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Forum Post: Neither the Participants in nor the Opponents of Occupy Wall Street (and related movements) adequately understand Capitalism

Posted 11 years ago on Oct. 8, 2011, 7 p.m. EST by RossWolfe (34)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

One of the most glaring problems with the supporters of Occupy Wall Street and its copycat successors is that they suffer from a woefully inadequate understanding of the capitalist social formation — its dynamics, its (spatial) globality, its (temporal) modernity. They equate anti-capitalism with simple anti-Americanism, and ignore the international basis of the capitalist world economy. To some extent, they have even reified its spatial metonym in the NYSE on Wall Street. Capitalism is an inherently global phenomenon; it does not admit of localization to any single nation, city, or financial district.

Moreover, many of the more moderate protestors hold on to the erroneous belief that capitalism can be “controlled” or “corrected” through Keynesian-administrative measures: steeper taxes on the rich, more bureaucratic regulation and oversight of business practices, broader government social programs (welfare, Social Security), and projects of rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs. Moderate “progressives” dream of a return to the Clinton boom years, or better yet, a Rooseveltian new “New Deal.” All this amounts to petty reformism, which only serves to perpetuate the global capitalist order rather than to overcome it. They fail to see the same thing that the libertarians in the Tea Party are blind to: laissez-faire economics is not essential to capitalism. State-interventionist capitalism is just as capitalist as free-market capitalism.

On the other side of things, a popular trope that is being peddled by libertarians and other members of the Right recently is that capitalism per se is not the problem, but rather "corporatism" or "crony capitalism." The problem is that they simplistically equate capitalism with laissez-faire economics, free markets, small government, etc. Capitalism is capitalism regardless of whether or not the rich are taxed highly, the market is regulated by bureaucratic oversight, there are government welfare programs or other social services, and so on. State-interventionist capitalism is just as much capitalism as free-market capitalism.

The defining feature of capitalism is the accumulation of capital through the purchase of labor in order to produce commodities, products which are valorized or supervalued through the labor process. These are then circulated throughout society in order to realize the surplus-value bestowed upon them by the congealed labor invested in their creation. This can take place in any number of circumstances, including large welfare states.

Nevertheless, though Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy [insert location here] in general still contains many problematic aspects, it nevertheless presents an opportunity for the Left to engage with some of the nascent anti-capitalist sentiment taking shape there. So far it has been successful in enlisting the support of a number of leftish celebrities, prominent unions, and young activists, and has received a lot of media coverage. Hopefully, the demonstrations will lead to a general radicalization of the participants’ politics, and a commitment to the longer-term project of social emancipation.

To this end, I have written up a rather pointed Marxist analysis of the OWS movement so far explaining where we stand historically:





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[-] 1 points by gawdoftruth (3698) from Santa Barbara, CA 11 years ago

you don't understand capitalism. it never existed. and we are not interested in marxism, and so while you have some interesting insights, its not likely that anybody is going to follow them.
































[-] 1 points by Chimptastic (67) 11 years ago

Excellent article, I must say. Where it really resonates is where you point out the potential consequences and already visible effects of the lack of historical perspective. Hopefully, this problem is less severe in other countries, otherwise they may be suffering from the same systemic problem as ourselves. History in the U.S. is taught with a punch in the throat. Some teachers even see themselves and their classes as educational obstacles. Students take away no lessons or discussion; the latter is even actively discouraged, lest a student unwittingly stumble upon some meaning behind the names and dates memorized. OWS itself drew me in simply because it was a long overdue social awakening (also its international sentiment, slight though it may be), and even becoming nothing more than a prologue was good enough, but without the historical and philosophical depth described, even such a meek classification might escape it. Thank you Platypus for your efforts, as well as the Kasama Project, which I'll now have to look into.

[-] 1 points by TomPaine (44) from Fort Collins, CO 11 years ago

Yeah, let's make this a Marxist movement, good move.

[-] 1 points by Bsofa (18) from Carmel Valley, CA 11 years ago

Oil and corn subsidies + world's largest profits in history. Not free market w

[-] 1 points by Bsofa (18) from Carmel Valley, CA 11 years ago

Free market means those who make poor financial decisions, fall to the wayside and those who make responsible decisions become elevated, the smaller credit unions did not require bailouts. Let's put the money with the mouth. Get your friends and family to drop their bank of America accounts to get their attention. Pass it on!

[-] 1 points by atki4564 (1259) from Lake Placid, FL 11 years ago

Exactly, they don't understand capitalism, and although I'm all in favor of taking down today's ineffective and inefficient Top 10% Management Group of Business & Government, there's only one way to do it – by fighting bankers as bankers yourselves. Consequently, I have posted the Strategic Legal Policies, Organizational Operating Structures, and Tactical Investment Procedures necessary to do this at:




if you want to support a Presidential Candidate Committee at AmericansElect.org in support of the above bank-focused platform.

[-] 1 points by Alec (47) from New York, NY 11 years ago

"They equate anti-capitalism with simple anti-Americanism." You're confusing supporters of OWS with critics of OWS.

[-] 1 points by servicesRendered (37) 11 years ago

Capitalism is the only sustainable system -everything else, including more moderate approaches like "compassionate conservatism" and socialism, and especially the most extreme opposite, communism leads to a downward spiral where the incentive to provide for yourself is reduced.

By keeping the investment decisions in the hands of the individual people, rather than the collective government, we can think globally but act locally. This seems to be the true aim of the OWP -that we all have a voice and should exercise it.

So rather than focus political power, which is trying to force others to do something to make our own lives better we should focus on market presence, which is exercising our free choice to provide goods and services that are appreciated by others.

[-] 1 points by servicesRendered (37) 11 years ago

Not only provide but more importantly spend our money (a symbol of service we render) on goods and services we appreciate.

It really is as simple as that. Drop out of the markets you disagree with, but keep your existing commitments of course. If enough people do this, the "offending" markets will whither.

One market I find offensive is pure market speculation (trading of options with no intention of producing goods or providing a service). This is not the same as stock ownership, which is providing a service by investing in a company that is providing a good or service that we believe in.

[-] 1 points by hotdoghenry (268) 11 years ago

Ahhhhhhhh the Marxists are really here too!

Here's a rather "pointed" observation. Things aren't going so well in North Korea.

[-] 1 points by CaptiveAudience (1) from Hermosa, SD 11 years ago

Capitalism is a system that is out of step with the current future of humankind. It might have been the right system for America's past, when resources here greatly outnumbered people and "accumulating more than your fair share" was a testament to aspiration and capability. It will not work in a future where resources are dwindling and population growing exponentially. RIP capitalism -- your day is over.

[-] 1 points by servicesRendered (37) 11 years ago

First. The US population is not growing exponentially. Nor is that of Europe, which is actually shrinking.

Second. Capitalism has led to innovations that made it more efficient to produce more food, drinkable water, etc. The green revolution is a case in point (from wikipedia):

Green Revolution refers to a series of research, development, and technology transfer initiatives, occurring between the 1940s and the late 1970s, that increased agriculture production around the world, beginning most markedly in the late 1960s.[1]

The initiatives, led by Norman Borlaug, the "Father of the Green Revolution" credited with saving over a billion people from starvation, involved the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, expansion of irrigation infrastructure, modernization of management techniques, distribution of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to farmers.

The term "Green Revolution" was first used in 1968 by former United States Agency for International Development (USAID) director William Gaud, who noted the spread of the new technologies and said,

These and other developments in the field of agriculture contain the makings of a new revolution. It is not a violent Red Revolution like that of the Soviets, nor is it a White Revolution like that of the Shah of Iran. I call it the Green Revolution.[2]

[-] 1 points by beyondmoney22 (233) 11 years ago

Getting rid of the monetary system worldwide would solve all of the problems of OWS and the growing revolution around the globe. it would also allow us set up a new infastructure independant of all current governments who are controlled by big business which is pretty much all of them. but we dont need to protest we need to educate, then plan then strike. i call it Operation Peaceful Vendetta

[-] 1 points by servicesRendered (37) 11 years ago

Money is a symbol of service rendered. Surely you don't want to get rid of that.

The real problem is market speculation which is a manifestation of the love of money for money's sake, and not in producing a valuable good or rendering a valuable service. Market speculation is pure gambling. That gambling with our savings and loan money, plus encouraging banks to loan to those who could not afford to make the payments led to the upward spiral of prices and ultimately the collapse we are now seeing.

Simple Solution: separate and highly regulate market speculation (reinstate Glass-Stegal), and go back to requiring loans (including aggregate credit card limits) to be backed by collateral or evidence of enough income to make the payments.

[-] 1 points by beyondmoney22 (233) 11 years ago

not even close my friend. you will see soon enough what i mean. check the forum for Operation Peaceful Vendetta it is a 5 part plan i have outlined for people like you

[-] 1 points by servicesRendered (37) 11 years ago

What people like me do you mean? BTW. I clicked on your link and there may be a virus on your site. Not sure, but my symantec popped up just after.

[-] 1 points by servicesRendered (37) 11 years ago

Sorry, that was the link in the article above...

Still wondering about the "people like me" comment...

[-] 1 points by beyondmoney22 (233) 11 years ago

www.radiokazoo.net/OPV. and by people like you meant the under educated to the bigger picture. people cannot regulate money because that powers that created have no laws regulating them. even federal governments and congress cannot do anything about it. i meant no offense but this link should clarify what im talking about.

[-] 1 points by wavefreak58 (134) 11 years ago

"To some extent, they have even reified its spatial metonym in the NYSE on Wall Street. Capitalism is an inherently global phenomenon; it does not admit of localization to any single nation, city, or financial district."

Wall Street is symbolic. It is one head of the Hydra, and a rather large head. Because OWS chooses to focus on a symbol does not imply at all that none in the movement understand the globalized nature of the current economic system.

You also are using a very austere definition of capitalism. Your definition correlates to the theoretical more than the actual. The current system is more an amalgamation of disparate ideas, heavily influenced by capitalistic thinking, but certainly not purely capitalist.

"The defining feature of capitalism is the accumulation of capital through the purchase of labor in order to produce commodities,"

How does this jive with the production of goods by robots? Commodities are increasingly created and distributed with decreasing amounts of human intervention. If all production were robotic, would capitalism cease?

[-] 1 points by RossWolfe (34) 11 years ago

Hopefully. The idea is for the working class to become superfluous, so that all humanity has to work less and less to produce just as much (if not more).

[-] 1 points by TBamn (6) 11 years ago

We must remember what allowed the banksters the ability to run roughshod over our economic system. The Graham-Leach-Bliley Act: "An Act To enhance competition in the financial services industry by providing a prudential framework for the affiliation of banks, securities firms, insurance companies, and other financial service providers, and for other purposes." allowed investment (casino) banking institutions, insurance companies, and commercial (retail) banking institutions to consolidate, co-mingle funds, to engage in risky investment activities, to take money from you and me to fund the injustice committed upon the citizens of, not only the United States but, in large part the world. The Commodities Futures Modernization Act allowed them to create the derivatives you hear so much about which were a major factor in the debacle which destroyed our economy. Both of these acts must be repealed within our system of government or the banks will continue to use our money to fund their gambling activities. Help me by signing the petition: http://signon.org/sign/repeal-graham-leach-bliley The Glass-Steagal act separates these two types of banking institutions to keep the gambling activities separate from commercial banking activities. (commercial banking activities are the services we, as bank customers, utilize. i.e. savings, checking, loans)

[-] 1 points by JeffCallahan (216) 11 years ago

This movement isn't Left vs Right stop being such a sucker

[-] 1 points by RightWingReactionary (74) 11 years ago

I give you the same reply I gave you this morning: isn't it odd that capitalism, with all of its faults, still produces a better standard of living for billions globally than does Communism, which you and likeminded individuals insist has never been "properly" implemented?

[-] 1 points by wavefreak58 (134) 11 years ago

Is it a sustainable standard of living? If the rest of the world is to attain the same standard of living as the United States (for the sake of argument assume the U.S. it the gold standard for this), what level of energy production and resource consumption would we need to support? Is it possible that capitalism, while producing the glories of our current standard of living, has created something that cannot be generalized to the entire world?

[-] 1 points by RightWingReactionary (74) 11 years ago

Communism in practice is certainly a sustainable ideology, I grant you that: it succeeds in making everybody except high-ranking party members equally poor. Hmm, kind of like the 99%/1%, eh?

[-] 1 points by wavefreak58 (134) 11 years ago


The question wasn't an implicit endorsement of communism. I asked if the resource requirements of our standard of living can generalize to the entire world?

[-] 1 points by RightWingReactionary (74) 11 years ago

Why can't it? We may indeed waste too much energy and too many resources now in the sense that we can be more efficient with energy and resources. But if that's the case, then there's no reason why our standard of living, made more efficient, can't be generalized to the rest of the world.

As for non-sequiturs, are you saying that other countries should not adopt capitalism in the name of limited resources?

[-] 1 points by wavefreak58 (134) 11 years ago

I am suggesting that capitalism may not necessarily be the best system in a resource constrained environment. Note I used the words "may not be". Capitalism worked for the U.S. because we are able to expand our resource utilization without significant limits. But that will not be the case in the future. It is false to conclude that because capitalism was successful in the 20th century that it will be successful in the 21st century and beyond. Without examining the core assumptions of capitalism, such as resource consumption, we are inviting large scale unintended consequences.

The orthodoxy of "capitalism=good - everything else=bad" is an irrational clinging to an ideal that, while it arguably brought many benefits, carries no guarantee that those benefits will continue to accrue at a rate faster than the negatives might emerge.

It would be far more rational to examine capitalism with a critical eye, and if such a critique required it be discarded, then we should not shrink from doing so. To insist capitalism is the only way forward assumes that human innovation and creativity cannot develop something better.

[-] 1 points by trentondouglas (48) 11 years ago

Capitalism is the only currently devised system which takes into account constrained resources. The system is completely based on apportioning resources based on their limited supply. I am not aware of any other system that does it as efficiently. However, one major problem with capitalism is that free goods (public resources) are mostly never considered in any transactions. Therefore, capitalist derived costs and benefits do not necessarily reflect whole costs or whole benefits. It is far from a perfect system. That is why laissez-faire doesn't work.

[-] 1 points by wavefreak58 (134) 11 years ago

The cost side of capitalism constrains resource utilization, but the valuation side does not. Valuations are capricious and arbitrary. Valuations can increase irrationally and drive resource consumption beyond sustainability. Over fishing of ocean stocks is a good example of this. The valuation of a species makes it profitable to fish it. This fishing proceeds until the resource starts to become depleted, further increasing the valuation, which encourage even more fishing. Eventually the fishery collapses and the extraction cost finally constrains the activity. But the constraint does not kick in until the harm is done.

Allowing market forces alone to set constraints on resource utilization often leads to these types of boom/bust cycles. One answer is regulatory constraint on resource extraction. But this carries its own risks.

[-] 1 points by trentondouglas (48) 11 years ago

The fish are a free good, as I stated above. No one owns the fish stock in the ocean. Capitalism has weakness with regard to valuing resources that are not privately owned. There are ways to reflect a truer cost through government mandates and programs, but these are not always efficient either.

[-] 1 points by wavefreak58 (134) 11 years ago

I'm not sure how private ownership would change the issue.

Suppose I owned all the fish in the ocean and leased fishing rights by species. The value of a species would not be constrained by my ownership, but still driven by the markets desire for that particular commodity. As the value went up, I would increase the cost of the lease to maximize the return on my ownership investment. The constraint on overfishing would only come from me deciding it was in my long term interests to not have that particular species' population collapse and my deliberately terminating any leasing.

But since the goal in a capitalist structure is the maximizing of profits, I may decide that allowing the collapse of that fishery is actually in my best interest. For instance it may make another species more profitable since the market would need a replacement. Or maybe I've invested in fish farms and the collapse of the natural fishery will push up the value of my product. You could probably write a series of differential equations that would maximize profits based on a controlled collapse of individual species and the subsequent value increases of others.

The point is that the drive for profit does not in anyway constrain resource consumption. It may do so in some situations, while in others exhausting a resource might be in the interests of an entity, even if not society as a whole.

[-] 1 points by trentondouglas (48) 11 years ago

The consumption of the species would be constrained by your ownership. If you gave away all your fish at once the price of the fish would drop and your profits would be minimized. It would be in your interest to control the supply and only sell a portion of your fish at a price that maximizes profits. You would also have interest in maintaining a stream of profits and maintaining a population over a long term. Additionally, should the supply of fish become less and demand by buyers increases or stays constant, the price would go up making the fish less affordable and reducing consumption. As for your second argument, if you controlled the supply of two kinds of fish, you would have no need to destroy one population to sell the other at a higher price. You control the supply of both already.

[-] 1 points by wavefreak58 (134) 11 years ago

You simply side stepped my argument. I can conceive of scenarios where depletion of the species increases my profit. There is nothing intrinsic in capitalism to prevent me from doing so.

In some cases, it would be in my interest to preserve the population. In other scenarios, exhausting the resource could increase my profit by shifting value to something else.

[-] 1 points by trentondouglas (48) 11 years ago

I didn't side step anything. I answered your argument. Your argument just doesn't have merit. I don't believe you have a sufficient understanding of economics.

[-] 1 points by wavefreak58 (134) 11 years ago

I can set up a condition where depletion of a resource results in a profit. You offered NO counter argument. Then you have to fall back an "you don't understand".

[-] 1 points by trentondouglas (48) 11 years ago

Sorry. I didn't mean for that to evolve into an attack. I don't think you are wrong there being problems with capitalism. However, I studied economics for my BS and I can clearly see that you aren't clear on some of the mechanics of capitalistic markets. I was trying to explain it, but somehow it didn't get through

[-] 1 points by RightWingReactionary (74) 11 years ago

There's no "goal" in a capitalist structure, whatever that means. Maximizing shareholder wealth is the goal of a CORPORATION. And you made yourself a monopoly in your example, which limits its generalizability.

[-] 1 points by wavefreak58 (134) 11 years ago

Monopolization of a commodity is only prevented by government regulation, which is the antithesis of free markets.

To say there is no "goal" in capitalism is just sophistry. Without a goal, nobody does anything. We just sit around and stare at each other.

I suppose as some abstract concept, you could say profit isn't the goal of capitalism, but in practice, it is often the most important goal.

[-] 1 points by RightWingReactionary (74) 11 years ago

"Free markets" and capitalism aren't the same thing; capitalism is just private ownership of factors of production. Consequently, it's not "sophistry" to say that capitalism has no goal. As stated, it's just a system whereby factors of production---land, labor, and capital---are privately owned.

Now the goal of a corporation is most certainly the maximization of shareholder wealth.

[-] 1 points by wavefreak58 (134) 11 years ago

I'm more concerned with how the current system actually works. If you don't wish to call it capitalism, fine. But even so, private ownership does not prevent resource depletion not does it prevent monopolistic practices.

[-] 1 points by RightWingReactionary (74) 11 years ago

Any thoughts on an ideology you feel is better than capitalism?

[-] 1 points by wavefreak58 (134) 11 years ago

Ideology? Capitalism as an ideology will fail - as will any enforced ideological system. The systems that endure are allowed the flexibility to change as needed.

I really don't have an answer as to what should replace capitalism if such a thing should happen. I'm still questioning it's ultimate utility. but good questions often lead to interesting results.

Part of the problem is that we seem to have fallen into the habit of measuring all human efforts in terms of economics. Economics should measure our activity but not necessarily drive it. It should be an organizing structure, not system used as the primary motivator for decisions.

Capitalism, or at least the hybrid system we call capitalism today, has become its own reason for existence. We serve capitalism, when at the very least, capitalism should serve us.