We all want a just society, and disaffection with the increasingly fascist nature of the world is reaching epidemic–nay, pandemic–proportions. There have been demonstrations in the streets of America, Brazil, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Egypt, and elsewhere. More and more people are getting fed up. Some call our oppressors ‘The Illuminati’; others, like me, simply call them the ruling class. Many of us want revolution, and find the usual political, ‘democratic’ solutions no longer valid. We certainly don’t want things to get worse.
Well, maybe I shouldn’t include myself in that last sentence…at least not fully. I’d hate to have to put up with even worse injustice, but at the same time, I’d also hate it if things got ‘comfortable’ again, and we all got used to the situation, and were no longer agitating. The ruling class thrives on our apathy and laziness, and if we become content with a ‘tolerable’ level of oppression, they can continue getting away with their crimes against us.
Imagine a full economic recovery…until the next crisis, say, five or ten years later. By that time, most of our present anger will have probably subsided, and we’ll have to build up the revolutionary spirit all over again. The ruling class would love that.
Imagine we re-elected some kinder, moderately left-wing parties, and they brought back social programs for the poor, and everyone was happy again, except the conservatives, of course. But after a decade or so of socialism, what if the leftist parties were to suffer scandals, and right-wing parties got re-elected? And what if they were to take away those social programs, and the poor were right back to where they are now. Again, the ruling class would win another ten years or so of no real threat to their power.
Now let’s imagine another possible scenario: the ruling class, instead of temporarily backing off, gets even more arrogant, and continues trampling on our rights, paying the cops extra well to give us the beatings even more ruthlessly when we try to protest; they ratchet up the internet surveillance to nab more dangerous agitators; wages continue to go down for workers; union activity is crushed; we’re increasingly poisoned by Monsanto ‘food’; more foreclosures increase the number of the homeless; and the mainstream media continue to lie and distract, even though most of us finally know they’re lying. What then?
In our hopelessness, knowing we have nothing to lose, we, after careful planning, finally rise in worldwide revolution. Part of me is scared at the thought, for indeed, it would be bloody, chaotic, and violent. But part of me would love that courageous fight for liberation, too. Before that can really happen, though, we anarchists have to deal with an annoying group who has bastardized the words ‘anarchist’, ‘libertarian’, and now, even, ‘exploitation’.
This problematical group, one that either fancies themselves as, or pretends to be, revolutionaries, call themselves ‘anarcho-capitalists’ (an-caps). They euphemistically call capitalism the ‘free market’, imagining that consumer preference will magically steer businesses away from corruption by choosing not to buy products from exploitative companies, as if most consumers are motivated primarily by anything other than the desirability of the product, or are even aware of exploitation in its various forms.
Worse than that, many an-caps are trying to invalidate the Marxist idea that bosses exploit workers by keeping the surplus value (profits) instead of sharing it with workers. An-caps, in what amounts to nothing more than a word game (and a clumsy one at that), try to turn the Marxist argument upside-down and claim that, when a business suffers a loss and workers continue to be paid the same wages, the workers must be exploiting the boss! Since even an-caps know this to be a ridiculous assertion, the Marxist inverse, apparently, is equally absurd.
It shouldn’t be necessary to disprove this laughable an-cap idea, but what is not so laughable is how this disingenuous assertion is not only being taken seriously by many, it’s also being used to justify keeping workers’ wages low. So I’ll debunk the argument now.
An-caps are essentially denying the hierarchical, power-based relationship between boss and worker, imagining instead that being hired to work for wages is ‘voluntary’ (an-caps love that word) and therefore fair. Workers, apparently, are free to accept or reject any job offers they are given.
The problem with this argument is that workers, when ‘freely’ rejecting bad job offers, put themselves at risk of poverty or starvation, a problem that gets more pressing during harsh economic times. In other words, workers have little choice, whereas bosses can freely choose from potentially many other people ‘willing’ to work for less pay, and bosses can obviously take advantage of, or exploit, this situation. Workers’ ‘willingness’ to work for less comes from nothing other than their desperate need to survive, not from a lack of greed. Greed is far more often the boss’s vice than it is the worker’s.
The boss, being the one with the power, has much more choice than the workers: he or she makes the decision as to how much to pay the workers–the workers have no such choice. Accordingly, he pays them as little as he can get away with. If the business succeeds or fails, he’s the one who makes the decisions as to the company’s direction, not his workers. If the business suffers losses, his incompetence or bad luck is what’s at fault. As for incompetence or laziness in his workers, he’s free to fire them. They have no choice.
Profit or loss does not determine the direction for exploitation to go in: power does. The closest workers have ever come to having power is when in strong unions; the strongest they ever get is when companies are collectivized, when everyone’s equal–even in such an optimal situation, individual workers still don’t have ascendancy over individual managers, because worker and manager are one and the same thing.
One cannot debunk the idea that the profit-making boss exploits workers by turning it upside-down and saying workers exploit the boss in a company that’s losing money, but not lowering wages. Workers gain no financial advantage just because the boss isn’t making profits. In such bad times, he isn’t the only one at risk of losing something; they are also at risk of losing something–their jobs.
When profits, especially big profits, are being made, that the boss is exploiting his workers–by continuing to pay them a paltry wage–is so obvious that the argument shouldn’t need to be spelled out to the an-cap. It’s not that an-caps cannot see this reality (Why else would they want to preserve capitalism? They either are bosses, or hope to be filthy-rich bosses in the future.); it’s that they are in deep denial.
All we need to see is the wealth and opulence super-successful businessmen enjoy–wearing Armani suits, buying jewelry and fur coats for their wives, driving in Porsches, etc.–and to know that this wealth comes from the sweat of their inadequately remunerated employees, to see the obvious exploitation. Then we see the squalor so many of those workers live in, and the exploitation is even more obvious.
There is no parallel exploitation, nor is there a parallel non-exploitation, between profit-making and loss-suffering in companies. When a company is suffering losses, it’s not like the workers are getting wages for nothing–they’re still working. That an-caps would see paying workers, while not making profits, as ‘exploitation’ shows what worth capitalists see in their employees: we are nothing more than profit-making machines to them; we’re not even human.
Of course, an-caps will throw the rationalization at us that, since the boss puts up the money to start the business, the profits made are rightfully his. But here’s a crucial question: where did the boss get the money to start the business? Did he or she get a bank loan? Did he get it from his rich Mom and Dad, the profits from their business having come from underpaying their employees?
In the case of the bank loan, the money owed can be reimbursed through the profits of the company, properly understood as money rightfully owned by the workers collectively, as a product of their labour; then the business can be seen as collectively owned, rather than privately so. If there is to be compensation for the rich Mom’s and Dad’s money, the money should be repaid to the workers that Mom and Dad ripped off, not to Mom and Dad.
If it’s proven that the boss actually paid for the means of production from money he scrimped and saved, every cent being earned by the sweat of his own brow, and not somebody else’s, an appropriate portion of the profits can be given to him to reimburse him, then the business can be collectively owned; for any profits after that compensated amount should be considered collectively owned. When we consider how difficult it is to scrounge up the money to start up a business without assistance from anyone, it is safe to assume that the great majority of businesses are initially financed through either bank loans or help from one’s wealthy family; this is why the poor usually stay poor, and the rich tend to stay where they are, too.
Put another way, the problem of poverty will be solved not through the poor working harder–that only helps the rich. The problem will be solved in a meaningful way only through the abolition of private property. Yet, if the capitalists and their friends in government still have a problem with this radical solution, then I say to them, “Bring it on! Hit us with as much exploitation as you like.” For one day, we workers will all get fed up with them, and losing our chains at last, we’ll gain the world. The ruling class’s arrogance being more outrageous will only accelerate the inevitable revolution.
WORKERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!!!