What We’re Fighting: Capitalism and Hierarchy
Capitalism, in essence, is a system of exploitation. It is a class system where a majority, the working class, is exploited by a minority, the ruling class.
The ruling class own and control the places that we work & live, the land that produces our food, and everything that makes life possible. They make the decisions about what kinds of products the factories make or what kinds of services are provided, and they make the decisions about how this work is organised. The rest of us, the working class, must work in the fields and the factories, the call centres and the office blocks, or else get by on benefits or scrape together what we need to survive.
We, the working class, build and provide everything society needs to function. They, the ruling class, suck profit out of our work. We are the body of society; they are parasites sucking us dry.
It follows from this that we don’t use the idea of class in the same way as many others, particularly in the press. Class is not about the fact that some of us earn more money than others or that we go to different kinds of schools. This confusion about the idea of class is part of a wider set of tactics that the ruling class use to try and disguise the reality of class from us.
Capitalism needs workers in a way workers simply do not need capitalism. If we were to unite around our common working class interests then we could do away with the ruling class and run society for ourselves. We don’t need them, but they need us. Because of this, the ruling class works hard to divide us against each other. It does this through trying to control ideas and the way we think about ourselves, and also through creating small differences in power and wealth that pit us against one another.
One of the major tools to create these divisions to is the state. The state is made up of all the institutions that regulate and control the lives of ‘citizens’ – that is you and me – for the benefit of capitalism. When the so-called free market can’t achieve something that capital needs to grow, the state steps in and makes it happen. From building the legal and physical infrastructure that capitalism needs, through to directly attacking workers seeking to improve their position, the state is an essential tool of the capitalist class.
Importantly, the state maintains organisations to directly control and coerce us. The army and the police most obviously use direct force to keep people in line, with the police breaking strikes and heads at home and the army enforcing capitalism abroad. Schools, whilst providing an important service, also indoctrinate children and prepare them for a life as workers rather than as human beings. Prisons, immigration authorities, dole offices and more, all intrude into our lives and shape our actions. Some of these things, like schools, hospitals and welfare benefits, we sometimes depend on for our lives. It is often this very dependence that acts to control us. Benefits come with conditions that dictate what we can and can’t do.
Some leftists argue that if the state were under the control of a group that represented the working class, usually a revolutionary party of some kind, then it would behave differently. This ignores the fact that the state is designed to govern from above – it is, by its very nature, hierarchical. This means that it always concentrates power in the hands of a minority. A small number of people give orders and a large number obey. The state is always hierarchical and as a result will end up furthering rather than destroying all the other hierarchies in society.
The power of the ruling class comes from their control of the means of production, but they keep that control by manipulating a whole series of different systems of oppression and exploitation, different hierarchies. These systems give large sections of the working class just a little bit of privilege. This is enough to turn them against those they should be uniting with, enough to make them defend the ruling class against those oppressed by gender, skin colour, disability, and on and on and on.
To get past this we need a revolutionary movement made up of many different organisations. We need many different ways in which we can take control of our own lives and fight the different oppressions that push us down. We need to completely transform society and ourselves. In the Anarchist Federation we believe that the ideas of anarchist communism offer the best chance of doing this.