Is the Crisis of Capitalism Terminal?

Editor’s Note: Leonardo Boff is a noted South American liberation theologian.

Is the Crisis of Capitalism Terminal?

Leonardo Boff*

I believe the present crisis of capitalism is more than cyclical and structural. It is terminal. Are we seeing the end of the genius of capitalism, of always being able to adapt to any circumstance? I am aware that only few other people maintain this thesis. Two things, however, bring me to this conclusion.

The first is the following: the crisis is terminal because we all, but in particular capitalism, have exceeded the limits of the Earth. We have occupied and depredated the whole planet, destroying her subtle equilibrium and exhausting her goods and services, to the point that she alone can no longer replenish all that has been removed.

Already by mid XIX century, Karl Marx prophetically wrote that this tendency of capital would destroy the twin sources of its wealth and reproduction: nature and labor. That is what is happening now.

Especially in the last century, Nature was stressed as never before, including the 15 great disasters she experienced throughout her four billion year history. The verifiable, extreme, phenomena in every region, and the changes in the climate that tend towards ever increasing global warming, support Marx’s thesis. How can capitalism continue without Nature? It has reached an insurmountable limit.

Capitalism reduces, or eliminates, labor. There are great laborless inventions. A programmed and robotic production apparatus produces more and better, almost without labor. The direct consequence of this is structural unemployment.

Millions of people will never join the labor market, not even as a reserve army. Instead of depending on labor, capital is learning to do without it. Unemployment in Spain approaches 20% of the general population, and 40% of youth. In Portugal, it is 12% of the population, and 30% among the young. This results in a grave social crisis, like that which Greece is undergoing at this very moment. All of society is sacrificed in the name of an economy that is not designed to take care of human needs, but to pay the debts to the banks and the financial system. Marx is right: exploited labor is no longer the source of its wealth. The machine is.

The second reason is linked to the humanitarian crisis that capitalism is creating.

Before, it was limited to the peripheral countries. Now it is global, and it has reached the central countries. The economic question cannot be resolved by dismantling society. The victims, connected by new venues of communication, resist, revolt and threaten the present order. Ever more people, especially the young, reject the perverse capitalist political economic logic: the dictatorship of finance that, through the market, subjugates the States to its interests, and the profitability of speculative capital, that circulates from one stock market to another, reaping profits without producing anything at all, except more money for the stockholders.

Capital itself created the poison that could kill it: by demanding that its workers have ever greater technical training, to create accelerated growth and greater competitiveness, it unintentionally nurtured people who think. They are slowly learning the perversity of the system, that all but skins people alive in the name of pure material accumulation, and shows its heartlessness by demanding greater and greater efficiency, to the point of profoundly stressing the workers, pushing them to desperation, and in some cases, even to suicide, as has occurred in several countries, including Brazil.

The streets of several European and Arab countries, the “indignants” who fill the squares of Spain and Greece, are an expression of a rebellion against the current political system, controlled by the markets and the logic of capital. The young Spaniards shout: «it is not a crisis, it is theft.» The thieves are comfortably housed on Wall Street, in the International Monetary Fund, IMF, and in the Central European Bank. In other words, they are the high priests of the exploitative global capital.

As the crisis worsens, the multitudes who can no longer tolerate the consequences of the super exploitation of their lives and of the life of the Earth, will grow; and will revolt against the economic system that is in agony, not because it is old, but because of the strength of the poison and the contradictions it has created, punishing Mother Earth and afflicting the lives of her sons and daughters. (ALAI)

*Leonardo Boff, Theologian Earthcharter Commission. (Free translation from the Spanish sent by Melina Alfaro, Refugio del Rio Grande, Texas, EE.UU.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun, co-chair with Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls in San Francisco and Berkeley, California. He is the author of eleven books, including two national bestsellers—The Left Hand of God and Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation. His most recent book, Embracing Israel/Palestine, is available on Kindle from and in hard copy from He welcomes your responses and invites you to join with him by joining the Network of Spiritual Progressives (membership comes with a subscription to Tikkun magazine). You can contact him at
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4 Responses to Is the Crisis of Capitalism Terminal?

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  4. AL-MANSOUR October 17, 2011 at 5:16 am


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