Humanity has slipped into the grip of an alien and alienating force. It is no exaggertion to describe this force as a phantom. It has no mass, no shape or colour, or no basis in tangible reality. It is located in the abstract. This entity is more powerful and potentially horrific than anything that has been manufactured in the imaginations of fiction writers. Reality indeed is stranger than fiction. This entity has taken control of the world in a very short time. It directly impacts the psychology and every aspect of the lives of a large portion of humanity. We have been shaped by it and in turn, we have shaped it. This dialectic however is changing and our influence over our alien monarch is waning.
That ghost is capitalism itself and we instictively pay homage to it. We know where we came from and we know that it is this force that delivered us. We have an inkling that it is naturally democratic and somewhat gentle and kind. But there are some unavoidable flaws in that dim view. Especially in the recent past. The problem seems to be that the whole thing is turning on us and although we always knew it had a malevolent streak, we thought we could live with it. To decide properly whether or not we can continue to live with it into the future, we must examine its very nature.
The nature of capitalism is predatorial, it is hungry, and it is dominant over the affairs and lives of human beings. It demands to be fed and like a shark, it must keep moving and eating or it will die. It will root out every corner of human habitation, usurp the culture and traditions, and take over. It has no human sentiment or moralistic constraints. It will support human habits that will support it and will ravage any and all that stand in its way.
It is worth pointing out that it is a phantom and exists only in the realm of illusion if we aim to study its nature. It is as surely from the realm of the abstract as a dog or a chair exist in the realm of tangible reality. Capital itself is represented in money and money has no substance or value in itself. A coin means nothing more than a round piece of metal to anybody that has not been taken possession of by the phantom. But to those of us that have been taken under it's spell, money rules our lives.
Capitalism was born in humble surroundings. Some bookkeeper, somewhere in the mists of history, discovered that wealth can be increased through a relatively simple process. If a worker is hired to make a chair and is paid less than what the chair is sold for, the difference goes into the pocket of the person that hired the worker. If one hundred chairs are made in this way, there is that much more for the sorceror. As capitalism grew from these humble roots, its nature changed. It is, by its very nature, a powerful revolutionary force. It never remains still and it is an ever growing shape shifter. It does however have tendencies and a nature that render it predictable to a large degree. What is happening today was predicted well over one hundred years ago and if we study the nature of capitalism, we can get a general sense of where we are going.
The energy that drives its growth is profit. As the beast grows more and more massive, the potential for profit diminishes in a given unit of exchange and as a result, the terms of human exploitation become increasingly severe. Henry Ford may have had the luxury of actually paying his workers well enough to buy the cars, but those days are long gone. There is increasing pressure toward lowering wages. The capitalist state may have had the foresight to implement social spending measures in the 1930s to the 1970s creating more demand for goods and services, but those days seem to be behind us. Social democratic politicians are as severe with cutbacks and belt tightening as those from the right.
Capitalism has grown from domination of small shops and enterprises to the domination of the state and now it is in the process of taking over the world. As we continue to feed it's increasing demand for more and more wealth, its traditional source of food can no longer satisfy a now ravaneous and insatiable appetite. Workers cannot fetch the portion of wealth that they had enjoyed in the hay days of capitalism. Instead, capital must seek out better terms of exploitation and it does this in parts of the world where people are happy to work for a pittance to escape the ravages of starvation and poverty.
It has grown to a point where the quaint competitive nature that urged free enterprise no longer exists. Local merchants are crushed under the weight of large international monpolies. It has become a hungry psychopath that has literally has taken over much of the world and there is no escaping its grasp. We are in its clutches. And what that means to any given individual has a lot to do with his or her position, or relationship, to capital. If I am a producer of capital, my situation for myself and my children get more and more desperate as the years roll by. If, on the other hand, I am a capitalist, my power and wealth grow dramatically through time. To me, this is not a demon but a god.
This is a system that has provided for human needs to an extent that could never be imagined by people that preceded its development and growth. But as it matures, and it matures at ever increasing rates, it becomes increasingly inhumane. The meeting of human needs has always been a residual effect of this system and that is what gives it legitimacy and the amazing sticking power that it has. Caring for human needs is not a sentiment that is a characteristic of capitalism however. It is not a trustworthy or even desirable means to satisfy human needs. It has the soul of a psychopath and if humans must be slaughtered or deprived in order to optomize capitalistic conditions, so be it.
CEOs that make decisions based in human sentiment or compassion will not be CEOs for long. Investors will fire them and hire CEOs that will maximize profit. For instance, corporate managers might make a decision to follow Henry Ford's footsteps and pay workers enough to create demand. Investors will bail on that enterprise of fire the managers because on the level of international monopolies, competition is not dead. And THAT is a huge problem that promises to become a significant military threat. Other corporate interests will chew up and spit out idealists in the coliseum of imperial capitalism.
At this point, capital has become concentrated and it controls and is controlled by large international capitalist entities. National states have become subservient to international imperialism. Financial oligarcies not only have control of modern states, but they also have a stranglehold on developing nations. Through the World Bank and the IMF, they demand that the people of developing states feed the growing monster. Social programs and public services are not tolerated if they might result in providing for the people that are suffering if a concimitant restraint on profit is part of the equation. The monster will place control of basic needs in the hands of foriegn capitalists (or domestic capitalists) and they will put their price on vital needs. They will privatize electricity, food, medicine, and even water.
The acquisition of colonies by large powers has taken on a new sense of urgency. In the past few decades we see solomn serious importance heaped upon free trade agreements, privatization, and globalization. This is spun as the salvation of every developing corner of the world. What is happening today is coloniel expolitation on speed. Prior to the development of true capitalism, England, France, Spain and other imperial nations have plundered colonies and stole their wealth with barely a veneer of fair play. Often, they commited genocide and stole the wealth of the people outright. The wealth of nations and rich people was something close to a zero sum game then and increasing wealth meant taking it by force. And now, in these days of mature capitalism, we are returning to the mathematics of a zero sum game and worse when we consider the aggregate of human needs in the world opposed to the wealth that is alive in circulation. The need for creating new markets, finding cheap labour, and appropriating raw materials is greater now than ever before. The American state spends over a billion dollars a day on its military which is roughly equal to what the rest of the world spends. The American military is the claws and the teeth of this ever growing monopolist imperialism.
What is most disturbing is the potential that exists for massive world wars in the future. Huge trading blocks are competing for limited resources with the pressing need to keep feeding their own hungry ghosts. The alliances that are developing now, perhaps unwittingly, are preparing the stage for another major world war. Discussion of major wars has gone the way of the USSR. Many actually believe that the fall of the Soviet Union was the end of history as if the cold war was the war to end all wars. China is developing into a major world power with its own hunger for oil that will soon be insatiable. Russia, China, America, and Europe are all positioning themselves for control of this vital commodity. It is no accident that oil billionaires have taken control of the most powerful state and the most powerful military in the world; the United States of America. Control of oil is vital.
The ugly slaughter that is happening today in Iraq may be a glimpse into a far worse future. Economic and political policies are dictated by the needs of capital. Politicians of all stripes are increasingly under the dictatorship of this ethereal monarch. It is no exaggeration to conclude that humanity has come under the spell and control of a non human phantom, a ghostly psychopath, that has but one need; the need to grow. Futhermore, this inhuman spook not only has the capacity, but it is in its very nature to destroy humanity.
What we do know is that the war in Iraq is not about weapons of mass destruction or implanting democracy at gunpoint. Iraq was invaded by oil billionaires and you don't hafta be a rocket scientist to figure out why. What is truly frightening is the speed with which capitalist powers can suddenly rally masses of people to pound war drums and march in step. This is the handiwork of yet another appendage of the grand spook; the yellow corporate media. And as we become seduced, we too become mindless murderous drones caught under the spell of a force that could make Adolph Hitler seem soft and sentimental. Even the poison of nationalism will perish when capital has no more use for its useless sentimentality.
What is needed now is analysis and debate on the true nature of capitalism, imperialism, war and politics. We must stand up against war and plunder and we must fight the excesses and ambitions of our malevolent master. At this stage of the game, we need more than awareness and debate. We need action and we need it now. Imperialism has already started to consume the flesh and the life of human beings. And if we understand the nature of the beast, we have to conclude that things are only going to get worse.
(Previously published in MWC News)