“Capitalism”

6 07 2009

Capitalism, one of the last great sacred cows for many.  For some its a god, placed upon a pedestal and revered as the saviour of man.  To others it is the epitome of evil, to be combated at all costs.

‘Capitalism’ means different things to different people, depending on context and each person’s theoretical background.  Some people use it to mean a series of free exchanges between individuals uninfluenced by state or force, while other people refer to it as a system of workers exploitation and privilege for the few.

Mike Gogulski relates his thoughts on the subject:

With a single exception, attendees responded with words evoking free markets, individualism, free association, self-determination, respect for property, the ability to create and retain wealth, no interference in peaceful trade, ideological consistency, and so on.

I then told them that they are all absolutely right. And at the same time absolutely wrong.

I said: Capitalism is an exploitative system of privileges granted to wealthy interests to the detriment of the poor.

And that definition is also right, because it lives in the minds of billions.

Likewise, in the comments of the ‘About me’ section of my blog, Geoffrey Transom wrote:

You can dislike anarcho-capitalism all you like, but if you’re genuinely an anarchist, and the world progressesto[sic] anarchy, it will be anarcho-capitalist.

Markets are the only coercion-free way to enable mutually-beneficial exchange: there is no other mechanism. I think you are conflatingtheeffects[sic] of crony-capitalism (the US model since the mid-1800s) with actual, free, markets.

Acknowledging that there is a running disagreement about the meaning of the term capitalism is just the start.  What needs to be taken into account is the fact that billions of people regard the label ‘capitalism’ as exploitation and oppression.  Meanwhile there are thousands of proponents of  Capitalism out there who elaborate on their system as a corporate wonderland.  This group labels themselves ‘Capitalist’ and, even if ‘capitalism’ originally meant something else, it now applies to their ideology.

To all intents and purposes, the crony-capitalism described by Geoffrey Transom is Capitalism.

Some may argue that this also applies to the term ‘Anarchist’, in that many who like the idea of indiscriminate violence like to label themselves anarchists, so we must give up the term for some other derivative.  The fact that we do not give up the term ‘Anarchist’ to thugs, according to some, supports the argument that we should not give up the term ‘capitalist’ either.  Yet ‘Anarchist’ has been used as a chosen label for movements world-wide filled with passionate and intelligent individuals working for a better society.  Misuse of the term abounds only when it is applied as part description, part label to a group by a third party.  It’s intended to provoke an audience.

The difference lies in how the label is applied and for what purpose; the first group identify as Anarchist, while the second group have been identified by others as anarchist in rhetoric.  Such rhetoric has unfortunately continued in popular culture, meaning advocates of Anarchism are routinely forced to deal with a common cliché — but this cliché still this works in favour of Anarchists.  The word is exciting and fun.  It forces all kinds of responses from all kinds of people, ranging from shock horror to curiosity.  It has connotations with passion, humanism, the promise of revolt and even the promise of salvation, freedom and justice.  It is a rallying call.  In short, it is radical.

Ignoring the specific meaning of the term for a moment ‘capitalism’, or any replacement for the label ‘Anarchist’ for that manner, is boring.

It is also worth mentioning that the same argument that some would apply to Anarchist’ would apply more aptly to the term ‘free market’, which has been appropriated and misused as rhetoric by those arguing in favour of the current capitalist economic system.  The words are a description that encapsulate an idea.  With little clarification one can easily use the term ‘free market’ (or even ‘freed market’ as has become the fashion among some scenes) to mean the everyday interactions of individuals, unfettered by interference from an external third party.  Unlike the term ‘capitalism’, ‘free market’ implies more than one concept and has been misused as rhetoric rather than as a label or a noun given to a set of ideals concerning the realm of statist party-politics and economics.  In this sphere, it has been misapplied as oh so many ‘free markets’ are never, actually ‘free’.  ‘Capitalism’ does not contain the ‘free from external influence’ imputation that ‘free market’ does using the plain and ordinary meaning of the words.  As the current state of world economies show, economic systems that ascribe to the Capitalist label seem to depend on the state for existence.  In this the Marxists appear to be right.

This is the way in which I use these terms.  It is hardly a conflation, but more an emphasis in the distinction between ‘capitalism’ and the ‘free market’ as distinct and different concepts.  Conversely, I would submit to my critics that the use of ‘capitalism’ as synonymous with the ‘free market’ is the true conflation in terms.  When Konkin wrote that Anarcho-Capitalists conflate the productive class and the apathetic, apolitical capitalist class, he failed to notice that the problem can be traced back to the fundamental misuse of basic language.  After all, in the course of everyday life it would be the height of arrogance to redefine a word to mean something other than what it does, simply to fit my agenda, and to then insist upon all whom I come across that it is the world who truly operates on an incorrect premise.  Most people would ignore me, or call me crazy if I suddenly redefined the word ‘clam’ to mean ‘sandwich’, so why shouldn’t the same apply to ‘capitalism’?  It is arrogant to redefine ‘capitalism’ to mean the ‘free market’, incorporate it into a particular ideology and then insist that it is the rest of the world who is wrong — especially when in the minds of individuals everywhere, Capitalism is synonymous with a coercive system of privilege and exploitation.

And yet, in these times of economic uncertainty, there are those sounding the alarm that many of the world’s economies may give up on Capitalism, with America leading the way.  It may be a little crazy (even a little radical) of me to suggest the following, but maybe Capitalism should be cast off, slaughtered and thrown on the pit to be left to rot along with other dead, statist ideologies such as Stalinist Communism.  As radicals, we cannot advocate Capitalism.  We should be pouring scorn upon it along with the best scourn-pourers and offering our audiences the free market as a true alternative.  We must cast off Capitalism entirely; not merely cover it up and hide it away in what amounts to a superficial change, by slapping a new label on an old product.

Kevin Caron’s phrase “Free Market, Anti-Capitalism”  has become the battlecry for the new generation of Agorists, Mutualists and Individualist Anarchists for a reason.

Special thanks to Neverfox of Instead of  a Blog.

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4 responses

7 07 2009
sekanblogger

Capitalism is the judicious use of sabotage. Once it’s successfull companies can dominate the market, cheapen the product and overcome the quality problems with marketing…..
Sucks huh?

7 07 2009
sekanblogger

Free markets are an illusion.
The wealthy, and their K-street tools have never allowed free markets.

7 07 2009
Royce Christian

Sekan,

“Once it’s successfull companies can dominate the market, cheapen the product and overcome the quality problems with marketing…”

It doesn’t even need to tamper with the quality of a product, it can just lobby government for some new, mandatory, measure for employers which would add expenditure. It could be new licensing requirements, new taxes to pay for x service or y service. The net effect would be to reduce competition as all but the largest corporations cannot afford the added expenditure. That it’s legal is even better.

18 09 2009
markoffchaney

Everything that is had is at the cost of those who have not.

Stepping on Invisible People
http://www.thefreewarehouse.com/main/page_free_thought.html

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