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Has capitalism captured the world?

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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14 comments

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  1. New England Cocky

    An excellent contribution JL. Food for considerable thought following the Scummo attempt to form an Australian dictatorship in his own image.

  2. Leon Moudakis

    Extreme capitalism is just as bad as communism, all extreme powers are driven by greed, with no regard of the welfare of the people. Look what’s happening in Australia, the fossil fuel companies are screw everyone to maximise their profits on the pretence using the Ukraine War as an excuse that there is a shortage of fuel, what a load of rubbish, their perceived to be helping the needy overseas by destroying Australia economy, what about showing some compassion for the little man in Australia, the tax payers who subsidise their exploration and fuel costs, why are we even subsidising these organisations, there established they don’t need tax breaks and subsidies.

  3. Keitha Granville

    I’m with Phil. Everything is about money.

    Sport is a great example. Ronaldo has been picked up by a Saudi Arabian team for an obscene salary. Same with the IPL cricket series players, and the new Live Golf tour. None of them are playing for their country, they are playing for huge salaries. I suppose in a career that has a short shelf life making as much as you can quickly is a great idea, but it puts them on a level that ordinary folk can only dream about. It is bizarre in the extreme that IPL cricket is played in front of Indian crowds, many of who would be living in what we would term abject poverty. Same in Saudi Arabia. Yet they idolise the players and dream of being one.

    I think the Co-op idea is brilliant. Food industry workers especially are perfect for this – dairy farmers running the milk business, vegetable growers owing the frozen veg factories.

    Back in the day of flower power and peace and love hippies who lived in communes were lambasted for their lazy drug hazed lifestyle – but it was about sharing, growing food, sharing chores, co-operative parenting. Everyone was equal.

    We need life to mean more than our net worth, and our governments need to spend more on the things that make that happen. We don’t need nuclear submarines, or tanks, or jet fighter planes. We need better bus services and better health care at grass roots level. We need them to stop focusing on GDP and start focusing on people.

  4. ajogrady

    Keitha Granville.
    I am in agreement with you and Phl.
    Calatatalism will doom planet Earth as it depends on infinite growrh on a finite planet.

  5. Canguro

    Chipping away at capitalism is like chipping away at the Pyrenees; it’s not going to get anywhere fast. Just as it’s impossible to estimate what that chipping would achieve on the massif straddling the French and Spanish borders, it’s equally impossible to ensure any positive outcomes by merely chipping at the economic monolith that dominates the planet’s human affairs. All too little, too late, unfortunately.

    What’s needed is a radical revision of the phenomenon known as human consciousness. Until that occurs, nothing will change. The Greek-Armenian teacher known as Gurdjieff, a man whose rarified consciousness dwelt in the same regions as the other great sages with whom we are familar, the Buddhas & Christs and historical sages throughout the ages, said nearly 100 years ago that unless the wisdom of the east is married to the knowledge of the west, we’re fucked. OK, he may not have used the word, ‘fucked’, but still, the point was intended.

    I’m not hopeful. A man who taught in the tradition of Gurdjieff and was himself advanced enough to sit at the same table told me that 99.999% of the planet’s individuals had zero interest in the question of self-development. Gurdjieff himself was known to have observed that ten fully conscious individuals could change the course of human trajectory. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but we are, collectively, not conscious enough to bring about the radical changes necessary to save ourselves from the devolution that’s a function of this involuntary immersion within the capitalist socio-economic framework, one that’s taking the earth’s human population to hell in a handbasket, along with thousands of our fellow earthling species sharing space on this ecosphere that tumbles eternally on the space-time framework around our local star.

    Drink up chaps. Enjoy what’s left of your lives. Don’t forget the balls of your feet.

  6. Stephengb

    There is one sure way of defeating predetory capitalism, and that is for voters to stop enabling them to exist without accountability.

    To do this we all must learn MMT, and before you all groan, when we all understand how macro- economics really work we then have an authoritive voice tomdemand that our government put in place policies that enable a fair distribution of the countries productive capacity.

    I used the phrase, “predetory capitalism” because capitalism by every stretch of the imagine predetory, capitalism is the seizure by the few, the means of production, it has always been a means by which the few exploit the labour of the many at the expense of the many.

    What MMT does is shine a light on what is possible, it empowers us to reject the economic narrative that keeps capitalism in the drivers seat, it empowers us to hold our so called ruling class to implement policies that curb the excesses of capitalism, curb the greed and exploitation, and hold capitalism to account.

    So stop the groan

    Get head around MMT, but before you do open your mind to the possibility that you have been wrong all your life about what money is and how it really works.

    It will change your life – and will change our destiny

  7. leefe

    I’m with Keitha, ajogrady, Canguro and Phil.

    Tinkering with the current system is re-arranging deckchairs on the Titanic. Civilisation needs a new ship if it’s going to survive.

  8. paul walter

    It has been pretty much there for centuries but technology has turned it into a monster at odds with the older mode.

  9. Anthony Judge

    A valuable juxtaposition of seemingly incommensurable perspectives. The disappointment for me is that neither can transcend its own bubble of “me right, you wrong”. Missing is any focus on the challenging process of discourse to reconcile the irreconcilable. Missing is any reference to the vigorous promotion of “stakeholder capitalism” by the elites of the World Economic Forum — with the interesting Freudian implications offered by “stake”, notably given the media coverage of sex workers there in 2023 (https://bit.ly/3x42svm). Also missing is the problematic collective understanding of the “values” upheld as fundamental to democracy (https://bit.ly/3I878Xp).

  10. wam

    COOPs cannot work because we are:
    not equal
    not consistent
    not fair
    not seeing the same truth
    not of the same faith
    not working to the same time
    humans who can say what we mean at the time.
    As for brazen, lord, the charming nsw woman who ignored the list of women recommended and chose a 64 year old bloke for a position with automatic retirement at 65, fits the bill?

  11. Stephengb

    Wam
    I am a child of the baby boomer period, born 75 years ago. I can assure you that co-ops operated all over the UK – and yes they were very successful, what killed them was The Neiliberal Ideological Agenda.

  12. Terence Mills

    Slightly off point but I’m sure that you will forgive me

    I heard a UNICEF spokesperson from Turkey/ Syria talking about their priorities for children after this dreadful earthquake.

    She made the point that children in this situation need to be given priority as they are impressionable and vulnerable. They need to be nurtured in an atmosphere as close as possible to their normal lives : they must be fed, clothed, kept warm and loved : they must return to their normal daily routines and to normal schooling as soon as possible to ensure that they can move beyond this and grow up free of long term trauma.

    Lofty and worthy ambitions – perhaps we could try this for the kids roaming the streets in Alice Springs !

  13. Clakka

    A great article.

    Was it Marx that also said, the apparent benefits and efficiencies of Capitalism will be destroyed by ‘class’?

    I call the prevalent model, ‘Suicide Capitalism’, and observe that China has taken to this model (as has become the ruination of the UK and USA, for example).

    Love the inspiring Mondragons, serves both a wonderful ‘sustainable’ economic model, and at the same time seems to allow faith, but puts the brakes on the development of exclusionary/elite religious fundamentalism. Co-operatives are an excellent medium for maintaining relevance, for communication, balancing of environment, economics and productivity, and forming networks of non-competitive beneficial relationships.

    People are prone to ‘addictions’ and the ‘keep up with the Joneses’ syndrome. This is ruthlessly inculcated and utilised by the big corporates of bling and gluttony. Technology has advanced so much that those corporates can’t resist peddling many useless products that can’t be resisted despite the majority not knowing how to utilise them to capacity.

    Changing this corrupted juggernaut, will not be easy. And it seems over the eons that rather than change, catastrophe and/or environmental obliteration puts paid to such ‘civilisations’. We appear to be at the brink witnessing such a situation with great trepidation, some action, but no sense of the necessary urgency as the bejewelled pretenders rejoice.

    Without question there have been enormous benefits to the last 50 years of technological growth, particularly in agriculture food and transportation. And of course one cannot forget the incredible benefits of the ubiquity of computing power and the internet, which necessarily includes ‘social media’. It can be readily observed that the infancy of ‘social media’ brings with it the usual delinquency of the many young, wild and inexperienced, but also the shambles of mad men with sticks and turds. It is my view that it is slowly evolving and settling, a process already on everyone’s lips. Nevertheless, the irresponsible corporates and their feckless political flunkies will require application of a very strong hand to control them.

    Although the corporates believe they are in charge, and hold the destiny, it’s a myth. It’s the people that ultimately make the choices.

    I like Chalmers’ recent essay.

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