Kondratieff, Klima­wandel und die marxistische Sicht

Andreas Malm ist ein schwedischer Humangeograph, Humanökologe, Politikjournalist und Sachbuchautor. Er gilt als eine „prominente Stimme eines erneuerten ökologischen Marxismus“. Und schrieb zum Thema Kondratieff-Wellen und Energie. Schauen wir uns doch mal die marxistische Sicht auf das Thema an:

  • Originally (…) capitalism relied on what would today be called renewable energies: wood, muscle, wind, and water. It then adopted fossil fuels, coal first of all. By this step — surely one of the most fateful in its history — capitalism sired a peculiar formation I describe as the fossil economy, most simply defined as an economy of self-sustaining growth predicated on the consumption of fossil fuels, and therefore generating a sustained growth in CO2 emissions.“ – bto: Naja, ich denke, die wirkliche Entwicklung war eben erst möglich durch den Einsatz fossiler Brennstoffe. Das ist wichtig und war letztlich auch gut.  
  • The easiest way to describe the correlation of the two would be to conceive of capitalism as a smooth, linear curve of perpetual expansion, emitting a stream of CO2 just as steadily enlarged. But this would be inaccurate. Capitalist growth is a singularly turbulent process. It moves in spurts and slowdowns, creates and destroys, accelerates and decelerates, clears the ground of established structures for the building of higher stages and tumbles, without fail, into depressions.“ – bto: Ja, Schwankungen und Entwicklungen gehören beim Kapitalismus dazu. Und das ist eine der Grundlagen für mehr Wachstum.
  • One way of conceptualizing this history of dynamic non-equilibrium, (…) is the theory of long waves of capitalist development. Commonly traced to the foundational contribution of Russian economist Nikolai Kondratieff in the early 1920s, the theory proposes that capitalism moves in waves of forty to sixty years’ duration.“ – bto: Das haben wir bereits in dieser Woche besprochen.
  • Each wave has two phases: an ‚upswing‘ characterized by boom conditions, succeeded by a ‚downswing‘ of persistent stagnation. The exact periodization has been a matter of endless controversy, but a standard chronology would look something like this:“ – bto: Ich bevorzuge die Aufteilung in vier Phasen, weil das auch hilft zu verstehen, was in den Umbruchsphasen passiert.

Figure 1. Waves of Capitalist Development

  • But why would capitalist economies develop in this jerky fashion? One part of the answer, on which most theories of long waves build, is the rhythm of technology diffusion. Truly revolutionary technologies, with the power to electrify economies both literally and figuratively, change the way goods are produced and open up fresh venues for general expansion, do not come online gradually. They come in bundles and bursts and thrive on dislocation; (…) A typical list would look like this:“ – bto: Eine uns bekannte Liste:

Figure 2. Associated Technologies


  • „(…) the emergence of the fossil economy appears to have occurred in the shift from the first to the second long wave: from one based on water to one picking up steam. This is the conjuncture where it all began. (…)each subsequent wave — with the curious exception of the fifth — seems to have surged forward on the basis of technologies producing or transmitting fossil energy in novel ways. Students of long waves have not failed to notice this pattern. ‚In each wave dominant technologies can be identified that are associated with primary energy sources such as coal, oil, and natural gas,‘ states one; Kondratieff himself saw one of the clearest signs of an upswing in ‚the rapidity in the increase of coal production and coal consumption‘; in a short paper inspired by the oil crisis of the early 1980s, George F. Ray argued that major innovations sparking off long waves were ‚either directly originating in, or closely connected with, the production of energy, such as steam engines or the railways,‘ always boosting the demand for energy, always dependent on ‚the abundant supply and almost unlimited availability of fuel.‘“ – bto: Das ist eine wichtige Feststellung. Ich denke, es ist letztlich die Energie, die die Basis für die nächste Welle legen wird. Und nein: Wind und Solar allein werden es nicht sein.
  • A revolutionary Marxist and leader of the Fourth International, Ernest Mandel pioneered the resurgence of scientific interest in long waves from the 1970s onwards. (…) For Mandel, however, long waves are not only or even primarily statistical phenomena. They are real segments of capitalist history. On this point, he took a leaf from his maestro Leon Trotsky, who censured Kondratieff in the early 1920s for imputing a law-like regularity to the waves, modeled on the shorter business cycle. No ticking clocks automatically set off upswings and downswings, Trotsky argued; instead, the turning points between the phases are determined by such unforeseeable events as wars and revolutions (…)” – bto: Bekanntlich endete Kondratieff im Gulag.
  • If each wave marks a new phase in capital’s capacity to recover profits after crisis, the magnitude and structure of ‚forms of energy‘ relative to forms of labor are here isolated as the sine qua non of the long waves. Power technology, in other words, is the key to the upswing. (…) If new life is to be breathed into sagging capitalism, it must come in the most basic, most universal guise: energy. Only power technology pervades every nook and cranny of the mode of production, impelling, conveying, lifting, hauling, heating, pumping, communicating, fetching goods of all conceivable kinds. If a rise in profits is the economic precondition for the upswing, a new generation of prime movers is its material embodiment.“ – bto: So gesehen stehen wir vor keinem neuen Kondratieff, weil die Energiefrage nicht gelöst ist.
  • (…)Mandel can inspire a radically different agenda for research on the history of the fossil economy, guided by two overarching questions in necessary dialogue with each other: (1) Have the contradictions of the downswings generated and fashioned new fossil fuel-based technologies, and if so, how? And, (2) Have those technologies served to resolve the contradictions and fuelled the upswings, and if so, how?“ – bto: Ich finde, die Energiefrage ist in der Tat die alles entscheidende.
  • In wave theory á la Mandel, that which takes place in one phase is always linked to that which happened in the former. The neoliberalism of the fifth wave can only be understood as a way out of the impasses of the fourth, the Keynesianism of the fourth as a response to the imbalances and catastrophes of the third, and so on — and the same would go for the defining constellations of technology. This appears to be a singularly promising approach to the study of long waves of fossil development, particularly since it allows for free and full reciprocal action between capitalist laws of motion and all manner of partially independent variables….” – bto: Klar, die Energieform definiert ganze Industrien.
  • „(…) British industrial capitalism surged forth on a first wave of water-power. But in 1825, a signal crisis erupted in the form of financial crash, followed by a succession of painful, protracted depressions. Extraordinary profits had attracted too much capital to the cotton industry in particular, causing an over-establishment of factories and, consequently, a massive overproduction of commodities, under whose weight the rate of profit now plunged. At the very same time as the banks collapsed — setting the typical pattern of interplay with partially independent variables — the British working-class rose, relieved from the criminalization of all trade union activity when the Combination Laws were repealed, and for the next two decades, the manufacturing districts were shaken by one near-revolutionary uprising after another. It was then that the shift to steam occurred.“ – bto: Das leuchtet ein, bedarf aber keiner marxistischen Interpretation.
  • Steam alone could impel the offensive against labor. Water was embedded in the landscape and integrated in the weather, virtually free to use but located outside of towns, subject to fluctuations in river levels, incapable of running a concentrated mass of accelerating machines. Steam engines, on the other hand, could be put up anywhere and used at anytime: for their fuel was severed from the landscape, detached from weather cycles, brought up from underground as a dead still relic of ancient photosynthesis. Setting it on fire, capital released a completely new source of energy to destroy the resistance of labor. A steep rise in the rate of profit followed, allowing for an upswing in which steam-power opened all sorts of venues for fresh accumulation and remolded the economy in toto: a huge blast from the bellows.“ – bto: Hier könnte man sagen, dass KI ähnlich wirkt für die Kräfteverhältnisse zwischen Kapital und Arbeit.
  • Now jump straight to the apparent paradox of the fifth wave. Unlike steam engines, electricity, automobiles, or petroleum, computers are neither prime movers or transmitters nor sources of energy in themselves, and yet the upswing they carried caused the most extreme CO2 blast in the history of industrialized capital. How can one shed light on that link? Perhaps by accepting Mandel’s view that a major contradiction of the fourth wave was a perilously strong labor movement in the core. As the reserve armies of labor were depleted over the course of the 1960s and the self-confidence of the working class soared towards the wild heights of 1968–73, the high rate of surplus value of the previous two decades could no longer be maintained, and a ‚fall in the rate of profit became unavoidable.‘ To resolve that crisis, some profound restructuring was exigent. Among the many preconditions for a fifth long wave, Mandel proposed the following: ‚In order to drive up the rate of profit to the extent necessary to change the whole economic climate, under the conditions of capitalism, the capitalists must first decisively break the organizational strength and militancy of the working class in the key industrialized countries.‘ Did computer technology assist them in that battle? If so, how was it connected to the increased combustion of fossil fuels?“ – bto: Hmm. Und was ist mit China?
  • An exhaustive inquiry is far beyond the scope of this essay: here I offer a crude hypothesis. It runs something like this: (1) The globalization of production broke the strength of labor in the advanced capitalist countries. By pitting workers there against workers in Mexico, Brazil, the post-Stalinist Eastern European economies, but primarily in China, they all became mutually substitutable to an extent never seen before. Armed with the capacity to shift commodity production to distant countries and export from there, within the framework of integrated cross-border supply chains, employers could push unions to the wall, by threatening that “unless you accept our demands, we will relocate.” bto: Richtig. Das hat aber nur bedingt mit dem Computer zu tun.
  • (2) The very same process caused an unprecedented explosion in CO2 emissions. In China, the quest for cheap and disciplined workers, with whom all other workers of the world had to compete, set off the largest spree in fossil fuel consumption in history: cross-border chains extending into the People’s Republic and, indeed, the four corners of the world demanded fresh infrastructure for the supply of energy, which, incidentally, mostly came from coal. They were held together by the transportation of goods, components, raw materials and personnel in vehicles fuelled by petroleum.Overall, the globalization of production extended the logic of the fossil economy to new territories, giving the main impetus for the epochal boom in combustion outside the traditional core.“ – bto: Ja, das kann man so sagen.
  • (3) Information and communications technology, or ICT, made the globalization of production possible. One of the most revolutionary services of this technological paradigm consisted in linking, coordinating, lubricating world-encompassing production chains: without ICT, globalization as we know it would have been unthinkable. As one geographer notes, the opening of the gates to China from the late 1970s onwards coincided with the rise of virtual bridges.” – bto: Ok, es war möglich, globale Lieferketten zu koordinieren. Verstanden.
  • „(…) Could capitalism swing itself into a sixth long wave by casting off fossil fuels and switching to renewables? Every nook and cranny of the world economy urgently needs to be disconnected from coal and oil and gas and filled with substitutes that come close to zero emissions: a grand transition to impelling, conveying, lifting, hauling, heating, pumping, communicating, doing everything with the power of sun, wind, water. Might such a universal rollout of new power technology breathe fresh air into languishing capitalism and ensure that we collectively back off from the cliff in time?“ – bto: Das ist eine Frage, die viele stellen und ebenso viele wie Ulrike Herrmann mit “nein” beantworten (ich sehe das bekanntlich anders).
  • „(…) believes that the crash of 2008 signaled the descent into the crisis-ridden stage of yet another ‚surge‘, which will usher in a sweeping adoption of the renewable energy technologies (abbreviated RE) already in store and under development, leading, via a bumpy ride over the next couple of decades, into a rich green Kondratieff. (…) the agent of the transition in this new wave of capital shed of carbon will be capital itself. (…) More precisely, it is the financial sector that will drive the switch (…) the profit potentials of RE will attract frenzied investment from venture capitalists, the whole pack of adventurous speculators following the scent of super-profits.“ – bto. Das ist gar nicht so unwahrscheinlich und wir sehen ja bereits erste solche Entwicklungen.
  • „(…) never underestimate the ability of capitalism to reinvent itself. Never stick to orthodox formulas that always proclaim the end of the road. Prepare to be taken aback by capital, whose flexibility and resourcefulness have confuted so many prophecies of breakdown so many times before.“ – bto: Einfach deshalb, weil die Gruppe in Summe zu smart ist.
  • „(…) it might be a category mistake to conceive of a conversion to renewable energy as analogous to any of the technological leaps experienced since the mid-nineteenth century. Going from fossil fuels to renewables — completely, no delay — is quite unlike adding automobiles, airplanes, and petrochemicals to the arsenal of capitalist productive forces. Since the original switch between the first and the second waves, when the fossil economy emerged in full, the upswings have been predicated on technologies for more extensive consumption of fossil fuels: but this time, we are talking about a reversion to qualitatively different type of energy. If, since the high Victorian era, every ‚great surge of development,‘ to use the sanguine neo-Schumpeterian terminology, has materialized through fossil energy, this one would have to break out of that mould and re-embed itself in the kind of energy the very first structural crisis jettisoned.“ – bto: Naja. Oder es gibt demnächst andere Technologien wie SMR und Fusion.
  • „(…) Can capital survive if fettered to the places and hours where the sun happens to shine and the wind to blow? More to the point: can it thrive within such fetters? They would seem to contravene the logic of globalized and lean production (…)” – bto: Gute Frage, ich denke, es muss und wird andere Energiequellen geben.
  • „(…) all upswings so far have rested on the freedom to consume vastly greater quantities of energy than the previous wave. There has never been any other way to feed growth in commodity production. If this history is anything to go by, a sixth upswing would not only have to replace the current total consumption of fossil fuels by an equal amount of renewable energy: it would have to add a significant margin for growth— not 100 percent of oil and coal and gas, but 120 or 150 or even more would need to be extracted from unfossilized energy within the course of a few decades. (…) Growing by slimming seems alien to the workings of capital. But, again, one should not discount its capacity for miraculous reinvention.“ – bto: Genau deshalb wird die Kernkraft eine Renaissance erleben.
  • So far, no capitalist class has taken any initiatives in the direction of climate Keynesianism on an epochal scale. Under the banners of free trade and austerity, that class rather continues to push states further away from influence over investment and squeeze out the last drops from public budgets and working-class earnings, and as Naomi Klein has eloquently argued, such strategies for renewed accumulation run exactly counter to the prerequisites for a switch. To speak in the terms of Mandel, climate Keynesianism seems to necessitate a subjective factor, some sort of social force more external and hostile than internal and congenial to capital.“ – bto: Das muss man wissen. Denn dann wundert einen nichts mehr von dem, was hier passiert. Hier liegt der Ursprung der Politik in Deutschland… Genau das Falsche mit Blick auf die Sicherung unseres Standortes.

→ mediationsjournal.org: „Long Waves of Fossil Development: Periodizing Energy and Capital“