Excerpts from Introduction to Third Phase Transition: Solving The Anthropocene Crisis
On the third phase transition
“There is no reason to believe that a social change of lesser scope is required, than our transition from a part of the animal kingdom to the first human phase of hunting and gathering, or from this first phase of harvesting metabolism to the second one of human civilisation, with its linear metabolism.” [from Preface]
“During this entire [second] phase, class society had proven itself to be a superior form of association, in developing productive forces. It had brought human evolution from self-subsistent small-scale production into associated integration in the modern industrial society. Its levelling up of human association has exerted an irresistible attractive force. In the light of the Anthropocene crisis, this phase of linear metabolism can be evaluated as a completed natural historic experience. Development of productive forces, as the general principle of exploitation, is depleted.
In the context of evaluating the general characteristics of the second metabolic phase, class society should be essentially abstracted from its different historical forms over time and geographically. Likewise, in precisely this general aspect, we should disregard the uneven combination of civilisation and wars of conquest, culminating in global colonialism, despite the fact that half a thousand years of such barbaric imperialism had set the very conditions of modern bourgeois class society. Even the capitalist relation of exploitation is unnecessary to delve on, in analysing the most general social characteristics of linear metabolism.
On the one hand, these general characteristics might be socially reduced to human labour’s capacity to produce a surplus of consumption articles, enough for a minority to live in material abundance. On the other hand, these general conditions might be reduced to social means of cooperation still remaining too underdeveloped, to satisfy the core human need of cultivating human relations abundantly. These two opposing variables have now reached their limits. The conditions have radically changed. On the one hand, human labour has reached capacity to produce generally secure material provision, while proving material revelry for all as a devastating utopia. On the other hand, the means of human cooperation are becoming potentially abundant for all. But they are still being dominated, manipulated, and castrated by the socially dominant forces now becoming purely destructive. These same interests crave the restricting and channelling of human needs, back into its secondary and more primitive form, boundlessly growing material consumption.
This same destructivity is displayed at the interface of human society and exploited nature. There, the finite limit can be reduced to the fact that the fossil regime of capitalism has gone berserk, far beyond the vital force of capitalism itself. The capitalist mode of production’s dependence on maximising extraction of fossil minerals and fuels for exponentially developing labour productivity is no longer the main driving force. Rather it has turned into primarily whipping up aggregate consumption power. This in order to supply the parasitic rent seeking of abstract capital.
By depleting minerals, together with fossil and ground water, and by indiscriminately discharging waste from large scale production and consumption, the possibility of linear metabolism is being depleted. Carbon is being instantly released, that had been sequestered from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and chemically stored in the underground by tectonic movements of the continents for hundreds of millions of years. Depletion of soil ecology accumulated over thousands of years, through deforestation and petroleum-based agriculture, adds to the critical natural conditions of the present phase transition. Consumption of and pollution from a broad variety of minerals is driving the biogeochemical system of the planet towards irreversible tipping points. The chain of human fire regimes is culminating in an unsustainable regime of fossil depletion, heating, poisoning, and disturbing the entire planet. This culmination means the end of linear metabolism. It spells the end of systematic exploitation as the human life form. Class society has reached its definitive limit.”
“All scientific evidence today points towards the conclusion that we have come full spiral. Linear metabolism is causing havoc. It is threatening to deplete not only natural resilience and resources, but also the social cohesion of humanity as a self-associating species. It is risking society’s relapse into disintegrating barbaric forms. This, in turn, would mean incapacitating us in front of the sixth mass extinction, becoming its helpless victim and executioner at one and the same time.”
“Today, the relation of these two inverse variables [seeking solutions by association, rather than violence] manifests itself, on the one hand, as the recent loss of state capacity, in the most developed counties, to mass mobilise for war (‘the Vietnam syndrome’). On the other hand, human self-organisation only continues growing and proliferating in nonstate or supranational forms. These two tendencies are characteristic of the post-war period of global change. And they have been especially typical during the last decades, of great acceleration in global change.
The relapse of nonstate military organisation, displays a similar tendency. Mobilisation capacity has been collapsing, from former guerrilla warfare, eventually maturing as regular national armies, into sectarian violence, shrinking into armed gangs or individual terrorism. Thus, also violent mobilisation capacity outside state control has been waning. The great majority of poorer populations have been busy associating, in trying to build a better future for their children, grasping opportunities provided by abstract capital’s global industrial repulsion.”
“The past decades of great acceleration have also displayed a pattern of chronic civil wars, including barbaric brutality, and even local holocausts. These features are still appearing restricted to so-called hotspots, where class society’s statehood and private property has started dissolving into warring private armies, financed through plunder, seizure of resources, illicit business, and contraband. However, these features should be understood as a tendency that threatens to spread. We could expect them as a common alternative, if generalised association in solving the Anthropocene crisis should not succeed.”
“The general tendency still prevailing, however, holds a brighter future. Human cooperation is leaving behind the violent birth pangs characteristic of civilisation’s second phase of exploitative metabolism. With means of cooperation approaching abundant levels, their reach potentially spanning the globe within entire humanity, the human need of generally associating has been awoken. The still existing state of human relations is an historical result from class society violently monopolising natural and human resources. Now, this condition is revealing itself to threaten global mass destruction. This is what the Anthropocene crisis demonstrates. Generalised association is thereby becoming not only desirable, but outright imperative.
It is no longer an awe-inspiring monopoly of violence, that upholds the obviously destructive order. It is merely kept up, as a lingering result of a continuously existing confusion, in confronting the general dimensions and concrete tasks of completing the necessary phase transition.”
“At exactly the moment of the Anthropocene crisis, aggregate life of one living species, humanity, is facing the option of consciously co-working, within itself and within the biogeochemical sun-fuelled work of the planetary life system, as a united self-organising and life-promoting global force.”