Amongst all its glistening commodities, one product has defined capitalism above all else: human waste. Superfluous people, not necessary for production, not able to participate in the market, and an ever-present threat to the stability of the system, are - and have always been - the main output of the bourgeois epoch; managing, containing, expelling and eliminating this waste has always been its prime, if hidden, concern. In the nineteenth century, surplus Europeans were exiled, in their millions, to the colonies - to Australia, Canada, the US, Algeria etc - to continue the process of exterminating surplus non-Europeans. In the twentieth century, two world wars functioned not only to destroy surplus capital, but surplus humanity too, in unprecedented numbers.
But today, for the first time in history, it is a majority of humanity who face redundancy.
In 2004, Zygmunt Bauman published Wasted Lives: Modernity and its Outcasts. In this short book, he argues that “the production of ‘human waste’, or more correctly wasted humans… is an inevitable outcome of modernisation, an inseparable accompaniment of modernity.” Indeed, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, he wrote, “the disposal of human waste produced in the ‘modernised’ and still ‘modernising’ parts of the globe was the deepest meaning of colonisation and imperialist conquests,” as these conquests produced outlets for the export of surplus human beings. As Europe ‘modernised’ itself, throwing people off the land and replacing them with, first, sheep, and then threshing machines, these ‘surplus’ humans were shipped off to the colonies. Thus did the modern European states “seek, and find, global solutions to locally produced ‘overpopulation’ problems.”