On Capitalism and the Understanding of the Term in a Leftist Ideology

capitalism
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The political propaganda and the slogans are used by partisan groups in political systems in order to change the systemic norms they are unsatisfied with. The terms denoting these norms are often hijacked by these groups so as to appeal to their followers and seduce their perceptions, however incorrect or devoid of reality they might be. The activist leftist ideology unfortunately succeeded to inflict this on the term ‘capitalism’. Not only did citizens of many states accept the loose usage of the term, it also adopted a negative connotation (usually a synonym for greed, exploitation etc.) all the way from angry masses to the faculty venues. Far from its original use, ‘capitalism’ took on a loosely shaped definition of whatever the leftist ideology negatively points out about it. Not to mention, that very often there is no sufficient defense of the term on the right spectrum of political arena. Regardless of the political misconstructions of what stands behind this contested term, I am debating the terms’ basic implications, i.e. core attributes, which shaped it in social, political and economic framework and compare these distinctions with its popular usage.

Capitalism is a term denoting economic and social systems in which property is private and the process of trade depends on the will of the individuals. This seems to be the common denominator of many definitions, coming from different ideological backgrounds. However, there are many ‘additives’ this definition is associated with, as it enters a leftist arena: capitalism prevents equality, capitalism thus negates justice, capitalism means exploiting the poor for the benefit of the rich, capitalism equals neoliberalism, which is the system supporting all of the above mentioned points, and run by greedy rich people. In the illusion that these assumptions are the cornerstones of capitalism, they than turn to propose a kinder social and economic system, which would transform the exploiting nature of capitalism in a more humane dealing with citizens, as well as equip the neoliberal logic with care for fellow human beings.

This is very well seen in a partial definition of capitalism by the World Socialist Movement, which states that the motive of production in capitalism is making profit off of goods and services, rather than satisfying the needs of the people. From this description, we can deduce interesting implications of what the term ‘capitalism’ means in such contexts. Notice how the description does use a subject performing the acts within the system (capitalist), rather than the system itself, the motive of which is profit (personified capitalism). The assumption is thus taken away from the individual, the personal. It assumes a certain distance from the needs and desires of the individual who produces and profits, as well as the individual who uses the product for their personal self-interest. However, the second part of the description is personal. It again assumes a human factor – satisfying the people.

The worker and the consumer are thus victimized into helpless beings, who are exploited by an inhuman system, which has (nonetheless) an interest. The omission of the personal in the first part of the description might not be intentional, but it does serve a purpose. If we swaped ‘capitalism’ with ‘capitalist’, we would have to ask ourselves, weather it is possible for a producer to produce items which serve no one and bring no satisfaction to its buyers? Consequently, is the producer’s profit independent of the consumers? And how is that possible? Clearly, the profit of a certain capitalist is impossible without a relatively large numbers of supporters of the product. But is it possible that the argument stems from political and economic contexts, which differ between the ideological backgrounds?

The only entity that can profit, in terms of the political and economic context we are in, without regarding the needs of individuals, is the entity possessing the use of force and has the power to limit the consumer’s choices. That is the state. Do then the defenders of the description above equate capitalism and capitalists with the system and the subject working under the providence of state power, supported by state finances and security for their survival in the market? If such are the assumptions infused into the term ‘capitalism’ in order to boycott libertarian logics, it is highly unlikely that such thinking would be found in any branch of libertarian theories.

Another striking point about the leftist use of the term rises with the double standards regarding the size of a capitalist establishment. We rarely notice that anyone who adopted a leftist reasoning would protest the existence of a local paper shop (or flower shop, pastry shop etc.) as if it was the embodiment of greed. The reasoning is mostly concerned with bigger and richer establishments, which (presumably) overstepped the ethical threshold of income and have to ‘give back’, so that they can justify their existence and work in service of the people. As the small town owner of a paper shop grows bigger, he in time dehumanizes and becomes the embodiment of ‘capitalism’ itself. Consequently, since there is no individual at stake here, the acts of property infringement sound much less severe. Taking away of the profitable assets is inflicted on the system itself, not on the individual, they would reason.

This enigmatic reasoning regarding capitalism and capitalists brings me to the conclusion that the problem that leftist activist ideology sees in capitalism is not in its basic characteristics (free trade and private property), but the range and the vastness of these components (systemically) and the personal wealth of one individual, compared to the others (individually). Thus, it is not a conceptual disagreement, nor a philosophical objection to the foundations of capitalism, not even an opposition to all the capitalists. It is an arbitrary chosen threshold of profit based on the comparison between one and the other individual, and supported by sentiments (not reason), such as deceit of inequality. If I am mistaken, and there is reasoning, and there is a fundamental objection to the capitalist logics, then there should be no amnesty for ‘moderate’ capitalists, for small town traders, for profiters in general. The idea of trade between free individuals should be refused as a whole, and a pledge should be made to the unconditional rejection of private property. Otherwise, the leftist ideology (with such incomplete argumentation), reduces itself to a party of sentimentalists, which by default of majority constitutes justice.

Alen Alexander Klaric
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