the collapse

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The gravity of this crisis of world capitalist society is not the direct and proportional consequence of the magnitude of the disease. More than that, it is the consequence of the extreme fragility of this society and a revealer of its real state. The capitalist economy is insane at its very foundations

By Anselm Jappe*

Will the coronavirus crisis herald the death of capitalism? Will it bring the industrial and consumerist society to an end? Some fear it, others desire it. It's still too early to tell. Economic and social “reconstruction” may prove to be as difficult as the moment of the epidemic, in other respects.

What is certain is that we live, at least in Europe, what comes closer and closer, since 1945, to a “collapse” – the collapse so evoked in cinema and in the so-called “post-apocalyptic” literature, but also by critics. of capitalist and industrial society.

However, the seriousness of this crisis of world capitalist society is not the direct and proportional consequence of the magnitude of the disease. More than that, it is the consequence of the extreme fragility of this society and a revealer of its real state. The capitalist economy is insane at its very foundations – and not just in its neoliberal version. Its only purpose is to multiply the “value” created by the mere amount of work (“abstract work”, as Marx calls it) and represented in money, without the slightest regard for the real needs and desires of human beings and the consequences of this on nature.

Industrial capitalism has devastated the world for more than two centuries. It is undermined by internal contradictions, among which the first is the use of technologies that, by replacing workers, increase profits in the short term, but dry up the ultimate source of all profit: the exploitation of the workforce. For fifty years, capitalism has essentially survived thanks to indebtedness that has taken on astronomical dimensions. Finance is not the cause of capitalism's crisis, on the contrary, it helps it to hide its real lack of profitability – but at the price of building an increasingly shaky house of cards. We could then ask ourselves whether the collapse of this castle was due to “economic” causes, as in 2008, or ecological ones.

With the epidemic, an unexpected crisis factor appeared – the essential thing is not, however, the virus, but the society that receives it. Be it the inadequacy of health structures affected by budget cuts or the role of industrialized agriculture in the genesis of new food-borne viruses, be it the incredible social Darwinism that proposes (and not only in Anglo-Saxon countries) sacrificing the “useless” to the economy or the temptation of states to extend their arsenals of surveillance: the virus casts a cruel beam of light on the dark alleys of society.

Everywhere, too, the effects of the virus show how the situation of the class supported by profit, in which the world bourgeoisie is constituted, will be less worse than that of the millions of inhabitants of the slums, of the failed States, of the peripheries or of the social classes. poorest left to their fate in the capitalist centers. Will the virus favor a collective learning process?

Nobody knows. However, many are those who already experience the fact that there are many things without which we can go on living without losing the essentials. Less work, less consumption, less frantic commuting, less pollution, less noise... May we conserve what is positive about this crisis! We hear many reasonable proposals these days, in all domains. We shall see if they are like Captain Haddock's resolutions when he vows never to drink whiskey again if he escapes present danger.

*Anselm Jappe is a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sassari, Italy, and the author, among other books, of Credit to death: The decomposition of capitalism and its criticisms (Hedra).

Translation: Daniel Pavan

Article originally published on the website of Radio France, FranceCulture

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