Chances are if you are reading this, you have spent a fair amount of time discussing the recent “Occupation” demonstrations which have sprung up all around the country. Anyone with a basic familiarity with the protests is aware that the demonstrators represent a broad spectrum of ideologies, beliefs and goals.
Ordinarily, there is nothing inherently negative about his fact. Since the 1970’s, America’s top capitalists have been grabbing an ever-growing share of the social wealth produced by the workers, while the latter have seen their real wages stagnate and drop despite a sharp rise in productivity. The fall of the Eastern Bloc, and the enshrinement of the TINA (“There Is No Alternative”) doctrine ushered in a triumphal wave of “Gilded Age”-style neo-liberal policies throughout the entire world, privatizing virtually everything in its wake.
Now that neo-liberal policies have finally led America to the brink of economic ruin, we should rejoice that there is now a large and growing movement pointing its finger at the power-drunk capitalists in Wall Street and other major cities. Broad fronts do have drawbacks, however, and no matter how large or loud they may be, some of these flaws can be exploited to the extent that the movement ends up accomplishing little, and long after its collapse no one seems to be able to figure out what went wrong.
Probably one of the biggest flaws of large, more or less disorganized movements is that their lack of concrete goals and clear messages makes them highly susceptible to hijacking and co-option. There have been complaints, even from otherwise sympathetic people, that the protest on Wall Street seemed to lack a coherent message, and that instead the general theme appeared to be little more than, “We’re angry at Wall Street and the bankers!”
At some point, a list of tentative demands was released, such as this one. It is highly likely that more lists will be issued and presented, if they haven’t already. The problem here is that when people are disorganized, united only by their emotional outrage, they leave themselves open to manipulation from seasoned snake oil salesmen who harness their rage and point it at a scapegoat.
Here’s a test for the reader. Read through the following passage regarding the Occupy Wall Street protests, and try to guess the ideological angle of the author.
At a point we call such corps “Monopoly Capitalists”. By the time a grouping of such Monopoly Capitalist corps are setting U.S. foreign policy, which the arms industry certainly does nowadays, the problem becomes unbearably apparent. Bechtel comes to mind, along with Halliburton, the Carlyle Group, Monsanto, General Electric, et al.
That part of Wall Street is certainly to blame. But that is not “Capitalism”. Instead, it is “Monopoly Capitalism”, and it is now observably moving America into a new world order with intent to place America under the alleged authority of a one-world government. As such, Monopoly Capitalism is un-Constitutional and must be opposed.
Truth: No corporation could threaten America without the help of the Federal Reserve. The Fed is the problem, and Wall Street is merely the symptom of that problem.
For the socialist movement in America to take this new-wave of Tea Party-type energy, the “Occupy” energy wave, and divert it into protesting a mere symptom of the problem is flat-out wrong. Especially when they use the crimes of corporate Monopoly Capitalism to attack American-styled free-market capitalism itself. That is why Oath Keepers is launching the movement to “Occupy The Fed Now!”
So who’s responsible for that train wreck of text? Do you know the answer? If you guessed that it’s probably from a Ron Paul supporter, you’re on the right track.
In fact, it comes from some very serious Ron Paul supporters. Ron Paul’s reactionary army of Austrian school economics missionaries are out in force to convince everyone that the free market is the answer to all of our problems, which is essentially the same message that has been coming from the neo-liberal mainstream for years. The only difference is that Paul supporters, like all Austrian schoolers, obsess over the Federal Reserve as the cause of all our economic woes.
For all practical purposes, this distinction between them and the fanatics of Milton Friedman is irrelevant. Believing that there is such a thing as a “free market,” and in fact believing that there has been or could ever be a “private sector,” which is not inextricably linked with and dependent on the state, is more than acceptable to the ruling forces of our society.
America’s so-called “left,” that is the “respectable” liberals, take a similar track to the neo-liberals and fringe Austrian school reactionaries. They too often refer to our problems as “corporatism,” “crony capitalism,” or occasionally “cowboy capitalism.” The solutions, we are told, amount to new regulations and reforms, punishing some of the “bad apples,” and of course, voting Democrat. The goals are “saving the middle class,” and ultimately amount to the same thing as the stated goals of the Ron Paul reactionaries and the Tea Party movement. All of these factions wish to take America back to some other era, one in which they think their ideas were better represented in society and government. The extent to which these visions of an earlier, better America are accurate, if at all, varies significantly. What remains the same in all these cases, on the other hand, is simply this – capitalism is good, there is no alternative, it just needs to be fixed.
The liberals say capitalism can be fixed with regulations, in some cases the restoration of some previously existing regulations. They are less vocal as to why corporations and lobbyists in the future won’t be able to achieve deregulation then as they did in the past. Most mainstream conservatives seem to imply that capitalism can be fixed if we just lower taxes enough, deport illegal immigrants, restrict abortion, and defeat the grave threat of Sharia law in the United States. The Ron Paul fanatics and their fellow libertarians insist that the U.S. isn’t capitalist, but it needs to be. It will achieve that when the Fed is abolished and virtually all government regulation is done away with.
Libertarians typically disagree as to the extent to which the state must be shrunk before “true capitalism” is born, but if they admit that the U.S. is definitely some form of capitalism, they will insist that it is “crony capitalism” or some other “bad capitalism.” The bottom line is, the problem isn’t capitalism, it’s always some corrupted form of capitalism or “corporatism.”
When we see how similar these political ideologies are when it comes to this crucial issue, it’s not difficult to understand why right-wing populists such as the Ron Paul fan club are so skilled at co-opting supposedly “left-wing” movements. This is in fact nothing new.
During the labor struggles which began in the mid-19th century and rose in intensity into the 20th, culminating with the Russian Revolution in 1917, capitalist apologists emerged from the right and left throughout the period. Their philosophies, goals, and methods often differed greatly, but a common theme was that capitalism, sometimes referred to as “free enterprise,” was not the problem. Something had corrupted the system, and so “true” capitalism or “free enterprise” had to be restored. After 1917, right-wing populism emerged in the form of fascist movements all over the world. Fascist leaders and ideologues sought to reconcile classes based on national or cultural unity, often claiming that class conflict was actually the work of foreign agitators. Of course, behind the fascist movements, funding their activities and turning a blind eye to their violations of the law, were members the ruling class, and particularly the big industrialists. While the industrialists were most concerned with the activities of trade unions and communists, during the global depression they also found themselves in conflict with financial capitalists, the bankers.
The message, with slight variations, is that capitalism, or at least “productive capitalism” or “free enterprise” was good, it was the banks and dishonest investors and speculators who corrupted everything. Hence, for example, one famous Nazi propaganda slogan, “Gegen bolschewismus und Hochfinanz,” meaning “Against Bolshevism and high finance!”
Fast forward to the present day and we see a similar trend, that is to say an emotional backlash steered towards various ideologies which proclaim capitalism to be inherently and unquestionably good, but that our system is not the “right” capitalism. It’s not the right capitalism because of the influence of corporate lobbyists, or corporate person-hood, or the influence of the Federal Reserve, or fractional reserve banking, consolidation, monopolies and so on.
Regardless of the source, this idea is entirely metaphysical, in the sense that it completely ignores the question, “How did we get to this point? How did the good capitalism that supposedly existed at some undetermined time in the past turn into the bad capitalism today?” Few even attempt to answer these questions. Austrian schoolers will gleefully point to the creation of the Federal Reserve, but they are hard-pressed for answers when you point out the many economic crises and bank failures which occurred prior to the Fed’s creation. Moreover, if one does their homework they will see that companies lobbying the government for favors, as well as government intervention in the market, has existed since the dawn of the United States. Indeed, the U.S. would not exist, or at least never would have achieved its position in the world, were it not for the actions of its government.
On the subject of “monopoly capitalism,” this is indeed a true form of capitalism, but it is a very natural stage of capitalism and doesn’t represent some mode of production other than capitalism. The same goes for “corporatism.” Many large multi-national corporations began as much smaller companies. The so-called “free market” is not an obstacle to monopoly but rather a facilitator of monopolies. It is incumbent upon every capitalist in a given industry to attempt to dominate the market. There is no interest in “playing fair” so as not to crush the competition. It is curious indeed that the prophets of the free market, be they neo-liberal Friedmanites or Austrian schoolers, preach the virtues of free market competition based on the self-evident “fact” that humans are self-seeking entities, and yet they seem to expect the stockholders and directors of major corporations to go against their economic self-interest and maintain a state of fair competition with their rivals. Perhaps even more absurd, they should refuse to use their massive wealth and resources to obtain favorable treatment and other benefits from the state, thus sacrificing a crucial advantage over their competitors. And they must perform these actions on their own, out of the goodness of their capitalist hearts. Surely no Ron Paul fan would dare suggest that the state force them to. Keep that in mind the next time one of these reactionary populists tells you about “rational economics,” as they so often do these days.
Let’s come back to reality now. Anyone can do some research into the largest multinational corporations and find out how they started. Many have quite humble roots. Capitalism is a mode of production, and like previous modes, it evolves over time. It does not disappear one day just because the state passes new regulations or removes old ones. It does not change into some kind of “wrong” capitalism just because lobbyists curry favor with politicians; were that the case we could say that capitalism never existed at all.
Capitalism does not disappear with the creation of a central bank like the Federal Reserve; central banking was a necessary development of an expanding capitalist economy. The problem isn’t “crony capitalism,” “cowboy capitalism,” “monopoly capitalism,” “hyper-capitalism” or even “neo-liberal capitalism.”
You can pair “capitalism” with any prefix, adjective, or noun as you see fit, but the internal contradictions, exploitation, instability and absurdities don’t lie in the words. They are all inherent features of capitalism, plain and simple. Any proposed solution to the inherent problems of capitalism which essentially boil down to more capitalism, are inevitably doomed to failure.