Visions of a post-capitalist world and direction for getting there

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Liberation from Capitalism:

Visions of a post-capitalist world and direction for getting there.

Cynthia Kaufman

Table of Contents:

Introduction 3

Chapter 1: What is capitalism and why it is a problem 12

Chapter 2: Ways not to think about anti-capitalism 47

Chapter 3: The reproduction of capitalist processes 68

Chapter 4: Theorizing anti-capitalism 96

Chapter 5: Alternatives to capitalism 107

Chapter 6: Practical steps for building a movement for

liberation from capitalism 135


I first came to political consciousness around the movement to oppose US support for a dictatorial government in El Salvador. At that time, I began reading and talking to people about radical politics. I quickly came to believe that capitalism was a significant aspect of the problems I saw in the world. But almost just as quickly I came to see that talking about capitalism was one of the best ways to get my ideas dismissed as extreme, as in favor of authoritarian communism, or as unrealistic.

In this book I will argue that capitalism is a problem because it allows those with resources to use them without regard for the needs of others. That disregard leads to the destruction of communities, to millions of people around the world not having access to the basic things they need to live healthy lives, and to environmental degradation. It is the primary force responsible for the fact that people do not have time to do what they love. It is the primary force responsible for the devastating forms of inequality we see in our world. It is largely to blame for the slow response we are seeing in facing the global catastrophe being caused by climate change.

Capitalism is a set of economic relations in which private entities control significant economic resources and invest those resources based on the profit motive. Private control over capital for investment becomes a problem when significant amounts of the resources available to society are invested on that basis. It also becomes a problem when cultural and political systems get transformed to primarily serve the private accumulation of profits, such that other ways of living and using resources come to be drowned out. This, I will argue, is what has happened as capitalism has developed. Being against capitalism does not necessarily make one opposed to all uses of market mechanisms, trade, or entrepreneurship. In Chapter 4 I will argue that each of those things can play a positive role in an economy, under the right circumstances.

It is virtually impossible for those living in a capitalist society to not be deeply implicated into it: to find pleasures in buying consumer products, to enjoy forms of culture that are brought to us through the commercial media, to experience desire as desire for something to buy. We spend many of our waking ours at work and much of our leisure time shopping and consuming commercial culture. No matter how anti-capitalist one is, if you live in a society dominated by capitalism, you will probably need to work for a wage. Capitalism is a central part of the fabric of society we inhabit. Capitalist ways of desiring live deeply within us. They help structure our interactions with the most intimate people in our lives. We express love by buying things for people. We judge people by the products they use.

When market logics dominate society, when all other ways of meeting our needs are devalued and pushed out, when governments operate to serve the interests of privately owned capital, rather than the needs of people, we have a serious problem, and I call that problem capitalism.

In the year 2000, bowing to demands of the World Bank, the Bolivian government attempted to privatize the water supply of the city of Cochabamba, putting the water system in the hands of a private consortium, Aguas del Tunari, led by the multinational corporation Bechtel. Once Aguas del Tunari took over, they immediately raised water rates 35%. Now people who were making $70 per month were paying $20 per month for water. Immediately after the imposition of the rate hike, people took to the streets. They closed down the city of Cochabamba in a general strike that lasted four days. Protests spread throughout the country. One of the organizations involved in the protests was the party Movimiento al Socialismo, whose candidate, Evo Morales became the countries president in 2005. 1

The actions in Cochabamba were an important inspiration for the protests against the World Trade Organization at its meeting in Seattle in 1999. People working to challenge things like privatization and globalization have tended to not talk much about capitalism in their organizing. For many years they talked solely about globalization. Later it became corporate globalization, or neoliberalism. The movement was anti-globalization and then shifted to being pro-global justice. Many within that movement have more recently begun to name capitalism as their antagonist.

The critique of capitalism has grown as people within the global justice movement have come to see how the problems they are fighting against are linked together. You cannot raise wages in one country without having corporations move operations to another. When a movement succeeds in gaining more resources to be allocated for health care or schools for the poor, governments are often overthrown, or pressured by transnational organizations, such as the IMF and World Bank, to roll back those gains.

Similarly, around the world, and especially among the middle class, strong sentiments are developing against corporations and in favor of locally grown food, environmentally friendly inventions, and small-scale locally oriented economies. There is quite a bit of promise in the social forms that are developing out of those sentiments. Rural agriculture that is environmentally and socially sustainable, is flourishing in many places where it had been destroyed. People are using their creative energies to develop new technologies to help us make the transition to a post-petroleum economy. And people are trying to develop ways of organizing towns and cities that encourage walking, a sense of community, and a sense of being a part of a place.

Those initiatives are developing in important ways, and usually without any analysis of the nature of capitalism. Because I believe that capitalist processes surround those projects, and form powerful systems of constraints in which those projects operate, I believe that people in those movements would benefit from a look at the ways that capitalism operates.

Transnational institutions such as the WTO set the terms of world trade in ways that favor transnational corporations over small and local ones. National governments almost always adopt policies, such as farm subsidy policies, which favor large multi-national corporations. And people will find it hard to afford locally grown food when food is distributed through a market that is shaped by the interests of those corporations, such as Archer Daniels Midland, which control almost all of the world’s food supply. The US government still subsidizes agribusiness. And as of this writing, it still subsidizes oil more than it does alternative forms of energy.

To the extent that people in movements to improve people’s lives understand the forces they are up against, they will be able develop more powerful strategies for shaping the context in which their projects are growing. People in those movements who have been armed with a clear understanding of how capitalism works are better able to anticipate the consequences of their actions and to understand who are likely allies, who needs to be pressured, and who should not be trusted. They are also better armed with an understanding of where the lies and manipulations are in the dominant stories that are told to justify various policies. Understanding capitalism as a phenomenon and having some sense of the likely linkages between things that happen in the political and economic worlds can help us orient our work for a better world.

This doesn’t mean that those working for a better world should always talk about capitalism as a problem. Sometimes naming capitalism is a tactical error. It can lead to marginalization. But a clear understanding of the context in which we operate can help us in important ways to build more powerful political movements. And often discussing capitalism as a phenomenon is important for helping people to see the ways that the problems they experience in the world are interrelated.

And yet, paradoxically, I have also found that among people who understand the ways that capitalism is devastating to our lives, the analysis of capitalism that they use often does not foster creative thinking about practical steps to take in the here and now to challenge it. Opponents of capitalism tend to see it a system so tightly linked that it operates as an organic whole. Seeing capitalism as an organic whole leads to the view that the only way to challenge it is to shatter that whole and begin to create a new society from scratch.

I began the line of inquiry developed in this book when I want to a talk in 1993 given by the geographer Julie Graham. The main point of her talk was to claim that anti-capitalists should follow feminists in seeing their task as pushing back on practices they were opposed to rather than as overthrowing a system. Much of Graham’s work, along with that of her writing partner Kathy Gibson, has been about showing the power and variety of ways that we meet our needs in society right now that are not based on capitalism. We take care of our own needs through making things at home and through sharing with friends. Governments take care of many of our needs with schools, public transportation, and in some countries, health care. People work and produce things in worker owned cooperatives. Gibson and Graham claim that more than half of the labor performed in the US takes place in forms of production that are not based on the profit motive.2

Before hearing that talk, I had believed capitalism to be a serious problem, but I also had thought that the times were just not right for challenging it. After all, at that time, capitalism was booming; the idea of socialism had been thoroughly discredited; and the only people who talked about opposing capitalism, talked about trying to foster a revolution to overthrow it. They and their analysis seemed wildly unrealistic.

For me it was a breath of fresh air to be able to see that there are realistic alternatives to capitalism, that we thrive in those alternatives right now, and that society can be transformed such that those alternatives can become stronger and more predominant in our lives. 3 Their approach allowed me to imagine a world without capitalism, and the opening of that imaginary space gave me the courage to look at organizing against capitalism as a realistic possibility.

This book makes the case that it is important to analyze capitalism to help us to understand the interrelated nature of social phenomena; that without the concept of capitalism it is easy to miss important connections and without understanding those connections, our politics will be less productive. It also makes the case that we need to think in some new ways about the nature of capitalism. This book theorizes capitalism as a set of practices that are interrelated, but not tightly structured. This way of theorizing it opens the possibility for a radical transformation in how we approach challenging capitalism.

This book makes the case for seeing capitalism as a set of interrelated practices, but also makes that case that we should see those connections for what they are, and not overstate the extent to which they are fused together. We need to develop ways of conceptualizing capitalism that render it solid enough for patterns to be revealed, and yet open enough to show the places where it is vulnerable.

The French philosopher Michelle Le Doeuff argues that all theoretical ideas are ultimately based on images, and those images are core to the structure of the idea.4 Following Jacques Lacan, she calls this “the imaginary.” When an image comes to be widely held within a group it is a part of the imaginary of that group. Metaphors and images are central to the way we understand and use concepts, and if we use the wrong metaphors and images, our thoughts can be structured in ways that are less than helpful.

One of the core claims of this book is that we should replace the dominant anti-capitalist imaginary according to which capitalism is a system that should be overthrown, with the image of capitalism as a set of interrelated practices that need to pulled out from the tapestry that is our social world.

Capitalist elements of the social fabric need to be pulled out and replaced with other social forms. The pulling, cutting and reweaving that need to take place, must happen at many social locations. Pulling threads on one place often causes holes on other places, and as we reweave society we need to attend to the short term problems our actions can create, and we need to create a better world while still inhabiting the fabric of the one we want to challenge.

We are constantly making and remaking society though our everyday interactions. The image of reweaving a tapestry is intended to bring to mind the idea, of a constant remaking, of the intimate nature of capitalist processes, and of the ways that change on a macro scale is made up of changes on a micro scale. I follow the ideas outlined in Pierre Bourdieu's The Logic of Practice, where he claims that social structures are something we live through, and which are constructed by the every day practices of those who inhabit those structures.5

Overthrowing a system brings to mind the image of solid and distinct thing, standing on its own, that can be knocked down. I will argue that this way of looking at capitalism is not very helpful. Rather, we should see capitalism as a set of practices, implicated into and structuring an immense variety of aspects of life. And destroying it will be more a matter of transforming all of those networks than of overturning a structure. The image of overthrow encourages a politics that looks for fulcrums and tipping points.

I would like to replace that image with one of a set of projects before us that take place on a variety of completely different social locations all at the same time, with an undetermined sense of how all of those operations will come together to achieve their ultimate goal. We can push back against the devastations caused by capitalism from where we are right now. As capitalism is pushed back, life can become better in the short term as we build toward a total elimination of the practices we call capitalism.

Sometimes political movements involve creative thought. There are marvelous moments when people challenging systems of power spend all night talking about what they’re doing and, with their friends in struggle, come up with concepts that capture the meaning of what they’re doing. When people are actively thinking about what they’re doing, the concepts they use are likely to be expressive of what they are trying to accomplish. The desires and intentions of the movement come to have a focus and richness that inspires and guides.

Movements often then go into periods of elaboration, where the foundations and pathways forged in those crucible moments come to be accepted as given. In those times, people often shun ideas, and carry on using the ideas that were formed in the crucible. For a while the ideas usually work just fine. Later they can come to weigh a movement down and keep it from responding in new ways to new circumstances.

Those advocating for a world free from the devastations caused by capitalism are working in a time of incredible ferment, after many years of dormancy. Possibilities for making a difference and making connections are developing at an unprecedented rate. And yet, the categories we are using remain deeply fossilized. This book attempts to break that fossilization in order to facilitate deeper forms of praxis, where our theory resonates with and helps inform our practice, and where our practice informs our theory. With a fresh understanding of what we are doing we are much more likely to be able to build a politics that is effective at liberating our world from capitalism.

Chapter 1: What is capitalism and why it is a problem

While few see capitalism as a cause, it is widely understood that we are facing serious problems in the world. 1.37 billion people are living on less than $1.22 per day.6 Income inequality in the world is growing at an alarming rate with the top 20 percent of the world’s population receiving 70-90 percent of global income, and the bottom 20 percent receiving 1 to 2 percent.7 For the one billion people at the bottom, that means barely meeting caloric intakes, no access to clean water, almost no access to modern medical care, no real prospects for a better future, and an average life span of forty years.8

In the U.S., as in many other nations, the political system is dominated by money: anyone wishing to get elected to public office must spend vast quantities of money to get elected, and their reelection requires them to give those big donors what they paid for. The principle of “one person, one vote” gets subordinated to the more powerful principle of “one million dollars, one million units of influence.”

Global warming is threatening to radically disrupt all forms of life on our planet. In the 1990s Exxon-Mobil spent millions of dollars to sow in the US public a sense of doubt about the level of certainty surrounding scientific claims about global warming.9 And as we begin to deal with making the transition to a carbon free economy, the oil industry continues to receive billions of dollars worth of government subsidies. As I am writing this, that same industry is working hard to undermine national legislation designed to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

For some, these kinds of problems are caused by “bad capitalism.” In his book, Capitalism’s Achilles Heel: Dirty Money and How to Renew the Free-market System, international businessman Raymond W. Baker acknowledges that the world’s current form of capitalism has resulted in severe inequality and poverty. He believes that the major contributor to that outcome is what he calls “dirty money.” That is: money from illegal transactions, including such things as drug money, but also, and more importantly, all forms of tax evasion, and illegal accounting tricks. He argues persuasively that this dirty money results $500 billion a year “of illegal proceeds streaming out of poor countries.” Baker claims that for every $1 in aid that is given to the poor counties of the world $10 is taken out through illegal financial flows.10

And yet Baker is a deeply pro-capitalist thinker. He would like for us to return to the form of capitalism envisioned by Adam Smith, the author of both the Wealth of Nations, and Moral Sentiments.

The foundation of Smith’s philosophy rests on his view that man is “fitted by nature” to subsist “only in society,” that is in the company of others. All members of humanity’s ranks “stand in need of each other’s assistance.” Through interlocking obligations afforded out of love, gratitude, friendship, and esteem, “society flourishes and is happy.”

Baker emphasizes the Smith who believed that all people should live well, and that a market based economic system was one means to prosperity.

Adam Smith was as smart, decent, and generous as any other figure in the past millennium. Observing the perversion of his core concepts would not enrage him: that was an emotion he did not exhibit. It would however, deeply, deeply grieve him. Enormous concentrations of income, while billions of people are left behind in poverty, is exactly the outcome he sought to avoid.

And yet, nothing in Baker’s book explains why those with resources, who are getting wealthier and more powerful off of the forms of devastation he describes so well would choose to give away the power and wealth they have worked so hard to accumulate. I will argue in this book that the “bad capitalism” Baker describes is intimately linked with the “good capitalism” of Adam Smith.

Our present system of capitalism allows those with resources the freedom to use those resources as they please, including influencing political systems, buying media, transforming social policy to favor themselves, and leaving those without resources no moral claim to, and no practical means to gaining, what they need to survive.

This chapter begins with a discussion of the capitalist imaginary: the ways that people experience the world under forms of capitalist domination, and the ways that capitalism comes to look like something natural and inevitable in societies dominated by capitalist practices. It then develops an analysis of the ways that capitalism operates and the problems it causes.

Critiques of capitalism are frequently met with a quick retort that we are shouldn’t bother to challenge capitalism because there is no alternative.11 One of the goals of this book is to develop a clear understanding of the nature of capitalism, and in the process to open up space for imagining the alternatives to capitalism that already exist all around us, and to develop strategies for expanding the non-capitalist realities that many of us already live. The view that we are surrounded by viable alternatives to capitalism is developed in Chapter 4.

The Capitalist Imaginary

Very few of the billions of people who are stuck in mind-numbingly boring jobs, with no sense that they can get out of their situations conceptualize that experience as caused by capitalism. Their pains are more likely comprehended, and therefore lived, as the results of personal failure, bad luck, or bad managers and bosses. Many of the parents who come home from work just in time to say good night to their children carry a heavy burden of guilt and loss. The pain makes them wonder if they have made the right personal choices for their families.

The rampant destruction of many towns in the US by developers building giant houses where there once was open land; the strip malls and big box stores that come in an undercut the small town center where people once walked and met each other, are usually blamed on individual developers or just accepted as unfortunate aspects of the way things are.

That many communities of color in the US are ravaged by a lack of economic opportunities and an epidemic of incarceration; that employers are often in a position to mistreat workers on the basis of their sexual identity; that millions of people in the US have no access to health care; that people without cars are often stuck in the suburbs without access to transportation or to a sense of community; are problems rarely associated with capitalism.

When the US goes to war saying it needs to free some people from a brutal dictator, few see capitalism’s ugly handprint on the decision of which dictator to take down when or on the policies that put that dictator in power in the first place.

In all of these cases, there are social processes underlying the problems people experience. The problems are interrelated, and the concept “capitalism" can be helpful for understanding the nature of those interrelations. And yet people don’t experience these things as part of capitalism, and so they don’t experience capitalism as the destructive force it is in their lives.

Before the consciousness-raising phase of the second wave of the women’s movement, many heterosexual women assumed that their frustrations about who would do housework were the result of individual failings of themselves or their male partner. Feminist concepts helped them to put their experiences into a framework that was helpful for seeing a way forward in addressing the problems. Similarly, many people living under capitalism understand the devastation capitalism causes in their lives as caused by bad luck, their own personal weaknesses, some particular bad institution or person. They might blame immigrants for taking their jobs. They might believe that a return to family values will restore a sense of community and meaning to their lives. They might believe that locking people of color up in prisons will make them feel safer.

Our experiences are deeply mediated by the ideas we believe, and a significant part of anti-capitalist organizing has to be to make these connections so that it is easier to experience capitalism as the problem, I will argue, it is. Antonio Gramsci, the great twentieth century Italian Marxist Philosopher, developed the concept hegemony to make sense of the relationship between the ways we experience the world and the political processes underlying that experience. He argued that proponents of a system of domination develop ways of making the world make sense and making the domination seem to be a part of the things that people love and want. For him, a crucial part of political organizing has to be challenging dominant forms of hegemony and developing new ways to understand the world, or counter-hegemonies.12

Writing in Italy in the early part of the twentieth century. Gramsci saw that the Catholic Church answered people’s needs for a sense of meaning and order in the world. But it also helped people to understand the world in ways that would encourage them to accept a very authoritarian political system, and an unequal economic system. The church was able to satisfy people’s needs for meaning while also making them docile and ready to accept ruling class interests. Gramsci saw that the challenge for the communist movement was to find new ways to make the world make sense to people such that they would see that their interests were in conflict with the interests of the ruling class.

According to Gramsci’s theory of hegemony and counter-hegemony, challenging idea systems is a crucial part of political practice. His theory implies that arguing for an alternative point of view requires more than simply making rational arguments. People will tend to hold on to dominant ways of seeing the world, in part because the dominant ways of seeing the world are structured to answer some deep desires and needs in their lives.

Capitalism and Democracy

One of the most powerful pulls capitalism has on our imaginations is the idea that it is the historical force that freed Europeans from feudalism and monarchy. The claim is that capitalism is importantly linked with democracy and freedom, and therefore is an important force for giving all of us the possibility of living well and of making important choices in our lives. The next section looks at the relationships between capitalism and democracy.

The thinker most responsible for linking in people’s minds the development of capitalism with ideas of freedom, liberation, democracy, and choice was the seventeenth century British political Philosopher John Locke. Understanding how Locke makes these linkages is helpful for undoing them, and for showing the reality of how capitalism operates in the world.

In his Second Treatise of Government, Locke argued that people are fundamentally individuals. He posits the “state of nature” as a thought experiment through which we are to imagine society as made up of individuals who have no connections with one another. He then asks us to imagine how people would act and what kinds of connections they would agree to in such a state. He concludes that people would trade feely with one another and that they would have a limited form of government to mediate their disputes.13

In Locke’s view, people work best when they are left alone the most. The core premise behind capitalism is that people with resources, such as productive land, factories, and money for investing, should be able to do what they want with them, and that given this freedom they will naturally use them in ways that lead to the development of more wealth.

Locke has been remembered as a person who argued for the value of freedom over the tyranny of feudal monarchy. A more accurate description of his historical significance is that he helped replace one form of domination with another. By arguing for a society based on the freedom of individuals to dispose of their wealth as they please, while erasing the historical memory of processes that leave some people with wealth to dispose of and others with nothing but the freedom to sell themselves as laborers, and by erasing from our consciousness the ways that we are always connected to each other through various forms of interdependence, Locke helped to create the capitalist imaginary.

While capitalism and democracy arose in Europe at the same time, many non-European societies have had high levels of democracy long before the advent of capitalism.14 And, at the time of the rise of capitalism, there were many poor people who argued for an end to feudalism, and the development of communal forms of land ownership.

One of the most well known of these early anti-capitalists was Gerrard Winstanley, who in 1649 led the movement called the diggers in taking over vacant land and farming it communally. In his A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England he wrote to the property owners of his time,

The power of enclosing land and owning property was brought into the creation by your ancestors by the sword; which first did murder their fellow creatures, men, and after plunder or steal away their land, and left this land successively to you, their children. And therefore, though you did not kill or thieve, yet you hold that cursed thing in your hand by the power of the sword….15

When Locke was writing, there were many opponents of feudalism and monarchy. Some of them were pro-capitalist, and some of them, especially those from the poorer classes, were opposed to capitalism from the beginning.

Democracy means rule of the people. Capitalism means the use of private wealth for production and distribution of goods. Historically capitalism and democracy arose in the West at that same time. And yet in many ways capitalism is antagonistic to democracy. In a society dominated by capitalism, those with economic resources can decide where to place factories, and when to ship jobs to a different place. The people whose lives depended on that factory have no say over what the owner does with those jobs. Pro-capitalist thinkers argue that that is fair for the owners and good for society. What they cannot argue is that in such a situation the workers are ruling over themselves. And when large corporations are able to buy candidates and influence the political process, it is also hard to say that the people are ruling.

While the mainstream media often present the spread of capitalism as if it were the same thing as the spread of democracy, that wasn’t the case in Iran in 1953, Chile in 1973, or Russia in the 1990’s. In all of those cases, a move to a “free market” economy was imposed on a population that had voted for something different. And in those cases, brutal force was used to suppress opposition to a transition that many people tried to resist.16 In her book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein gives countless examples of countries in which a “free market” was imposed through the use of force, political manipulation, and terror against a population. Klein argues that extreme versions of free market capitalism have been imposed on millions of people in the later half of the twentieth century, and in every case she shows that the move was devastating to people’s living standards, and that it was imposed against the will of the majority.

In their book, Democracy and Capitalism, economists Sam Bowles and Herbert Gintis argue that the idea of democracy has worked as a powerful motivator for social change ever since the 1600’s in Europe. What began as a concept applied in minimal ways to the interactions between free landowning males, has been extended over time. It has been a powerful tool in the hands of the oppressed for making claims for a better life. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the concept of democracy helped legitimize the claims for racial justice, for justice for women, for gays and lesbians, and for the disabled.

Bowles and Gintis hope that by showing the ways that capitalism is inimical to democracy, they will help motivate a movement for the extension of democracy into the economy. And they believe that this extension is incompatible with capitalism. Capitalism puts people into a situation where they must sell their ability to work for a wage, and in this selling they give up their ability to control their everyday lives. Capitalism also puts important social decisions in the hands of those who control capital, and keeps society as a whole from being able to influence those decisions in meaningful ways. They argue that “democracy is necessarily a relationship between free people, and economic dependency no less than personal bondage is the antithesis of freedom.”17

They also argue that capitalist culture focuses on the idea what we are all free and independent and that we have the power to chose to enter into contracts, and we have the option to choose who we want to represent us in the state. It discourages us from looking at the ways that our preferences and desires are formed through our interactions with others in society. As a result, people in a capitalist society are socialized to act as the autonomous self-interested rational agents mainstream economic theory claims that we are.

Because a democratic politics relies on voluntary compromise and empathy, it requires at least a minimal identification of the citizen with public life, and with some notion of collective interest.… Far from fostering such a democratic pluralism, liberal capitalism, has produced a political wasteland stretching between the individual and the state.18

Taking this idea one step further, the Argentinian social theorist Néstor García Canclini argues that capitalist advertising and cultural forms encourage us to imagine ourselves a consumers, and to imagine our satisfactions as being met through our consumer choices. This leads to a transformation of identity

from the citizen as a representative of public opinion to the consumer interested in enjoying a particular quality of life. One indication of this change is that argumentative and critical forms of participation cede their place to the pleasure taken in electronic media spectacles where narration or the simple accumulation of anecdote prevails over reasoned solutions to problems.19

And yet, in the capitalist imaginary, the concepts democracy and capitalism are often used as if they were synonyms. Locke helped make that equation through his postulation of the state of nature, through which we imagine human society as an aggregation of individuals with no social bonds, no history, and no connection with one another. When we imagine those individuals as relating to each other through voluntary contacts (I will work for you if you pay me… and even if I have no other possibility to survive except to take your job, I am seen as having chosen the job). We suppose that when those with resources are free to do what they want with those resources, and those without resources are free to do what they like to try to get resources (except of course for taking the property of others). This leads to an image of a society where the freedom of capital is constructed as the freedom of people.

That image requires that we forget the ways in which people come into the world with vastly different resources at their disposal, it also only makes sense if we forget the brutality that capitalism has always required to keep people from working together form unions to advocate for their common needs, the murder of political figures who try to advocate for the needs of the people through democratic openings in the political system, and the force which was imposed on people in the early days of capitalism through such mechanisms such as England’s poor laws, to make people willing to sell their labor for a wage.

As Larry Lohman puts it,

During the industrial revolution in Europe, many people gained the freedom to move around and sell their labour, but lost the freedom to raise their animals on the commons. Today pension funds managers have the freedom to shunt massive investments from country to country with one or two clicks on a computer mouse, while the citizens of those countries may not have a choice of affordable medicines. Similarly, having the option of driving wherever your want to go can preclude having a choice of getting access to amenities without a car, and eliminates the choice of having keeping urban areas distinct from rural areas. It may also narrow the choices of ordinary people in the Niger delta, or herders along the Chad-Cameroon pipeline.20

The economic historian, Karl Polanyi wrote in his classic 1944 critique of capitalism, The Great Transformation: the Political and Economic Origins of our Time, that the concept of freedom has degenerated into

mere advocacy of free enterprise… This means fullness of freedom for those whose income, leisure, and security need no enhancing, and a mere pittance of liberty for the people, who try in vain attempt to make use of their democratic rights to gain shelter from the power of the owners of property.21

While Locke was just one of the many theorists who laid the groundwork for capitalist hegemony, the picture of the world he develops in his explanation of the nature of capitalism remains to this day the core set of images that ground the pro-capitalist imaginary. Locke’s way of looking at the world draws our attention away from the social structures that make it such that certain outcomes are the most likely for some people. Locke’s imaginary helps people not attend to the ways those systems operate in our lives. The idea of the state of nature makes individualism seem to be our natural way and makes interconnections seem to be forced. It also makes buying and selling, or the market, seem to be the most natural way for people to structure their interactions.

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