I saw these written on boards around a building site. I walked past them a hundred times on my way to and from work before I stopped and read them. They are simple, some might say obvious, but this summer they are my Five Commandments.
These are the kind of values I want the society of which I am a part to hold dear. These are the values that I believe are important in life. And, to me at least, these values are pretty universal and uncontroversial. But to many, whilst these values may be innocuous in their written form, agreeable even, extolling their virtues in public debate and highlighting the contradictions between them and present systems in our society immediately earns me a label. And labels are not innocuous.
“Socialist”, “anarchist”, “humanist”, “anti-capitalist”. Whilst I wouldn’t call myself any of these, they are often levelled at me when I confront establishment in favour of these values. It is, though, easy to understand why many people who believe in the importance of these values, as I do, consider themselves anti-capitalists.
Capitalism in its current form has a long record, not of protecting these values, but of opposing them or even degrading them. This is why public libraries get closed down in the middle of the night and protestors to such action are criminalised, but you never hear about weapons manufacturers going bust. Hefty job losses during years of record turnover - yes. But cessation of arms dealing - no. This is not answering societal need. It is not because people need to learn less and kill each other more. It is because, where capitalist ideology is dominant, war is more profitable than education.
There is perhaps a tendency to believe that where large profits exist in one area, boosting the national economy, that this may in effect subsidise another. In practice this is not the case. If it were, the United States, the world’s largest and most profitable arms manufacturer, would have the most educated population in the world.
In fact, an educated population is far less likely to sanction wars proposed by its government, and therefore impact profit. And so a situation is reached in which capitalism thrives precisely through the dismantling of the values outlined above.
Whilst the problems associated with this trend have previously been the concern of progressives and academics, since the 2003 invasion of Iraq and more recently the multiple bailouts of large investment banks, more and more people have been able to see stark evidence for themselves.
Weapons manufacturers are profitable and education less so. But when the pillars of capitalism, in this case banks, prove to be costing more than they earn, they are not closed down in the middle of the night like libraries. They are protected.
Fortunately there is, or so it seems, increased public debate about these issues, which in the past would have been the preserve of universities or anti-capitalist activists. And yet, this debate has been skewed. It is still missing a rather more simple and fundamental point. The injustices inherent in capitalist systems as they currently stand are apparent, and they form the reasons why such systems should be reformed, but what is so often missed from the discussion is why we complain about the failures of capitalism to tend to the needs of society at all.
Capitalism is our economic structure. Democracy is our social structure. At what point did they become conjoined or synonymous?
Big business has taken over politics. This has been in the making for some time. But when did we allow corporations to replace our communities? When did we lose control of our democracy to such a degree that we now talk of capitalism vs. anti-capitalism as social stances?
This is why I object to such labels being given to me when I make observations about the society of which I am part. Because I’m talking about society not economy. And, of course, the two are linked but they should be and are divisible. I’m not an anti-capitalist because I am not against buying and selling of goods and services. I’m anti the bad and unjust parts of capitalism which have swelled beyond the checks and balances we are taught to rely on. But these are problems associated with an economic structure that has become hopelessly intertwined with our global and local societies. If we consider ‘capitalism’ or ‘anti-capitalism’ to be anything more than primarily fiscal positions, alarm bells should already be ringing.
Capitalism is the free market - fundamentally the act of buying and selling. It should, naturally, be regulated and be subject to reform as and when needed.
But when our right to equality and justice as a social ideology is confused with commercialism, democracy gets sold to the highest bidder and society is the last to profit.