Volume 46 Number 180,
January - March 2015

Ornelas, Raúl (coord.) (2013), The Crisis of Civilization and Overcoming Capitalism, Institute of Economic Research-UNAM, Mexico.

This text is the product of the recent round of conferences organized by the Latin American Geopolitical Observatory (OLAG), held at the Institute of Economic Research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 2010. The focal point of these sessions was the recurring crises befalling civilization and the capitalist system, as a result of which, capitalist society is rapidly collapsing, threatening to exterminate life on this planet. This was the idea behind these reflections, aiming to understand the chance for civilization to change in the midst of growing popular struggles, which is a key concern of this work.

The book is a coordinated text entitled, The Crisis of Civilization and Overcoming Capitalism, and is organized as follows: a) The Crisis of Civilization, b) Revolution, Now! Against and Beyond Capital, c) Subverting Modernity to Live Well and d) The Ongoing Insurrection.

In the first chapter of the book, A. Bartra describes the crisis of civilization that capitalist society is currently experiencing. He draws analogies between publications by major and official organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, UNESCO, etc. and biblical and apocalyptic references. The common denominator that emerges is that our current society is in a state of catastrophe; the crisis is not only systemic, as in the capitalist system, but is also a crisis of civilization as a result of various factors besides just economic aspects. There is also an environmental dimension to the crisis, where climate change is the expression of the turmoil of the human species, which also leads to strong restrictions on the ecosystem and environment of humankind. There is an energy dimension to the crisis, related to exploitation, use and pollution, in addition to the fact that there is only one source of energy. All of these factors in combination are especially harmful to human society. The food dimension of the crisis, derived from the constant scarcity and growing dependency of food, is part of the sustained increase in prices, which affects the food security of a broad swath of the global population. Migration is undoubtedly an expression of poverty and the lack of survival opportunities. There is also a political crisis, manifest in the lack of faith in democratic institutions, and electoral processes that have been cast into doubt as a result of countless promises that are impossible to keep. That is why new and diverse political movements that offer hope or alternatives to the political and economic system have emerged. Aspects of the crisis related to wars and health bring it full circle, adding up to an unprecedented crisis of civilization. This crisis is worsening scarcity and directly and indirectly harms the quality of life and possibility of social reproduction.

In the second chapter, J. Holloway describes the criteria for a “Revolution, Now!” He refers to the fact that the very conditions necessary for human existence are being destroyed. The proliferation of anti-capitalist movements was born of desperation against capitalist logic. The movement aims not to abandon the capitalist system, but rather to create and establish a parallel system. The author references two analytical categories proposed by Marx, abstract and concrete labor. The first category refers to the quantification of relationships and activities, which therefore determine the behavior of workers. Concrete work is the progression of all human activities in society. It refers to the supremacy of the former over the latter and this relationship is in crisis, an increasingly intense subordination of human activity to the demands of socially necessary labor time. It thus argues that the anti-capitalist struggle is not the struggle of labor against capital, but rather the struggle against labor and capital, against the labor that capital creates.

In the third chapter, A.E. Ceceña writes about the evolution of the concept of modernity and its possible avenues out of the crisis of civilization. The principles of accumulation, technological power and systemic forces have irreversibly damaged society. Capitalism has proven itself unsustainable in the long term and the concept of progress is inversely related to welfare. The author mentions the limitations that economic science proposes for analyzing the crisis of capitalism. The crisis is complex and as such the debate is philosophical. To address the topic of modernity, the author references such thinkers as Bolívar Echeverría, Immanuel Wallerstein and Norbert Elias. The first considers modernity to be an escape from scarcity, although its quantitative focus makes modernity trapped in the mode of capitalism. The second author ascertains that the principle of modernity is a response to a stage of the repression of humanity, that is, that modernity is the triumph of human freedom against the forces of evil and ignorance. Finally, the third states that modernity is the expression of a break between what is natural and social.

In addition, because the current crisis is erecting a barrier between social relationships and nature, the first step out of the crisis is to eliminate that border to show and demonstrate that the evolution of society is dependent on nature. The unsustainability of civilization must face systemic and epistemic thought, which come from systems inherited and built over the recent centuries. Reestablishing the connection with mother earth would help us emerge from the current crisis of civilization.

In the fourth chapter, G. Esteva shows how the current state of civilization is in the eye of a large storm, which brings together two groups that are, in Mexico at least, diametrically different, with one factor in common: neither realizes that the ship on which society sails is sinking and both are limited to political debate.

In that sense, although there are movements to emerge from the crisis, the population is afflicted by a food crisis and reforms that instead of fostering sovereignty only increase food dependency. Education systems are also in crisis because they are preparing people for unemployment and dropping out while failing to train students to think critically. The health system is selective based on income. The infrastructure is outdated and the sanitation structure is becoming increasingly unequal and coming under criticism. The issue of housing is a challenge for urban environments that marginally and functionally determine the system. The exchange of goods through large supply chains of goods generates economic pressures within societies.

In summary, this book is a compilation of four chapters intrinsically related to its central topic, which is how the crisis of civilization has evolved. This crisis extends beyond the economic sphere and has now reached a point where it is a threat to humanity and the factors that sustain societal activity and development. The text also strongly questions the philosophy of the capitalist system and offers some alternative models.

Franco Acebey
Faculty of Economics – unam

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PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 194 July-September 2018 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
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