Beware the Soft Hand of Capital

These days, it seems customary to begin any political commentary with the laundry list of indicators of global decline: exploding wealth inequality, looming environmental collapse, and the resurgence of overt racial terror in far-right governments. We are familiar enough with the mechanics of capitalism’s iron fist to know that we live in a world of precarity, so much so that sometimes we welcome capitalism’s soft hand in mitigating crises of its own making.

The soft hand of capital is the various ways that capitalism and the state co-opt popular struggles to offer a more sustainable set of relations of exploitation and ruling, at times aware of, and attending to, capital’s worst excesses of poverty and destruction. Marx famously declared that capital had contradictions it could never overcome, and would eventually dig its own grave. A segment of environmental radicals argue that capitalism, with its nature-destroying tendencies, is doomed to undermine its own survival.

But if we assume that it might be possible for capital to save itself, from itself, it becomes a central necessity to advance a criticism of those emerging tendencies toward green, sustainable, welfare capitalism.

Capitalism, with the aid of a mediating state, has endured crisis after crisis using each to consolidate more power. Capitalism has historically been quite efficient at commodifying rebellion and selling our resistance back to us in the form of softer forms of domination through the state.

While it is necessary to be attentive to capital’s iron fist — particularly as it threatens our ecological basis for survival — radicals might also take care to consider the soft hand of exploitation, especially when we catastrophize capitalism and lay in wait for its predetermined demise.

Though the political will for capitalism to reform its way out of climate change, political-economic crises and basic crises of legitimacy is anyone’s guess, we look at three spheres of capitalist recuperation to…

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