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The nature of capitalism - and viable alternatives

Just a little something to read and question. Question me, question everything.
Hey, I have a question - what's the difference in most people's minds between a locally owned capitalist business and a corporate owned capitalist business?

Some would say that it's better - somehow morally better - to shop at the independent capitalist store rather than the corporate capitalist store. But as we all know, Starbucks and every other corporate conglomerate started as a small independently owned business.

Anyway, I just thought I'd through a few lines of thought on the matter out there for you to question.

Question: What is a capitalist business?

A capitalist business is any business that employs wage slaves in order to make profit (capital).

Question: What is a wage slave?

A wage slave is anyone who is paid for their time - whether it is an hourly rate, an annual salary, etc.

Question: Why do capitalist business's use wage slavery?

Capitalist businesses use wage slavery, because, as someone earlier on this thread stated, the point of any capitalist venture is to make profit.

Therefore, the capitalists pay their wage slaves less than what the value of their labor is worth - otherwise they would not make any profit. So the capitalist owners (whether local business owners, or corporate stock holders and CEOs) must exploit their wage slaves by re-selling the goods that the wage slaves are producing (or the services the wage slaves are rendering), to others at a higher price - otherwise they would make no profit.

Therefore, exploitation is inherent in any capitalist business.

Question: Are there viable alternatives to capitalism - economic structures in which exploitation and inequality are not inherent?

Yes, of course. All one has to do is study history, or observe events taking place in the present day.

For current day alternatives - research into what is happening, as has been happening for over two years now, in Argentina. Look at the workers occupying the abandoned factories - factories closed down by the foreign capitalists in search of cheaper wage slave labor rates in Asia, just as the same capitalists had previously shifted their labor base from the United States to South and Central America (among others) beginning on a large scale in the 1970's. In Argentina, the workers are running the factories cooperatively, without bosses, using consensus decision making - therefore the workers are not being exploited. Look at the neighborhood councils in Argentina - councils without leaders, councils that also use consensus decision making to get things done, to set up neighborhood cooperative bakeries and schools. And Argentina is just one example.

For viable alternatives to capitalism used in the past - read about the cooperatives set up all across much of free Spain during the Spanish revolution and civil war that began in 1936. In some places, especially in Catalonia and Aragon, entire towns and cities were almost entirely cooperatively run - again, without leaders, using consensus decision making. The cooperatives existed and thrived until they were crushed first by Stalinist divisions of the Republican army, and later by the military victory of the fascists. A great book on the period: The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, by Jose Peirats, a CNT member and historian.

Question: What are some names used for economic and social systems in which wage slavery is illegal, and humans are not exploited for their labor?

Libertarian communism or anarchist communism.

Question: What can one person do to spread equality, freedom, creativity, and knowledge throughout the world?

Not much - if they are alone. But organized together, using consensus decision making - without leaders - the world can, is, and has been changed.

We probably will not see it in our lifetimes, but another world is possible.

For those who want a better world but want immediate gratification, no matter how illusory - then keep shopping at New Seasons, etc, and pretending you're helping to make the world a better place.

For those who want a better world for all - educate and organize autonomous of all political control, or you will be betrayed by your leaders - just look at history.

As always - turn off your televisions permanently, read, educate yourself, educate others, create, and organize!!!

Pick up a copy of Little Beruit!
alternatives 14.Feb.2004 00:33


In our economy there are few alternatives if you need to make money to pay the rent and pay for fuel...
If you were not born wealthy you need to work. If your family owns a business you can work there. If your family doesn't own a business you can start your own. You may be able to find a cooperative but, in lieu of those options you are likely going to work for someone else. There are some decent bosses/owners and it is true the smaller the business the easier it is to talk to your boss --- but the smaller the business the less likely they will be able to afford to provide healthcare and other benefits to their employees. I hear people all the time saying "well at least Starbucks offers benefits." Now mind you I don't buy my coffee there and I try hard to buy locally made from locally owned but it is just not always possible. I went to half a dozen stores last week trying to find clothing for a six year old that was made in the united states. It was the first time I have been in commercial stores in over two years. I found clothes made in Kenya, Vietnam, Turkey, Macau, Columbia etc etc The only store I found with shirts and pants made in the usa was, GULP, Nordstroms. I felt guilty being there but my grandaughter needed some pants. I paid a fortune for the made in the usa even on sale. I could've purchased four or five pairs of non usa made. My daughter and I buy from the thriftshops whenever possible. If someone wanted to start a co-op making a selling usa made clothing for children seems like it would be a great venture. Then again --- where does the fabric come from? A long comment to be sure. My frustration level at the way things are done in a capitalist system is very acute.. Alternatives are very hard to find.

Nit 14.Feb.2004 01:24


Cooperatives also pay their employees less than their labout is worth.

As we all know, and Eric admits by carefully implying but not saying the opposite, there are enormous qualitative and even quantitative differences between 'local' and corporate capitalism. I would be surprised, if Eric does not know, too, that corporations were invented and elaborated to evade the responsibilities, legal, moral and ethical, by which local persons are inconvenienced.

Cooperatives pay their "employees" less than what their labor is worth? 14.Feb.2004 11:10

eric blair

Hi Bill,

I'm interested - how could a cooperative pay their "employees" less than they are worth? I find this assumption highly illogical.

First off though, perhaps you and I are using different definitions of the term "cooperative." When I use the term cooperative, I am talking about worker owned and run cooperatives.

Technically, a cooperative does not have "employees" - only owners. A cooperative employs no wage slaves. The workers own equal parts of the cooperative - the workers are the owners. When the goods or services that the workers produce are sold, all the proceeds go straight back into the cooperative - to the worker/owners. Therefore, the worker/owners are paid the full worth of their labor.

On the other hand, a capitalist business (whether independently owned or corporate) sells the goods and services which their wage slaves produce, but instead of dividing the profits equally between all workers, the owners pocket as much profit as possible, thereby paying their wage slaves less than what their labor is worth. Otherwise, the owner would not make any profit.

So I'm interested to hear how cooperatives pay their "employees" less than their labor is worth.

Also, I'd love for you to expand on your comment regarding how local persons are "inconvenienced" by corporations.

I am not defending corporations. However, if a business (independent or corporate) employs wage slaves, then they exploit their workers.

For example, let's compare New Seasons and Safeway. I know a friend who works at New Seasons and makes around $8.50 an hour. I've also spoken with employees at the Safeway on Hawthorne and 30th, and they are paid considerably more. So the wage slaves at New Seasons (independently owned) are being exploited more than the employees at the Hawthorne Safeway (corporate owned) - for now at least. Of course, this is but one example - it does not follow that this is the norm. But I think this example illustrates facets of capitalism that some people often overlook.

In my opinion, you can only judge a capitalist business by how much they exploit their workers. I think that some people may assume that just because a business is independently owned, then the wage slaves who are employed there are automatically being exploited less than the wage slaves employed at a corporate owned business of the same nature.

Anyway, I like your comments. I love to see critical thinking - everything should be questioned.

Do you stand against fair wage/trade politics? 14.Feb.2004 11:51

Michael b mbthink@hotmail.com

Eric Blair:
"Question: What is a wage slave?
A wage slave is anyone who is paid for their time - whether it is an hourly rate, an annual salary, etc."

Is voluntary indenturement slavery? Well it can be. In america poor Europeans fled the chaste system of thier own country to have a chance at un restrained enterprise in America.
Living as a share cropper in Ireland for some English lord, and looking at raising your children into the same future seems a much bleaker future than working this same life for 10 years, to recieve "freedom" for yourself and your family. Is this different from the slavery that Africans felt? In most casses I'd say so. Of course many poor eropeans then found themselves in a new land with new masters that would not release them from bondage.

Capitalism is the the trading of goods and services (capital). Can capitalism be as you describe it? Damn right. For example there's a well respected local actavist in portland that works with migrant farmworkers to secure thier future as workers in this country. She
tirelessly organizes against farmers, and other buisinesses that hire foriegn nationals to work in america and then REFUSE to pay them more than 3$ an hour. When they demand more -these "buisinesses" call the INS to deport them.
This is capitalism as you know it. Capitalism as the exploitation of one for anothers gain.
To make matters worse after working for years with jobs with justice she saw an endless procession of white actavists with less espierence, and less connection to the community they were trying to help, be promoted above her. When the people they tried to promote stood up and told Jobs with Justice that they would quit if she wasn't promoted to the position, they fired her. This is too is capitalism.

The other side of this story was told by the legacy of the brave men and women who fought these crony capitalists so that people could have a chance at freedom from capitalist rule. People like Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, and a host of others who fought for the fourty hour week, and fair wages.

See, the trouble was and is that small buisineses can't compete with wage slavery.
This realizaiton is at the heart of anti-corperate/globalization action. Families trying to make a living stitching undergarments in turn of the century new york would find themselves put out of buisiness by the triangle wastecoat factory. A buisiness that locked the workers inside, and forced twelve year olds to work 14-16 hour days- untill a tragic fire.

By your recomendation of little beruit I'm led to wonder if in fact you work as an Anti Capitalist Action actavist? I respect what they/you do with little beruit. I worked with a collective called liberation collective from 1998+ and our mission was to link social justice movements to end all oppression. Little Beruit strikes me as a project we woud have done.

That said, much of your rehtoric smacks in the face of what anarchists, unionists, and many civil rights organizers have done to releive flesh and blood people from the conditions of capitalism at it's worst. It almost seems to deny the historical reality that people have bled and died fighting capitalism as you know it. In favor of what sounds like an absolutist interpretation of what it means to be an anti-capitalist. The truth is I don't care about your life style. However- I will organize against you, or anyone that practices a an un strategic and blanket approach that tears down small buisinesses, my friends, local unions, or efforts like those of pcun.

The truth is right here in this city theres an active campaign bieng organized by small buisinesses, cooperetives, and grass roots actavists to kick starbucks out of se. If more people believed what you say this would tear at the efforts of other people trying to fight corperate governance.

As much as anyone I want to transition from this system- but we cannot bury our heads in the scene and deny the reality of the day.


... 14.Feb.2004 12:40

this thing here

>In my opinion, you can only judge a capitalist business by how much they exploit their workers.<

unfortunately this misses of whole lot of other things.

how much do they exploit the natural environment and it's resources?

how much do they exploit other living creatures, such as animals?

how much do they exploit/take advantage of/corrupt the local and national political and legal system of their given operating environment, in order to give themselves unfair advantages?

obviously, the larger a corporation, the more negative impact they may potentially have in each of these areas.

certainly, a gigantic multinational corporation could in fact be completely positive, treating their employees and the environment with the utmost respect, and not seeking to corrupt the government and legal system for their own ends. but the question is, why don't they?

and unfortunately, i think this is because the bottom line in capitalist business DOES NOT REWARD GOOD BEHAVIOR any more than it punishes bad behavior.

i have a strong personal belief that, if a capitalist, a business person, has no personal integrity or morals or ethics of their own, or has them but refuses to follow them, they will instead erroneously insist that the capitalist market itself has all the integrity, morality and ethics one could need. and like loyal capitalists, they insist that you can measure this morality and this integrity by simply using the bottom line: "a 'good' business makes money. a 'bad' business makes no money.", as if this was all that integrity and morality and ethics was. this is wrong. this is perverted, twisted.

capitalism is a moral and ethical vacuum. there is no there there if you're looking for values. and i can say this because the illegal activities of a corporation like enron made an enourmous amount of money. and under capitalism, making enourmous profit represents a "good" or "positive" value. at the same time, i remember a 60 minutes piece about a cotton mill in new england where the employees were treated very well, and the owners and managers operated with a huge amount of respect towards their employees, and the employees likewise were very close to the managers and trusted them. so what happened to this advantageous relationship? the mill closed becaused it could not produce it's products at a cheap enough price, mainly because the management refused to treat their employees like shit.

so you see, illegal or harmful activity can get rewarded with profit just as easily as perfectly legal or positive activity can get punished. this is why i think capitalism is moral and ethical wasteland. IT HAS NO VALUE. A CAPITALIST MARKET IS NOT A MORAL ACTIVITY, NOR IS IT A WAY TO MEASURE MORAL AND ETHICAL ACTIVITY, NOR IS IT AWAY TO REWARD MORAL AND ETHICAL ACTIVITY WHILE AT THE SAME TIME PUNISHING IMMORAL OR UNETHICAL ACTIVITY. it is, if anything, almost sociopathic, in that it is amoral and asocial.

so i guess what i'm trying to get at is that the longer our society lives under the amoral and asocial societal framework provided by capitalist business activity, the more in danger we are of losing OUR OWN HUMAN ABILITY TO BE MORAL AND ETHICAL. this will happen because as a society of humans, we will learn to supress any personal feelings of morality, ethics, empathy or just good business practice IF THEY CONFLICT WITH THE BOTTOM LINE, OR IN ANY WAY HARM THE BOTTOM LINE OR THREATEN OUR ABILITY TO SURVIVE IN THE CAPITALIST WORLD. instead, we will learn how to be just as amoral and asocial as capitalism.

and if this comes to pass, if our own human ability to be moral and ethical is buried or suppressed to the point of atrophying, our society will be perhaps the most bizarre and surreal framework in which human beings have ever lived. it will be like living in a vacuum, a empty space, ready to be filled NOT with what is good and just, but simply that which fits and functions in that empty space. sex and violence used as ways to sell things, and exalted and glorified as such. child labor. bizarre and psychologically potent advertising tactics (see the topic on the portland IMC newswire about a certain advertisement by qwest). lying. deceit and fraud. corruption. corporatism. authoritarian statist governments. supressed or tailored rights. all things which are harmful, but which fit and function in this empty space, this wasteland, in which capitalism has tailored humans to work for it, rather that humans tailoring capitalism to work for us...

Better reread some of the comments 14.Feb.2004 13:20

Mike stepbystepfarm <a> mtdata.com

And look at facts, use logic, instead of just quoting "scripture" << sorry, but SOME of you are using Marx that way -- and he's probably rolloing over in his grave about that>>

As has been pointed out in some of the comments --- a "capitalist" venture might not HAVE any "wage slaves". Now according to what some of you seem to think, that means such a business couldn't make a profit because "the only possible source of profit is exploited labor" (chapter and verse reference left out). According to "scripture", no such business could exist. BUT THEY DO. So which do you believe, your own eyes or the "gospel according to St. Marx".

Well you COULD decide that a business environment JUST containing "owner-worker" businesses interacting in a "free market" wasn't "capitalism". But what would you call it? Not "socialism" certainly <<e entities not large enough and likely shares transferrable --- were all the entities fairly large, communes of say a couple hundred and membership shares NOT "tradable" then perhaps you COULD call it "socialism">>

TRUE respect for Marx's thinking would be for Marxists, instead of treating his words as scripture, corrected and filled in the gaps in his analysis to make the argument stronger and better Thus.....
1) Consider what part of the "profit" supposedly being exploited isn't profit but "expense", the expense of BORROWING the capital used by the productive enterprise << it COULD have been borrowed from somebody OTHER than the "owner" in which case it would be clearer what THIS portion being claimed by the "owner" really is >>
2) Consider what portion of the "labor" isn't being done by the "workers". Again the "profit" going an owner-manager is more clearly an "expense" were that management task hired out.
THE POINT IS -- in capitalism the workers can get exploited because how the "proifts" of the enterprise get shared out don't depend upon the relative importance to the enterprise of each component but their strength or lack of strength to claim their proper share. Of course their "cut" of the profits is also an "expense" to the enterprise. If they are weak and unorganized, whoever controls the enterprise can claim some of the worker's proper share for their own -- "excess" profit of you will. The issue is power and control.

Economic History 101 14.Feb.2004 13:52


In the time preceding capitalism and mercantilism, most of the world's population lived as many still do--foraging for food and hunting. Those that did not have the strength, often the women, children, and aged, would employ themselves to "cooperative" tasks like making clothing. Even then, inherent differences in the productive capacity of each person in the family or tribe determined his/her role. Quality of life, even then, was subject to systematic risk--drought, dangerous animals, storms, etc. For them, life might have felt like slaver since the quest for fresh food, shelter, and safety invariably resulted in a migratory existence that could be marked by hardship.

So mankind eventually tired of the nomadic lifestyle and invested through even greater physical effort in forms of irrigation, corrals, and other methods through which the supply of harvest and hunt could be more reliably predicted. This effort no doubt introduced other inherent differences in human capital, as some had relatively greater success roping cows, achieving irrigation, building boats, etc. Now with an infrastructure of material and (human) capital that was put together over time, came a need to protect it, as (in what is comtemporarily known as "social drift" theory) some found themselves more capable of stealing than investing. So began the need for structure, leadership, and defense of the infrastructure. In the earliest days, this may have been the hero, or warrior, or patriarch. Even then, however, intellectual capital began to prevail over physical human capital, and the skills of the canal engineer, the healing man, the priest, or the magician began to be valued on par with the strongest hunter.

I will stop there, but I think I've provided enough pretext for people to better contemplate the existence of wages. Even in a cooperative plant in Argentina, for example, there will be a need for statisticians, economic analysts, etc., because without that effort, nobody's productive efforts will be maximized due to the opportunity costs associated with increased tact time, lead time, etc. The consumer will not benefit, even if they don't have any other plant from which to purchase the goods it produces, because costs will not be maximized. The cooperative plant, without those skills, will have to hire them or select certain people to attend a university to get those skills, since all will be better off for them. The individual who sacrifices many long nights in pursuit of this education will, by virtue of the scarcity of his skills, have relatively more value to the cooperative than the production worker, who can easily be replaced. This increased value of his/her human capital exists, regarless of whether or not he/she demands higher compensation or is content to serve the cooperative for altruistic reasons.

Furthermore, even in the case of a cooperative, the efforts are still pursued for profit. Since none of the people working the plant are, as was the case of the migratory hunter/gatherer, engaging all their productive time in all the necessary means of survival, they must earn a premium in order to purchase the other goods and services they require. Now the question arises, what is reasonable return for the labor put into the cooperative to provide the lifestyle they desire/require? Without going into how this effects the supply of whatever form of money is used to barter among members of different cooperatives (taking this example to the case of an entire society), how it effects inflation, etc., somebody will have to specialize in pricing skills.

Now you have a group of people, most of whom get sweaty doing physical labor, and some of whom sit behind a desk analyzing information to make optimal decisions. Does the group of laborers defer to the expertise of those chosen to pursue the optimal decisions? If so, leadership is formed, if if not so formally. If not, the cooperative will expose itself to competition from others who can do the same job better and cheaper. This is why society benefits from increased competition.

So in closing, I'll answer the question: What is a wage slave. A wage slave is somebody who is a price taker in the labor market, because this basically means they must work at minimum wage, or the lowest marginal product per each unit of labor they contribute. In other words, they are stuck at the bottom of income distribution, around which the supply of money is centered, and are theoretically relegated to subsistence wages--which is basically what the hunter/gather was doing, subsisting from day to day (with no guarantees that the days labor will fill their stomachs).

Capitalism isn't the problem itself, so long as it is regulated for the good of society--something early economists like Adam Smith fully recognized. Otherwise, capitalism will lead to oppression, as it has today. The marginal benefits that will come to the gifted med student for his 10-12 years of higher education and internship will ensure (theoretically) that those with the best aptitude become physicians. But nobody in society should be suffer, and because our USA was founded with some cooperative intent, those who fulfill the roles of the minimum wage workers should be guaranteed a certain standard of living--parks and recreation, a home, health care, etc. This involves proactive regulation, progressive tax structures, etc.

Our system of checks and balances is meant to make sure that the capitalist forces that sustain the economy are subject to democratic approval--the good of society. The biggest reason they are failing today is because major media has been corrupted into a propoganda tool so that the average member of society is misled into supporting policies that are truly not in his/her best interest. Freedom of press and information, and ready accessibility to it, are the key to saving our democracy and preventing wage slavery.

ya, good pts. Mike 14.Feb.2004 16:01


in a perfect universe, IT works that way, or bookwise...

Most private/small!! companies, as mine, take service-oriented time to ensure the fucking customer gets what they deserve, and the wages MUST be paid out, and the environment is respected, and OUR profits COME LAST, K?

Communism versus Capitalism 14.Feb.2004 18:03

just for starters

Capitalism works until corporations eat up the competion by either buying off government regulators and writing oppressive laws that drive competitors out of business or using monopolistic control to price out the small competitor. These are just two of the ways that out of control monopolies destroy free enterprise and drive a Capitalistic economy into a form of Communistic economy. The difference in markets is evidenced simply through control of the markets by communistic rule of the people or the corporate control of the markets through sponsorship of a corrupt for-sale-by-the highest-bidder legislative body. The difference to the average joe is not too different.
The difference between the forms of government used to be the vote-but that difference went by the wayside when the corporations bought out the vote counting machines. Now we are managed by propaganda fed through the corporate owned governement.

communism? 14.Feb.2004 18:41


Communism as the world has seen it play out was not particularly Marxist so i am curious about where the last comment came from. Communal living that involves jointly owned, jointly administrated, jointy distributed wealth is cooperative and communistic. The trouble with any such system on a large scale is that it breaks down and you find a smaller group (Central Committee, cells, etc..) making the decisions for everyone. It seems some kind of controls need to be mutually agreed to under either system. In a true capitalistic system there must be controls/limits on the amount of wealth that can be accumulated --- otherwise you find mass poverty and a few folks arming to defend their pile of goods. In a cooperative/jointly owned system, decision making must remain locally controlled or the individual families/persons/households are depersonalized and variations in need are disregarded. e.g. the handicapped or elderly or otherwise vulnerable will "need more" than the healthy younger population.
Isn't the idea of Democratic Socialism kind of a blend? The ideal being to allow people to gain from their industriousness but not by depriving others of their basic needs...
I think that a lid on the amount of personal wealth that can be accumulated along with the dismantling of corporations as persons would be great ways to being restructuring our economy.

Capitalism has no value- but the ones we impose on it. 14.Feb.2004 18:45

Michael b

to ... this thing here

Capitalism has no value but the values we ascribe to it. Left to themselves these people who ascribe a value to the accumulation of capital as a virtue in and of itself will materailize all expression, and all life till it comes to a messy end. On this point we agree. On the point of weither good values are marketable we seem to dissagree. I live in an apartment that's got non toxic paint, recycled fir floors, non toxic countertops, community composting, free internet, and water subsidized garden beds. This costs me 625$
My landlord considers himself a "green capitalist" of a "movement" of green capitalists.
I guess it's in the same veign as "cradle to cradle." The other day he was telling me about this book thats got thousands of examples of small green buisineses in the US that work this way. Myself I woud prefer that communities co-operitize our, land, labor, and resources. I am agianst a federal state- and woud like see it radicly reduced or abolished. I guess this puts me at odds with communism. I talk to a lot of right wing folks that share many points of this analasis- and a lot of anarchists for that matter. I don't see why getting down on small buisineses for bieng capitalist is more important than building a revolutionary movement to abolish this government, and it's corperate allies to enact real community based democracy. Especially considering that many of these small morally concious buisineses woud be your allies in this struggle if you asked.
Similarly, I get frustrated with many union actavists, and communists for thier blanket support of a federal state as a means of distributing production. It irks me that many unionists I meet don't respect local co-ops because they're not materially motivated enough to provide living wages. I guess for many co-op owners it seems like to some extent a person needs to trade your own materialist drives for the social good of your community- at least untill your local network or co-op becomes strong enough to improve your lot. Hows that for a guiding hand?

Economic History 102 14.Feb.2004 19:42

Ted zalor@yahoo.com

I am overjoyed that this is turning into one of the best, intellectually valid, strings of discussion I have read on Portland Indymedia. What I hear, since I posed EH 101, is that propoganda and political manipulation have led to the degredation of society under out capitalist system. So the root cause of the problem is that which allows the corporate purchase and distortion of media and information, not the capitalist system itself. So I posit that the most effective action would be to organize, assemble, and lobby for laws that will create liability for propaganda. Imagine if the the networks and stations that air Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly could be sued for their blatant distortion of information, much of which can be proven ahead of time by good, journalistic techniques of verifying your sources. If this becomes the case, will Rupert Murdoch and shareholders of these organizations want to expose themselves to billions in liability for airing these propagandists? The capitalist system will make sure the answer to that question is no.

Capitalism and democracy are conduits through which the resources and will of a society are directed to the common good, assuming perfect information. The system itself is only as vulnerable as the ability to distort the information that participants in the democratic system have available to them. Address these internal controls, and the system will once again serve the needs of the proletariat. I should add that Marx himself was a great admirer of capitalism and tried to immigrate to the US because of it. So by demonizing capitalism, the progressive movement only defeats itself, because capitalism itself provides an innate ballist for democracy. Pregressives must be more disciplined in pin-pointing the root causes of problems that effect the bottom 90% of society and react accordingly. Revolution and nihilism are, as any student of history will tell you, very unpredictable and traumatic avenues to venture down. Our forefathers went through great strife to build the system we live with and gave us that system so that we could maintain the freedoms they sought to achieve. It is not to late to rescue this system. Indeed, it is the best chance we've got within our lifetimes and that of our children.


Hola, Eric 15.Feb.2004 05:17


Here are some thoughts for thinking. No doubt some are crazier than they look at first. I will not participate much in this thread, after this, because I think I have a good poem growing and it needs cultivation.

You do not talk about a cooperative, as described by for example Moses Coady. You talk about a collective. An unofficial corporation.

And if the collective were to gather their savings/creditcards together, and buy a sewing-machine, or rent an empty health-food store, they would be capitalists. If they were to seize their ex-employer's sewing machines, in lieu of unpaid wages (as they did at Brukman, in accordance with Argentine law) they would still be capitalists.

Of course, as you say, if the workers are the owners, it is certainly ambiguous to speak of employees.

Let's take New Seasons for example. If the 'owners' were to vanish tomorrow... well, the bankers would shut it down... but if the 'workers' became the owners tomorrow, their wages could increase slightly. However, they would remain less than at Safeway, simply because there is less elasticity in their market niche. There is less extractable 'profit'. Safeway can pay more. Surely, even collective owners' labours are worth more (by definition) than a capitalist corporation will pay for them.

If you should ask why Safeway can pay more, you might find yourself tangled in sticky questions... like, is it more exploitive to squeeze the employees in Oregon than to squeeze those in Costa Rica.

If we were to throw WalMart into the comparison between New Seasons and Safeway, we would obtain more ambiguous results, wouldn't we.

I said local persons are inconvenienced by "responsibilities, legal, moral and ethical" -- not by corporations.

If Ms Merchant lived above her butcher-shop, she could hang her belly on the scale, she could set aside the nicest roast for herself, she could even slip some ripish steaks into the hamburger. However, she would be careful not to poison her customers, she would be careful not to remain noticeably over-fed while her customers starved. She would anticipate finding herself resented.

Mr Absentee Owner has no such problems, except negligent poisoning. The flock of vultures hiding behind California Carnage Corporation purchase legislation to relieve themselves even of this liability. That is the whole point of incorporation : to become immune to the responsibilities, and feeble resources, of mere citizens.

I'm glad you like questions. I thought your article to be careless with definitions and their consequences. You should not start passing out 'exploiter' or 'wage-slave' stickers, without careful attention to distinctions like local vs absent, corporate vs individual, large vs small, near vs far, sustainable vs insustainable, even past vs present vs future.

A local economic unit, irrespective of politics, in the heart of the empire, will always distribute less wealth locally than one in the colonies. A local economic unit anywhere will always have less stolen wealth to distribute as its owners choose than a global unit.

I think I have just said that workers in Oregon will always be paid more than their labour is worth, and workers in Costa Rica less, for as long as Oregon remains closer to the favour of the empire.

Anyway, examine those distinctions!

Addendum 15.Feb.2004 07:11


... "When we follow the worker home from the factory, we witness a transformation of the dramatis personae. The shy and reluctant worker now leads the way followed by a third person carrying the purchases, the baby and the diapers."

Let us follow the housewife whether she is also a paid worker or not.. If we follow the shopping woman in the supermarket, workers held in bondage on the coffee plantations in Central America appear in the background. Let us follow here to Wal-Mart. There we see the seamstress Carmen Hernandez from Honduras in the Wal-Mart subcontractor Evergreen. Carmen works for 43 cents an hour, ...

... Marx was certainly one of the analysts if not the best analyst of the conditions that his earth has seen. Nevertheless his analytical abilities - and the abilities of Friedrich Engels - are reduced to absurdity regarding the inclusion of women and their standpoints in their analyses. ...

from : 'Freedom, Equality and Justice or War and Peace', by Friederike Habermann

The translation is a little ragged, however, it is worth puzzling through.

great discussion 15.Feb.2004 09:34

eric blair

I want to thank everyone for their comments on this thread. I think this is a very needed discussion.

There are so many great issues posed on this thread that I wish I had the time to address them all.

Michael b. - I find it odd that you think my "rehtoric smacks in the face of" what anarchists like Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman fought for a century ago. Both Berkman and Goldman acutely understood that wage slavery is the root cause of the genocidal inequalities that exist in our world. Emma Goldman's autobiography provides multiple examples of her belief (as well as Berkman's) that only through the abolishment of the wage system will we ever realize a world of equality and freedom for all. They believed, quite logically, that in order to ever realize such a world we must strike at the root cause - not try to alleviate the symptoms.

So - do you think that Goldman and Berkman's "rehtoric smacks in the face of what anarchists, unionists, and many civil rights organizers have done to relieve flesh and blood people from the conditions of capitalism at it's worst"? Were their views "an absolutist interpretation of what it means to be an anti-capitalist."?

So let's kick Starbuck's out of the Southeast. And don't forget the New Seasons campaign as well - a campaign against the "gentrification" of the Southeast - a neighborhood in which one cannot purchase a house for less than $200,000. The elites who control our world could ask for no better diversion - directing activists energies to alleviating the symptoms of capitalism, rather than working like Goldman and Berkman to organize and educate the masses - working for a revolution to abolish the wage system forever.

Of course I don't want another fucking Starbucks or New Seasons in the Southeast. But you will not realize revolutionary social and economic change by fighting these petty symptoms of capitalism. In fact, you may prolong the time it will take to see a revolution, since you will make people more comfortable in their isolated community, free from the horrors of Starbucks and New Seasons. Meanwhile, millions and millions will continue to starve and be murdered throughout the rest of the world in the name of capitalism.

Also, I want to make clear that I am not a member of Anti-Capitalist Action. However, I love their paper, Little Beruit, and would recommend that everyone pick up a copy.

Ted - you assume that the worker/owners of a cooperative need those who "sit behind a desk analyzing information to make optimal decisions." I disagree. In an anarchist-communist society, all would have equal access to education. Why do you think that those who "get sweaty doing physical labor" could not also make all the decisions to run their cooperative - through worker councils. Do you think that those who are educated should be exempt from manual labor? Do you think those that now sit behind the desks managing corporations should be paid more than the workers who "get sweaty doing physical labor"? If so, then you are a bigot. Try working in a steel mill like my dad for thirty years, and then see what you think.

And to Mike - I have never studied any of Marx's works - not a one - so I find it strange that you believe I am quoting Marxist "scripture." Fuck Marx. But thank you for your comment.

Economics 103 - The End of Laissez-Faire 15.Feb.2004 11:07


"I think captialism, wisely managed, can probably be made more efficient for attaining economic ends than any alternative system yet in sight, but that in itself it is in many ways extremely ojectionable." -- John Maynard Keynes 'The End of Laissez-Faire' (1925).

Eric Blair -

Time is a commodity. Were it possible to download all required intellectual capital into all the workers of a cooperative, like in the movie Matrix, your point would be valid. However, the time required to first obtain an education and then sustain it through continuing education, makes it quite to supply that intellectual capital to all members of society. What is supplied is basically a question of pedogagy at the public school system level. Specialization in communist societies or more socialized education systems like Germany has, involves selection of young people based on aptitude and directing them into certain career paths. A math whiz in a Chinese public school will almost certainly be directed to pursue those abilities.

Now what if the cooperative decides that it wants to educate everybody in its workforce to be all things needed--financial analyst, plant nurse, statistician, etc. The workers will have very little time to spend with their families and probably won't arrive at that level of education (you essentially prescribing about four or five majors of study) until about 10 years of part-time school have gone by. During which time, the plant has suffered from the lack of intellectual capital needed to produce goods at the utility maximizing point of production, pricing, etc. The society it serves is suffering higher costs and, possibly, shortages of goods.

I don't think it's too cool to start insulting people who take the time to contribute ideas and opinions to Indymedia. I am not a bigot, I am just trying to summarize the economic forces and key concepts that have caused economics to evolve to the state it has. It took me 6 years of college and 15 years of professional practice to reach my current proficiency with economic theory. Also, there are individual corporations which today have very empowering environments, pay high wages, and enjoy good employee relations. So good management through empowering people at all levels of the organization to contribute to the profit maximizing solution exists currently. Workers at Toyota Mfg in Tennessee enjoy annual incomes that are about four times the prevailing wages in the area. Toyota enjoys the highest level of productivity in the auto industry. In this particular case of capitalism, both parties benefit.

Your concept of giving everybody equal education is quite admirable, but until you can get that Matrix, sci-fi, download of learning and memory, or get society to suspend its needs and wants while at the same time greatly expanding the human life-span, it's not going to happen. The concept of scarcity must be considered as part of any economic postulate.

Hey, they don't call it the dismal science for nothing!

I'm sorry if I insulted you Ted 15.Feb.2004 15:21

eric blair

I'm not trying to insult you, and I'm sorry if I did. I just have a habit of calling things as I see them.

You are a bigot if you think that those who sit behind desks managing companies should be paid more than those that do physical labor for that same corporation. You are bigoted against manual laborers. You see their labor as less valuable than your university educated labor. You obviously see them as inferior to educated economists and others who "sit behind desks" like yourself. I see the value of your labor and those of manual laborers as equal.

I believe workers even now are fully capable of making all the business decisions that need to be made run their businesses effectively. Workers councils have successfully run many businesses, without any management whatsoever, many times throughout history. I know that in present day Germany, workers councils have replaced much of management in many capitalist businesses - thereby cutting costs and running the business much more effective than the former management. But the best example of workers running businesses is of course revolutionary Spain.

And again, if you want to learn in detail about the many different ways that the collectives in Spain operated, read The CNT in the Spanish Revolution by Jose Peraits. It is probably the most detailed study of how an anarchist-communist society operated - and operated more successfully than when under capitalist rule.

I hope you and everyone else on this thread understands that I am talking about a post-revolutionary anarchist-communist society, and what it might look like. In such a society, you would not have had to pay however much you paid to get an education such as your own. All education would be free. I'm not talking about collectives operating under the current system of capitalism - I'm talking about collective in a post-revolutionary anarchist-communist society.

It's a shame that you had to pay all that money for your education - but of course as you know, we are currently living in a capitalist economy.

The problems you pose all relate to problems that collectives would encounter under our present capitalist system. A lot of people say that "such and such" wouldn't work - and it wouldn't work under our current system. But I'm not talking about life under our current capitalist system. I'm talking about life in a post-revolutionary anarchist society. To imagine such a society, you must think in an entirely different framework.

So I say, forget the Matrix, get a hold of a copy of The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, and see what you think. I can loan you my copy if you would like.

I really appreciate the question you posed, and I apologize if I insulted you. I highly value your comments.

Cooperatives vs Capitalism 13.Oct.2004 09:11

Katherine Holden katherine_holden@netzero.net

Great discussion! By the way, there are two kinds of worker-owned co-ops. The Union Cab company in Madison Wisconsin is an example of one kind of co-op that issues shares of company stock to its employees but is basically run like any other capitalist business. The other, and in my view the only legitimate co-op, is worker-owned and operated. The workers collectively make decisions that affect everyone, managers are accountable to the workers and the net capital is divided equally and fairly among all the worker-owners. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and there are quite a few successful worker-owned cooperatives here. Check out W.A.G.E.S., they are a non-profit organization that helps low income women start their own cleaning co-ops. It truly is a humane and democratic alternative to being a wage-slave. Its principles are worker empowerment and environmental responsibility. The coops W.A.G.E.S. starts use biodegradable cleaning agents that don't harm the environment. And the proof is in the pudding: the typical "cleaning lady", lets call her Mary, cleans other people's nice expensive houses and comes home at night to HER place -a-not-so nice "shabby chic" apartment where she needs to dodge police cross-fire and drug deals going down on her way home. Home being a planet away from those neatly manicured lawns, swimming pools and perfumed poodles that eat better than her own children. Mary gets no health benefits, no AFLAC insurance, no 401K and no IRA. If she gets too ill or old to work, she is simply replaced with a fresh body. The owner of the cleaning service, however, makes a nice profit off of her and her sisters' labor. Contrast Mary with the members of a worker-owned cooperative. The member-workers make more money, have health and retirement benes, AFLAC and a chance to own their own homes. And a chance for a better life for her and her kids. Some say that those who start a worker-owned cooperative are nothing but wage slaves themselves. I disagree. They are workers who have the capital of a business in their own hands. In the case of worker-owned factories - they own the means of production. Sounds a might...dare we say it?....Marxist. Mary is faced with some practical solutions to some very basic problems. She shouldn't have to wait for a Marxist Utopia to happen in the U.S. By then, she and her children will be long gone. Change in the U.S. is happening - at the individual and community levels. Worker-owned co-ops are part of that change.