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Why it makes sense to be anti-capitalist
by Olivier Bonfond
31 May 2009

“Man has always waged war . ” ; “Man is fundamentally selfish. ”;”Capitalism has always existed and always will exist “;”Despite its defects, the capitalist system is the lesser evil “;”Capitalism is the only model which has proven itself. All other societies have ended in disaster. " We hear these sorts of statements everywhere and they have been used for a long time. They have a very specific role: they sweep aside any serious debate, any critical analysis and any alternative proposal to the economic model in which we live. Accepting these statements prevents us from seeing the vital point: we are living in a world which is based on exploitation, poverty and inequalities. We are also living in a world which is experiencing a global, planetary crisis, unprecedented in the history of humanity. By pushing us towards apathy and fatalism, these statements prevent us from becoming responsible citizens, from using our energy and intelligence and work towards an emancipatory project. If we want to be better fight against social injustice we must deconstruct, combat and look beyond these statements, which are nothing but untruths and preconceived ideas. We must accept the fact that humanity must find other means of making concrete progress through another way other than capitalism. This will not be easy. The path will be long and filled with obstacles, but it is the only solution if we want to create another possible world, which is socially just and which respects nature. We must accept that being anti-capitalist nowadays is urgent, necessary and reasonable.

1.To be anti-capitalist is simple, coherent and morally just

Let us start from the beginning; what does being anti-capitalist mean? According to the dictionary, being anti-capitalist means someone who is “opposed to capitalism.”But what is capitalism? It is an economic and social model whose fundamental values are based on profit, private ownership over the means of production, competition and economic growth.

In fact, being anti-capitalist is very simple: it simply means that one is against profit, private ownership over means of production, competition, selfishness and economic growth making up the fundamental values which determine the choices made by our societies.

Being anti-capitalist is therefore not at all the same thing as being communist, Leninist, Stalinist, Trotskyist, anarchist or any other such exotic label. Being anti-capitalist does not mean “defending” regimes such as Stalin’s Russia, Pot Pol’s Cambodia, Mao’s China or even current day China for that matter. Being anti-capitalist, neither means refusing “progress” and living in poverty and categorically refusing anything which comes from the society we live in. Living in a system and being against it are entirely different perspectives and they are not incompatible.

Being anti-capitalist means believing that these values (profit, private ownership, competition and growth) should not form the basis of a socially just society, which is respectful of nature, which is solidarity based and which is liberating for humanity.

2.The capitalist system has not been successful in improving the lives of people

Defenders of the capitalist system often make statements such as: "of course capitalism is not perfect. No system is perfect. But one must not forget that capitalism has improved the living conditions of millions of people. For example, people have never lived as long. Let us not forget that it is thanks to capitalism that technology, such as television, planes, cars, GSM and the Internet has been made available to millions of people.

It is true, there is some truth in this statement but it constitutes only a very small part of reality. Why? Firstly, we have to remind ourselves of the fact that the majority of this wealth which some people benefit from was created based on the exploitation of people and the pillaging of natural resources. What has been the “price” to pay so as for a minority of people to “benefit from” or “enjoy” a high standard of living and so called “progress”?

How many wars and crimes against humanity have been perpetrated, how many humanitarian and environmental disasters have been caused so as to achieve this “progress”?

Furthermore, capitalism is established in almost all the economies throughout the world which is now “globalized”, in turn resulting in all these economies being interconnected. This means that a serious evaluation of the capitalist system can only be carried out on a global scale, when we ask ourselves the question of how many people have profited and are really profiting from this system. We must remember that according to the World Bank, over half of the world’s population lives in poverty. For three billion people, it is not a question of having a TV, Internet or access to other technologies. It is a matter of working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week so as to find enough resources in order to ensure the survival of the family, just so as to not die.

And when we talk about “living longer”, we must not forget the United Nations reports which show how life expectancy has gone down in several countries and is as low as 41 in the DRC.

In the global North and South, the majority of citizens, social movements, governments and institutions admit the following: the current situation is inhumane and intolerable. Billions of human beings are deprived of their fundamental rights. They are deprived access to drinking water, sufficient amounts of food and decent housing. They are deprived of access to healthcare and education. The capitalist system has therefore not succeeded in improving the lives of people. It has not been successful in resolving the great scourges of humanity. Even worse, over the past 30 years, that is to say, since the implementation of neo-liberal capitalism, the situation has worsened, both in the global North and South. From a global perspective, the impact of capitalism has therefore been extremely negative.

3.The crisis which we are having to face is well and truly a crisis of the capitalist system

The current situation (social, economic, environmental etc...) is very serious and has been deteriorating over the past 30 years. This is the statement which must be put forward. Then, another fundamental question needs to be asked: how is the situation going to evolve in the short and medium term? In which direction are we headed? Will the future be for better or worse? It doesn’t take a psychic to see that the answer is rather clear. It is a painful realization but we must accept it in a frank manner, without falling into melodrama: not only does the situation risk getting worse but there is the possibility that the situation will deteriorate to such an extent that it endangers the survival of humanity itself. Humanity does in fact have to face several unprecedented crises: a food crisis, financial crisis, economic crisis, climate crisis, migration crisis, environmental crisis, energy crisis, and the crisis of civilization.

If we look at the ins and outs of these crises, one can quickly see that they are not due to "bad management” or a lack of rules. These crises are the result of the nature and intrinsic logic of capitalism, a system whose only objective is based on maximum short term profit, irrespective of the social and environmental consequences. This analysis gives us another additional reason to be anti-capitalist and to search, find and implement solutions which definitively break with this system and which place the satisfaction of fundamental human rights at the heart of political and economic choices.

4.One cannot give a human face to capitalism

Another very important question is to establish whether capitalism is capable of reversing the current trend. According to dominant discourse, we are facing a form of capitalism gone mad which we are trying to reason with. The financial crisis is supposedly the result of unacceptable behaviour of certain capitalists and therefore there would be a need to “save capitalism from capitalists”. In order to reverse the current trend and overcome the crisis, capitalism would need to be rebuilt, giving it a human face, and go back towards focusing on regulation.

At the moment a change is taking place in relation to the neo-liberal discourse of the past thirty years. But we must not confuse discourse and reality. The State interventions in the economy, such as the bail-out plans for the financial sector for example, are not there to save the workers but to save the capitalist system itself. It is an attempt to re-stimulate growth and thus get back the profits of capitalists. It is about temporarily regulating the system, so as to avoid total bankruptcy and then to start off again on the same basis as before. It is possible that they manage to re-establish growth, but it is not likely. All the statistics and reports from the international institutions indicate that, without radical change, we will once again be plunged into a long and hard crisis. The banking and financial crisis continues. The economic crisis has become widespread. The crisis is global.

In any case, in the framework of current power relations, the governments will not put the ending of this system on their agenda. They have not done so up until now and neither are they prepared to do so in the future. What they are prepared to do (and have already begun to do) is to make the workers and people pay the price for the crisis. It is about applying the same formula, that is to say, collectivizing the losses and privatizing the profits. It is about holding out whilst waiting for the crisis to blow over and for business to pick up again. Is this refounding capitalism? Is this what we want? Some regulations here, a couple of interventions there, speeches on the need to abolish tax havens without any real binding measures being taken, so as to avoid the worst for today, until we are faced with an even deeper crisis in years to come ? No.

In the long term perspective, it is therefore not possible to humanize or rationalize capitalism. There is no “good ”or “bad” capitalism. The quest for maximum short term profit, ownership over the main means of production, unlimited exploitation of workers and nature, speculation, competition and individual private interest to the detriment of the collective interest, the frenetic accumulation of wealth for a handful of people or even wars are all inherent characteristics of the capitalist system.

Capitalism does not have a human face. It has the face of barbarity. The destruction of the planet is of little interest when it comes to capital. It doesn’t matter if children are made to work. Capital does not care whether people eat or not, whether they have housing or not, whether they have medicine when they fall ill, or whether they have a pension fund when they get old. No, none of this matters to capitalism. In order to face the crisis, it is therefore necessary to go to the root of the problem and implement radical alternatives as soon as possible so as to put an end to the capitalist system.

5.Utopia is not what we believe it to be

Capitalism is not able to provide the Alternative. It is not able to guarantee the universal satisfaction of fundamental human rights. Capitalism cannot and will not face head on the major social and environmental challenges of our time. Once we have accepted this idea, the abandoning of capitalism and the creation of a new model seems to be a logical step forward. It is at this point when the “fight” against the capitalist ideology really begins. In fact the major victory of capitalism is to have been successful in putting the idea into everybody’s heads that no other model is possible and, above all, that any other model would be very dangerous.

"We must not kid ourselves. Capitalism has always existed and will always exist. There have always been wars and there always will be. Poverty and inequalities have always existed and will always exist! And those who think differently are idealists. We need to face the truth: man is fundamentally selfish and, since the dawn of time, has always sought after profit, therefore the capitalist system integrates and acknowledges this fact. Capitalism is therefore the natural order of human societies. Creating another model in which we share everything is not only unthinkable but would also automatically lead to disaster. One just needs to look at Russia, with the 100s of millions of deaths as proof of this.

It is not easy to fight against ideologies which at first glance seem to be based on coherent arguments, as well as the fact that they are so ingrained in our everyday lives. It is not easy but it is possible, and it must be done.
Firstly, we must remember that capitalism, under its present form, has only existed just over three centuries. Civilizations developed over the previous millenniums throughout all the continents without there being any capitalism. Capitalism has not always existed. It emerged from feudal society a dozen centuries ago and has dominated western civilization in its industrial form over the past two centuries.

Elsewhere, it was only established later on. Therefore it only represents a minute part of humanity’s history. Capitalism has not always existed and will not always continue to exist. The survival of humanity depends on this change. Humanity can organize itself in a different way to capitalism.
Secondly, given the fact that it was created by man, one can say that capitalism is a human model. But above all, one can say that capitalism is inhumane in the sense that it promotes all the worst aspects of mankind: competition, selfishness, individualism etc.

Let us not deceive ourselves, there is nothing disastrous about competition and selfishness at an individual level and "in weak doses” there are even some positive aspects to these characteristics. These traits exist in all of us, nobody is trying to deny this, but there is also solidarity and altruism in each and every one of us. And this is the most important thing: do we live in a society which promotes and strengthens solidarity and cooperation? Globally, we need to ask ourselves whether selfishness and the quest for profit, which form the basis of capitalist society, can be the driving force for the creation of a socially just society, which is respectful of nature, solidarity based and emancipating for humanity? Obviously not.

Thirdly, it must be emphasized that the society we need to create cannot resemble in any way the so called socialist experiments of the 20th century. The regimes of Stalin during the soviet era, Pol Pot in Cambodia or Mao in China are traumatic experiences which must be strongly criticized. However, one must not forget that the external factors have been underestimated when explaining the failures of previous socialist experiences. It is clear that a socialist system, that is to say, a system which puts the social needs before capital needs, directly contradicts the interests of capitalists. If they were so sure that a model based on cooperation and exchange would not work, why did the capitalist powers invest so much time money and energy in order to ideologically fight, politically destabilize, financially suppress, or militarily overthrow regimes which wanted to make follow this path? Why were Patrice Lumumba from the Congo, Allende in Chile, Mossadegh in Iran and Thomas Sankara in Burkina murdered by the Northern powers? Because they wanted to implement policies which went against the logic of profit. Why were Mobutu, Pinochet, The Shah of Iran or Compaoré technically, logistically and financially supported for over thirty years? Because they accepted to maintain a system based on the transfer of wealth of the working classes to the capitalist classes.

And Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, the expansionist and militarist Japanese regime before the Second World War, general Franco, general Salazar, the apartheid regime, were they not enthusiastic followers of capitalism? They are responsable for tens of millions of deaths.

Finally, for those who state that thinking about implementing another model is unrealistic, we must simply reply that what is unrealistic is to believe that mankind will be able to continue living in such a model. Let us remember, the impact of capitalism speaks for itself: more poverty, more inequalities and a planet which can no longer cope.

It is therefore necessary to urgently abandon this model and invent another. Another model is possible and together we must reflect on the way in which we can implement it. It is putting humanity’s creativity to shame if we believe that we are not up to the task. Mankind needs utopian ideals and, rather than being an obstacle to progress, it should be the driving force behind it and it will enable us to break with the fatalistic perspective and propose concrete measures here and now, whilst providing interesting perspectives for humanity as a whole.

6.We need to reinvent socialism of the XXIst century

Given the dramatic experiences of socialism in the past century, the society which needs to be created, which we could call the 21st century socialism or ecosocialism, needs to be a democratic and be a cooperative based response to the negative experiences of the past. Given the global crisis of the capitalist system, we need to implement anti-capitalist, socialist and revolutionary policies which must include a feminist, ecological, internationalist, anti-racist dimension. These different dimensions must be set out in a coherent manner and must be fully integrated into the socialist projects of the 21st century.

It is entirely possible to guarantee social justice in Belgium, Europe and throughout the world. It is entirely possible to move towards a model which, whilst respecting nature, allows every individual to have adequate housing, quality food, decent work, social security, access to healthcare, education and transportation systems.

We need to go even further. We need to establish a real democracy. A political democracy of course, where citizens concretely participate in the major choices which determine the nature and way our societies function. But we also need an economic democracy; where redistribution of wealth is established so as to benefit the people producing wealth, that is to say, the workers in towns and villages, have control over this wealth.

But this will not happen by itself. A collective, conscious decision needs to be made. At the moment it is true that there are not enough social forces to overthrow capitalism. But throughout the world and on different levels, social, economic, democratic, original and cooperative alternatives are being created. More and more people believe that we have the right to live in a system which is different to the capitalist one. More and more people believe that another world is not only possible, but that it is necessary and urgent to create one here and now. Our task, as citizens of the world, is therefore to use our concrete experiences and to fight as best as possible, so as to be able to construct and organize all the anti-capitalist forces.

It is about creating a model where the needs of the people are at the heart of political choices. A world where cooperation, mutual aid, sharing and solidarity prevail over competitiveness and competition. A world where there is a place for debate and where citizens are no longer treated as ignorant. Although we cannot be happy with the crisis as it will affect (and is already affecting) hundreds of millions of people, both in the North and South, there is, however, one advantage: it is battering the neo-liberal ideologies, and is showing the true face of the governments, which systematically act in the interest of the wealthy. We need to look around us and regain control over politics. Politics is not complicated; you do not have to be a specialist expert. Politics is what we are, with our differences, our expertise, our energy, creativity and our poetic qualities.

7.The struggle should not sadden us. On the contrary

Given the great injustices and the fact that we feel so weak in relation to the present forces, one often hears, especially amongst young people, the statement that trying to change things is impossible and this is deeply saddening. This is false. If we analyze the world in which live, take stock of how deeply unjust it is and decide to fight as best as possible against this injustice, we will understand our function and role which we need to play in society. This, on the contrary, should not sadden us but instead allow us to gain confidence in ourselves, and to given meaning to the time we spend here on this Earth. We are going to need to fight. We need to collectively demand measures which go against the interests of capitalists and those who support them. We will need to mobilize and take to the streets. People will need to take back control over their future. The revolution will happen in the streets and at the ballot boxes. As Marx said, it is up to the people to free themselves for themselves. The road will be long and filled with obstacles. This model which we want will remain an incomplete process, filled with contradictions, failures, but also filled with joy and victories. But the path is as important as the ideal which is to be achieved. And just because we are going against the current trend does not mean we are moving in the wrong direction. As Marx said, the history of humanity is the history of the class struggle. Certainty of victory is not needed, as long as we try and succeed in persevering.

Translated by Francesca Denley

Olivier Bonfond

Is an economist and adviser to the CEPAG (André Genot Centre for Popular Education, Belgium). He is a militant for Global Justice, a member of the CADTM, of the Citizens’ Debt Audit Platform in Belgium (ACiDe) and of the Truth Commission on Public Debt founded on 4 April 2015.
He has published the following books in French: Et si on arrêtait de payer ? 10 questions / réponses sur la dette publique belge et les alternatives à l’austérité (Aden, 2012) and Il faut tuer TINA. 200 propositions pour rompre avec le fatalisme et changer le monde (Le Cerisier, fev 2017).
He also coordinates the Belgian website Bonnes nouvelles (also in French).