Does capitalism blind us to the real fight?
The campaigns to improve our lot under capitalism are endless. Once one form of oppression is dealt with, there’s always another left to tackle, but while engaging in that new fight, the former is bound to return because no progress is ever permanent under capitalism. Rights are won, and the next day they’re under attack. We put much of our energy into defence instead of offence. The fight against oppression is never-ending, but does that serve to focus our attention away from the larger fight; from the fight to overturn capitalism and the oppressive structures it perpetuates?
We seek to reverse inequality, reduce poverty, achieve equal rights for minority sexualities, races, genders, etc; but why must we fight so hard for basic human decency? Our minds are stuck in a frame of capitalist realism where instead of challenging the very core structures that create the problems against which we fight, we target their products individually; but until the structures that create this oppression are dealt with, the fight will never be over. Racism, sexism, and the class system will always return until the structures responsible for them are destroyed.
The totality of capitalist realism keeps our minds trapped in a frame where even the idea of challenging the capitalist system is unthinkable to the vast majority, who are overworked to the point where they’re too exhausted to imagine an alternative. We seek to fix the unfixable, to engage in an endless struggle for justice in a system where justice isn’t on offer. All the while, those in control of the system get to do what they please, and we have no power to stop them. We’re think we do, but we don’t.
They make us believe we live in free societies when only they have true freedom. They set up sham democracies to make us think elected representatives will represent the will of the masses. They propagandize about the importance of a “free” media when they own the outlets through which the masses are informed, and use them to frame the discussion by distorting facts to fit their narrative and excluding stories they don’t want people to hear. They claim property ownership to be the ultimate freedom, allowing themselves to buy up vast tracts of land, while the masses have to spend a lifetime in debt just to buy a home, requiring them to submit to the wage system for the entirety of their lives in order to pay it back.
Instead of placing the focus on the battles for rights and regulations that will eventually be overturned, the fight needs to be brought to the system as a whole. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the dominance of capitalism has blinded us to alternatives and made us accept the false notion that history, at least of ideological progression, has ended. But there’s hope that the grip of capitalism on our minds is slipping.
The recession of 2008–2009 hit the masses hard. It broke the illusion capitalism had been peddling, and the masses saw the system’s oppressive structures plainly for the first time in quite a long time. Some sought to ignore it, but many weren’t able to.
Hope can be found in the resurgence of utopianism in the post-recession era. Instead of accepting the mental prescriptions of capitalism, mainstream discussions are increasingly looking beyond the capitalist horizon to formulate alternative modes of social and economic organization. These new ideas aren’t simply an update of the ideologies of old, but something new that takes inspiration from modern developments and the mass desire for a better world.
Much needs to be done to open the minds of the masses to new possibilities beyond capitalism, and to redirect the energies of mass movements from remedial campaigns to political revolution, but after a long period where the pathway to such a goal was narrow, it has expanded in the post-recession era and must be seized if the oppressive structures of capitalism are to be finally overthrown.
Paris Marx is the author of A Music Industry for the 99% and Dystopia or Utopia?. He writes about the growing divide within the capitalist system, movements for alternative forms of economic organization, and ways of living that challenge traditional narratives.