Endnotes on the end of capitalism (and eschatology in general)

An indefinite future of successful capitalist growth can hardly be thought with more confidence as a possible outcome of present conditions than can its breakdown or supersession. No: the essential contradiction of the capitalist mode of production – that it always needs both more and less labour; the inherent dynamism and future-orientedness of the accumulation process; and the necessarily conflictual playing out of that process – these posit, of themselves, another structural aspect to the revolutionary imaginary that we have not yet examined. This is a sense of the mode of production’s – and thus also the revolutionary imaginary’s own – ultimate impossibility, and of the necessity of an orientation to that impossibility. For this reason, this “end” is not simply a static generality, nor a simple subsumption of one or another arbitrary, historically-particular content under such a generality. It is, rather, something produced and reproduced through the immanent dynamics of this totality as it propels itself towards a future in which it must ultimately, on its own terms, be impossible. This propulsion towards an end is intrinsic to this mode of production’s inner temporality just as much as are the subsumption of the labour process under capital and the endless accumulation of surplus value. This is specifically an immanent material basis for the thought of an end to this mode of production; and as such it gives us something more determinate than, for example, the platitudinous recognition that all things pass, or the simple idea that what has a beginning must also have an end. [9]

[Footnote 9]
This linking of origins to ends is a recurrent thought in Greek and Roman philosophy which one still sometimes comes across. The idea that what comes to be must also have an end is the counterpart to a notion of the eternal as that which does not come to be and therefore does not end. But the logic binding these terms, while intuitive, is not self-evident. For there are two possible further terms here: what we might call the ‘one-sided’ eternities, which either have an origin but no end, or an end but no origin.
In Hesiod the origin of the gods was a fundamental question, and their relation to time itself thematised. By the time we get to the corny banalities of Roman stoicism, the divine is eternal and the human transient, and that is that. But what if capitalism is the one-sidedly eternal – something new under the sun, yet stretching off into indefinite time? There are other aspects of human society one might suspect of having this nature (within, no doubt, some ultimate frame, such as the ultimate heat-death of the universe), and thus persisting into a post-capitalist future: textual language, numeracy, science, agriculture. That capitalism has an origin does not itself exclude it from this set; for this, communist theory needs to find other reasons.

excerpt from the article “Error” in Endnotes #5 (2019)