From ‘nowhere’ to ‘now here’: strategies for getting to a Post Capitalist world
.. it has become easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.
We have all read Jameson’s quote by now— it has become easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism . That said the majority of citizens in the US are uncomfortable with the country’s economic foundation. We all know our system of capitalism is holding us trapped in this pyramid scheme, but at the same time, we seem to lack the ability to imagine how it ends, or what comes next. No wonder we are all on anxiety meds. Do we try to save capitalism or build something else? It seems evidence from what humans have achieved in our relatively short existence, that we can do much better than to propagate a system which underlies some of our most rampant issues. Here I describe a few of the strategies that I have read about for how we can move beyond our current system. This post is only about the potential means of getting to a post capitalist world. The next post will be about potential goals.
Perhaps the issue is a lack of imagination
I think it’s fair to say that capitalism has served us beneficially in many ways, but it has also ravaged our planet and social systems. Yet when it comes to imagining what a postcapitalist future looks like, or how we might conceive of getting there, I am often met with ‘oh this is just the way humans are, humans are naturally competitive’, ‘we can’t change things this big’, ‘it’s too hard’ and other apathies. Imagine if we said this about cancer! ‘Oh it’s just natural to die of cancer, it’s too hard to try not to, we’ll never overcome it’. But of course we do not say this. We direct a huge proportion of human efforts and coordinated intelligence, to first deal with the symptoms of cancer, and then to develop cures. As the XF’s have said ‘If nature is unjust, change nature!’. One part of the issue is that we are not really applying our creativity. All too often when I talk about our world, I notice that people have the most incredible imagination for the future — for life extension, for colonising space and beyond, for enhancing our neural capacity and meat puppets in order to get to a posthuman world. But when it comes to figuring out social innovations — human governance, managing inequality, or creating alternative forms of economy to better serve all people and this planet — well people are stumped.
“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. 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, and very often in our art, the art of words.” — Ursula Le Guin.
We either let cultural evolution do it’s thing, and I imagine that things could get a lot worse, or we can get on with intentionally exploring what futures might lie ahead. This might involve various states, of social and cultural prefigurative ideation, principle design — creating a unified message, exploring new norms, experimentation — enacting ideas in the real world, cultural shift — disseminating information to the rest of the world, bringing people into the fold, changing existing power structures from within and ultimately, a formal, if not gradual takeover of power. Here I try and list some of the proposed mechanisms of change that I have encountered.
Strategy # 1. The People’s take over
Reclaiming the means of production from private ownership has been a long standing goal for many of us trying to really get at the root causes of inequality. Benefits to privatization have been hailed to include things such as profit incentive to cut costs, increase efficiency, and maintain a lack of political interference. The downsides for society as a whole are raging however, and this is one core tenant of our capitalist mode of life, which here we are aiming to move beyond. When our goods and services are owned by individuals or corporations, instead of being owned and ran collectively, capitalist proponents argue that the services get worse and are subject to abuse etc etc. In the case of things such as education, water, health care and transportation, profit motive should be less important an objective than the public good.
That said, capitalism, despite the damage it has wreaked on equity, democracy and the environment, has done amazing things for us in terms of generating huge centralised systems and services that are extremely efficient. As Phillips & Rozworski state in their forthcoming book: “The largest planned economy in history is not the USSR, but the combined might of Amazon and Walmart”. — The People’s Republic of Walmart: How the World’s Biggest Corporations are Laying the Foundation for Socialism. So what if ‘we the people’ were able to take over ownership of these incredible monolithic products of capitalism?
In 2017 Uber requested that the SEC change the rules of ownership to allow them to offer their drivers equity in the company. This year saw the same move from AirBnB. Whilst neither of them have actually taken this as form action, this is the first sign of huge corporations forging a new path of shared ownership. Such a reversal of ownership from corporations back to the public is one way that we can get beyond capitalist modes. In this way we might see capitalistism as an early phase that built us the very tools that we needed to live in a well distributed and efficient post-capitalist world.
Cooperatives are one form of this. Co-ops are projects and organisations that are jointly owned, democratically controlled enterprises, that advance the economic, social, and cultural interests of their members. They often emerge during moments of crisis not unlike our present one, putting people in charge of the workplaces, credit unions, grocery stores, healthcare, and utilities they depend on. But co-ops are not necessarily an alternative to capitalism, just a different mode of ownership — they are still engaging in capitalist relations when they face outward, in order to form a co-op, they must rent or purchase a property, which involves participating financially in the capitalist system. Internally, they can choose to exchange food and services in alternative ways, such as through shared owned ownership of the enterprise, or non-monetary incentives. However if they were widespread enough, this would be a viable way out of the tyranny of Capitalism.
Strategy # 2. The (real) sharing economy & peer to peer shenanigans
Capitalism can be defined as a system under which goods or a services are universally produced for the purpose of exchange and profit, as opposed to produced in order to be used. In real world terms, this is the difference between me making a jar of jam to eat, versus me making a jar of jam to sell to someone else. One way to move beyond capitalist means of relations then, is to prioritise the production of things for the consumption and use of those things, instead of for the purpose of exchange for profit. This is where peer to peer comes in. In a P2P network interconnected nodes or peers share resources amongst each other without the use of a centralized administrative system, cutting out the middleman so to speak.
However, we don’t want to go back to the old days where everyone had to grow their own tomatoes and most people died of malnutrition because of a lack of diverse reliable food options. So what does a viable future look like under this theory of change?
The sharing economy is “an economic model often defined as a peer to peer (P2P) based activity of acquiring, providing or sharing access to goods and services that are facilitated by a community based on-line platform.” We have to be skeptical of this one. There are plenty of articles writing about how the ‘sharing economy’, is just the next bastion of capitalism, how it is propping up capitalism and so on. For the most part the ‘sharing economy’ is not really sharing in the way we are taught it in school — share a toy, share half your sandwich, all done in the spirit of generosity and goodwill. There is no abolition of private property or mass communal ownership (commoning), but instead it is moving us towards the conversion of owner products and goods into rented services, fueling the the increasingly precarious gig economy. Renting and waged labour, are simply rebranded under the ‘sharing economy’, a phenomenon known as ‘sharewashing’ by Anthony Kalamar.
However there are others who believe that a sharing economy built on different principles might bring forth alternatives to capitalism. Ouishare and Shareable, are grassroots movements centered around collaboration, sustainability and equality. For these groups, the real sharing economy consists of cooperatives, open source software and hardware, crowdfunding, and the maker movement — a social movement which enables individuals to create products, challenging the dominant systems of large-scale industrial manufacturing. See more here.
Strategy # 3. Prefigurative politics
“Wini Breines, a professor of sociology, provides one of the clearest descriptions of prefigurative politics, as focused on participatory democracy. An “ongoing opposition to hierarchical and centralized organization that requires a movement that develops and establishes relationships and political forms that “prefigure” the egalitarian and democratic society that it seeks to create”. PP are integrally connected to the notion of community, in the form of networks of relationships that are more direct, more total, and more personal than the formal, abstract, and instrumental relationships that characterize contemporary state and society. These new relationships meld together the public and private spheres of life and are to be embodied in the non-capitalist and communitarian counter-institutions forged by the movement. Prefigurative politics sit in counter position to “strategic politics,” at the center of which are “strategic thinking” and the commitment to build formal organizations to achieve major structural changes in the political, economic, and social orders.”
Prefigurative politics, then, are central for radically free and democratic social change. Prefigurative politics are important for developing (a) revolutionary subjects with the powers and capacities needed to organize a radically free and democratic society; (b) revolutionary subjects with the required needs and motivations to work to bring such a society about; and (b) this sort of socialist consciousness.
// The personal, the micro-revolution:
“The state is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution, but is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently.” — Gustav Landauer
Of course, to some extent, politics starts with the individual, with ourselves, with our local environment. There is always imo the danger believing that this is enough, but in the end, it’s a necessary but sufficient step. We have internalised systems of control. Perhaps then, in order to dismantle these, we have to destroy them inside of us first. “Emancipation does not allow for prescriptions or model; it is a process that is always unfinished and must be experienced individually.” — Zibechi. But as the formidable Jessa Crispin reminds us — self care is only revolutionary, if you are a revolutionary (Soft digest of that here), so we mustn’t be fooled by those who would tell us to just follow our instincts and manifest love and to choose our destiny is emancipatory in and of itself.
But how to change yourself? Massimo de Angelis argues that while the commons are not inherently emancipatory, they provide a space-time ‘marked by the logic of emancipation”, in other words, the commons are a collectively produces climate that is conducive to emancipation. The “.. Commons are emancipatory, only when their practices are emancipatory”. So yes, we change ourselves, but we help ourselves do that when we change in common, collectively, when we explore and change our environment and our norms. Commoning then, if you are a post capitalist, is a great place to start.
“In facing up to the many profound crises of our time, we face a conundrum that has no easy resolution: how are we to imagine and build a radically different system while living within the constraints of an incumbent system that aggressively resists transformational change? Our challenge is not just articulating attractive alternatives, but identifying credible strategies for actualizing them. ‘Commoning’ refers to acts of mutual support, conflict, negotiation, communication and experimentation that are needed to create systems to manage shared resources. This process blends production (self provisioning), governance, culture, and personal interests into one integrated system.
Commoners are focused on reclaiming their “common wealth,” in both the material and political sense. They want to roll back the pervasive privatization and marketization of their shared resources — from land and water to knowledge and urban spaces — and reassert greater participatory control over those resources and community life. They wish to make certain resources inalienable — protected from sale on the market and conserved for future generations. This project — to reverse market enclosures and reinvent the commons — seeks to achieve what state regulation has generally failed to achieve: effective social control of abusive, unsustainable market behavior.” — David Bollier, Commoning as a Transformative Social Paradigm
// The Social Revolution & Cultural Shift
One of the things that the commons provides is a space-time in which to change our norms and our environments, and in doing so, change ourselves also. Going one step further is to use the commons to shift our culture, to change social reproduction. The idea here, is that even if we pressed a big red button and like magic, every human had the same amount of wealth and quality of life (or access to what they need — forget about inflation etc, this is a thought experiment), we would still see inequality arise over generations, because financial capital is only one way that we pass on privilege to the next generation in an unequal manner. Social reproduction is a specific term that refers to the structures, activities, processes and attitude that maintain and transmit social inequality from one generation to generation.
There are four areas of focus on shifting in order to alter the cross generational reproduction of inequality: (1) personal wealth, which influences one’s (2) culture (beliefs, values, knowledge — how ‘woke’ you are etc). Culture then influences the (3) type and extent of education, training and skills one acquires , which in turn influences one’s access to and influence over (4) social networks. Respectively, these are financial, cultural, human and social capital and together they contribute to social reproduction — keeping people in the social class into which they were born. (For more, read Pierre Bourdieu ( 1986 ) The Forms of Capital).
If these are the factors that calcify social stratification, these are each sites of activism also. How we do alter social reproduction? I think this is where home can be a site of radical exploration and experimentation. For me this is where commoning and the communes have been a rich source of learnings and become a platform for altering social reproduction. In their book —Omnia Sunt Communia: On the Commons and the Transformation to Postcapitalism - de Angelis discusses in more detail how the commons can be a “field of power relation — shared space, objects, and subjects — that explode the limits of daily life under capitalism” and talks directly to the role of radical commoning in the shifting of social reproduction.
For more strategy, read “Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentring Oppression”, an edited anthology that looks at “issues such as childcare, healthcare, education, family life, and the roles of gender, race, and sexuality — all of which are central to understanding the relationship between exploitation and social oppression, [..] in order for us to better understand social relations and how to improve them in the fight against structural oppression”.
// Just do something different
We can’t possibly predict the outcomes of what we do, but the important thing is not to just do what we are told to do and not all just do the same as everyone else. Doing this simply ensures the reproduction of whatever we already have going on. In genetic evolution, we understand that we need random mutations to allow for our biological systems to explore and discover upgrades, fixes, advantages. In biology a genetic monopoly would be devastating for adaptiveness. I’d argue the same is true for culture. We tend to iterate on cultural factors, which is very different from random mutations. This is where play comes in, challenging your biases, get outside of your bubble. Try a radically different aesthetic. Explore your gender, even if it doesn’t feel urgent. Experiment with your language and styles of communication. Explore different kinds of relationships, explore your sexuality, your living situations, everything. Not in the name of self improvement or increased productivity, but to challenge yourself to understand why you do the things you do, and how that might shift. Break out of the exoskeleton that you have inherited and shape shift. Consider what kind of person you would like to be, not just for you but for this species, and try and get there, even if you have to fake it till you make it.
// Creating the Autonomous Zone
There are some existing alternatives out there that are already being built. There is a lot to learn from what they have done, how they got there, the mistakes they have made and what their wins are. We should be supporting these diverse experiments and sharing from their learnings. Marinaleda, the Zapatistas, ZED, there are numerous forms of “postcapitalist” indigenous communalisms (see Gibson Graham postcap book).
“By asserting and creating multiple other ways of being in the world, these movements rob capital [or the state] of its monopolalistic and singular definitions of time, space and value, thereby destroying its hegemony, while at the same time furnishing new tools to address the complex set of problematic power relations it confronts us with from particular and embedded locations”. — Osterweil 2004
Strategy # 4. Accelerate
We must acknowledge the accelerationist movement here. The pink and sticky of it is this — if Marx was correct, that the internal contradictions of capitalism mean that capitalism untouched cannot sustain itself, then all we have to do is let the Capitalist system eat itself. A bad parasite kills it’s host, a good one keeps it’s host healthy. Perhaps Capitalism is a bad host.
So then there are two strains of thought here: 1) and therefore we don’t need to resist Capitalism, it will destroy itself and we should all focus on what comes next. And 2) therefore the logical thing to do is be as Capitalist as possible to accelerate the process and bring us to the inevitable next stage of our economic evolution.
The issue then is that an post-capitalist accelerationist of the latter category, looks and acts very much the same as a straight up Capitalist actor.
My take here is that, yes, accelerate, but we should be using all our profits and surplus generated under our collective capitalist strategies, to experiment and build the next economic system.
Strategy # 5. Voting and top down modes of change
It is a madness to me, that we are raised to believe it is our right to democratically elect our leaders and our political parties but at no point does anyone teach our young humans that we could change our economic systems. How we do ever go about changing these? We have no mechanism in the way that we do for politics. The best that we can shoot for is voting for political parties that have an eye on our economic systems. There are barely any postcapitalist political parties. However, as we enter a sixth mass extinction and our climate falls into disrepair, we are starting to see political parties that are explicitly critical of capitalist modes of production. The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) whilst not a formal political party is “the largest socialist organization” in the US. They are explicitly anti-capitalist, and they attempt to work within the Democratic Party to weaken capitalism, (as opposed to end it). The dream is that we could tackle both top down and bottom up processes that might transform our society to a post capitalist one.
From ‘nowhere’ to ‘now here’.
I hope that this was at least helpful in getting the thoughts stirring. I am confident that we can, that we should innovate with our social structures just as we do with science and engineering. That there are means to social revolution that are neither physically nor socially violent, yet the status quo is violent. To do nothing is a deeply political act. It seems likely that we can build a world where we all have collectively more, than we had individually before. We have to coordinate and collaborate to get there. If you are ready to do that, come and join us for Revolution Sundays.
Reading list & references
:: Future City, New Left Review, Frederic Jameson
:: A Postcapitalist Politics
:: Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus
:: The Post-Widget Society: Economic Possibilities for Our Children
:: Envisioning Real Utopias
:: How to be an Anti-Capitalist for the 21st Century
:: Omnia Sunt Communia: On the Commons and the Transformation to Postcapitalism
:: The Forms of Capital
:: Zed’s Postcapitalist Reading Diary