: 38(1) Letter to the Editor

38(1) Letter to the Editor

Gill H Boehringer

I write to express my surprise at the line taken by the editors in their OPINION, ‘Capitalism is a blunt instrument’ (2012) 37(2) AltLJ 76. The irony of their title perhaps escaped them. Capitalism is indeed a very blunt instrument as millions of the exploited poor and oppressed around the globe will testify.

It is true that ‘capitalism’ explains little in itself at the level of specificity which is needed to analyse its negative effects and plot an alternative path forward. But in recent decades we have learned that what is sometimes referred to as the political economy analytical approach, when married to insights from post-modern thinking, eg, local knowledges and specific practices, is an appropriate instrument for analysing our present condition.

Of course a simple reference to capitalism does not suffice to explain inequality and poverty. But it is important for an ‘alternative’ analysis to start with the system of capitalism, however complex it may be. Capitalism, after all, is the system — economic, political and social — under which we live. After hundreds of years, despite popular pressure on governments which the authors see as the method of ‘lasting social change’, the system remains intractable in reproducing those blights of social disparities in societies around the globe.

To say that by picketing Wall Street and Martin Place, Occupy has blundered is to miss the very real, if symbolic, importance of Occupy. It has, along with social and labor movements across the globe, exposed the inequality, poverty and other problems which accompany capitalist profit-seeking, imperialism and neo-colonialism. Like your authors, Marx, one of the great analysts of capitalism, recognised the positive social forces unleashed by the emergence of capitalism, but he was not blind to its fundamental and unavoidable negative impacts on the mass of people.

To say that we should be ‘lobbying the body charged with representing them: Parliament. A strong government can achieve just about any aspirational purpose, by pointing this blunt instrument of capitalism where we as a society will it to go’ is a staggering claim. It is of course, traditional ideology of conservative forces, not least the mainstream legal profession.

To suggest that capitalism is somehow neutral, ‘merely mechanics, a profit-driven economic system, not a theory to be despised or distrusted... [and] capitalist enterprise is a powerful tool to achieve specific ends that we may value as a society. It is the role of government to deploy capitalism in such a way’ is, I would suggest, illusory. Certainly governments can be pressured into reforms. Again, Marx was well aware of this, notably in his discussion in Capital (volume 1) of the great struggle for factory legislation to improve the conditions of the working class. But he never thought of ‘us’ and ‘society’ as being identical. On fundamental issues, governments have not been able to free themselves from the interests of the wealthy and powerful. That is why the poverty and inequality created and maintained under a capitalist system are so recalcitrant to reforms. Occupy — and others — brought this back onto the ‘action agenda’ precisely because legislatures around the globe have been unable to deal with these issues. And it is not as if our representatives have not known about, or in some cases tried to deal with, these issues.

To a great extent, Australia today is in the hands of the mega corporations. They control our parliamentary representatives by fear and corruption. I am just stating the obvious: the current Labor government has demonstrated this for us. We live in a corporate capitalist phase of human existence. On the margins, asking our elected representatives to develop new policies, to make reforms and to try to encourage them to adopt social change agenda, cannot be rejected. But we should also be prepared to resist corporate capitalist agenda by mass action and radical counter-hegemonic programs, and to seek an alternative mode of organising society. Thus Occupy acted appropriately.

For analytical purposes, we should not take seriously the ideology of liberalism about representative democracy, where ‘we’ vote and the government acts in ‘our’ interests. We live in a faux democracy. The needs and interests of the people are not considered a priority by the government. Governments have their own interest — staying in office. And they are constricted in what they can do for the masses, even when they wish to, by the power of the capitalist corporations.

I hope that the Alt LJ will seek to critique the capitalist system in search for an alternative to a system which sees the rich becoming richer and the poor poorer and more numerous.


(2013) 38(1) AltLJ 41
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