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The Crisis as a Chance: Exodus from the Accumulation Logic

The crisis may be a chance for alighting from the capital logic. Maria Mies, emeritus professor of sociology in Koln, Germany, points to examples of the subsistence economy from women in Brazil, the seed war in India to the Seiksatsu club in Japan. See other articles by Maria Mies, Frederike Habermann, Theo Sommer, Christoph Butterwege and E.Czempiel
The Crisis as Chance:
Exodus from the Accumulation Logic

By Maria Mies

[This article is translated from the German on the World Wide Web. Maria Mies is an emeritus professor of sociology in Koln, Germany.]

The title suggests that I expect the collapse of the present system so that something new can develop out of the chaos. Such an attitude would be cynical in view of the sacrifice required by this crisis. Rethinking is most difficult for those who imagine themselves relatively secure in the centers of capitalist industrial society. Creative new thinking can be found among persons most affected by the crisis, the poor from the "Third World", above all poor women. Experiences in the struggle for survival of such groups encourage seeing the crisis as a chance for alighting from the capital logic. Since the crisis is global, struggles for survival also take place in the centers of the rich North. It is high time to learn from the examples in so-called Third World countries.

Reflecting on the character of the present crisis is necessary before iluminating the hopeful alternatives. What is the crisis? What dimensions of our life are affected? How far does the crisis extend?

What is called crisis today is an economic crisis, not only one of those cyclical economic declines that will be superseded by an upswing according to the teaching of neoclassical economic theory. The economists assure us - just in time before the Bundestag election - that the world economy is going forward again. The crisis goes deep and reaches further.

Strictly speaking it is a permanent crisis since capitalism existed and does not first appear now. First of all it is an obviously economic crisis which despite increasing gross national product is manifest in the collapse of firms, in growing or stagnating unemployment, shriveling markets for durable goods and a mad competition on all markets. Although politicians and economists seek to reassure the people that the crisis is temporary and will be overcome by investments in "future technologies" like bioengineering, people no longer believe this. The paradigm of unlimited growth is not only ecologically a catastrophe but economically is not sustainable neither in the South nor in the North.

Poverty has visibly returned in the centers of the rich North. In Germany for example, the number of homeless has risen to one million. In the winter of 1992/93, 30 persons froze to death in Germany and there are more and more beggars. In London, people spend the night in cardboard boxes. The number of unemployed has increased enormously in the last years particularly in eastern Germany and stagnates more or less despite an apparently improved business cycle. The new phenomenon of this crisis is the continuance of economic growth in industrial countries while at the same time the indebtedness of the "Third World" has soared. In 1992 it was estimated at $1.343 trillion. In the sub-Sahara, the indebtedness was four times as great as the gross national product of all Third World countries together.

Obviously women are much more strongly affected by unemployment and this "new" poverty in the industrial countries than men and the older more intensely than the young. Many single mothers already live under the poverty tine like receivers of social security and we are accustomed that this is "normal". The prognoses for the future as calculated by the Prognosis Institute for the year 2000 plan an economic growth and the continuance of unemployment and underemployment. What economists call "jobless growth" arises. Hickel and Priewe describe these expectations as too optimistic since they start from east German's successful re-industrialization which is not occurring any more in their opinion. Instead they expect a further division of society according to the model of the two-thirds society with 6 million unemployed. The return of poverty in industrial countries assumes even more drastic forms in the richest land of the world, the US. A "third-worldization" of the land is decried here.

That no other strategies occur to the "responsible" in the economy and politics than those proposed unsuccessfully in the past to the "Third World" is even more astonishing. Since Keynesianism and full employment seem finally at an end, the "informal economy" should be expanded. The German economics minister Rexrodt recently proposed the formation of a low wage sector within Germany where wages are lower, working hours longer and industrial safety is be3low what the unions gained for the formal sector. This corresponds to the so-called deregulation model operational for a long time in the "Third World". Women should work in this low wage sector, the minister recommends. At the same time, cuts in state expenditures occur in the social area in which many women are active and on which they depend. Funds for kindergartens, women's shelters and housing assistance are cut. Those affected by this strategy are mainly poor women as in the indebted countries of the South suffering under the regime of the structural adjustment program of the International Monetary Fund.

Rexrodt not only proposes a low wage sector in Germany to counter the competition from the low wage countries of the South - and now the East - and migration of German capital to other low wage countries. He propagates a dual economy with a formal and an informal sector and also promotes - particularly in the "Third World" - the private household as a standard for the new jobs in the service area. He obviously does not think of men as workers in this realm but of women or housewives. The private economy, Rexrodt declares, is "attractive employment, particularly for women with small children where they can fully use their experience".

This statement shows that politics and the economy in the rich countries today can follow no other strategy than "women as housewives" as we described in our 1982 analysis of capital accumulation in the "Third World" ( Veronika Bernhold-Thomsen, Claudia von Werlhof and Maria Mies). Through this strategy, women are edged out of the formal sector. The necessary social services for children, the sick, the aged and so forth will not cost the welfare state too much. In the future, more men will become housewives with the persisting crisis.

In her essay "The Proletarian is dead, Long live the housewife", Claudia von Werlhof wrote at the beginning of the eighties that "the generalization of housework is not the dream of all capitalists". "There is no cheaper, more productive, more fruitful human work that can be forced without a whip. The restructuring of the economy becomes an attempt to instill feminine work abilities in men... The wage earner does too little. He can only do what is paid and what is contractually agreed. He does nothing beyond that and has no idea of human production. He functions de-emotionalized as a robot, as an appendage of a machine... He works too little and is too quickly exhausted. He has no reason to be innovative and no motive for work. He cannot be mobilized as a whole person. The male work capacity is much too inflexible and "unfruitful". What was clear to us on the basis of the non-paid labor of the housewife and the subsistence producers of the "Third World" is also true for the rich countries of the North: work becomes housewife work.

The present crisis is not only an economic crisis but is combined with a series of additional crises. In other words, the current crisis has different dimensions bound together: ecological, social, political, ethical and psychological dimensions beside the economic. We are confronted with an enormous crisis of thinking, an erosion of common sense, a confusion of perception and a deficiency in orientation and perspectives.

The ecological crisis was given special emphasis in the last years. Enough was written about its causes. In the meantime it is admitted worldwide that this crisis is caused by the growth- and progress-oriented industrial system, allied with resource consumption, exploitation of the "Third World" and a wasteful lifestyle in the North. Instead of annulling the dogma of permanent growth and drastically changing consumer styles, the economy and politics under the slogan "sustainable growth" insist on further growth, on more "quantitative" growth in the South and more "qualitative" growth in the North. This is obviously like trying to square the circle within a limited planet. The Club of Rome in its current positions also represents this growth model. The term "sustainable growth" was immediately confiscated by multinational conglomerates to appear to solve the ecological crisis. For example the German multinational Hoechst recently published a full page advertisement in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" with the title: "Sustainable growth - so our children have a future".

This "green capitalism" relying on environmentally-friendly technology should bring new growth to the economy and new jobs to the unemployed. Nothing should change in the exploitative conditions between men and women, classes, rich and poor countries: a typical strategy of the white man for solving crises. The economic crisis seduces to block or even cancel the modest beginnings of an ecological return from the traditional growth model.

The social and psychological dimension of the crisis can be seen in the collapse of social peace in the metropolises of industrial countries. This is usually summarized with catch-phrases like increased criminality, violence, suicide rates, drug consumption among others. The so-called "civil society" is today the place of an enormous brutalization of day-to-day life, an increasing "ramboization" of men affecting women and girls and a hardening toward human values and feelings. The two boys who killed a two year old child in Liverpool imitated what they saw on violent- and horror videos. In its competition for markets, the home entertainment industry has no reservations about poisoning the imagination of adolescents and children and creating a climate of social darwinism where only the most brutal survive. At the end of this century, the philosophy of Hobbes, Darwin and Adam Smith will be practiced in the middle of the "civil society", not only "outside" in the colonies. Values like solidarity, respect, responsibility, sympathy or concern for others disappear from day-to-day life. The struggle of everyone against everyone else - the basic Hobbesian assumption - remains.

This struggle must now be waged increasingly by atomized individuals since the communities that functioned in the past - family, neighborhood, relations, community - have largely broken down. In other words, a more or less intact retreating area for psychic reproduction as represented by the traditional family with the housewife is no longer available for male workers' reproduction.

The political dimension of the crisis is closely connected with the economic and ecological. The crisis is diverse and multi-layered. The "people", the electorate, has less and less power to organize political affairs. This is clearer and clearer in industrial countries on account of the new economic-political blocks like the EU, NAFTA and APEC which annul national democracies, not only an increasingly intractable bureaucracy. In addition, there is the new mafia-like politics and corruption in party democracies as in Italy. The power games of those "at the top" become increasingly inscrutable for many who turn disgusted from politics with the attitude "Nothing can be changed."

These feelings of powerlessness become clearer with the so-called new future technologies as for example genetic engineering.

The Analysis of the Crisis: Conclusions

1. The end of the illusion of full employment in the North. In the South, the illusion never existed.

2. The dismantling of the welfare state in the North. In the South, the welfare state was never created.

3. The "dream" of development for everyone in the "Third World" is ended.

4. "Free paid laborers" who stand in worldwide competition to the unfree non-paid laborers become a marginal phenomenon. (Claudia von Werlhof's thesis)

5. This also means the end of the international solidarity of the proletariat committed to mere self-interest. The female workers of the North are in an antagonistic relation to the female workers of the South - also of the "South" in their own country.

6. The hope for "equalizing development" proves to be an illusion for the majority of people in the South. Equality for everyone is not possible in the framework of the capitalist patriarchy.

7. Seen ecologically, an "equality" of the consumer model of the North and South would be a catastrophe. The industrial model is not generalizable for everyone.

8. Further capitalist industrialization is not desirable for the North (consider the different dimensions of the crisis). This model destroys the foundations of life on this planet and the foundation of democracy and its values: self-determination, freedom, equality and solidarity. This is also true for the so-called winners of this system.

9. Survival is central. Capital cannot create life but can only transform life into money and capital. Capital is necessarily totalitarian today. Those most affected by the crisis must organize their survival themselves. There is no "social" net for them (any more). The real foundations of life must be emphasized: the immediate subsistence production.

The Subsistence Principle: How are these Discoveries "Chances"?

1. These discoveries destroy illusions and false analyses about capitalism or the market economy including the belief in "increased productivity" which supposedly will solve all problems.

2. These discoveries lead back to the realization that we may not leave the definition of the "good life" to the multinationals or to capital and goods production. Rather the "good life" consists in interaction with one another and with nature. No happiness or freedom comes by overcoming the "kingdom of necessity" as the Enlightenment and Marx believed. Happiness and freedom only occur within this kingdom. We call this the subsistence perspective.

3. This perspective which surpasses the accumulation logic was first discovered and practiced by those who in the past only bore the costs for the progress- and accumulation model, above all women and other persons in the "Third World". They know that they will never belong to the winner's side and also do not seek the winner's side. Control over their subsistence base is their goal.

4. In the rich countries, the knowledge also grows that the present capitalism is not the best of all worlds not only because the rulers no longer know what to do but because the quality of life deteriorates from day to day. Within the abundance of goods of the global supermarket, we suffer privation in vital necessities. "A little car and a driver's license are not everything. Life must still come to life" (Biermann).

5. The experience and knowledge of the gigantic fraud and robbery (of nature, humankind, life and the future) which accompanies the globalization of the capitalist economy is a chance to rebuild local and regional economic structures. Only within such "economies from below" can nature not be exploited. Here the provision of everyone with the vital necessities can be guaranteed. Here people will not be exploited and militarism can be checked. Within surveyable eco-regions, equality is also possible, not on the level of luxury and waste consumption but on the level of satisfying basic needs. Within such limited local and regional economies, people must relate carefully and respectfully with nature and one another if they want to survive.

6. This situation contains the chance that the conditions of exploitation and oppression as old as the hills - between men and women, between city and countryside, between the classes and between head- and hand-work - can be abolished or that people must at least struggle for their abolition.

Such an "economy from below" cannot allow patriarchal, feudal or capitalist conditions in the long run since the consciousness about these forms of exploitation is different than before capitalism.

These are only chances. Whether they will be used will depend on all of us who live through this epoch. There is no guarantee that they will be used because there is no automatism of history which necessarily moves things in a certain direction. We move ourselves and things or we don't move. Everything is open.

(Cf. articles on globalization and the mass media by Maria Mies, Antje Vollmer, Frederike Habermann, Katrin Gruber, Christoph Butterwege, Robert Kurz, Alexander Hong Lam Vu, Michael Heinrich, Christoph Muerdter, Klaus Topfer and Leonardo Boff and coming articles on www.portland.indymedia.org by Franz Hinkelammert, Pablo Richard, Robert Leicht, Theo Sommer and Marion Grafin Donfoff)

homepage: homepage: http://www.geocities.com/marc_batko
phone: phone: 503-229-0628
address: address: mbatko@lycos.com