Cannibal capitalism

Image: Saeid Anvar


Commentary on Nancy Fraser's newly edited book.

“Capitalism” encourages the precariousness of forms of social life, the crumbling of infrastructures, the erosion of services, racialized violence and extreme weather events. No news. Nancy Fraser transcends. The adjective “cannibal” highlights the ritual of humans eating the flesh of another. “This resembles the relationship between the capitalist economy and non-economic spaces: families and communities, habitats and ecosystems, state capacities and public powers that have the substance consumed to inflate the system itself. This is a widespread crisis. Multiple calamities converge, exacerbating each other and threatening to swallow us whole.” We are the main dish.

The reference also involves society that authorizes the economy to feed on our creative abilities and the land that sustains us, without replacing what it consumes. Systemic contradictions provoke not only economic crises, but crises of care, ecology and politics. All emerged courtesy of the period of gluttony known as neoliberalism. Extra-economic ideals have a range of critical-political possibilities. It would be a monumental cognitive failure to underestimate its relevance.

These “border struggles” incite mobilizations that are not restricted to class struggles linked to production. The variety of themes and subjects signals the potential for great refusal. In many moments they tend to rebel against the practices associated with accumulation. The American feminist researcher from New School for Social Research, from New York, in Cannibal capitalism, with rigor and empathy, presents a theory capable of articulating the dispersion of efforts and what to do to impede the march of the devouring of democracy today.

Only with grandiose, wholesale thoughts will we have the chance to defeat the voracious impetus that capital's cannibalism has to devour us completely. The axes of inequality, including nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexuality and class raise the alarm. It is impossible to continue repeating the models that persist in prioritizing labor struggles in the productive stage. We need analyzes in tune with our desire – strength to resist and change the status quo

There are “hidden terrains” to be discovered: here, read a background of non-commodities. Marxian reflection adds to the need for an epistemic shift from production to social reproduction. Namely, providing for the raising of children and the education of new generations in the cycle of emotional ties that support salaried work, surplus value and the mechanism – the gender mark.

The environmental mark lies in the conversion of nature into a source of inputs and an outlet. The State's mark, in the legal structuring to enable expansion. The mark of “primitive accumulation” in informal workers who sell industrialized products without labor protection, but assistance assistance. Expropriation underlies exploitation. “Capitalism is the institutionalized social order, with structural overlap in the issue of gender, ecological degradation, racial-imperial oppression and political domination – all together in its structural and not accidental dynamics”. Could.

The hidden lands

Nancy Fraser dedicates a chapter to each development, in addition to that perceived by Marx in the cracks of exchange value. She brings to light “black Marxism”, which studies relations between capitalism and racism since women’s slavery. plantations, between the 17th and 19th centuries, dissecting expropriation for accumulation by other means. If finance blurs the line between the two “ex” (exploitation and expropriation) it is to promote the synthesis that reduces the economic circle to super-exploitation. Hegemonic ideology separates history and politics to hide the organic links between slavery and capital, on the assumption that the intersection between galaxies was an unsuspected coincidence.

Social reproduction, on the other hand, has a central role in making the wheel of subordination turn. It cannot be withdrawn from the exam. Affects from the reproductive sphere are diverted to external purposes, which hijack the support of children and adolescents. Once the Ouroboros is created, capitalism eats its own tail. The choice is not between social protection derived from male domination or commodification, in place of care. The correct option is emancipation, which combines social protection with the division of domestic tasks on the part of parents. Neoliberal globalism encourages state and corporate disregard for well-being; evaluates freedom in market terms to embed it in the market game.

Environmental pressures give rise to discussions about degrowth, predatory production and consumption. For their territories and against extractivism, indigenous communities gain allies. Feminists compare gynophobia (aversion to women) to capitalist contempt for the planet. Anti-racists want to end ethnic eugenics in city halls. Social democracy rides the wave, demoralized in the lurch to the right. The transition to renewable energy with unionized, well-paying jobs is attractive, given the promise of the environmental movement.

Ecopolitics is omnipresent. But it does not presuppose consensus on overcoming impasses. It does not follow that global warming overrides labor rights. The crisis that now encompasses ecology, economy, society and politics – in metastasis – shakes confidence in the worldview of the ruling classes. Protecting the planet requires building a counter-hegemony, which demands a profound structural transformation in the relationship between the economy and its “others”. Capitalist societies carry an ecological contradiction in their DNA – they profit from pollution and sell the sky.

The deformation matrix resides in a web. The variables are not independent. A “dialectic of concrete totality” is necessary to grasp them. “In pseudoconcreticity, the phenomenality of the thing, in which the thing manifests and hides itself, is taken by the essence, and the difference between the phenomenon and the essence disappears”, in the words of Karel Kosik. What distinguishes a phenomenon from essence is equivalent to the difference between the real and the unreal. Reality is the unity of phenomenon and essence, a condensation of multiple determinations. The sowing of illusions irrigates sad defeats in history.

It is understood that democracy in capitalism is of weak intensity or pure hypocrisy, and will remain so as long as the economic is considered non-political, and the political non-economic. The legal framework for private initiative and market exchange is operated within institutions. It is the legislative and legal gears of States that establish depoliticized arenas, in which social actors pursue their “economic” interests, free from “political” interference. Likewise, States grant subjective rights to privileged individuals and not to undervalued others.

Build utopia

Financialized capitalism remakes the link between economy and politics. Central banks and global financial institutions replace States as arbiters in formulating the rules that govern capital and labor, debtors and creditors – without which rentierism would not develop. Through debt, capital cannibalizes work, disciplines the State and citizenship rights, transfers value from the periphery to the center of dominance, sucks society and the environment. The “democratic deficit” results from the uncontrolled financialization that depoliticizes political activity and confiscates its decision-making power on major issues such as the warming of humanity’s home, Gaia.

A curious governance without government is installed by the European Union, the World Trade Organization, NAFTA and the TRIPS that send a blessing or a curse to the populations. Authority moves from the national to the transnational level. The growth of the extreme right exposes a desperate effort to safeguard all the mess in finances. In the opposite direction, pro-planning impulses for an inclusive society are spreading across the Northern and Southern hemispheres. The rise of leadership exercised by President Lula on a global scale, with the proposal to tax large fortunes, forwarded to the G-20 and the Pope Francisco, indicates a fierce confrontation of perspectives. Brics' engagement in the project of a multipolar world creates unprecedented alternatives for the people.

The wall between economics and politics is torn down given the resilience to contain climate change, class inequalities and gender and racial injustices, combat hunger and poverty, with the aim of rehabilitating public power. The fact that there is publicity about controversies proves that neoliberal logic is shaking and falling rapidly. The unique thought dismantle. Nancy Fraser quotes Gramsci when painting the picture, “the old is dying and the new cannot be born”.

The separation of the economy not only from nature, but from the State, care and expropriation imposes on society a tangle of contradictions in continuous interaction. Our challenge is to investigate the whole, under a single framework. The urgent reinvention of the World Social Forum (WSF), now in a Porto Alegre flooded by denialism, would help to metabolize such a polarized situation. Anti-capitalism sets the inevitable line for each historical bloc, between “us” and “them”.

The concept of socialism was preserved by left-wing parties that did not allow themselves to be swallowed by the Washington Consensus. It deconstructs the three wounds of capitalism: injustice, irrationality and lack of freedom. It addresses the disjunction between production and reproduction, exploitation and expropriation, human society and non-human nature, arguing that basic needs (housing, clothing, food, health, education, transport, communication, energy, leisure, clean water and breathable air) are not goods. Nancy Fraser inscribes an instigating theoretical-methodological inflection in the body of historical materialism. It opens doors without dogmatism and provides answers that are extremely relevant.

There are intellectual and/or artistic works that cause the feeling that we become better and more insightful after reading, seeing, listening to or watching them. Cannibal capitalism evokes this feeling in the soul and the awareness of the pororoca context, where we are located. In a country that has been hesitant since the impeachment of the honest president, without a crime of responsibility, the translation of the book into Portuguese almost simultaneously with the release of the original, in English, brings the ideas and struggles against Ouroboros into the same rhythm. The author is grateful to what is behind the intellectual action – the institutional, affective and bibliographic support. We are well served as readers for the new times.

* Luiz Marques is a professor of political science at UFRGS. He was Rio Grande do Sul's state secretary of culture in the Olívio Dutra government.


Nancy Fraser Cannibal capitalism: how our system is devouring our democracy, care and the planet and what we can do about it. Translation: Aline Scátola. São Paulo, Editora Autonomia Literária, 2024, 260 pages. []

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