Who is Responsible for the Crisis of Capitalism?

Anonyme, Jueves, Julio 5, 2012 - 13:43

Tomasz Konicz

Capitalism has long sedimented into a natural state of humanity about which there is no more reflection than about gravity. The crisis broke out because all the actors brilliantly fulfilled their economic functions in the market economy. The capitalist work society finds itself in a permanent self-contradiction in which the most efficient use of paid labor displaces paid labor from goods production. The success of the computer and electronic data processing triggered enormous rationalizations that made paid labor more and more superfluous.


By Tomasz Konicz

[This article published in the German-English cyber journal Telepolis 6/26/2012 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

No one takes responsibility for the crisis of capitalism – Part II

The more the crisis intensifies, the more strongly mutual apportioning of blame dominates the public crisis discourse in nearly all western countries. In the meantime, it seems as though every nation and every relevant social group contributed somehow through lapses to the disaster now unfolding before our eyes in Europe.

Part I: Is it already too late? [1]

In almost all Europe, the German government with its austerity course is blamed for the escalation of the debt crisis [2] driving the European monetary zone to collapse. In the most recent front-page story [3], the left-liberal British weekly The New Statesman, Merkel was declared the “most dangerous leader of the world” and was portrayed as a Terminator caught in an austerity-fetish. This represented the peak of this swelling criticism of the German austerity dictate. “Blood is already on her hands” on account of the rising suicide rates in south Europe.

Even outside Europe, the criticism of Germany has a consensus character as German media noted during the G20 summit:

“From US President Barack Obama to the heads of government of India, Brazil, Argentina and Russia, there were only devastating judgments on Merkel’s policy leading the world economy into recession.” Spiegel

In Germany, people also believe the debt question has been sufficiently explained. The lazy southerners are made responsible for the crisis from Thilo Sarrazin specializing in resentment-production to emeritus “economics professors” like Ottmar Issing. In an article for the FAZ newspaper (Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung), Ottmar Issing summed up this lopsided distorted and makeshift interpretation of the crisis that fades ou9t Germany’s gigantic balance of payments surplus in relation to the eurozone [4]:

“The knowledge that the problems in every country can be referred back to its own mistakes cannot be suppressed. Excessive wage increases over many years in the public sector, an unstable fiscal policy in many cases and an unrestrained awarding of credits of banks in other cases had to end in a crisis.” Ottmar Issing

Obviously the nasty bankers and speculators who in their boundless greed contributed to the gigantic speculative bubbles are responsible for the present chaos. So even the New Statesman argues in its criticism of Merkel. It blames “the top bankers of the world” for the outbreak of the crisis that is worsened by Merkel’s “deficit-fetishism.” On the other hand, rightwing extremists and rightwing populists alternatively accuse foreigners, unemployed, refugees, receives of income support, Muslims, Jews or gypsies for contributing to the crisis dynamic in one form or another…

The winter in Singapore that realized a trade surplus [5] in 2011 of nearly three percent must be murderous.


All these crisis interpretations and their corresponding apportioning of blame that should be taken seriously are based on a common basic assumption: the crisis was caused by the lapses or abnormal behavior of individuals, groups or social strata who disturbed the smooth functioning of capitalism. Someone must have violated the noble laws of the market economy and caused the present chaos. That is the premise of all the above crisis interpretations. The corresponding apportioning of blame results according to one’s ideological preference: the bankers became too greedy, the southern Europeans lived beyond their means, Germany fell to the “austerity fetish” and leads the world into depression. Foreigners take our jobs or the debt crisis is referred back to a weather-induced “national character.”

In all these interpretations of the present system crisis of capitalism, a group of persons is blamed for the crisis that results from the personal, cultural or racial deficits of a circle of persons. A personification of the causes of the crisis occurs in which the concrete dislocations are attributed to qualities of the targeted group of persons or nations. Amid this personification, the social system in which these scapegoats operate is not considered. Capitalism has long sedimented into a natural state of humankind about which there is no more reflection than about gravity.

The above basic assumption of these scapegoat theories must actually be reversed into its opposite to trace the true causes of the crisis. The crisis broke out because all the actors brilliantly fulfilled their economic functions in the market economy. No one is responsible for the outbreak of the crisis. That’s the simple reason why capitalism finds itself in a system crisis because all economic subjects do what the system demands of them as efficiently as possible.


As everybody knows, everything in capitalism depends on the most effective multiplication – or exploitation – of applied capital. Capital is a social relation that people are forced to enter in which more money is made out of money through the most efficient use of paid labor in the production of goods. Therefore capitalism is described very correctly as a work society. This capital relation based on the exploitation of human labor power finds itself in a fundamental crisis because the participating actors carry out this social process of capital exploitation ever more efficiently.

To approach this seemingly paradoxical diagnosis, it is helpful to take the veil of the self-evident and natural from capitalist social organization. Capitalism is not a natural law free of contradictions. It is not an eternal prerequisite of human existence but an historical social system that first gained full acceptance on German territory in the middle of the 19th century. More than 150 years ago, this extremely dynamic and unstable social order degraded everything into a commodity and made the market that previously had a marginal existence into the total authority of human socialization. As a result, human history mainly occurred in the middle of capital relations – in the middle of paid labor, market or money that were once only marginal phenomena in all social organizations.

All historical social systems obviously have a beginning and an end. They have a period of ascent, flourish at the zenith of their development possibilities for a certain period and ultimately experience their decline and fall. In our epoch, the development potential of the capitalist formation of society strikes its limits on account of the escalating contradictions inherent to this social order. The necessity of producing goods ever more efficiently through the greatest possible exploitation of capital leads to rationalizing production ever more intensely. Employment in established industrial branches increasingly declines. Newly arising economic sectors must take up these released workers to stop the aggregate unemployment from rising enormously.

The capitalist work society finds itself in a permanent self-contradiction in which the most efficient use of paid labor also displaces paid labor from goods production. This self-contradiction of the capitalist work society can only be maintained in “process” or permanent “flight.” New products and economic branches must create new employment possibilities for the released workers in this process described as structural change (see “The Crisis Explained” [6]).

This structural change has not functioned since the 1980s since the success of the computer and electronic data processing triggered enormous rationalizations that made paid labor within goods production more and more superfluous. Thus work ends in the work society because all actors work ever more efficiently by applying the latest technologies (see “The End of the Golden Age of Capitalism and the Rise of Neoliberalism” [7]).


We have to thank the “greedy bankers” – and in Europe the indebted southern Europeans that this crisis of the work society over decades did not completely explode. The vast expansion of the financial sector since the 1980s established a temporary flight possibility from the crisis of the work society since the indebtedness-orgies and speculation excesses also produced additional demand and work opportunities. The financial markets and the banks kept capitalism functioning and financed on credit – at the price of huge debt mountains that are not collapsing over us. Thus this tower of debts represents a developed achievement of financial market jugglers who kept alive a social system collapsing in its inner oppositions for decades by impounding a future that doesn’t exist any more.

The deeply absurd character of the present crisis development results from this crisis constellation of a late-capitalist system that no longer functions without indebtedness because of tremendous advances in productivity. Ever greater misery prevails because more and more goods can be produced in every shorter time by fewer and fewer workers. The system suffocates in its productivity. This mad contradiction is clear wherever goods and commodities are destroyed for which there is no market-mediated demand any more although more and more people cannot cover their needs.

The homes built in the course of the speculation excesses are often simply torn down [8] even though the number of homeless in the U.S. and Spain increases with the crisis. The shortage in living space now prevailing despite material abundance can be explained in that production of goods in capitalism always only represents a means to the end-in-itself of the constant swelling of capital. The material wealth, the practical value of the produced goods, has no value in capitalism and must be destroyed as soon as they aren’t able to make more money out of money any more.

The described systemic contradictions underlying such obvious absurdities are unconsciously intensified on the macro-social plane by the economic subjects. The market actors allow this crisis dynamic to escalate. They do this in a blind process that sparks off a self-dynamic appearing to people as a foreign power in the form of the “markets.” This process takes place “behind the backs of the producers” as Marx formulated – in that all participating market subjects try to produce their products as efficiently and cheaply as possible and sell them on the market as profitably as possible. No one controls this crisis dynamic in capitalism. This dynamic is driven by a movement of the highest possible self-exploitation. Because the constant effort of all capitalists to produce their goods as efficiently as possible was pushed so successfully, capitalism finds itself at an insurmountable inner limit whose catastrophic violation can only be delayed through continuing indebtedness processes.

Thus capitalism is characterized by the subject-less rule [9] of the market-mediated principle of capital exploitation. Individual actors – the most powerful bankers and capitalists – only operate as character masks of their economic function. A Josef Ackermann or Ferdinand Piech only act as autonomous subjects within their businesses or banks when they orient their actions by the maxim of the highest possible capital exploitation. Therefore – apart from particular market niches – there cannot be “good capitalists” or bankers who desist from exploitation, work pressure, mass terminations or wage-dumping since they otherwise would perish in the market competition. The economic function of “economic leaders” also attracts people with the corresponding personal disposition that can survive out there. All good-natured and considerate capitalists have long already gone bankrupt.

Still an across-the-board exculpation of the functionaries of this system cannot be derived from the fact of a market-mediated subject-less rule of capital relations. Many politicians, bankers and capitalists bear enormous culpability in capitalism whose operation always had genocidal consequences. This happens as they execute system laws, not because they violate these laws. When businessmen carry out mass terminations, they consciously throw people into misery. This occurs in harmony with the system imperative of profit maximization. Something similar can be said about bankers who made a fortune with ever new “financial instruments” at the peak of real estate speculation. Thus the boundless greed of bankers or managers often criticized in fancy speeches does not result from moral defects of these individuals. Rather it represents a reflection of the innermost driving principle of this system. Therefore getting all excited about the uncontrollable “greed” without referring this back to its systemic causes is simply naïve.

Thus the intolerable state of our world sinking in chaos results when its laws are mercilessly executed, not when the laws of capitalism are violated. The only rational moral attitude consists in insisting on the necessity of a humane social alternative, not in a moralizing undertone against individual actors.

The next article will pursue the question why the eurozone now finds itself at the center of the crisis dynamic.




Hillinger, Claude, “How to deal with the US financial crisis at no cost to the taxpayer,” 2008, 6pp

Hillinger, Claude, “The Crisis and Beyond: Thinking Outside the Box,” 2010, 63pp

Konicz, Tomasz, “Is It Already Too Late?,” June 2012

Konicz, Tomasz, "The Crisis Explained," December 2011

Lohoff, Ernst and Trenkle, Norbert, “The Great Devaluation,” 2012

Reuter,Norbert, "Stagnation as a Trend-Life with Satiated Markets and Stagnating Economies," 2009

Stiglitz, Joseph, “Bank practices have weakened our economy,” June 29, 2012

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