An attempt to explain capitalism, alienation and commodity-fetishism in simple language, for all you newly radicalised youth (and aged!) out there. Smashing stuff up on the streets and fighting cops is all very well, but learning how to express good arguments for why you’re doing it can take a long time and a lot of work. To me, it’s well worth it, and i hope this can help some other people along the way:
What do we mean by capitalism?
A society in which capital is the most powerful agency – a society dictated by capital.
What then, do we mean by capital?
Money spent with the intention of making more money, through investment in profitable enterprise. Thus, capital by it’s definition must constantly expand.
How is it possible to for capital to expand? How can you get more money out of something than you put in? How can you get more value out of something than you put in?
Only if you buy something that creates value by itself, thereby increasing the total value of everything else you’ve bought.
So what creates value?
In a word: Labour. Human labour transforms material things, making them more useful, or at least seemingly more valuable to other human beings.
But how can you buy human labour?
Only if there’s someone willing to sell it.
And why would anybody sell their labour just to make someone else rich?
Only if they have no other choice.
Why do they not have a choice? Why can’t they just work for themselves, or with other people on an equal basis?
Because the means of production belong to someone else.
What are the “means of production”?
All the material things you need to produce other things, or to add value to existing things. Factories, machinery, tools, even the earth itself, the soil, the minerals, the water.
If the means of production include the earth itself, why do they not belong to everyone?
Because for thousands of years armed hierarchical groups have violently taken control of almost the entire world, fighting amongst themselves for control and enslaving the rest of humanity by denying it access to nature.
If the majority of us are the slaves of these murderers and thieves who deny us access to the earth’s resources, why do we not rise up against this injustice?
Sometimes we do. But so far our efforts have not been successful. We have not managed to join forces and become strong enough to overthrow all the various hierarchies that exist. And many of us do not even realise we are slaves.
How is it possible for people to be slaves and not realise?
Because they are pacified and hypnotised by the very things that their slavery helps to produce: commodities.
What is a commodity?
Commodities are material objects that we exchange money for, or sometimes just the promise of a material object, a digital substitute for a material object, or a “service” that is sold as if it’s a material thing.
Why do commodities hypnotise people?
Because when we buy them we do not usually know anything about how they were produced, or by who, so we don’t see them directly as products of an oppressive system. We just see them in their commodity form. They seem almost magical, as if they’ve come from nowhere just for us, especially because they people selling them usually try to make them seem that way. But usually they stop being magical as soon as we have actually bought them.
If they stop being magical when we’ve bought them, why don’t we see through the illusion?
Because there are always many more commodities on the horizon. We are surrounded by people trying to sell them to us. We see images of them everywhere, and hear poetic descriptions of them everywhere. All these millions of lies about commodities combine into one massive spectacle which hides the true nature of society from us.
How can we fight against the spectacle?
In many ways. We can highlight the lies behind the magical appearance of commodities by showing people the real conditions of production. We can remind people that material things can be viewed in other ways than the commodity form. We can remind people that they are slaves, and that they have a right to the fruits of nature without having to pay for them.
What happens if people stop believing in the spectacle?
More of them will be able to see who their enemies and oppressors are. They will not see their bosses as useful people who give them wages to buy magical commodities with, and instead see them as oppressors who exploit them. They will see the armed hierarchies that keep the means of production away from them as tyrants denying them of their birthright, and forcing them to earn wages to survive rather than live freely. They will want to fight against Capital and Hierarchy. And hopefully, one day, they will win.