Friday, June 24, 2011

Capitalism's terminal crisis?

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

I have been stating that the current crisis of capitalism is more than cyclical and structural. It is terminal. Has the genius of capitalism for always adapting to any circumstance come to an end? I realize that few people hold this view. Two reasons, however, lead me to this interpretation.

The first is the following: the crisis is terminal because all of us, but particularly capitalism, have trespassed the boundaries of Earth. We have occupied it, pillaging the whole planet, breaking its delicate balance and depleting its goods and services to such an extent that it fails to replenish by itself what has been taken from it. Already in the mid-nineteenth century Karl Marx wrote prophetically that the trend of capital was toward destroying the two sources of wealth and reproduction: nature and work. That is what is happening.

Nature is, in effect, being subjected to great stress, as it never was before, at least in the last century, not counting the 15 major decimations it experienced throughout its over four billion year history. Verifiable extreme events in all regions and climate change, which tends toward a growing global warming, support Marx's thesis. Without nature, how will capitalism reproduce itself? It has an insurmountable limitation.

Capitalism jeopardizes or dispenses with labor. There is a lot of development without jobs. The computerized and automated production system produces more and better, with almost no work. The direct consequence is structural unemployment.

Millions of people are never going to enter the world of work, even as a reserve army. Work has gone from depending on capital to being dispensed with. In Spain, unemployment reaches 20% among the general population, and 40% for young people. In Portugal, 12% of the country, and 30% among young people. This means a serious social crisis like the one raging at this time in Greece. The whole society is being sacrificed on behalf of an economy made not to meet human demands but to pay the debt to the banks and the financial system. Marx was right: exploited labor is no longer a source of wealth. The machine is.

The second reason is linked to the humanitarian crisis that capitalism is generating. It used to be limited to peripheral countries. Today it is global and has reached the central countries. The economic problem can't be resolved by dismantling society. The victims, linked by new avenues of communication, resist, rebel, and threaten the existing order. More and more people, especially youth, do not accept the perverse logic of capitalist political economy: the dictatorship of finance that through the market, subjects nations to its interests and the profitability of speculative capital that flows from some pockets to others, making profits without producing anything except more money for its profiteers.

It was capital itself which created the poison that could kill it. By requiring workers to have better and better technical training to be at the level of accelerated growth and increased competitiveness, it unintentionally created people who think. They are slowly discovering the perversity of the system that fleeces people in the name of merely material accumulation, which shows itself to be heartless by demanding more and more efficiency to the point of bringing workers to deep stress, to despair and, in some cases, to suicide, as has happened in other countries and also in Brazil.

The streets of several European and Arab countries, the "indignant ones" who fill the plazas in Spain and Greece are an expression of rebellion against the existing political system in tow behind the market and the logic of capital. Spanish young people are crying, "it's not a crisis, it's a robbery." The thieves are based on Wall Street, at the IMF and the European Central Bank, that is, they're the high priests of global and exploitative capital.

As the crisis gets worse, throughout the world the multitudes will grow who can no longer bear the consequences of the overexploitation of their lives and the life of the Earth and who rebel against this economic system, now dying not of old age but from the strength of the poison and the contradictions it has created by punishing Mother Earth and afflicting the lives of her sons and daughters.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Rebel Girl! We have published your translation of Leonardo boff, together with the original, the Spanish and the French version. We're doing the German and Italian version. Yours can be found here: We would like to get in touch with you in order to see if you would like to cooperate with our translators' network. Since we were unable to find your email address, could you please write to Thanks