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Capital Blight - The Ghosts of Ayn Rand

By x344534, May 25, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

My path to green syndicalism was anything but a straight line. I was initially ignorant of anarchism and libertarian socialism, because what gets labeled "libertarian" in the United States of America is actually anything but anarchist or libertarian, but instead is the most extreme and dogmatic brand of capitalism.

Let's be absolutely clear here. Capitalism cannot survive without the state. It takes a massive, centralized, armed-to-the-teeth, authoritarian government to enforce business contracts, "private property" rights, virtual "intellectual property" rights (the idea that ideas can be owned and controlled), rent, usury, and the notion that corporations are individual people. Nobody in their right mind would voluntarily consent to a system of institutionalized inequality which results in starvation, homelessness, disease, squalor, wage slavery, sexism, racism, and ecological degradation if they had the freedom (yes, you heard me correctly, I said "FREEDOM!" that ever ubiquitous buzzword that capitalist ideologues cast so effortlessly about in defense of their way of life which is anything but free to those forced into subservience under its dictates) to choose.

What initially blocked my path to real libertarianism, meaning libertarian socialism was the twisted demented pretzel logic of the so called "libertarian" capitalists in their polysyllabic but ultimately empty peonage to their Laissez-faire capitalist religion.

One individual in particular, Bryan Caplan--who lived in the dorm room next to mine at the (state-funded) University of California at Berkeley--even tried to "convert" me to his faith by handing me a reading list if his holy prophets: Ludwig Von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Henry Hazlitt, F. A. Hayak, Robert Nozick, and--of course--Ayn Rand.

Naturally, I didn't bite. I had a good deal of exposure to the demented nonsense of Rand already, and any philosophy or economic theory that supported this crazy dingbat's contention that there's any "virtue" in selfishness or that big corporate business is "a persecuted minority" couldn't have anything useful to say to me.

Thanks to a combination of my intelligence, inquisitiveness, stubbornness, and some plain good luck, I found thinkers and philosophers who offered clues to real libertarian ideas. These included Noam Chomsky, Murray Bookchin, Vandana Shiva, Rudolf Rocker, Christipher Alexander, bell hooks, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Neil Peart (yes, that's correct, the drummer and lyricist of Rush), Chuck D (of Public Enemy), Graham Purchase, John Bellamy Foster, Carl Sagan, William Least Heat Moon, Bakunin, Marx, Engels, and Kropotkin (among others). Then, I met Judi Bari.

Judi Bari clarified matters for me greatly and showed me how one could be a radical environmentalist and an advocate for class struggle at the same time. Plus, she kept mentioning this group called, "the IWW."

I had no idea who the IWW was or what it stood for. For all I knew they were the International Socialist Organization (whom I was well acquainted with, but not at all interested in joining). Then, one day when seeking out a workers' collective to try and join as an alternative to the horribly depressing and soul killing capitalist retail job I had managed to get after graduating from that fabled weapons laboratory we call a "public university", a spokesperson from a network of such shops clued me in to what the IWW was and is.

I had heard Noam Chomsky (who would later join the IWW himself) describe himself as an "anarcho syndicalist" and a "libertarian socialist", but never fully understood what those terms meant or what an economy and political system organized around those ideas would look like. The IWW revealed to me how that would work in practice.

And, thanks to the influence of Judi Bari and Earth First!, the IWW was (and is) in many ways the first organization to promote green syndicalist ideas in practice (though the IWW is not limited to those concepts).

Over the following years, I came to realize how easy it was to prove just how flawed the thinking of so-called "libertarian" capitalists actually are, and really all I need to have done was read the following passage from the Preamble to the IWW Constitution:

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.

As time passed and I gained life-experience I saw that capitalism and freedom are actually incompatible. Just to be sure, I read anarchist and socialist literature voraciously and the knowledge that I gained from doing so validated my experiences. My deepening understanding of the interconnectedness of the environment further showed me the flawed pseudoscience that the Ludwig Von Mises "Austrian" school of economics actually is, and I came to realize that ever more fully as I wrote my own book about the green syndicalist organizing efforts of Judi Bari.

As for Caplan, I assumed he'd passed into obscurity (after all, disciples of Ayn Rand are a dime a dozen. The capitalist class spares few expenses in funding ministries of propaganda to promote itself, and said ideologues serve that function all too effectively, but there's nothing particularly noteworthy about most of them). In this particular case, I was mistaken.

I was scanning social media when I happened a link on this article in Salon by Michael Lind, when lo and behold, starring back at me was the smug mug of this long forgotten Randroid, featured on Faux "News". Of course. It had to happen!

What was worse that seeing an old nemesis being given limelight that he scarcely deserved was Lind suggesting that this acolyte of Rothbardism wasn't just famous, but that he is quite possibly the heir apparent to Von Mises and other, similar commissars. Lind contends that Caplan is a cut above the rest and may someday be remembered as great a thinker as Karl Marx--albeit diametrically opposed to the latter--even if Lind finds Caplan's views abominable.

I nearly lost my cookies.

If the past half-decade should teach us anything, it's that any pretense that capitalism could be reconciled with democracy has been utterly and irrevocably destroyed. The myths of Thatcherism and Reaganism--which so dramatically eclipsed post World War II Keynesianism--have themselves expired.

No matter, says Lind. Bryan Caplan argues that given the choice between (presumably statist) democracy (which Caplan calls "national socialism" without any trace of irony) and plutocracy, most people will choose the latter because they value "freedom" (whose?!?) so much they'll tolerate capitalist created inequality. What's more, Lind suggests that Caplan has conducted a number of statistical studies and derived a body of equations that prove it. Hogwash!!!

I don't know what objectivist crack Caplan has been smoking, but history shows again and again that the opposite is true, and that plutocratic capitalism is about as far from true libertarian society as one can get. And what's worse is that social democratic liberal capitalists like Lind actually accept this reframing of "libertarian" and "socialism".

There is no freedom, other than the freedom to starve, under plutocracy. Capitalism has as much to do with actual freedom as a Renaissance Faire has to do with medieval England, and what Caplan and his fellow propagandists describe as "socialism" is actually a form of state capitalist corporatism that has very little actual social control over the wealth of society, let alone workers' control over the means of production.

The type of world that Caplan and his friends envision has never existed in the real world, nor could it. The "anarcho"-capitalist economic model is based on pure theoretical abstraction that is reductionist to the point of irrelevance. Historically capitalism evolved from colonialist imperialism and the appropriation of lands that were once held in common by relatively libertarian communalist societies (I challenge Caplan and his true believers to show me an example of any competing capitalist examples). The authoritarianism inherent in the process of enclosure that destroyed the commons and led to the creation of private property is about as far from liberty (for those on the receiving end at any rate) as night is from day.

The only way that anyone can reframe capitalism as "libertarianism" is to distort reality, speak purely in the abstract, play word games, and lie with statistics.

Perhaps Lind isn't disputing this and is merely saying that Caplan is a brilliant mind and a formidable commentator, that those of us in disgreement with him ignore at our peril. But does that really matter?

If plutocracy became the order of the day by some dystopian circumstance and the silver tongued deceptions of one of its commissars, it would not long endure in any case, because it will destroy human civilization through the process of ecocide. According to anarchist Gary Elkin, Capitalism cannot be reconciled with the environment due to the problem of externalities, the outsourcing of social costs to the nonprofit gaining masses not part of the capitalist class, which includes all non human species and the ecosphere itself.

Capitalism also cannot be reconciled with these four principles identified by ecosocialist Barry Commoner:

  • Everything is connected to everything else,
  • Everything must go somewhere,
  • Nature knows best, and
  • Nothing comes from nothing.

Finally, in her seminal text, Revolutionary Ecology, Judi Bari pointed out that capitalism depends on profit which--going beyond Marx--is not solely the uncompensated "surplus" labor of the workers, but wealth taken from the Earth and not replenished through natural cycles. 

Capitalism destroys our very means if survival, and all around us we see people organizing to stop that destruction, if not for the blood if the workers, for the good if their homes and their communities. Everywhere one looks, people are rising up against tar sands mining, deforestation, oil spills, fracking, crude-by-rail, nuclear power, GMO crops, suburban sprawl, and mountain top coal removal--all extractive processes that Caplan supposedly believes that most people will sit back in "tolerate" in the name of "freedom" (i.e freedom of the capitalist class to make a profit at the expense of the neighborhoods, livelihoods, and environment of the masses).

If Caplan were correct, we'd expect to see mass demonstrations in favor of these horrible things, but we don't (unless they're fake "demonstrations" manufactured by capitalist front groups, which would be utterly unnecessary if people actually supported capitalism in all of its naked greed and avarice!)

Further, the capitalist class, particularly the "libertarian" Koch Brothers are doing everything they can to promote the accelerated extraction and ongoing infrastructure maintenance of centralized, capital intensive fossil fuels and the suppression of clean, decentralized, libertarian renewable energy--no doubt in large part due to the very real fear by private, capitalist utility companies that distributed renewable energy threatens their very existence as an economic model! And, in fact, this is happening much faster than anyone (including Caplan, certainly) seems to have predicted!

Caplan also represents the same interests who are engaged in climate change denial, no doubt because dealing with the problem of climate change necessitates an end to capitalism. All of Caplan's charts and graphs, all of his predictions, and all of his pontificating will not change this.

But no matter. The capitalist class will continue to seek out minds like those of Bryan Caplan whose genius is not in telling us how things really are, but is instead the pushing of pseudo-scientific clap trap suggesting that black is white, slavery is freedom, fracking isn't bad for the environment, toxic sludge is good for you, and that scientific consensus has not proven that global warming is due to human (specifically capitalist) causes!

But then what do I know? I work on a boat. My book about Judi Bari hasn't (yet) been published. You won't see my face on Faux "news" any time, and Lind doesn't even know my name.

If there is any justice in the universe, not to mention any chance if humanity's survival, history doesn't have to immortalize green syndicalists like me, but it will have to properly assign the Bryan Caplans of the world--no matter how adeptly they can lie with charts and statistics --to their rightful place, and that's along with those who believed the world is flat, that the sun revolves around it, and our solar system and its relatively minor star are the entirety if the universe.

If we are going to have a future at all, our future will be green, our future will be syndicalist, and the Bryan Caplans will be just another footnote in our history.

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