Sunday, 26 February 2017

If You Are Going to Be Anti-Capitalist, At Least Be Smart About It.



If You Are Going to Be Anti-Capitalist, At Least Be Smart About It.

The Resist Capitalism hashtag has been circulating on Twitter lately.  Not surprisingly, a lot of what's been appearing under this hashtag has a lot more to do with women's studies talking points than with any actual analysis of how capitalism actually works.

Some people apparently haven't taken their other red pill recently.

So how does capitalism actually work.  When you're confused, look at the facts.  Merriam-Webster offers this definition:
An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market,
The most historically prevalent critical analysis of capitalism comes from Marxist theory, whose definition of capitalism isn't all of that much different than the Merriam-Webster definition.  The Wikipedia article on Marx's theory on the "Capitalist Mode of Production" attributes to capitalism the following characteristics:
  • Both the inputs and outputs of production are mainly privately owned, priced goods and services purchased in the market. 
  • Production is carried out for exchange and circulation in the market, aiming to obtain a net profit income from it.
  • The owners of the means of production (capitalists) are the dominant class (bourgeoisie) who derive their income from the surplus product produced by the workers and appropriated freely by the capitalists.
  • A defining feature of capitalism is the dependency on wage-labor for a large segment of the population; specifically, the working class (proletariat) do not own capital and must live by selling their labour power in exchange for a wage.
Thus, definitions of capitalism that actually understand that capitalism is an economic system are remarkably consistent in their descriptions of the characteristics that capitalism actually has.  Whether capitalist profit constitutes "surplus value produced by the workers" is, perhaps debatable. I think it does after a point, but a strong case can be made for profit constituting compensation for the risks capitalists take when they invest.  How much is too much is a fair point to consider.

But that capitalism is marked by private ownership of capital is undebatable as its key feature.

So let's look at some of these tweets to come out of what's passing for anti-capitalist thought these days.
Because Capitalism is inherently sexist, racist, classist, ableist and ageist.  It is universally the most oppressive force.
Okay, classist. We'll definitely give her that.  But where does any of the rest of this come in at all, at least as being fundamental to the nature of the capitalist system.  Of course, capitalism is not completely incompatible with racism, sexism and so on, though it does produce a kind of social levelling in that it systematically erodes the importance of relations based on kinship, blood and soil in favor of relationships based entirely on financial transaction.  This was actually a part of Marx's critique of capitalism.  But the above quote explicitly claims that capitalism is inherently sexist, racist, etc.  Well, what happens if the means of production are owned by women or minorities and white dudes are selling their labor power in order to scrape by?
Raising children, domestic chores, and caregiving for the elderly/disabled are all forms of undervalued or unpaid labor.
This is frankly as close as we're going to get to a good and valid criticism of capitalism here.  A lot of social services are not easily commodified and sold for a profit, unless the people on whose behalf these services are being performed are wealthy enough to pay for them.  And even then, they will naturally wish to pay as little as possible for these services.  In The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, Frederick Engels did make what was at the time a valid comparison of women's role in the home vis-a-vis the male breadwinner with the relationship of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie, particularly if she's inhibited or barred from having an independent source of income, which a lack of childcare would inevitably contribute to.

Nevertheless, this is not a damning indictment of capitalism.  What happens when, as they do a minority of the time, men perform these duties?  Child and eldercare and household maintenance are not imposed by capitalism, but rather would be necessities regardless of the mode of production.
Meanwhile, forcing men into the role of breadwinner contributes to heteronormativity, cisnormativity and toxic masculinity.
What characterizes periods of untrammelled capitalism, such as the industrial revolution and the present day, is an erosion in gendered differences in the home.  Women worked in the dark Satanic mills of the Dickensian era as well as in the dark Satanic cubicles of the information age.

I dare you, dear reader, to beg, borrow or steal (don't buy - it will make the capitalists rich!) a copy of The Condition of the Working Class in England, again by Frederick Engels, published all the way back in 1845.  It has page after page of lurid details of the effects of rampant industrial capitalism on the family structure of working class families unfortunate enough to live in the quintessential Dickensian time.

Remarkable is a passage regarding a male who was unemployed while his wife was condemned to fifteen hour days in a textile mill.  Following this passage, Engles asks, "Can anyone imagine a more insane state of things than that described in this letter?  And yet this condition, which unsexes the man and takes from the woman all womanliness ... this condition which degrades in the most shameful way, both sexes, and through them, humanity ... "  It would seem that the Lehman Bro's meltdown wasn't the first "Mancession" we've ever experienced.  Again, capitalism, if anything, erodes gender roles because it reduces all relationships to buying and selling, which gender is not an essential prerequisite to engage in.
The Patriarchy needs capitalism.  White supremacy needs capitalism.  Capitalism reinforces and maintains systemic oppression.
White supremacy and patriarchy predated the capitalist mode of production, sometimes by milennia.  Are we to believe, based on this, that feudalism or antiquity were times and modes of production marked by gender and racial equality?  How would this be, if patriarchy and white supremacy needed capitalism?

It is possible in a capitalist mode of production to resort to ideologies such as white supremacy or male supremacy to rationalize the relegating of women and minorities to lower positions in the class hierarchy.  This did happen.  But racist and sexist ideologies would be part of the superstructure - which refers to a set of external, cultural traits which can be, and usually are, a consequence of the dominant productive forces, which are the base.  The accompanying chart illustrates this.  The important thing to remember is that the superstructure is "downstream" from the base and is dependent on it, not vice versa, though the superstructure and help to reinforce the base.  So capitalism is not dependent on racism or patriarchy, and in fact may be the force that eventually undermines non-economic social inequality.  Marx and Engels explain how in The Communist Manifesto:
The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment” … The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation. 
This means that the nature of capitalism is to erode the importance of all factors save one in human relations: economic transaction.  The march of globalization and the push for race and gender based social equality occurring at the same time are not accidents.  Women and minorities are much more valuable as workers, consumers and taxpayers than they are as second class citizens with limited rights to be any of these, once the market for white males is saturated.
Poverty isn't a sign that capitalism is failing.  It is a sign that it is working.
Another claim that may actually be more true than false.  Marx theorized that a gradual immiseration of the working class and poor would gradually occur as capitalism reached the end of its ability to profit off expansion of markets.  We have not seen this in the west because the global division of labor has exported most, though not all proletarian roles to the third world, and social safety nets help with the rest.  Not that there isn't poverty in the first world, but we're generally spared the worst of it.  The real inequalities in wealth between capitalists is unprecedented - we now live in a world of multi billionaires and potentially trillionaires.  Eight billionaires now hold as much wealth as half the world's population.  And this is very much the result of capitalism working precisely the way Marx and Engels said it would.
Capitalism and systemic oppression have a symbiotic relationship.  They feed into one another.  We must dismantle both.
Depends what we mean by systemic oppression.  If this relates to identity politics, then no it doesn't, for reasons already discussed.  If by systemic oppression we refer to class differences reproducing economic inequality, than unregulated capitalism would certainly reproduce this.  I somehow doubt that's what this tweet meant, though.
Capitalism is innately ableist.  I am disabled and unable to work.  Do I not still deserve food, medicine, any quality of life?
I would suggest that nature is innately ableist.  If you are disabled and unable to work, you aren't going to be able to provide for yourself regardless of the mode of production.  Whether charity or social welfare steps in to assist is another matter, and again, one not dependent on the mode of production.
Capitalism is sexist.  It devalues the labor that women/mothers do, and are expected to do, in our society.
Capitalism doesn't care one way or another about your vagina, as I think has been demonstrated by now.  What is incentivized under capitalism is buying low and selling high in an effort to make a profit.  If the work that women/mothers do is unpaid or poorly paid, this has a lot more to do with the fact that the work typically associated with female gender roles is not easily commodified or is not productive from the standpoint of converting paid labor time into profit.  That capitalism fails to adequately remunerate such work when it is socially useful, essential even, is a very real market failure.  But this failure is not contingent on the people doing the work having vaginas.  If men did it, it would still be devalued work.  This is largely why birthrates are falling, and women are increasingly eschewing marriage and motherhood in favor of careers. Looked at this way, it is capitalism that is really behind feminism.
Sexism and capitalism work together to reinforce gender norms that are harmful to women, men and gender non conforming folx.
See above.

There are places to go to learn about capitalism, both for and against.  The women's studies classroom is not one of them.

I discuss Marxist theory, identity and capitalism in my Other Red Pill series.

The Other Red Pill, and I do Mean Red
Living in a Material World
Tense Relations
The Desert of the Real
Class Dismissed!
No Class
Race to the Bottom
Engendered Failure
A Touch of Class
Wake up!  Class is Back in Session





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