Jappe: Bourgeois theorists have always believed capitalism to be “everlasting” because, they claim, it is in accordance with “human nature.” For them, all crises are only cyclical and transient: they are understood to be the result of imbalances between supply and demand, or are even praised as a form of “creative destruction.” For Marxists, capitalism is transitory and doomed to be overcome one day, but its abolition was always expected to be the result of the revolutionary actions of the working class or some other organized adversary. The possibility that capitalism might have inner limits that would be reached was almost never really taken into consideration after Marx’s death. When mainstream Marxism predicted a final collapse, it always assumed that this would take the form of a political revolution that would result from the intolerable conditions created by capitalist exploitation. There is, however, a very important factor that was not considered: the shrinking of the mass of value (and profit) in the long run that I mentioned before. This problem appeared only in a limited way: the fall of the rate of profit.
After capitalism was able to successfully incorporate immanent critiques into itself, particularly during the Keynesian-Fordist boom that followed the second World War, many Marxists became definitively convinced that capitalism would never encounter another economic crisis and that only subjective discontent could bring about its overcoming. The Situationists, like the Frankfurt school, held completely to this perspective. As I mentioned before, however, this totally changed after the 1970s. The accumulation of capital reached its limits because its base, the extraction of surplus value from living labor, became smaller and smaller as the importance of living labor continuously waned. The result is that capitalism is now only able to survive through simulation; that is, by anticipating future profits—which will never arrive—through credit. The Critique of Value has been saying this since 1987. In the 1990s, empirical evidence seemed to go against this argument, but after 2008 everyone has started talking about how profound the crisis is. The reality is that 2008 was just a foreshock of the crisis of capitalism and it was in no way a real collapse. Even on the left and the radical left, however, belief in the ever-lasting life of capitalism is surprisingly strong!
It is very common to see the crisis blamed on financial markets choking the “real economy.” The truth is the complete opposite: credit alone allows the continued simulation of value-production—which means profit—once real accumulation has come to an almost complete stop. Even the massive exploitation of workers in Asia contributes very little to the global mass of profit. Replacing the critique of capitalism with the critique of financial markets is pure populism and simply means avoiding the real questions. The real drama is that everybody is still forced to work in order to live, even when labor is no longer needed in production. The problem is not the greed of specific individuals—even if this greed obviously exists—and it cannot be resolved on a moral basis. Bankers and their ilk—who, it cannot be denied, are very often clearly unpleasant figures—are only carrying out the blind laws of a fetishistic system that must be criticized as a whole.
Kurz calls this process the “desubstantialization of money.”