tools of capitalism

you’re not fucking being an oxymoron as a communist if you’re using an iphone to blog about communism, the consumer isn’t responsible for the corporations destruction, there is no ethical consumption. In order to survive today we have to engage with capitalist structures, that doesn’t mean we can’t suggest better ways to live. 

We can use capitalist tools to fucking destroy capitalism lmao, or at very least better our society.

Two kinds of mental health stigma

Content note: This post contains both criticism of and respect for the mental health system. If you find one or the other upsetting, this post will likely bother you.

There are two basic kinds of mental health stigma: dismissiveness, and dehumanization. Mental health conversations tend to have trouble acknowledging both at the same time — usually it’s at most one.

Dismissiveness stigma is when people deny the reality of mental illnesses. This plays out in a number of ways. One classic example of dismissiveness is “antidepressants are just a tool of capitalism to stop people from noticing that things are wrong”, or “Stop complaining. There are people with real problems”. There are many other examples.

Dehumanization stigma is when people deny the humanity of people with mental illnesses. A classic example of this is people who believe that the purpose of mental health treatment is to reveal the real person underneath — and that therefore, any objections they might make to the treatment “aren’t the real them talking”. There are many other examples of this as well.

Dismissiveness and dehumanization are both major problems. They’re both real, and they both do a lot of damage, even up to the point of costing people their lives.

People tend to perceive the mental health system very differently based on which kind of stigma looms largest for them. For a lot of people, it’s much easier to see one type than the other.

People who mostly experience dismissiveness often see the psych system this way:

  • No one took my problem seriously
  • I was scared to turn anywhere for help
  • Once I finally took the leap and went to therapy, things got so much better
  • Or, once I finally stared medication, things got so much better
  • (Or even: medication and therapy saved my life).
  • (Or even: I’m so glad people finally pushed me to get treatment; they were right.)
  • I wish people wouldn’t be so afraid. I wish everyone had access to this.
  • We need to fight stigma so that people can get the help they need.
  • (And to reform laws so that everyone has access).

People who mostly experience dehumanization often see it more like this:

  • When I entered the psych system, people treated me like I wasn’t a person
  • They forced me to take medication I didn’t want to take
  • The drugs didn’t work, and had harmful side effects
  • When I complained, they treated it as a symptom and raised the dose
  • They forced me to be in therapy I didn’t want to be in, and that made me worse
  • When I tried to advocate for myself, people treated it as a symptom, and no one took me seriously
  • Things only got better for me when I stopped therapy and/or medication and started a different approach
  • (Or even: stopping therapy and/or medication saved my life)
  • I wish people wouldn’t be so uncritical of a system that hurt me
  • I wish “unmedicated” wasn’t used as a slur implying that people who make the choices I make are all terrible people
  • We need to warn people, and reform the laws and systems that allow people to be treated this way

Some people’s experiences in the mental health system are positive in ways that nothing else is; some people’s experiences are horrifying. (And for a lot of people, things are more mixed). Neither type of experience is universally representative; both are real and common. Both matter, and need to be part of the conversation.

When most of someone’s experiences are with dehumanization, it can be hard to understand that dismissiveness is also a problem. Or why anyone would regard mental health care as positive, or lack of access to it as a problem. They may also find the terminology of “mental illness” repugnant, and have a strong preference for “crazy”. But it really is the case that for some people, mental healthcare including therapy and medication is a really good thing. And that for some people, the biggest problem with the system is difficulty accessing it (either because others discourage it, or because it’s too expensive.)

When most of someone’s experiences are with dismissiveness, it can be hard to understand that the dehumanization experiences are also real. (Particularly for people who were really afraid of mental health care and then had a transformative good experience with it.) It can be hard to understand why someone would prefer an apparently pejorative term like “crazy” over an apparently-netural term like “mental illness”. It can seem like people must be exaggerating, or that these things only happened in the past, or something like that. But dehumanization is still a problem now, and fighting treatment stigma will not address that problem.

Both dehumanization and dismissiveness are important barriers to people being treated as they ought to be. Because of both types of stigma, people lack access to help they vitally need. For some people, that help is treatment. For others, it’s access to resources like housing, respite, and assistance with food. For a lot of people, it’s both. People’s very real mental health struggles should not be dismissed; neither should the humanity and human rights of people with mental illnesses be denied.

tl;dr There are two types of mental health stigma: dismissiveness, and dehumanization. Dismissiveness is when people deny the reality of your condition; dehumanization is when people think that your condition makes you less than human. Dismissiveness is often made better by the mental health system; dehumanization is often made worse. People whose experience is primarily in one category often don’t understand that the other category exists. Both matter, and both need to be part of the conversation.

Why I Am A Socialist - Part 3: Because Marx Was Right

This one is for anyone curious about what Marx was actually on about (as opposed to the caricatures of his thought that abound), and for those who know already but could do with a bit of a recap/consolidation.

All Marxists are socialists, but not all socialists are Marxists. There are really two definitions of what it means to call yourself a Marxist. On the one hand, you may be affiliated with an orthodox Marxist-Leninist communist party such as are still active in most European countries, and which preach Bolshevik-style armed revolution by the working class. More commonly today, people who call themselves Marxists are socialists who find much of their philosophical inspiration in the political economy of Karl Marx. I am a Marxist of this kind. I think Marx was right about most of the essentials, and that he remains the most important socialist writer, his work being the best theoretical tool available to anyone trying to understand capitalism and move beyond it.

Marx was, above all, a theorist of capitalism, not of socialism. What differentiates Marx from the vast majority of economic writers after him is that he actually took the time to develop a theory of how capitalism itself works. As the economist Yanis Varoufakis (now the Greek Finance Minister) points out, the economics profession after Marx became obsessed with developing ‘scientific’, physics-based mathematical models that became increasingly divorced from the day-to-day reality of capitalism and the social relations which undergird it. For the post-Marxian economic intellectuals, market exchange, free labour markets and ownership of productive assets were not the defining features of a specific economic model called ‘capitalism’, but were instead what define economies per se; the study of anything outside of the basic economic coordinates of capitalism was no longer considered properly economic study. ‘Once we got into that framework of thinking about the economy’ says Varoufakis, ‘capitalism became invisible.’ Marx, of course, did not think capitalism was synonymous with ‘economy’. The theory of capitalism Marx espoused treated it as a very specific constellation of social relations and historical forces which could and should be subject to scrutiny and critique; in insisting upon the necessity of critique, in fact, he was far more loyal to the scientific method than the economists who sought to make of economics a natural science.

Marx’s analysis of capitalism begins with a question: what does it mean to be a capitalist? Capitalist activity is the making of profit; if you are not making profit, you are not a capitalist. Profit is what is left over after you have paid all of the costs associated with producing whatever it is that you sell. If I began a business and only recovered my costs, I would cease my economic activity very quickly, since what is left over after costs are covered must at least cover my own living. This is the absolute lower limit of profit required for a capitalist to continue production; he must be able fund his own consumption from it. It the market, of course, capitalists compete with one another for profits; the real lower limit is the average rate of profit, the rate beneath which one starts to become less competitive, and above which an advantage is gained against one’s competitors. The law that a good chunk of profits must be reinvested productively in order to grow the business and remain competetive (and avoid sinking beneath the average rate of profit), is the iron law of capitalism; it acts upon the capitalist themselves without mercy. Reinvestment, rapid growth and perpetual accumulation are the conditions of economic life upon which capitalism cannot budge, upon which it can make no compromise.

The above explains why profit must be produced, but what does Marx say about how it is produced? Much of mainstream or marginalist pro-capitalist (bourgeoise) economics says that profit is produced in the act of exchange; the seller produces or buys at a particular monetary cost (m) and sells at a larger monetary value (M). The difference between the two is profit, and it is gained in the act of exchange. The intuitive appeal of this construction requires a bit of critical scrutiny to see through. Imagine you decide to build a kitchen table and sell it at a profit. You will incur a number of costs in making the table: timber, tools, nails, perhaps glue, polish and so on. Let’s say these cost you £50 in total. You spend two days making the table and sell it for £100. You now hold in your hand £100 instead of the £50 you had before; where did this additional £50 come from? The question may seem wrong-headed since it is obvious that it came from the wallet of the person who bought the table. But the additional £100 which has made its way from the buyer’s wallet into your hands has been given in exchange for something of equal value, the table, so the buyer does not make a monetary gain. The table itself is the ‘more’ in this equation; it is the thing which did not exist before but which does exist now. All of the money involved already existed. Nothing in the world is ‘increased’ in the movement of banknotes, or even in the ‘movement’ of the table from your workshop to the buyer’s house. What has changed is that there is now a table in the world that wasn’t there before. Exchange did not produce that table, you did, with your labour. Labour, says Marx, is the source of profit.

Marx’s basic point is that profit, and in fact all new wealth and value, is created in the sphere of production, not exchange. This is in many ways staggeringly obvious; production is literally the sphere in which things are made, after all. But in stating that labour is the source of profit, Marx is making the more precise and contentious claim that profit originates with labour and is then expropriated from it by capitalists.

Here is Marx’s version of events: a capitalist begins production by purchasing tools, raw materials and machinery, and then hires workers to use those productive elements to produce a commodity. The combined cost of the non-human and human elements of production is the initial outlay of capital; it is what the capitalist must spend in order to make more money. If the capitalist were simply to re-sell the tools, raw materials and machinery (what Marx calls constant capital) he just bought, he would probably get exactly what he paid for them, maybe a bit less. The only way for him to get more money is for him to employ labour in creating something new. The production of a commodity by labour permits the transmission of the value of the constant capital (tools/machinery etc) into a new commodity, thus preserving their value. But if this was all that labour did, the commodities produced would have no more value than the tools and machinery themselves, leaving the capitalist without profit. Labour, says Marx, produces additional value in the course of production and transmits this value to the commodity on top of the value of the constant capital used up in the process. It is labour which causes a car to be worth more than the sum of the components that comprise it. It is labour which brings a car into existence where before there were only parts.

But what about wages? Sure, labour adds to the value of the constant capital by transforming it into something else, but doesn’t the capitalist repay this in full in the form of wages? He couldn’t even if he wanted to. If the capitalist did indeed repay this debt in full, he would again be bereft of profit. The capitalist is bound by the necessity of making a living and by the iron law of competetive reivestment to pay the worker some fraction of the value of what the worker has produced. This fraction may be small or large, but it can never be as much of the full value gained in the sale of the commodity. This process of employing labour to produce value and then paying them some fraction of it is what Marx called exploitation. Exploitation is not just ‘bad treatment’ of workers, it is the specific manner in which, in the capitalist mode of production, the necessary work of making profits is accomplished. The value which the workers produce above and beyond the value of their own wages is called the surplus, and it is the surplus which the capitalist appropriates, both to fund his own conspicuous consumption and to reinvest towards engagement in the competetive market.

Once we recognise that this is how profits, i.e., the surplus, are produced, we might well ask how things came to be this way, and whether they must be so. Marx’s theory of how capitalism came about is part of his larger theory of history, which is called historical materialism. Historical materialism states that history moves through a series of epochs defined by two basic sets of circumstances. The first is the level of technological, scientific and organisational progress attained at any given moment; Marx calls these accumulated social competencies the forces of production. The second is the basic manner in which social life, and in particular work, is organised throughout society. This includes the question of who works and who does not, who rules or controls the monopoly of violent force known as the state, how work is divided up into different tasks and dispersed throughout the population, and how the fruits of that work are divided up and consumed. All of these different social connections between people Marx calls the relations of production. At any given historical juncture, a given interaction between the forces and relations of production will be predominant. In feudal times, for example, the forces of production had not progressed past the stage of medium-scale collaborative agriculture, and the relations of production involved the yeoman peasantry working half the week on their own land and half the week on the land of the feudal lord.

So, how does one historical moment give way to the next? Marx says that history lurches forward into new epochs when a tension emerges between the forces and the relations of production that eventually becomes too much for the system to bear. As technology and scientific progress marches forward, it becomes ever more difficult, and indeed more economically irrational, for society to hold on to the old relations of production. How, for example, could feudalism have possibly survived the industrial revolution? The revolution in economic life which that era portended was simply incompatible with the social relations of feudalism, based as they were on inferior forces of production and the social relations suitable to those forces. The social relations of capitalism could not possibly have come about without the development of the productive forces to the point at which those relations were capable of becoming generalised, that is, more or less ubiquitous throughout society. What this meant in practice was the large-scale migration of labour from the country to the city, from the farmlands of feudalism to the urban centres of industrial production. Economic and social life was completely transformed in this messy, uneven and violent process, a process which began to establish as ‘normal’ the social relations of contemporary capitalism.

What are the social relations of capitalism, that is, its relations of production? When Marx uses the word capital, also the title of his most famous work, he does not use it in the modern sense of ‘wealth’ or ‘productive assets’. For Marx, capital is itself a social relation, the relation upon which the economic system of capitalism depends. This relation is the relation between the working class and the capitalist class; in a very literal sense, Marx argues that this relation is capitalism. The difference between workers and capitalists, this difference being the essence of their relation, is that capitalists own the means of production, whereas workers do not. The means of production are factories, farms, power plants, mines, oil derricks, tools, machinery and even intellectual property, basically everything which facilitates the production and reproduction of our material lives. In feudalism, workers owned their own means of production (farmland, cattle, tools etc) and were able to reproduce themselves by their use. While they were forced by the feudal relations of production to work part of the week for the consumption of the feudal lord rather than for their own, they could in theory have provided for themselves using nothing but their own property.

In capitalism, workers do not own any means of production, and are therefore utterly reliant upon capitalists to be able to engage in the kind of productive activity that ensures that the supermarket shelves are full, that clothes are made, cars manufactured and so on. The movement from feudalism to capitalism thus entailed the separation of the working class from their means of production, because it is only once labour becomes ‘free’ labour, that is, labour ‘unburdened’ of all productive property, that capitalist social relations may be generalised. After all, who would bother working for a capitalist for a fraction of the value that he produces if he could provide for himself using his own productive property and keep the surplus for a rainy day? The very existence of capitalism is predicated upon the separation of society into two distinct classes, one that owns productive assets and one that does not. The class that does own is always a tiny fraction of the size of the class that does not; if this were not so then capitalist production could not begin, since each capitalist needs a plentiful supply of ‘free’ labour to employ. Since the minority capitalist class appropriates the full surplus, it makes sure to provide itself with a far greater power of consumption than is permitted for the majority of workers. The result is enormous inequality of wealth under capitalism, a circumstance which contributes to the always-brewing crises that plague capitalist production, and well as the resentment of the working class.

Crisis, says Marx, is of a piece with capitalism. Capitalism as a system is exceptionally fragile because it relies for its existence upon a constant circulation of capital through a number of different stages and forms. Marx’s explanation of this circulation process is clunky and long-winded (newcomers to Marx can do no better than reading David Harvey’s A Companion to Marx’s Capital, vol 2 for an insight into how this all works), but suffice it to say that there are innumerable opportunities for the circulation of capital to become blocked, slowed down, redirected and choked off outright. The result is the kind of crisis that we saw in 2007/08 when an increasingly financialised and deregulated flow of capital found itself crippled in its capacity to do its one and only job: to move. Only under capitalism is it possible for there to be such a thing as ‘surplus liquidity’, when banks and rich individuals have so much money that they cannot find enough profitable ways to spend it. Money sits in bank accounts contributing nothing to society even as wages plummet, government budgets are cut leaving the weakest among us without support, and a million useful jobs in our cities and towns go undone. It is hardly an exaggeration to call such an irrational system, so stubbornly insistent on repeating its mistakes, pathological.

Marx’s view was that capitalism’s tendency to fall into crisis meant that it would only be a matter of time before the whole edifice crumbled under the weight of its own contradictions. The ‘death’ of capitalism is predicted by historical materialism in its most simple form since, like every other system, it cannot indefinitely resist being forced to adapt to the tension between its forces and relations of production. Marx’s specific formulation of this inevitable shift towards a post-capitalist society is called, unpoetically, the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Capital, that being the initial outlay of productive elements the capitalist puts into production, consists of two parts: non-human elements (tools, buildings, energy, machinery etc) called constant capital and human elements (labour) called variable capital. The commodities which these elements produce when combined thus ‘contain’ a certain proportion of constant to variable capital, of value contributed by non-human and by human elements. A hand-crafted chair, for example, contains a greater proportion of human to non-human input than a chair produced on an assembly line with a minimum of human labour. As capitalist competition intensifies, the need for individual capitalists to invest in labour-saving technologies increases, with the result that commodities are increasingly produced with less and less input from human labour.

The dimunation of the human contribution to the final product has a number of effects, some good, some bad. Workers are laid off from increasingly automated jobs, destroying whole communities and ways of life, but at the same time prices generally decrease as the amount of labour embodied in commodities gradually declines. The most dangerous effect however, argues Marx, is that as the human component of production declines, so too does the capacity for capitalists to make a profit. At first glance this seems highly counter-intuitive; how can better, faster, cheaper production result in less profits? Recall that, for Marx, profit is the difference between what the capitalist pays out for constant and variable capital, and the final price that the commodity fetches. This difference is what the capitalist does not pay to workers; it is the difference between the value the workers produce and what they are paid in wages. In the absence of workers to exploit, the capitalist loses his capacity to stretch open a gap between his costs and his revenues. This is precisely what happened to the Japanese manufacturing industry in the late 1980’s. The tremendous economic boom Japan had been enjoying from the fruits of robotizing car manufacture backfired as the profit margin began, almost inexplicably, to decline. The Japanese car manufacturers had not been reading their Marx, and had displaced human labour, the source of profit, from the production equation.

It is a difficult concept to get one’s head around. We are so entranced by the disarmingly obvious fact that automisation means more wealth and productivity with less effort, that we fail to detatch the idea of the creation of wealth from the realisation of profits. In a society in which automisation steadily increased but in which the economy was not run on the basis of profit-making, the increased resulting increases in productivity would be an unambiguous good. Under capitalism, however, such innovations can also beget crises. The last few decades have seen the incredibly destructive growth of ‘outsourcing’ in the developed nations, whereby capital moves overseas to take advantage of cheaper labour than can be aquired in the home market. Outsourcing is not carried out by unscrupulous capitalists who could just as easily remain in their countries of origin; they are suffering real crises of profitability that can only be assuaged by moving to where the costs are lower. Outsourcing reveals an important contradiction within capitalist production; at a certain point it becomes more profitable for a company to go to where labour can be more eggregiously exploited than to invest in further labour-saving technology at home. What this means is that it has become impossible for capital to profitably employ human labour without dramatically reducing wages. What happens when the developing world catches up with the developed and wages level out globally? Capital, Marx’s theory suggests, will have nowhere left to run.

But isn’t it still a bit of a mystery why labour is the sole source of profit, and why increasing labour productivity by investing in labour saving machinery, while profitable for the individual capitalist in the short term, ultimately stymies profitability for capitalism as a whole?

Recall the example of car manufacture; labour is literally responsible for the transformation of the various parts into a finished product that can be sold at a higher price that that fetched by the sum of the parts. But what if robots build the car with a bare minimum of human maintainance and supervision? A robot is just a more complex version of any mechanism or tool which helps to get a job done; it increases the productivity of human labour by decreasing the amount of labour required to produce each unit of a good or service. Robots do not ‘labour’ any more than cogs or steam pistons do. But the real reason why robots do not in themselves create profit is that robots have no control over what they cost; the previous owner or manufacturer of the robot sells it at a price dictated by the market. This price will never exceed the value which the robot is capable of transmitting to the final product without the help of human labour. If you have a robot that can produce £100 worth of car parts per hour without any human input, you would not sell it for anything less than the value of those car parts over the lifetime of the robot; if you did, you would take a loss by not keeping the robot and selling the car parts yourself. Nobody would ever sell the goose that lays the golden eggs. Capitalists do not buy elements of constant capital such as robots, tools and raw materials in the hope that these elements will magically create additional value; they buy them in the knowledge that they will need to use human labour to furnish them with the additional value required to turn a profit.

Labour is utterly unique as a commodity, to the point where many commentators do not think it is correct to call it a commodity at all. What makes labour unique is that it has some measure of conscious control over its own price. Labour unions, for example, are extremely effective at pushing wages up, or at least preventing them from declining. Conversely, in times of economic hardship when capitalists refuse to hire workers to do useful work because profits are too low (another sign of a pathological system), desperate workers may agree to work for less than they need to survive or than is considered a dignified social minimum. No other commodity can impact its price by its own volition because no other commodity has meaningful volition. It is this volition which paves the way for exploitation, and thus profit; workers can decide to accept payment in wages (the ‘price’ of labour) lower than the value which they produce. It is only because labour is capable of acting in this way that capitalists are able to procure more in revenues than they incur in costs. The closer society gets to removing labour entirely from the equation, the closer we get to entirely robotised economy in which all inputs to production simply reproduce or transmit the value inherent in them, the cost of which the capitalist will have already incurred prior to the commencement of production (making profit impossible).

This kind of crisis tendency in capitalism is generally known as overproduction, in that the productivity of human labour is so rapidly accelerated that the very wellspring of profit is cut off at its source. But the notion of a fully robotised economy points towards an parallel model of crisis developed by certain Marxist thinkers (and broadly accepted by non-laissez-faire bourgoise economists like John Maynard Keynes) known as underconsumption. Consider an economy in which robots do all the work. Human beings who do not work are not paid wages, and human beings with no wages cannot purchase any of the goods and services produced by the robotised economy. In such a circumstance, it is blidingly clear that there can be no profit, since there is no circulation of money. A fully robotised economy will resemble the de facto communism of Star Trek, wherein the invention of the ‘replicator’ makes human labour in the production of the necessities of daily life unnecessary. When human beings can produce everything they need for free, they do not work for capitalists, and capitalism comes to end. In a fully robotised economy in which workers no longer earn wages, goods and services will have to be distributed throughout the population by some alternative means than the market, and production itself will have to be directed by signals other than market prices. Production would have to be planned, ideally on a democratic model, such that use-values, the useful attributes of goods and services, were directly distributed to a population who no longer had to work for their survival (and whose survival was not dependent on their work).

We are a long way off a fully robotised economy, of course, but with every displacement of labour from production we edge closer to it. As we do, we see portents of an inevitable future in which human beings, no longer profitably employable and thus no longer being paid wages, cannot afford to purchase the goods which the economy produces. Economists call this the problem of effective demand, wherein workers who have been subject to unemployment and wage repression in the name of increasing productivity find themselves unable to purchase sufficient quantities of goods and services to keep the economy healthy (in Marxian terms: to keep capital moving and evading its contradictions). Eventually, this will reach a point at which we have to move beyond capitalism and embrace a system in which production is carried out not for profit and the circulation of capital but directly in order to meet people’s needs and desires. In recent decades the gaping chasm of effective demand as been plugged up with credit, creating demand out of thin air by bringing consumption forward in time. The result, inevitably, has been the sharpening rather than the alleviation of the problem of effective demand, as the distorted, ponzi-like bubbles that easy credit creates burst and the ‘real’ economy, with its tendencies towards overproduction and underconsumption, asserts itself with a vengeance.

What does all this mean for the average person under capitalism? What is the experience of capitalism like for the vast majority of us who work for a living? Marx uses a specific term for the negative psyhcological and spiritual effects which labouring under a capitalist system have on people: alienation. Alienation is the disquieting sense we have, often subconsciously, that we are not the authors of our own actions under capitalism, and that we are not working under the direction of our own autonomy, in our own interests, or under our own self-management.

We have an ultimate boss, the capitalist, who grows very rich off our labour, and we are given directions in our daily work by managers who are also paid more than us. We have very little, if any, opportunity to self-manage under normal capitalist relations of production; we feel the stark difference between how it feels to be given orders and how it feels to direct our own work in a useful and self-fulfilling way when we pursue our hobbies, work towards realising our passions and engage in voluntary collaborative projects. It cannot escape our attention that the former kind of work, alienated and top-down, is by far the more prevalent in our lives. It also cannot escape our attention that the products we produce in our capitalist jobs are not products that we have chosen to produce, and that we have no say in what happens to them once we have produced them. We are encouraged to think only of doing an acceptable job and receiving our wage, which may or may not be enough for us to live on, and to do our best not to think about how degrading, unsatisfying, boring or even socially harmful the work we are doing is. This contributes to a widespread sense of meaninglessness in people’s lives which, systematically repressed by the ideological forces amassed in support of capitalism (which forever police our psychological lives), often erupt in anti-social and, at moments of great economic pressure, subversive or revolutionary outbursts.

Historically, what has prevented revolutionary upheavals from occuring more regularly or systematically have been two major forces. The first is rising wages, which until the last few decades have occurred in the capitalist mode of production. In order to submit to a social order in which a tiny elite siphon off most of a rapidly growing pile of wealth, people have to see their own incomes increasing, at least insofar as they can see an improvement in their own standards of living over their parents and grandparents. In the developed world this is no longer always the case, and in many regions of the U.S. and Europe young people are struggling to attain even the standards of living of their parents. In the countries worst hit by the global recession, standards of material well-being have been significantly reduced, something relatively new to capitalism that is in danger of becoming the norm. The people of Greece have just elected a party made up primarily of Marxists to try and escape the ill-effects that capitalism is having on their lives. If people do not see their incomes rising, it will become increasingly difficult for the capitalist class to justify the economic system, based upon the exploitation of labour, which currently permits their class to exist.

The second force which keeps people in their place under capitalism Marx called commodity fetishism. Commodity fetishism is a constellation of ubiquitous illusions thrown up by the structure of capitalist production itself. These illusions include the fetishisation of paper and digital money, which appears to have value in and of itself, the obscuring of the source of profits in the exploitation of human labour, the apparent transformation of human labour power into a commodity itself, the commodification of all parts of social life, including those things which were once considered consummate public goods, the ‘spectacle’ of modern life, in which all things are reduced to mere images, fragmented and distracting, the dislocation of all positive meaning into the act of consumption and the resulting degradation of social life, the confusion of utility or use value with monetary or exchange value, and all manner of ideological sleights of hand used to justify the privalege, power, wealth and social status of the capitalist class. All of these illusions begin to unravel at their weakest links during crises. It becomes far more difficult for commodity fetishism to function properly when wages are stagnant or declining, or when the real productive economy reasserts itself in the face of fictional capital and credit, or when that lurking sense of alienation reaches a fever pitch among the dispossesed, discontented and disenchanted of the world.

For Marx, capitalism is cannot be sustained forever. It is difficult beast to slay, but at some point the right mixture of internal contradictions and external agitation will force it to give way to something else. Marx said very little about what socialism or communism would be like, other than that it would not be capitalism. It is for the rest of us, clearly, to discover what a post-capitalist global order is to be like. I will try to explore some of the most compelling visions of a socialist political and economic system in the next entry to this series of posts. The important thing is that if, as I do, you agree with Marx, then you agree that we have no option but to imagine the alternative to capitalism, and this means an alternative to to the market, to fetishism and to the exploitation and alienation of human life and labour.

Therefore, comrade, you will hold as enemies - loftily, lucidly, consistently - not only sadistic governors and greedy bankers, not only prefects who torture and colonists who flog, not only corrupt, check-licking politicians and subservient judges, but likewise and for the same reason, venomous journalists, goitrous academicians, wreathed in dollars and stupidity, ethnographers who go in for metaphysics, presumptuous Belgian theologians, chattering intellectuals born stinking out of the thigh of Nietzsche, the paternalists, the embracers, the corrupters, the back-slappers, the lovers of exoticism, the dividers, the agrarian sociologists, the hoodwinkers, the hoaxers, the hot-air artists, the humbugs, and in general, all those who, performing their functions in the sordid division of labor for the defense of Western bourgeois society, try in divers ways and by infamous diversions to split up the forces of Progress-even if it means denying the very possibility of Progress - all of them tools of capitalism, all of them, openly or secretly, supporters of plundering colonialism, all of them responsible, all hateful, all slave-traders…

From Discourse on Colonialism by Aimé Césaire

anonymous asked:

I'm actually really interested in you elaborating on that

(“the way that I don’t believe that patriarchy was a European invention is very, very different to the way that radfems don’t believe that patriarchy was a European invention.”)

the position that I hold that the person who sent that ask misrepresented as “she does believe that patriarchy was a European invention” is, that I acknowledge that the gender binary that we know today (with all of its quirks and particularities including rigid assignment at birth based on genitalia, the way that biological knowledges are produced in order to essentialise sex and thus justify those rigid assignments, the medical abuse that occurs to enforce those assignments, the particular fallout that occurs upon failing to adhere to those assignments, etc. etc. etc.) was imposed by European colonists (n justified by European scientists) who saw indigenous n Black bodies as monstrous n unintelligible with gendered embodiments that were inherently in between or outside of the nice, clean, civilised white binary of gender. that imposition was then used to further imperialist capitalism. (this isn’t to say that NO society before this had ANY conception of gender, including systems in which two genders were conceptualised–just that the particular way that all of this plays out–see the above brief list of examples–was a European idea + a tool of European colonialism). this is a well-established idea amongst decolonial feminists.

however, this =/= me “believing that the patriarchy was a European invention.” again, I do acknowledge that pre-colonisation indigenous societies had conceptions of gender (even if “gender” in most of the contexts in which I talk about it is understood to mean “the European colonial gender binary”). I acknowledge that these systems of gender were not immune from being exploitative. n I’ve spoken out against the idea that pre-colonisation indigenous societies were some sort of oppression-free havens for women (even while understanding that “woman” under the European gender binary doesn’t necessarily map perfectly to “woman” under any given indigenous conception of gender, just because they’re referring to different systems) / that patriarchy was a European invention because I think that it’s simplistic and racist.

but when I say that patriarchy was not a European invention I, again, acknowledge that the gender binary as we understand it today was nevertheless a tool of colonialism, and that patriarchy and “womanhood” did not exist in exactly the same way in pre-colonisation indigenous societies. I acknowledge that womanhood is a state of subjecthood under patriarchy and that it is not pre-discursive or universal. I understand sex essentialism (and all of the bio-medical knowledges + processes used to legitimise it) as a tool of (European) gender. (western) radfems, on the other hand, believe that patriarchy was not a European invention because they tend to embrace some kind of essential definition of “woman” based on the assumed existence of a pre-cultural or pre-discursive sexed body, or spirituality, or something else. they think that patriarchy/misogyny was the first oppression n possibly the one out of which all other oppressions (capitalism, race, etc.) arose (whereas I and feminists I agree with are more inclined to see patriarchy as a tool of capitalism). so the reasons that I have for disagreeing with the patriarchy-as-European-invention idea (that you’ll often hear, like, liberal anti-racists toting) are v different from the ones that radfems have for disagreeing with it.

On separatism being bad in general:

Basically you have the shittiest of dilemmas with separatism right from the beginning. Let’s say you do a woman separatism deal. Create a community that has no men, not ever and is entirely built around women because men are always misogynist and harmful.

Okay but you’ve also got cis women in that group, straight women, white women, nondisabled women, middle class and higher women etc. And all of those harm causing, vulnerability exploiting problems still exist with all of those groups of women towards the women vulnerable on those things.

So either you 

  • fail to achieve true separatism (there will always be people in your group who have a bad power dynamic with others in your group backed by systemic oppression)


  • slice down your group size so that all power imbalances are stripped down and the group becomes near infinitely tiny, losing any capacity to aid itself, much less do a damn thing to massive systemic oppression (where personal choices are less than a drop in a bucket)

Even if you fail to achieve true separatism, you’re still fucked on a revolutionary level because you still will need a fairly sizeable majority of people involved in a revolution to evoke radical changes to society on multiple levels and defeat across the board tools of oppression like capitalism. Separatism does literally nothing for this and in fact damages your efforts.

There’s no single issue that is the root of all oppression. It’s all interlaced, interconnected, every root of the Hell Tree regrows the others. So misogyny is one of many roots, tangled up in all the other roots and we have to burn the entire tree to succeed. Separatism fails utterly there.

Okay this isn’t totally related to the usual content of this blog, but am I the only one who feels exploited by the communist/extreme socialist side of tumblr? As an LGBT+, person I mean. Because there are all these posts like “don’t buy stuff from pride parades because all they care about is CAPITALISM and CAPITALISM is evil and real LGBT+ people don’t buy these kinds of things-” like idk if they’re trying to convince LGBT+ people that they must hate themselves if they’re capitalists, as if we’re stupid (well lots of young kids on tumblr are) or convince straight people that they’re being “allies” by not being capitalists.

They don’t do this just with LGBT+ people, I’ve seen them tie it to feminism and Black Lives Matter as well. Like, if you’re not a member of one of those categories and you make a post about people from one of those categories being used as a tool by capitalism, I’m gonna think that you are the tool here. And at the end of the day, YOU’RE the one exploiting a minority by making their oppression about your politics.



Topic #1: Pros & Cons

What are the pros and cons of being an African American in America in your opinion?

What would you change about our society in order to make it safer and healthier for our generation?


B. I believe that the wheels of progression are already in motion. American society is undergoing a shift that will inevitably lead to a healthier nation. Population statistics already suggest that every day the nation is becoming more culturally diverse and interconnected, which will create a less divided country. Society will continue to evolve, and change will be inevitable, the question has become, how soon.

Topic #2: Unification

A. These days, there seems to be a lot of civil unrest within the African American group, from violence against one another, to police brutality. What do you think are the issues and reasons why these problems are persisting and aren’t being solved?

A. My belief is that many civil issues stem from an unequal access to proper employment. I believe these issues are persistent because of a fundamental and systemic displacement of tools needed to access capital and higher education. These problems are proving to be difficult because they are historic in nature, when put into perspective, only for a short period in history have African-American people enjoyed the most simple of freedoms.

Topic #3: Police Brutality

A. What are your thoughts on the recent chain of events involving the gunning down of innocent African American teenagers by Police official?

B. What can WE, as a nation do to prevent and ultimately stop events like these from reoccurring?

A. I, like many others see the recent events of police misconduct extremely concerning and deeply troubling. These situations, much like the principles of “strop and frisk” only perpetuate negative stereotypes about a marginalized people. It appears that many young men of color are not afforded the luxury of the presumption of innocence.

B. When the country realizes that civil liberties must be protected for all of its citizens, real and significant change will occur. When society unifies itself in the understanding that justice is a universal principle then these events will stop.

Topic #4: Inspirations

A. What inspires you as an individual to get up everyday and live life knowing that you have a purpose?

B. Who inspires you?

A. I try to find inspiration in the simplicities of life. I try to appreciate everything and everyone that passes me throughout a day. I appreciate new sights, new sounds, and old friends. Purpose comes from knowing that there is always opportunity to grow, create and build.

B. My family has, and always will inspire me. They are the most creative, passionate, and unique group of people I will ever know, and because of that, I want to be the best version of myself.

Do I Like America?

It’s an interesting question with a complex answer, and one I often think about around the 4th of July.

America as a nation is pretty terrible, but Americans as a people have a long history of struggle against these terrible things, and that’s something that we can be proud of.

American struggle is the reason that countries around the world celebrate May Day and International Women’s Day, but the hold our institutions have over the tools of our public consciousness makes it hard for us to learn about this history and so it remains lost to many of us.

I hate the idea of American exceptionalism. It creates an Us-vs-Them mentality which makes it more difficult for us to recognize what we have in common with working class and poor people all over the world. The less we are able to recognize ourselves and our struggle as a collective in others, the easier it is to treat them in ways we would never treat ourselves and the harder it is to free ourselves without the solidarity of others. “American exceptionalism,” therefore, is nothing more than a tool of imperialist, xenophobic capitalism, which we should obviously reject.

And many people are rejecting it. We are coming to more easily recognize the hypocrisy in our empire’s narrative and calling the ruling and political class out when they do it. For instance, we love to talk about democracy and human rights, but our government explicitly supports Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and the terrorism that Israel inflicts on Palestinian civilians- including children- on a daily basis. There’s nothing humanitarian about that, but it does have everything to do with imperialism and xenophobia, which of course perfectly lines up with what our ruling class is actually about, which is exactly why they support it, despite their “humanitarian” rhetoric.

We’re getting better at reading through the lines, and that makes us stronger as a people, which enables us to develop new- and join in solidarity with existing- resistance and liberation struggles, which I’m very proud of.

- July 6, 2016

anonymous asked:

Honestly fuck fashion though, seasonal fashion and what's "in" is pretty much nothing more than a tool of capitalism to control perceived loss of worth and boost consumption so let's not act like that matters in any way. It's pointless to brag about spending that much on a pair of shoes wether they're "fashionable" or not.

true. all true and valid.

be-your-way-out  asked:

I've been sifting through your blog for a while now, and im curious, what is your main arguement against capitalism? im independent and live in america and i like to have both sides of the story, what are key principles of socialism/communism?

Capitalism is a system that involves private ownership over the means of production and socially-operated property. By that, I mean that sole individuals can own factories, apartments, and other institutions that involve other people, people who actively use them. In effect, it is a system analogous to feudalism, with people given a “choice” over who their lord is. Living standards have improved since feudalism, and it is true that capitalism generates new products that have made our lives easier over a short span of time, but as a system it hoards those benefits at the top of the pyramid. As long as you have a system where unelected autocrats sit at the top of property pyramids and milk people of value they create at work and rent when they live in apartments, you wind up with an inherently class-based system rooted in exploitation and extreme inequality.

Our solution isn’t to create a huge government bureaucracy that will actively redistribute wealth. We want to cut inequality out at the source – sole individuals should not be able to own property and institutions that are socially-operated. We accept that dismantling concentrations of power in the political realm is a good idea, and it’s the same principle in the economic realm. Socially-operated property ought to be socially-managed, with democracy and meeting needs becoming new center-points. You would still be allowed to own personal possessions, but enterprises, institutions, and collective housing (things other people actively need to use and work in) should belong to all the participants. Socialism/communism is about dismantling concentrations of power and elevating democracy/social ownership over that which is social; those latter two things are the surest roads to classlessness, not bureaucratic states that sit there constantly redistributing wealth. (I recommend checking out Richard Wolff and his YouTube videos. He makes a good case for workplace democracy and worker control of industry.)

By this same token, it becomes foolish to argue about “small government” while in a capitalist system, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, private ownership over the means of production is upheld by the state, and history has shown that cops will literally beat the shit out of (and sometimes kill) striking workers who challenge this idea of private ownership. That’s not “small government” – that’s “big government” (a police state) defending more “big government” (autocratic control over social institutions). Secondly, what conservatives and right-libertarians describe as “big government” – welfare, corporate regulations, minimum wages, etc. – are actually things undertaken by the state to curb the tensions set up by capitalism as a system. People need set minimum wages and government assistance and oversight over unelected corporate bodies IN A SYSTEM that already actively works against them. A larger portion of Americans were actively socialist back in the late-1800s and early-1900s because these checks to capitalism didn’t exist – work days were longer, safety was consistently an issue, people took home pennies on the dollar (on the dollar they produced, I might add). The state combatted revolutionary socialist zeal with the implementation of those checks to capitalism and intense propaganda against socialists. So really, the things rightists argue are “socialist”, are in actuality just tools to keep capitalism afloat and free of tension and animosity. We socialists typically still support these tools going into effect, but we still push for a society beyond it that is rooted in democracy, meeting needs, and social ownership over the social. (We support bigger scraps from the table, but we still ultimately want a seat at the table.)

I realize this answer was a little long-winded, but I wanted to give you an accurate assessment of why we support socialism and want to see it built on the ashes of capitalism. Of course there is plenty more to anti-capitalism than what I described above, and I strongly recommend checking out some Marxist readings and some of the ideas put forward by the striking workers from that time in history I described. If anything, we’re pushing for a society based MORE on democracy than the current system; the current system uses the pretense of voting on a corporate-bought suit every four years as a cover for the overwhelming majority of society being undemocratic. We want something drastically different that actually works for people, and that means bringing democracy into the workplace, into collective housing, and into the economy as a whole.

anonymous asked:

It's not a "jewish conspiracy" it's an illuminati conspiracy the illuminati are made up of elite internationalist bankers, aristocracy, and royalty. They are psychopathic/sociopathic by nature, and yes they are satanist who have a lust for power, control, and domination. Illiminati simply means "illuminated ones" they hoard their esoteric knowledge of natural law and human consciousness and use it against us. It has nothing to do with being Jewish but rather whos abusing their free will.

There would be so much to say about so called “conspiracies”, but let’s just say that the secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is nothing but the privileged class that is the owners of capital.

Their goal is to establish a synarchy, that is a union of politicians, lobbies, upper clergy, and the Mafia-controlled drug economy. This group has no other function than to concentrate capital in more and more restricted hands, so that they can more easily influence the lives of billions of people. One of the more concrete purposes of elitism is the use of techniques of eugenics as a function of imperialism and colonialism.

The real power however appears to be in the hands of those who have already wealth, and really Freemasonry becomes a mere tool in the hands of capital. As we said then, it is certainly a meeting of potentates determined to deceive ordinary people, and to take maximum profit from their business: finance, human trafficking, drug trade, weapons and raw materials.

As you see more than a conspiracy fairy tale, what we live in is a simple cyclical evolution of the capitalist system, which tends to monopoly and economic as well as cultural imperialism.

The names of the elite are not so hidden either, they can be found on the websites that list the names of the lucky millionaires of the earth, whose ultimate aim - namely the safeguarding of the capitalist system - led us on ‘brink of nuclear war.

to read more, go here and to my older post

Most game designers will tell you that Monopoly is terrible and stupid. But it’s pretty ok, considering the game was invented to be a didactic tool against gilded-age capitalism. It’s in the new episode.

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babybishiebolshie  asked:

imo there's a huge # of ways to 'get into' communist thought, since Capitalism Ruins Everything Around Me. The Shock Doctrine and Killing Hope are all about American foreign policy as tools of capitalism. Or we can learn about basically any point in black american history: Ta-Nehisi Coates' piece on reparations, or Savage Inequalities about the racism in modern schools, might be good intro pieces for people who aren't too familiar.

The important steps are to challenge the story that’s usually told, and understand that there’s altogether different history of oppressed people. A People’s History of the US is also a good intro. Afterwards an analysis of this violence as structural and intentional is supremely important. None of this was by accident. imo black radical writers are the best for this. they tell a story that’s both personal, historical, and politically analytical. baldwin, du bois, walker, clr james, j sakai, etc

these are good suggestions, thank you