The turning point
"What can have in common the molecules structured in self-reproducing complexes, the cells coordinated in pluricellular organisms, the ecosystems and even the economic and political systems? The working hypothesis is that life just can rise on the border between order and chaos, close to a sort of phase transition. The systems finding themselves in these conditions are those more likely to coordinate complex activities and to evolve" (Stuart Kauffman).
"Nothing makes a scientist feel more awkward than a discontinuity, because every usable quantitative model is based on the use of continuous functions" (René Thom).
In every society the dialectic of two opposites, continuity and breakdown, is absolutely evident, but even more in capitalism. This mode of production has reached a very high technical and social complexity, so the huge reality of its productive force clashes with the meanness of performances that the living standard of mankind reveals unceasingly; and by now it collides with a class political machinery no longer corresponding to a society that has already potentially overcome classes. That's why there is an extreme tension between conservation and revolution.
The individual perception of the factors sparking the attack on Washington and New York, against the symbols of the economical and military American power, has been quite diverse, but everybody has pointed out that something enormous was happened, deducing almost unanimously that the consequences of the attempts would have been, in one way or another, equally tremendous. A turning point. Straight after the attack a great many observers state the matter exactly in these terms. For instance, Kissinger: "The turning point of the international order in the XXI century"; Rumsfeld: "We are entering a new period of the American history"; Le Carré: "The American gardens will no more be the safe havens they once were"; L'Avvenire: "History will never be the same"; Forsyth: "Nothing will be the same as before"; Kapuchinsky: "A new great transformation of the world has begun" etc.
Nonetheless, the analysis of the would-be Communist factions has been tritely concentrated on the worldwide relations between bourgeoisie and the exploited: so, according to this evaluation, there will be an escalation in the capitalist onslaught on the proletariat and the oppressed (someone has added: Islamic) masses.
Obviously the matter should be tackled by keeping aloof from the currents that are part of the Capital system and collide one with another, churning out ideological by-products ("end of history", "clash of civilizations", "anti-terrorism"), up-to-date versions of the political crusading spirit ruling at the time of the Cold War. But above all a serious analysis of the situation must shun the revolutionary phrases with no empiric content and so indeterminate in meaning as the judgements "nice", "ugly", "good" or "bad". Even if it seems natural that Communists side with the "oppressed", this does not imply that they should rashly back one or the other crusade. Modern war, if it is not revolution, can only be fought among modern imperialisms, which use masses as instruments for their own interests. If this is right — and whoever joining the historical Communist current knows it is — then you have to admit that, as far as the revolutionary tactics is concerned, the historical turning point has already happened: it took place, once and for all, when the colonial remains (that is the last areas under the direct control of foreign powers) were wiped out. Communists must keep this in mind, when they analyse what is going on. And it is because of this that today Communists do not take sides, even if they evidently pay much attention to the results of clashes. Colonialism has been replaced by the economic domination and we know, since Lenin, that this means new geo-historical conditions, thus new tactics, or even better, simplification of the revolutionary tactics. While in the past the tactics of the proletariat (that is its alliances policy) presupposed also a coalition with the revolutionary bourgeoisies, today this possibility must be excluded, simply because such bourgeoisies do not exist anymore and they will never come again. For instance, an alliance between proletariat and bourgeoisie was possible to free Congo or Algeria up to the sixties, but not to "free" Argentina at the beginning of the century or Persia in the fifties from the British financial domination or oil barony. In an imperialistic war context, the worst thing would be to support one bourgeoisie against another, as partisan movements did in Spain 1936 and during World War II.
Therefore, if the events occurred after the 11th September have really marked a radical change, this turning point should not be seen in the premonitory signs of a "classic" imperialistic war or in the development of "popular" struggles against imperialism. Besides, any "popular" struggle has inevitably an interclass nature, so it is to consider as an integral part of the capitalist system: on the contrary, in this historical phase, Communists must be interested only in the proletarian struggle. However, it would be wrong to imagine a revolutionary process consisting of just two factors, bourgeoisie and proletariat. The two main classes clash involving and upsetting the social complex with all its components, so that unforeseen factors (such as middle classes, remains of the old societies, ruined capitalists and subproletarians, deserters of their own classes, opportunists and traitors) are thrown on stage. At a certain point the action of centrifugal and centripetal forces brings about social polarizations, which make the struggle necessary and press the two opposing parties to organize themselves for the fight. Right for this chaotic process, even long before the polarized situation takes place, it is necessary not to lose sight of the general sense of the historical dynamics, that is its real potentialities and possibilities compared with its end.
Only this way we can deal with the question if after the 11th September we are in the face of a new scenery. As regards the geo-historical conditions, there is nothing new since the last colony fell; as for the economic oppression or the post-colonial imperialism, everything has been said since the dispute of Lenin with Kiewsky-Piatakov (1916); as far as the American supremacy is concerned, we have said over and over again that it is founded on a long process, in particular on the two last world wars. In conclusion, as the classes are more than ever bound in a monstrous symbiosis and the capitalistic cycle goes on showing a remarkable continuity, it is not obvious how a "terrorist attack" could lead to a breakdown.
Yet since the 12th September the attack against the United States has stressed an unprecedented mobilization, which has already given rise to considerable changes both in material economy (further development of the state-control system in the United States and consequently in other countries) and in superstructure (extraordinary legislation and militarization of Intelligence). The day after the attack, we ourselves published a web page asserting that the real globalization started with the end of the national sovereignty. It is therefore plain that we somehow imply a breakdown, a turning point in history.
We are not in front of imperialistic States fighting in battlefields. We are not even in front of a clash between presumed different economic systems, like during the contrast between USA and USSR. In order to survive, capitalism itself develops an interesting capacity of self-criticism (expressed by some influent bourgeois exponents), till it actually borders on its own negation. In other words, capitalism is becoming somehow aware of its tremendous difficulties. In fact, it can't rely upon any such outlet comparable to the one offered by the two last world wars. At least for the time being.
China is the second economic power in the world in real terms and it represents the widest part of mankind contained within national unitary boundaries. India has a different kind of development, but it is imposing itself in some world industrial sectors as well (textile, chemical and information industries). The Islamic world reproduces almost the entire oil geography and it is rapidly accumulating on the basis of capitals drained from the countries with the largest energy requirements. We are talking about 3.6 billions people in just three sets, more or less internally coherent. If their present development paces remained constant, in some years they would be able to overthrow any existing equilibrium and even to revolutionize the structure of the world capitalism. Thinking in terms of coherent sets, we should consider also Europe and United States, the latter with their offshoot consisting of Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand, real spontaneous coalition of fragments deriving from the original WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant) imperialistic stock, which is the only force acting and manoeuvring autonomously and synchronously in the current Afghanistan war.
We observe that the world market is being structured around some stable international blocs able to act as attractors for goods and capitals. But only two of them are well defined: the United States and Anglo-Saxon bloc (to which Latin America will cling more than ever) and continental Europe (of which Russia and the countries facing the Mediterranean sea will form integral parts before long). Africa will be, as usual, the scene of the unremitting fight between Europe and America for the possession of raw materials, while the Asian alliances will continue swinging from end (Europe) to end (Japan). The "Islamic" bloc is still in pursuit of its unity: Pan-Arabism has failed and the residual unifying factor is religion, which is a merely superstructural element today (in the past, on the contrary, religion led material forces, often subversive). As surplus of capitals means surplus of goods (there is no "plethora of capitals" without "plethora of goods"), if we suppose a world production more and more localized in the developing countries (according to the real historical trend), we must as well suppose an international control of the capitals deriving from that production: in fact, the old imperialistic headquarters will definitely refuse either to die or just to be subordinate in the new world hierarchy.
Such a model is based on facts, but obviously it is as well quite unrealistically referred to a linear and continuous development. Even though it concerns a movement in progress (so prefiguring a near future) the dynamics of the acting forces denies a spontaneous evolution towards the "Asiatic" outlet, that is a link between Japan and the continental area (the only possible living-space for the Japanese capital). The Asian financial crisis of 1997 has been a symptom of what might happen on a wider economic level. At the first signs of crack in the system of risky loans (i.e. capitals invested without backing in the effort to increase their value by drugging the economy), the withdrawal of the Western capitals (those destined then to swell the bubble of the new technologies Exchange) has definitely worsen the situation of the Japanese and Asiatic capitals, which could not increase in value "elsewhere".
In short, capitals which do not have the possibility to enjoy the protection of a supranational power cannot defend themselves against the movements of the financial markets. The American area is gathering round the dollar; the European area is trying to compact through the introduction of the euro; the Muslim area is proving to be founded upon the peculiarity of the "Islamic bank", which should prefigure a financial Umma (a unique homeland); the Asiatic area is still seeking a stability which would allow an analogous process.
But the configuration of competing areas implies that, once they have reached an equal power, the present balance will be totally broken, as it is based on the force "asymmetry" between the United States and the rest of the world. Before, long before the decline of the major imperialism and the growth of other powers lead to a balance of competing forces, the United States, which would risk of being swept away, should act resolutely in order to prevent their worse nightmare from coming true.
Obviously this preventive intervention will not be decided by governments, economists or militaries. The nature of capitalism itself drives governments to remedy the damage caused by the uncontrollable laws of market. The peculiar feature of a society based on value is the statistical indeterminateness, not because determinism vanishes, but because property and exchange between equivalents through money make each individual "free" to act. And each individual put his own interest first. Even if his egoism might drive him to suicide, he sees only the competition with other individuals and not the whole of value relations. This way the social system becomes completely anarchical and chaotic. And the State must intervene to restore order and to enforce strict discipline on capitalists, dispossessed and made superfluous by the anonymous Capital at first, then replaced by the State as general capitalist, able to coordinate, at least partly, the economy.
Marxian theory of crisis deals with the particular dynamics of capitalism. It is well known that there is no specific part of Marx's work devoted to this problem. The point is that the system based on value cannot be squeezed into a solely analytical schematization (abstraction, formalization). So, Marx tackles the question in the context of the capitalist accumulation, not examinable through univocal data, but only through "situations". From simple reproduction onwards the linear process of production (quantitative) clashes with the market non-linear behaviour (qualitative); generally, this leads to overproduction and, even more generally, to the tendential fall in the profit rate. These are the three elements of crisis in Marx. Today we know that the crisis problem, as stated by Marx, is the typical problem of any system complex enough to react against extreme quantitative stresses by introducing predominant qualitative elements. It has become a widespread habit ― quite troglodytic compared with the results achieved by Marx ― to consider capitalism as a linear system: too much production = too much capital = too much poverty = crisis = disquiet = claiming = struggle = labour organization = class unity = political party = linear growth of it = revolution. From this anti-dialectic nonsense rises a world of aberrant conceptions, produced by the same factors that defer the revolutionary breakdown.
Revolutions, understood as epochal turning points, do not take place as generally codified in the "revolutionary" thinking, but according to laws well known to Marx, and today, after one and half century, also to bourgeoisie (obviously not in the revolutionary field). Creation, materialistically speaking, does not exist. On the grounds of this elementary certainty, we can say, for instance, that the more complex a system is, the more alike it is to biological process. Life is a particular organization of matter; every living form (consisting of the same molecules which make up minerals etc.) is the result of an evolution lasted millions of years. But, since we know that life reproduces, thanks to the self-poietic capacity of matter, by coding the genetic process (DNA), we run up against a serious problem… "How can a new form originate from an immutable code (programme), whose function is exactly that of keeping the invariance of the species?". Or rather: "What does social mutation (that is the notorious 'renewal of the class struggle') derive from?". "How can the new formal organization be revived?". "What does a party develop from?". These are the naïve and tremendous questions which have always been advanced as pretexts for every kind of opportunistic expedients.
To understand the ineluctability of revolution, it is essential to have a clear idea about the course that leads to the future society, that is about the dialectic between continuity and breakdown. The social dynamics (marked by the maturity of capitalism and by its desperate attempts to better know itself and nature) forces us to consider the events from a superior (even if strictly faithful to the invariant revolutionary programme) point of view. In fact, it would be vain trying to analyse the current world situation according to the parameters available, for example, in 1848 (democratic revolution), in 1871 (Commune of Paris and civil war) or 1917 (October revolution). Furthermore, each of those revolutionary turning points meant the abandoning of the stages reached formerly.
Most of complex systems find their internal balance; more often, they tend to lose energy and to collapse, till they die out. Human society is a highly complex system, even able to develop forms of self-organization (exactly like the self-organizing processes of life at micro-biologic level). Therefore, once reached a certain form, it assumes stable structural defensive features, but at the same time it develops antithetical elements, typical of its next form. That's why Marx can assert that the laws he discovered are science, while utopia is… utopia: utopian models are pure "creations", ideas, while Communism is a material becoming, which does not depend on what people think about it, because the forms useful for the future society already exist in the present one. Any human movement intending realistically to overthrow capitalism cannot have a fairy tale as its political programme: it must have a project (Grundrisse). Social self-organization is not only the capacity to make the most of information existing in the system (that is what the system knows about itself): above all it is the capacity to increase the linking of the existing elements of information.
But, once creation has been ruled out, where does new information spring from? Are the relations among the elements of capitalism sufficient to describe the social transformation? The answer is: it depends. Neither the characters of the current society nor those of the ideal model are sufficient: it is necessary to individuate the dynamics which denies the present social form and prepares the future one. Revolution is first of all destruction of bonds, knocking down of barriers. Physicists assert that each deterministic model, even the most chaotic one, holds structures that sooner or later can be individuated and described. These emerging structures anticipate exactly the future development of the system. Universe could not exist without order (that is past disorder which denied itself). Some people opt for God, but appealing to this entity for Communist revolution would be, honestly, out of place. Science derives from the analysis of ordered structures, permitting to use those formalizations (always the same) helpful to know in advance the future developments. This is the concept of "invariants", which Marx pointed out since the beginning of his work and which we drawn on: if the laws of nature were immediately manifest to our senses, there would be no need of science. That's why Communism must be considered as science of knowledge and, therefore, of becoming.
At first the "atypical" bombing of Pentagon and World Trade Center made people think of a crushing "terrorist outrage". But straight afterwards it was more or less spontaneously defined by the American government as a war action. This had a certain logic, both because the attack took place after a real declaration of "holy war", well known in Washington, and because at that point there was no more the United States could do but react militarily. The first enemy to hit was located in Afghanistan: the Taliban regime, supporter of the al-Qaida organization, that is to say a target easy to understand and suitable for the unfolding of the so-called "no-limit war". With respect to the gulf between political chattering and facts, we have to stress the inevitableness and, at the same time, the total pointlessness of the Afghan war in itself. Attention has been concentrated on factors which the dynamics of the events made totally secondary: bin Laden, his organization and the primitive army of Talibans were actually war "parameters" comparable to zero. Certainly the United States could not react differently, but a serious analysis (that is not based on opinions) of what happened to the capitalistic system shows that all the current military manoeuvres have no real importance. Everybody can see the absolute uselessness of bombing deserted mountains and civilian buildings; it is a fact that Kabul has been "captured" without firing a single shot (Talibans had already left the town, without any American bomber battering their convoys); moreover, it is plain that the "provisory government" installed after the Bonn agreements can do nothing against the consolidate cabals which have already shared out the Afghan territory. Most victims must be ascribed to bloody acts of retaliation and "battles" have been, in point of fact, tribal fights. All the military experts, even when they are interviewed for titillating the interest of the audience, admit that war is quite a different matter.
The virtual war described by media and fought conventionally will be treated in another part of our review. Hereby we are dealing with the real one (fought otherwise), which strikes root in the complexity of capitalism and which derives from the continuous accumulation of factors now bringing the capitalistic system closer to a phase transition. Being qualitative and not quantifiable, this transition will not be watched on television.
As phase transitions in the XX century are commonly considered the two world wars, the crisis of '29, the energetic crisis of '75, the downfall of USSR. Obviously phenomena of such a great importance can be easily identified through their visible consequences. More difficult is to link the transition with phenomena like the end of the Gold-Exchange System, the coming of modern state capitalism all over the world (fascisms, New Deal, Stalinism) or the crumbling of the old imperialism based on colonies. In particular, the attack against the United States and their reaction do not seem to imply immediate crushing economic and political effects: the destruction of the WTC has been a slight damage for the U. S. economy, which has retrieved its losses in a couple of months (furthermore, the large-scale state intervention will probably revitalize business); the rise in the number of unemployed (half million more in a month) has been due to the previous business cycle and not to the attack in itself (the crisis of 1929 caused 15 millions of jobless); oil has even come down in price by 30%; the currency parity has not undergone substantial changes; the liquidity mass deriving from the slump in investments and consumption (originated from the American crisis long before the 11th September) should be used, in the near future, to stimulate economy.
The "war against terrorism" itself had begun before and to this end laws had already been amended during Clinton's mandate. Thus, according to the economic and political criteria of bourgeoisie, there would be no evident discontinuity in the system, at worst some disturbance easy to neutralize. We, on the contrary, regard the recent events as a significant caesura.
A clear precedent in the history supports our remarks. The so-called industrial revolution did not present breaking points: the application of energy to production, as well as the introduction of machines, of the machines system and of the general system of socialized work (closely connected with the development of world market) were gradual. But we know that there was a definite discontinuity, which must be identified as a transition: from the formal to the real subjection of labour to Capital; from the simple whole of factories with their employers and workers to the integrated system of work, goods and values; from manufacturing and mercantile capitalism to industrial one; from the conflict between employer and worker to the one between bourgeoisie and proletariat. Let's drawn on our so-called "diagram of the cusps", elaborated in the fifties: the horizontal axis represents time, while the vertical one represents the social productive force. But time is divided into phases, that is primitive society, slavery, feudalism, capitalism and communism. Setting the beginning of each phase within the previous one, we obtain a typical "saw-toothed" diagram, well known to our readers. However, if we considered as linear the passage from one phase to another, we would have a single ascending curve. The same is true of the pendulum motion: we can describe the swinging from end to end, through the point of maximum velocity, with a scheme of evident discontinuity on Cartesian axis, or, depending on the needs, with a continuous circular line divided in four by the axis representing the time phases (taking on the likeness of a runic cross).
It has no importance whether the reader is familiar with these schemes or not. The essential thing is to know that, depending on the research context, the same phenomenon can be described in such a way to stress its continuity, its discontinuity or both. This because the complex dynamic systems, in particular the organic ones, imply the "catastrophic" coexistence of continuity and transition. Even when phenomena seem to develop gradually (as in the above mentioned historical cases), there always exists a phase gap. Continuity and discontinuity are therefore in dialectic union and their individuation depends on the reference frame we adopt to describe the phenomena.
As for the current conflict, that is only an episode of a most general war, discontinuity can be individuated in the decline of the real productive force of the United States in contrast with the ascent of their economic and military power. According to Marxism, capital overabundance always implies goods overabundance, but in this case we have a country which, even though its specific weight has increased enormously, has passed from 55% of the world economy in the fifties to 22,5% today. The intersection between the line of the inexorable decline and that of the necessary ascent signals the breaking point, the discontinuity, the contradiction between the American real power and the sway held by the U. S. over the rest of the world. Around that intersection there is a cloud of points where embassies are blow up, airliners crash into skyscrapers, countries are bombed, old balances are toppled and the creatures of the American imperialism become its sworn enemies. Where interclassist movements develop in opposition to the "global control". Where some cells of the system go wild and start to claim their individual right of freedom against the overbearingness of the system itself (like the perpetrators of the mega-outrage in Oklahoma City). Where someone go so far as to revolt against the most celebrated conquests of capitalism (like Unabomber, whose manifesto accuses the American leftism to be nothing but a psychological whining appendage of an already ultrasocialized system).
The natural resources of the world are not distributed according to the real capitalistic power and, besides, they are distributed in contrast with the trend of the two curves which intersect while ascending and descending. The countries that are in decline consume infinitely larger quantities of resources compared to the developing ones (which would theoretically be more in need of them). The United States, with 4,5% of the world population, consume exactly 30% of the available world energy. Nowadays there is a lot of talk about oil, which is undoubtedly an important topic for analysis, but it is necessary as well to refer to all the other raw materials, geologically distributed before the appearance of men and nations. The U. S. imperialism controls most of these resources, therefore it can afford to tolerate a world-wide redistribution of surplus value passing from industry to rent, that is to countries with oil wells and mines. In fact, the value flow is circular: capitals drained by rent are anyway managed by the international financial system, which is also ruled by the United States.
Now the situation is changing: the development, in spite of everything, of the emergent countries (younger capitalisms), do not start anymore from some form of original accumulation, but it is the result of modern techniques of capital investment. As capitalism is founded in property, it is inevitable that the bourgeoisies holding oil wells and mines try to enforce their right of ownership towards the U. S. declining power. Today, the whole Africa, Russia, Latin America and a large part of Asia are mere sources of raw materials for the world capitalism ruled by America. And today, raw materials are paid by the world industrial system for the only sake to avoid the ruin of those continents, which somehow offer investment ground and low-cost labour. If it all depended on the exigencies of a capitalism in expansion (instead of in search of oxygen), half of the world population would snuff it like the American Indians.
Nevertheless, oil and raw materials, being media of surplus value, represent social relations. The present long-lasting war, with its crashing episodes, like the violation of the American soil, is not fought in order to conquer lands rich in oil and minerals — lands where, furthermore, production is performed with plenty of low-cost labour and few facilities (low organic composition of capital): no power in the world could station sufficient troops and means to rule so vast areas (even if the 800 American military bases all over the globe already form an unprecedented network of indirect control). We of course exclude that the United States act according to a "voluntaristic" general plan, but this is not important: all the forces of the international system concur, however chaotically, in resultants able to regulate the system as a whole, and the U. S. imperialism is the only available tool useful for this purpose.
Thus the entire system in crisis must of necessity tend to a wider rationalization and a closer control of its dynamics, that is to a supranational planning. This inevitably generates a series of unwelcome and explosive effects, such as nationalist resistances, enraged terrorism and real war attacks which, having the United States as a target, must substitute the frontal fight. Now more than ever it is wrong to protest shouting "Turn the American imperialism out from Afghanistan!". Firstly, because imperialism, ever since Lenin, has no "national adjectivation"; secondly, because the "American" imperialism does not care about Afghanistan at all; thirdly, because even if the United States occupied Afghanistan (and certainly they will not do so), they would transform it into a modern country at last, sweeping away the remains of the old societies, with great advantage for the population in general, for the proletariat in particular and, what matters more, for the future revolution.
The change is really "epochal", as even the Vatican stated, but it should be ascribed, rather than to the attack to the United States in itself, to the conditions that made it possible and somehow necessary. Chalmers Johnson defined the outrage of the 11th September as a blowback. Well, the blowback is one of Newton's laws: to every action there exists an equal and opposite reaction. Naturally the attack, as any war, will have an accelerating function. But the present fight does not look at all like the old military conflicts for the supremacy on a territory, a market etc., after which a peace treaty was signed between victors and vanquished until the next clash: this is a war that America is fighting for its own survival as a power.
Though they came down to 22,5% of the world economy, the United States are obliged to count even more than in the past, in order to cope with the competition of unitary national giants like China and India, as well as with the ambitions of the United Europe. This is the endless war which will soon show its effects.
If the United States revealed signs of weakness, they would be hurriedly forsaken by their coerced allies; and the emergent national bourgeoisies, no longer restrained in their run, would trigger the breakdown of the entire capitalistic order.
We could never have a picture of the way on which the world revolution will come (picture necessary even when history disappoints the favourable odds, and without which the Marxist party cannot exist), without wondering why there's no revolutionary class struggle between capitalists and proletarians in America, right where industrialism is more powerful. The answer cannot be separated from the consideration of the U. S. success in all their imperialistic enterprises directed to the exploitation of the rest of the world. The power systems in America and in England aim exclusively at the conservation of the world capitalism: being prepared for this task by a historical forceful movement in the same direction, they proceed with measured steps towards a social and political totalitarianism, inevitable preamble to the final antagonistic clash. Obviously, the world will fall into crisis only contemporarily with the collapse of the formidable capitalistic system centred in Washington, which controls the five sixths of the economy ripe for socialism, and of the territories with pure wage-earning proletariat. Revolution will necessarily have to pass through a civil conflict in the United States, which an American victory in a new world war would extend for a period measurable in half-centuries (Raddrizzare le gambe ai cani *, 1952)
*(lit.) to straighten dog's legs; (fig.) to attempt the impossible