I’ve recently started reading The ABC of Anarchism (originally Now and After and What Is Communist Anarchism) by Alexander Berkman, and while a lot of the references made do show the age of the book, published in 1929, there are still many relevant observations and similarities to the modern age. The main one, with its many facets, is that capitalism hasn’t really changed much over the years, other than finding more efficient methods of concentrating even more wealth into fewer hands.
One does not need to be an anarchist or ‘leftist’ to acknowledge the damage capitalism has done to humanity and the environment. Even some capitalists recognise these flaws and are, in what I personally think is a commendable but vain attempt, trying to make capitalism fairer and ‘greener’. A reformed version of capitalism, such as what Don and Alex Tapscott suggested in Blockchain Revolution, would see a fair distribution of wealth rather than a system of concentrated and redistributed wealth. As interesting as that would be in theory, it sounded suspiciously like something called sociali…
Capitalism wouldn’t exist without the State and law, especially in the modern age. A lot of industries, like healthcare, education, transport, etc. are all public services that are being privatised – set up with public money in the form of taxes and sold off to corporate entities, who invested nothing in their creation, to gain profits off of the public who then has to pay for the privilege of using services they funded.
Noam Chomsky has pointed out that a lot of the technology we have today, such as GPS, computers, military tech, etc. was all funded by taxpayer dollars. I agree with him when he says that these technologies, which were created through the investment of the public, supposedly, were gifted to the private sector to commercialise and earn immeasurable profits. Arguments could be made about whether that is a legitimate accusation or not, but it can certainly be argued that the system of public investment and private profits is not even capitalism.
Chomsky argues capitalism, in theory, says that if one were to make an investment, they hope to gain a return on that. In reality, the taxpayers, the public, make the investment and take the risks that come with it, but they receive little to no real benefit from this long-term investment. Instead, private enterprise packages various bits and pieces together, like in a smart phone, and receives immense profits with essentially no risk or investment whatsoever. You can claim Apple has made themselves a successful brand all you want, but Apple did not invest in or invent many of the technologies they incorporate into their devices – the people (specifically the US, in many cases) did.
State subsidised “capitalism” is one of the most damning economic systems. Alongside the gifted research and services, the State is the body that has been responsible for the deregulation of various sectors. The Reagan and Thatcher era kicked off the global neoliberal movement, which ultimately culminated in the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 – which was remedied by bailing out the banks with public money and the US government (publicly) looking sternly at those responsible while (privately) continuing to serve them.
Berkman doesn’t just condemn the State for their role in this, however. At various stages throughout history, and with various methods, schools, the Church, the press, and other institutions have worked fervently to subdue, mislead, and control the masses. The Church, for all their fretting about those ‘virtue signalling leftists’, is very intent on swinging the population towards “conservative” parties based purely on social issues, and either you’re rich enough to align your interests nicely or you’re poor and believe God’s will is at work.
The press, well, we need hardly touch on how they perpetuate the myth of capitalism’s grandness. Limitless volumes have undoubtedly been written about how the press is manipulated or becomes the manipulator to shape public opinion or supress people and events that are too offensive to the system. On this website I have many pieces of my own where I have called out various papers, from the Murdoch press to the Guardian, for their biases, and analysed how they carry this out. I saw yet another vague article talking about UK Labour’s anti-Semitism in the Guardian – absolutely nothing to do with the upcoming election, I’m sure. Even Jonathan Pie, the fictional/satirical news reporter, repeated the anti-Semitism line, to my surprise – he’s not always been kind to the Guardian either.
Suffice to say that the press, beholden to or owned by corporate interests, will continue to claim the system we currently have is working and that alternatives that are deemed too ‘radical’ are too evil to consider.
Schools, which I understood to mean universities, is an interesting one, because decades after The ABC of Anarchism was released, student movements and certain intellectuals were leading the charge on a number of social and economic issues, including a revival in socialist ideas. I’ve written previously about the Lewis Powell Memorandum, which detailed how capitalist interests should work to promote their ideas while silencing or viciously demonising anything that dares to oppose them. With a few notable exceptions, I feel that they have achieved their job quite well.
Four years of university and I can say that, despite some people’s deluded fantasies, they did not pressure or push ‘leftist’ or socialist ideas. In fact, I had quite the opposite experience. You learn very few useful skills that weren’t already common sense. Many courses involve some level of unpaid work experience (I did an IT project and 200 hours of writing internships, but I have had people tell me about thousands of hours spent, without pay, doing jobs like radiation therapy or social work). Networking – knowing people who know people – is the gateway to getting jobs. And if any of the big employers out there found out about this blog, my job prospects would probably be quite low in the sector I’ve studied in.
But all of this ties back to the State, which is as democratic as it is just – that is, hardly. It’s the State that subsidises capitalism’s existence, forces universities to become cash cows by cutting funding, sells off public services, and tries to crush all dissident voices.
“Every branch of government comes to the aid of capital as against labor. The courts will issue an injunction against the strikers, they will forbid picketing or make it ineffectual by not permitting the strikers to persuade outsiders not to take the bread out of their mouths, the police will beat up and arrest the pickets, the judges will impose fines on them and railroad them to jail. The whole machinery of the government will be at the service of the capitalists to break the strike, to smash the union, if possible, and reduce the workers to submission.”
As an Australian in 2019 reading these words from the US in 1929, 90 years later, this sounds incredibly familiar. Queensland Labor has rushed through anti-protest laws in defence of Adani and other fossil fuel/corporate projects. Police have been given more powers to search “suspects”, people have been arrested, and some, as part of their bail conditions, have been barred from entering the Brisbane CBD, restricting their ability to join protests or even freely move in their own country. Unions have attacked these laws, saying that they will also target Union activities, which, under any future LNP government, would be a very real threat.
Victorian Labor seems to be doing little about the brutality and overwhelming number of police present at the IMARC event. People were attacked, including a journalist who was pepper sprayed and a man who was hit whilst on the ground. The police were essentially used as a gang like protection ring for the fossil fuel industry.
On a Federal level, Scott Morrison is talking about banning protests, with a correction of his currently slogan required: “Quiet, Australians!”. But it goes even further than that with the Ensuring Integrity Bill, which has the power to attack pretty much any entity that isn’t corporate or corporate aligned and prevent them from gathering. This includes the dismissal of entire Unions for petty and insignificant offenses that are but a spec when compared to the mountains of corporate and governmental wrongdoings.
Ensuring Integrity is, like many great propaganda names, doublespeak. If the government truly wished to ensure integrity, they would start by abolishing themselves. To go after one of the few entities that actually work for the people and for workers, after having already dragged them through a sham Royal Commission and media frenzy, is the pinnacle of self-interest and hypocrisy.
Banning protesting, jailing and preventing the protestors and pickets from gathering, and dismantling the Union movement. They were and are the goals of the capitalist class, forwarded by the State and the press in the name of the corporate sector. Very little has changed, and economic inequality has been rising across the globe for decades. People must act – join your Union, attend protests, inform your friends and family, hell, carry out civil disobedience after our right to unionise and gather is taken away.
We have dangerous governments on all levels that must be opposed every step of the way, and while Labor may be susceptible to pulling back on some of their more drastic measures, it may already be too late. The Coalition has been relentless, and we have them in power Federally for a while yet. When our governments fail us, we have no choice but to challenge their authority. They answer to us – they just need a collective reminder.
Liked this? Read Why Anarchism?
Previous piece: Anarchism and Violence