Anthropocene, Capitalocene, and Other “-Cenes”

Why a Correct Understanding of Marx’s Theory of Value Is Necessary to Leave the Planetary Crisis

Carles Soriano

he perception that we are living in a critical historical period regarding the conditions of habitability on Earth—not only for humans but for many other living organisms too—is gaining more and more adepts among common people, academics, politicians, and social movements. This critical period has been typified as the planetary crisis of the Anthropocene Epoch and studies undertaken in the present century show that habitability on Earth is progressively deteriorating. There is an increasing perception too, though more restricted, of the close relation between the ongoing habitability crisis and today’s global capitalist society. This perception is based more on intuition and on the historical correspondence of planetary crisis indicators with the capitalist mode of social production than on scientific studies showing that the crisis is a structural necessity of capital reproduction. As a result, a number of alternative terms to the Anthropocene have been coined to name the present historical period. Although terms such as Plantationocene, Chthulucene, Growthocene, Econocene, Pyrocene, Necrocene, and so on may have a provocative scope, it is also true that they are based on an incomplete understanding of the ongoing crisis. Among the alternatives to the Anthropocene, Capitalocene is the term that has undergone a deeper conceptual unfolding. However, the concept of the Capitalocene is not devoid of important misconceptions regarding the crisis and its relation with the fundamentals of the capitalist mode of social production based on the reproduction of capital.

In this contribution, I undertake a critical analysis of the current terms for the ongoing planetary crisis, and of the different conceptualisations underlying these terms. The focus is mainly on the Anthropocene versus Capitalocene dispute both because these are the more widespread terms and because they have undergone deep theoretical development. I show that the flaws in these terms are based on a misunderstanding of both the planetary crisis and the fundamentals of the capitalist mode of production, and of their mutual intertwining. These shortcomings are reflected in the proposals to formalise the planetary crisis in the GTS and they are discussed in this context. Emphasis is put on the methodological and epistemological limitations of the Anthropocene and Capitalocene approaches, which are ultimately responsible for the weaknesses of their political proposals to leave the crisis behind.


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