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Does capitalism work for the benefit of all, or is it just a tool to exploit the working classes?
From Our Mayday website, April 2003
History & Definition
It is like the air we breathe & the water we drink, it is like beer & cricket & the need for money. It is, we think, the natural order of things.
The exact birth date of capitalism remains shrouded in the mists of history, with anywhere between the 14th & 17th century being suggested.
Key starting points have been identified as the enclosure of common land,the development of merchant capital, the transatlantic slave trade & the 'witchcraft' persecutions of thousands of 'masterless' women, who found relative freedom as bonds of feudalism weakened.
Developing from within feudal society, the birth of capitalism was violent & painful, tearing apart the existing relations of society With terrible force a new class was created - the working class - torn from the land by enclosures & on pain of death set to work in the factories. The class oppressions of feudal society were not done away with, but were created anew.
Early capitalism required a constantly expanding market for selling its products & a constantly expanding pool of cheap labour. This led to the discovery of the 'new world' & the extermination of its indigenous inhabitants; to colonialism, countless massacres & two world wars.
As the world market was finite, capitalism also had to intensify exploitation & create a need for consumer goods. This was the source of class struggle. Collective action by producers was the one threat to capital, so it also had to intensify divisions, between skilled & unskilled workers, manual & mental labour, 'men's' & 'women's' work.
As a result the products of capitalism are designed to keep us atomised; the process of production designed to make us slave harder. This was seen in 'Fordism' or 'Taylorism' when all tasks were broken down into component parts & workers' time constantly controlled.
It happened - until recently - at call centres where every computer stroke at a work station was monitored.
Commodity production, in which the usefulness of an item is always subordinate to its price, has come to dominate the whole of society.
The creation of surplus value, & the transformation of a part of that value back into capital, is the purpose of capitalist production.
It is often wrongly depicted as a mode of consumption, or as the means of enjoyment for capitalists.
The key commodity of the capitalist production is labour power, the source of all surplus value, profit & wealth. Since a person's labour power can not be seperated from their very being, from their humanity, it means that humans are literally bought & sold in the market place.
Labour is then set to work producing commodities, into which they put a part of themselves. From the start workers can't afford to buy back their total production, as their labour power is purchased at market rates. A worker paid £200 per week cannot knock off when £200 worth of goods have been made.
As the capitalist mode of production becomes more sophisicated, the labour process becomes more & more specialised & the total social capital (the wealth of society) grows out of all proportion to increases in wages.
Workers are divided along trades & skills, working on only a small part of the finished product.
Goods cease to be produced in single factories with production divided between different countries & continents. Alienation increases as humans only connection with each with is through the market.
Capitalism requires a centralised authority - the state. Without this the necessary infrastructure for production - canals, railways, roads - would not have existed.
The state structure serves to manage the capitalist contradiction between monopoly & competition. It also serves to defend the mode of production, through both violence & incorporation.
Thus at times it appears to offer the alternative between the market or state control (nationalisation) of the economy.The alternative is false - the problem is the economy.
Looking back future generations will find it imcomprehensible that human beings allowed themselves to be enslaved for so long. After all, it is our everday activities & our failure to collectively refuse that allows capitalism to continue.
Many of us feel that life could be better. Many of us are sick of the lies and broken promises of government after government, and the greed and arrogance of company bosses who give themselves massive pay increases, while we struggle to make ends meet.
Many of us know that we can run our own lives, communities and workplaces a lot better than the politicians, bosses and bureaucrats. Many of us want safe, secure communities, decent housing, rewarding and varied work which is of real benefit to us.
Many of us want an end to the poverty, exploitation, inequality, injustice, war, and environmental destruction we see all over the world. We want a world where people and freedom are valued and violence and greed are rejected.
The way the world works at the moment does not deliver the things we want.
We want to change things so that all of us can decide for ourselves how to run our lives, and share the resources of our communities so that we all benefit. This is anarchism.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE WAY THINGS ARE?
Capitalism is the system under which we all live, which is failing so miserably to meet the needs of the vast majority of the world's population. Under capitalism, a small minority of people are in control of the money and resources of the planet.
They accumulate wealth and power and move their money and factories around at will to keep their profits high and wages low. Profit comes before people and the environment.
WORK We are forced to compete with each other to work for low wages in order to buy necessities, and as a result the bosses and shareholders of the companies we work for and buy from make profits for themselves.
We work long hours with little say over our pay and conditions, no security, no control over what we are producing and why, or what happens to the profits. We have to try and accumulate money, because there is no security in our communities for when we are ill or old or out of work.
Most work is useless and tedious, making unnecessary new products and services which waste resources and generate pollution. They are usually products which are unaffordable to most of the world's population, which means we have to work harder to afford them.
Bosses, owners and share holders have control over industry, factories, machinery and profits. Last year the directors of Britain's top 1000 companies earned on average over 20 times the average salary of their employees, and the gap is increasing every year. Meanwhile, according to UN figures, one in five children in Britain live in families below the official poverty line.
The established unions have played a role in protecting and promoting workers' rights in some circumstances, but they do not challenge the true injustice, the idea that it is OK for the few to make the decisions, own the factory, and keep the profits.
By acting as intermediaries between the workforce and the bosses, the big established unions simply make the whole system run more smoothly.
If we try and survive outside this system, we end up poor, homeless, in prison. Under capitalism, money, background, education, and class determine how much freedom and control people have in their lives.
If you are poor, working class, black, female, foreign you are likely to have worse education and job opportunities, worse housing conditions, poorer health care provision, you are more likely to go to prison, and for longer terms, and you will die earlier, than those who come from wealthier, more privileged backgrounds.
All over the world people are being forced from their lands so oil, timber and mining companies can move in. Robbed of their land, cultures and communities they have no choice but to labour for the profit of the global corporations just to survive, and to buy necessities which they would once have been able to grow or make for themselves.
The wealth of many industrialised countries has often come from exploiting the resources, labour and people of the "third world", from historical slavery to the Nike sweat shops of today.
What resources many of these countries possess they must use to pay interest on their debts to the World Bank and Western countries, while their health and education systems collapse.
Is this a just way to run society, where a small number of people live in luxury while most of us have little control over our lives and more and more live in poverty and hunger?
DEMOCRACY? We are told that in the UK we live in a democracy. According to those in power; we have control over our lives by voting once every five years but we all know this is rubbish.
How democratic is it when 670 mostly privately-educated white men decide things for the rest of us?
The fact that the turn-out for most elections is well under 50% (?) shows that we are not fooled by them. We know very well that whoever we vote in won't make any real difference or improve our lives. So what's the point in voting?
When we vote we give up our right to decide things for ourselves and we are at the mercy of career politicians who serve their own interests and those of big business.
If things are going wrong or people start to protest against their decisions, they scapegoat minorities such as asylum seekers, so people don't blame the real causes, or they bring in draconian laws to put us in our place.(anti-terrorism bill). If we protest or take direct action, we are told that WE are undemocratic.
Politicians decide on legislation. Most legislation is to do with protecting private property, not protecting ordinary people. The police are paid to ensure that laws are implemented, no matter how unjust or oppressive or discriminatory those laws are.
The prisons are full to bursting; and they want to build more. There is no evidence that prison sentences prevent crime, in fact the very opposite. They damage and destroy individuals, families and communities and they do not reduce anti-social behaviour.
The number of black people in prison is disproportionately high. There are constant miscarriages of justice, cases of police racism and brutality and deaths in custody. Most women who are in prison are there for non-payment of fines. (stats).
Middle and upper class people get off with lighter sentences. White people get lighter sentences than black people. Women get custodial sentences for pettier crimes than men. Sentences for crimes against property are often more severe than sentences for rape or murder.
Violence and crime are caused by inequality, poverty, desperation. These are all products of a system where a small number of people become wealthy and powerful at the expense of everyone else.
They are the real criminals, but they do everything they can to turn us against each other, blaming immigrants, the unemployed, the poor, the desperate, in order to divert attention from the fact that they have become rich and secure through systematically exploiting other people.
Under the current system, billions are spent on arms and military intervention all over the world. They claims it's humanitarian, to get rid of this dictator or that, or to resolve conflicts and prevent human rights abuses.
Meanwhile here in the UK people die in prison or are killed by police who are never made accountable, refugees seeking protection are imprisoned in detention centres.
The government continues to attack Iraq, Yugoslavia etc. and civilians die from cluster bombs and mines and nothing changes, but it is happy to trade with regimes like China and subsidise corporations selling arms to other oppressive governments such as Indonesia.
The government spent £50 billion on 3 Trident submarines (overall public spending budget for 1999-2000 was £336 billion). Meanwhile we are expected to accept massive cuts in funding to our health and education services while the well-off can afford private health care and jump the queues for operations, and send their children to elite private schools.
More and more services are being privatised for the profit of the few; public transport services are getting worse as the drive for profit cuts services and safety, and as a result the roads are more and more clogged with traffic and pollution.
Councils are selling off publicly owned housing and land into private hands, and the greed of landlords and speculators for more profit drives up rents and house prices.
Meanwhile, there are hundreds of thousands of empty properties all over the country which we cannot use because they are 'private property'.
Many communities are destroyed as companies and industries move away to areas where labour is cheaper and easier to exploit, often in third world countries, and the poverty and lack of choices leads to frustration, violence, drug dependence and other social problems.
Advances in technology are used for military purposes, or put people out of work. Instead of technology being used to benefit us all, by reducing dangerous or unpleasant work without destroying our livelihoods, it is used to produce more profit for the company owners.
And we are told it is our fault if we are laid off, for not being more flexible or employable, and we are stigmatised for sponging off the State, when the State and the drive for profit are responsible for the situation in the first place.
Some people say that capitalism is based on human nature, and is therefore the best way to run things. But this isn't true. Human nature varies from human to human, and we are all capable of love and hate, compassion and coldness, generosity and selfishness, co-operation and competitiveness.
For most of human history societies have been based on people co-operating to survive and flourish. Capitalism suppresses most of our best qualities by forcing us to compete for necessities.
The thing about human beings is that we have choices. We can choose how to run things. Capitalism creates a minority who are free to suppress the freedom of choice of everyone else. This is not human nature. This is a system imposed upon us.
WHAT WE WANT At the moment, we run the factories, the hospitals, the transport and energy systems, we produce and distribute the food and other things we need, we build the houses and teach our children and clean the streets and run the water system.
All the bosses and owners and landlords do is clean off the profits, and all the politicians do is make more laws to keep us in our place. We can run things ourselves much better.
We want a free society where no individual owns property, factories and profits. These are community resources, tended and produced by many individuals, and should therefore belong collectively to the community, not to a small elite group.
We want a society without money or profit, where people use resources according to their needs and give according to their abilities.
We want a society based on co-operation, where we all have an equal say in the decisions which affect us. People feel happier and behave better towards each other when they have a say in what happens to them.
Therefore we want to get rid of centralised government and hierarchy where decisions are made by an elite few and handed down from on high.
Instead we want decisions to be made in our workplaces and our communities, by us, the people who are affected by those decisions.
We want work which is of benefit to ourselves and our communities. Where communities come together and discuss what kinds of products and services are needed, whether food, hospitals, schools, housing or energy.
Communities and workers decide together how, when and where necessities are produced, what technologies are used, and collaborate with other sectors to co-ordinate supply, distribution and exchange, development and research.
We want work to be voluntary, co-operative and self-managed. Where workers unite to manage themselves, they will act in their own interest and ensure decent, pleasant, safe working conditions.
Both interesting work and unpleasant tasks are likely to be shared out, making work more varied and interesting. People tend to enjoy learning and sharing skills, and this allows everyone to develop and contribute ideas and inventiveness.
People find work more rewarding when they know it is useful, valuable, worthwhile.
Much necessary work today, especially manual work, is despised now simply because of bad conditions and low status. There is no reason why with decent conditions, and if properly shared out, such tasks could not be enjoyable.
After all, lots of us enjoy sport, which is a form of voluntary manual labour.
There would be a lot less work to do, simply because we would not be forced to produce the endless lines of unnecessary wasteful products and useless services capitalism demands to keep making profits.
For all of these reasons, it is unlikely that the work necessary for a community to run effectively would not get done. People co-operate naturally; whether within their own families and friendship groups, in sports and other pass times, in the work place when organising against exploitation. People naturally organise in their own interest.
Look at the Life Boat Service. A network of locally organised groups of volunteers who provide a service for the community. Members of communities voluntarily organising themselves for the benefit of their community.
It is only capitalism which tells us that we have to compete, and that people are only motivated by money and profit. This is not true.
In communities, in workplaces and in our leisure we are perfectly capable of co-operating to manage ourselves and our own activities to meet our own needs.
Systems of education, childcare, health service, transport, support for the old or the ill etc. could all operate in the same directly democratic fashion, where decisions are made by the community members affected by those decisions.
This system of organisation allows everyone to have a say in their own lives, work and environment; it prevents a few deciding things for everyone. It means that production is determined by what is needed and what the community wants; not what advertisers and profiteers tell us we should want.
It means that there would be no need for politicians telling us what to do and forcing us to die in their wars or pollute our environment while bosses politicians and arms dealers cream the profits from our labour.
It means that the oppression and exploitation of ethnic groups, women and other sectors of society would be unlikely because no individuals or groups would have any economic or social or institutional authority over any other group.
We would become more self-sufficient, as people would most likely want to use safe, clean decentralised energy sources such as solar, wind and wave power rather than dangerous, polluting, expensive forms of energy, build their own houses and streets the way they want them, have control over their education and health .
We have all the necessary skills and knowledge within our communities already; but at the moment, we are forced to sell those skills to make profits for others instead of using them to directly and practically benefit ourselves.
Violence and crime are a result of poverty, inequality and desperation. 90% of crime is property-related.
In a society where there is no money or private property, where there are no rich and poor, but people are free to take what they need from the products they and their community have produced, property crime would not exist.
Get rid of capitalism, and most crime would disappear.
Nobody knows exactly what a truly free society would be like; most likely it would vary widely from community to community, as people decide for themselves the best way to run things in their own areas and workplaces. However, as anarchists we believe that society works best if it ensures maximum freedom for all its members.
HOW WE GET THERE
People throughout history all over the world have resisted attempts to destroy their freedom to control their own lives. We are the vast majority, and we can fight against the people and structures which oppress us.
We need to get together, build solidarity and confidence, and stop doing as we are told, because it is not in our interest. Their power depends only on our obedience.
People are rebelling as we speak; the landless peasants in Brazil joining together and taking back their lands, the postal workers in Canada, people refusing GM crops in the UK.
We need to start by recognising the real causes of poverty, violence and injustice. The causes are the people and governments and corporations who control our lives.
They control society, and must therefore be held responsible for the problems they cause.They try to convince us that we ourselves are to blame, or other nations, and they set us fighting each other instead of against the real causes.
We need to refuse to play the game of pitting working people of one nation against the working people of another, one state against another, or one eco-system against another.
Capitial is globalized; the resistance of the working class must be as well. The World Trade Organisation, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, UN, NATO, North American Free Trade Agreement, G8, are all international undemocratic organisations interested in reducing conflict between capitalists, ensuring that those in power can more effectively exploit working people and environmental resources globally.
THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY
We can see how capitalism and governments operate across the world, across the UK, and the effects in our local areas and in our own lives.
We may not feel able to take on the whole of global capitalism and injustice as individuals immediately, but we can start getting together and changing things in our own lives and our own areas.
We can start deciding things for ourselves, whether it's whether or how we work, what to do to improve our street, how our children should be educated etc. The more we start meeting our own needs, the more we make capitalism irrelevant.
We can organise ourselves and build up solidarity in our own communities in many ways:
*Getting to know our neighbours and the people around us, and looking after each other.
*Taking over the running of our housing estates, learning to fix things ourselves and supporting each other in the process.
*Forming groups to challenge destruction of our community resources and surroundings, whether it's councils selling off our schools and housing into private hands, private companies buying up parts of our local parks and green spaces, new roads, big corporations etc. We can occupy these areas and do what WE want with them.
*Organising our own community groups around education, childcare, healthcare
*Organising street parties (they're OUR streets after all)
*Defending people from bailiffs and from eviction by landlords, the police, deportation squads
*Squatting empty buildings and making them habitable living spaces and social centres.
*Taking over pieces of land to grow our own food or make parks and playgrounds
*Challenging sexism, racism, classism directly and resisting police harassment and violence in an organised way
*Refusing to buy crap we don't need and challenging advertising wherever we come across it, and the destructive undermining messages it promotes.
*Producing our own versions of things, graffiti, boycotts, sharing ideas and challenging theirs; use of e-mail and websites; bombardment of corporations with junkmail.
We need to start to organise ourselves in our work places, and eventually run them ourselves, not through established hierarchical unions which have their own agenda, but through self-organisation.
We know where there is injustice and we know how it will be best remedied. We need to build solidarity and start fighting to control our workplaces, work itself, and the products and profits of our labour.
They belong to us.
If they attempt to erode our pay and conditions we can refuse to work, or use direct action, site occupation, using company information and technology to our advantage and sabotage their efforts to undermine us.
If the bosses are giving themselves huge pay deals, we can refuse to do what they tell us and insist on equal treatment. Insistence on our own organisation, solidarity with strikers and a refusal to collude with bosses trying to divide and rule with things such as short-term contracts, performance related pay, etc.
If we start getting to know each other in our streets and communities and workplaces, and start to organise things for ourselves, we can make links with other groups all over the country and all over the world, support each other and learn from each other, and work together.
The real criminals in our society are those who create inequality, poverty and exploitation, who cause misery and desperation and take away people's ability to sustain themselves and run their own lives.
The real causes are the people and institutions which perpetuate capitalism.
By organising in our communities, making decisions and doing things for ourselves at a local level, and resisting attempts by councils, bosses, police, government and capitalist profiteers to make us do what THEY want, we can start to change the world.
Anarchy means 'without government' and anarchists believe that people live more fulfilling lives without the coercive pressure of authority. Of course most people don't trust authority.
How many of us have a good word to say for politicians or bosses, or even think they do anything useful? Most people would more willingly rely on friends, neighbours, relatives and work-mates than on the managers and politicians our rulers tell us are essential to run our lives.
In anarchist societies people make decisions for themselves and co-operate to meet each others' needs without the obligation of toiling to benefit owning and controlling elites.
The common misunderstanding that anarchy is no more than hopeless chaos ignores the fact that most people throughout most of history have lived outside of a dominant authority and have fought against attempts to subjugate them.
When society breaks down it's because co-operation itself has broken down under pressure from the poisonous doctrine that you have to trample other people in order to survive.
Anarchy means freedom and co-operation.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Should capitalism be destroyed? Is anarchism a viable future or is it just the stuff of dole scrounging cider-soaked dreamers?
» Post up your opinions!
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