There are times when you stop in order to look at this system and you get a strange feeling. The sensation is similar to the one that you have in a dream, when the succession of things is produced with both a disconcerting and natural absurdity. In a moment of lucidity you say to yourself that it does not make sense if things happen like this and you hesitate, but events happen at full speed and you can only adapt yourself, tell yourself that it must be so, that if the others act normally it must be normal and that this confusion that hugs your stomach will pass away.
Originally published by Grupo Barbaria.
It is not by chance that during the revolutionary wave that opened in 1917, the mechanism of defamiliarization [or Estrangement, translator’s note] appeared in the artistic avant-garde. It is not by chance either that many of those who set it in motion, like Mayakovski, Eisenstein or Brecht, linked their activity directly to the hopes of the world revolution. This mechanism consisted in dislocating the recipient and generating in him a feeling of strangeness in the face of what he is observing. It aimed to bring him out of passivity and change his gaze: to prepare him, one might say, to see the new world in the making.
Something similar happens in times of crisis. The absurd normality of capital breaks down and sometimes we are struck by the idea that something is wrong. That there is a problem at the root, in the depths of its logic. The crisis that has triggered the pandemic is a clear example, because it radically confronts our physical integrity with the interests of the economy: an economy that, as it is collapsing, becomes increasingly brutal and perverse.
When it has become clear that the COVID had landed in Europe, and when the news coming from China left little doubt about the exponential development of the contagion and its catastrophic power, the industrial bourgeoisie of northern Italy launched a campaign against the lockdown with the motto #YesWeWork. A few weeks later, a video showed the endless procession of military trucks taking bodies out of Bergamo. There was no more room in the city’s cemetery.
#YesWeWork is a good motto to describe the anti-human absurdity of capital. It is not a mere gesture of cynicism, even if it is. It expresses not only the deep contempt the bourgeoisie has for the lives of those it exploits. We already knew that. It is an appropriate motto because in reclaiming Obama’s Yes We Can it gives voice to the delirium of a disoriented ruling class, aware that the seams of capitalism are cracking and yet unable to give any response other than a flight forward, never mind there’s a lot of damage. #YesWeWork is their particular coaching exercise: if capitalism is falling apart, make a good show and try harder. It’s all a matter of attitude.
But the attitude of the bourgeoisie is perforce oriented in the direction of capital. And capital is a one-way road, which consists in overcoming its crises by aggravating the conditions that will cause the next ones to break out. What the health, economic and social situation that we are going through shows in the background is that capital finds itself in a dead end, locked in an operating mode in agony and yet it cannot abandon.
Because ultimately what is falling apart is the commodity itself. The fact that social relations are organized around money, measuring the amount of labor that each producer has spent in order to demand an equivalent, this very logic, the logic of value and capital, is breaking down from inside. The production of material goods, the concentrated accumulation of human knowledge, and the productive power of our society are such today that this form of organizing social work simply loses its meaning.
An expression of this is the structural unemployment, which is constantly growing, and the enormous amount of money without value, of fictitious capital, and widespread indebtedness of society. In Europe, it is calculated that by 2030 more than 20% of jobs will be lost because of automation, something that the crisis that has triggered the pandemic is only accelerating. Many of the jobs that are being lost in this economic crisis are not going to come back. This is why the European Union is forcing its aid to be allocated to digitalization, and it makes perfect sense. Inserted in the heart of the capitalist dynamic, the automation of production is unquestionable. The only way not to be overwhelmed by it is to run in the same direction.
But this direction is catastrophic. If there is no work to be exploited, there is no profit to be made. Only credit allows some breathing space and that’s precisely what has been giving capitalism oxygen since the 1970s. The bourgeoisie itself is reacting confusingly faced with this situation. For example, in 1976, the French Prime Minister’s hair stood on end when he saw the public debt rise to 16% of GDP. One of his successors, François Fillon, stated in 1998 that France was in a situation of bankruptcy with 68%. When, in April 2020, it was aiming at 120%, a deputy from the same party declared that the only solution to bankruptcy for France was to get into debt. And not only France. In order to deal with the deep crisis that is erupting, the Fed, the Bank of England and the ECB have given free rein to State and private debt. The message is clear: the only economic recipe for this sick system, on both the left and the right, is to throw the ball straight ahead.
This necessarily leads to a loss of value of money. But the economic crisis is so deep that the Fed has abandoned any policy of inflation control and will maintain the uninterrupted flow of money – although what money actually, if not an accounting creative exercise – to avoid the risks of deflation.
But the fact that money and wage labor no longer make sense does not imply either that this society will collapse on its own, or that we will gradually shift to another type of system. On the contrary, the headlong rush of capital is comparable to those of high commanders of the German navy who, in 1918, convinced that they are defeated and eager to save their honor, sent the sailors of Kiel to a suicide attack against the English fleet. Yes, we work. In the midst of a pandemic that has by fare reached one million dead – according to official numbers – the labor machine is still working. And it is a killing machine.
In Spain, the post-lockdown rules were introduced through an orchestrated advertising campaign in all the media of the country with only one objective: we have won, things are going well, let’s open the terraces, consume and above all serve the drinks: the Germans are coming. Barely a month and a half after the end of the lockdown, the contagion curve was once again rising at full speed. In order to save tourism, any real prevention measure is rejected and instead some make-up measures are enacted: obligatory mask-wear, ban on smoking in the street, gatherings limited to maximum ten people. From September, as in so many other places in the northern hemisphere, back-to-school is done in face-to-face learning amidst the chaos. The politicians themselves, from left to right, are giving the following explanation: all the students are going to be infected, the teachers too, and it’s clear that some of them will die. But if children are not kept in school, the parents cannot continue to operate the machine of wage labor. After the health workers and essential workers – for the capital – during the first lockdown, the teachers are the next batch in the sale of cannon fodder.
It’s not gonna stop. Firstly, because the appearance of the coronavirus was the chronicle of an announced massacre. As a characteristic product of the relationship between capital and nature, the conditions that have led to the emergence of this pandemic can only get worse: the stronger the crisis of value, the wilder its consumption of energy and natural resources, the less consideration production can have with the destruction of natural habitats, the more social misery is generated, the more the immune system of our species is weakened, the more the megalopolises grow, the more the States are forced to reduce health care spending to devote it to debt and repression. Like a cancer in its terminal phase, capital is getting out of control and reaches all organs of a diseased social body.
In this context, one should not be surprised that the bourgeois State behaves like a bourgeois State. It represses: that goes without saying. Its function is to ensure that the circulation of commodities and workers continues as normally as possible. If this means 200 deaths a day in each country – the equivalent of a plane full of passengers crashing every day – it is a price that it is more than willing to pay. If this means penalizing the private space in which bonds of solidarity and mutual aid are woven, it will do so. If it increases the fines, the trials, if it has to send the police to crush the anti-hunger protests, all it has to do is to sign. That’s why the capitalists pay it tribute. The left and the right, their parliamentary dances, their scapegoats, their juggling so that the sanitary collapse does not turn into a funeral collapse with bodies burning in the streets, all this is nothing but the backdrop of a macabre theatre piece.
We will not enter into a new normality. It will remain the same normality of capital, more and more catastrophic and wild. But just like the crisis itself, the movements of struggle came from before and the pandemic can only function as a catalyst. At the end of 2018, a wave of struggle began in France with the yellow vests, which will spread all over the world and throughout the following year. Revolts in Sudan and Haiti followed. Shortly afterwards, it’s the turn of Hong Kong, paralyzing the country for weeks and putting at risk the governability of that bastion of capitalism where the different imperialist powers are confronting each other. In the fall of 2019, powerful clashes erupted in Lebanon, Iraq and Ecuador. In Lebanon and Iraq, the protests caused the fall of the Prime Minister; in Ecuador, they are forcing the seat of the government to be relocated. If early October Sebastián Piñera boasted to the media about the stability of Chile in a Latin America convulsed by class confrontations, he will change his tone only a few weeks later with the streets of the country on fire: “we are at war with a powerful, implacable enemy”, which his own wife will describe as an “alien invasion” that surpasses them.
Even though a third of the world’s population is confined at home, in May 2020 anger broke out in the United States over the murder of George Floyd. A few days later, the revolt has spread throughout the country, and no lockdown or state of emergency could stop it. The protestors reached the White House and Trump ran to take refuge in the bunker, like Macron did just a year earlier at the peak of the yellow vest movement. In August, Lebanon stroke back and shortly after it’s the turn of Belarus, where a wave of factory strikes joined the biggest mobilizations since the collapse of the USSR. And while we are writing this text, Nigeria is on fire.
We have been given to live the last convulsions of an absurd world. Prey to its own agony, capital asks us to sacrifice our lives and those of our relatives in order to continue feeding a machine that cannot even hold on. Unemployment, debt, fires, pandemics, depression: that’s the horizon of a life without meaning, of a meaningless social system for which we are asked to leave up to the last drop of blood. Morale of victory, they call it, and the bourgeoisie itself cannot be convinced about it.
In every dream, there is a struggle between normality and disarray. At some point, the wound gets open and we are left with only one alternative: to stay in this dream or to wake up. Every crisis is a beginning. Thus, when the German high command wanted to send the sailors of Kiel to certain death, they ended up provoking a revolution. At this point the logic of this world had been broken.
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