Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Without being an expert in Communism, I can imagine the general desire to somehow transcend capitalism. There is something jarring about an economic system that persistently transforms, undermines, and changes the way we live our lives. The vocabulary of capitalism is so thoroughly integrated into our speech patterns that we hardly notice it anymore. But think for a moment about the way the discourse of capitalism structures the way we think about almost everything we (pun attended) value. We talk about money, debt, class, socioeconomic status, financial transactions, markets, prices, commodities, sales, discounts, interest, wealth, poverty, merchandise, monetary policy, fiscal policy, deficits, economic growth, economic decline, economic well-being, change, currency, cash, money, Benjamins, credit, payments, dividends, annuities, salaries, bonuses, savings, deals, trades, loans, dollars, etc.
Socialism was a well-intentioned effort to turn back the clock (or to advance the clock) to a time where human beings were not subject to competition and the caprice of supply and demand. As bad as the Middles Ages were, they did demonstrate that men and women are indeed capable of attributing meaning to things other than money. In the Dark Ages, people sometimes did without trade. Hell, they sometimes did without money. Although the Dark Ages may never have been as dark as they are sometimes made out to be—or were they worse—people were often forced to grow their own food in a state of near total autarchy. People valued Christian ideals (or didn’t) and military prowess, which gradually evolved in a decidedly non-capitalist set of values, to wit, chivalry. The bourgeoisie, as a class, didn’t even exist. People worked for protection (or because they had become quasi-slaves, or serfs) rather than for monetary remuneration.
If socialism failed to create a viable alternative to capitalism, it seems impossible to believe that human beings will accept this decision as final. Is the language of trade the only language we’re capable of using? Does everything really have a price? Hunter-gatherers seem to have gotten along for many thousands of years without capitalism (or capitalist accumulation). Can we do it again?