Yesterday I had the honor of speaking alongside George Caffentzis to answer the question, “What is Capitalism?”  Certainly this is one of the core questions of our era, as millions of people are becoming politicized during the unending economic crisis and looking for an analysis that can explain what is happening to them. In order to make a better world, we first need to define the system that dominates the current one, and that is capitalism.

Yesterday’s packed event was the first in Occupy Philadelphia‘s ten-part educational series “Dissecting Capitalism.”  It was audio and video recorded, the audio is already online HERE.  Listen in!

[update 2/13: and here is the video of the talk, in two parts!]

Part 2:

Below is the outline I created for my talk (downloadable HERE). I tried to bring a holistic analysis of the system that could be understandable by the average person, but still contain a nuanced perspective of all the ways capitalism has screwed us over and screwed over our planet.  I’ll be fleshing this out over the next several days to revamp the “What is Capitalism?” section of the website. [alex]

What is Capitalism?

Know Your Enemy” – Rage Against the Machine

2/1/2012 – LAVA

Alex Knight,

  1. Capitalism is a Global System of Abuse
    1. Common Sense Radicalism – speak to the core issue in a way everyone can emotionally understand
    2. How does it feel to live in a capitalist system? Like an abusive relationship.
      1. The problem that has no name.”
    3. Social and ecological trauma
    4. BP Oil Disaster demonstrates system’s logic: profit over all, total lack of accountability
  1. Power, Abuse, Resistance
    1. Power-Over and Power-With
    2. Internalized Oppression vs. Inherent Need for Self-determination
    3. Systems of Abuse/Oppression: Patriarchy, White Supremacy, Class
    4. Some Features of Class Societies:
      1. Inequality – the few benefit at the expense of the many
      2. Economic production disconnected from human need
      3. Forced labor – slavery, wage slavery
      4. State violence – punishment, repression
      5. Warfare, Conquest
      6. Propaganda
      7. Unsustainable ecological abuse
      8. Popular resistance
    5. Capitalism is the most advanced Class Society
  1. Capitalism: Pyramid of Accumulation
    1. Financial Speculation
    2. Commodity Trading, Commodities
    3. Wage Labor, Wage Labor, Wage Labor
    4. Enclosures: the largest, but invisible part of the iceberg
      1. any energy, resources or labor taken by force or without just compensation
  1. Stages of Capitalism: 1492 – Present
    1. Mercantile Capitalism (1492-1793)
      1. Land Enclosures – displacement of European small farmers
      2. Colonization, Genocide
      3. Slavery
      4. Witch Hunts – attack on women
    2. Industrial Capitalism (1793-1971)
      1. Fossil fuel
      2. Mechanized production – Richard Arkwright’s steam-powered factories
      3. World War
      4. Welfare state – rising living standards in the Global North
    3. Neoliberalism (1971-2008)
      1. Globalization – industry moves to the Global South, elimination of all trade barriers
      2. Privatization/Deregulation – attack on welfare, rise of nonprofit industrial complex, prison industrial complex, “Structural Adjustment”
      3. Computerization – extreme isolation of the individual
      4. Astronomical Debt – rise of credit card industry, student loans, housing bubble
    4. Zombie Capitalism? (2008-Present)
      1. Neoliberalism is dead. Yet it walks amongst us?
      2. Bailouts are life support to the tune of $12 Trillion
      3. Austerity = cannibalism – foreclosures, unemployment, cutting services, wages, benefits, retirement, etc. destroy the basis for the massive consumption propping up the global economy
  1. The Addiction Dilemma
    1. Leave it with me and it will kill me. Take it from me and I will die.”
    2. Self-Hatred is the psychological norm under capitalism
    3. Addiction is a response to Trauma – stress, abuse, deprivation and displacement
    4. A social disease, not a personal failing
    5. Self-destruction vs. self-sufficiency
  1. The Need for Growth
    1. The system’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness
    2. Inevitability of Crisis – the Shark
    3. The Profit Motive and the necessity of a return

  1. The End of Capitalism
    1. Ecological Limits to Growth: peak oil, peak uranium, peak water, peak food, peak transport, etc.
    2. Social Limits: resistance of everyday people, everywhere. Arab Spring, Occupy, Chinese workers.
    3. Recovery, Relapse, or Revolution?

Recommended Readings:

Alex Knight is the editor of and is writing the coincidentally named book “The End of Capitalism,” which argues that the global capitalist system is breaking down due to ecological and social limits to growth, and we are transitioning to a noncapitalist future. Alex was active in the new Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) from 2006-2009, and now spends most of his time organizing with the wonderful people of Occupy Philadelphia.