Commentary on Political Economy

Saturday 1 October 2016

Habitaculus: Postcard from Japan - Part One

Human beings are adaptable. We adjust to changes in our circumstances and, less immediately, our environment. This is a boon, of course. Yet on the other hand it can be a curse – because adjustment and habituation can lead us to tolerate the intolerable. If you don’t believe me, come to Japan and see for yourself.
In his perverse ideological quest for Lebensraum (living space), Hitler struck upon the chink in the capitalist armour:- overpopulation. As we have tried to explain repeatedly on this site, the essence of capitalism is the “exchange” of dead labour (human pro-ducts) for living labour (the simple fact that, as all Western philosophy from Plato to Heidegger has affirmed) we are “born free)…. And yet, as Rousseau remarks, “everywhere we are in chains”. Through the Warsaw Ghetto – by forcibly piling millions of European Jews in an impossibly restricted space -, Hitler and the Nazi dictatorship were able to show to the German Volk that, first, space is essential to human dignity and therefore Germans had better join him in his “struggle” (mein Kampf); and second, by hiding Nazi brutality, that people like Jews accustomed to living in restricted space are less than human or “sub-human”.
Whilst formally and stridently repudiating Hitler and Nazi ideology, the Western capitalist bourgeoisie owes its existence – its “fortune” or wealth in the form of capitalist accumulation – to the simple truth that capitalism is founded on profit as the “rational” (Weber) numerical accumulation of monetary ciphers in exchange for the higher political control of human labour reduced to mere “want”, to abject “need” – to poverty either absolute or relative, either present or threatened.
Well may the bourgeoisie insist that global capitalism has lifted one billion people out of poverty: the saddest reality remains that in the meantime the world population has increased by many billions(!). Thus, this capitalist ideological claim represents nothing more than the most thoughtless cynicism. The reality against which many “peoples” are now rebelling is as simple as this: the capitalist promise of wealth and success for all – Elon Musk’s absurd miserable crap about colonizing Mars – is founded on this equally simple set of lies: the simpler and greater the lie, the greater its efficacity on the addled minds of the human “mob” that the bourgeoisie has created – either through the culture industry in the West (think of Hollywood and “pop music” and “pop culture”), or by simply exploiting the long subjugated masses of Asia (chief among them Japan, South Korea and, more recently, China) that have long suffered and endured what was once known as “Oriental despotism”.
The Western capitalist bourgeoisie has long dreamed of the kind of absolutely corrupt power that Oriental despots, from Darius and Xerxes to Mao Zhe Dong, from the Pharaohs to Stalin and, who knows, even Duterte, - the power that these despots could possess in the Orient to rule roughshod over their thoroughly disenfranchised and enslaved masses. Donald Trump is a reminder of just what the capitalist debasement and disgregation of social political life and cultural solidarity can achieve. Only belatedly has it begun to realise the extent of its folly. And yet a mere cursory reading of the opinion pages in papers of clear “liberal” credentials such as the New York Times and the London Financial Times shows the degree to which the Western bourgeoisie (what they insist on calling “elites”) is callously and obstinately attached to the ideal of capitalist-bourgeois “liberal democracy” that is – as we have shown on these pages – a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron. Liberalism, as the political ideology of capitalism, is quite thoroughly inconsistent with democracy – except the “democracy” of the choice” between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
The capitalist bourgeoisie relies for its power to thrive on the relative overpopulation of “the labour force”. This is the meaning of “profit”. Profit would indeed be not only impossible but meaning less if it did not stand for greater political power over a growing “reserve army of workers”. This, in a nutshell, is perhaps Karl Marx’s greatest realization in his analysis of capitalism – yes, that Karl Marx that the Western bourgeoisie never misses an opportunity to deride, and that the Asian bourgeoisie (China) still invokes on the assumption that the vast majority of Chinese never had and never will be allowed to have any opportunity to study and discuss.

But now the global bourgeoisie is caught in a deathly bind: on one side, it needs to expand the global working population – capitalism is the true “civilization of labour”, if you did not already know it (just look around!). And on the other side, it is this expanding overpopulation that – through mass migration and the rapidly declining living standards of workers everywhere – is relentlessly destabilizing “liberal democracies” and, increasingly, the capitalist industrial and financial order.

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