Edgardo Lander Explains It All

Crisis of the hegemonic civilizational pattern

We are experiencing the terminal crisis of an anthropocentric, monocultural and patriarchal civilizational pattern, based on endless growth and on systematic war efforts against the conditions that make life on planet Earth possible. The civilization of scientific and technological domain over "nature", measuring human wellness through the accumulation of material goods and through unlimited economic growth –of which capitalism is the utmost expression–, is reaching its edge. Its destructive dynamics, the commoditization of all dimensions of life, is, hastily, undermining the conditions that allow this civilizational pattern to exist. Capitalism requires permanent economic growth, as a condition of reproduction of its accumulation patterns; this is obviously not possible in a planet with limited resources. The more capitalism seeks to outstrip its own limits, incorporating new territories, exploiting new common goods, usurping Others' knowledge and manipulating the codes of life (biotechnology) and the codes of matter (nanotechnology), it deepens its own destructive dynamics and accelerates its advance towards its own limits.

In this historical moment, in which humankind has a deeper need of cultural diversity and the multiplicity of cultures, of various knowledge forms, ways of living inside the totality of lifestyles (as a condition to answer this civilizational crisis), indigenous and non-urban peoples and cultures of all the planet being threatened by the inexorable advance of the logics of "accumulation by dispossession". Today, the matter we will be confronting is not whether capitalism is able to survive its terminal crisis. If in little time we are not able to end this systematic destruction machine, what will be at stake is the ability of humankind to survive the final collapse of capitalism.

And thus begins what in my opinion is the most comprehensive yet concise and digestible treatise upon that which faces us as a nation, a species, and a planet: A new historical period? Civilization crisis, limits of the planet, inequality, assaults to democracy, permanent war state and people in resistance by Edgardo Lander.[1]

Edgardo Lander is a professor of social sciences at the Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas.

Lander is one of the leading thinkers and writers on the left in Venezuela, both supportive and constructively critical of the Venezuelan revolution under Chavez. He is actively involved in social movements in the Americas that defeated the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA).

He is a member of the Latin American Social Science Council’s (CLACSO) research group on Hegemonies and Emancipations and on the editorial board of the academic journal Revista Venezolana de Economía y Ciencias Sociales. He is currently part of the steering committee of the Hemispheric Council of the Social Forum of the Americas.


The article represents the latest version of a living thesis Lander has been developing and speaking upon for a very long time. Here is a video which includes many of the same points, presented by Dr. Lander at Fifth Annual Human Security Forum hosted by the Centre for International Studies at Cape Breton University on November 4 and 5, 2011 as part of a forum called "Life After Capitalism: Imagining an Alternative World.[3]

As noted before, Dr. Lander stands well to the left of the precepts of Chavismo[4], the political ideology of Hugo Chávez and the PSUV. In an April 2011 interview[5], Lander noted that while Venezuela under Chávez has "seen profound transformations of popular culture in terms of empowerment, giving people the power to intervene with dignity for their futures", "it is also in constant struggle with the concentration of power and hierarchical decision-making." He continues,

The worst that could happen in Venezuela would be a situation where we are confronted with two options: Stalinism or neoliberalism. If that happens, we would be in a serious mess. People say, for example, that the opposition has no programme. It's not true: they have a programme, it's called neoliberalism. The idea of a free market, openness to foreign investment, probable privatisation of PDVSA, the Venezuelan state oil company: all these things make up a packet of measures that does not have to be invented because it already exists. On the other hand, we still have to see whether it is possible to build a more democratic society, and whether socialism is necessarily Stalinism.

Given his stance on the state of Venezuelan governance, his critique of the Green Economy as put forth by the UNEP[6] represents a radical stance that will never be heard in the mainstream media, which naturally makes it a critical position to understand.[7]

The Green Economy is a cynical and opportunistic manipulation of the ecological and social crises. Rather than addressing the real structural causes of inequality and injustices, capital is using “green” language to launch a new round of expansion. Corporations and the financial sector need governments to institutionalise the new rules of the Green Economy to guarantee them against risks and to create the institutional framework for the financialisation of nature. Many governments are willing partners in this project as they believe it will stimulate a new phase of growth and accumulation.

The Green Economy is not the future that WE want.

Much of Dr. Lander's writing can be found archived at the Transnational Institute. His warnings about the situation we face are important, as are his thoughts on some of the methods we may use and the dangers we must overcome if we are to successfully join a global fight against the forces that threaten to end us all.

I close with the final words from A new historical period?.

From the point of view of the diversity of movements and fights associated to the World Social Forum, it is essential to deepen the debate about the meaning and the potentials of these new movements. How to debate, relate and articulate with this new wave of protests without seeking to absorb them in a way that political parties would do?

It is necessary to start from the recognition of the plurality and of the different contexts from which them stem and in which they operate, as well as of the diversity in backgrounds, objectives and conceptions of how and why to fight.

In Raúl Zibechi’s words:

“To anti-systemic forces… it is impossible to draw one single strategy for the planet and it is useless to attempt to establish universal tactics. Although there are common inspirations and general shared objectives, the different speeds of the post-capitalist transition, and the notable differences between the anti-systemic subjects, raise awareness of the risk of making universal assumptions”

[1] Rio+20 Portal, February 2, 2012, http://rio20.net/en/documentos/a-new-historical-period

[2] Transnational Institute, http://www.tni.org/users/edgardo-lander

[3] YouTube, Edgardo Lander - Socialism and Democracy in the 21st Century, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOQQkqwgm2o

[4] Wikipedia, Chavismo, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chavismo

[5] Red Pepper, The path for Venezuela can not be neoliberalism or Stalinism, An interview with Edgardo Lander., http://www.redpepper.org.uk/the-path-ahead-for-venezuela-interview-with-edgardo-lander/

[6] United Nations Environment Programme, Green Economy, http://www.unep.org/greeneconomy/

[7] Transnational Institute, Is the Green Economy a new Washington Consensus?, February 15, 2012, http://www.tni.org/article/green-economy-new-washington-consensus




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Deep. Personally I wouldn't trust the world's governments,

Big Al's picture

particularly our own, to honestly try to tackle the climate change issue. Greed and power always get in the way. It appears as with everything else, the people will have to rise up if anything's going to get done. But again, there are no answers, just warnings about how bad it may get and how difficult it will be for the people to fight back.

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At least not any government that fosters capitalism,

chipmo's picture

whether of the ugly or the "friendly" sort. I think the writing's on the wall. Capitalism WILL come to an end, and soon. The question is whether power can be redistributed before that happens or not. If so, we might emerge with something better. If not, we are without doubt entering into the most depraved neo-feudalism ever imaginable.

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Thanks for the introduction to Lander

geomoo's picture

He looks like a new hero. Such clear thinking is rare.

To anti-systemic forces… it is impossible to draw one single strategy for the planet and it is useless to attempt to establish universal tactics.

Here's hoping we can go beyond seeing our own views reflected in his challenging analysis and let this clarity shift some of our own assumptions.

A few years ago, a scientific study of psychopathic behavior included the aside that current corporate structure and environment enables the rise of psychopaths to positions of power. It seems to be a driving engine of our age that the small percentage of humans who are psychopaths, unable to empathize with our plight as a species, are exerting such disproportionate control that they are determining our fate. If these theories are to be applied to decision-making, we are forced to confront the question of power. How do we convert communal values of mutuality and species survival into policies with the force of law? If Lander's brilliant abstract analysis is to be applied, we quickly get into gritty challenges.

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I like him too.

chipmo's picture

a scientific study of psychopathic behavior included the aside that current corporate structure and environment enables the rise of psychopaths to positions of power. It seems to be a driving engine of our age that the small percentage of humans who are psychopaths, unable to empathize with our plight as a species, are exerting such disproportionate control that they are determining our fate.

Have you seen The Trap from Adam Curtis and the BBC from 2007? It is in three 1 hour parts, all of which can be watched free on youtube. DEFINITELY recommend it if you haven't seen it. Adam Curtis does devolve into some speculation, and his analysis is far from perfect, but he has some awesome archival footage being a BBC dude.

1. "F**k You Buddy" (11 March 2007)
In this episode, Curtis examines the rise of game theory during the Cold War and the way in which its mathematical models of human behaviour filtered into economic thought.
2. "The Lonely Robot" (18 March 2007)
The second episode reiterated many of the ideas of the first, but developed the theme that drugs such as Prozac and lists of psychological symptoms which might indicate anxiety or depression were being used to normalise behaviour and make humans behave more predictably, like machines.
3. "We Will Force You To Be Free" (25 March 2007)
The final programme focussed on the concepts of positive and negative liberty introduced in the 1950s by Isaiah Berlin. Curtis briefly explained how negative liberty could be defined as freedom from coercion and positive liberty as the opportunity to strive to fulfill one's potential.
Curtis's narration concludes with the observation that the game theory/free market model is now undergoing interrogation by economists who suspect a more irrational model of behaviour is appropriate and useful. In fact, in formal experiments the only people who behaved exactly according to the mathematical models created by game theory are economists themselves, and psychopaths.

That said, I think that psychopath is a relativistic term. To someone who sees all humans as deserving of equal consideration and worth, all racists seem psychopathic. To those who view all animals, human or otherwise, of equal worth and equal rights, then meat eaters seem psychopathic. A psychopath, when all the pseudo-scientific labeling is pulled aside, is in my opinion merely a person who feels cruelly superior to another in a way that seems unjustified to whoever is applying the term psychopath. I'm sure that some hold the field of psychology in more scientific regard than I do and will disagree, and I'm cool with that. This is my opinion.

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Yeah, I think the term is definable

geomoo's picture

in terms of such things as mirror neurons. Not every asshole is a psychopath--it's a scientific term, not a general disparagement. Unlike everyday assholes, psychopaths are not like you and me--they are not choosing their behavior; they are simply being who they are. It is up to the rest of us to create systems which protect us from their lack of empathy. In the current age, we are doing a terrible job. In fact, several characteristics of our current age--such as rewarding fake sincerity and confusion between real community and false community--these characteristics form a perfect incubator for the rise of psychopaths into positions of power.

That series sounds good. I'll definitely check it out.

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Having sat through

triv33's picture

The Century Of The Self more than once, that sounds like something I would really be interested in seeing, thanks~

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Surviving Progress

geomoo's picture

I'm frustrated that I forgot to reference an excellent documentary which I thought of while reading this essay. The point that made me think of the film Surviving Progress is that, in the past there have been collapses of human civilization for various reasons. Each time, there were other independent civilizations, with different climates, different farming practices, different social orders, etc., which did not perish at the same time and thus kept humans and civilization alive. Today the world is so interconnected and human society, despite vast differences, is so uniform that for the first time, collapse of human civilization would probably extend world wide.

Intelligent, compelling and featuring some of the world's great contemporary thinkers, SURVIVING PROGRESS is nothing short of a massive taking stock. In a documentary inspired by Ronald Wright's bestselling non-fiction book about societal collapse, Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks explore the concept of progress in our modern world and, more specifically, the idea of "progress traps." Simply put, these are innovations that seem like smart moves forward but inadvertently cause new problems. From prevalent issues like untenable economic structures, deforestation and political corruption, to the more controversial domains of overpopulation and synthetic biology, Roy and Crooks do not shy away from even the thorniest of topics. SURVIVING PROGRESS raises critical questions about the pivotal mistakes society has made from a remarkable big-picture perspective, seamlessly tackling multiple and disparate issues. The question of how we escape the traps leads to even deeper concerns about the potential fixes.

Looks like it's on line for free, highly recommended.

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