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A new quality of crisis

by Tomasz Konicz Saturday, Jun. 18, 2022 at 3:56 PM

From the systemic urge to self-destruction arises the survival necessity of the emancipatory overcoming of capital. The capitalist regime of constraint must be transformed into history. The struggle for the transformation of the system has to be the central moment of left practice.

A new quality of crisis

Why there will be no stable post-war order after the end of the war over Ukraine

by Tomasz Konicz

[This article published on 5/24/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, EXIT! Krise und Kritik der Warengesellschaft.]

Is this the big one? Is this the big crash that will overturn everything that has been established in terms of global structures and dynamics since the breakthrough of neoliberalism in the 1980s? The war over Ukraine could indeed be seen in retrospect as an epochal break, a tipping point of the global crisis process, at the crossing of which the crisis-ridden late capitalist world system passed into a new crisis quality.

That the capitalist world system is in a severe systemic crisis,1 after decades of ignorance and marginalization2 of value-critical crisis theory, is now generally accepted even on the German left, but the character of the crisis process still seems to be too little illuminated. For the late capitalist systemic crisis is not a punctual event, not a mere "big crash," but a historical process that unfolds in spurts over decades, eating away from the periphery into the centers of the world system. The debt crises of the Third World, which in the 1980s marked the beginning of the now collapsing neoliberal era and left behind rows of civil wars and "failed states," have long since spread to the centers of the world system. This is evident, for example, from the increasing tendencies toward stagflation, which are reminiscent of the stagflationary period in the 1970s - which at that time only helped neoliberalism to achieve its breakthrough.3

The systemic crisis is thus not a "big cladderadatsch",4 but a historical process of increasing internal and external contradiction unfolding of capital, which, due to competitive rationalization, gets rid of its own substance, the value-creating labor in commodity production, and leaves behind both an economically superfluous humanity5 and an ecologically devastated world.6 In this regard, this historical process of crisis, which gave rise precisely to neoliberalism as a system of "crisis delay," is characterized by periods of latency interrupted by manifest surges of crisis at the centers: such as the dot-com bubble of 2000, the real estate bubble of 2008, the pandemic-related surge of crisis in 2020, and the upheavals now beginning with war. The crisis delay was thus bought by increasing instability of the system, which had to cope with increasingly violent crisis surges during the neoliberal decades, and the accumulation of crisis potential.

The Dialectic of the Crisis

The crisis episodes, which gain in intensity and in which the crisis becomes manifest, are thus preceded by a long latent phase in which the crisis potential resulting from the self-contradiction of capital accumulates, mostly in the form of rising mountains of debt or financial market bubbles,7 which still allow the hyperproductive system a kind of zombie-like illusory life8 through credit-financed demand - and it is precisely this debt tower construction that is reaching its inner limits due to the current inflation dynamics.9 The quantitative process, the accumulation of debt and the rise of speculative bubbles, after crossing a tipping point, leads to a qualitative upheaval, the outbreak of a debt crisis or the bursting of a debt bubble, which are then also publicly perceived as a "crisis."

The same materialistic dialectic of the transformation of quantitative changes into a new quality can also be observed in the capitalist climate crisis10.11 Here, it is the quantitative increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that leads to a fundamental, qualitative change of the climate system once certain tipping points are crossed. (Incidentally, the habituation effects between economic or ecological crisis surges also promoted crisis ignorance, as the consequences of a crisis surge in the centers or the periphery very quickly sedimented into a new "normality" in the history-less public.)

The financial market-driven neoliberal variant of capitalism that took hold in response to stagflation and the expiration of the great postwar boom in the 1970s has, in a sense, "pumped up" capitalism in both economic and ecological terms. Since the 1980s, the global debt burden has been rising faster than world economic output, leading to ever stronger financial market quakes in the form of speculative bubbles and debt crises. And ecologically, too, neoliberal capitalist globalization has been accompanied by steadily rising CO2 emissions, which so far could only be reduced in the short term at the price of economic crises. And it is precisely the increasing climatic and economic distortions that are making the system in its neoliberal form increasingly unstable.

The neoliberal debt tower building that forms the basis of this era cannot continue ad infinitum. The same is true of the fossil-fuel global world-burning machine,12 brought about by neoliberal globalization-which is, in effect, a globalization of debt dynamics by means of deficit cycles. The quantitative increase of the crisis potential, which produced a global debt mountain of 356 percent of the world economic output13 and a CO2 concentration of 419.82 ppm14 , leads capitalism to its inner and outer limit, at least to the developmental limit of the neoliberal era of capital. A qualitative envelope into another form of capitalist crisis processing seems inevitable (overcoming the economic and ecological crisis of capital is impossible within the framework of the capitalist social formation).

This dialectical changeover from quantity to quality takes place in particular with regard to the process of globalization, which seems to turn into its opposite. It is precisely here that the outlines of a new crisis phase are clearly emerging, which would be characterized by a "fragmentation of the world economy into geopolitical blocs" in which "different trade and technology standards, payment systems and currency reserves" would also be used, as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned in a paper in April 2022.15 As early as mid-March, the IMF called the war a "severe blow to the global economy" that would not only "fundamentally alter the global economic and geopolitical order" but also come with the risk of increased instability in peripheral regions such as Africa or Latin America, which would be affected by growing food insecurity.16


The sanctions accompanying the war are disrupting important global trade flows and causing rapid price increases not only in energy but also in food, as Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine are among the most important global exporters of grains and fertilizers.17 In essential commodities, food and fossil fuels, capitalist globalization has already effectively collapsed. Western sanctions on Russian and Belarusian fertilizers are likely to reduce agricultural production in many countries.18

But it is not only the imperialist front between East and West in the Ukraine war that is contributing to the price explosion - for a long time now, uninvolved countries have also resorted to protectionist measures to ensure food security and domestic political stability. Due to massively rising prices and looming supply shortages, Indonesia, for example, issued an export ban on palm oil, which further exacerbated the supply situation, especially in the global South, as the war had already caused exports of Ukrainian sunflower oil to collapse.19 India acted in a similar way with its recent export ban on wheat.20

Inflation and supply shortages, which were already occurring before the war due to pandemic response, are now gaining force as de-globalization abruptly takes hold. But even this big bang, shaking up global flows of goods and finance, is not coming out of the blue. Efforts to revise globalization have been virulent for years, especially in the form of U.S. President Donald Trump, who personifies the contradictions of capitalist commodity production like no other. Elected by sections of the pauperized U.S. middle class, Trump had set out to make a deindustrialized America, plagued by a gigantic trade deficit, "great" again-by erecting trade barriers. The goal of Trump's protectionism: a reindustrialization of the United States.

After all, the debt dynamics formed during neoliberal financialization, which set in after the great postwar Fordist boom ended and left the world system increasingly running on credit,21 did not develop evenly. Regions with large deficits, such as the United States or Southern Europe, contrasted with countries with large export surpluses. This led to the formation of deficit cycles, which became increasingly important during globalization and shaped the course of the crisis episodes in the first two decades of the 21st century (real estate bubble, euro crisis). Thus, globalization is obviously not the cause of the capitalist crisis process with its distortions, such as financial market bubbles and debt crises, but is its historical course.

The largest, Pacific deficit cycle between the United States and China was characterized by the fact that the People's Republic, rising to become the new "workshop of the world," exported gigantic quantities of goods across the Pacific to the de-industrializing United States and thus built up enormous trade surpluses, while in the opposite direction a financial market flow of United States debt securities flowed, so that China rose to become Washington's largest foreign creditor.22 A similar, smaller deficit cycle formed between the FRG and the southern periphery of the eurozone in the period from the introduction of the euro to the euro crisis.23

Globalization was thus not only characterized by the establishment of global supply chains, it also consisted of a corresponding globalization of debt dynamics realized through deficit cycles, which, as mentioned, grew faster than world economic output in recent decades-and consequently acted as a major economic engine by generating credit-financed demand. The globalization that produced these gigantic global imbalances was a systemic reaction, a flight forward from the increasing internal contradictions of the capitalist mode of production, which is choking on its own productivity unfolding.

What is now unfolding globally could be studied in rudiments on the basis of the euro crisis: As long as the mountains of debt grow and the financial market bubbles are in the ascendant, all states involved seem to profit from this growth on credit. But as soon as the bubbles burst, the battle over who should bear the costs of the crisis begins. In Europe, as is well known, Berlin has used the crisis to pass on the crisis costs to southern Europe in the form of Schäuble's infamous austerity dictates. Now, at the global level, the collapse of the much larger debt-financed deficit economy, which was most recently kept alive primarily by the central banks' expansionary monetary policy, is imminent.

The value accumulated in the financial sphere, the "fictitious" capital not generated by the utilization of labor power, will be devalued due to a lack of a new accumulation regime in commodity production.24 The increasing inflation, in the face of which bourgeois monetary policy finds itself in a crisis trap,25 which only allows the way into inflation and/or recession, is precisely an expression of the inevitable impending devaluation of value. For many countries that were previously chained to globalization by means of deficit cycles and locational competition, the increasing costs of the crisis exceed the eroding advantages of deficit cycles, so that national and regional centrifugal tendencies gain the upper hand and force the collapse of globalization. This is a crisis-induced contradiction. Capitalism is full of them.

China as the new hegemon?

It is precisely this exhaustion of the neoliberal debt tower construction of the past decades that makes the late capitalist state monsters increasingly seek refuge in external expansion from the escalating internal contradictions. Turkey, plagued by high double-digit inflation and driven by Erdogan into ever new imperialist campaigns of conquest, is, so to speak, only the blueprint for the manifest crisis imperialism that is rampant in many places. This crisis-driven, neo-imperial flight to war is also evident in the case of Russia, which had to put down a number of uprisings and unrest in its post-Soviet "backyard" in the months leading up to the invasion of Ukraine.26

However, this causal link between crisis and war is also manifested in the expansive actions of the West in the post-Soviet space, which clearly provoked the Russian war of aggression in the Kremlin's geopolitical "backyard" by refusing to agree to neutrality guarantees for Ukraine. For the United States, the struggle against Eurasia, as indicated by the alliance of China and Russia, is a struggle for hegemony and the U.S. dollar in its function as the world's reserve currency.27 The United States, because of its extreme trade deficit, functioned in a sense as a black hole in the world economy, absorbing much of the surplus production of hyperproductive late capitalist industry. With the rapidly accelerating inflation, which is not only fueled by the expansive monetary policy of the central banks, but also by resource bottlenecks and the full-blown climate crisis,28 Washington's ability to borrow freely in the world's reserve currency, the measure of value of all commodities, is now on the line.

At the same time, for China, which together with Russia is striving to form a Eurasian power bloc, the looming end of the U.S. deficit economy removes an important incentive to tolerate U.S. hegemony: China's extreme export surpluses, which contributed significantly to the catch-up capitalist industrialization of the People's Republic in the 1990s and at the beginning of the 21st century, have already not played a central role as an economic driver since the outbreak of the real estate crisis in 2008 - and they are likely to lose weight rapidly vis-à-vis the United States in the future.

And yet it is a fallacy to interpret the current global upheaval as a transition to a new hegemonic system in which China would, as it were, "inherit" the USA. The Middle Kingdom does appear to be in the process of replacing the United States as the global capitalist hegemonic power-but at the same time, this upheaval is no longer possible within the framework of the capitalist mode of production due to the escalating socioecological crisis. The history of the global expansion of the capitalist world system, which began in the 16th century, takes place in hegemonic cycles, such as those described by Giovanni Arrighi in his fascinating work "Adam Smith in Beijing":29 An emerging power gains a dominant position within the system, after a certain period of dominance this hegemonic power goes into imperial decline and is finally replaced by a new hegemon.

According to Arrighi, each hegemonic cycle has two phases: First, a phase of imperial ascent takes place, characterized by a "material expansion," that is, by the dominance of the commodity-producing industry of the new hegemonic power. After the outbreak of an economic "signal crisis" - triggered by over-accumulation processes - the phase of imperial descent sets in, which is accompanied by a financial expansion and the dominance of the financial industry, and which once again gives the descending hegemon a final economic and imperial heyday.

And this sequence can be clearly confirmed empirically in the case of both Britain and the United States. The English Empire, which rose to become the "workshop of the world" in the course of industrialization in the 18th century, transformed itself into the world's financial center in the second half of the 19th century before being replaced in the first half of the 20th century by the economically ascendant U.S., which in turn experienced its "signal crisis" during the crisis phase of stagflation in the 1970s. After this, the deindustrialization and financialization of the U.S. set in, leading to the economic dominance of the financial sector.

Moreover, Arrighi argues that the alternation between two hegemonic cycles was accompanied by indebtedness of the descending hegemonic power to the ascending hegemon, as exemplified in the book by Britain's increasing economic dependence on the U.S. during World War I. Britain ran a huge trade deficit with the U.S. during the World War II period, "supplying billions of dollars worth of munitions and food to the Allies but receiving few goods in return." Incidentally, Britain acted similarly in its role as "banker" to the anti-Napoleonic coalition about a hundred years earlier. And it is precisely this dependency relationship between a declining United States and a rising China that has been described in terms of the Pacific deficit cycle, in which Chinese export surpluses contributed to China's export-driven industrialization and deficit accumulation in the United States.

So, what is wrong here? What is wrong this time so that a new, Chinese hegemonic cycle is impossible? Why can't the 20th "American" century be replaced by the 21st "Chinese" century? For one thing, China obviously already had its "signal crisis," marking the transition to a financial market-driven growth model, in 2008. With the bursting of the real estate bubbles in the U.S. and Europe, China's extreme export surpluses declined (with the exception of the U.S.), while the gigantic stimulus packages Beijing launched at that time to prop up the economy led to a transformation of China's economic dynamics: exports lost weight, credit-financed construction, the real estate sector henceforth formed the central drivers of economic growth.

According to official statistics, for example, China consumed around 6.6 gigatons of concrete between 2011 and 2013, which means that the People's Republic, condemned to a permanent boom, produced more concrete within three years than the USA did in the entire 20th century. At the end of March 2015, the "Washington Post "30 enthused that the whole of Hawaii could be covered with concrete and turned into a single gigantic parking lot. According to the WP, the United States had consumed 4.5 gigatons of concrete in the last century, although the official figures from Beijing would also stand up to closer scrutiny - which is by no means a matter of course. The figures are "surprisingly logical" because much of China's infrastructure was not built until the 21st century and the urbanization of the world's most populous country is proceeding rapidly. In 1978, just under one-fifth of all Chinese lived in cities; by 2020, 60 percent did.

China's growth is thus also running on credit; the "People's Republic" is similarly highly indebted as the declining Western centers of the world system (and what's more, China's rise to become the "workshop of the world" was also based on debt processes in Western Europe and the USA due to Chinese export surpluses in the context of the deficit cycles mentioned above). 31 And this Chinese deficit cycle produces even far greater speculative excesses than in the U.S. or Western Europe, as the distortions in the absurdly inflated Chinese real estate market in 2021 made evident.32 This lack of a new accumulation regime in commodity production, in which the inner boundary of capital manifests itself, forms the major difference between China and the U.S.: Washington, after World War 2, at the beginning of its hegemony, was able to build on two decades of coming capital expansion under Fordism. China, on the other hand, because of its collapsing towers of debt in an over-indebted late capitalist world system, looks as if it was already in decline before it achieved hegemony.

Another moment that makes Chinese hegemony in the late capitalist world system impossible in ecological terms was described by Arrighi in his said work as the historical tendency of progression within the hegemonic cycles: the territory, the population as well as the economic weight of the hegemonic powers increase in the history of the capitalist world system. From the few million subjects of Great Britain over hundreds of millions of US citizens of the continent-like hegemon USA up to the last possible increment of the billion state China. Hereby, however, the ecological limits of the capitalist world system are also blown up,33 since China is already the largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the climate crisis is already having catastrophic consequences, which are devastating the People's Republic in particular.34

Oceania vs. Eurasia?

The collapse of the global deficit economy and the escalating climate crisis stand in the way of a new "world order" shaped by Beijing, a Chinese hegemonic cycle. Hegemony, after all, means that the position of the hegemon is at least tolerated because it comes with advantages for the other states in this hegemonic system. In the case of the U.S., it was the long postwar Fordist boom and - from the 1980s onward - the deficit economy based on the world's reserve currency, the dollar, that made hegemony possible for Washington. China's rise, by contrast, can no longer rest on such an economic foundation.

The historical hegemonic cycle of the capitalist world system is thus overlaid by the socio-ecological crisis process of capital, interacting with it and allowing China's hegemonic rise and decay to merge. In place of the U.S. hegemonic system, which entered into open dissolution with the invasion of Iraq beginning in 2003, there now appears to be a global bloc formation in which, in a real dystopia, Eurasia (Russia and China) and Oceania (the U.S. along with its Atlantic and Pacific alliance systems) are in perpetual conflict. Yet even this frontline position, reminiscent of the Cold War - which escalated into open conflict in Ukraine - is likely to remain unstable and volatile. It could even be argued that Washington and London, as the driving forces in the Ukraine conflict, are also pursuing the goal of welding together the eroding Western alliance system through a common front against Moscow in the trenches of eastern Ukraine.

The collapse of globalization is synonymous with the collapse of the global deficit economy outlined above, which stabilized the world system in the neoliberal era. This is the decisive factor that will shape the further course of the crisis. The debt tower construction, maintained most recently by means of money printing by the central banks, which delayed the manifest outbreak of the crisis in the neoliberal period, is just collapsing without a new accumulation regime being foreseeable, resulting in the intensification of blind crisis competition at all levels of capitalist socialization. A "post-war order" hardly seems possible anymore due to the increasing crisis impacts and the consequently increasing crisis competition.

This also applies to crisis imperialism, which, while evoking memories of the 19th century, is driven by an inverted logic of development. If the first imperialist "Great Game" took place in a phase of global expansion of capital, in which ever new peripheral regions were integrated into the capitalist world system by means of fire and sword, its re-enactment in the 21st century takes place against the background of the contraction of the valorization process, which leaves behind more and more economically and ecologically "scorched earth" along with the corresponding "failed states."

In a nutshell: Since capital can no longer continue its zombie life financed on credit, the late capitalist state monsters are falling over each other, which also makes all current alliances unstable, since the crisis-related competitive pressure is also increasing between the EU and the USA, between Beijing and Moscow. There is a certain inevitability to all this, since the striving for world standing in the world crisis of capital is in fact tantamount to a fight against social and economic decline, a fight on the Titanic of the late-capitalist world system that is in the process of open decay. Seclusion from the economically superfluous, the safeguarding of resources are central moments of this crisis imperialism, while the inferior powers and world regions stagger into state collapse.

This becomes clear in the example of the war over Ukraine, where both sides are in fact trying to instrumentalize tendencies of state disintegration for their own interests. Moscow is working to establish corresponding "people's republics" in the occupied Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine - following the example of Donetsk and Luhansk - in order to be able to incorporate them into the Russian Federation. Ukraine's extreme right, which currently forms the fanatical spearhead of the Ukrainian military, on the other hand, sees the war as an opportunity to accelerate Russia's state disintegration in order to be able to realize imperial ambitions in its slipstream.35

It is a Taliban logic that is unfolding here, in which - similar to Western military aid to Afghanistan's holy warriors in the 1980s - an extremist movement is being upgraded that will destabilize the region in the further course of the crisis and bring the already existing anomic tendencies in the rotten Ukrainian state apparatus (which is just as corrupt as Russia's) to full fruition. Ukraine's Nazis, who are currently rapidly gaining influence,36 also follow their historical model only superficially, similar to the crisis imperialism described above. Set out to fight for the usual national empire in state form, they are in fact the subject of the anomic barbarism objectively unfolding in the course of the crisis, i.e., of the rapidly advancing decay of the state.

Another moment of the new crisis phase, in which the external and internal barriers of capital interact, also becomes clearly visible during the Ukraine war: the rapidly spreading shortage of resources and food, which can now still be sold as a consequence of war, will turn into a permanent phenomenon.37 The late capitalist global agrarian system, which turned humanity's natural resources and livelihoods into carriers of value and burns them for the purpose of rampant value exploitation,38 is incapable of sustaining the food supply for large parts of humanity in the periphery of the world system in the face of the escalating climate crisis and collapsing globalization-even if this would still be possible in a resource-conserving postcapitalist system despite the escalating climate crisis.

With the ever more clearly emerging collapse of the global deficit economy, including the deficit cycles described above, and with the devaluation of value now also imminent in the centers, the euro area and the dollar area, which in all probability will be heralded by stagflation, global supply chains for raw materials, resources and basic foodstuffs are also likely to collapse or at least be severely damaged. The crisis of scarcity characteristic of the new crisis quality, which is already spreading in the periphery,39 is thus a product of the escalating contradictions inherent in the growth compulsion of capital - and here, too, the "supply bottleneck" under which German industry, for example, is groaning, was only the manifestation of this new crisis quality of a world system in the process of open disintegration.

The character of the neo-imperialist "Great Game" over Ukraine has consequently changed since 2014-when the West intervened,40 to prevent the formation of the "Eurasian Union" propagated by Putin. With the fight over Ukraine's southern and southeastern regions, which the Kremlin wants to incorporate into its rotten empire, an archaic-looking resource war is now also taking place. These areas have the highest agricultural yields.41 Moscow, which has failed to modernize the Russian economy, is thus expanding its strategy of an "energy empire," which seeks extensive control of the energy "value chain," to include other "scarce" resources: basic foodstuffs. Russia not only wants to be a nuclear-armed gas station, it also wants to be a granary - precisely in anticipation of the climate crisis.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine thus provides a glimpse of the coming period of crisis, in which a capitalist world system in the process of disintegration will no longer allow for a fixed hegemony or bloc formation due to the increasing economic and ecological impacts, while openly belligerent confrontations are likely to increase over essential resources even between the great powers that are increasingly sealing themselves off from the periphery. In a sense, everything will become oil - especially since the crisis process does not adhere to the reification in bourgeois crisis discourse and the individual moments of this dynamic, which are discussed in public perception neatly separated from each other as "economic crisis," "climate crisis," "political instability" or "supply shortages," will increasingly interact with each other. The vanishing point of this new quality of crisis on a geopolitical, "neo-imperial" level is ultimately the nuclear exchange of blows, which is becoming more and more probable with the increasing intensity of ecological and economic crises, with ever new, more violent "crisis impacts".

Authoritarian state formation and state disintegration

As de-globalization is accompanied by the collapse of the global deficit economy, which will consign the neoliberal debt mountain to devaluation, the most severe economic and social dislocations, as they devastated large parts of the periphery in the form of debt crises and economic collapses in the neoliberal era, seem likely this time also in the centers. If the capitalist functional elites have no further method of delaying the crisis at their disposal, the crisis process, which has been advancing in stages from the periphery to the centers since the 1980s, would thus reach its logical end point. It is not only the U.S., which is groaning under an absurd burden of private and public debt, that is facing the economic abyss in view of the necessary turnaround in monetary policy; it is precisely export-fixated economies like that of the FRG which are highly dependent on the global deficit economy by means of their export surpluses, which in fact represent an export of debt - and which could now be hit particularly hard by de-globalization.

Thus, at first glance, a tendency that already emerged in the final phase of the neoliberal era seems to be advancing to become a central moment of the new crisis period: The state as an economic actor, which in recent years seemingly stabilized the system with stimulus packages and excessive money printing in the context of the last great liquidity bubble,42 is likely to emerge as the dominant economic actor in the short term due to the new quality of the crisis process - even if these state capitalist reflexes no longer have any prospect of success.

In general, the capitalist state, which even in its early absolutist form acted as the main driver of the take-off of the valorization process in the context of the European "economy of firearms" (Robert Kurz), acts as a central economic actor in times of war and crisis. The state is not an alternative to the market, as it often appears in the truncated critique of capitalism, but a necessary corrective to the blind market dynamics, which tend to be autodestructive. As soon as the contradictions inherent in capital valorization shake the system to its foundations through crisis or war, the state - which is always a capitalist state - must intervene to try to stabilize the system. Most recently, for example, in the period of crisis and war in the 1930s.

At present, too, in view of the climate crisis and war, voices are being raised in published opinion calling for an open transition to renunciationism,43 to state capitalism, to a war economy.44 The state is not only supposed to prop up the "economy" through economic stimulus programs, the construction of the new, "ecological" infrastructure and money printing, as in the final phase of neoliberalism; in the meantime, even costly basic research, the subsidization of consumption or production and the organization of commodity distribution in episodes of crisis seem conceivable under state direction. Strategic state decisions on industrial development are already part of bourgeois policy, for example in the FRG in the form of the promotion of "industrial champions" who are to conquer world markets with state backing (here, too, the West is really only following China and Russia).45 In response to coming crisis episodes, renewed nationalizations are also foreseeable, especially in the ailing and crisis-prone late-capitalist infrastructure sector.

This necessary role of the state as "crisis manager," however, is undermined by the described exhaustion of the financial market-driven globalization of the deficit economy in the neoliberal age, which, in the face of dizzying mountains of debt, overheated financial markets and rapidly increasing inflation, is driving politics into a dead end, a crisis trap: On the one hand, capitalist crisis policy would actually have to lower interest rates, print money and support the economy through stimulus programs in order to minimize the economic consequences of the Ukraine war, but at the same time it would be necessary to raise interest rates and pursue a consistent austerity course in order to get at least some control over inflation.

This crisis trap,46 which is becoming increasingly clear and marks the end of the credit-financed neoliberal delay of the manifest crisis breakthrough in the centers, will entail the most severe economic and social dislocations after it snaps shut - especially in the centers, and especially in their middle classes. With the wave of impoverishment, the gradual brutalization of the bourgeois metropolitan societies that has been going on for decades will turn into open barbarization, driven by an escalating crisis competition at all levels that is drifting toward the anomic. The crisis-induced sociopolitical retreat of the state will reduce it to its original role as an instrument of repression. The new crisis thrust will thus entail a corresponding state reaction. Authoritarian state aspirations, present in neoliberalism in the form of dismantling democracy and expanding the surveillance state, will become openly apparent. The right-wing U.S. President Trump was only a prelude in this respect. And in the Federal Republic, too, the latently fermenting fascist potential is only likely to become fully manifest when the civilizing effect of the high foreign trade surpluses, which compel Germany's functional elites to take foreign opinion into account, disappears in the course of the crisis.

The war over Ukraine in particular makes clear this interaction of crisis thrust, brutalization and authoritarian state reflex. Lukashenko, once called "Europe's last dictator," seems rather to be the forerunner of all those authoritarian tendencies that are currently spreading in the EU, for example in Hungary or Poland, in NATO, especially in the form of the Islamo-fascist regime in Turkey, or in Ukraine itself, which is already following in Russia's footsteps with arrests of opposition members and party bans.47 It is a fundamental mistake to interpret the war in Ukraine as a struggle between democracy and dictatorship, which could actually be corrected just by looking at conditions in Warsaw, Budapest or Ankara. Consequently, the new crisis phase is likely to be characterized more by the Orwellian struggle of authoritarian or fascist regimes for resources than by a new edition of the "Cold War."

And yet, this tendency toward authoritarian, and in the final analysis openly fascist, crisis management is a surface phenomenon that only outwardly echoes 20th century fascism. Total and totalitarian mobilization during World War II made the postwar Fordist boom possible, since there was effectively no demobilization after the end of the war and mass tank production passed into the automobilization of postwar capitalist societies; but a similar regime of accumulation in which mass wage labor would be exploited in commodity production is not in sight this time. There is only the abyss of total over-indebtedness in the incipient climatic catastrophe, which gives a different course to the objective function of fascism as a terrorist crisis form of capitalist rule. The moment of fascism as the rule of rackets, i.e., of competing communities of prey, which has always existed, as Critical Theory clairvoyantly stated, becomes dominant in the current systemic crisis.

The authoritarian formation of the state, which is increasingly becoming the prey of rackets, thus goes hand in hand with its internal erosion, which is already beginning to unfold in the Federal Republic in particular, especially with regard to the increasing right-wing extremist activities48 in the state apparatus.49 In Ukraine, this process has progressed much further, where the oligarch rule after the fall of the government and the outbreak of the civil war already turned into open right-wing extremist militia formation,50 which was able to openly challenge the Ukrainian state in the run-up to the war.51 Moreover, the disastrous Russian invasion revealed how far the state erosion tendencies have also progressed within the Russian state oligarchy, since even the army, which is essential for the Kremlin's power projection, has been fully affected by it. The division within the German right, which cannot clearly position itself behind the Ukrainian Nazis or Russian pre-fascism in the Ukraine war, points precisely to the omnipresence of these authoritarian-anomic tendencies in this conflict.52

A prime example of the fragility of authoritarian rule under capitalism and the shift from dictatorship to anomie is offered by the Arab Spring, in the course of which seemingly monolithic dictatorships such as those in Syria and Libya collapsed, unleashing their inherent centrifugal forces.

Authoritarian structures are not a sign of the inner strength of the capitalist system, which prefers the optimization of the self-exploitation of wage-earners within the framework of capitalist democracy, but rather its crisis form, which is nowhere near as efficient at organizing the process of exploitation as the usual published discourse in the centers of the world system on ways to optimize and increase growth - but which requires a certain degree of social stability to ensure its ideological foundations.

Amok or Emancipation

The era of openly authoritarian crisis management, which is now being heralded, for example, in the publicly articulated preference of Western oligarchs for right-wing populists,53 will thus not be able to bring with it a decade-long postwar order in terms of domestic policy either, such as prevailed at least in the centers during the neoliberal era despite all the creeping processes of erosion and the increasing contradictions. The climatic, economic and geopolitical crisis impacts are coming more and more frequently, which is why stabilization, which would herald a new historical period of crisis management, is hardly likely, even by means of authoritarian, dictatorial methods. Especially since, as already mentioned, the different moments of the crisis process are increasingly interacting, so that the climate crisis, for example, will have a growing economic and social fallout. The time of the monsters, as Gramsci called the breakthrough crisis to Fordism in the 1930s, seems unlikely to end.

It could even be argued that - with crisis imperialism and fascism striving toward the anomic as an open death cult54 - in the decline phase of capital moments of its expansion dynamics appear once again briefly, overlap, interact - entirely in the sense of a dialectical negation of negation, so that seemingly familiar phenomena at a higher stage of the capitalist development of contradiction follow a reversed development logic driven by the contraction of the exploitation process. It is blood-soaked early capitalist mementos from the ascendant phase of capital that the world system, which is passing into agony, once again unleashes on humanity. Even the mercenary, who is currently celebrating a comeback in the neo-imperialist wars of distribution and collapse, is a product of early capitalism, when the first "wage-earners" emerged en masse in the 30-year war as a germ form of the wage-earner and terrorized the population.

Without emancipatory overcoming of capital in its fetishistic blind flight into world destruction55 , the crisis has its final vanishing point in panic, in the capping of all libidinous ties between the members of society triggered by escalating crisis competition, as the manifestation of which the individual run amok56 already regularly appears. In addition to global nuclear war, which is becoming an ever greater threat in crisis imperialism as the intensity of the crisis increases, it is the climate crisis that is likely to act as the greatest producer of panic: Specifically, the increasingly apparent uninhabitability of large parts of the global South,57 which places objective limits on all, even the most brutal, openly terrorist forms of crisis management. This would mark the transition to the sheer collapse of civilization.

From this systemic urge to self-destruction, which is meanwhile openly obvious, arises the survival necessity of the emancipatory overcoming of capital, which forms, as it were, the last factual constraint with which the capitalist regime of constraint must be transformed into history. The struggle for the transformation of the system would thus have to be the central moment of left practice, instead of losing oneself in the jubilant perseverance for NATO or Putin, which is currently practiced by large parts of the German left in view of the Ukraine war.58^^

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