The (supposed) limits of capitalism

Beatriz Aurora

By: Raúl Zibechi

For a long time some of the Marxists claimed that capitalism has structural and economic limits, established in “laws” that would make their (self) destruction inevitable. Those laws are immanent to the system and are related to central aspects of the functioning of the economy, like the law of the decreasing tendency of the rate of profit, analyzed by Marx in Capital.\

This thesis led some intellectuals to speak of the “collapse” of the system, always as a consequence of its own contradictions.

More recently, more than a few thinkers argue that capitalism has “environmental limits” that would lead it to destroy itself or at least to change. Its most predatory aspects, when in reality what has limits is life itself on the planet and, very in particular, that of the poor and humiliated half of its population.

Today, we know that capitalism has no limits. Not even revolutions have been able to eradicate this system since, time and time again, in the bosom of post-revolutionary societies capitalist social relations expand and from within the State the bourgeois class in charge making them of prosper resurfaces.

The expropriation of the means of production and exchange was, and will continue being, a central step for destroying the system, but, more than a century after the Russian revolution, we know that it’s insufficient, if there’s no community control of those means and of the political power in charge of managing them.

We also know that organized collective action (the struggle of classes, genders and skin colors against oppressions and the oppressors) is decisive for destroying the system, but this formulation is also partial and insufficient, although genuine.

The updating of thought about the end of capitalism, cannot but go hand in hand with the resistances and constructions of the peoples, in a very particular way of the Zapatistas and the Kurds of Rojava, of the Native peoples of different territories of our America, but also of Blacks and campesinos, and in some cases of what we do on the urban peripheries.

Some points seem central to overcome this challenge.


The first is that capitalism is a global system, which encompasses the entire planet and must permanently expand so as not to collapse. As Fernand Braudel teaches us, scale was important in the implantation of capitalism, hence the importance of the conquest of America, since it permitted an embryonic system to spread its wings.

Local struggles and resistances are important, they can even bend capitalism on that scale, but to end the system, alliance/coordination with movements on all continents is essential. Hence the tremendous importance of the Tour for Life that the EZLN is carrying out in Europa these days.

The second is that the system is not destroyed once and for all, as we debated during the seminar Critical thought versus the Capitalist Hydra, in May 2015. But there is an aspect that profoundly challenges us: only constant and permanent struggle can suffocate capitalism. It isn’t chopped from a block, like the heads of the Hydra, but in another way.

Strictly speaking, we must say that we don’t know exactly how to end capitalism, because it has never been achieved. But our intuition is that the conditions for its continuity and/or resurgence must be limited, subjected to strict control, not by a partt or a State, but by organized communities and peoples.

The third point is that we can’t defeat capitalism if we don’t construct another world at the same time, other social relations. That other or new world is not a place of arrival, but a way of living that in its daily life prevents the continuity of capitalism. The ways of life, social relations, the spaces that we are capable of creating, must exist in such a way that they are in permanent struggle against capitalism.

The fourth point is that, as long as the State exists, there will be a chance that capitalism will expand again. Contrary to what a certain thought proclaims, let’s say progressive or left, the State is not a neutral tool. The powers below, which are non-state and autonomous powers, are born and exist to prevent capitalist relations from expanding. They are, therefore, powers by and for the anti-capitalist struggle.

Finally, the new world after capitalism is not a place of arrival, it’s not a paradise where “good living” is practiced, but a space of struggle in which, probably, peoples, women, dissidences and the people below in general, will be in better conditions to continue constructing diverse and heterogeneous worlds.

I believe that if we stop struggling and constructing the new, capitalism is reborn, even in the other world. The story of Old Antonio who says that the struggle is like a circle, which starts one day but never ends, has enormous currency.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Friday, November 19, 2021

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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