Has capitalism captured the world? Phil thinks so.
In late 2018 l wrote an article seeking comments on what improvements could be introduced to our democracy and, in turn, create a better society.
Phil posted what follows in the comments section, and if l knew who Phil was, l would give him due credit for a thoughtful piece of writing.
It was 2018 when he posted his thoughts on capitalism, and after rereading his comments recently, I remained ambivalent toward them.
This is what he wrote:
I applaud your tenacity, John. I see things differently. We don’t live in a democracy but a capitalist-driven economy. Everything is monetised, absolutely everything. The belief that we live in a democracy is a myth – comforting and beguiling but dangerous. It has led us to think that to fix the diabolical problems we face today; we need to tweak the threads of our political system. I think your list exemplifies this approach.
How could any or all of the ideas in that list break the unassailable grip that global capitalism now has on humanity? Capitalism and its hold on politics have driven industrial agriculture and fishing to the point of system collapse. It has driven catastrophic climate change and the most extraordinary military Industrial complex ever assembled. It threatens human existence on multiple fronts. Capitalism is our politics.
Yes, policy differences can be found at the local, state, and even national levels, but they are all essentially the same under the ironclad laws of capitalism. Profit is an immutable law. At any cost, it owns our politicians, progressives, conservatives, or independents. Propaganda, PR and marketing (all the same) are used to mask the greed that underpins the capitalist drive for profit.
I don’t have any solutions – no one has the answers. But we can act and respond. As individuals, we might brighten our daily lives and relieve the inner tensions driven by uncontrollable capitalism by thinking we can see solutions – by making lists of system tweaks, for example.
But in the human herd, we are no more capable of stopping the stampede to our destruction now than a wild beast in its herd can stop the march forward.
We live in a period that is the precursor to a massive revolution in human terms. History tells us this much – revolution is the most potent change maker. By drawing up lists of minor tweaks to capitalism driving us inexorably forward, I feel we are simply prolonging the agony and the planetary damage.
There is no light on the hill to steer Australia’s broken politics. in saying this; I am not arguing for giving up – instead, it is a call to political, economic and social revolution – a call to our youth to take off the rose-coloured glasses of consumer capitalism and corrupted politics and see the system for what it is – irredeemably corrupt, call it what it is, dehumanising capitalism, and to reject it outright.
Only youth can do this. The older generation got us to this point – it will not change anything because it hasn’t the energy or the vision.
After showing Phil’s comments to a friend (Max Odgen), whom I used to play VFA football and who is well-known within the Union movement, he kindly wrote a reply to Phil’s comments.
Myself & some of my left colleagues are agreed that the priority for the moment, despite its limitations, is the defence of our parliamentary & extra-parliamentary democracy, which is under attack globally. We are one of only 21 countries, according to the international body which monitors democracy, which has extensive democracy – media freedom, right to assemble, right to free speech, etc., despite that we have to act to defend those rights now & again. A few years ago, a significant majority of countries were deemed democratic, at least to the extent that they had democratic elections and power was exchanged peacefully. This has recently been reversed, and democratic countries are now in a significant minority.
Those who, like your correspondent, obviously with goodwill, denigrate what we have, despite its shortcomings, do not understand that trying to make further change and extend democracy to capital, local communities, women, the workplace, etc., towards a far more democratic social democracy, that under some form of dictatorship, where activists are isolated, suffer prejudice, gaoled etc., will be vastly more complex.
Democracy & democratic rights are fundamental to achieving a more equal, caring, & better society. I often say that if our aim is for the most widespread and deep democracy, then that can only be achieved by using democratic processes, i.e., extensive involvement of the constituents, and can never be won, by imposing change from above, as we now have such ample evidence of, over the last century.
In fact, at the moment, we are actually defending the best elements of the Enlightenment, as some right-wing leaders believe was wrong, and should be reversed. Note that at this point in history, every recent movement for democracy, such as the Arab Spring, Eastern Europe, China, and Iran, has been crushed by ruthless state actions. We now have right-wing governments in Italy, Sweden, and potentially in France and the US, and we need to worry about the next elections in Indonesia.
Some commentators have made the interesting point that the Muslim countries, Russia, and China, never had an Enlightenment and experienced the best elements of its social progress, science, laws, etc., despite the downsides of colonialism, slavery, and the voracious capitalism it assisted in coming into being. Marx, I think, correctly described capitalism as an important, inevitable, and often progressive economic and social development, alongside its grim elements, and some form of social democracy could only develop from a capitalist base, not from a slave society, which so far seems what has/is occurring.
So, we must build a new, democratic society within the womb of the old, along with that history, culture, and emotions, which hang so heavily around our shoulders and hinder us. And yet we have to tackle issues that contribute in some way to a better society. E.g. the work I did as a union official in negotiating, sometimes via a stop work, to constantly push, and in some cases successfully, for workers to have more power in their workplace, and not only a pay rise, which by the way, was not always supported by some of my union colleagues, as they often took a hard left position, that we were conceding too much to the boss, which we weren’t, and our members really liked it when they had more say over their work, but a lot of union officials ignored this.
Finally, one practical approach we can tackle immediately is the pursuit of co-operatives. For years I have been working with some young union officials who have become keen to pursue co-ops. Where companies might be closing, or new investment might be possible, some now try to keep them open under new ownership rather than just negotiating redundancy pay.
Co-ops are now getting far more interest within the labour movement than they used to. This makes a small dent in capitalism because the workers own the capital and, among other things, employ the manager, which reverses the normal relationship.
A good article for you would be to go on the website of Mondragon, the world’s most prominent worker-owned corporation with over 120 co-ops, Which I have been following for nearly fifty years, and I visited a few years ago while holidaying in San Sebastian. My old friend Race Mathews has written a lot about co-ops, which is worth reading.
The huge industry superannuation funds, now the dominant source of Australian investment, and of course, are actually worker’s capital, & slowly but surely, they are acting that way. However, more pressure must be brought to bear on them. But most are now demanding proper climate change actions, decent working conditions, and relationships with their unions, although these actions have to go a lot further. All are preserved, and tackling such issues is far more productive than the piece your correspondent wrote.
Finally, I am working with a couple of colleagues, one the Nat. Pres. of the Fabians, to develop a research project to examine the damage the hard left has done to the progressive movement over the last 150 years. This will be a massive project, as the damage to the labour movement, environment, women’s, and other movements have been enormous because of short-sightedness, lack of long-term strategy, and refusal to accept the political realities of the moment, which has set back every movement.
The reply Max sent me clarified my thoughts, and whilst I’m sympathetic to some of Phil’s thoughts, in the absence of anything better, we must chip away at capitalism to make it more equitable and fairer.
My thought for the day
Never in the history of this nation have the rich and the privileged been so openly brazen.
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