Friday, May 30, 2008

Know your enemy

Editorial from the June 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism is everywhere these days. Turn on the TV or open a paper and “capitalism” is being talked about. And not just one capitalism – so many different types! There’s turbo-capitalism, free market capitalism, selfish capitalism, crony capitalism, natural capitalism, laissez-faire capitalism, Chinese capitalism, state capitalism, and even disaster capitalism.

The fact that the media are increasingly calling a spade a spade in terms of the actual words they use is a positive development to be accepted. It’s good to know your enemy and it helps if you can call it by its real name.

But that’s not to say all these different types of “capitalism” don’t themselves sow confusion. World socialists would argue that while the outward appearance of an economic system may vary from region to region or over time, at the level which matters, it all comes down to the same thing. So what is the level that matters and what does it all come down to?

We would argue that an economic system should be judged on how it produces and distributes wealth to its members. All round the world we see cast-iron evidence that – whatever the supposed form of capitalism practiced locally – capitalism itself is a system that is failing the vast majority.

In the more mature capitalist areas useless goods are increasingly produced that workers have to be persuaded to buy; in younger capitalist regions humans starve in their thousands because their suffering is invisible to the logic of the profit system. It makes no difference whether there is a King or a President on the banknote, it’s still capitalism, and the banknote is the part of the unnecessary rationing system.

So what does capitalism all come down to ? In a nutshell capitalism is about wealth being produced for sale on a market with a view to ensuring a profit for the owner of the capital invested in the production process (e.g. wages). All supposed “forms” of capitalism must comply with this rule to make profit. That profit may be partially hidden in a nationalised industry or obscure within the workings of a co-operative enterprise, it makes no difference. The economic system as a whole must carry on making a profit. If it does not, then investment stops and production stops, and individual businesses go to the wall. For states with significant state capitalist enterprises, the reality may be held off for some time but ultimately that state itself may become bankrupt.

What we have then is global capitalism arranged worldwide to satisfy the needs of the small minority who live in various degrees of luxury, off the unearned labour of the large majority, who live in various degrees of poverty. We do not for a second deny that in terms of standard of living there are enormous differences between workers globally.But that difference (caused by centuries of unequal development across the globe) in access to wealth is insignificant compared to the gulf between the employing class and the employed class living literally yards away from each other, whether in Lagos or London.

So forget the various versions of capitalism. Don’t waste time trying to work out where selfish capitalism becomes unselfish capitalism, or where turbo capitalism stops and laissez-faire starts. Look beyond the label: the problem lies with capitalism itself.

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