Thank You Capitalism, Now Go Away

"Monopoly Millionaires Divide the Country," 1882

“Monopoly Millionaires Divide the Country,” 1882

It is commonly assumed that we leftists hate capitalism.

Certainly, we oppose capitalism in modern society. Unquestionably, we know capitalism to be an egregiously exploitative system which crushes the many down into oppressive poverty in order to elevate a very few. Emphatically, we call an end of capitalism.

All that being said, let me clear up this issue in no uncertain terms: the development of capitalism was one of the best things to ever happen for humanity.

. . .capitalists were a revolutionary force against the medieval lords and feudal oppression.

Before capitalism, feudal lords commanded peasants as virtual slaves. Human beings could be bought and sold and traded and sacrificed as easily as the land to which they were forever bound. Under feudalism, agriculture was a labor-intensive and health-breaking process which reduced human serfs to little more than beasts of burden who spent most of their days toiling just to produce enough food to feed themselves and their masters.

When they first emerged, the capitalists were a revolutionary force against the medieval lords and feudal oppression. Through industry and trade they developed manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, communication, and all other useful sciences with incredible speed.

Markets gave talented individuals the chance, however slim, to rise up and increase their standing in the world.

The 18th and 19th centuries saw capitalists overthrow the systems of kings and aristocratic privilege which had ruled over humanity for thousands of years. It liberated workers to give them a degree of social mobility which was hitherto unthinkable.

As Marx himself wrote in the Communist Manifesto:

The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors.’

Certainly, the workers were still oppressed, but they became less oppressed. No longer were they mere peasants bound to the land. A worker could leave a job if they didn’t like the circumstances. Markets gave talented individuals the chance, however slim, to rise up and increase their standing in the world. Workers even found that they could band together and organize into unions to push back against the capitalist class through strikes, slowdowns, and other means.

Not only did capitalism give a measure of liberty to workers, it also enhanced the quality of life for the masses. As Pyotr Kropotkin wrote in The Conquest of Bread:

On the wide prairies of America each hundred men, with the aid of powerful machinery, can produce in a few months enough wheat to maintain ten thousand people for a whole year. And where man wishes to double his produce, to treble it, to multiply it a hundred-fold, he makes the soil, gives to each plant the requisite care, and thus obtains enormous returns.
The prodigies accomplished in industry are still more striking. With the co-operation of those intelligent beings, modern machines — themselves the fruit of three or four generations of inventors, mostly unknown — a hundred men manufacture now the stuff to clothe ten thousand persons for a period of two years.

This was written over a hundred years ago. In the time since our industrial and agricultural progress has increased exponentially and now, the marvelous development of the internet, we can command and harness information as easily as we harness material production. All of this was spurred on by capitalism.

The capitalists who toppled kings and upended ancient static hierarchies have entrenched themselves as oligarchs in their own right.

So allow me to reiterate: capitalism was a tremendous leap forward for humanity.

Unfortunately, as time has marched on and capitalism has advanced, the returns have not just diminished but receded. What was once a liberating and revolutionary force has become, in and of itself, a stifling system of oppression. The capitalists who toppled kings and upended ancient static hierarchies have entrenched themselves as oligarchs in their own right.

Today, in this late stage of capitalism, wealth is sucked up by a startlingly small number of individual capitalists. 

Capitalism has always been an unstable system. As corporations grow and strengthen their appetites for profit and power become more voracious and exploitative. Today, in this late stage of capitalism, wealth is sucked up by a startlingly small number of individual capitalists. The eight richest people on Earth now have the same wealth as the poorest 50%, which is nearly eight times worse than it was just a year ago. Corporations like Amazon now have so much power that they are forcing major cities to bribe them into opening offices with enormous tax breaks and other incredible concessions.

This kind of wealth-hoarding and corporate plutocracy stifles society and leads to millions of people toiling hopelessly to generate wealth for a small number of elite families — and in that sense, it has become no different from feudalism.

We, as leftists, wish to see society reorganized so that the aim of every institution is the betterment of life for all of humanity.

Even the most successful and egalitarian capitalist nations, such as the “Nordic model” social welfare states of Europe, perpetuate exploitation by exporting oppression and suffering to poorer countries. Even if every citizen of a rich nation lives in relative comfort and safety, that quality of life can only be sustained through the import of manufactured goods and raw materials from poorer countries where workers must work long, hard hours in adverse working conditions for wages which are dismally low.

The fatal flaw of capitalism is that it harnesses all human effort and focuses it narrowly on the production of profit for an elite class of capitalists and shareholders. We, as leftists, wish to see society reorganized so that the aim of every institution is the betterment of life for all of humanity. We seek to end class divisions and to allow every human, wherever they live on the globe, to enjoy the spoils of the tremendous bounties which capitalism helped create.

Progress and growth require us, at times, to let go of ideas and systems which have outlived their usefulness and are now holding us back.

In the 1800’s, steam engines allowed trains to transport people over vast distances at breathtaking speeds of up to 20 miles per hour. That was certainly an improvement over walking or hitching a horse to a wagon — but today it’s plain to see that steam engine has grown obsolete and given way to newer, better ideas. That doesn’t mean steam engines are bad or evil, it just means that they have outlived their purpose and so we no longer power our trains with steam.

Just because something served a good and useful purpose in the past does not mean it must be sustained and propped up forever. Progress and growth require us, at times, to let go of ideas and systems which have outlived their usefulness and are now holding us back.

I, personally, am grateful to capitalism for all that it has done for our species. I am profoundly thankful that capitalists were able to do away with lords and kings. But that does not mean I am willing to kneel before capitalists as the modern-day oligarchs which capitalists have grown to become.

The time has come to retire this obsolete and ultimately harmful economic and political machine of capitalism and to harness society to a new engine – one which will allow all humans to live and work together as equals, free from oppression.

As I often do, let me close with a quote from Kropotkin:

Truly, we are rich, far richer than we think; rich in what we already possess, richer still in the possibilities of production of our actual mechanical outfit; richest of all in what we might win from our soil, from our manufactures, from our science, from our technical knowledge, were they but applied to bringing about the well-being of all.

4 Responses to “Thank You Capitalism, Now Go Away

  • You’re not going to authorize my comment in your previous post because it criticizes your perspective.

    You’re actually doing that.

    Pathetic….

    • Emerican Johnson
      11 months ago

      This is more or less a hobby for me at the moment, so things slip past. I didn’t see your comment until now. I’m approving it and hope to reply to it soon. Sorry and thanks for reading!

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