Posts Tagged ‘capitalism’

Free PDF:For Her Own Good

For Her Own good is a sociological study of the historical trend of male experts claiming the right to dictate what is best for women. Ehrenreich and English attribute this loss of female autonomy to the sudden and total disruption of centuries-old social roles that accompanied the rise of capitalism.

Elimination of Women’s Traditional Economic Roles

Under pre-capitalist patriarchy, women were totally subject to their fathers and husbands but still derived considerable prestige from the basic survival functions they performed in the home (ie tending gardens, chickens and dairy cows, as well as making butter, cheese, soap and candles and carding, spinning, weaving, and making clothes). With the rise of capitalism, all these functions were shifted into factories, and the household was limited to performing personal biological functions, such as eating, sleeping, sex, birth, dying and care of children and the elderly.

Even the traditionally female role of healing was transformed into a commodity to be sold in the market place. Prior to the advent of capitalism, except for the very rich (who could afford a doctor), healing was the exclusive domain of women.

Women had great difficulty finding a new role for themselves under capitalism, which led to a virtual epidemic of of depression and “neurasthenia,”* especially among upper middle class women.

Medical Care Becomes a Commodity

The book traces the rise of “heroic” medical interventions that arose when medical care became a commodity (doctors had to engage in active and visible treatment to demand a fee). Most of these interventions (especially blood letting, leech therapy, mercury salts) made patients worse, if not killing them. In the 1830s, the US working class rebelled against doctors as members of a parasitic elitist class. A popular health movement, run mainly by women, stressed the importance of fresh air, bathing, herbs, raw foods and daily exercise as a healthier alternative than the quack treatments employed by doctors.

In the 20th century, the rise of the Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations, which enabled the rise of “science based” medical training in medical schools, gradually forced lay midwives and other non-medical healers out of business.

The Myth of Science-Based Medicine

The authors spend the last third of the book delineating how so-called “science-based” medicine was based as much in myth, misogyny and superstition – at least when it came to women – as so called pre-scientific medicine. This is especially clear from the section on childrearing – where expert opinion seems to have reversed itself every few decades.

In the early 20th century, doctors and child guidance specialists insisted a mother’s role was to regiment a child to insure it behaved like a machine. Mother were strongly cautioned against playing with babies, picking them up except for feeding, hugging, kissing or cuddling them.

Follow the 1929 financial crash, experts reversed themselves and told mothers they had to be permissive and allow children to follow their own impulses in decided when to eat, sleep and play.

Child experts reversed themselves a third time when the US fell behind the Russians in the space race in the 1950s. At this point child experts dumped on mothers for not stimulating children enough or setting firm enough limits.


*Neurasthenia is a condition characterized by physical and mental exhaustion of unknown cause.

In The Myths of Capitalism, Michael Parenti explodes the most prevalent myths the ruling elite perpetuates regarding capitalism. Examples include

  • Capitalism produces prosperity – in truth capitalism produces prosperity for a handful of people and poverty for nearly everyone else. Parenti gives numerous examples of this.
  • The poor are responsible for their own poverty and are always looking for handouts – in reality, poverty occurs when the ruling elite privatize resources and public services to increase profits. Wherever capitalism is introduced, poverty follows.
  • Privately run businesses are always more efficient than those that are publicly run – Parenti gives number examples (including the post office, Medicare and Social Security) of government-run operations that have far less bureaucracy and far lower administrative costs than their private counterparts.
  • Capitalism fosters democracy – Parenti demonstrates quite ably how the exact opposite is true. A well educated working class that resists exploitation by exercising their democratic rights is an enormous threat to private profit. The US ruling elite fully supported the Bush/Obama suspension of basic civil liberties, the routine surveillance of the citizenry and the introduction of torture.

Most of the presentation focuses on the corporate crime and corruption and routine economic instability inherent in a capitalist economic system. Under modern industrial capitalism the only way to keep the economy from collapsing is to undertake a permanent state of perpetual war.

Emma Goldman: An Exceedingly Dangerous Woman

Mel Bucklin (2004)

Film Review

Other than the pro-capitalist depiction of the self-governing anarchist democracy Franco and his Wall Street supporters overturned during the Spanish Civil war, most of this documentary is historically accurate. The commentary, in contrast, is sentimental psychobabble and considerably detracts from the film.

The film beings with Goldman’s arrival in the US in 1885 at age 16 – escaping from an arranged marriage in czarist Russia. It would be four years before she connected with anarchists and other radicals in New York City.

The Panic of 1893, in which the US economy nearly collapsed, would launch her into the public spotlight. She led numerous protests marches of unemployed workers and spent a year in jail for incitement to riot. There was a crowd of 2,800 waiting outside the workhouse on her release.

American anarchists were extremely well-organized during a period of massive labor unrest and saw the wisdom of promoting a powerful speaker like Goldman. She believed that America’s founding father had a hidden libertarian/anarchist streak that had been corrupted by capitalism and often quoted from Jefferson and Paine.

In addition to speeches educating people about anarchism (ie replacing the state with self-governing workers committees and cooperatives), she also lectured widely about free speech, equal rights and economic independence for women, free love and birth control (she was sentenced to 15 days in jail for advocating for birth control in public).

She was an enormously popular speaker and received wide coverage in the mainstream media.

She also campaigned heavily against US entry into World War I, and in June 1917 was sentenced to 22 months for conspiracy to violate the Draft Act.

Shortly after her release in 1919 she was deported to Russia along with thousands of other Eastern European immigrants illegally arrested and deported during the Palmer Raids.

For me the most interesting part of the film concerns her meeting with Lenin in 1921.

How Do We Build Movements That Can Win

Naomi Klein (2017)

In this presentation, Naomi Klein  outlines the strategy she feels grassroots activists need to pursue to resist the growing attacks on working people while building build a genuine alternative to post industrial capitalism. It’s very similar to the one Kali Akuna proposes (see Don’t Just Fight, Build).

While she begins by focusing on climate change, she heavily emphasizes that environmentalists alone can’t solve the crisis of catastrophic climate change – that it will require a large diverse coalition of activists organizing around a broad array of environmental and social justice issues. While she doesn’t state directly that it’s impossible to prevent climate change under capitalism, this is strongly implied.

Another concept Klein stresses is the importance of radical ideas in creating the conditions for major reform. She gives the example of the calls for socialist revolution following the 1929 Depression and during the Vietnam War – how serious discussion of revolution scared the corporate elite so much that they granted major economic reform (the New Deal) under Roosevelt and major environmental reform under Nixon (creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, etc.).

Klein also gives the example of the Leap Coalition in Canada, which is working for bold social and environmental justice reforms, as well as the development of community controlled energy systems (similar to Germany’s) – where the profits from energy production fund community services, such as teaching, daycare and senior care – rather than distant corporations.

This presentation by anti-GMO and anti-globalization activist Vendana Shiva focuses on colonialism and its fundamental role in capitalism. She quotes from 17th century philosophers Bacon and Locke, who laid the groundwork for a capitalist philosophy that is clearly at odds with most human needs.

Their determination to “dominate” (in some cases they use the world “rape”) the natural world went hand in hand with early capitalists’ determination to dominate and enslave third world peoples and steal their lands.

Industrial farming is an excellent example of this attempt to “dominate” nature. Although it’s promoted as a method of reducing world hunger, it actually feeds fewer people because it destroys soil, kills pollinators and reduces access to fresh water. Its true purpose is to produce immense profits for a handful of rich capitalists.

At present industrial agriculture, which only produces 20% of the food people eat, is responsible for 70% of global disease and malnutrition and 75% of the damage capitalism causes to the global ecology.

social-conquest-of-earth

The Social Conquest of Earth

By Edward O Wilson

Liveright (2013)

Book Review

The Social Conquest of Earth is a book dedicated to an examination of human nature. Through an extensive review of scientific, anthropological, psychological and sociological research, it attempts to determine whether “human nature” is mainly genetically or culturally (ie environmentally) determined. The answer Wilson comes up with is surprising. He concludes that the social traits that make us human are mainly culturally based with only a minor genetic contribution.

In my view, these findings have profound implications regarding our ability to do away with capitalism and the state and govern ourselves.

The book’s primary focus is the “eusocial” nature of human behavior. By definition, a euosocial species is one that forms groups consisting of multiple generations in which members are prone to altruistic acts (eg acts in which they sacrifice themselves for the good of the group). Wilson uses his own extensive research into the genetic evolution of eusocial insects (eg ants, bees, wasps and termites) to inform his conclusions about the limited genetic role in “human nature.” I personally find his arguments quite convincing.

My favorite part of the book is where he demolishes Noam Chomsky’s theory of all language having a universal, genetically based grammar (see Sticking it to Chomsky).

I was also intrigued by the extensive research suggesting that our color perception is culturally rather than genetically based. Anthropological research suggests that human ability to recognize different colors depends on whether your native language has specific words differentiating them. Some indigenous groups have no words for different colors and can only identify them as “black” or “white.”

Research findings are consistent across a broad range of linguistic groups. Wilson cites a study by Berlin and Kay showing that the 2-11 colors identified in various societies are consistent across linguistic groups:

  • Cultures with only 2 color terms identify black and white.
  • Cultures with only 3 color terms identify black, white and red.
  • Cultures with only 4 color terms identify black, white, red and either green or yellow.
  • Cultures with only 5 color terms identify black, white, red, green and yellow.
  • Cultures with only 6 color terms identify black, white, red, green, yellow and blue.
  • Cultures with only 7 color terms identify black, white, red, green, yellow, blue and brown.
  • Cultures with 11 color terms (such as English) identify black, white, red, green, yellow, blue, brown, purple, pink, orange and gray.

coming-struggle-for-power

The Coming Struggle for Power

by John Strachey

Victor Golancz Limited (1932)

Free download link: The Coming Struggle for Power

Book Review

In The Coming Struggle for Power, British historian makes the prediction (writing in 1932) that capitalism is in its death throes and will end by 1950. He was wrong, obviously. Strachey had no way of predicting the tremendous boost monopoly capitalism would receive from Cold War military spending, nor the “financialization” (the shift from selling products to selling financial instruments) that would happen in the 1970s.

The book is largely historical, tracing the transition all global economies underwent from feudalism to mercantilism (large scale international trade) and from mercantilism to capitalism. In Europe both transformations were violent. Strachey points to the Rebellion of 1640 (during which Charles I was beheaded) and the Revolution of 1688 (in which James II was overthrown) during the feudal-mercantilist transition. The Enclosure Acts of the 18th century marked the mercantilist-capitalist transition. During this period British troops drove tens of thousands of families off lands they had farmed communally for more than 1,000 years – with most ending up in prisons and work houses.

Strachey also stresses that neither the French Revolution nor the American Revolution was really about political freedom or equality. The real purpose of both wars was to end old feudal relationships that interfered with the right of the new capitalist class to freely produce, buy and sell goods at a profit

The Inevitable Decay of Monopoly Capitalism

Strachey takes the Great Depression of the 1930s as evidence that capitalism has reached its final stage of monopoly capitalism. Quoting Lenin, he lists the three telltale signs that monopolistic capitalism has begun to decay:

1. The monopolistic corporations that control finance capital (ie banks) essentially merge with the monopolistic corporations that control production.
2. There’s growing focus on exporting capital (ie moving factories overseas).
3. National governments, which are essentially controlled by their monopolies, are in constant conflict with one another over who will control the resources, markets and cheap labor of the Third World.

Gee, this sounds familiar. The parallels with 2017 are uncanny.

The Inevitable Rise of Fascism

Strachey also writes about the important role of fascism in end stage capitalism. The declining profits and growth (ie stagnation) associated with end stage capitalism inevitably lead to reduced wages, poorer working conditions and a claw back of social welfare benefits enacted during more productive periods. This, in turn, leads to more conflict between workers and capitalists. Ensuring that production continues during a period of heavy stagnation necessitates the rise of fascism, in which the capitalists themselves organize workers into right wing populist movements which enact laws unfavorable to working people.

How Capitalism Stifles Intellectual Life

For me, the most interesting section of The Coming Struggle for Power concerns the stifling effect of corporate capitalism on intellectual life. Emphasizing the narrow ideological framework capitalism imposes on intellectuals, he devotes one chapter each to religion, philosophy and science and two to literature.

Because “capitalist” theologians and philosophers are limited to value systems that support profit taking and wealth accumulation, humankind has made absolutely no progress in 200 years in leading more moral and ethical lives. This stifling effect is also obvious in the areas of renewable energy technology (people forget Carter had a solar panel on the White House in 1979) and health science. At present, the profit motive has distorted health care to the point that many medical interventions actually make people sicker.