Is capitalism going to collapse via a proletarian revolution? Unlikely, it isn’t impossible, but in the past two hundred years we have not had a truly proletarian revolution anywhere in the world. The major revolutions that occurred all occurred in countries with large peasant populations, with encroaching industrialization and increasing commodification of the average person’s life, the reaction was strong—as it was in Europe during the 19th century, i.e., Chartism, 1848, etc. In addition, many of the revolutions were ersatz in the sense they played a double role; certainly, they all played lip service to socialist internationalism, but the Thing they were really striving for was the anti-imperialist/nationalist bias of revolutionary movements.
In all the countries where revolution occurred, capitalism clearly was incomplete and the state was unable to adequately address new demands that were emerging from the new social relations that capitalism brought with it. In these countries, all lacking liberal-democratic forms of governance, the state could be defeated rather easily in what Gramsci called a ‘war of maneuver’, because the ‘state’—as conceived by Gramsci—was clearly not hegemonic, but rather depended on repression and pre-modern notions of statecraft—as Foucault notes, pre-modern states were primarily concerned with ‘sovereignty’ of the rulers leaving the unknown notion of the ‘population’ largely to its own devices, leaving them unarticulated by the state; the modern state was concerned with ‘governmentality’, or the organization of society to make it more productive with the wellbeing of the newly conceived notion of the ‘population’ as the new loci of state-craft, creating institutions to articulate and to discipline individuals.
Thus, in order to challenge liberal-democratic regimes, Gramsci noted that the proletariat and its allies must engage in a ‘war of position’ to ideologically disaggregate and replace the ‘nodal points’ that keep capitalist hegemony intact. Thus, according to Gramsci, the counter-hegemonic force, prior to taking power, must first achieve hegemony. Thus, the Marxist notion that the proletariat, being the universal class, would—inevitably—overthrow capitalism, due to the contradictions embedded in capitalism has been, hitherto, been proven false. The way to revolution, or radical change, is partly through political/ideological intermediation and then, in the last instance, material force; however, these two things are not mutually exclusive. As Marx states, “The weapon of criticism obviously cannot replace the criticism of weapons. Material force must be overthrown by material force. But theory also becomes a material force once it has gripped the masses”.
However, capitalism has shown its adaptability, because it has been able to grow enough to satisfy demands through institutions and has been able, via liberal democratic mechanisms, been able to give the concessions necessary to retain its hegemony. This ‘condition of impossibility’ is what makes capitalism possible, according to Zizek:
...what Marx overlooked is that, to put it in standard Derridean terms, this inherent obstacle/antagonism as the "condition of impossibility" of the full deployment of the productive forces is simultaneously its "condition of possibility": if we abolish the obstacle, the inherent contradiction of capitalism, we do not get the fully unleashed drive finally freed from its shackles, but rather we lose precisely this very productivity that seemed to be simultaneously generated and stifled by capitalism, for it simply dissipates . . . And it is as if this logic of the "obstacle as a positive condition" which underlay the failure of socialist attempts to overcome capitalism, is now returning with a vengeance in capitalism itself: capitalism can fully thrive not in the unencumbered reign of the market, but only when an obstacle (from minimal welfare-state intervention, up to and including the direct political rule of the Communist Party, as in the case of China) constrains its unimpeded rampage (190).
However, the ‘common sense’ economics that sprouts from neoliberal economists suggests the opposite is true. The market, if encumbered by the government’s intervention, distorts the market by creating disincentives for worker to work; it artificially raises prices and lowers quality of services that could be better rendered by the for profit private sector; counter-cyclical economic policies do not help, but make matters worse by not allowing the market to correct, automatically, the causes of the crisis. Basically, the ethos is, the market does everything better, democracy is a false god and leads eventually to totalitarianism—Hayek’s thesis in The Road to Serfdom. Therefore, citizens should no longer conceive themselves as citizens in the sense they can use that power to change things politically, but rather they should be market agents who’s only aim is the maximization of their utility, with a given distribution of income, and the outcomes are inherently just because the responsibility for success or failure rests squarely on your shoulders.
However, as Jean Baudrillard notes, as interpreted by Sylvere Lotringer:
This is what Baudrillard meant by a total revolution: a strategy geared to escalate the system and push it to its breaking point. Then, giving up on every pretence of rationality, it would start revolving and achieve in the process a circularity of its own: "We know the potential of tautology when it reinforces the system's claim to perfect sphericity (Ubu Roi's belly)" (SE, p. 4)... After all, wasn't capitalism itself a pataphysical proposition? It was endlessly cutting the branch on which it sits, devastating the planet and endangering the human species while claiming to improve its lot. Capital didn't care a fig for the fate of humanity. The real wasn't its business. It had cancelled the principle of reality and substituted a codification of a higher order, a hyper-reality that made the real obsolete. Its dirge-like flows were self-referential, leaving everything else in a state of self-induced simulation. The flows of capital were posthumous, post-human. In their nihilistic energy, they carried the seeds of their own destruction.
Thus, is the lesson for the left still Lenin’s quip that ‘worse is better’? Leaving the market to its own devices will create the conditions for a revolution? As Baudrillard states:
"Every system that approaches perfect operativity simultaneously approaches its downfall. . . it approaches absolute power and total absurdity; that is, immediate and probable subversion. A gentle push in the right place is enough to bring it crashing down" (5E, p. 4).
Leaving the market to operate as close to the ideal as possible would, fundamentally undermine the operation of the market itself. Total capitalist victory, the neoliberal world-order would, in essence take away the “condition of impossibility" that simultaneously creates the “condition of possibility”. Arguably, the most successful capitalist states are those where a balance between the market and the social has been created where capital has little option but to invest in investments that increase the well-being of the population, examples can go from Sweden to China; whilst, countries that have gone to the opposite extremes are facing severe crisis, e,g., Argentina in 2001, the United States, the United Kingdom, etc.
Therefore, neoliberalism has created the seeds of its own downfall for engaging in what Baidou calls ‘idealist absurdies’ that abstract away the social and pretend that the models in neoclassical economics can actually exist, which presupposes that ‘there is no society, just individual men and women’ engaged in a marketplace. It has also created the conditions of unending hubris, leading to a form of intellectual laziness, or worse, ideological blindness that lead to the current crisis. Therefore, the rush towards the triumph of capitalism has lead to its greatest crisis. Thus, as Baudrillard argues, maybe we should be triumphing the capitalist market economy; maybe the ultimate agent of capitalism’s demise is capital itself.