Tomasz Konicz, 12.08.2022
The Climate Movement Needs Anti-Capitalist Guardrails for Its Coming Actions
The climate movement should not be afraid of being accused of radicalism. Given the civilization-threatening dimensions of the climate crisis, solving this monstrous problem is a matter of sheer collective will to survive. It is obvious that global capitalism, in its unbridled compulsion to grow, is incapable of reducing resource consumption and emissions. This has long been empirically proven, since in the 21st century global emissions of CO2 could only be reduced in the short term at the cost of world economic crises, only to rise again all the more rapidly as a result of subsequent economic stimulus measures. The entire world is being turned into the mere fuel of this irrational cycle of valorization.
Moreover, since wage labor forms the substance of capital, increases in productivity increase the hunger for resources of the capitalist profit machine, since the value of the individual commodity decreases and more commodities have to be produced in order to successfully complete the cycle of valorization (this results in the tendency towards many products being produced in such a way that they break down faster). The climate crisis is a capitalist climate crisis. Without overcoming capital, there is no hope of averting the impending climate catastrophe.
Being radical means first and foremost saying what’s what. The fight against the capitalist climate crisis must be waged with open sights, given the fact that we are rapidly running out of time. It is necessary to tell people openly that sustainable climate protection, i.e. the alleviation of the climate crisis, is only possible if the capitalist compulsion to grow is overcome. The climate struggle must thus be waged as a struggle for transformation into a post-capitalist society. The absolute minimum is to overcome capital’s valorization compulsion, which is running amok.
With this confrontation, the ideological hex that makes the discussion of alternative systems impossible would finally be broken. Most people already suspect that late capitalism is heading for the abyss; the apocalypse is omnipresent in the culture industry, in films and video games. But the difficulty would be to convince people who are lapsing into resignation that an apocalyptic climate catastrophe is not inevitable. The demand for a transformation of the current system would also put a stop to the opportunism rampant among the left-leaning political parties, who still see even the climate crisis as a vehicle for their career aspirations in crisis management.
What Does Anti-Capitalist Climate Policy Mean?
The vision of a climate-friendly and resource-conserving post-capitalist society, which seems so abstract, results from the concrete necessities of climate protection. The demands of an anti-capitalist climate policy must not be concerned with the irrational coercive logic of eroding and ailing late capitalism; they must be oriented towards the objective, scientific necessities of climate protection, as well as towards the technological possibilities of society. The productive forces that capitalism developed would break the fetters of capitalist production relations.
In concrete terms, this also means countering the current fears of wage earners: The killer argument of job preservation in fossil industries would have to be countered, for example, by saying that the reproduction of people must no longer be linked to the reproduction of capital via their jobs. For this confronts wage-earners in late capitalism with the tragic choice between social survival and the threat of climate collapse. The same applies to the admonitions about the financial viability of climate protection measures, which could be countered by intensifying and extending the debate about socialization and expropriation.
The ideological constraints that capital has erected in the neoliberal era must be countered by the very real constraints of climate protection. Such a transformational climate policy, linking concrete actions with demands that clearly go beyond the logic of capital, would be tantamount to a first breakout from the capitalist thought prison.
But what actually needs to be overcome? Even the most powerful capitalists are helplessly vulnerable to the inherent dynamics of capital, which it generates via market mediation. The uncontrollable self-movement of money functioning as capital in its forms of commodity, money and labor power is called fetishism. This is why capitalists cannot“save the world,” even though the impending social and ecological collapse ultimately threatens their businesses as well. For it is precisely this dynamic of valorization, unconsciously generated by market subjects, that devastates powerless human societies and the global ecosystem.
Marx’s seemingly cryptic remark that the overcoming of capitalism would conclude “the prehistory of human society” thus acquires its clarity. All previous human history took place unconsciously, within the framework of fetishistic social systems: from the religious fetishism of early times and the Middle Ages to the secularized religion of capital.
The Systemic Crisis of Capital Is Irreversible
Overcoming this state of affairs would mean simplifying social reproduction. The organization of society would then be organized directly through an egalitarian process of direct communication by the members of society. This goal would also have to appear in the organizational structure of the transformational movement, which plans its course of action in open discourse – thereby at the same time rehearsing for the post-capitalist future.
And here is the crux of the matter: the systemic crisis of capital is also an irreversible, fetishistic process, as it chokes on its increasing economic and ecological contradictions and passes into transformation. It is not a question of the subjective will of the members of society whether the collapsing system will be overcome. It is a question of the very survival of human civilization, ultimately of human existence, in which way the coming transformation process will proceed: as a chaotic disintegration, in the form of the establishment of a brutal crisis dictatorship, or in a progressive direction that would open up new emancipatory perspectives for humanity in spite of all the coming climate-related disasters. What lies ahead is a struggle over the course of how the system will be transformed.
What’s more, this process of transformation is already underway – and the increasing political, ideological and military conflicts are precisely the expression of this upheaval that is unconsciously taking place over humanity. Civilization or barbarism – these are the extreme poles in this historical “phase of transition.” The struggle for transformation toward a post-capitalist future worth living in should be the common denominator of many seemingly disparate movements and struggles.
As the system is in upheaval and the formerly fixed social structures – from the eroding state, to the political landscape in disintegration, to the constantly crumbling economy – are in a certain sense liquefying, collective actions have a far greater influence on shaping the future than in periods when capitalism seemed more stable. Bourgeois politics, the actions of political subjects, are thus also important again, they carry weight. Not because they solve the crisis, but because they can determine the course of the crisis. Whether Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders sits in the White House is certainly relevant to the course of the crisis process.
Tasks for Radical Movements
The task for radical movements is thus to understand even seemingly reformist decisions as setting the course for transformation and to position themselves accordingly. Here, too, it is important to emphasize the necessity of system transformation in order to finally anchor a discourse on social alternatives in society as a whole. Even protest movements like Fridays for Future and uprisings like the “Arab Spring” are similar in that they can erupt spontaneously when social tipping points are crossed. However, these very different movements, which have erupted in reaction to the same socio-ecological crisis process, are only able to take an emancipatory course if they are supported by an adequate crisis consciousness that is broadly anchored in society.
To understand the crisis as a maxim of emancipatory praxis, then, is to ask in what form late capitalist society will enter the inevitable process of transformation. Should it be an authoritarian, racist, police-state administered oligarchy with absurd social abysses in which the fossil fuel industry buys its parties, or a more egalitarian, bourgeois-democratic polity in which there continues to be space for radical critique and praxis? A progressive movement, borne of an understanding of the necessity of systemic transformation, would thus struggle to establish conditions that could steer this transformational dynamic in an emancipatory direction. The maxim of such a post-politics would consist, on the one hand, in the effort to maintain and further develop the process of civilization, and, on the other hand, in the struggle to overcome the destructive inherent dynamics of capitalism.
There is a maxim of political practice that left movements, groups or even parties must follow in the 21st century if they want to act as progressive social forces in the current epoch of upheaval and crisis. Capitalism must be transformed into history as quickly as possible, the capital relation as a social totality must be consciously abolished – all practical actions, all tactics, all reform proposals, all broader strategies would have to be oriented towards this categorical imperative.
This is not an expression of leftist “radicalism,” but the formulation of a reasonable bare minimum, which, if not realized, would lead to 21st century civilization ending in barbarism. It is precisely because capital is collapsing that it must be overcome. Progress can only be realized beyond capital, in the transformational struggle to shape a post-capitalist society.
Originally published in analyse & kritik on 08/12/2022