What is the Future of Capitalism? with Andrea Haverkamp

On October 5th, 2020, the Oregon State University chapter of the Platypus Affiliated Society hosted a virtual panel entitled “What is the future of capitalism?” The panelists were Conrad Cartmell (DSA Class Unity), Andrea Haverkamp (International Journal of Engineering, Social Justice, and Peace), Josh Decker (International Bolshevik Tendency), and Doug Lain (Zero Books).

Below is a sample from the transcript, and links to the video, audio, and text versions!

Andrea Haverkamp: What is capitalism? At its core, it is both a relationship and an ideology that is reproduced daily and governs our relationships with other people, our relationships with ourselves, our relationship with the planet, and our relationship with non-human animals. Capitalism is insidiously predicated on the notion of “there is no such thing as a free lunch” as being morally justifiable. It also created the widespread social construction of money to further justify selling things at a profit as a moral good. Ultimately, this forges relationships that are built upon greed, deceit, advantage, and disadvantage, and the unsustainable extraction of natural resources and human labor.

Capitalism at its highest level is a pyramid scheme. One of the many contradictions is embodied in the belief that, if you work hard enough, you can climb a ladder toward a bright future with plenty of growth. In order to ascend in the capitalist system, you must have your boots squarely on the heads and shoulders of the people who are also horizontally competing for the position you currently occupy. Another easily recognizable myth is that capitalism led to the greatest increase in freedom and living standards in human history. Evidently, not everyone has experienced these benefits. These ideological relationships shackle us to undesirable work and persist by creating a detachment from ourselves and other people, resulting in a situation where the entire planet is becoming increasingly unlivable.

There is a contradiction between the great quality of life in First World countries and the continual crises that destroy our mental and physical health, the lives of other people, and our planet. The green energy and tech industries embody this. Frauds that swap oil fields for lithium or cobalt fields aren’t going to usher in a leftist future or save billions of people from climate catastrophe. Left politics have sometimes fetishized the capitalist technocracy and its trappings that can lead to the doom of the human race. No new tech app, innovation, or automation will lead to liberation out of capitalism. As someone about to get her Ph.D. in environmental engineering, I can firmly say that the best innovation is to shut down factories left and right. Don’t build any new iPhones or Mac computers. We can manufacture necessities such as vaccines cooperatively without the need for profit margins that restrict people’s access to them.

Due to the pervasiveness of the internet in the last 15 years, big tech ushered in the largest wave of globalization in history. We still haven’t fully comprehended the ways in which our political and social realities are shaped by capitalism. For instance, the commons, free and publicly accessible spaces, have been more or less permanently eroded due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Everything is governed by terms of use and service. Private telecommunications corporations provide the internet and technology that extract data and monitor us in ways incredibly intrusive to our privacy. Many people, since beginning work-from-home, feel like they are comfortably away from the worst of surveillance capitalism. However, I know someone close to me for who, if their mouse is idle for more than five minutes, sets off an alarm that alerts their manager. This is a terrifying example of how capitalism can seed itself into your very home. The question of politically organizing under surveillance capitalism is a huge hurdle and I don’t have a good answer for it.

The class struggle takes place every single day. Movements for gender equality, LGBT rights and survival, Black Lives Matter against police violence, and visbility for sex workers should be central for the Left because they are bottom-up, holistic, and aren’t commodified into the trappings of power. The Left tends to fetishize the old forms of class struggle in factories that produce various widgets. That doesn’t really exist anymore. We have to go to where people are hurting the most and adopt a diversity of tactics. For example, the tenants’ movement in Philadelphia achieved a solid working class victory because it sent 50 homes to a trust managed by activists aiding the city’s homeless population. Here, in Corvallis, local landlords constructed a large off-campus student housing apartment complex called the Sierra that is actually owned and financed by folks in New England. The fight is interconnected. I hope that we can attain a similar class struggle victory here.

There is a quote by Adrienne Maree Brown that states, “We hone our skills in naming and analyzing. I learned in school how to deconstruct, but how do we move beyond beautiful deconstruction? Who teaches us to reconstruct?” To create a supermajority movement, we need to abandon a competitive ideation that consists of trying to push our individual ideas onto others. It is not about having the number one idea, but having ideas that come from and work for more people. There is a whole wealth of diverse identities and experiences on top of the working class model that should matter to the Left. We must have many uncomfortable conversations where not all of us are going to feel correct. That is how the Left should respond to this crisis. We have all learned to deconstruct, but how do we begin to construct alternative futures?

Audio: https://archive.org/details/what-is-the-future-of-capitalism-corvallis-oregon
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Q8JMer0nLg&t=241s
Transcript: https://platypus1917.org/2021/02/01/what-is-the-future-of-capitalism/

Author: Andrea Haverkamp

Andrea Haverkamp holds a PhD in environmental engineering with a minor in queer studies. Her dissertation research explored the support systems and community resiliency of transgender and gender nonconforming undergraduate students in undergraduate engineering education. She is currently a labor organizer in Washington state.

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