars or offer a fake lease that, along with capped functionalities, gives off the illusion of a regular update of the car in order to give the user the impression that they gain something out of it. It is, again, a form of socialization of ownership... by monopolies. Dodge and Mercedes are already working on it.

Subordination of technological and scientific development to accumulation and war (militarism).

State-of-the-art 3D printer.

State-of-the-art 3D printer.

The matter does not end with the difficulties and contradictions of the system when it comes to giving the technologies it has created itself a use compatible with accumulation. From the Internet itself to the space race, passing through quantum technology, we see how their development, evolution and even the scientific research they imply, are subordinated to the need to place immense masses of capital without destination and, increasingly, to the demands of a future war (=militarism).

The latest example is 3D printing. Originally, and rightly so, many saw in this technology an immediately realizable promise of distributed, versatile and non-polluting production. It of course ended up clashing with intellectual property right from the start. But the pressures of industry led the technology itself to evolve towards working with harder and harder materials - which in principle was positive - at the price of scaling up. And scaling up led to the leap in approach that capital needed: creating huge plants to produce ultra-specialized parts. Problem solved: 3D now has the only use that the funds were interested in: to serve the profitable placement of large capitals.

Today, 3D printing is a technology practically monopolized by the aerospace industry and therefore focused in one way or another on warfare. Developments for small-scale clean production are practically at a standstill and in what was once a flourishing community of development and free knowledge, there remain a few makers and hackers and.... a small crowd of crazy gun fanatics.

An apocalyptic, obscurantist, and superstitious culture

Transhumanist fantasy.

Transhumanist fantasy. It ends up, of course, with the bourgeoisie becoming eternal and digital

The EU financing Malthusian pseudoscientific research is becoming less and less shocking. Not only because by now the ruling class has realized the usefulness of degrowth in serving its interests. But above all because every day it is becoming more obscurantist and superstitious.

In the background, a bourgeoisie which, at the head of a decadent and anti-human capitalism that survives by deforming its own bases to the point of monstrosity, has become conscious in its own way of its own parasitic nature, which, as it could not be less, it confuses with the nature of the species. The emerging example: rewilding. Understanding Nature as dehumanization and therefore embracing depopulation and total alienation from the environment.

Very coherently, the bourgeoisie imagines transcending the body by digitizing itself or overcoming death by eternalizing itself. It is no longer only the talk of the scientific world. The leading sociologists warn the ruling class itself of the dangers of its taste for pseudo-scientific religions such as Transhumanism. But to no avail. The ruling class is drifting and gladly lends the opinion industry even to the most delusional neo-animist theories that want to find soul even in inert matter and pretend to reinterpret even Physics from the perspective of their superstitions.

And at the same time, scientific journals and the literary sections of prestigious newspapers are filling up with books by academics who praise war by presenting it as the foundation of human societies and their progress.

All very coherent.


  • The decadence of capitalism is not an abstraction or a tired obsession of Marxists. It is the determining factor in understanding the reality that surrounds us and conditions and deforms the daily life of each one of us in all its dimensions.
  • Underlying this true civilizational crisis is the incompatibility, the growing antagonism, between what capital demands according to its own rules in order to revalue itself and human development.
  • The root cause is that the only way to revalue capital in a world of perennially scarce markets is to devalue labor and therefore the lives of workers. We saw it with the pandemic, we see it in the war, in the universal dismantling of health care and pension systems, etc. etc. etc.
  • But we also see it in the development driven by the system of everything that surrounds us: from mental health to the way that the technologies that the system itself has made possible are used... and that the system nevertheless deforms, squanders and derails towards military uses because it cannot use them or benefit easily from the increase in socialization that these technologies would bring.
  • The result is a society that directly destroys its productive capacities, both existing and potential, starting with the most important of them: the working class.
  • There is no political direction that can change this. The major contradictions of production systems in their decadence can neither be reoriented, nor sweetened. Only a change of direction of the entire society, carried out by the only class with no vested interest in sustaining the system, can overcome a system increasingly turned against the species.
  • That's not going to happen magically. In order for it to be possible at some point, we have to organize ourselves as workers, in our terrain but also in all possible ways and places. We count on you.