Rewind: Anti-Capitalism (HUM415)

Ezequiel Adamovsky’s Anti-Capitalism is a pretty straightforward account of capitalism as a social system and the history of movements seeking to undermine or destroy it. What follows is an effort to direct your attention to key passages of this graphic book which should form part of the basis for our conversations in class. As with Marx and Ha-Joon Chang, this text is foundational because it offers both important key concepts and a critical narrative of capitalism.

p. 5 makes the case that capitalism is “an oppressive social system.” You should be able to explain why Adamovsky makes such a claim. It’s necessary to understand capitalist domination not as the direct coercion of a villainous despot, but as the inevitable outcome of a system. In other words, we need to think structurally.

p. 13 addresses the inherent instability of capitalism and the fact that it is crisis-prone. Here Adamovsky introduces the concept of “class struggle,” though not in a way that seems immediately obvious. Power produces resistance to it. The form that resistance takes can vary widely in different circumstances.

p. 15 briefly explores the core institution of capitalism, private property. Remember that property is not so much a thing– a what– as it is a relationship. Private property is basically property of which other people are deprived. The institution of private property lies at the heart of many of the political developments of the 18th and 19th centuries, from its role in the colonization of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, to its ostensible status as the origin point of all political rights (via “natural law”). Yet private property infringes on the public realm. Think of the visual pollution of advertisements, the toxic effluence of factories, the private ownership of the natural world.

On the following page, p. 16, Adamovsky begins a discussion of commodities. You should be able to define what a commodity is and how it relates to labor. As we’ll see in future readings, including Homo Zapiens, we ourselves are the commodities we purchase. Commodification, like privatization, then, is a key constituent of capitalism. Note also the definition of capitalism on p. 17.

p. 18 discusses “original accumulation.” As with Chang, Adamovsky underscores the violence of this form of accumulation, whether by forced enclosures or colonialism.

The role of nation-states in a global economy are of particular significance in any study of capitalism and, indeed, neoliberalism. Looking ahead, we’ll have an opportunity to read an essay by Wood that explains how the nation-state (and, vitally, inequalities between nation-states) is indispensable to the accumulation of capital in a globalized economic environment. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the transnational institutions which govern the global economy (IMF, NATO, CNN, etc.) as listed on p. 25.

One of the truisms of capitalism is that it must expand in order to survive. If capital is not growing, it is dying. The question confronting economists is how to ensure that this growth takes place. The State plays an important role in this process, as do less obvious mechanisms such as credit and what we might call the “internal colonization” of the human imagination by consumerism.

On p. 37 Adamovsky argues that democracy has been captured by capitalism. Clearly, in the political atmosphere post-Citizens United wealth equals influence. In a meaningful way, the basic two-party structure of US (pseudo-) democracy is structured to benefit capital rather than people. In November, the US will witness the most expensive election in its history. In fact, given the fallacy enshrined in law by the Supreme Court that money equals speech, every election from now on will be the most expensive in US history.

One question to ask is why people allow this state of affairs not only to persist but to deepen. Briefly, we can say that hegemony, ideology, and culture all play a role in creating capitalist subjects. We’ll be discussing these ideas in greater detail in weeks to come, but for now you should be able to articulate a basic definition of the former two.

The second section of the book, “From Resistance to Anti-Capitalism,” offers a thumbnail sketch of social movements across a long arc of history. Familiarize yourself with the critical moments in this tradition. The rise of Haiti as the world’s only successful slave revolt, the development of humanism, feminism, anti-imperialism, and even the abortive attempt to create state communism in the USSR are all part of a legacy of human freedom struggles. This is a history that we are encouraged to remain ignorant of or miseducated about, primarily because the collective will to transcend a repressive (even if comfortable for some) status quo is always seen to be dangerous. Pay particular attention to Adamovsky’s criticisms of the Soviet model and his remarks (p. 82) on neoliberalism and “the end of history.”

The next section of the book, “10 differences between the traditional left and the new anti-capitalism” further demonstrates that the old models of anti-capitalist politics are largely defunct even as they provide some degree of inspiration and some sense of belonging for contemporary radicals. Note key concepts such as autonomy, horizontalism, and multiplicity. Note also tactics like direct action and civil disobedience. (Neither of which is new, though as Adamovsky argues, their usefulness is contingent on the specific situation to be addressed).

There follows a survey of various new anti-capitalist movements and groups that are effective and active right now. We might even include Occupy as a “headless” movement that has burst onto the scene then subsided. In my view it’s way too soon to write Occupy’s epitaph. Social movements often take a long time to coalesce. Rome wasn’t built (or burnt) in day.

The last section of the book presents ideas and proposals but not programs. The bottom line for anti-capitalism is that no fairy godmother is going to come along to tell us all what to do.

If, having read Adamovksy’s book, you recoil in horror– that’s fine. No one is required to become anti-capitalist in this class. Instead, remember the basic focus of our inquiries– a narrative that is seldom addressed in any sustained, imaginative, or informed manner: the dark side of global capitalism. If you evince a fluency with the ideas broached and an ability to work with them, you’ll have discharged your fundamental obligation as a student of this course.