Nature and its Discontents
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Nature and its Discontents

Beyond Fukuyama

Where do we stand today? Gerald A. Cohen enumerated the four features of the classic Marxist notion of the working class: (1) it constitutes the majority of society; (2) it produces the wealth of society; (3) it consists of the exploited members of society; (4) its members are the needy people in society. When these four features are combined, they generate two further features: (5) the working class has nothing to lose from revolution; (6) it can and will engage in a revolutionary transformation of society (Cohen, 2001). None of the first four features applies to today's working class, which is why features (5) and (6) cannot be generated. (Even if some of the features continue to apply to parts of today's society, they are no longer united in a single agent: the needy people in society are no longer the workers. Correct as it is, this enumeration should be supplemented by a systematic theoretical deduction: for Marx, they all follow from the basic position of a worker who has nothing but his labor power to sell. As such, workers are by definition exploited; with the progressive expansion of capitalism, they constitute the majority that also produces the wealth, and so on. How, then, are we to redefine a revolutionary perspective in today's conditions? Is the way out of this predicament the combinatoire of multiple antagonisms, their potential overlappings?

The underlying problem is here: how are we to think the singular universality of the emancipatory subject as not purely formal—as objectively-materially determined, but without working class as its substantial base? The solution is a negative one: it is capitalism itself that offers a negative substantial determination: the global capitalist system is the substantial "base" that mediates and generates the excesses (slums, ecological threats, etc.) that open up the site of resistance.

It is easy to make fun of Fukuyama's notion of the End of History, but the majority today is "Fukuyamaian": liberal-democratic capitalism is accepted as the finally-found formula of the best possible society; all one can do is to render it more just, tolerant, etc. The only true question today is: do we endorse this "naturalization" of capitalism, or does [End Page 37] today's global capitalism contain strong enough antagonisms that will prevent its indefinite reproduction? There are three (or, rather, four) such antagonisms:

  1. 1. Ecology: in spite of the infinite adaptability of capitalism which, in the case of an acute ecological catastrophe or crisis, can easily turn ecology into a new field of capitalist investment and competition, the very nature of the risk involved fundamentally precludes a market solution. Why? Capitalism only works in precise social conditions: it implies trust in the objectified/"reified" mechanism of the market's "invisible hand" which, as a kind of Cunning of Reason, guarantees that the competition of individual egotisms works for the common good. However, we are in the midst of a radical change. Till now, historical Substance played its role as the medium and foundation of all subjective interventions: whatever social and political subjects did, it was mediated and ultimately dominated—overdetermined—by the historical Substance. What looms on the horizon today is the unheard-of possibility that a subjective intervention will intervene directly into the historical Substance, catastrophically disturbing its run by triggering an ecological catastrophe, a fateful biogenetic mutation, a nuclear or similar military-social catastrophe, etc. No longer can we rely on the safeguarding role of the limited scope of our acts: it no longer holds that, whatever we do, history will go on. For the first time in human history, the act of a single socio-political agent effectively can alter and even interrupt the global historical process, so that, ironically, it is only today that we can say that the historical process should effectively be conceived "not only as Substance, but also as Subject." This is why, when confronted with singular catastrophic prospects (say, a political group that intends to attack its enemy with nuclear or biological weapons), we no longer can rely on the standard logic of the "Cunning of Reason" which, precisely, presupposes the primacy...