by Max Barry

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Region: The Federation of Anarchist Communes

From Autonomies:
"Capitalism is a society that produces “goods” through the production of illness, destruction and death. The scale of the disaster is so great that we “have reached the threshold”, in Amorós words, or perhaps, even passed some kind of point of no return, such that all anti-capitalist politics must be thought through in the shadow of catastrophe."

I think that this new politics centred on disaster, catastrophe, collapse, crisis, etc. is something we need to clarify in our theory. What do we mean by these terms?

In terms of climate change and industrial ecocide, it is clear that we are currently undergoing an ecological 'collapse'. This kind of collapse is a matter of scientific study. Politically however, ecological collapse presents the capitalist economy with problems that it cannot solve, such as the demand for perpetual growth confronting ever-more limited resources. In general, all viable solutions to global warming and ecological collapse involve a fundamental restructuring of human societies, including the end of a profit-driven, growth dependent, industrial economy; that is, the end of capitalism. The continuation of capitalism, even with 'green' technology and environmental reforms, can only lead us, ever-quicker, into undermining the ecological/material conditions for the survival of the human race. In this case, ever-increasing mass displacement, regular extreme weather events, droughts, famines, resource wars, de-mystified inequality, etc. will all more or less undermine the political, social, and economic institutions, structures, processes and norms that constitute society as we know it (i.e. so called 'civilization').

Some radicals respond to this by emphasising the necessity of social revolution to destroy capitalism before it destroys us. Some radicals take for granted that a global social revolution is simply not going to happen before the status-quo totally breaks down, and respond to this by theorising revolution in the context of impending 'catastrophes'. Some radicals believe that whatever course we take it is too late to stop the chain reaction of ecological collapse, and respond to this by envisioning the realisation of anarchy in a post-collapse dystopia.

There is ambiguity regarding whether this crisis is currently ongoing or a future event. The common view among radicals seems to be that this ecological collapse is currently occurring but that it will reach a threshold at which existing capitalist society will break down. What is the point of collapse, what will it look like? Can we really expect a distinct 'event' in which capitalism breaks down, or will it simply be an ever-faster descent from capitalism into chaos?

How should our long-term strategies respond to the short/medium-term potential for 'catastrophe'? Surely it cannot be simply another 'issue', another aspect of the usual 'activism'. Nor can we simply dismiss such an urgent problem with the thought that it will be addressed when 'the revolution' arrives to grace us. The global social revolution has not happened in the centuries since it was first demanded and predicted by socialists of every variety, why should we expect to see such a revolution emerge any time soon?

Then there is the crisis internal to capitalism. The falling rate of profit, the bankruptcy of neoliberalism, with no viable solution emerging (the Keynsian solution still peddled by the left not economically possible), the extension of markets to their limit, with nowhere left for the commodity economy to colonise, the depletion of natural resources, recurring financial crises, ongoing recessions, etc. This sort of crisis opens up potential for revolutionary politics, but also for populists and reactionaries.

There is also a kind of existential crisis, that has been growing since the First World War, but which seems to be coming to the limits of human endurance at present. I am talking about the crisis of values that emerged from the rejection of God, and the absolute power invested by God in the State, the Church, and their social order, especially moral dogma. The search for freedom, meaning, and absolute values to replace the old, has clashed with the capitalist project that has seen the ever-increasing atomisation and alienation of people as individual subjects. The human need for meaning and inter-subjectivity has clashed with the reification of human relations, which sees individuals as objects, commodities, in a system of exchange. Authentic human communities are displaced by the community of capital, reality displaced by representation, direct relations displaced by commodity-mediated and state-mediated relations. I could go on. We face a mental health crisis of unprecedented proportions, alongside the irresolvable fragmentation and polarisation of societies, which is increasingly destabilising and undermining basic human sociability, as well as making life increasingly intolerable. This 'existential' crisis, furthermore, leaves us impotent to acknowledge and react to the other crises we face. (Is it any surprise that a society of depressives, workaholics, the criminally rich, and the abjectly poor, is unable to address a global crisis demanding the total transformation of life as we know it?)

I think clarifying what we mean by crisis, clearly distinguishing different kinds of crisis, and clearly laying out how we respond to exisiting and potential crises, is an urgent task.

Lastly, we must be aware of the way in which exisiting powers, particularly the State, use the notion of 'crisis' and 'emergency' to increase their power, further developing mass-surveillance based police states, and pushing through radical reforms to defend their class interests.