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We can't just wait for robots and 3D printers to overthrow capitalism

by system failure

During a speech four years ago, Yanis Varoufakis ended with some interesting views about the future of the capitalist system. As he pointed out:

The world we live in, is increasingly rudderless, in a constant slow burning recession, while at the very same time, the increasing concentration in the IT sector is creating the new technologies that will do that which the Left has failed to do: overthrow Capitalism. It is really very simple. The moment machines pass the Turing test properly, and you pick up the phone and you do not know whether the person you are talking to is a human being or a machine˙ the moment we are going to have 3D printers operating as public utilities - you can send any blueprint to it and it can print from one pin to a motorcycle, or to a car - the moment that this happens, we have not just a process of Schumpeterian creative destruction, but we have a process where economies of scale and the whole logic of corporate Capitalism collapses.

And at that point we have a major rapture that the political system which has been completely depleted of any semblance of Democracy, will not be able to regulate. At that point, humanity will be facing a juncture: will either move to a Star Trek-like Utopia, where technology becomes our slave and we manage to utilize its wealth creating capacity for the purpose of the common good, which will be democratically determined and not technologically, or, we are going to move towards a Matrix-like Dystopia where humans, independently on whether are the owners of these magnificent machines or the masses who are miserable and completely cut off productive society, will all become servants to the machines.


With his conclusion, Varoufakis wants to show that political action is necessary in order to determine the direction of things after the collapse of capitalism. Although he may have jumped some steps in the sequence after the inevitable collapse of the capitalist system, he is right, but only up to certain point. Political action may be necessary, but only as an intermediate stage.

Beyond that, we may not see soon super-intelligent machines becoming our masters, but we may certainly see, very soon, a type of 21-century feudalism as the successive model to neoliberalism and financial capitalism. And in fact, we already see some signs of it in global scale.

It's interesting that in the year Varouakis gave that speech, 2016, the capitalist elites gathered for their usual meeting in Davos to design a convenient (as always) future for them. The best way to predict the future is to invent it, after all. And it's even more interesting that a certain study from that meeting included some quite disturbing predictions for today.

Ironically enough, the elites begun to approach some positions of the Marxist theory, concerning the dead ends o capitalism, especially due to hyper-automation. For example, the study acknowledged that "it is our actions today that will determine whether that change mainly results in massive displacement of workers or the emergence of new opportunities. Without urgent and targeted action today to manage the near-term transition and build a workforce with futureproof skills, governments will have to cope with ever-growing unemployment and inequality, and businesses with a shrinking consumer base.", and, "our respondents seem to take a negative view regarding the upcoming employment impact of artificial intelligence, although not on a scale that would lead to widespread societal upheaval—at least up until the year 2020."

It is obvious that the study examines solutions which are perfectly compatible with the capitalist order, while also ignores the enormous environmental challenges produced by it. In short, capitalists won't give up capitalism, not in a million years, even if this would mean the destruction of the planet as we know it.

The capitalist elites also discuss some alternatives within the neoliberal capitalist framework of radical individualism, economic cynicism and uninterrupted consumerism, like, for example, the Universal Basic Income (UBI). Within this framework, UBI serves as a tool to control societies and maintain capitalist order. Therefore, it will be used to suppress popular anger and prevent any popular uprise that may force the dominant system to face an existential threat. At the same time, UBI will secure a sufficient consumer tank in the absence of human workforce, which is necessary to keep the capitalist machine running.

For now, the worst-case scenario, is to witness the new global feudalism unfolding in front of our eyes. The capitalist elites are exploiting the current system to gather all technology and the means of production. Once the human workforce becomes obsolete, the elites will turn the system into a totalitarian feudalism, probably worse than the classic feudalism of the Middle Ages.

But how did we get here?

For about fifty years now, financial capitalism, as the worst mutation of classic capitalism, was built upon the ideological framework of neoliberalism. And it didn't took just a pseudo-democracy run by a political system that has been bought by the big banks and corporations. The capitalist elites had to set up the entire neoliberal ideological framework from the beginning. And, gradually, this framework has become a kind of cultural totalitarianism embedded deeply inside the cultural DNA of entire generations. And it was not accidental, as David Harvey proved with his book A Brief History of Neoliberalism. There was a whole set of corporate-backed institutions behind the rapid and artificial ideological transformation of the American society, and the entire West, in favor of neoliberalism.

After the 2007-08 financial crisis we should normally expect a rapid transformation of the society, similar to that of the early 1930s in the United States, which brought Roosevelt's New Deal and the rise of the social state in the West. Instead, we got Donald Trump, a reserve of the establishment that has been recruited to maintain and expand elites' power and privileges.

And if the majority didn't have the advantage of alternative information thanks to modern technology, it is doubtful whether Sanders' Socialist agenda, for example, would be that popular among younger generations.

Undoubtedly, there are many signs of change in the American society and especially the American youth. We see Sanders' popularity rising, against all the smear campaigns by the corporate media. Just only ten years ago, it would be unthinkable for anyone in the corporate America to declare that he is a Socialist. But after all these decades of "cultural brainwashing", it is doubtful whether the American youth is ready to abandon capitalism.

Consequently, we can't just wait for robots and 3D printers to overthrow capitalism. And probably, not even simple political action would be adequate. In order to see the rise of an advanced post-capitalist world that will manage to save the planet and itself from self-destruction, we need to free ourselves from the neoliberal totalitarianism. And it would take a radical cultural transformation of entire generations and societies.

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