I get annoyed, disheartened and frankly a little bored by the all too familiar comments I read on the internet on the subject of capitalism (particularly on the Guardian website which I read often). A seemingly endless recycling of the same tired out objections to alternatives again and again. While my sympathies clearly lie on the anti-capitalist side I have to admit at also getting frustrated by the level of debate on both sides.
At the first whiff of ‘socialism’ (or anything un-capitalist) the usual retorts are of course wheeled out, the tired old ‘look at Soviet Russia, look at China’ blah blah, and then the left wingers try making good points about the inequalities generated by the status quo of course. Despite the fact that most pro-capitalists are either those that benefit most from it, those that cling hopefully to the dream it sells them or those that feel there is no alternative so will cynically attempt to shut down any dissent – the arguments to defend it are so paper thin that I am continually frustrated that the anti-capitalist brigade aren’t making further headway. Often I feel like we are failing to paint the picture as it is. We are asking the wrong questions (sometimes not asking anything at all and just ‘telling’) and/or unable to put forward a coherent narrative for what should come next. We are working within the capitalist paradigm and discussing it by tacitly acknowledging many of it’s assumptions, it feels like sometimes.
To engender change you have to first show what’s wrong with the current situation. Well, that’s not too hard all things considered, but the next step is then frame the debate in a way that highlights the inconsistencies in the capitalist ideology – this is done less well and less frequently. I think we should be making it widely visible that frankly, capitalism is really just the new feudalism.
If you take a step back and look at it, really very little has changed since feudal times. All capitalism has done is replace the hereditary conferral of power to a purely monetary one.
Same play, different players – leading to the same tragic ending. Overlords with power and money to whom those without – offer their (working) lives in service. All things are supplicated before the mighty rich. Every thing has a price.
The 20th century dichotomy of Communism vs Capitalism is redundant now. Communist Russia and China both tried approaching their versions of Communism (and let’s give them the benefit of the doubt by saying they had only the best intentions) : “if we can forcibly impose the conditions that will.. (in their view) ..lead to human happiness then our people shall flourish”. I mean that was essentially the plan wasn’t it? So, it turns out that they were very wrong. Possibly about the conditions that were really required for communist utopia, but most certainly about the methods. Everything that is human and creative and joyful cannot be subordinated to control and enforced equality.
Any social order must embrace and encourage all that is positive about who we are. Soviet style communism failed dismally to do that. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – absolutely.
Capitalism however is not “the worst system, except for the rest”. No, it is just one of the worst. That sentiment (though often expressed) is – I feel – a cop out. It’s a way of stopping a debate or a conversation, of refusing or discouraging people to examine alternatives. It’s as if someone is saying to you that this has already been all worked out and here is the official result – no need to look any further.
The fact is that capitalism is (thanks to it’s central flaw), untenable. It has to end one day. It simply has no other future, no other route. There is no tinkering with the tank that will somehow turn it into a butterfly.
You can not have infinite growth in a finite world. There is no getting around it. The obsession with “growth” that pretty much all governments around the world run by has to be replaced at some stage. But nobody ever seems to ask the question “when do you think growth should stop?” Because nobody wants to acknowledge that it has to. There’s no way it can continue forever, so it has to stop one day. The question then becomes, well.. which day? If not today, then when? All of us will one day have to answer that question, so if you are reading this now I suggest you may as well start today.
It will most definitely have to be replaced with something one day, so we might as well get a head start on working out what it should be replaced with. ‘Post-growth’ societies therefore need to be articulated, dreams and ideal need to be shared, systems and shared principles discussed and a working common cause established – lest we wait for the next tyrant to seize the reins and decide it for us, thus repeating the worst of histories cliches.
Now that we have established a need to discuss this, we should really think hard about what a society is for, what it should do for us, and what the best structure might be for that. Do we have governments? If so, what is their role? If not, then how else do we agree common cause and action things? If the priority of people’s lives is not simply to ‘produce utility’, to obtain profit, to capitalise on opportunities to compete and gain advantage over one another, and instead we have other incentives and priorities… What might the world look like? With changes of that scale, building a vision from the bottom up seems more sensible to me than the top down. So rather than starting with who runs it and how, we should maybe first work out what it is that’s going on. How are we producing food? How are resources used and shared? How are we directing effort and how are we living and filling our days? To what purpose are communities or societies directed? Do we still live in cities to the extent we do now?
Many questions to answer, and quite a lot of them are thorny – but then is there many things more important that we should be doing? Saving the world from cataclysmic environmental degradation might be one, but then if we are to avoid repeating the mistakes that led us here we need to have a viable alternative way of doing things – and it occurs to me that the more you dig the more urgency these questions take on.
Get your thinking caps on people. Challenge the prepackaged ideologies and take the best, assume nothing and ask what is possible, then challenge that and ask again. We have few limitations other than ourselves and a finite (but regenerative) planet.