Sunday, June 20, 2004

Scarorism and Terricity

What was, for capitalism ascendant, its self-leavening was the conquering of new markets; the uprooting of all that had gone before; the transformation of all social relations in its self-image. And all this existed, for waxing capitalism, only as an abstraction, a tendency, an impulse. In the concrete, the impulse is obstructed, and conjoined with the very source of the obstruction. What was in theory the condition for development is in practice the limit of development and vice versa. The essential nature of capital is made manifest in its deviation, its aberration from its own code for growth. So that capital announces its triumph not in the destruction of all foregoing, pre-existing, archaic relations of land and labor, but in their embrace, accommodation, absorption into the plastic stream of exchanges called the market. Private property demands just such an embrace, just this accommodation, and private property is nearest and dearest to the bourgeoisie.

The dissonance between abstract and concrete, essence and appearance, is their essential unity under the conditions of alienated, wage, labor. This unity and dissonance becomes every more acute and painful with the tendency for capital to overproduce its own forms of expropriation beyond the ability of the market to sustain the return on investment, which is the stability of property.

The critical moment for the realization of this limit to capitalism is the tremendous capitalist expansion occurring prior to and after the US Civil War. When, in a moment of historical, collective, spontaneity, Union soldiers refused to march in rank and file into the death zones of Confederate fire, but instead hit the dirt and dug earthenwork defenses, it was the end of Napoleonic influence in more ways than one. Attrition, logistics, resupply, maneuver, firepower became the measure of and method for victory. With those came Grant and Sherman's "total war," war against infrastructure and economy. It was capital in all its brutal flowering.

But war was not revolution, and the military destruction of property was nowhere near as risky as the reorganization of Southern landed property. It was from this task that the bourgeoisie turned not just away, but against, determined that private property in its backward forms was essential to the security of all its forms.

The Spanish-American War certified the conservator role of the bourgeoisie, as US capitalism simultaneously replaced the backward Spanish capitalists while preserving the backward relations of land and labor against the prospects of social revolution. The intervention of the US was the reverse anticipation of the revolutionists demand in WW 1 to "Turn the Imperialist War into Civil War," as, in the Philippines, in Cuba, the civil was pre-emptively turned into an imperialist one.

For advanced, even sclerotic, capitalism the preservation of private property is still and always the order of the day. The overgrowth of the productive apparatus beyond the ability of markets, of exchange, to realize profit means that the impulse to destruction of archaic forms is now the impulse to the destruction of capital itself. Thus the expansion of capital is pre-figured, accompanied, immediately followed by the destruction of the productive base, of the living standards, of the very fabric of social life. Advanced production detaches itself more and more from the overall advancement, the overall reproduction of social development. Dreaming of an existence like Jack Welch's ideal barges, capital sees itself floating from tax haven to tax haven, free zone to free zone, cheap labor pool to cheap labor pool. The world's population during both economic recovery and contraction resembles more and more refugees, displaced persons, camp followers.

Under these conditions, terror and scarcity are the perfect (mis)representations of overproduction and social destruction-- the first un-defining the source of economic uncertainty, the second providing the necessary distraction from the actual destruction of productive capabilities. Terror and scarcity are the peace dividend of overproduced capitalism.

S. Artesian
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