Author Topic: Late stage capitalism  (Read 475 times)


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Late stage capitalism
« on: June 28, 2020, 11:28:21 AM »
I thought it would be interesting to present a critique of late capitalism in the style of how Soviet Union is generally presented in the Western media, not in order to excuse the Soviet Union for a single thing, but as an exercise in reflecting on what's happened, finding balance in analysing and considering what we tolerate.

The concept of this post is to imagine us looking back at capitalism up to the present day with the sort of knowingness that tends to accompany the (often quite rightly) scornful, pitying and horrified articles written about the Soviet Union.

It's a longer read - and intended to be. You might find you can't be arsed reading or replying... hopefully you will.

- By 2010 the UK public began to queue in food banks for basic essentials as they were unable to depend on their own income to meet spiralling living costs nor the state to support their welfare. By 2020 these food banks had grown to cover virtually every town in the UK as the more arbitrary and less comprehensive system of charity began to replace the socialist principle of state support than had more or less been agreed was necessary since the first World War and financial collapse of the 1920s. This was acknowledged to be a political choice but attempts were made to characterise it as a phenomena and an example of British kindness and decency in response to it.

- 70% of the public had little to no savings, or were in debt, and they were actively encouraged to enter into more debt. (Meanwhile the public were told that government debt and reckless spending was a very bad thing).

- Governments purposefully used the precarity of lives run on debt to reduce public enthusiasm for meaningful/significant change. Any citizen scared of mortgage payment rises, loan repayment issues or unemployment would not jeopardise their capacity to service their debt (or to enjoy the items obtained through it) by risking the jolts inherent in electing a government intent on reforming this system. Those with multiple dependents became especially more economically conservative. These people in time became known as The Centre. The Centre were invited to congratulate themselves on their selfishness and timidity because they had progressed socially between the 80s to 00s to be considerably less racist, sexist and xenophobic. Neoliberalism married aggressive free market advocacy with social liberalism.

- By 2020 the economic situation meant businesses with no means of gaining income in the short/medium term were still expected to pay full rent to their Landlords, who in turn threatened them with eviction despite in many cases having no prospect of replacing them. The government sided with landlords and not small business owners in this dispute, as did the recently cleansed notional party of opposition.

- Failing or declining corporations were bailed out by the state where it was convenient, yet unionised industries were generally left to fail. By contrast the state was raided for its finest assets to sell to private capital at a cut price.

- Local government cuts incentived councils to sell land and assets to vultures just to cover the continuation of skeleton services. Many of these services were outsourced, already costing councils more money than if they remained in house but adhering to the dogma of free market mechanics, in their case under financial duress.

- The gap between the wealth of ordinary people and those at the top had widened to levels unprecedented since Mesopotamian despotism, while ordinary people were distracted from confronting these both by the need to work and the pressure to consume, each facilitated by cheap credit and debt.

- Despite technological advances, consumerism had failed to advance beyond the system of cheap/slave labour due to the cealessless expansionism of the profit motive, and simply migrated from region to region for the next pliant government or desperate workforce in the 3rd world. Consumers appeared to consent but because they were democratically disenfranchised and suffering precarity of their own there was little meaningful way to discern their views on the topic, let alone give them any agency. This suited the beneficiaries at the top fine.

- The property market had become grossly distorted by deregulation and the buy to let market, where those with significant access to capital or credit could hoover up available land and property, inflating the sale price of the remaining available stock, edging ordinary people out of the market, and drastically lengthening the time necessary for a first time buyer to purchase a property. The buy to let landlord then sought rent to service their debt, pushing the existing inequalities further apart. Rent extraction was increasingly seen as an unproductive aspect of the economy, but increasing house prices were vital to maintaining surface calm in the economy.

- To stave off economic collapse nations resorted twice to simply inventing money that previously wasn't there, through the euphemism Quantitative Easing. Despite being hoovered up by a tiny percentage of people and creating a pretext for 'Austerity' (sale of public assets under cover of cost cutting) this created no public scandal. Public anger was redirected towards immigrants, foreign states and opaque bureaucracies (the larger and more foreign the better). Separatist nationalists from both left and right directed their anger towards historical oppressors for whom all of the above on some level apply.

- Permanent monitoring of people through phone, tablet and laptop cameras was established with no resistance. This gained immediate consent through the diverting narcissism of 'selfie' culture.

- Democratic mechanisms in the developed West now provided an illusion of choice rather than a real choice. Any moment of potential breakthrough for a grouping seeking reform of the system was seized on and obviated through smear tactics and intimidation. Any failure henceforth was carefully potrayed as public rejection of the ideas. Rather than crude historic tactics of censorship, imprisonment or assassination (still applied in the 2nd and 3rd world) , a sophisticated system for first world nations was created where 'moderate' opposition leaders provided the veneer of choice while never advocating or intending to carry out systemic reform, while internally reforming their own party to reduce representation for any progressive faction. Their parties were a coalition of people who genuinely believed even the husk party were a force for progressive change and a minority of people controlling the party who ensured even the mild advances advertised did not emerge. Propaganda was then issued to ensure received opinion dispersed among The Centre explained the events to suit their prejudices and inclinations.

- New laws were introduced curtailing civil rights to collective bargaining and protest. Unions were ritualistically smeared in the media and scapegoated in any labour dispute so that businesses were seen to be on the side of ordinary people and unions on the side of a greedy minority.

- Rather than a system of welfare, long term unemployed were now expected to carry out work assigned for them rather than chosen by them, obliged to do so on poverty rations or face punishment, meanwhile large corporations had their labour subsidised by the state. A state which apparently simultaneously 'could not afford' libraries, swimming pools or centres for young mothers to help with childcare.

- The disabled and mentally ill had their benefits stripped and the public were invited to watch them starve to death in the media, as a warning for what may happen if they did not submit.

- Propagandist media owned by a small number of bankers and financiers narrowed the plurality of political discussions feeding increasingly hollow sounding slogans and narratives to the public in efforts to quell dissent.

- The homeless began to establish tent cities on the fringes of society, while welfare reform in practise involved the stripping of entitlements and establishment of a means-testing bureaucracy. Rather than hide the suffering of hundreds of thousands of citizens the media enthusiastically broadcast this to anyone who would pay attention, as a warning to any citizen as to what would happen if they refused to submit, look for and carry out unfulfilling work and join the treadmill of debt and consumption.

- An exploitation of freelancing facilitated the further stripping of workers rights by divorcing them from their employers, while conversely putting them under even more pressure and obligation to hit targets or be dismissed.

- Alongside food banks, other charities were left to plug the gaps caused by chronic underfunding of essential services, this was promoted as a good thing rather than inciting any moral outrage despite underfunding being entirely voluntary and deliberate. Concepts such as The Big Society gained consent from the well meaning, while those working behind the scenes knew all along this could become a pretext to strip the state.

- To distract from fundamental issues, large hysterical mass ceremonies were held to lionise figures such as the UK Royal family (now simply celebrities), the Army, pop stars and sportspeople. Dissenters and objectors were singled out for harsh treatment, such as Trenton Oldfield who was sentenced to a year in prison for jumping in a river to disrupt a boat race.

- Superficial PR and religious style rituals allowing the oppressed a day in the sun were used in moments of simmering social injustice to avoid the need for systemic reform or justice for those concerned. Banks and football clubs displayed reasonably bland consenting slogans which it was implied through their mere existence and show of solidarity represented change itself. It did not.

- World leaders boasted about their supposed great health, fortitude, intelligence and judgement through PR stunts that would shame banana republics, all to an increasingly cynical Centre who failed to realise this was not aimed at them, or that they were also consuming propaganda, just more sophisticated propaganda and similarly targeted to keep them in line.

- Large polluting corporations committed environmental destruction on a global scale while funding propaganda intended to undermine the trustworthiness of scientists. Many companies concealed their involvement in pollution in an industrial scale, defraudeding the state and their own customers. Most went either unpunished or mildly sanctioned due to their lobbying influence and failure of statute to be able to levy sufficient fines.

- Democracies with popular leftist leaders in the developing world were hit with economic sanctions removing any possibility to objectively discern their success, while US security services heavily funded pro-capitalist factions to derail their achievements and stage military coups, replacing democratically elected leaders with 'interim' strong men and dictators.

- War became a necessity in order to appease arms manufacturers and their lobbyists. Wars now lasting decades (Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Yemen, Libya) ensured rising share prices and endless demand for arms not only by states but by their opponents. Arms production and political acts ensured these arms arrived on the black market to supply local militia with the means to fight back and in short perpetuate endless war.

- Some presentation and rhetoric of global powers became increasingly difficult to tell apart from the clownish despotic dictatorships their media satirised.

- Younger people and, increasing in time, up the generations developed a heightened self-awareness and cynicism of this system, so much so that they were prepared to joke about it and to an extent prepared to risk what they have to change it, but cannot perceive how to change it or what direction that takes.

Did I miss anything? (lol🤗)

So to summarise, what we have encountered through capitalism gaining supremacy is:

- Vulture stripping of state assets and embarrassingly hypocritical shameless propping up of failing capitalist pillars.
- Vulnerable people put on the front line of hardship and suffering as a warning to The Centre to carry on slogging away lest they become one of them.
- Much more subtle political tactics in the West than in regions capitalism can act more brutally towards.
- The system of slavery and cheap labour was not replaced but relocated.
- Debt chained people to a system they actively dislike but saw no alternative to. Those people were The Centre.
- It stands to reason The Centre remain the biggest obstacle to change. Just as oppressed slaves are encouraged not to appreciate their power and agency, the lives of 'the centre' are made as precarious as possible (even when they enjoy comparative luxury) so that they become as risk-averse as possible. Uprising only occurs when precarious luxury is seriously jeopardised on some level or where there is nothing left to lose.
- The system acted ceaselessly find ways to pay ordinary people less money and give them fewer rights to collectively bargain, while relying on them to spend more money and work harder. Consumerism through private competition and speculative, endless growth produced masses of unnecessary duplicates and enormous waste much of which could not be recycled and environmental damage which could be reversed. This was psychopathy; objectively immoral.
- A system of propaganda in place that was far more sophisticated and pervasive than the top down messages distributed under totalitarianism; hierarchical and working off individual agency too, producing interchanges of reinforcement and consent, more difficult to understand let alone counter.
- A commercial need for endless war regardless of motives or values. Is this need partly behind why political leaders became more extreme and irrational?
- Similar levels of environmental damage are being wrought under capitalism but corporate PR gained consciousness of looking weak and began a dawning realisation that new surveillance technology and mass media exposes this. Capitalist opinion became genuinely split on the subject. At the very least advances and adoption of renewable energy look to be a belated and reluctant acceptance of surrounding factors and pressures.

Where next:

Unexpectedly ending on a high note there, albeit that the advance to adopting renewable energy, and indeed the modern conveniences that technological changes bring will be in efforts to continue the grotesquery that preceded it and not to help us towards any form of fully automated luxury communism.

Final talking point:

The dynamic of depriving rights and freedoms and suppressing wages while also expecting the same people to purchase consume ever increasing amounts in order to satisfy growth projections and shareholders. Is this what will finally break capitalism, the debt mountain no-one can service, and the money printers that show the whole thing up for what it is? Or is there another foreseeable adaption and adjustment coming - if so what is it?

Re: Late stage capitalism
« Reply #1 on: June 28, 2020, 11:44:10 AM »
late. Chance'd be a fine thing

Sebastian Cobb

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Re: Late stage capitalism
« Reply #2 on: June 28, 2020, 11:55:42 AM »
The biggest problem, I think, are the people who worked just hard enough to navigate the flaws of the system now practice boot-licking self-abasement so others don't get it easier.


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Re: Late stage capitalism
« Reply #3 on: June 28, 2020, 12:03:00 PM »
Very good point - a very sophisticated system where those trapped in it feel inclined to defend its excesses, or so inured by their own selfishness within the world they know that they can no longer identify moral outrages.

One additional moment I forgot to mention:

- Nestlé CEO describing characterising the principal of access to water being a human right as 'extreme'

A window into the minds of those operating at that level embedded within neoliberal capitalism. He doesn't see humans as having entitlements, only humans as being customers, and even babies as being dependents of those customers, customers by proxy.


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Re: Late stage capitalism
« Reply #4 on: June 28, 2020, 01:03:13 PM »
The concept of this post is to imagine us looking back at capitalism up to the present day with the sort of knowingness that tends to accompany the (often quite rightly) scornful, pitying and horrified articles written about the Soviet Union.
I think that's a really interesting conceit, but I suspect you might be a bit irritated that my thoughts are tangential.

- At least on economic matters, these articles tend to be grossly misleading. Papering over the long shadow of Taylorism in the Soviet Union, and how some of the most stupid bits of its economic setup find quite a lot of reflection in our own.[1]

- Those articles about the Soviet Union also tend to involve scorn, pity and horror about what came after and what came after that.

- Who's writing these articles about the West (?)? Who wins whatever we're in now? The PRC, somehow? What will they see as the pitiable and horrific?

- Who are our equivalent of the democrats, democratic socialists, nationalists, capitalists and theocrats that pulled down the Soviet Union (and in many cases may have regretted doing so, in some ways and for a while at least)?

Not expecting you to answer these, or trying to pick at what was an interesting opener. Mostly stuck on "where next", I guess, not very cheerfully.  And I can't look much of the present in the eye right now.

Sometimes think becoming an accelerationist might be a happier kind of ideological commitment, but have to balance that against being an even more massive prick.
 1. In some weird ways - like the persistence of piecework and managerial bonuses - the Soviet Union had a committent to the individual's profit motive far deeper than much of Western Europe. But that's at odds with the usual "there was no incentive to work hard" rhetoric.


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Re: Late stage capitalism
« Reply #5 on: June 28, 2020, 06:42:08 PM »

just joking, will read soon