In this essay I will explain why we should be good Marxists and stop fighting capitalism, and instead attempt to refocus our energy towards more productive efforts. This text is specifically aimed at young people with revolutionary, communist, or socialist sympathies, and everyone who more generally is critical of capitalism. And desert chefs interested in the process of baking caramelized nuts – of course.
Nuts, walnuts, to be specific. Where else would one start their analysis of revolutionary praxis? These are baked in a pan and subsequently coated in sugar. The sugar will initially turn glazy and liquid as it encounters heat, making one believe the nuts are ready. This is wrong, because once all the water vaporized it turns into a dry sandy texture. One is left poking at these nuts for minutes with no visible effect on what looks like a failed dish. Then, suddenly, the sugar starts to actually melt and coats the nuts in a hard glaze. A valuable life lesson is concealed here: real results and change come from persistent work without immediate visible results.
This leads us to my opening claim that leftists need to stop fighting capitalism, and learn to fight capital instead. That is because fighting ‘capitalism’, or worse, waiting for ‘the revolution’ is a Don Quixote fight against an enemy that doesn’t exist – or at least can’t be directly attacked. What we generally refer to as capitalism is not an actually existing ‘thing’, but an idealtype: a conceptual construct that captures the rationale and characteristics of a phenomenon. Capital-ism generally refers to the organization of the economy (and by extension society) around the principle of capital accumulation: the eternal reinvestment of value to create more value. Its core characteristics are the drive for eternal capital accumulation, the competition amongst capitalists (and anybody bound to them) for profits, and the obtaining of this profit by capitalists through the exploitation of the wage labor of others.
Capitalism thus refers to a rationale, a mode of organizing the economy. We must be good Marxists now and understand that capitalism as a mode of production is not a ‘thing’ but the sum of countless concrete social relationships between people regarding the process of production. It is about all the material, legal and ideological reasons why billions people get up in the morning and work to enrich other millions of people who generally don’t care much for them. The economy is built bottom up: out of these countless social relationships ‘capitalism’ emerges and from a certain distribution and social classes. Since capitalism is the emergent system and not any concrete part of it, other than as an idea (which is a worthwhile effort) it cannot be attacked, overthrown or abolished. Sure, as an idea it again can be top-down implemented in new contexts (but we are already there) and capitalist-minded political actors can think of laws and policies that facilitate this; but this is not a one-off decision.
People interested in fighting capitalism should lose the idea as soon as possible that it can be attacked as such – there exists no button, well-guarded in an underground vault, that ‘stops’ capitalism. They should also stop waiting for ‘the revolution’ (an excuse for idleness if there ever was one), which as any good Marxist knowns depends on both historical circumstances, as well as planning and preparation. When we take a closer look at some of the more successful revolutions such as the Russian or Vietnamese, we will see that Lenin and Ho Chi Ming spend decades preparing the grounds for these ‘events’. Instead, people should learn to fight capital. Because capital and its owners are certainly real, and the capitalist power relations emerge from their movements. It were capitalists that created an economic order that ever more approaches the rationality of capitalism, through concrete actions of not just investments, but also legal change, privatizations, ideological propaganda and violent suppression of alternatives. If one has an interest in fighting this – which I for matters of legal responsibility didn’t say one should – then one should look to counter and reverse these processes the same way they came in: not as a system (which has no off button) but through millions of concrete steps. Marx certainly believed in revolution, but he and his family engaged in many concrete fights against capital.
So what can be done, young (or old) radical? Far more than I will list here:
– Fight concrete privatizations wherever they happen. The neoliberal period in Mexico was initiated by a wave of scandalous privatizations were now multi-billion dollar businesses were sold for cheap. Today these enterprises (Telcel, Grupo Mexico) form the backbone of the resistance against the new government. To illustrate this can happen on every level, with a group of protesters in Belgium we once stopped the underselling of a building belonging to the city that was to be converted in social housing.
– Support workers in their concrete struggles against capital for better working conditions, higher wages, unionization efforts, etc. Minimize your own exploitation and unionize if possible. Especially support (semi)independent workers in struggle against capital intervention or competition.
– Ever dreamt of ‘installing communism’? Well you can actually do this yourself by starting a worker cooperative: a company that is entirely owned by its own workers who democratically govern it. This is, in the most tangible form, reversing capitalism. Gather a bunch of friends around a business plan, find capital (the hardest part), register as a cooperative and get to producing!
– It is nigh impossible to consume outside a capitalist framework, and probably not worth the trouble either. Don’t cripple yourself, we need you. Yet you can get into the habit of learning to avoid the worst exploitation in production chains. Don’t strengthen power players like Amazon if possible, and support semi-independent producers and cooperatives. I will devote an Extranjero to this subject another time.
– Defend democracy and its logic against elite attempts to limit the space of our democratic self-determination through engraining current power relations in constitutions and replacing politics with technocracy. Take part in protests, if only to learn how it works on an organizational level.
– Politically support and join parties that aim for redistribution of economic resources and more broadly changing the power relationship between capital and workers. If given the option to vote on concrete proposals, support the expansion of public programs and the social economy sector.
– Do not lose yourself completely in side-struggles over politically divisive topics such as gun control, abortion, sexual minorities, etc. These are topic worth discussing, as long as you understand that they are explicitly politicized to divide the left and bind conservatives to the interests of capital.
– Join the ever increasing struggle to stem the efforts at ideological manipulation of people through media, advertisements and fake news. Understand that media space is paid for, and that political messages (or blogs you see advertised in your feed) are backed directly by the capital class. Half the fight is defensive: provide fact based information on your ideas and models.
– If you insist on fighting ‘capitalism’ itself instead of capital, understand that means fighting an idea or a logic. Help expose the inconsistencies in the application of this idea to reality and help formulate alternatives. Don’t get caught in the logic of thinking how do you maximize your advantage or gain from every situation in life, especially if that involves other people.
There is of course more that can be done by higher forms of organization such as governments or international bodies, but I limit myself to the individual perspective. Which immediately ties in to my last point on the list: understand that change comes from the collective action of groups. This will be done through countless small steps of which the emerging result is not visible, only imaginable. Like caramelized walnuts.