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Know your enemy: How to defeat capitalism

By Michael A. Lebowitz - Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, 2021

“Anyone can succeed”

In a capitalist society, there is always a good explanation for your poverty, your meaningless job (if you have a job), your difficulties and your general unhappiness. You are to blame. It is your failure. After all, look at other people who do succeed. If only you had worked a little harder, studied a little more, made those sacrifices.

We are told that anybody who works hard can become a success. Anyone can save up and become your own boss, a boss with employees. And there is some truth to this. Often, any one person can do these things — but we can’t conclude from this that every person can. It is a basic fallacy to conclude that because one person can do something, therefore everyone can. One person can see better in the theater if he stands, but if everyone stands no one can see better. Anyone can get the last seat on the plane, but everyone can’t. Any country can cut its costs and become more competitive, but every country cannot become more competitive by cutting costs.

The lessons they want you to learn

So, what does this focus upon the individual tell you? It tells you that it’s your own fault, that you are your own worst enemy. But maybe you don’t accept that. Maybe what’s holding you back is those other people. The problem is those people of color, the immigrants, indeed everyone willing to work for less who is taking a job away from you. They are the enemy because they compete with you. They’re the ones who force you to take a job for much less than you deserve, if you are to get a job at all.

The prison

Think about what’s known as “The Prisoners’ Dilemma”. Two people have been arrested for a crime, and each is separately made an offer: if you confess and the other prisoner doesn’t, you will get a very short sentence. But if the other confesses and you don’t, you will be in jail for a long time. So, each separately decides to confess. That’s a lot like your situation. The Workers’ Dilemma is: do I take the low wage job with little security or do I stay unemployed? “If everything were left to isolated, individual bargaining,” argued the General Council of the International Workingman’s Association (in which Karl Marx was a central figure), competition would, if unchecked, “reduce the producers of all wealth to a starvation level.” Of course, if the prisoners were able to cooperate, they would be much better off. And so are workers.

Immigrants, people of color, people in other countries are not inherently enemies. The other prisoners are not the enemy. Something, though, wants you to see each other as enemies. That something is the prison — the structure in which we all exist. That is the enemy: capitalism.

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