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The End of Capitalism As We Know It: Book Review

by Gustav Mechlenburg Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2008 at 11:06 AM

Capitalism needs a pension. The time for a dissolution of the historical phenomenon of this special economic form is overdue. The good old capitalism now appears as a development-brake and catastrophe-accelerator because monopolies are impractical and inflexible.


Last One Turns out the Lights

By Gustav Mechlenberg

[This book review of Elmar Altvater’s “The End of Capitalism As We Know It” (Das Ende des Kapitalismus. Wie wir ihn kennen,” Westfalisches Dampfboot, 2005, 240 pages, 14.90 euro is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,,0.html]

Motorized bands control the roads. Murders and surprise attacks are on the daily agenda in devastated cities. Even the most unimaginative could have a vague idea what life on earth will look like when the oil reserves become scarce. This was the theme of the 1978 science fiction “Mad Max.” Chaos and anarchy rule. Oil and gasoline are more valuable than gold. The political scientist Elmar Altvater has written a book that could become a film. At most there are 40 years before the negative utopia that was seemingly in the distant future.

Elmar Altvater is worried. Capitalism needs a pension. The time for a dissolution of the historical phenomenon of this special economic form is overdue. The emeritus professor does not have a panacea or cure-all at hand. A necessary rethinking, change of coursed and farewell are vital, not the healing of capitalism. How is this possible? Altvater offers models. He shows the historical urgency and the repressed social hardships. The claim that the free market economy is the best functioning system now is not tenable. Firstly, the economy strikes limits when the energy resources come to an end. Secondly, the free market economy is not free. Sooner rather than later, this will cause social unrest outside Europe and in Europe.

Growth at any price is coupled to fossil fuels that gush from the ground. The smallest oil crisis causes uncertainty and panic. In the neoliberal understanding, such uncertainties are more an advantage than a disadvantage. They prevent all emancipatory projects. Alternative experiments are repressed again and again in the competition. Solidarity does not spring up. From Altvater’s perspective, this insecurity should be changed into courage. The good old capitalism once known as godfather of fortune and prosperity now appears as a development-brake and catastrophe-accelerator because monopolies are impractical and inflexible. Minor irritations allow a whole country to collapse since no alternatives are present. The dramatic traffic jam of vehicles escaping the tropical storm Katrina is one picture presented by the author.

Insecurity brings the attentive observer to the leaks of capitalism that cannot be stopped any more. Elmar Altvater does not encourage euphoria about personal companies with ecologically correct composting devices. For him, behavioral rules like Sunday driving prohibitions, emission regulations and premiums are nothing but cosmetics.

Altvater’s focus is on the decentralization of energy. Oil wars all over the world are manifestations of the monopolization of reserves. The lever of growth would be history when concrete communities operate independent of oil multinationals. The perversion of the growth idea lies in the uncoupling from the production that should arise everywhere…

Finite resources, the formulation of peak oil, are Altvater’s theme. International firms already expect the dwindling of resources. Peak Oil is the cost factor of oil production exploding in the near future.

The transition, the change of generations from the old capitalism oriented in growth to the sustainable solar society, will be expensive. The states in which capitalism is still somewhat acceptably staged are privileged to carry out a change that will come over the world with its civil wars and chaos. The states must bring about the4 end of capitalism so they are not destroyed in its implosion.

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