They say that money makes the world go round. After the government’s recent ban on schools teaching material associated with anti-capitalist organisations, I don’t think anyone will be saying different anytime soon.
Although the minutiae of the ban are not quite apparent, it seems that the Department of Education has indeed prohibited the teaching of works which reference or are produced by organisations or groups with a stated desire to end capitalism. The guidance listed anti-capitalism as an ‘extreme political stance’, along with with ‘opposition to freedom of speech’, ‘the use of racist, including antisemitic language’ and ‘a publicly stated desire to…overthrow democracy’.
On first reading, the mention of anti-capitalism amongst these ‘extreme’ stances seems almost fleeting; it is so casually slipped in mid-sentence. When reconsidered, this might just be one of the most insidious things about the guidance. For though the mention of anti-capitalism is brief, there is no doubt that we are entering a worrying era where anti-capitalism has been conflated with ideologies that seek to strip people of their freedom and dignity. And by deliberately conflating anti-capitalism with such ideologies, the government has waged war on anybody who seeks to challenge the status quo.
Anti-capitalism is by no means the same as anti-democracy; it certainly is not the same as anti-semitism and racism. It undeniably is the case that groups and political parties purporting to be anti-capitalist have implemented horrific regimes on ordinary people, committing crimes tantamount to genocide and taking away individual autonomy. But the ideology of anti-capitalism in itself does not express or harbour such harmful elements – all it is is an opposition to a world that runs on money, and benefits those who have the most money disproportionately.
Because that’s what capitalism is. It’s all in the name – everything in a capitalist society revolves around capital or financial assets – and the pursuit of more and more.
And it’s not just the case that capitalism is consumerism. Certainly, material things (which rarely make us happier) are often placed on a pedestal in capitalist societies. That new car might symbolise status; we may crave the latest fashions to fit in with the crowd. But this type of consumerism isn’t about things in and of themselves – it’s about conspicuous consumption; making purchases for the sake of showcasing one’s financial status, in a world where financial status equals social status. And then there’s something even darker than conspicuous consumption. Capitalism may have convinced us to constantly strive for things, but some of these things oughtn’t to be commodities at all. In a world where renting is undoubtedly insecure, it takes huge amounts of capital to secure a mortgage for a property. The average deposit for a house in the UK as of September 2020 stood at £46,060 – a sign that secure accommodation is increasingly morphing into a privilege for the lucky moneyed few, rather than a fundamental human right (which is what it ought to be).
And it’s not just secure accommodation that requires capital. If you live in an area with poor local authority education, you’ll either require capital to get around that and send your children to a private school, or to up sticks and invest in a house in an area with better education – and such areas can add around £25,000 to the value of a house.
I could go on. Ultimately, the issue is that capitalism has turned our society into one of haves and have nots. It convinces people who work perfectly decent, ordinary jobs that they aren’t good enough or working hard enough because they can’t get onto the property ladder. It makes people feel dissatisfied with what they have and who they are. It tricks us into striving and striving and pushing ourselves endlessly, sacrificing happiness for the pursuit of a security that ought to be guaranteed to us anyway.
Capitalism also makes us believe that those who have deserve to have – yet another trick. So much inequality is caused by unearned and inherited wealth. And yet we place those who work corporate jobs with long hours and high pay on a pedestal – a means of social conditioning that makes people believe that if you sacrifice time and happiness you will receive wealth in return – something that only holds true for a small subsection of white collar jobs (disproportionately held by people from middle class backgrounds anyway).
It is a broken system we live in. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Things that we take for granted now, like the five day work week, have not always been so. That capitalism is an unalterable paradigm for a successful society has never been true and will never hold true either. It is just the system that we are used to.
Too many people I meet think that a world free from capitalism is a ludicrous idea, that it simply won’t work.
They’ve been conned into thinking the system is working as it is.