The talk is in Arts A2 which is off library square at the uni.
6pm, tuesday 8th University of Sussex.
Speaker: Derek Wall
See some of you then or at Leicester today or the Campaign for Climate Change conference over the weekend.
Busy but hopefully effective!
For some of my ideas, have a look at this interview from London Student, last year, before I was principal speaker.
‘Anti-capitalists are either middle-class kids who eventually inherit property, don a suit and knuckle down with the real world; or tree hugging believers in fairies, who are just lazy and don't want to work for their living.' With these generalisations, how can anti-capitalist movements be taken as serious political arguments?
“Luckily with blogging, indy media and other cyber alternatives we don't have to rely on the mainstream media that only survives by selling advertising space. Tabloids and broadsheets have little interest in realistically dealing with economic alternatives beyond our present organised system of greed, because they need it for revenue. Some anti-capitalists have flaky views and lifestyles but the clichés of capitalists as coke snorting maniacs running around gesticulating on the stock floors of London, New York and Tokyo are also abound. Right across South America voters are electing anti-capitalist like Chavez in Venezuela and Morales in Bolivia; in China, Cambodia and Vietnam the sweatshops are being swept by wild cat strikes…World Trade and IMF meetings are met by huge protests from Indian and Korean farmers. Anti-capitalism is a worldwide movement not the product of one’s gap year.”
Why is capitalism so dangerous to society?
“Capitalism can only survive with continued economic growth. The faster we buy consumer and throw away commodities, the better it works. From peak oil, to global warming, to the extinction of the great apes, capitalism is clearly unsustainable. We use 84 million barrels of oil a day; I'm sceptical that this can continue to grow without major environmental consequences. Capitalism is based on share ownership. Corporations have a legal requirement to make as much profit as possible. To survive they have to make profits and plough them back into investment; the alternative is that they go under. As well as the ecological insanity, this leads to a pervasive sense of 'alienation'. Economics should surely be a tool for human beings. Instead humanity has become a tool for an abstract economic system. Witness the way that the Olympics in London is leading to the destruction of community cafes, the concreting of green areas; it is about selling pepsi and merchandise. Anti-capitalists also critique the ethos of capitalism. Local diversity in the arts, cuisine and other aspects of life are driven out creating a homogenized global culture. Everywhere individuals drink Coca Cola, wear Nike and eat McDonalds. The sociologist George Ritzer has created the concept of the macdonaldisation of society to explain how mass production has delivered a world of increasing modular uniformity (Ritzer 1995). Such a capitalist culture breeds alienation, a feeling of homeless in a world dominated by accountancy, which degrades even those who benefit in material terms from the rule of capital.
“Capitalism is innately unjust. It’s about 'enclosure', making us pay for what we had for free. Most people understand this via Napster, but in the colonial era, European conquest was a product of companies like the Virginia corporation and the Dutch East India Company that kicked native people off the land and practiced genocide. Capitalism - as one advocate of free software once said - is like charging every time someone uses a recipe.”
Surely if capitalism has not broken down as Marx predicted, it cannot be that bad?
“Capitalism as Ken Livingstone once observed, has killed millions of people, which does not sound so good to me. Marx is a subtle and complex thinker; he never named a date for catastrophe. Marx did observe that capitalism actually thrives on crisis and change. A good depression kills inefficient companies and allows for more intensive exploitation. Marx suggested that capitalism wrecks the environment, steal workers surplus labour power, in other words, a worker who produces twenty televisions effectively gives 15 of them to the corporation. Hence capitalism moves us from small localised markets to huge corporations; the way that Tesco and other supermarkets have eliminated most small shops is a good example of this predictive power. Marx was hijacked by totalitarians: he rejected centralised state controlled economics, he didn't believe a blueprint for a communist society. This was something to be decided by democratic means not imposed by any single thinker.
Communism did not work, so the capitalist regime must be the regime that most suits society.
“Well Cuba as one of the world’s poorest countries, despite the efforts of the US over more than forty years including invasion plots, economic blockade and assassination attempts, Cubans has the same life expectancy and literacy levels of the US, lower infant mortality and is fast moving to a post-petroleum economy. Che Guevara is certainly a more influential thinker today than any American president. In the former Soviet Union, the creation of a market economy has led to catastrophe. In an article subtitled ‘Russia appears to be committing suicide?’ the Economist (2 October) notes that since 1989 the countries population has plunged by several million and is projected to fall from 147 million today to 120 million in 2030. Declining fertility, violence, sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis and alcoholism are just symptoms of the long, dark night of the Russian soul ushered in by the disorienting collapse of communism.
“Alternatives to capitalism will only survive if they are ecologically aware, democratic and abandon control freakery. Anti-capitalism has to be based on grassroots participation. A friend of mine once said that socialist Cuba was like a paradise compared to its capitalist neighbours Haiti and Jamaica.”
The damage to the environment is clearly overstated. The earth learns to adapt to new changes, and capitalism helps this process through new technologies and knowledge, not hinders it.
“Well global warming is here. The ozone layer is still to heal and this is after just a few decades of high growth capitalism. If everybody in the world had a US lifestyle the biologist EO Wilson suggests we would need the resources of four planet Earths. A resource like oil becomes more expensive, so according to the market fundamentalists we use less and suppliers develop new fields of oil. Thus supply and demand - via the invisible hand - solve the problem. However, as resources become more expensive producers have an incentive to exploit them more intensively. In the 1840s the last pair of great Auks were strangled by Icelandic fishermen, who received the equivalent of a £100,000 for killing them. As the great Alec Nove once noted in capitalism, when fish start to become extinct, their price increases, fishermen have a greater incentive to catch them and fish eventually run out. In the meantime with rising prices, the poor shiver and the rich just show off their ability to conspicuously consume by driving ever more grotesque 4 wheel drive vehicles.
“The alternative is to make goods that last longer. Create libraries not just for books, but all manner of goods that we only need some of the time. To push for low energy organic/permaculture farming. We can consume less, and enjoy life, but this is not economically possible within a capitalist economy. Capitalism, well it seems natural, but it cannot survive without continual expansion. Imagine as a metaphor being told that if you didn't increase the amount of you eat each year you would die? Capitalism seems like commonsense because it is all we know. But it is the financial equivalent of cancer: grow or die has to be replaced with a system that meets (in Gandhi's words) everyone's need not everyone's greed.
Neo-liberal politics helps people in the developing world by opening markets they can benefit from. Surely, those who try to hinder capitalist-globalisation actually harm these people more by denying them the right to trade and earn money on the open market?
“On the contrary OPEC has shown that by limiting the supply of a commodity such as oil, those in developing countries can receive more income. In Venezuela, to overcome the negative consequences of this, poorer countries are given cheaper oil. For example, Chavez has sold cheap heating oil to impoverished local authorities in El Salvador, Bolvia and the US! Free trade say that in the coffee market, out of the £1.50 we spend on a cup only a few pence goes to producers. Coffee cartels could put money in poor producers’ pockets. Ending the Common Agricultural Policy (which gives huge subsidies to farmers) would benefit the poor. However unlimited free trade pushes down the price of commodities. This pushes millions of peasants off the land, benefits agribusiness, and above all, monopolistic commodity dealers like Cargills. Supermarkets like Tesco have so much market power that they force farmers both here in the UK and in the poorer parts of the globe into slashing prices.
The amount of wages that so-called 'sweat-shop' workers earn is only miniscule if compared to our conception of a minimum wage. Actually the wages they earn can feed their whole family and pay for water and shelter above the standard of those who do not work in the factories.
“Strange then that workers in countries like Vietnam and China are building strong unions and striking for better pay and conditions. Corporations can bargain by moving out of countries that improve wages and conditions for workers or raise costs by protecting the environment. This is why we have to support trade unions and workers struggles on a global basis.
But multinational corporations also boost national economies otherwise these governments would not offer tax breaks, free water and electricity.
“Well, corporations tend to benefit elites in urban centres most of all. Look at the murky links between states and corporations the world over. Remember the Pergua dam affair when the UK government gave aid to Malaysia in return for the country buying British fighter jets? It’s a dirty corrupt world out there. The market of course puts corporations in a strong bargaining position to governments.
In previous ages, people died younger, were subject to poor nutrition, disease, and had worse social conditions than today. Capitalism improves the vast majority of people's lives.
“I think you will find that it is the NHS, not capitalism, that is the answer. Shockingly, development economist Amaryta Sen has shown that African-Americans in the US have a lower life expectancy than many people in the 'developing world'. The refusal of large pharmaceutical companies to allow the use of cheap generic drugs is one of the reasons for the spread of aids in Africa and increases costs to our own NHS. Infrastructure such as sewerage is a big contributor to better health, but has generally been undertaken by the state because of the expense involved.
But without capitalism's strict discipline, society would be in chaos. People need structure, rules, and struggle, to deter us from turning in on each other.
“Free marketers like Hayek argue that it only works because of peoples' freedom and creativity. The most important tasks in society such as child care and looking after the old occur without markets. Generally there is a shocking inverse relationship between how much we get paid and how useful our role is. Just witness the millions urgent by currency brokers who gamble on hot money compared to the rewards of parenting.
“Wikipedia provides a good example of non-capitalist enterprise. Wiki everything is perhaps the best way of explaining anti-capitalism as a practical creative grassroots economic alternative to the market.”
Ultimately Capitalism is so normal to us now that nothing will defeat it.
“On the contrary, as the Venezuelan president Chavez noted it is socialism or death, Chavez said that unlike Marx, in the 19th century, “we do not have much time left”. The 21st century has now come, “when the dilemma must be finally resolved”.
““Time is short. If we do not change the world now, there may be no 22nd century for humanity. Capitalism has destroyed the ecological equilibrium of the earth. It is now or never!” Chavez declared “We should go toward setting up a worldwide anti-imperialist movement. We have already taken steps in this direction.... We must urgently build a new socialist movement....The empire is very powerful, but not infallible. This century we will bury the US empire. The empire has to face the people of Venezuela and Latin America. It has failed in Iraq already”. Talking to an audience of ten thousand people at the World Social Forum in January, he urged us to “imagine a world in which the US administration declares peace to the world, withdraws its forces, and uses its resources to produce medicines and food for the poor people of the world”.”
Anti-Capitalists who live in capitalist societies are not really anti-capitalist when they live, work, and consume the things they are against. For example, you are making money from the system that you are denouncing in your book, how is that possible?
“Well writing is generally - bar Harry Potter - the road to poverty and madness. Equally if I was money motivated I would not be working in education. Anti-capitalism is not religion. It should not be about self-sacrifice, but practical alternatives are possible. We need to move towards a totally different kind of economy, however we can make a start now. Open source; support for Venezuela and Cuba; creating a more feisty Green Party in the UK; growing more of our own food, are all possible. Small business is better than big corporations. Workers coops are better than business. All the free alternatives from freecycle to open source are better still. Big institutions from the Co-op bank's online arm smile, to Waitrose, are run as mutuals’ for their workers benefit, not private property. They still work within the force field of the market but are generally ethical and environmentally conscious. I think we can campaign against capitalism and even enjoy the experience.”
If you have found any of the issues in this interview interesting, or want to know more, click on the following links:
how cuba survived peak oil http://www.globalpublicmedia.com/articles/657 http://www.vicuk.org
If you are interested in Wall’s arguments in particular, you can find his book at www.plutobooks.com (ISBN: 0745323901)