Myths of Capitalism

No Alternative

The capitalist faithful often try to convince people that there is no alternative to the current system1, even though it is a relatively new development in human history and itself has been modified since its inception. Like the state before it, the capitalist way of thinking and mode of production has tried to displace all other methods of thought about production in societies it has encountered. It pushes a message onto subjects, so that afflicted people cannot fathom a way of life free of this process. It channels all production into commodity form and views the marketplace as the only valid setting of exchange that can occur.

As Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari noted2-4:

‘…capital is thus the unproductive surface on which the production of labor is recorded or on which it is coded. We might say that in this case the recording or coding means that the value of labor/production is determined on capital. Everything seems objectively to be produced by capital as quasi cause. As Marx observes, in the beginning capitalists are necessarily conscious of the opposition between capital and labor, and of the use of capital as a means of extorting surplus labor.’

One of the sticking points of thinking about alternatives, is that if everything is framed in terms of surplus value, profits and the like then it is difficult to overcome that tendency; especially when the media drives narratives and there is the strong arm of the state that coerces behaviours. But as Ursula K. Le Guin said:

We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.’5

There are many ideas and organisations that exist today that embody strains of non-capitalist production and arrangement of societies, let alone what can be imagined in the future. I’ll note a few in this blog post.

Some systems and establishments incorporate the commodity relations and market economy but try to distribute the proceeds more evenly. Cooperatives are a good example of this, some notable instances are the Japanese6 cooperatives (year ending March 2007, Japanese consumer cooperatives had a total turnover of $22 billion), and UK cooperative movement7,8 (with over 7000 registered co-operatives owned by 17 million individual members and which contributed £34bn in 2016 to the British economy9). These have a long history10,11 and fully integrates the market economy but gives more control and remuneration to the actual members/workers and not a disproportionate amount to the usual hierarchical business owners. There have been many studies that indicate that cooperatives in general are a more resilient business model than normal capitalist businesses12-16.

The economic system of mutualism17 – workers have democratic ownership of the means of production and self-management of market enterprises – can also be viewed in similar terms. Whereby society is still beholden to the market, given both preferential and detrimental outcomes. While these are admirable and give a better distribution of wealth, as these fully incorporate market philosophy then some of the downsides – e.g. environmental destruction, recessions – will still be present.

In the struggle for getting more fruits of labour for the workers, it is known that by organizing and bargaining collectively, union workers are able to significantly improve their wages, benefits, and working conditions. In California one report18 noted: Union workers have higher average earnings than non-union workers; Unions Increase Access to Employment-Based Health Coverage; Unions Increase Access to Retirement Benefits; Unions Increase Family Income and Decrease Reliance on Public Safety Net Programs.

Traditional trade unions are often weakened by having to abide by bureaucratic laws, conform to hierarchical power structures and consist of self-interested paid officials. As a remedy to this, there are a number of revolutionary unions that explore the possibility of other organisational set-ups, like a society based on workers’ self-management, solidarity and mutual aid19,20. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)21 is one example, which has the preamble22 containing:

‘…workers of the world organise as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth….

Instead of the conservative motto, “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, “Abolition of the wage system.”

It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organised, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organising industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.’

There is a long tradition in framing the workers emancipation through anarcho-syndicalism: a strategy to achieve a post-capitalist society. The post-capitalist set-up could be one that resembles anarcho-communism23: a society organized through voluntary cooperation and mutual support. Peter Kropotkin outlined in ‘The Conquest of Bread’24,25 a more decentralized economic system based on mutual aid and voluntary cooperation, asserting that the tendencies for this kind of organization already exist, both in evolution and in human society.

Looking back to pre-capitalist cultures and societies, can give insights into how a more communal way of living can be achieved. The medieval and post-medieval period had wide use of ‘the commons’, which enabled people to use defined land for their communal usage. There is another myth that this communal usage of land led to the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’26, though it seems that it was in fact privatizing the commons that repeatedly led to deforestation, soil erosion and depletion, overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, and the ruin of ecosystems. The decline of the commons system27 was the result of a variety of factors having little to do with the system’s inherent worth. Among these factors were widespread abuse of the rules governing the commons, land ‘reforms’ chiefly designed to increase the holdings of a few landowners, improved agricultural techniques, and the effects of the industrial revolution. Thus, the traditional commons system is not an example of an inherently flawed land-use policy, as is widely supposed, but of a policy which succeeded admirably in its time.

Elinor Ostrom28,29 was an Economic Science Nobel prize winner for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons. She challenged the conventional wisdom by demonstrating how local property can be successfully managed by local commons without any regulation by central authorities or privatization. In doing so, she offered 8 principles30 in managing the commons:

  • 1. Define clear group boundaries.
  • 2. Match rules governing use of common goods to local needs and conditions.
  • 3. Ensure that those affected by the rules can participate in modifying the rules.
  • 4. Make sure the rule-making rights of community members are respected by outside authorities.
  • 5. Develop a system, carried out by the community, for monitoring members’ behaviour.
  • 6. Use graduated sanctions for rule violators.
  • 7. Provide accessible, low-cost means for dispute resolution.
  • 8. Build responsibility for governing the common resource in nested tiers from the lowest level up to the entire interconnected system.

Municipalism31,32 and in particular, libertarian municipalism33,34 is the idea that regions should have more autonomy from the nation-states in which they’re located, while also being active participants in a global network of peer municipalities that upholds human rights and humanitarian standards. There can be implementation of reforms to local participation mechanisms by municipalist governments: digital decision-making platforms, participatory budgets, the capacity for citizen-initiated ballots and consultations, etc…The hypothesis is that the processes that empower ordinary people on this scale, can eventually be done on a ‘higher’ scale.

Democratic to its core and non-hierarchical in its structure, libertarian municipalism, in effect, seeks to define the institutional contours of a new society even as it advances the practical message of a radically new politics for our day. Libertarian municipalism proposes a radically different form of economy one that is neither nationalized nor collectivized according to syndicalist precepts. It proposes that land and enterprises be placed increasingly in the custody of the community more precisely, the custody of citizens in free assemblies and their deputies in confederal councils. How work should be planned, what technologies should be used, how goods should be distributed are questions that can only be resolved in practice. The maxim ‘from each according to his or her ability, to each according to his or her needs’ would seem a bedrock guide for an economically rational society, provided to be sure that goods are of the highest durability and quality, that needs are guided by rational and ecological standards, and that the ancient notions of limit and balance replace the bourgeois marketplace imperative of ‘grow or die’.

In such a municipal economy – confederal, interdependent, and rational by ecological, not simply technological, standards – we would expect that the special interests that divide people today into workers, professionals, managers, and the like would be melded into a general interest in which people see themselves as citizens guided strictly by the needs of their community and region rather than by personal proclivities and vocational concerns. Here, citizenship would come into its own, and rational as well as ecological interpretations of the public good would supplant class and hierarchical interests.

The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES), also known as Rojava35-37, is an example of libertarian socialism in action. Despite being in almost constant conflict with Daesh and the Turkish state since its inception, the cantonal municipality regions are autonomous from the state executive power. The municipality structures organizes itself in assemblies of the population: neighbourhood assemblies, women’s assemblies, religions (Alevis, Muslims, Yezidis, Christians, etc…), ecology, energy, youth, etc… According to the Social Contract, the autonomy of the municipalities is structured from below. Abdullah Öcalan38,39, inspired by Murray Bookchin, was the initial advocate in influencing the Kurdish people to form the basis of an ecological and democratic society via democratic confederalism40.

Murray Bookchin41 was a social theorist, author, orator, historian, and political philosopher. A pioneer in the environmental movement, Bookchin formulated and developed the theory of social ecology and urban planning, within anarchist, libertarian socialist, and ecological thought. A number of his works42-44, give practicable ideas to a non-capitalist society, often discussing subjects like social ecology and moral economy45 throughout history and associated ideas.

There are many organisations that build on the theories of social ecology and have aims of reclaiming the commons, like the The Institute for Social Ecology46. These envisions a moral economy that moves beyond scarcity and hierarchy, toward a world that re-harmonizes human communities with the natural world, while celebrating diversity, creativity and freedom. They have been a pioneer in the exploration of ecological approaches to food production, alternative technologies, and urban design, and has played an essential, catalytic role in movements to challenge nuclear power, global injustices and unsustainable biotechnologies, while building participatory, community-based alternatives.

Symbiosis47 is a related confederation of community organizations across North America, building a democratic and ecological society from the ground up. Through organizing participatory institutions at the grass-roots, they try to meet immediate human needs and form a new basis of power, organizing society in parallel against capitalism and the state.

Staying with ecological themes, Fridays for Future48 is a climate action group that advocates labour strikes, following research that non-violent civil disobedience is the most successful way to bring about change. The Sunrise Movement49 is another organisation with similar principles50 that are hoping to halt climate change and create millions of good-paying jobs in the process.

Other groups include the International Indigenous Youth Council (IIYC)51 that started during the Standing Rock Indigenous Uprising of 2016 while peacefully protecting the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Through action and ceremony, the IIYC commits to building a sustainable future for the next seven generations.

The Movement for Black Lives52 includes an ecosystem of over 170 Black-led organizations. Their Vision mentions that there can be no liberation for all Black people if we they do not fight for members of their communities who are living at the intersections of multiple and mutually reinforcing structures of oppression. They demand economic justice for all and a reconstruction of the economy to ensure Black communities have collective ownership, not merely access.

The Well-Being Economy Alliance (WEAll)53 is a leading global collaboration of organisations, alliances, movements and individuals working together to transform the economic system into one that delivers human and ecological well-being. A crucial role for WEAll is providing the connective tissue between the different elements of the movement for a well-being economy.

P2P Models54 is a research project that combines social research and free/libre technologies to foster social and economic justice. Their challenge is to co-create inclusive decentralized tools and theories. They seek practical applications to facilitate collective action.

Happonomy55 build solutions that offer security, warm relationships and opportunities for personal development, all within the limits of our planet. They have developed a concept of a sustainable monetary system56 that focuses on shifting thinking from capital to thinking in monetary streams. The system enables every individual to have a say in what money is brought into circulation for and thereby shifts the power away from centralised institutions towards a decentralised participative model. Due to its design, the currency is digital. However, it should not be implemented in a centralised fashion. In order for the model to work fully, a distributed implementation is necessary. The dominating technology for that is currently the blockchain57.

Blockchain technology may lead to wide-spread decentralised forms of payments and transactions, which should dilute the power of state and capital. Bitcoin58 is one such application, that uses peer-to-peer technology to operate with no central authority or banks; managing transactions and the issuing of Bitcoin is carried out collectively by the network. Bitcoin is open-source; its design is public, nobody owns or controls Bitcoin and everyone can take part.

Another initiative that involves blockchain (plus satellite driven earth observation science) is the Regen Registry59, which allows land stewards to sell their ecosystem services directly to buyers around the world. FairCoin60 is the means of exchange used by several confederated collectives. Their aim is to create an innovative economic system from the bottom up in favour of an alternative and post-capitalist model, paving the way for a collective change towards a life based on values in common. Cooperation, ethics, solidarity and transparency are key factors to create a value exchange system for everyone.

Add to these a whole host of books and websites61-63 outlining regenerative economics and overcoming of the capitalist mode of production. A Finer Future: Creating an Economy in Service to Life64 (multiple authors) has chapters on efficiency, the circular economy, and green buildings. Doughnut Economics65 (Kate Raworth) contains ideas on how to redesign money, finance, and business to be in service to people; and create economies that are regenerative and distributive by design. Bullshit Jobs: A Theory66 by David Graeber argues for the existence and societal harm of meaningless jobs. He contended that over half of societal work is pointless, which becomes psychologically destructive when paired with a work ethic that associates work with self-worth.

Another widely known alternative to the current economic model can include non-profit organisations67. These are legal entities that operate for a collective, public or social benefit, in contrast with an entity that operates as a business aiming to generate a profit for its owners. A non-profit is subject to the non-distribution constraint: any revenues that exceed expenses must be committed to the organization’s purpose, not taken by private parties.

People could also try to set up a more circular economy68 which aims to eliminate waste and continually use resources. Circular systems employ reuse, sharing, repair, refurbishment, re-manufacturing and recycling to create a closed-loop system, minimising the use of resource inputs and the creation of waste, pollution and carbon emissions. The circular economy aims to keep products, equipment and infrastructure in use for longer, thus improving the productivity of these resources. Waste materials and energy should become input for other processes: either a component or recovered resource for another industrial process or as regenerative resources for nature (e.g., compost). This regenerative approach is in contrast to the traditional linear economy.

Capitalist companies regularly mislead the public on how environmentally friendly their practises are. The proliferation of plastic waste is driven by the economic system favoured by policy-makers and their supporting business lobbies that promotes economic growth. The acceleration in plastic production worldwide is a consequence of linear economic models that are designed in, and operate in, a vacuum69. The petroleum industry spent millions telling people to recycle, because selling recycling sold plastic, even if it wasn’t true. All used plastic can be turned into new things, but picking it up, sorting it out and melting it down is expensive. Plastic also degrades each time it is reused, meaning it can’t be reused more than once or twice70.

Catabolic capitalism71 flourishes because it can still generate substantial profits by dodging legalities and regulations; stockpiling scarce resources and peddling arms to those fighting over them; scavenging, breaking down, and selling off the assets of the decaying productive and public sectors; and preying upon the sheer desperation of people who can no longer find gainful employment elsewhere. To nurture the transition toward a thriving, just, ecologically stable society, all of these struggles must be interwoven and infused with an inspirational vision of how much better life could be if we freed ourselves from this dysfunctional, profit-obsessed system once and for all. People and the planet will continue to suffer as long as catabolic profiteers, fossil fuel extractors, and nationalist demagogues remain in power.

Whenever capitalism is in crises, there is a tendency for business leaders and populist politicians to promote fascism72-78. The supreme art of the populist is the ability to blame outsiders for the insecurity and inequalities of workers under capitalism, that have nothing to do with them. States (backed by corporations) resort to a host of mechanisms of coercive exclusion: mass incarceration and prison-industrial complexes, pervasive policing, repressive anti-immigrant legislation, manipulation of space in new ways so that both gated communities and ghettos are controlled by armies of private security guards and technologically advanced surveillance systems, and ideological campaigns aimed at seduction and passivity through petty consumption and fantasy.

The biggest fascist-leaning organisation over the last 50+ years has been the USA government and its subsidiaries79-88. Killing foreign leaders or domestic individuals alike, whenever the sanctity of capital and the state are remotely threatened. So whenever groups exist that are anti-capitalist, there is a real danger of repression and murder by the capitalist states. Though it is always helpful to remember the forces of the state are nothing other than apes following orders and directions, like any other group of people. They are not some supernatural phenomenon with omnipotency and displaying omnipresence.

People can always produce new societies or create Temporary Autonomous Zones89 at the very least. We can always get inspiration from others, like the Zapatistas90-92, the anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation group. They have led an independent existence for close to 30 years, comprising collective resistance, concentrated upon recuperating land, mutual aid, and exercising autonomy. Following Zapatismo93 principles that include:

  • Obedecer y No Mandar (To Obey, Not Command)
  • Proponer y No Imponer (To Propose, Not Impose)
  • Representar y No Suplantar (To Represent, Not Supplant)
  • Convencer y No Vencer (To Convince, Not Conquer)
  • Construir y No Destruir (To Construct, Not Destroy)
  • Servir y No Servirse (To Serve Others, Not Serve Oneself)
  • Bajar y No Subir (To Work From Below, Not Seek To Rise)

To explain Zapatismo most accurately, perhaps it is best summed up by the Zapatistas themselves:

‘Zapatismo is not a new political ideology, or a rehash of old ideologies. Zapatismo is nothing, it does not exist. It only serves as a bridge, to cross from one side, to the other. So everyone fits within Zapatismo, everyone who wants to cross from one side, to the other. There are no universal recipes, lines, strategies, tactics, laws, rules, or slogans. There is only a desire – to build a better world, that is, a new world.’

To create new societies, all we need are different goals, tasks and aims94.

Myth: Capital is well-defined.

Myth: Barter

Monetary system

Free Market Bollocks

Rational Actors

Private Property

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