Why not “overthrowing” “abolishing” or even “smashing” capitalism, or some similarly militant rhetoric? Well, rhetoric aside, these approaches have been attempted many times, and have failed rather catastrophically. You can argue that it was due to this or that power play, these material condition or such and such CIA-backed coup (and you wouldn’t be totally wrong), but the fundamental problem remains: failure in the face of organized state-capitalist power.
If a revolutionary anti-capitalist movement really want to bring about a transition to a post-capitalist (dare I even say “communist”) mode of production, it will have to fulfill the same criteria as all previous transitions, the first and most important of which is “Organize the deployment of productive power more effectively than the system being supplanted”. Only then can we begin to speak of moral, social and ecological justifications for transition. Capitalism did not replace feudalism solely on the grounds of liberalism’s relatively more ethical stances on human freedom and liberty than empires and kingdoms. It won out because it bankrupted the kings, indebted the church and made itself indespensible to the organization of daily life for the majority of its subjects (and for all its attendant horrors, materially improved quality of life, knowledge and wellbeing for more people than any system previously configured).
Capitalism won because it outcompeted feudalism on every front, and smashed it to bits by assimilating or rendering its mechanisms obsolete. Any movement away from a capitalist mode will have to meet these same criteria. It’s not enough to pose an ethical argument against capitalism. To surpass it, you have to beat it at its own game. The trick is figuring out how to compete when the game is rigged and the reigning champ always plays dirty.
Some abstract suggestions for leveling the playing field:
- From the institutional/legal side: Force an accounting of externalities. If the market had to account for its own activity, ecological, social and economic, it would cease to function (just like if the US criminal justice system had to put every case before a jury trial). Price and cap carbon. Price and cap food wastage. Price and cap poverty. It is not the State’s responsibility to hold together a system that can’t even balance its own books properly.
- From the anti-capitalist entrepreneurial side: aggressively pursue disruptive innovation. Make intellectual property and price formation impossible. Give people free stuff and find inter-cooperative means of staying afloat and capitalizing new ideas. Be the Wikipedia you’d like to see in your industry.
These are my thoughts this morning. Reading about the Cooperativa Integral Catalana this week and finding their work seriously inspiring. They are taking major risks to find leverage and power within a rigged economic system. Power never goes away. It is how cleverly and wisely we use it that makes a difference.