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How Will Capitalism End? | The Nation


Did I ever tell you about my idea for a TV show? I envision it as a kind of alternate-history thriller—think Watchmen meets The Man in the High Castle meets The Plot Against America. The premise: The Bolsheviks’ wildest hopes were fulfilled, and their seizure of power in Russia was indeed followed by worldwide socialist revolutions. Yet these uprisings didn’t happen as expected, for the revolutionaries were not left-wing militants but the political

and business elites of the old regime. The 19th century economic order was overthrown not by mass movements or vanguardist parties but by the modern corporation and the administrative state. Season 1 ends with the big reveal: It was our timeline all along! Capitalism really did end after World War I, and we’ve been living under covert collectivism ever since.

OK, so it might not be a masterpiece. Still, if Netflix doesn’t bite, I just might pitch it to Dinesh D’Souza—for versions of this story have already found a wide audience on the American right. You know the basics: a socialist onslaught all but extinguishing the free market; a class of managers and bureaucrats controlling government and big business alike; an intellectual sphere pervaded by cultural Marxism. Start filming now, and we can bang out a pilot in time to capitalize on the presidency of “Red Joe” Biden.

What today looks like a conspiratorial right-wing story once had a wider appeal. For much of the 20th century, the notion that Western societies were becoming noncapitalist—or had already done so—was commonplace among left-liberals as well as conservatives. Karl Marx had already depicted joint-stock companies as the “transitional forms” heralding “the abolition of the capitalist mode of production within capitalist production itself.” Variants of the theme could be found in everyone from the New Dealers Adolf A. Berle and Gardiner C. Means to the Trotskyist turned conservative James Burnham (currently back in vogue among the more highbrow strands of MAGA). The separation of ownership and control in the modern corporation was only the most prominent of the mechanisms by which it seemed that capitalism was rendering itself obsolete.

It’s easy, perhaps too easy, to sneer at such predictions, whether issued in an optimistic left-wing or an apocalyptic right-wing vein. These days, discussions of the subject instead tend to invoke Fredric Jameson’s adage that it’s become easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. But is that really so surprising? After all, it’s intuitively clear what sorts of things might signify the end of the world (climate change, asteroids, zombies). Yet the end of capitalism is doubly ambiguous, for uncertainty about how capitalism might end reflects a deeper uncertainty about what exactly capitalism is. It’s sometimes suggested that this uncertainty is not accidental, that abstraction and opacity are central characteristics of the system, which if true would make the common injunction to “smash capitalism” less than self-evident: Is capitalism even the sort of thing that could be smashed, like a vase or a VCR? If it isn’t, should we expect its demise to come by self-destruction, stagnation, or mutation? Should we expect it to come at all? As Francesco Boldizzoni’s lively and wide-ranging book Foretelling the End of Capitalism makes clear, attempts to answer these questions are as old as the concept of capitalism itself, and they’ve led to remarkably varied conclusions.





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Marjorie Taylor Greene indicated support for executing prominent Democrats in 2018 and 2019 before running for Congress