[Hear an in-depth discussion on this article and its topics in this episode of The Enragés]
There is an odd side to the American Dream. One deemed worthless long ago, by the Soviets, by the Maoists, by the BPP. There exists a culture of greed. Though most people lack an in-depth understanding of economic terms of the eighteenth century, a lot of young people are coming to grow issues with the system we call “capitalism.”
Capitalism is, according to some of the Marxists on twitter, the private ownership of the means of production. Of course, analyzing capitalism beyond the lens of pure material trade is both an absolute necessity and somewhat lackluster in anti-capitalist groups, though I have begun to see Deleuzian or Debordian criticisms slip their way into the spaces “leftist” youth tend to occupy. We may begin to define capitalism as a process of alienation, not just from the means of your labor, but from your existence. We may call capitalism fascism, or a mass scale disaster that reduces relationships to mere sign.
I retain that the great anti-capitalist philosophers need to be analyzed through several lenses in order to gain a deeper understanding. Beyond orthodox marxism, beyond traditional revolution, and beyond traditional critique, as capitalism continues to evolve, our approaches should as well.
In order to make a good critique of capitalism, we should at least attempt to conceptualize it. Vague terms like markets, individualism, libertarianism, darwinism, and private property help allude to capitalism, but as a concept it’s history is a tad more convoluted.
A French politician named Louis Blanc invented the term to describe individual ownership of the means of production. It says that those places which produce commodities are privately owned. This gives us an idea that capitalism requires privatization, and thus the idea of privatization became intertwined with the term “capital.” But what is privatization?
“Privatization” gives us a certain understanding of a thing being owned by a specific person. I think a usable definition for privatization would essentially be individual ownership, rather than collective ownership. Now, some leftists clearly advocate for collective ownership, while some others advocate for the “abolition of ownership.” Ownership is quite the interesting concept, and although the law currently dictates what is owned, it does this via a monopolization on use of force.
For example: If there exists an empty apartment, one owned by some billionaire that nobody is staying in, and you’re homeless and in debt, and try to live there, the thing stopping you are the legal consequences. I.e. forceful removal and likely imprisonment or robbery. If you refuse these punishments, more force will be used. The thing that keeps the current order of ownership is infact a state monopoly on violence that haunts the decisions we make as it looms in the back of our minds reminding us what is permitted. Panopticon means that the state need not institute mind police. It’s much more efficient for them to get you to do it for them.
However, I am not one that claims ownership does not exist beyond the state’s existence. The entire point of this “bodily autonomy” we fight so truly for in anarchist circles is rooted in the idea that we dictate our existences, and we extend the same privilege to others. This is interpreted by many market anarchists who see bodies as an extension of property as the idea that you “own yourself,” which sounds weird, but is an interesting idea.
Anyhow, regardless of the state’s existence, humans always have and always will possess things. Unoccupied things that somebody uses as a basic part of their life are generally considered their “possessions.” If we are to understand that people’s bodily autonomy matters because they have a right to dictate their lives, we should understand that people’s basic necessities, living quarters etc. should be treated with respect. A respect not necessarily of legal ownership, but of a looser sort. Occupancy. Possession. To us, property is not a lease. Rather, ownership lies in labor exertion, in use. Scarcity exists, and if anarchy is collective liberty, every individual continues to engage freely and voluntarily to bring about anarchy.
The idea that ownership does not exist at all is not applicable in the real world and completely abandons any usable basis for human trade. However, the idea of ownership resides in occupation, gets rid of land monopolies and rent prices, and allows people to have genuine trading opportunities.
In essence, privatization as a form of ownership isn’t bad. Really, if we contrast privatization with communization, i.e. the community (in our existing society, the state,) taking ownership of something, it is the collective owner that maintains violence. True and infinite privatization means no more rent. Infinite privatization means loose possession.
You could retaliate that a collective could exist in a non-statist form, but generally mutualists would respond that these sort of collective systems of ownership will never account for property disagreements and will inevitably result in conflict of use, as well as being an inefficient model for decision making and easily leading to systems of domination.
The other thing we see intertwined with capitalism is the concept of markets. Money. Commodities. Corporations.
Markets. Quite the intriguing concept. Controversial perhaps, in certain online spaces. I think the vague societal idea of the market just tends to be a means of exchange moderated by cold, hard, cash. However, as the internet changes the concept of money, and as anti-authoritarian theories present brand new ways to run a market, it is time we ask what a better definition may be.
Markets, at their root, are many moments of reciprocal exchange. A market, truly, is not one system, at least not initially. It is a term that comes to describe the rapid and constant shifts and transactions within a given economy. The issue within our “market” is not that it’s too free. Rather, it has lost its freedom. The patent laws maintained by the state make it possible to monopolize. The deals between corporations and the government allow tech-billionaires to continue to exploit the working class. The money monopoly maintained by the government allows it to control it’s every use and purpose. It’s violence maintains land ownership (rent), and discourages squatting.
However, in a truly free market, with systems of decentralized, loose exchange, every “worker” is a completely self automated contractor (as work revolutionizes its purpose with time.) How would work do this? The lack of authority in a market doesn’t just eliminate bosses, it allows for genuine economic calculation to make it so that the only “work” being done is that which is either necessary or desired. The social function of work has changed.
This is a model of work where we both get to allow our desires to take control whilst also disengaging the central beast. There is a system that looms over us. It is not just the government. It is not just markets. It is how the state has corrupted violence to economically fascistic levels of control. That is capitalism. When we see capitalism for what it is, marketists couldn’t be any bigger of it’s enemies.
As for work abolitionists, mutualists respond that this form of work without bosses, expensive schooling, single career paths, and pointless desk labor is not truly “work” at all. In a market that is free, you do not “work for someone.” You live your life, and you can make money doing tasks and exchange that money freely with others. There is no reason people couldn’t set up individual communes, steal, use from charities, etc. Simply put, in a “post-left-anarchist” or communist society, work would look about the same as under the freed market. Doing tasks you feel like doing and getting something for it.
Now for the fun part. I’ve attacked capitalism as this looming collectivist beast, so how did it get to be equated with individualism? As the state was able to maintain absolute control over our economy, it was also diplomatically and economically profiting off of this idea of an American dream. This was an odd individualist myth, but it served a purpose. This idea that you could do anything you wanted helped to sell the idea that these mega billionaires were just lucky, when in reality most of them were born into situations of power. It sells this idea that the landlord that actively exploits your living situation for cash is just like you. It allows the state to justify a huge military and armed police force and claim itself to be a free country (if such a thing existed.)
The critiques we see thrown at the free market often mention nineteenth century America, an era characterized by massive corporate industry and state control over economic power and development. It was just less obvious. The capitalist market has never been free. For capitalism to operate as we see it, it necessitates a system of statist control. Capitalism requires that the state’s monopoly on violence be maintained.
Now people on the left tend to equate this flawed American economy with markets and individualism, which shifts the focus of anti-capitalism towards pro-governmental stances. Of course, as we have explored, the government just so happens to be the root of capitalism. But what use can we get from this idea of anti-capitalist individualism?
Collective anti-capitalism tends to emphasize the idea of a revolution. A collective enlightenment event in which the masses wake up and overthrow the capitalist enterprise. The next step depends on who you ask. However, this hopeless myth of group enlightenment does little but keep people disillusioned. On the other hand, agorist economic strategy emphasizes free trade in a government denying sense, both for the benefit of yourself and your peers and without supporting the state.
Sneaking illegal immigrants across the border, selling drugs, sex work, distributing weapons, tax evasion and any number of other actions could all fall under this label. At the end of the day, we seek to emphasize a resistance that you can do to make your life easier, and to drive authority out of your life and the lives of those around you. Mutual aid, reciprocity, respect, these principles allow us to cultivate a culture of creative destruction. Tearing down forces of oppression whilst simultaneously building up decentralized networks and communities of support and care. Co-ops, protest groups and more.
But how is money not bad? Isn’t that what causes all this greed in the first place? How will you operate money without a state?
The concept of money as slips of paper printed by the government becomes less relevant every day. The emergence of cryptocurrency as an easy way to manage illegal exchange (which has helped to deliver hormones to trans people who cannot access it legally) creates an open space for agorist action. As money becomes more digitized, and as government/monopoly interest is abstracted from currency, it becomes less of a driver of power and more simply a means of economic calculation/exchange. Although trade is possible without currency, the supply and demand calculated even by a computer can never come close to the accuracy and speed at which a market regulates itself via currency as to what is necessary and what isn’t.
The profit motive assures “greed” in a sense, but this is an individualist “greed” and a form of greed that inevitably helps others through the creation of wealth in a free market. The difference is we change this notion of prosperity at the cost of others to a market where trading is for mutual benefit, reciprocal and free. To a world where workers don’t have bosses, only equal contracts. To a world where mutual aid is seen as a market force.
My goal with this is not to pass it off as if I am a pioneer of some new school of thought. In fact, some might consider it the first school of anti-capitalist thought. However, I am trying to bring attention to the fact that we are not limited to the options of complacency to capital or complacency to state. Our resistance must revolve around free, dynamic and individual imagination. This is how we repel the collective machine. Do not simply reject the government. Become ungovernable.