End of Capitalism

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= book and more general concept



Robert Misik reviews recent 'end of capitalism' analyses:

"“The image I have of the end of capitalism — an end that I believe is already under way — is one of a social system in chronic disrepair” is how the German social scientist Wolfgang Streeck put it two years ago. A permanent quasi-stagnation with at best mini-growth rates, explosive inequality, privatization of all and sundry, endemic corruption and plunder, where normal profit expectations get ever lower, a consequent moral collapse (capitalism is more and more linked to fraud, theft and dirty tricks), the West getting weaker and weaker, staggering along as it foments disintegration and crisis in trouble spots on its periphery.

The Nobel Prize winner for economics, Paul Krugman, like Larry Summers, paints a picture of “permanent slump.” Bill Clinton’s treasury secretary – truly no leftie – uses the phrase of “secular stagnation” as a self-evident truth – meaning that the long centuries of dynamic capitalist growth could come to an end.

The renowned economist Robert J Gordon has also investigated in a much-discussed paper whether – at least in the USA – “economic growth is over.” Growth rates took on dynamic pace in 1750, reached breakneck speed in the mid-20th century and have since gone down in successive periods. The great innovations that bring both productivity progress and growth – they may be history: “The growth of productivity … slowed markedly after 1970.” The third industrial revolution, with computerization and concomitant labour saving, also demonstrated its essential effects between 1960 and the late 1990s but has practically come to a standstill since the noughties. Despite superficial impressions, the past 15 years may have produced practically no more genuinely productive innovations. “Invention since 2000 has centered on entertainment and communication devices that are smaller, smarter, and more capable, but do not fundamentally change labour productivity or the standard of living in the way that electric light, motor cars, or indoor plumbing changed it.”

In his latest book The End of Normal, economist James K. Galbraith plays a similar tune and even goes one step further. The era of prosperity between 1850 and 1970 has anchored in the economist fraternity the unspoken certainty that constant growth is “normality” but stagnation and crisis “the exception.” Galbraith now suspects: “Whatever worked in times gone may well no longer work today.”

Even if Robert Gordon’s thesis about a declining dynamics in innovation is not entirely right it might well be the case that today’s innovations no longer serve the prosperous nature of capitalism as a whole but have rather ambivalent effects. Above all, one of their effects is that jobs are destroyed without new ones replacing them. The new digital technologies mainly serve the purpose of reducing costs and winning new markets at the cost of older firms. Here the current period is distinct from earlier phases of innovation: whereas, in earlier times, ‘creative destruction’ in the process of innovation got rid of old and often poor jobs (as in agriculture) but huge amounts of new and often better ones arose (as in the car industry), so now innovations bring higher joblessness for one part and, worse, more precarious jobs for the other part of the labour force. The cumulative income of the man on the street thereby comes under increasing pressure and heads irredeemably downwards." (http://www.socialeurope.eu/2016/01/caputalism/)


Francesco Boldizzoni:

"We can classify forecasts into four types based on the causal chain they assume. First, there are the implosion theories typical of orthodox Marxism, according to which capitalism would implode because of its economic contradictions. A second group includes the exhaustion theories of the likes of John Stuart Mill and John Maynard Keynes. For these thinkers, capital accumulation would stop at some point due to environmental limits, saturation of material needs, moral or civilizational progress. Next come the theories of convergence that were particularly in vogue in the interwar period and the following years of the “end of ideology.” These stressed how technological development and the trend toward state planning were making capitalism and socialism increasingly resemble each other. Finally, mention should be made of the cultural involution theories associated with Joseph Schumpeter, Daniel Bell, and to some extent Jürgen Habermas. These pointed to the self-defeating character of bourgeois society, emphasizing how capitalism, by breeding its parasites and critics, was undermining its own values while even the political superstructure erected to save the system from itself was prey to disintegrative tendencies." (https://economicsociology.org/2021/02/26/how-capitalism-survives-social-theory-and-structural-change/?)


Book: J. K. Gibson-Graham, The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It):A Feminist Critique of Political Economy (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996).


By Ugo Rossi and Theresa Enright:

"Another important source of inspiration for radical feminist scholarship on grassroots eco-nomic practices as privileged sites of the commons is Gibson-Graham’s diverse economies research. In their work non-capitalist forms of subjectivity, practice and politics exist alongside and often in conjunction with dominant capitalist dynamics (Gibson-Graham 1996, 2006).Their project to chronicle and imagine economic alternatives and experiments attempts to foment regimes of accumulation that entail solidaristic modes of organizing collective life: from cooperative enterprises to environmental and agricultural organizations; and from local currencies and non-profits to informal markets. In Gibson-Graham’s view, identifying alternative economies is part of a post-capitalist project aimed at taking on the task of “how we might perform new economic worlds, starting with an ontology of economic difference” (2006: 3)" (https://www.academia.edu/28286361/Ambivalence_of_the_urban_commons)


Antke Engel:

"With 1996’s The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It) J. K. Gibson-Graham won the hearts of many socialist, post-socialist, and queer-feminist readers.1 The book’s main argument is that new possibilities for economic transformation will arise once we no longer understand capitalism as a monolithic entity or as covering the whole range of existing economic practices. The argument is taken up again in the more recent book A Postcapitalist Politics: “As we begin to conceptualize contingent relationships where invariant logics once reigned, the economy loses its character as an asocial body in lawful motion and instead becomes a space of recognition and negotiation.”2 Gibson-Graham work systematically to establish the conditions for thinking through economy by other means, for developing other economies. In order to do so they combine a Foucauldian approach that focuses on self-technologies as a means of reproducing and/or transforming power relations and modes of governance, with “a counter-hegemonic project of constructing ‘other’ economies.”3

Three elements are decisive for what they call “a politics of possibilities”; the three elements are thoroughly intertwined, and yet each may also become a point of entry for far-reaching, even global processes of transformation. First of all, they propose developing new forms of thinking, and, accordingly, a new economic language.

They present this as working on the level of the political imaginary to invent a language of economic difference:

- A capitalocentric discourse condenses economic difference, fusing the variety of noncapitalist economic activities into a unity in which meaning is anchored to capitalist identity. Our language politics is aimed at fostering conditions under which images and enactments of economic diversity . . . might stop circulating around capitalism, stop being evaluated with respect to capitalism, and stop being seen as deviant or exotic or excentric—departures from the norm.4

Second, Gibson-Graham articulate “self-cultivation” as a means of encouraging forms of subjectivity that would be open to trying new economic practices: “If we want other worlds and other economies, how do we make ourselves a condition of possibility for their emergence?”5 Consequently, the third element is “the collaborative pursuit of economic experimentation.”6

This combination of anticipatory imagination, language politics, and everyday practices incites a means of imagining and enacting a postcapitalist politics. It constitutes space for a heterogeneity of economic practices, which do not take the logic of capital and maximizing profit for granted, and does not present them as inescapable. Collective practices, community economy, and the lately popular notion of the commons are central to Gibson-Graham’s reflections on—and social experiences of—developing economic alternatives. Yet they conspicuously insist on aiming for socioeconomic and political practices that resist an ideal of sameness or homogeneity.


Overdetermination is a tool for extending models of centralized power—whether an economistic view on capitalism or an androcentric view on patriarchy. Accordingly, for Gibson-Graham the project of diverse economies is always already and inherently intertwined with working, reworking, and transforming multiple relations of power and domination, including racist, sexist, and heteronormative regimes. Furthermore, they even insist that, “successful political innovation . . . requires an entirely new relation to power. It will need to escape power, go beyond it, obliterate it, transform it.”9 Although they refer explicitly to Michel Foucault, they somehow undermine his all-encompassing notion of power by reactivating the notion of liberation. Via theories of hegemony, a Marxist heritage finds its way into their thinking. Here they refer to Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, who insist that power relations are not simply given, but only exist when being politically articulated and consensually agreed upon by a wide range of people.10 Thus the unchallenged monopoly of capitalism only exists as long as people agree to take its supposedly inescapable power for granted. However, to counter the phantasmatic whole of capitalism does not necessarily mean to present a singular alternative, but to engage in ongoing struggles over recognition and resources, over truth defined by contingency.


It therefore seems most important to emphasize those moments in Gibson-Graham that underline the necessity of dealing with and socially organizing “negotiation, struggle, uncertainty, ambivalence, disappointment” rather than solely focusing on “friendliness, trust, conviviality, and companionable connection.”24 Even as I introduce this insistence on thinking of transformation as a power struggle—although a pleasurable one—I would still like to point out the promising potential of Gibson-Graham’s proposal of understanding desire and economy as inherently intertwined and mutually constitutive.

It is this conceptual move that connects the politics of language, the politics of the subject, and the politics of collective action, allowing for new political imaginaries to develop practical effects:

- A language of economic difference has the potential to offer new subject positions and prompt novel identifications, multiplying economic energies and desires. But the realization of this potential is by no means automatic. Capitalism is not just an economic signifier that can be displaced through deconstruction and the proliferation of signs. Rather, it is where the libidinal investment is.

If capitalism is the place of libidinal investment, then it is obvious that political challenges to capitalism likewise need to work on libidinal investment and search for new forms of identification and desire—and this is exactly what Gibson-Graham are doing when they call for resubjectivation, devoting a full chapter to “Cultivating subjects for a community economy.”


I see two problems here in Gibson-Graham’s attempts to cultivate subjects of communal economies. One is that they lose sight of their declared aim to think in terms of complex interdependencies, which would necessarily demand analyzing the politics of subjects as not only constitutive of new economic relations, but also of existing late modern, neoliberal discourses and power relations that promote self-responsibility, team-building, and independence from state support. The focus of attention falls on the development of a self that is engaged in community enterprises, is poor-but-happy, and functions as a self-activated, positive thinking being who forsakes global perspectives of social justice or the damnation of capitalism, but creates alternative economies posing no threat to profit-oriented structures. However, the absence of doubt with regard to whether this self fits all too well into the creation of a divided world of non-profit survival and capitalocentric rule, remains questionable.

The other problem that results from stabilizing established power relations lies in a delight over difference that neglects the difference of conflict, contradiction, competition, privilege, or antagonistic political views or interests. Energies for building community economies are understood to be fruitful when there is “no militant advocacy, no talk of struggle against a despised capitalism.”30 Furthermore, conflicts internal to being-in-common, but which jeopardize togetherness, are presented as a result of the “psychic difficulties of relinquishing established economic identities,” which can be overcome once a new perspective is achieved whereby one is open “to the humanity of others, to the possibility of being other than she was, to participating with those most different from herself (in her own antagonistic worldview) in constructing a community economy.”

Both problems, I would like to argue, are due to an unresolved and excessively harmonious relation between identification and desire.


Gibson-Graham’s process of cultivating a postcapitalist self in the end reconciles identification and desire. Even though they insist on the impossibility of fixing identity, their aim is to develop desires for community economies embodied by subjects who identify as being connected to others. Interdependency is not always taken as granted, but is the result of an arduous process, which captures and contains the Other of the Other in the very act of providing space for it. For Gibson-Graham the point is not to incite a never-ending process of dynamic tensions between identification and desire, desires prompting or subverting identifications, identifications inciting or stabilizing desires; rather, there is only one of these directions present and valued: that is, desires effecting identifications with communal economies.

Gibson-Graham’s argument carries a built-in opposition between the discursive constitution of the subject and its limits, namely its embodied affectivity, showing itself by the fact that “the body has a ‘mind’ of its own, that there might be resistance to new identities, attachments to old ones, unconscious refusals to change, fears of symbolization.” They present this as a distinction between the “emptiness of the subject” and the “fullness of embodiment.” Yet why would the emptiness of the subject “that is the ultimate ground for our ability to change” stand in opposition to the “fullness beyond the level of conscious feeling and thought”? My impression is that the search for transformative potentials is too much directed towards the unconscious, habitual, sensational, embodied dimensions of a new postcapitalist self. Transformative perspectives are bound to the idea of emancipating the subject from the ego, rather than starting from a self that is “from the start, given over to the other” and the social relations developing from there." (http://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/156)