The dark side of the world

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By JOÃO SETTE WHITAKER FERREIRA*

Ukraine, the End of Humanity, or the Suicidal Victory of His Holiness, the Commodity

Humanity has been subsumed by the commodity. Guns are the perfect commodity of the total commodity society. Their serious problem is that, inevitably, they will destroy their own creators and, thus, humanity itself.

Excuse the dramatic, pessimistic tone, but there are moments in history when we need to face things as they are. Even to be able to better think about how to overcome the impasses we, I mean, humanity, get ourselves into.

In the current era of hyperinformation, we are sometimes led to think that life is getting better, that nightmares like Bolsonaros and Trumps are cyclical phenomena that will lose to democracy, that we can fight for a better world, one that overcomes the impasses of inequality and its environmental unsustainability. Struggles for new important agendas, from identity to environmentalism, inflated within our virtual bubbles, perhaps sometimes divert our gaze from the world as it is.

Especially the youngest, they have the impression that there are many injustices, but the behavioral changes will positively affect the new generations and we will finally see the changes for a better world. Within the woes, there is some prospect of optimism. Technology, translated into millions of machines and electronic gadgets, if accessible to everyone, seems to give us enormous potential for evolution. Those are the challenges.

The dark side of the world is hidden by internet filters, and for those who do not want to face the understanding of the harsh reality of structural inequality that deepens worldwide and pushes us towards the abyss, of organized crime, of militias, of fake news or Deep Web, one can glimpse them in a skewed way through the eyes of Netflix documentaries. In case it bothers you too much, we change the channel to discuss the behaviors on the BBB.

So reality shocks, when they occur, are certainly increasingly violent. A war that breaks out like this, apparently for a single motivation of power of an individual, seems to many something medieval. An endless stupidity of white and old men – without a doubt, it is –, something unimaginable in the middle of the XNUMXth century. XXI. For many, as has been repeatedly seen these days in the mainstream Western media, it is an unthinkable and barbaric war, as this time it affects “blond Europeans with blue eyes” and not “Syrians, Muslims or Afghans”, as we are used to.

The Western media rushed to portray Vladimir Putin as an evil knight (which he is, in fact), a psychopath on duty, still a believer who can conquer the world as in Hitler's time, facing Europe and the USA, the guardians of democracy and the “free world”, to use the words of Joe Biden in his speech. This simplistic and Manichaean vision “forgets” to inform some “details”, such as the continuous expansion of NATO towards the east in the last decades, ignoring repeated complaints from Russia, or even the years of conflicts and massacres in the Ukrainian industrial region, of Russian population , from Donbass, in which there were many accusations against Ukraine of arming paramilitary militias from neo-Nazi groups (in confrontation with mercenaries paid by Russia, on the other side), and the disrespect by Ukraine and the West of the agreements signed on these two issues under the auspices of the UN.

None of this justifies a war or the invasion of an independent nation, obviously, but it would at least allow for some pondering in the analysis of events. But no, in the Manichaean and simplified view that is divulged to these parts of the world, what it seems is that this war, and all wars in general (except those led by the US in defense of the “free world”, of course), are fortuitous events, coming out of the diabolical minds of some evil leaders that, if they didn't exist, would allow a world of peace and harmony. If there wasn't a Putin, we wouldn't have this war, Ukraine would be at peace participating in Europe and everything would be settled.

Unfortunately, things are not quite like that. The reality is that war is the consequence of a model, that of the total commodity society. And those who suffer the most are the innocent population, like Ukrainian civilians at the mercy of a somewhat irresponsible leader (who calls, for communication and media purposes, for inexperienced civilians to arm themselves with Molotov cocktails to fight one of the three most powerful armies of the planet, as well pointed out by journalist Kennedy Alencar).

Neither Joe Biden, nor Vladimir Putin, nor Volodymyr Zelenskyy, nor any European leader, nobody is a saint. By the way, this is not a personal matter, although they individually have the responsibility to make (bad) things happen. The problem is much bigger: it is the military-industrial complex they represent or, ultimately, the society in which we all live.

Adam Smith showed a long time ago that the division of labor, throughout the transition from feudalism to capitalism, led to an explosion of productive capacity, far beyond the need for subsistence, and to the possibility of the accumulation of surplus capital, reinvested in the future. production. The good old Marx observed that these surpluses were only possible because wages were implemented, which determined a level of payment for work, regardless of the quantity produced.

That is, the more the worker produced, for the same salary, the more there would be “surplus” (which led to the rapid development of machinery that allowed to produce always more with the same work force), in fact a portion of the value obtained with the sale of production, but not passed on to workers. This portion corresponded to surplus value (which they usually translate as surplus value), that is, the capitalist's profit. Hence the almost immediate political mobilization around the evident opposition of classes, between, on the one hand, the capitalist who owns the means of production and retains profits and, on the other, the working class that sells its workforce for low wages. Thus, class struggle would be the keynote of Marxist thought since the turn of the last century and throughout a good part of it.

What Karl Marx also observed was that this magic formula that allowed the reproduction of money from money would only be possible if the basic cycle necessary for the transformation of merchandise into money was completed, namely, its sale. It was the classic formula DM-M', whereby money (D) is transformed into merchandise (M) which, when sold, allows obtaining more value, that is, money in greater quantity (M'). It's a simple reasoning: if you don't sell what you produce, it won't be possible to make a profit and reinvest in production (besides getting rich, of course). Goods will remain, rendered useless and meaningless.

In fact, it is worth noting that all the great crises of capitalism, in simple terms, revolved around this equation: either you produce too much, generating overproduction that you cannot sell, or you pay too little, generating an inability to consume, also making the equation unfeasible. . The most symbolic and didactic of these crises was that of 1930, from which everyone must have seen the images of Ford yards full of cars that the automobile industry tycoon could no longer sell. But in 2008, houses in the US were also famous for being sold by banks for a dollar, in a desperate attempt to turn the commodity back into cash.

This equation is of central importance for understanding the world in which we live. The more goods we produce, the more money will be generated, the more profit accumulated. Thus, the direction of our society began to be determined by this simple logic: to produce more and more goods and, evidently, to transform everything and anything into merchandise: more tangible things, such as oil, water and, later less later, the the very air we breathe, but also immaterial and less tangible things, such as social and cultural relations, such as our minds, abducted by the obsession with consumption and the status of material possession.

Never before in human history have so many people in the world submitted to the relentless logic of consumption for consumption's sake. Production has become so efficient that it produces goods for everyone, from the richest to the poorest. The German thinker Robert Kurz referred to our capitalist society as “the total commodity society”.

The central issue, behind this, is that this constant emancipation of the commodity as fuel for the whole society implies the imperative need for what some authors call its realization. The commodity, as we said, needs to be sold in order to be realized as a commodity. This is a vicious circle that can only grow exponentially and which, if something doesn't change, will lead to our own demise. The observation that our planet can no longer withstand this endless cycle of environmental destruction in the name of commodifying life is the most obvious sign of this. But a nuclear war can also be, although we leave that possibility to the Netflix series.

For many years, while capitalism was growing at an accelerated pace and class conflict and the exploitation of the working class were evident, less importance was given to this ontological centrality of the commodity, although Marx drew attention to this in his reflection on its fetishization. . It would again be pointed out by more recent authors of Marxism, among which Anselm Jappe, among others, stands out (read his book The Adventures of Commodity). Marx noted, in The capital, that goods are not capable, by themselves, of “going to the market and being sold”. They need us to fulfill themselves.

The commodity has taken over humanity and turned us into what Marx called its “guardians”. The commodity, in order to realize itself as such, needs to be socialized. It became a material “being”, but at the same time abstract, which subsumed (as my law colleagues say) under its wings the totality of our social relations. From this, complex social, legal, political, cultural apparatuses were built, aimed at guaranteeing a single thing: the realization of the merchandise and, evidently, the profit and power that this brings to its guardians. Thus, this society we live in, the society of total consumption, is simply what derives from the model of capitalist commodity production.

Well, now the question worth millions (since we're talking about money): what are the most perfect commodities ever created by men (yes, gender distinction applies here) in the history of mankind? There are two: guns and drugs. And that's why these are the industries that move the most fortunes, legally or illegally, in today's world. In the sphere of common goods, the durability that was the quality mark of products for some time, became a danger to the system: if goods lasted forever, capitalism would run out, for lack of anyone buying new products (although it has been proved that if capitalism were distributive, also benefiting the poorest, this period would be much longer.

But it is also part of the logic to sell as expensive as possible, that is, to those who can most). The so-called planned obsolescence was quickly invented, a way to make the goods produced have a short life, so that it was necessary to replace them with new ones. Well then, weapons are perfect commodities because by definition they self-destruct and are therefore infinitely renewable. Besides, let's be frank, they usually kill the poorest and most disposable, the "without merchandise".

The more you use them, the more you need to produce them. Drugs are also consumed at an enormous speed, and also kill a lot. Therefore, they follow the same logic. But since they do not kill predefined and disposable targets, and also infiltrate the consumer society of other products, they are officially opposed, although unofficially tolerated.

When capitalism entered the deep crisis in 1930, it was realized that it was a crisis of underconsumption. The level of employment and remuneration in Europe and North America, centers of industrialization, was not sufficient to support the ever-increasing need for commodity realization. The cycle threatened to break, and the solution found was – according to the model proposed by John Keynes – to impose the State's mediation to guarantee the minimum wage to constitute the mass consumption societies that those countries became and, years later, “globalized” around the world.

The society of the total commodity has consolidated itself in the society of global consumption (always for those who can), which is more or less the same thing. But make no mistake: what really allowed this economic recovery was the industry of war. As the American economist EK Hunt has pointed out, “From 1936 to 1940, economists hotly debated the merits of Keynesian theory and the [public] policy recipe. However, when the various governments began to rapidly increase arms production, unemployment began to decline. During the war years, under the spur of enormous government spending, most capitalist economies rapidly transformed from severe unemployment to acute labor shortages. ).

Robert Kurz once wrote, in an article published here by Folha, that capitalism, contrary to popular belief, was not exactly born in the Industrial Revolution. He identifies the emergence and generalization of the firearm, still in the XNUMXth century. XIV, that is, long before the steam engine, as a decisive point in the genesis of capitalism, with the need for the serial production of cannons and, later, other firearms, which would require the mediation of money for their acquisition and thus it would foster a permanent military and arms economy, also boosting the professionalization of armies, with soldiers being, in his words, “the first modern wage earners” (KURZ, Robert. “The destructive origin of capitalism”, in: Folha de S. Paul, March 30, 1997).

So let's talk about Ukraine again. It's simple and it would even be quite good if we could think that wars like the one that takes place there are the result (only) of bad minds. They are not. What is at stake is the control of the world and the domain spaces of each of the three great industrial-military complexes that today dominate the world. Since World War II, they have not stopped growing. And they haven't stopped producing nuclear weapons either, enough to blow up the entire earth thousands of times. If China is silent, it is carefully watching the theater of the conflict to decide on its strategy. Perhaps he will take advantage of the occasion to call into question his desired dominance over Taiwan.

The Soviet Union and its bloc of countries, throughout the Cold War, even though they were called communists, thus fueling a crude “anti-communism” that even today leaves traces in the bolsominions of life, did not manage to implement communism as proposed by Marx and the labor movement of his time. With better and worse aspects for society in relation to the western world (I was lucky to be able to cross the Soviet Union in 1981, Leonid Brezhnev's time), the fact is that that model differed from capitalism in relation to state appropriation (I wouldn't dare say “collective”) of surpluses and the centrally planned distribution of their reinvestment, yet it was still a society structured around commodity production and value.

That is, there was also a social logic subsumed by the dynamics of the imperative increase in the production of goods. Kurz, once again, clearly pointed this out, when he called that model “state capitalism”, which also depended on the ability to sell its production. The USSR had grown industrially while the depression of the 30s was devastating the Western world, and the annexation, at the end of World War II, of a significant portion of European territory is obviously related to the need to guarantee consumer markets.

So we come to the beginning of the end of this long text. Today's geostrategic moves are no longer just territorial conquests as they were at the time of ancient Rome. They concern the dispute over the delimitation of areas of influence and control for the different military-industrial complexes and their consumer markets. Yes, we can say that our notebooks and cell phones are part of the reason for this war or, in this case, at least that of the Europeans.

The end of the Cold War, which ended the Warsaw Pact and, according to many people, should have ended NATO as well, determined the end of a political regime, but did not in fact extinguish the military-industrial complex linked to it. On the contrary, Russia's adherence to an explicit capitalist model only intensified the economic dispute between the groups that dominate the total commodity world society. For this reason, NATO never stopped moving, against the Russians' will, of course.

For the US and its European allies (which since the end of World War II have lost their autonomy in this geostrategic dispute, automatically aligning themselves with the North Americans), it is the guarantee of maintaining markets. That's why Europe so willingly accepted to incorporate the countries of the former USSR when it collapsed, quickly bringing a large number of them under NATO's military wings. That's why China disputed and regained control of Hong Kong, and will never give up the dispute over control of Taiwan.

More than that, the economic strengthening of the Middle East and the insertion of fortunes from these countries into the global economy (through football teams, for example), increase the players in this chess. In this field, the presence of Russian tycoons in the jet-set economic world (now being banned from Europe with its stratospheric yachts because of the war), shows how much the Russian economic policy, based on a centralized control in the person of Putin and on favoring these players global of your entourage close, it maintained the strategy of meddling in the webs of global business interests, making everything increasingly intricate, but always revolving around the sacred “merchandise”.

What to say, then, about former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who, when a statesman led the construction of the infamous gas pipeline with Russia, coincidentally became a “friend” of Putin and ended up as a member of the board of directors of the European branch of the Russian state-owned gas company gas, Gazprom, and the board of directors of the Russian energy giant Rosneft? Or Hunter Biden, son of the US president, hired as legal director of Burisma, the giant gas conglomerate in…Ukraine? Well, things are not that simple.

Strictly speaking, the “civilized” and globalized world of the 50st century causes all these disputes to take place through diplomacy, the economic maneuvers of large corporations, duly supported by their national States, or the so-called hybrid wars, a mixture of political warfare , cybernetic and informational, which led, for example, to some somewhat dubious “spring revolutions” out there. Regarded as something new, hybrid warfare is an evolution of tactics widely practiced by the CIA in Latin America since the XNUMXs, interfering in countless coups, accidents and attacks that changed the course of countries under its direct influence. Evidently, it was also and is widely practiced by Russia and China, in their areas of influence.

But despite this guise of civility, the war industry is still eager to expand. The USA spent 700 billion dollars in the Gulf War and, as is known, there were many conflicts carried out by the North American power, without as many reactions as now, of course. Nor did Russia and China stop meddling in their wars. In this sense, the “war on terror” served as perfect fuel for the military-industrial apparatus of the great powers, even more so against civilizations that they all look down on with disdain. An ideal field to wage war and make the arms industry run.

But meanwhile, surreptitiously, the direct tension between these powers never really eased. And now it breaks out in yet another war. The thing is not from today. At the very least, it begins with the territorial division of Europe that followed the dismantling of the Soviet Union. The problem is that this time the war may in fact be nuclear. Guns are the perfect commodity of the total commodity society. Their serious problem is that, inevitably, they will destroy their own creators. And if it does, commodity civilization will have brought an end to itself, and to humanity as a whole. The world will die littered with Mac Books and cell phones.

Who knows, maybe the land, finally freed from the guardians of the merchandise, will recover environmentally? As I am not a pessimist, I prefer not to believe in this tragic end (for us, not for the earth). But a good start for any change is to have a real notion of what it is really about, before falling into the Manichaean nonsense that the mainstream media makes us swallow.

*João Sette Whitaker Ferreira is a professor at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of São Paulo (FAU-USP).

 

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