cj#1096,rn> rkm: re- “Some interesting questions about capitalism”

2000-06-22

Richard Moore

6/15/2000, CyberBrook of Socialist Review wrote:
    Hey Richard. I appreciate you forwarding the Call for
    Responses, but I also hope you answer the Call yourself.
    We'd really like to have a piece by you. Hope all is
    well.---Dan

Dear Dan,

I'm impressed by your list of questions.  One might have
expected questions like "How can we achieve socialism?", or
"How can we learn from past socialist experiences?".  That
is, you and the rest of the editorial collective could have
stayed "inside the box" of Socialist Review. Instead you are
inviting the examination of your paradigm, the reconsideration
of your fundamental assumptions.  This is the kind of openness
that is needed these days from all quarters -- this is the
way that broader dialog can be built and the seeds of global
revolution nurtured.

---

    1. Is 'capitalism' an important category in your politics?
    If so, what exactly do you mean by 'anti-capitalism'? What
    is the relationship between capitalism as a mode of
    production and capitalism as a discursive category? Is it
    just one category among others -- such as race, sexuality,
    gender, coloniality -- or does it have a special centrality
    in your thinking and practice?

Capitalism is today's Caeser.  In between we've had Popes,
kings, dictators, commissars, religious tyrants, bureaucrats... 
and the list goes on.  In today's world, if capitalism is not
fundamental in your political considerations then either you 
are confused, you have buried your head in the sand, or you 
have opted to pursue 'the achievable' out of fear of 'the 
invincible'. 

Capitalism does indeed have a centrality apart from race,
sexualty, gender, cononiality, etc.  What capitalism has
done is to systematically exploit these others to its own 
ends.  Colonialism existed before capitalism, but captialism
learned how to use colonialism (along with nationalism and
the nation state) as tools to accomplish its own economic
objectives.  Women were welcomed into the workforce during
World War 2 -- when they were needed to help defeat
imperialist competitors -- but then were largely sent back
home when the war was over. Racism has been systematically
used to build support for imperialism and to facilitate
selective discrimination in the labor force. Today, if you
pick any such issue and dig down to its roots, you find that
the capitalist system needs things to be the way they are.  

---

Capitalism is about greed, change, individualism, hierarchy, 
competitiveness, exploitation, and materialism.  The opposite 
of those includes generosity, stability, community, democracy, 
cooperation, nurturing, and spirituality.  There is a lot to 
be said for 'anti-capitalism' as a political agenda, but that 
would be nonetheless a poor focus for our liberation struggle.

Whenever you are 'anti' something, then your agenda is set
by that 'something'.  If it recedes, your energy recedes as
well.  If it goes stronger, you are energized.  You enter
into the dynamics of a see-saw, dancing with the one who
has become your partner -- the 'something' that you are
'anti'.  This is a 'reactive focus'.  You define yourself in
terms of your enemy, and you diminish if your enemy
diminishes.  

The glory days of the USSR under Stalin are to be noted for
_industrial output, _warfare capability, and successes in
the _imperialist game of control over other nations.  Russia
danced with capitalism, and in the end, due to the weight of
opposing power, succumbed.  Perhaps I'm being unfair to the
Soviet experience -- what choices did they have in the face
of unrelenting aggression of various kinds from the West? 
Nonetheless, the bare facts of the era serve to symobolize
the dangers of jumping onto an 'anti' bandwagon.

There's another way to think about the limitations of 'anti'
thinking.  In karate, when you slam your hand through a
brick, you focus your attention a few inches _below the
brick, and you aim for that spot.  The brick simply moves
out of the way as you move toward your goal.  Capitalism is
like that.  It is a barrier we need to break through -- on
our way to something else.  Our focus must be on that
'something else'.
  
---

    2. Are the categories of 'Marxism', or 'postmodernism'
    useful in your political and intellectual work?  If so, what
    kind of Marxism or postmodernism?  If not, what other schools 
    of thought are helpful to you?

What I find most useful is Marx's application of Hegel's
dialectic to the realm of economic and political change.  As
a system matures, it sows the seeds of its successor... as
capitalism becomes more oppressive, the forces of opposition
are strengthened. I think the principle is a valid one and
that it provides hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable 
odds.  Marx must be admired as a bold historical figure, and 
as an inspiration for many subsequent liberation struggles 
and revolutionary thinkers.

But what about 'Marxism' today?  In order to understand
this, I suggest it is necessary to compare the dynamics of
science with those of religion. In the realm of science
ideas move forward and categories are regularly restructured. 
One does not refer to psychology as 'Freudism', nor electrical 
engineering as 'Edisonism'.  One does not need to explain
ones attitude toward Galileo in order to write about
astronomy.  In science, the original thinkers are respected
as bold pioneers, but not considered infallible.  Their
observations serve as a foundation for further work; they
are not a final edifice of truth.

The dynamics of religion are quite different.  In religion,
the particular teachings of the founder remain primary
forever. Either you buy into the whole ossified belief
system, and acknowledge the unique infallibility of the
founder, or you are outside the fold, or else you are a
heretic somewhere on the boundary.  The founder is seen as
being incapable of error, perhaps even incapable of being
fully understood by mere mortals.  And if there is nonsense
in the teachings, great pains are taken to weave an
interpretation that enables people to 'believe' anyway. 
Religion is a museum dedicated to a particular past teacher;
science is an evolving, living, body of thought, where
original work is often lost under later layers... who knows
the name of the person who invented the first wheel?

Marxism seems to fall more into the religious category than
the scientific.  It has a Satan (capitalism), a Saviour
(Marx), Apostles (Lenin et al), a promise of Salvation (the
withering of the state), and a last-days Revelation
(capitalism encountering its own contradictions).  As
capitalism continues to grow and prosper, Marxists keep
moving their predictions of collapse further into the
future, but they never lose Faith in the founder's scenario.
Many Marxists seem to believe that all we need to do is sit
back and wait for dialectical materialism to take its
course.  Socialist Utopia, like the Second Coming, will
arrive of its own accord.

All in all, I'd say the best thing today's practical
revolutionary could do about Marxism is to leave it behind.

    
    3. How important is having an alternative to capitalism,
    e.g., socialism, for you? If so, what would you call it? How
    would you define and describe it?

As I said earlier, it is very important to focus on our
goals, to keep our eyes on the prize, and not be primarily
'anti' capitalism or anti anything.  But you fall into a
trap when you talk about _an alternative, and when you look
for your answers in alternative _ideologies such as
socialism.  Why should everyone and all societies adopt a
single new system?  And why cannot our new systems be
organic and evolve?  Why do they need to be defined in
advance by an ideology?

Ideology is a cousin of religion, and both serve primarly as
a means of hierarchical control over populations. Earlier I
described capitalism as "today's Caeser", by which I meant
"today's tyrant".  Why overthrow capitalism-in-particular,
simply to exchange it for tyranny of another stripe?  Why
should a revolutionary new world be constrained by some
pre-defined ideology?  Why cannot it develop its own agenda?
 

Rather than switching our allegiance from one ideology to
another, I suggest that the time has come for humanity to
demand freedom and self-deterimination.  Such is not an
ideology; it is a process.  And the particular process need
not be the same everywhere; it is only necessary that it
facilitates popular sovereignty rather than hierarchical
control. 

    
    4. How is fighting against 'capitalism' connected -- or
    disconnected -- from struggles against racism, sexism,
    homophobia, and other systems of oppression?

See above.

    
    5. Does it make sense to envision revolution with a capital
    'R' as a necessary condition for a just society? Or is
    radical democracy a better and more useful concept?

Are you saying that Revolution must be non-democratic, or
are you saying that radical democracy is not Revolutionary?  
I could not agree with either assumption.  For a just society 
I say we need a Radical, Democratic, Non-Violent Revolution. 
    

    6. What connections, if any, do you see between
    anti-sweatshop and anti-globalism organizing and an
    anti-capitalist agenda? Does it matter if activists talk
    about capitalism?

If one seeks to alleviate symptoms without addressing the
cause, then one is seeking to reform capitalism.  One is
then in fact a supporter of capitalism, a sustainer of the
current system.  An important role of the revolutionary is
to help those motivated by symptoms to understand that
reform of capitalism is impossible -- and that pursuing it
is simply a way to place yourself firmly under the control
of capitalist masters.  They'll give you an inch if you
shout loud enough, and then they'll take away a mile when
you're looking the other way.

    
    7. How important -- and helpful -- is it to argue for the
    connections between the prison-industrial complex and
    capitalism when organizing youth of color against
    criminalization of young people?

Same answer again.

all the best,
rkm

============================================================================
Richard K Moore
Wexford, Ireland
Citizens for a Democratic Renaissance 
email: •••@••.••• 
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                        -- Frantz Fanon

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