Communist Capitalism

Giorgio Agamben

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The form of capitalism that is being consolidated on a planetary scale is not that which it had assumed in the West: it is, rather, capitalism in its communist variation, which unites an extremely rapid development of production with a totalitarian political regime. This is the historical significance of the leading role that China is taking on, not only in the realm of the economy in a narrow sense, but also – as the political use of the pandemic has so eloquently demonstrated – as a paradigm for the government of men. That the regimes established in so-called communist countries were a particular form of capitalism, specially adapted for economically backward countries and thus labelled ‘state capitalism’, was perfectly clear to anyone who knows how to read history; what was entirely unexpected, however, is that this form of capitalism, which seemed to have exhausted its function and was thus now obsolete, was instead destined – in a technologically updated configuration – to become the ruling principle of the current phase of globalized capitalism. Indeed, it is possible that today we are observing a conflict between Western capitalism, which used to exist alongside the ‘state of law’ and bourgeois democracy, and this new communist capitalism, a conflict in which the latter version appears to have emerged as the victor. What is certain, however, is that the new regime will combine the most inhumane aspects of capitalism with the most atrocious aspects of state communism, combining the extreme alienation of relations between people with an unprecedented social control.

–Giorgio Agamben December 15th, 2020.

Translated by Richard Braude