Murdering The Dead

“Capitalism produces disasters almost as quickly as it produces commodities. […]

“What do we mean by disasters? We could say that capitalism itself is an ongoing disaster for humans and the environment, measured not just in death and destruction but in the lost potential of life subordinated to the rhythms of capital. But to narrow things down a little we could, for the sake of the argument, define disasters as massacres that take place without deliberate planning.

“Even here, qualification is necessary. If, for instance, chemical factories are planned and built in India with less stringent safety than similar factories owned by the same company in the US, can we really say it is an accident if thousands end up dead, as happened when chemicals leaked from the Union Carbide plant at Bhopal in 1984? If cheap buildings are put up in poor areas at risk of earthquakes, is it just bad luck if they fall down and bury their inhabitants when the earth moves, as in Istanbul in 1999? If medical treatments are denied to those most in need of them, as in the case of HIV/AIDS in Africa is it just “one of those things”?

“The massacres here are unplanned only in the sense that no date was set in advance, or orders given to shoot. In this sense disasters are different from wars. Yet the possibility of catastrophe is planned for whenever unnecessary risks are knowingly taken in the planning of new buildings, industrial processes or machines, or when environmental or biological processes are left to take their course without intervention that could prevent them or minimise their impact. […]

“Disasters come in different forms. There are slow-motion disasters, an accumulation of deaths in ones and twos that add up to mass carnage. In the US, ‘more auto workers were killed and injured each year on the job than soldiers were killed and injured during any year of the Vietnam war’. Then there are sudden accidents resulting in mass casualties caused by technical failures of machines or buildings, such as train and plane crashes. Finally there are so called natural disasters featuring environmental factors such as floods and droughts, but often with social causes.

Bordiga looks in detail at some of the technical factors in each of these disasters, an approach that perhaps reflects his interests and knowledge as an engineer, but he is clear that ‘In the inhuman system of capital, every technical problem boils down to an economic one, that of the prize to be won by cutting costs and boosting returns’. He contrasts this unfavourably with ‘The old pre-bourgeois societies [that] had some residual time to think about safety and general interests’. […]

“Disasters are shown to arise from the innermost logic of capitalist society, not just from the negligence or malice of individuals (or individual corporations). […]

“Today even many believers have stopped believing that disasters like floods and droughts are simply acts of nature, let alone God. In the aftermath of the Orissa cyclone that killed 10,000 people in eastern India in 1999, and the drought in the horn of Africa (2000), the charity Christian Aid argues ‘that is wrong to call these catastrophes natural now that we are aware of the creeping menace of global warming which is caused by the burning of fossil fuels’. […]

“Capitalism cannot save us from disasters because its short term economic interests are what drives it, not the long term conditions of life on the planet. […]”

All text from from the introduction to Murdering The Dead – Amadeo Bordiga on Capitalism and Other Disasters (Antagonism Press)

One Comment

  1. Gyrus
    It’s a fair comment. Obviously wealthy Californians and Japanese get all the warning that current tech can afford if a tsunami heads their way. But I can’t help noticing something else in the background here, something that left-wing radicalism shares with capitalism: an implicit belief that nature is ultimately controllable/”manageable” – whether it’s controlled by the few for the few, or by all for all.

    I guess we’re all wary of being muddle-headed after so many decades of capitalism co-opting nature’s aspects (ubiquity and er… “naturalness”, etc.). And obviously I’m not saying we should all cower before the elements… I just can’t resist commenting when the opposite mistake seems to be lingering somewhere.
    2005/01/05 @ 12:51 pm

    I think you’re right to be cautious butit seems to me that parts of nature can be controlled, whether it be by having a roof on your house to keep the rain out, or contraception. (There is probably scope for a very dubious joke at this point).

    But is the idea that nature cannot be controlled/managed, helpful? Could be construed as being very conservative.

    Maybe we can agree that there will always be chaos, but that doesn’t mean we have to sit back and do nothing? 🙂
    2005/01/05 @ 01:44 pm

    We’re both saying that it’s a balance thing, innit? I’m always a bit “both/and” rather than “either/or”. Putting early warning systems in place with full knowledge that it may well prove useless in some circumstances is the challenge.

    Just like… living knowing you’re going to die. Affirming life with getting caught up in immortality delusions.

    Agreed, romanticisation of nature’s power can be conservative. But then riding roughshod over nature is one of capitalism’s ten commandments. The Left opposes capitalism. But then the Left is notoriously anti-environmentalist. Kinda makes you want to leave the Left/Right nonsense behind, no? 🙂
    2005/01/06 @ 11:37 am

    Not all of the left is anti-environmentalist though! It just may appear further down the list of priorities than social justice, and maybe lefties have less time for the more moralistic sack cloth and ashes or apocalyptic business which some environmentalists fall into… neither environmentalism or the left are monoliths… anyway, yes, innit.
    2005/01/06 @ 12:09 pm

    Peter M
    werent that tech for detection developed to keep tabs on nucleaur testing/bombs?

    and yes its not a bout perfect equality/control: how about a world where the richest is only a hundred thousand times richer than the poorest rather than wahtever sqintillion it is now
    thatd be a start
    2005/01/07 @ 02:03 am

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