‘The threat of one catastrophe is deferred by that of others’ (T. Adorno)


We should never lose sight of the bigger picture. The string of geopolitical conflicts we are experiencing (as a rule, anticipated by corporate media and escalated when financial markets are closed) are neither accidental nor arbitrary. They are symptoms of growing systemic fragility, inscribed in the dialectical deployment of the collapsing logic of capital. Such a depressive constellation – in no way unique in history but symptomatic of the implosion of our civilisation – is captured by the popular dictum “when all else fails, they take you to war”. The causal connection between socioeconomic collapse and relentless emergency may appear counterintuitive, and yet it is the existential requirement of global late-capitalist work society insofar as it is supported by the artificial creation of colossal and ever-increasing amounts of debt. We must appreciate the inverted logic at play here: wars at the periphery of Empire are not the reason for economic decline. Rather, the implosive economic environment activates military conflicts in a desperate bid to save appearances and postpone its redde rationem. Wars (especially when marketed as humanitarian, defensive, or “against terror”) are, in essence, criminal means to “easy money”, which is what keeps today’s financial bubbles inflated to record-breaking highs while the actual economic conditions of millions of workers (or “inactive workforce”) are cratering at an equally record-breaking pace.

Let’s zoom out a little further. The enormous mass of debt that for decades has been pumped into a labyrinthine financial architecture, which requires constant refinancing through more debt, is now the key driver of the eschatological narratives that have mushroomed all around us – from the anthropic climate change (aka global warming) planetary catastrophe to the Covid pandemic and the revenant of the nuclear holocaust. The debt spiral we are in is a death spiral, literally. It can no longer be placed in any “productive” context. World debt is surging at an unprecedented pace while the real economy is contracting steadily, with no end in sight. In capitalist terms, more and more debt must be brought into existence to chase the debt that hangs over our heads like a sword of Damocles. Without this mechanism in place, the entire financial and socioeconomic system locks up. And it is easy to imagine what would ensue: mayhem in the streets, civil wars, the disintegration of the social bond. However, the immediate side effect of perpetually expanding debt to “finance emergencies” is currency devaluation – the epochal crisis of the money-medium that is already sweeping the globe.

Perhaps it is a sign of the times that even the sharpest thinkers, historians and geopolitical commentators struggle to comprehend the existential nature of the liaison between our debt-based economic system and military escalations. Especially, they seem to fail to understand why the hyper-indebted West keeps trying to pick a geopolitical fight. Yet, it is a very simple logic: today’s emergencies are not independent variables but the destructive modus operandi of implosive capitalist reproduction. The sound of bombs in Ukraine, Gaza and the Middle East is the operatic accompaniment to the deadly dance of recession and inflation in the era of QE-infinity, stagnating incomes, and structural debt monetization. The ineluctable realities of economic implosion need to drown in the deafening cacophony of war, or the promotion of its threat. Psychopathic financial elites love the smell of napalm in the morning. The Maginot Line of their financial casino is under such severe pressure that only continuous geopolitical noise can preserve the illusion of systemic sustainability. This is how perverse the mechanism has become: global capital needs Covid, Ukraine, Gaza, the Houthis and now (predictably) Iran – ideally all at once, but also in alternate weeks – so that the can is kicked a little further down the road.

The accelerating disintegration of the highly integrated socioeconomic system demands more social destruction and human blood so that the sacred profiteering mechanism can grind on. The economic function of the global industry of chaos & destabilisation is, at heart, aggressively self-defensive: it works as a Pavlovian trigger for 1) mass monetary injections into the bulimic body of financialised capitalism; and 2) the turning of the authoritarian screw on immiserated populations. We should not be afraid to spell it out: the havoc wreaked on humanity by “crisis capitalism” feeds into the formation of a new totalitarian order, namely a techno-fascist, AI-driven interoperable control infrastructure that draws its force from, among other things, infectious pseudo-leftist rhetoric.

Whether it is identity politics, concern for public safety, or the new religion of net-zero green economy, such humanitarian rhetoric plays a powerful ideological role for two interconnected reasons: it responds to the need to manipulate and control increasingly destitute populations while also disabling any serious collective struggle against rampant poverty and the physical removal of the superfluous, unproductive “wretched of the earth” (of which the Palestinians are today’s exemplary incarnation). In a nutshell, the critique of political economy is pre-emptively disabled by faux-leftist conservatism serving the interests of the elites rather than the underprivileged and excluded. The result is that oppression has long become anonymous: any sense of class solidarity is lost, while the atomised masses fail to grasp that they have turned into objects of a socioeconomic process that, in a bitter twist of irony, they enthusiastically support.

Insofar as it works with corporations, bankers, and the invisible elites, the liberal left is contributing to the exacerbation of our systemic crisis. That today’s “progressive” discourse is not only unable to reflect on the economic cause of the emergency paradigm, but also denounces it as conspiratorial, is the definitive proof of its surrender to, or opportunistic participation in, the destructive logic of contemporary capitalism. Especially the fashionable, middle-class liberal left is now a pathetic force for status quo conservation, and has therefore relocated to the right. Any left deserving of its name should always begin from the beginning: the critique of political economy. This task is particularly urgent at a historical time when the discourse of political economy (the reproduction of capitalist conditions whatever it takes) has achieved global dominance. Its criminal operations are in full view, and to turn a blind eye to them is equally criminal. The consequences we are facing are dire. In the best-case scenario, the steady devaluation of fiat currencies translates into unforgiving de-socialisation: the bleeding to death of the social link.

In 1968, at the dawn of the neoliberal class war, Theodor Adorno cautioned: ‘The relations of production [between the capitalist owners and the workers] have not been revolutionized, and their power is greater than ever. However, at the same time, since they are objectively anachronistic, they are debilitated, damaged, and undermined. They no longer function autonomously. Economic intervention is not, as the older liberal school believed, an alien element grafted from the outside, but an intrinsic part of the system, the epitome of self-defense.’[i]

The above picture has now rapidly degenerated. As I have argued, the ‘self-defence’ of today’s bankrupt brand of Western “advanced capitalism” necessitates economic intervention in the form of external monetary leverage (debt); which in turn requires emergency intervention in the form of geopolitical, epidemiological, etc. leverage; which in turn demands ideological intervention in the form of political and corporate media “narrative leverage” to both expedite the above constellation and take control of the resulting socioeconomic folding. The direction of travel of this leveraged mechanism was indeed predicted by the Frankfurt School of critical theory: the liberal democratic West, controlled by iron-clad economic laws that have reduced the political class to an obedient technocratic administrator of financial interests, is turning totalitarian. Political conditions are dictated by the automatic pilot of the financial algorithm while the old illusion of the invisible hand of the market has evaporated. Parliament is increasingly the expression of a political ideology whose purpose is to mask real socioeconomic contradictions. And because capitalism – as a social relation sustained by value-producing labour – is now in terminal agony, the political managers of the algorithm are enabling a permanent state of emergency that increasingly resembles a permanent state of barbarism.

This is why the “zone of interest” (Interessengebiet) depicted in the eponymous film directed by Jonathan Glazer should be read both as a metaphorical indictment of our moral and intellectual bankruptcy vis-à-vis the ongoing genocide in Palestine (as intimated by the director), and as a powerful reminder of how barbarism is the inevitable outcome of capitalist denialism. Glazer’s is a film on memory that speaks to the present and future returns of the same (which is why it has no temporal narrative development). It deliberately presents Hannah Arendt’s theme of the “banality of evil”, embodied by Rudolf Höss (Auschwitz commandant) and other Nazi officers, as blind compliance with capitalist objectivity, including concern with surplus-value extraction and productivity (e.g., in relation to the incineration of bodies), the individualistic pursuit of career moves, mindless bourgeois hyperactivity, and the professional planning of new “business models” for maximising efficiency in concentration camps. Barbarism originates in this specific zone of dogmatic capitalist interest, which is so ingrained in the modern mind to make the disavowal of genocide possible. Here is Glazer on the matter: ‘The more fragments of information we uncovered about Rudolf and Hedwig Höss in the Auschwitz archives, the more I realised that they were working-class people who were upwardly mobile. They aspired to become a bourgeois family in the way that many of us do today. That was what was so grotesque and striking about them – how familiar they were to us.’

Contrary to Glazer’s approach, the cultural operators of the West have always sought to place Nazi (and other) atrocities in the extra-historical and metapolitical realm of Absolute Evil, essentially replicating at the opposite end of the moral spectrum the central myth of Nazi mysticism: purification through annihilation.[ii] A glaring example of this ideological ruse is Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, which provides us with the figure of the redeemed Nazi as an enlightened industrialist (Oskar Schindler), thus propping up a wall between the free capitalist work society and Nazi totalitarianism. For Spielberg, work indeed makes you free. In the unexpected final scene of The Zone of Interest, the above cliché is challenged in a subtle, thought-provoking way as Glazer cuts to present-day Auschwitz-Birkenau’s Memorial and Museum, showing custodians (all women) dust the exhibits and vacuum-clean the empty corridors after closing time. The camp, in other words, is still a workplace, deeply embedded within the capitalist mode of production. Far from amounting to a sentimental flash-forward, as some critics have claimed, this is probably the most obscene passage of the film, reminding us that the past, present and future atrocities of the modern world share a very precise common denominator.

The deadlock of emergency capitalism shows that there is no progressive teleology in the history of modernity, as the conditions for barbarism resurface regularly. Capitalism as a “socially necessary illusion” is breaking at the seams, and yet it perseveres by the sheer force of manipulation and unadulterated violence. At the heart of this persistence lies also another crucial achievement: persuading the fragmented and impoverished workers that they are responsible for their own fate. They need to assume responsibility. They also need to sacrifice by adapting, re-skilling, disqualifying and requalifying, while being patronised by the media and the political class. Precisely because it no longer needs labour-intensive production, capital has successfully dismantled the working class, thus elevating their exploitation to new peaks. The new technologies eliminate much more labour-power than capital can profitably reabsorb, while also demanding of workers a dehumanising degree of flexibility, speed, and cynical opportunism – the eye must be faster than the mind. All this confirms that today’s emergency capitalism is of an administrative kind. Its project is to manage gargantuan profits for a small elite, while all the rest end up excluded. However, precisely due to the disabling of the old proletariat as subjects of value-production and consumption, the new poor have nothing to lose. They will continue to constitute a threat that could explode at any moment.

Capital no longer knows what to do with millions of humans who already vegetate in conditions of “symbolic death”, no longer having a role to play – not even as a Marxian “industrial reserve army” – in the epic poem of capital. Many of the future generations will find themselves occupying the position of “human surplus” with respect to blind and furious profit-making dynamics. They are likely to end up locked into a system of control with respect to the capitalist zone of interest, or worse. But precisely as “inoperable and disposable excess” they represent the negation (and potential rejection) of the system. In all probability, a socio-anthropological horizon of sense alternative to the capitalist one will have to be built by and for them from that position of radical exclusion.



[i] Theodor Adorno, ‘Late Capitalism or Industrial Society?’, in Can One Live After Auschwitz? A Philosophical Reader, edited by Rolf Tiedemann (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2003), p. 122.

[ii] This powerful argument was developed by Italian intellectual (Jew and communist) Franco Fortini in his I cani del Sinai, penned on the occasion of the Six-Day War (1967). The book is available in English translation as The Dogs of Sinai (Kolkata: Seagull Books, 2014).