Capitalism Isn’t the Default

“We live in capitalism, it’s power seems inescapable.  But then, so did the divine right of kings.  Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.  Resistance and change often begin in art.  Very often our art, the art of words.” ~ Ursula K. Le Guin.

People take capitalism as an axiom, an unquestionable truth of life and existence.  It’s not, and it never has been.  The greatest lie told by capitalists is that it’s the default, and the greatest truth that can be told is that it isn’t.

In fact, there is no default.  As the late David Graeber put it “The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently.”

Humanity didn’t fall out of our tree and start building governments and systems of economics.  We fell out of the tree and started foraging for the ripest, juiciest fruits and berries and the least bitter nuts. We fell out of our tree and started chasing the slowest antelope.  

We kept chasing that antelope and foraging for berries for millennia before we established anything more complex than people living with each other and helping each other out.  Helping each other get those nuts and berries and helping each other catch that antelope.  We spent millennia just practicing mutual aid.  Because the truth is, the only default humanity has isn’t capitalism, it’s mutual aid.  Mutual aid is the bedrock of humanity, and the systems in place today are designed to see us forget that, but you can’t forget bedrock.

That urge to give a dollar to the homeless person on the street, that feeling in your gut when someone else is hurt, and that compulsion to help dig your neighbor out of their driveway in a snowstorm are all examples of the mutual aid ingrained in us from millennia of only having each other to rely on.  These are all things that are disincentivized by the society in which we find ourselves.

Capitalism is designed to divorce you from the product of your labor.  And to force you into needless competition with your fellow members of the working class.  It’s designed to ingrain the idea that life is a zero-sum game deeply into your psyche.  And as such, it’s designed to make you fight the instinctual urge to help out those around you.

The sole purpose of this entire socioeconomic system that’s been constructed around us right now is to prevent us from thinking too hard about why Elon Musk gets to be the richest man on earth while Joe Schmo is starving under an overpass.  It’s designed to sow division and inhibit class consciousness.  It’s designed to fuck you over in the name of the rich.

Our oppressors have shed the shackles of feudalism and monarchy.  Monarchy was an intrinsically unstable system of economics and government for the wealthy because it was deeply centralized by virtue of its basis in a single powerful head of state.  There was a single head to cut off the snake.  

Under feudalism, it was less centralized but ultimately still had just the one head because there was still a king providing legitimacy to the feudal lords.  Barons and heads of fiefdoms no matter how powerful they got, could never be more powerful than the king.  They were dependent on the king as their source of legitimate systemic power.  And so they overthrew the king.

Under capitalism the king has been replaced with capital.  The source of legitimate systemic power has been decentralized.  There’s no longer a wholly real and tangible source of abstract unquantifiable political power.  It’s been replaced with a wholly abstract source of quantifiable political power.  It can be quantified with a dollar value.  The capacity to be quantified further legitimizes the power wielded by the ultra wealthy due to the apparent transparency provided by having hard numbers.  Under capitalism, money is merely an exchangeable unit of political power.  Money being an exchangeable unit of political power encourages and incentivizes the greed we see from the capitalist class.  

The billionaires of today are collectively able to extract wealth at a scale the kings of old could only dream of.  It’s turned from a snake into a hydra, there’s no longer a single head to cut off that collapses the entire system.  Like Heracles, the solution to our hydra problem is to cut off the heads and cauterize the necks. 

To cut off the heads we as the working class need to take the wealth back from these billionaires and hundred-millionaires, and to do that we need strong labor unions that ensure the working class receives the maximum possible share of the value of their labor. Ultimately, we need to cauterize the necks by replacing capitalism with an altogether more equitable system such as libertarian socialism or syndicalism.

The only paths forward are libertarian socialism or syndicalism, because they’re the only paths that will always ensure that the power remains in your hands as members of the working class.  

Nonlibertarian forms of socialism have been attempted repeatedly, and every time a new ruling class asserts itself, and attempts to divorce the working class from the value of their own labor.  

Syndicalism has also been tried, and repeatedly it’s demonstrated itself as an effective means of distributing power amongst the entire working class.  The effectiveness displayed by syndicalism is why capitalists have repeatedly attempted to stamp it out under jackboot and truncheon.  And the effectiveness of syndicalism is why it can never die.  Syndicalism and libertarian socialism will be our path forward.

I won’t profess to know the solution, because I don’t.  But I do know that our situation is untenable I, alongside many others, am tired of begging for extra scraps from the capitalist class when we’re the only ones actually doing anything.  We shouldn’t have to beg for scraps, we should just take what’s ours.  And what’s ours is everything, because we created everything. Labor is entitled to all it creates.