Denialism in extremis



Capitalism moves for profit and profit alone and cannot stop exploiting workers and nature.

Few people believe that we are currently experiencing the decline of capitalism and, perhaps, the end of history. When mentioned, the thesis is often given a smirk as if the author were just an orphan of socialism who fails to see the strength and dominance of the really existing system. It is believed that the apocalyptic prediction comes from someone who waits for the collapse of capitalism so that, like a miracle, the millennial utopia of a society in which structural contradictions and manifest conflicts have been abolished can be realized, like a miracle.

It will be? Here's how Murray Smith, the author of twilight capitalism characterizes humanity's current situation: "Capitalism will soon end - either by a conscious effort by the workers of the world as a whole to replace it with a more sustainable social order and economic organization or capitalism will destroy humanity". See: this thesis is based on the very nature of capitalism: it moves for profit and only for profit and, therefore, as a result, it cannot stop exploiting workers and nature.

Can capitalism be saved from its evolutionary force which has already transformed itself from predominantly creative to predominantly destructive? Capital will still overcome the barriers that it itself creates, as Marx predicted in The capital? Keynesian reformers, followers of Karl Polanyi, Marxists, as well as others, seem to believe so: rescue plans keep leaving computers to install themselves on the internet and, thus, travel around the world. They are almost always there in that repository of the concrete social imaginary since they cannot be transformed into effective economic policies.

Now, nowadays, it is possible to argue that certain structural contradictions are manifesting themselves as problems that can no longer be solved by public and private actions that respect the capitalist mode of production: ecological damage, the geopolitical impasse, the overaccumulation crisis, etc. Here, the text that follows will deal with the social and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic to show this inability. In this way the general is exposed in the form of the particular and it is shown that humanity is indeed at risk.

As you can learn from the press, the Covid-19 virus has mutated very quickly in such a way that health systems, even in the economically richest countries, have not been able to definitively protect the populations they care for. For this to happen, it would be necessary to have a greater proportion of people vaccinated, not only in countries at the center of the system, but also in the large periphery that spreads across Africa, Latin America, Asia, etc. More and better vaccines would also need to be available so that a large proportion of the world's population could receive this type of protective coverage. It would also be necessary to have a global policy for testing and isolating patients to stop the process of successive contamination that spreads the virus.

It should be noted that even a preventive measure such as the use of a mask has encountered difficulties – and even enormous difficulties in certain cases – since the individualistic culture that develops under capitalism creates armies of “heroic” denialists who are against their use. Another preventive measure such as “avoiding crowds” finds bitter opponents among cultural industry promoters who find themselves deprived of profit through concerts, football matches, national and international trips, etc.

On the other hand, the faster and larger-volume diffusion of vaccines encounters barriers such as patents from the drug industry, costs that cannot be fully covered by the poorest countries, the lack of technical training to vaccinate massively and quickly. As a result, there continues to be a huge vaccinated population that is completely exposed to the virus, thus allowing it to spread. As is known, the rate of appearance of new viable mutations positively depends on the degree of diffusion of the virus and, therefore, on the number of infected people.

A recent study reached an alarming conclusion, but you will see: “existing vaccines may not be sufficient by themselves to quell the epidemic (…) On the other hand, sufficiently rapid and accurate testing combined with effective quarantine/isolation of people who test positive may be sufficient if applied properly, even without a vaccine. Generally available masks may not be sufficient unless combined with other measures such as existing vaccines.”[I]

Consequently, this study recommends breaking patents, funding research with public resources, producing vaccines to be offered free of charge to the world's population, training specialized personnel in all countries, spreading a culture of collective protection . After thorough investigation, after arriving at such dramatic recommendations, the study falls to a hopeless conclusion: “Changes like these are difficult; this will require challenging some powerful interests that benefit from the political corruption built into the current political and economic systems that manage public health issues”.

The coronavirus pandemic is not a bad event on a continuum of virtuous events that promote the well-being of humanity at large. Rather, it fits a more general pattern; it is, in fact, a singular event that expresses a more general tendency of contemporary capitalism: the growing tension of the forces involved in the contradiction – so accentuated by Marx – between the private character of appropriation and the social character of production.

With the development of capitalism in the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, the demand for goods and services offered as public goods increased; behold, this is the only way to guarantee the collective infrastructure and community protection that preserves society from ever-increasing fractures. And that also preserves an economic system based both on capital competition and on class struggle – even if the latter tends to be hidden. Now, these conditions were satisfactorily guaranteed, at least in the central countries, as long as it was possible to maintain the so-called “social welfare states” after the end of the Second World War, while the average world rate of profit remained at a level high.

This is what happened between 1945 and 1970, approximately. In the subsequent period, this rate fell successively until reaching a minimum level in 1982, when economic policy abandoned Keynesianism to adopt neoliberalism from now on. The latter was able to moderately raise the system's profit rate until approximately 1997, when it began to fall again, without decisively recovering since then. This was the scenario in which the growing tension of the social forces entangled in the aforementioned contradiction occurred.

As is well known, the supply of public goods weighs heavily on the budgets of national states, which, ultimately, are fed with a greater or lesser part of the surplus value generated by workers. Thus, in view of the downward trend in the rate of profit that has been manifesting itself since the 1970s, capitalist management has no other option than to create a policy to contain public spending associated with a privatization policy, which tend to make goods increasingly scarce audiences. By eroding the common base of society, the neoliberal option – stemming from the struggle of the bourgeoisie to obtain more profit – increases the concentration of income and wealth, spreads poverty in the working class, spreads nihilism and, thus, fascism, in the class. especially, sabotages liberal democracy, that is, certain fundamentals that give social and political support to capitalism itself.

But this is not the only blockage that now shakes the capital ratio system that has now gripped the world at large. There are others: you now have an economic system that has become world-wide, but not a world-wide administration; the nations that compose it have conflicting interests, and may even go to war; there is a growing appropriation of nature along with a depletion of the Earth's carrying capacity; you have an overaccumulation crisis thriving for decades without the massive destruction of capital occurring, necessary for the recovery of the rate of profit, but which has become politically unsustainable.

As is known, Marx wrote and is preserved in Book III of The capital: “The true barrier of capitalist production is capital itself (…). Capitalist production constantly seeks to overcome these barriers that are immanent to it, but it only overcomes them by means that put these barriers before it again and on a more powerful scale. Now, this thesis is valid only for the progressive phase of capitalism that ended in the penultimate quarter of the twentieth century. In the regressive phase it has since entered, capitalist production creates barriers that it cannot overcome even by accelerating the predation of nature and the workforce. The Temer/Bolsonaro misgovernment is just an expression on the political level of the current destructiveness of the capital relationship that can be lessened, but not overcome.

* Eleutério FS Prado is a full and senior professor at the Department of Economics at USP. Author, among other books, of excess of value (Shaman).



[I] Graves, Spencer; Samuelson, Douglas – Externalities, public goods, and infectious diseases. In: real-world economic review, no. 99, 2022.

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