2021, issue 2
The Dark Underbelly of Capitalism:
Exploring the Capitalism-War Connection.
Marius Nijenhuis
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution 4.0 License International License (CC
BY 4.0). © 2021 The author(s).
Krisis41 (2):138-142.
Review of
Maurizio Lazzarato. 2021. Capital Hates Everyone. Fascism or
Revolution. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e) Interventions.
War, Capital, Maurizio Lazzarato, Neoliberalism,
Fascism, Domination
1382021, issue 2
The Dark Underbelly of Capitalism:
Exploring the Capitalism-War Connection.
Marius Nijenhuis
Kant famously wrote that “the spirit of trade […] cannot coexist with war” and that
liberal capitalism creates “perpetual peace (1795, 92). More recently, it has again become
popular to argue that liberal capitalism is ‘the best’ system of government. Fukuyama
(1992) famously heralded Western liberal democracies as “the end of history”, and propo-
nents of democratic peace theory argue that liberal capitalism creates peace and prosperity
(see for example Mousseau 2019). The well-known post-workerist Maurizio Lazzarato
approaches the capitalist system from the opposite angle by exploring the connection
between capitalism and war. Over the last decade, Lazzarato (2012; 2014; 2015) has
explored the subjectivation and enslavement inherent to capitalism and the way in which
nancialization and indebtedness operate as particularly insidious mechanisms of control.
In Capital Hates Everyone: Fascism or Revolution (2021), Lazzarato takes a particularly radical
approach. In this book he draws on Deleuze and Guattari, Foucault, and Marx, among
others, to argue that capitalism has an inherently violent and conictual nature. He uses
the book to argue that capitalism cannot be understood separately from historical and
contemporary fascisms.
One reason for why capitalism continues to appear so peaceful and non-violent
is specic to the neoclassical economic theory that dominates our contemporary under-
stand ing of capitalism. Within neoclassical economics, capitalism is typically understood
as a system of free and (formally) equal economic actors that enter into peaceful and
mutually benecial exchanges. Graeber (2011, 21-41) argues that this view of the
economy results from “the myth of barter”, the idea that capitalism originated when
one farmer needed milk and the other needed vegetables, leading these equal parties to
barter their goods for mutual benet. However, in practice capitalism has a dark under-
belly of violence and exploitation which it hides through its veil of formal freedom and
equality. Marx already noted that a prerequisite for capitalist relations was “primitive
accumulation”, the expropriation of land and property and their concentration in the
hands of the few (1867, 873-876). In this regard, Marx (1867, 878-895) used the famous
example of the British “enclosure movement” and the violent expropriation that this
land-grabbing of the commons by the wealthy constituted.
More recently, various scholars have noted how violent dispossession continues
to function under capitalism (see Harvey 2003; Li 2014). Thus, many capitalist exchanges,
especially those done in and through the Global South, are made possible via violence
or the threat thereof. Moreover, private property is itself constituted and maintained
through violence and coercion. As Graeber (2011, 160) remarks, “think about what
would happen if you were to insist on your right to enter a university library without a
properly validated ID”. Under capitalism there exists a comprehensive juridico-political
system of coercion and force without which existing property relations would break
down (Cohen 2011). Moreover, real-world capitalist relations are almost always char-
acterized by unequal power relations due to past oppression, rendering racial, sexual,
and other forms of exploitation possible through the vehicle of the ‘free’ and ‘equal’
1392021, issue 2
capitalist system (Mills 2017, 113-135). Is it any wonder, then, that many academics in
Western Europe are white, whereas the cleaning stas in the universities often consist
of people of color?
In Capital Hates Everyone, Lazzarato takes inspiration from Foucault’s 1975-1976
Society Must Be Defended (2003) lectures, in which Foucault approached power relations
through the prism of civil war. Lazzarato contrasts this approach with how Foucault
analyzed neoliberalism in his 1978-1979 lectures on The Birth of Biopolitics (2008) as
a predominantly non-violent governmentality, viz., as a non-violent “art of govern-
ment” (Foucault 2007, 92), that mostly relies on incentives and stimuli, rather than
coercion and force, to govern behavior. Foucault argued that neoliberalization entails
the subjectivation of individuals into “entrepreneurs of the self”, always concerned
with growing their ‘human capital’ by becoming tter, happier, more productive (2008,
226). In this way, neoliberalization transforms how we operate within the economic
system and within (formerly) non-economic realms of life like health, tness, and
relationships. Lazzarato criticizes authors such as Dardot and Laval (2014) and Brown
(2015; 2019) who, inspired by The Birth of Biopolitics, understand neoliberal capitalism
as predominantly non-violent (Lazzarato 2021, 27-28). Lazzarato, in contrast, argues
that all capitalisms, including neoliberal capitalism, have a violent undercurrent which
consists of interrelated but irreducible (literal and gurative) wars on the basis of class,
race, and gender. In the words of McClanahan (2017, 512), the idea that neoliberalism
is characterized by subjectivation rather than force seems to be the standpoint of “the
subject who polishes her college application, who selects among schools for his kid,
who improves her scholarly CV through obtaining national grants”. It is emphatically
not the standpoint of a Chinese worker screwing in backplates of iPhones for 29 days
a month.
Lazzarato uses the rst two parts of Capital Hates Everyone to construct a
post-workerist conception of capitalism that is inuenced by Deleuze and Guattari’s
(1987) theory of machines. Lazzarato understands capitalism as “a series of devices for
machinic enslavement and […] social subjection” (2006). These machinic assemblages
are not technological per se, as there are various kinds of machines (technological,
social, economic) that shape our lives. In Lazzarato’s conception of capitalism, capital
and labor are always at war, with putative social stability only being the result of one
faction’s temporary dominance. Lazzarato argues that within contemporary neolib-
eralism, which is characterized by the far-reaching nancialization of our everyday
lives and a dominance of capital over labor, our democracies are rendered increasingly
illiberal by the dominance of the “capitalist war machine” that turns everything and
everyone into cogs of capital’s machine (2021, 165). Thus, Lazzarato explains how even
leftist parties like Brazil’s Worker’s Party have become unable to escape the logic of
nancialization, as it has relied on debt as a means to give the poor access to essential
services (31-40). Lazzarato argues that the resentment, frustration, and isolation of the
“indebted men” that are created by this nancialization only fans the ames of the
new fascisms of Trump, Bolsonaro and friends (see Lazzarato 2012; 2015). Given the
logic of war underlying capitalism, Lazzarato argues, these new fascisms are “the other
face of neoliberalism” (2021, 9), and they are not some perverse neoliberal side-eect or
1402021, issue 2
“neoliberal Frankenstein”, as Brown (2019) argued. In this regard, Lazzarato points to
the anity of some neoliberals for right-wing dictators Hayek infamously preferred
a “liberal dictatorship to a democratic government devoid of liberalism” (Caldwell and
Montes 2015, 44; Lazzarato 2021, 46-47) and Lazzarato points to older syntheses of
capital and fascism (like Nazism) to argue that the new fascisms are merely the other side
of neoliberalization (2021, 41-46).
Lazzarato’s examination of capitalism via the prism of war helps underscore
the looming conicts, the violence and exploitation, as well as the possibilities for
revolution, that underly a capitalism of ever-deepening cleavages between winner and
loser, subaltern and dominant, colonized and colonizer, man and woman, Dalit and
Brahmin. Thereby, he lays bare the nasty and brutish side of capitalism. At the same time,
and perhaps due to his Marxist sympathies, Lazzarato also risks developing a kind of
totalizing theory which Foucault (2007, 6), as well as other postmoderns like Lyotard
(1984), rightly criticized as inadequate for understanding social reality. The attempt to
collapse all instances of capitalism into an all-encompassing theory of ‘capital’ and ‘war’,
of ‘fascism’ and ‘revolution’, creates an understanding of society which is not equipped
to cope with the multiplicity of social reality. It renders both capitalism and war as
unitary and monolithic processes with always and everywhere the same underlying
dynamics. One could therefore ask Lazzarato: How should we understand the “varieties
of capitalism” and the “varieties of neoliberalism” which exist in dierent countries in
regard to his seemingly totalizing theory of ‘capitalism’ (Hall and Soskice 2001; Birch
and Mykhnenko 2009)? Has there been no relevant improvement between the capital-
ism of, say, the colonial period, and the capitalism of the twenty-rst century? And does
Lazzarato not underestimate the power that certain players have under neoliberalism
to inuence the underlying capitalist dynamics for the better, and to rein capital in a
bit, as one could argue might be reected by the recent agreement on an international
corporate tax rate by the G7 (Rappeport 2021)?
Lazzarato uses the third and nal part of the book to critique the limitations
of the ‘post-68 movement’ in philosophy, by which he refers to, among other things,
French Theory and Postcolonial Theory. What Lazzarato argues for, in our current
predicament, is not just a social revolution that contests contemporary subjectivities
and normalization processes, which is the focus of much post-68 thought, but also a
political revolution ‘beyond capitalism’ (2021, 233). Making the Chinese workers at
Foxconn or the Bangladeshi slaves in Qatar aware of their subjectivity and the nor-
malizing forces at play, in so far as they are not already aware of these things, is in itself
insucient for freeing them from their predicament and will only make their lives
appear more miserable. Hence, the exploited and enslaved (the Global North’s precariat
and proletariat, the Global South, people of color) do not just require a “revolutionary
theory” which exposes relations of domination and subjectivation, they also need “a
theory of revolution” which contains “strategic principles” to successfully establish the
new world (Lazzarato 2021, 235).
There is a certain risk in revolutionary theories becoming disconnected from
theories of revolution, which can be seen clearly under neoliberal capitalism. The
social revolutions that have been brought about by the post-68 movement, however
1412021, issue 2
emancipatory they may be, have again and again been co-opted by the dynamics of
capitalism and put to use to hide capital’s ugly face. Thus, the struggle against racism is
co-opted for promoting one’s global sports organization whilst simultaneously sponsor-
ing large-scale slavery; LGBTQI+ rights are turned into something for selling electronic
devices which are made on the backs of Chinese workers; and women’s emancipation
is deployed as an electoral slogan to push neoliberal economic policies that dispropor-
tionately harm welfare dependents. Lazzarato in this respect criticizes techno-optimists
by arguing that technology and automation also will not free us from the “capitalist war
machine” (2021, 165). Any technological machine, Lazzarato argues, is always already
embedded in, and put to use by, the social machine (the “war machine”) of capital
(2021, 119). What we need is thus a social and political revolution away from capitalism,
not merely ‘technological innovation’ by way of capital. Capitalism, then, is in some
sense akin to ‘The Blob’: it is a depersonalized monster that consumes everything (tech-
nologies, social movements, etc.) in its path only to become stronger, bigger, and more
dangerous for it. At the same time, real social change tends to disappear somewhere over
the horizon.
In my view, Lazzarato should be careful of creating the impression that the
post-68 movement has failed to connect its problematization of subjectivation with
systematic critiques of capitalism and with revolutionary theories directed at toppling
capitalist power relations. Whereas Foucault has mostly kept a ‘safe’ distance from
Marxism, many post-68 scholars have never hidden their anity for, and connection to,
Marxism. The important task, then, should not be to chastise this or that social move-
ment or intellectual for failing to focus on how to move beyond capitalism. Rather,
we should attempt to nd a space where “revolution”, viz., a movement for bringing
about a society beyond capitalism, and “becoming-revolutionary”, viz., creating the
revolutionary subject aware of his or her domination, can come together in a fruitful
manner (Lazzarato 2021, 232). What we need in this regard is a ‘revolutionary theory’
that is produced by “future revolutionaries”, and which enables these ‘victims of capital’
to become a revolutionary body whilst simultaneously oering “specic strategic prin-
ciples” for reaching a world beyond capitalism (2021, 235). Given the multiplicity of
cross-cutting cleavages that run through the social groups which potentially form the
revolutionary social body, however, this will be an extremely dicult task, but consid-
ering the urgency of what Lazzarato (2021) calls our “apocalyptic times” (7), it might
well be the most pressing task within social and political philosophy today.
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Marius Nijenhuis is a Research Master’s student in
Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. He is
currently writing his thesis on the justifiability of
private debt under liberalism
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