Emancipation in Crisis

In the unfolding systemic crisis, a renewed plunge into barbarism seems preordained. But this need not be the case.

Tomasz Konicz

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: The German Ideology[1]

There is a basic premise of emancipatory practice in the unfolding world crisis of capital that simply cannot be abandoned. It is necessary to tell people what is going on. What most people suspect or only vaguely feel must be clearly stated and become the basis of social movements and struggles: Capitalism is at its end – and in its agony it threatens to drag humanity with it into the abyss by depriving it of the social and ecological foundations of life.[2] The capitalist world system has reached its internal[3] and external[4] limits of development. The economic and climate crises[5] are only two moments of the same crisis process, in which capital’s drive for unlimited growth – the endeavor to make more money out of money by exploiting labor in commodity production – produces an ecologically devastated world and an economically superfluous humanity.

Consequently, it is necessary to consciously seek ways out of crisis and catastrophe capitalism in social struggle and discourse, as the world threatens to sink into barbarism. The overcoming of the capital relation is thus the guiding principle of all leftist practical efforts. Social struggles, protests and movements must therefore be understood and led as partial moments of a transformative struggle for a post-capitalist society. This, the overcoming of capital’s drive to valorize itself, which is running amok worldwide, is the absolute minimum, the sine qua non for any development of civilization in the 21st century. To tell it like it is, therefore, means to clearly name the overcoming of a collapsing capitalism as a necessity for the survival of civilization. All progressive practice must be oriented to this reality of system transformation. And it is precisely this insistence on the necessity of emancipatory system transformation[6] that distinguishes emancipatory practice from leftist opportunism, the attempt to make a quick career as crisis manager in the crisis by means of demagogy.[7]

The transformation of capital into history is the final capitalist imperative. Any group or party calling itself leftist that preaches incremental change without addressing the systemic crisis and emphasizing the need for systemic transformation is in fact opportunist, if not reactionary.[8] In the escalating systemic crisis, it’s no longer possible for incremental reforms to “succeed” because the distortions caused by the crisis, which are increasing in intensity, simply stand in the way of this endeavor. Progressive practice can only unfold on the basis of efforts to ensure that the inevitable systemic transformation follows a progressive course. This is not left-wing “radicalism,” but a realism born of insight into the nature of the crisis. The crisis runs through society as a fetishistic, uncontrollable process that unfolds through competition and market mediation, regardless of the views and calculations of the occupants of the capitalist treadmill.[9]

Even if the wage-earners do not want to admit it, even if all the relevant strata of the population cling to capitalism, the system will collapse because of its internal contradictions. What is open, however, is what comes after – and that is precisely why the struggle, the transformation struggle, must be waged. The agony of capital can be seen in the global mountains of debt under which many economies are threatening to collapse, as well as in the ever-increasing CO2 emissions produced by a capitalist world economy caught up in the irrational compulsion to grow.[10] However, an emancipatory movement can only prevent a plunge into barbarism during the now imminent, open-ended transformation process if it reflects on it socially, understands it and consciously shapes it within the framework of the equally inevitable transformation struggle. In order to be able to achieve this, the left, building on radical crisis theory, must tell people what’s what. Otherwise, the fetishistic dynamics of capital will make the world uninhabitable. These introductory theses will be elaborated and justified in the following.

Unconquered Nature

The contradictory capitalist mode of production is thus not only the driving force[11] behind the mounting debt and economic crises,[12] it is also the cause of the unfolding climate catastrophe. And it goes without saying that “man-made” climate change is in large part the result of the social system – the way society is organized and reproduced – in which people are forced to live. This fact is openly obvious. The climate crisis is a capitalist climate crisis, it is “capital-made climate change.” That it nevertheless seems blasphemous to speak this simple, uncomfortable truth is a result of the enormous ideological pressure that weighs on social discourse, and is also an expression of the increasing density and crisis-proneness of capitalist socialization, which seeks to stifle all oppositional thought and action through opportunism or repression.[13][14]

Since the Enlightenment, the core of capitalist ideology has consisted in ideologizing capitalism as a “natural” mode of production, without contradictions in itself and appropriate to human nature, as a social formation that is simply an expression of human nature and – at the latest since the rise of Social Darwinism – unfolds economically according to the same laws as “natural,” ecological systems. Consequently, this synthetic “capitalist nature” of the subjectless domination of capital,[15] with its mediating levels of market, politics, law, culture industry, etc. is always only the basis and never the object of the published discourse of late capitalist societies. And this is precisely why scapegoating, which quickly turns into fascism, gains such popularity in times of crisis,[16] because the “natural” market economy is literally thought of as natural, and free of almost any contradiction. Thus, capitalism appears to the “enlightened” person in bourgeois society as “natural” as feudalism appeared to the medieval person as God-given.

And yet the common ideology of the “natural essence of capitalism” contains a distorted grain of truth. There is a parallel between the processes of ecological and economic crisis that promotes their perception as “natural”: The element of “untamed nature” in society that promotes the illusion of a capitalist state of nature is the uncontrollable valorization process of capital, i.e., the social fetishism mentioned above. Capital’s destructive valorization dynamic, produced unconsciously by market subjects – “behind their backs,” since it is market-mediated – appears as a natural phenomenon running through society. This fetishism comes to the fore especially in episodes of crisis, when the “economy” suddenly runs amok and “waves of crisis” or “market quakes” wreak socio-economic havoc on entire regions – like extreme weather events. The feeling of being at the mercy of quasi-natural, anonymous and overpowering forces then becomes evident.

This irrational momentum of capital, unconsciously generated by market subjects in their seemingly rational pursuit of the greatest possible profit, thus represents the moment of unmastered pseudo-nature, which, due to its increasing internal contradictions, is destroying civilization and its ecological foundations. As long as capital blindly runs through society according to the formula M-C-M’ with ever increasing frictions, neither the climate crisis nor the social crisis can be overcome.

It is therefore necessary to overcome this fetishism, this capitalist pseudo-nature, in order to preserve the natural foundations of human society. In the end, the process of human civilization must be brought to a conclusion, so to speak. The unconscious reproduction of society by means of blindly running processes of valorization must be replaced, in a tremendous process of transformation, by the conscious discussion and organization of social reproduction, which no longer subordinates itself to the boundless, irrational accumulation of ever greater quanta of spent abstract labor in the form of capital, but has as its rational goal the direct satisfaction of needs beyond the commodity form.

What is Capital? What Must Be Overcome?

From these remarks on the social fetishism that seems “natural,” it also becomes clear what we mean by capital, which must be transformed into history. Capital is not just a thing, it is not just money, or the factory and the machinery. Nor is it simply a person, like the capitalist, the manager, or the speculator. This truncated view leads to the reification or personification of capital, which in turn is the basis of all ideology in capitalism.

Capital is a social relation that runs through society only as a transitory stage of its boundless surplus-making in commodity production. It is only within this movement of valorization – the burning of resources by means of labor for the purpose of maximizing profit – that people or things must become capital. The worker and the manager no longer function as capital after work. The same is true of the tools in their hobby cellars, which are simply commodities, whereas in the factory they function as (constant) capital. The capital relation is thus to be understood as this dynamic of valorization, calibrated for permanent growth and encompassing the whole of society. Capital, in all its social and ecological contradictions, is thus a real abstraction that in every cycle of valorization undergoes a change of form from money, to commodity, and finally to more money: concrete things and people are set in motion by it in the most efficient way possible, in order to accumulate ever greater quanta of abstract labor (the source and substance of capital) in an irrational end in itself.

This real-abstract growth compulsion of capital is thus in a sense totalitarian; the capital relation becomes a social totality. In its flight from its internal and external contradictions, it occupies all social spheres and niches – with the exception of the dissociated (femininely connoted) sphere of domestic reproduction – and leads them to valorization.[17] The state apparatus, the legal and political institutions, the political, economic, juridical and ideological levels of mediation of domination – they have all been produced and shaped by the capital relation in a blindly running historical process. Precisely in its agony, capital has thus subjugated the whole of society, as far as this was possible, right down to its subcultural impulses. The subjectless domination of capital is totalized at the historical moment when it suffocates under its own contradictions. And it is precisely all these institutions and levels of mediation produced or shaped by capital that are now collapsing along with the dynamics of capital.

What must be overcome is capital’s blindly running valorization process, which devastates human society and ecosystems. This destructive fetishism must be replaced by a conscious understanding by the members of society of the reproduction process of society, without the division of activities according to gender or the like. This is necessary for survival, precisely because this process of valorization, on whose drip all capitalist societies hang in the form of taxes and wages, is collapsing under the weight of its contradictions. With it, however, the institutions and social structures that capital has historically produced also perish. The post-capitalist reproduction of society cannot therefore take place in the form of “nationalization,” as imagined, for example, by orthodox leftists, since the state in its capacity as the “ideal total capitalist” is a historically developed, necessary institution of capitalism that must be financed by capital through taxes. This is why many over-indebted peripheral states collapsed into “failed states” as early as the 1990s, once the crisis process had exceeded a certain degree of maturity. The state is not the solution, it is part of the problem.

In a historical process that began with the debt crises of the “Third World” in the 1980s, the crisis is gradually moving from the periphery of the world system to the centers. Therefore, the future of the crisis can be predicted from the course of the crisis in the periphery. Without a conscious, emancipatory overcoming of the collapsing capital relation, it will fall into barbaric forms of anomie or crisis dictatorship, as in Somalia, Congo or Eritrea[18] – unless the process of civilization is brought to an end by a catastrophic nuclear war. Mad Max or 1984 – this is the system-immanent alternative that capitalism leaves open in its agony.

Motivation: There Is No Alternative to Transformation

The character of the crisis described here as a fetishistic process of increasing internal development of the contradictions of the capital relation thus leads to the necessity of the struggle for its emancipatory overcoming. As mentioned at the beginning, it is simply a question of the will to survive. Consequently, it is necessary to address people’s survival instinct, which is unconsciously activated in the crisis and contributes to the intensification of crisis competition. And this survival instinct, in its unreflective, quasi-reflexive form, has long been at work on a mass scale. Unconsciously, most of the inhabitants of late capitalism have long since reacted to the increasing crisis-related dislocations with a quasi-instinctive intensification of competition. The survival instinct unconsciously comes to fruition in the intensification of competition in that one’s own survival is to be ensured through the downfall of competitors at all levels (from mobbing to cutthroat competition to location competition to crisis imperialism).  And it is precisely this crisis competition fueled by the naked survival instinct that causally contributes to the barbarization of capitalism and the rise of the New Right – which cloaks this crisis competition in racism, nationalism, anti-Semitism, religious fanaticism, and so on.

This unconsciously practiced survival instinct, caught up in the escalating everyday competition of late capitalism, would have to be “sublimated” within the framework of emancipatory practice. This is to be understood as the conscious, analytical reflection of the unconscious causes of social action, in this case the interaction of competitive behavior and the systemic crisis process, in which the fatal “barbarizing” effect of the individual competitive struggle would be illuminated. Just as the individual, “blind” survival instinct only accelerates the crisis dynamics and opens the door to barbarism, a reflective collective survival instinct, convinced that overcoming capital in society as a whole is necessary for survival, could be a powerful motivating factor for emancipatory forces in the struggle to transform late capitalism. And this is not a question that concerns only leftist “radicals.” Such a consciously established connection between – collective – survival and the necessity of overcoming the system can also very well become the concern of the philistine who wants to leave his children a future worth living.

And that is precisely why it is important to tell people what is going on. It is important to transform the broad masses’ “sense of crisis” into a reflective crisis consciousness – precisely because there is no “revolutionary subject,” the formation of a radical crisis consciousness with mass appeal is indispensable for an emancipatory course of the crisis. And this would not even be the central difficulty in spreading an emancipatory consciousness in the manifest crisis. It would be instilling belief in a viable systemic alternative to collapsing capitalism. The crisis-induced ideological shift, in which blind faith in capital as the natural precondition of human civilization suddenly mutates into fatalistic cultural pessimism, actually represents the standard ideological reaction in manifest crisis situations.

This late capitalist production of panic must therefore be contrasted with the insight, gained through radical theoretical reflection, into the necessity of system transformation, motivated by a sublimated survival instinct that has become aware of its own social and ecological preconditions. The right-wing “prepper” will not save himself; this can only be achieved collectively at the level of society as a whole. Averting the impending ecological and social catastrophe by means of system transformation thus amounts to “influencing” a crisis process that is driven by its fetishistic dynamics and ultimately represents only the crisis-like dialectical reversal of the contradictions inherent in capital. To be more precise: capital is in the process of dissolution; what matters is to steer this process of transformation, which is taking place blindly, in a progressive, emancipatory direction within the framework of a transformation struggle, in order to finally overcome fetishism and move on to the conscious shaping of social reproduction. This, this overcoming of the fetishistic prehistory of humanity, is, as I said, simply a question of survival. Once again: there is no alternative to the struggle for an emancipatory course of the inevitable systemic transformation.

Emancipation and Extremism in The Systemic Crisis

This also opens up the concept of emancipation – it is an emancipation from social fetishism, i.e. from the “alien determination” of the subjects by social dynamics that these subjects themselves unconsciously produce and that are mediated by the market. This can only be achieved by a movement that is aware of its own situation, that is aware of the crisis described above. Only in a conscious struggle for a post-capitalist future, resulting from an understanding of necessity, could moments of emancipation possibly emerge. Consequently, there is a maxim of political practice that emancipatory movements, groups or parties in the 21st century would have to follow if they still want to function as progressive social forces in the current epoch of upheaval and crisis. Capitalism must be transformed into history as quickly as possible, and the capital relation must be abolished. All leftist actions, all tactics, all reform proposals, all strategies should be oriented to this categorical imperative.

And the struggle for a livable post-capitalist future is not “radicalism.” It is precisely the opposite: clinging to the disintegrating forms of capitalist socialization, to the market and the state, leads to barbarism, to extremism of the center. The successes of the New Right in the crisis result precisely from its ability to push the ideology that is effective in the neoliberal center of late capitalist society further toward brutalization. Enriched with fantasies of envy against scapegoats, neoliberal competitive thinking has been taken to a racist-nationalist extreme by the right. The competition of market subjects and economic locations is ideologically exaggerated into a clash of nations, cultures, “races” or religions.

What is decisive here is that in this “racially,” religiously or nationally legitimized competition there is no break with neoliberalism and its implicitly nationalist thinking about location. In these ideological lines of continuity lies the open secret of the success of the conformist rebellion of the New Right. It does not break out of the capitalist thought-prison and its so-called constraints. Instead, the authoritarian characters remain in the well-worn ideological track that leads from the neoliberal center to the barbaric extreme. That’s why it’s mainly the right that benefits from the current crisis. It’s very easy to become a Nazi.

What is crucial, therefore, is precisely the aforementioned mental escape from the capitalist thought-prison, which must go hand in hand with emancipatory practice in order to prevent the drift into an extremism of the center. That’s why it’s important to tell people what’s what. In the face of the deadly crisis of capital, the struggle for a systemic alternative worth living for is the only reasonable, moderate thing to do. Progress can only be realized beyond capital. Once again: this is not necessary because of the will of the subjects or the moods and sensitivities of the population, but because capital as a global fetishistic totality is collapsing.

False Immediacy

And that is precisely why it is important to prevent this objectively ongoing transformation process from drifting into ideological delusion and fascist barbarism, as far as possible, by spreading an adequate crisis consciousness. Perhaps the consciousness of a viable alternative to the collapse of capitalism and the climate could only develop broadly in a struggling movement. There is no shortage of confrontations, uprisings and struggles in the accelerating systemic crisis. In Europe, apart from climate protests, it is often anti-fascist or labor and socio-political defensive struggles that serve as focal points of oppositional mass mobilization – but most of these don’t develop a transformative perspective.

These movements often get stuck in the false immediacy of their direct demands; for example, they want a better redistribution of abstract capitalist wealth, rather than its abolition. Increasing impoverishment leads to demands for a larger welfare state, while inflation is met with demands for its containment through subsidies and price caps. These immediately “plausible” demands are forcefully discredited by the reality of the crisis. Similarly, the discussion of measures to combat the climate crisis – such as carbon taxes, boycotts of airplanes, renunciation of meat or electric cars – is discouragingly inadequate in light of the dramatic acceleration of climate change and the steps that are actually necessary.

This contradiction between system-immanent social struggles and the social consequences of the systemic crisis was already pointed out by the crisis theorist Robert Kurz at the beginning of the 21st century:

“The critique of value is not simply opposed to social struggles that are immanent to capitalism. They are necessary starting points. Nevertheless, the question is to know what direction these struggles are taking. In this respect, their basis plays an important role. The trade unions are accustomed to presenting their demands not as derived from the needs of their members, but as so many contributions to improving the functioning of the system. Thus, they will say that higher wages are needed to strengthen the economy, and that they are possible because capital has high profits. Now, however, that capital valorization has obviously stagnated, this attitude is voluntarily transformed into a willingness to engage in the co-management of the crisis, to serve the “higher interest” of the entrepreneurial economy, of the laws of the market, of the nation, etc. This false consciousness exists not only among the trade union officials, but also among the so-called rank and file. If the wage workers identify with their own function in capitalism and demand what they need only in the name of this function, they transform themselves into “character masks” (Marx) of a particular component of capital, namely, labor power. Thus, they recognize that they only have the right to live if they can produce surplus-value. This gives rise to an embittered competition among the various categories of wage workers and a social-Darwinist ideology of exclusion. This is particularly evident in the defensive struggle for the preservation of jobs, which has no other perspective than the mere preservation of jobs. In this case there is often mutual competition for survival even between the employees of different branches of the same company. It is therefore essentially a good idea, and also much more realistic, besides, for the French workers to threaten to blow up the factories in order to force their employers to give them a reasonable severance package. These new forms of struggle are neither defensive nor positive, but can be combined with other demands, such as, for example, higher unemployment insurance payments. To the extent that such social demands give rise to a social movement, the latter will also be confronted by the experience of its practical limits, if it will confront the questions of a new “categorical critique” of the fetishistic end-in-itself of capital and its social forms. The crystallization of this advanced perspective is the task of our theoretical elaboration, which does not exist in some abstract Beyond, but is understood as a moment of social debate.”[19]

Given the advanced dynamics of the crisis, it seems counterproductive to launch a fundamental critique aimed at building a “new” transformative and emancipatory movement. Emancipatory movements would have to work with what still exists, because time is of the essence, and windows of opportunity are closing. Retreating into the ivory tower of “pure doctrine” in order to work towards a gradual “diffusion” of adequate crisis consciousness within the left is not a viable strategy. Instead, the only option is to use the crisis to try to bring an adequate crisis consciousness directly into the current struggles. As I said, building on crisis theory, people need to tell frightened people what is going on, so that the protest movements can develop in an emancipatory direction.

The chances of this happening are actually not bad, since even ideologically blinded left-wing associations –from the green, left-liberal or traditional Marxist spectrum, for example – can hardly overlook the consequences of the crisis.[20] The crisis is both the enemy and the friend of the progressive movement: it narrows the spaces of social discourse more and more, it causes panic to rise and right-wing extremist delusions to swell. But at the same time it compels all social forces that still have their wits about them to face up to the undeniable necessity of fundamentally overcoming the collapsing mode of socialization based on capital.

The attempt to bring into the current social confrontations and conflicts a crisis consciousness that corresponds to the objective crisis process ultimately amounts to a struggle against the false immediacy that characterizes these confrontations. False immediacy is understood as the tendency of social movements to unconsciously persist in forms of thinking that correspond to the social conditions and contradictions against which they are directed.

The people caught up in the growing crisis-related confrontations are not seized by a “revolutionary automatism” that would give them an anti-capitalist crisis consciousness. On the contrary. The fixation on concrete, seemingly achievable goals within the existing system reinforces its logic even in oppositional struggles. The struggle for the closure of lignite mines, against inflation and against social erosion, for a higher wage or against wage cuts, the windmill struggle of the helpless, social-democratized left against the blithely advancing dismantling of democracy and social welfare, all these solidify the corresponding capitalist social structures and forms of socialization in which and for whose will the struggle takes place. Work, bourgeois democracy, the capitalistically neutered notion of “civil rights,”[21] and the state as the “welfare state” thus become quasi-natural preconditions of human society, even within the movement caught up in social struggles.

The immediate goals pursued within the system are thus “wrong,” they lead to the formation of the aforementioned false immediacy, because firstly, they do not break with the crisis-ridden logic of the system, but further cement it, and secondly since their realization is completely illusory in a collapsing capitalist society. After the inevitable failure of the major social struggles in a wave of crisis – for example in Southern Europe after the outbreak of the euro crisis – resignation and apathy are widespread, since these movements lack the more far-reaching transformative perspective that can only emerge from a crisis consciousness adequate to the crisis process. The forces involved in the crisis-related increase in social protests for the most part want nothing more than what they postulate: Fighting against lignite mining, for jobs, for higher wages, against social cuts, against the destruction of jobs, against the constant erosion of “civil rights,” and so on.

It seems absurd: in the crisis, the left is fighting to maintain the capitalist forms of socialization, which are eroding as a result of the crisis. And at the same time, there is no realistic alternative to these very struggles, since they are mostly more or less open forms of the naked struggle for existence. Under capitalism, the reproduction of one’s own labor power is only possible by means of waged labor. The establishment of starvation wages, which are below the subsistence level, is also progressing in the centers. The loss of a job is increasingly accompanied by a fall into life-threatening poverty. The struggle against the dismantling of democracy and the omnipresent fascization of Europe is necessary in order to keep open as much room for maneuver as possible for emancipatory politics. As long as the capital relation continues to exist as the described social totality, oppositional forces are also chained to its forms of socialization.

This does not mean, however, that these forces have make the demands of the socio-ecological struggle only in these forms, let alone perceive it only in these forms. Thus, the consciousness with which the current protests and struggles are led is indeed decisive, even if their concrete course does not initially differ that much from the system-immanent, reformist struggles. The confrontation with crisis ideology, a truncated critique of capitalism and false immediacy ultimately aims at raising the transformation process into the “political consciousness” of the social movements, in order to understand the unconsciously led transformation struggle as such in the first place and to consciously shape it accordingly.

The focus, the goal of such a consciously led, apparently system-immanent confrontation (climate struggles, wage struggles, Antifa protests, demos against the dismantling of democracy, defensive struggles against social cuts) changes as soon as it is permeated by a transformative consciousness; that is, when it is understood and propagated as an early phase of the transformative struggle that is already raging in the periphery with all its mass-murderous brutality. To stay with the example of social protests: Instead of simply postulating that the rich should pay their fair share, it would instead be necessary to demand that the rich pay for this transformation – as long as money still has value and it makes any sense to make this demand at all. The path becomes the goal: the self-organization of the people in the opposition movements would thus already have to be supported by the effort to form moments of a post-capitalist socialization.

But questions beyond redistribution and expropriation will also be raised: How can health care, food, housing, etc. be organized without adequate funding or profitable jobs? At the latest when inflation devalues money and everything threatens to be closed down or thinned out for lack of profitability, the organization of social reproduction according to criteria other than capitalist ones is on the agenda. Not ‘How can pensions be financed?’ but ‘How can material and social wealth be organized so that old people can live with dignity?’ Not ‘How can jobs be created?’ but ‘How would people and resources have to be mobilized and what would have to be done so that people have access to food, housing, health care etc.?’ (and not just at the level of Hartz IV, a slum or a gulag). Either the left gets involved at this level, or it has to participate in the implementation of system-immanent solutions, which will amount to nothing more than shipping old people off to cheap care gulags or euthanizing them in a ‘socially acceptable’ manner.

The demands and forms of organization in resistance against the impending climate catastrophe, against the impositions of crisis management, must therefore already contain germinal forms of post-capitalist forms of socialization. Central to this should be the effort to shape the system-immanent opposition movements into open spaces for discourse and discussion. Discourse on the crisis, which is no longer possible at the level of society as a whole (and which is sabotaged by the Left Party for opportunistic reasons),[22] must at least be conducted in opposition. Moreover, the desired post-capitalist process of an understanding of the reproduction of society as a whole already emerges from an understanding of strategies for and forms of protest. The spaces of discourse must therefore be kept open as long as possible, even in the face of increasing repression. The open process of discussion, the organization and coordination of transformative resistance, could function as a prefiguration of the global, conscious self-understanding of world society with regard to its reproduction.

By the way, this is why the democratic struggle is so important for maintaining the remaining bourgeois-democratic freedoms as long as possible, in order to be able to influence the transformation process in forms of non-military conflicts for as long as possible. Moreover, the necessity of the transition between democratic struggle and militant-military confrontation is difficult to assess; it depends on the degree of fascization and the tendencies towards disintegration of the state in question and its society. However, such an armed struggle, which can be imposed on emancipatory forces in the course of a crisis, also represents a defeat. The open structure of discourse, the beginnings of self-management, which could form the germ of future societies, threaten to give way to the necessities of military organization. Then, in fact, the Leninist prescriptions of practice become inescapable – and, consequently, there is the danger of an authoritarian “sovietization” of the post-capitalist alternatives.

“The Real Movement Which Abolishes the Present State”

Ultimately, it is necessary to understand the various struggles and social movements as partial moments of one globally raging transformation struggle. The world has been undergoing a systemic transformation for a long time, but the crisis-blind left does not perceive it as such. As already explained several times: This blindly running transformation process is in principle open, it is not predestined, which is why the outcome of this system transformation (should it be completed without a nuclear holocaust) is also totally open. Moreover, because the system is in a state of upheaval, because the once concrete social fabric is in motion, because the formerly fixed social structures are in a sense becoming fluid, collective action has a far greater influence on shaping the future than in periods when capitalism seemed stable. However, these greater possibilities for intervention offered to emancipatory forces in the current systemic crisis have narrow windows of opportunity that may close irreversibly.

This is obvious in the case of climate change with its tipping points. But the unfolding of social crises is also not linear – it is not a gradual development. Within the transformation process there are decisive moments or situations of upheaval that determine the further course of the crisis. As soon as such a culmination point of the inner unfolding of contradictions has been passed without entailing catastrophic consequences (nuclear war, ecological collapse of entire regions, etc.), the further the crisis process proceeds along the lines laid down at this decisive moment – it seems hardly possible to change such a development by subsequent intervention.

“They don’t know it, but they do it.” This famous quote by Karl Marx, which sums up the fetishistic process of total social reproduction under capitalism, also aptly characterizes the process of dissolution of the capitalist world system that is now in full swing. The world system is already in a phase of chaotic upheaval, although the direction and outcome of this process cannot be predicted – simply because it is being shaped (unconsciously for the time being) by the actions of the subjects in the unfolding transformative struggle. Since there is no such thing as a “revolutionary subject,” the decisive factor is precisely whether the character of the crisis is reflected upon in the population on a sufficient scale to allow the corresponding tipping points to be passed here as well.

Emancipation and barbarism thus appear simultaneously in the full-blown global transformation struggle: On the one hand, the brutal late capitalist crisis competition is merging into a post-capitalist transformation struggle, partly overlapping with it, both moments of crisis sometimes interacting, with the late capitalist crisis ideology, which is subject to constant metamorphoses, trying to rationalize this process of dissolution. At the same time, uprisings and mass protests against late capitalism’s lack of prospects are breaking out more and more frequently, sometimes completely unexpectedly, a global environmental and climate movement is forming, spontaneous uprisings are breaking out in countries such as Iran, and so on. When social tipping points are crossed, uprisings can erupt as if out of the blue. As the intensity of the crisis increases, these contradictions and conflicts will intensify and the myriad struggles will turn into a global confrontation that may well lead to nuclear war.

This applies to the crisis imperialism of the eroding late capitalist state behemoths,[23] as well as to the various conflicts in crisis-ridden societies that are intensifying. However, it is important to avoid “ranking” the struggles in such a way that the class struggle becomes primary and all other struggles secondary. The class-struggle conflicts, exemplified by the demands for increased wages, can only serve, on an equal footing with the other social struggles (antifa, climate struggle, antimilitarism, feminism, defense of democracy, sexual self-determination, etc.) of a transformative movement, to overcome their false immediacy in the way indicated above. This would thereby transform the social struggles, protests or struggles for redistribution into moments of a transformative struggle by introducing a radical crisis consciousness.

As soon as the different movements are understood as partial moments of a struggle for an emancipatory transformation of the system, the emerging, destructive “movement competition” – for example between the climate movement and the social justice movement – which is being pushed by the reactionary parts of the Left Party in particular, could also be minimized.[24] Incidentally, with its “social campaign,” the Left Party is pursuing exactly the opposite of an emancipatory transformation movement: social movements are to be hijacked with social demagogy in order to prevent the emergence of a radical crisis consciousness through repressive movement and crisis management.[25] This opportunistic and right-wing friendly social demagogy, which despite the escalating systemic crisis wallows in a cartoonishly obvious false immediacy, must be confronted in all practice with the collective survival necessity of an emancipatory system transformation.

As it is, it does not remain. This insight from Brecht’s praise of the dialectic[26] could become the maxim for action of an emancipatory transformation movement, which would first have to learn how to influence the transformation process. The question always arises as to which political structures, which social configurations of power should prevail in the next wave of crises. After all, the crisis process that unfolds behind the backs of the subjects can encounter very differently structured late capitalist societies. They can be oligarchic, pre-fascist or bourgeois-democratic, more egalitarian or corporative, nationalist or cosmopolitan, secular or religious-fascist.

It is therefore ultimately a matter of thinking in processes, in developments, of perceiving the existing social structures as being in a state of decay, of locating the decisive contradictions and, in anticipation of the enormous shocks of the future, of creating the best social conditions, the optimal starting position for an emancipatory transformation, which can only happen through large-scale cooperation. The difficulty of such a policy of alliances now consists in locating the appropriate forces that would steer the further transformation process in an emancipatory direction, as well as in bringing the radical crisis consciousness described above into these movements.

In reality, it is only the fetishistic, blind movement of the automatic subject of unlimited capital valorization, that, when it breaks through its inner barrier, turns into the threat of ecological self-destruction and escalating social struggles – possibly even nuclear and world civil war. The late capitalist value society is disintegrating, but social fetishism – the powerless surrender of the subjects to the social dynamics they unconsciously produce – remains strong. The actors, especially on the German left, stagger unconcernedly into the impending world civil war as the vanishing point of the transformational conflicts.

So it really does exist, the “real movement which abolishes the present state of things,” that the young Marx, together with Engels, identified in his early work “The German Ideology” and imagined as a progressive movement.[27] Only it is not an automatism of civilization that leads humanity to communism. Marx, through whose entire work is characterized by the split between an outdated belief in progress and an important categorical critique, expresses here the fetishism of capital while at the same time succumbing to a belief in eternal progress, in the Hegelian world spirit. The real movement that shakes late capitalism to its foundations is that of capital’s valorization process blindly running over society, which is killing itself. It is the fetishism that Marx already suspected at that time.

Therefore, despite all the evidence, it is necessary to fight to form this inevitable transformation movement, which will certainly abolish the present state of things and which is still open in its course and outcome, into a consciously acting movement in the transformation struggle. The transformation of the system is inevitable; what matters is to steer it in a progressive, emancipatory direction – in the struggle against the forces of barbarism that capital is sweating out again in its crisis.

If there is one field of struggle that should be prioritized in the current phase of crisis, then it is an anti-fascism that seeks to build the broadest possible alliance, since fascism is already clearly emerging as the openly terrorist crisis form of capitalist rule. The Querfront, which has long been spreading on the German left,[28] the New Right, which is deeply intertwined with the German state apparatus,[29] and pre-fascism, which is on the rise,[30] are already sharpening their hooves in order to answer the crisis of capital with a renewed plunge into barbarism.

I finance my journalistic work largely through donations. If you like my texts, then you are welcome to contribute – either via Patreon, or Substack.

[1] https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/

[2] https://konkret-magazin.shop/texte/konkret-texte-shop/66/tomasz-konicz-kapitalkollaps

[3] https://www.xn--untergrund-blttle-2qb.ch/wirtschaft/theorie/stagflation-inflationsrate-6794.html

[4] https://www.akweb.de/ausgaben/642/kapitalismus-und-klimakatastrophe-zu-effizient-fuer-diese-welt/

[5] https://www.mandelbaum.at/buecher/tomasz-konicz/klimakiller-kapital/

[6] https://www.akweb.de/bewegung/die-klimabewegung-braucht-antikapitalistische-leitplanken-fuer-ihre-kommenden-aktionen/

[7] https://exitinenglish.com/2023/01/23/opportunism-in-the-crisis/

[8] https://exitinenglish.com/2023/01/23/opportunism-in-the-crisis/

[9] https://exitinenglish.com/2023/01/23/the-subjectless-rule-of-capital/

[10] https://www.konicz.info/2022/06/25/schuldenberge-im-klimawandel/

[11] https://exitinenglish.com/2022/08/12/mountains-of-debt-on-the-move/

[12] https://exitinenglish.com/2023/01/03/the-walking-debt/

[13] https://exitinenglish.com/2023/01/23/opportunism-in-the-crisis/

[14] https://www.konicz.info/2021/09/20/telepolis-eine-rotbraune-inside-story/

[15] https://www.konicz.info/2019/04/27/die-subjektlose-herrschaft-des-kapitals/

[16] https://www.konicz.info/2019/08/30/der-alte-todesdrang-der-neuen-rechten/

[17] See on this: Roswitha Scholz, Der Wert ist der Mann, https://exit-online.org/textanz1.php?tabelle=autoren&index=38&posnr=25&backtext1=text1.php

[18] https://www.rnd.de/politik/eritrea-das-nordkorea-afrikas-diktator-mischt-in-tigray-konflikt-mit-UFEFDYU3TZHRJNBTV776QRFO3I.html

[19] https://libcom.org/article/marxs-theory-crisis-and-abolition-capitalism-robert-kurz

[20] https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/ulrike-herrmann-sieht-kapitalismus-am-ende-100.html

[21] Civil rights essentially recognize the human being as a subject capable of capital valorization, whereby recognition ceases if the ability to valorize is absent – as can be seen clearly in the case of refugees. See: https://exit-online.org/textanz1.php?tabelle=autoren&index=20&posnr=554&backtext1=text1.php

[22] https://exitinenglish.com/2023/01/23/opportunism-in-the-crisis/

[23] https://www.konicz.info/2022/06/23/was-ist-krisenimperialismus/

[24] https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=5047254132045984&set=a.1916895028415259

[25] https://exitinenglish.com/2023/01/23/opportunism-in-the-crisis/

[26] https://www.deutschelyrik.de/lob-der-dialektik-1934.html

[27] “Communism is for us not a state of affairs to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.” Source: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01a.htm#a4

[28] https://www.konicz.info/category/querfront/

[29] https://www.konicz.info/2019/04/01/braun-von-ksk-bis-usk/

[30] https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/niedersachsen-afd-101.html

Originally published on konicz.info on 10/12/2022

One thought on “Emancipation in Crisis

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s