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Successful Capitalists "Get" Real Capitalism

Any capitalist that is successfully a capitalist must, at some level, grasp Marx's scientific analysis of capitalism.  This is not to say that these capitalists will necessarily read Capital but only that they will understand, as Marx did, the core logic of the system in which they are the ruling class.  And though sometimes we will encounter capitalists who study Capital and other marxists (i.e. at one point it was a fad for committed capitalists to read and appreciate Gramsci, but from an opposing position), the average capitalist who is actually successful is only successful because s/he gets the basic logic described by Marx.  It is important to recognize this fact, and find instances where it is demonstrated, because it proves that Marx's understanding of this mode of production was correct but from the other side––the ruling class, when it is most successful, understands with eerie precision precisely the logic of its success and what it must do to persist in its hegemony.  Inversely, since Capital was intended to be a manual for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, we must understand what must be done to annihilate this hegemony.

At the same time, however, capitalism necessarily produces an ideological constellation that rejects the scientific analysis of its core logic.  Despite the fact that the successful capitalist must, at least unconsciously, grasp the labour theory of value and everything that is built upon this scientific theory so as to remain successful, it is also necessary to develop narratives and discourses that obscure this fact.  These are not narratives and discourses that will be useful for a successful capitalist––because, if followed, they won't help the would-be capitalist to sustain themselves as a capitalist––but they are part of a general ideology that is significant insofar as generating a common sense acceptance of capitalism's imaginary, the way in which capitalism would like itself to be apprehended by society as a whole.

Take, for example, the libertarianism of the Ayn Rand variety (so-called "objectivism" though it is anything but objective) that is bizarrely popular amongst would-be capitalist individuals who most often fail to become successful capitalists.  Here we have a perfect example of capitalist delirium where an "imaginary capitalism", to use Samir Amin's terms, stands in for "actually existing capitalism".  The former is the way in which capitalism would exist as capitalism if it was just an academic exercise and a utopian proposition; the latter is what capitalism really is.  The latter produces the former as an ideology in order to justify its existence but no truly successful capitalist, who has succeeded long enough to be entrenched in the ruling class, believes in this delirium.  They might project this dream as a common fantasy amongst the masses, because it is in their interest, but they refuse to get lost in its logic because they know that to believe in its utopian processes is to lose sight of those processes that concretely allow them to persist as capitalists.

(A side point: every Ayn Rand loving libertarian I have ever known has never been a successful capitalist.  When they aren't maladjusted university students who hate their leftist professors, they are university drop-outs who have failed in becoming capitalists.  Of course they will complain that they would succeed if capitalism could become real capitalism––that is, the utopian capitalism existing in their delirium––but this is just evidence of their idealism: they want a fantasy, a made up version of real-world capitalism, that is about as logically possible as Lost Lemuria.  Just as Engels castigated the utopian socialists for not being scientific, the successful capitalists could castigate their libertarian counter-parts for the same reason.)

This is why the Milton Friedmans of the world, though useful ideologues of capitalism, would never succeed as actual capitalists.  If they attempted to apply their para-mathematical models to the real world to actually succeed as capitalists rather than academic apparatchiks, they would sink to the level of poverty.  Sometimes they possess enough influence to trick other would-be capitalists into their imaginary, and thus disgrace them at the moment of crisis, but otherwise what they are promoting is a delirium that those bourgeois subjects who weathered the crisis have little interest in pursuing consciously.

The Sears corporation's recent bankruptcy is a perfect example of why a successful capitalist must, to some degree, reject imaginary capitalism.  Its CEO, Eddie Lampert, was an Ayn Rand fanatic who actually believed that this libertarian ideology was "rational" and, consistently and thoroughly, ran the corporation according to Randian principles––hell, he could even quote passages from his guru's shite novels.  Rejecting the labour theory of value and believing that technology produced value, and selfishness produced rationality, he ran his corporation into the ground.  Making departments compete against each other produced a climate of false reporting, completely crushing workers rather than realizing that they created and value and crushing them in a way that made them identify with their crushing, meant that there was nobody to exploit value from.  This failed capitalist, who apparently believed that the mode of production was a supernatural force and thought that this was rational and objective, was weeded out by his own precious free market that is not at all as independent as he imagined––and could never be so.  Good Lord, look at the other brutal capitalist ventures that are similar to Sears: Walmart and Target realize that the majority of their profit comes from their over-exploited workers and, in this realization, can produce effective systems that keep these workers over-exploited.

Simply by adhering to the purist capitalist ideology does not make one a good capitalist

And yet Lampert, who is now being castigated by Forbes, was once celebrated by the same pro-capitalist propaganda for being a visionary!  This is simply because Forbes, along with the Wallstreet Journal and other such tripe, is meant to primarily defend the ideology of capitalism––that is, its imaginary/delirium––and not capitalism as it actually exists.  It thus has no problem celebrating the most rabid capitalist, even if they don't really understand capitalism, and then castigating this fanatic when they fail to become, due to their own ignorance, the capitalist they thought they had become.  Forbes simply celebrates an elite club; when a member of this club falls from grace, they can and should be dismissed.

Here I am reminded of every libertarian I encountered when I was an undergraduate who, a far cry from Lampert, clung to a utopian conception of capitalism that was useless.  Since such a conception could not actually teach these would-be capitalists what was required to become a capitalist––let alone reveal the truth that even a scientific understanding of capitalism would never be enough to become one of the privileged few exploiters (so much of this, after all, is like the lottery)––these sad little individualists were always doomed to failure.  I do not know one Randroid who was a successful exploiter: dogmatically adhering to an imaginary conception of capitalism, and believing that they were akin to "John Galt" simply because they liked this fictitious character, they all failed to become anything more than pasty-faced, trench-coat wearing curmudgeons who couldn't figure out how to profit from exploitation because they didn't understand exploitation in the first place.  The tendency is to follow their idol into the realm of poverty and an over-reliance on social services, making the bullshit complaint that they would not have to sink so low if their capitalist utopia wasn't properly functioning in the first place.  The fact that they are incapable of thinking through the question who would impose your utopia if you hate the state––let alone the connected, and uncomfortable, question who would refuse to accept your utopia if there was no state and thus make you require a state in the first place––is just more evidence of their literal idealism.

Such (tragically) amusing libertarian figures would demonstrate their utopianism by always referring to a capitalism that never existed.  While they mocked communists for their supposed theory-that-doesn't-work-in-practice (and thus failing to grasp that most active commies think this "true communism" narrative is actually bullshit), they demonstrated the height of utopian delusion.  Unlike communism, which is a classless society that exists on the horizon of socialism and thus may never be brought into being, capitalism actually does exist in the real world and function according to real processes; it works pretty well according to these processes and to suggest otherwise is to imagine a pretend capitalism, to hide from its general laws.  And yet the average libertarian likes to talk about some "pure capitalism" that has never existed, even since capitalism's rosy dawn, and so we have to wonder just what mode of production they are inventing.  The fact that capitalism could never function without a state, without a military apparatus to enforce its laws––that is without workers forced into working to generate all of the social wealth––is side-stepped by appeals to some Platonic market.  So what precisely is this imaginary capitalism if it is not the capitalism of the real world?  The ideology of those real-world capitalists who know precisely what is required to keep them in power: the state, workers forced into exploitative relations, and maybe even a bunch of misguided and failed capitalists to babble about the mythology of an imaginary capitalism!

Real capitalists, while recognizing the importance of a propaganda that promotes their imaginary, are successful because they know, at some level, precisely what it takes to be successful––they grasp the core logic of their beloved system.  The Koch family, which was partially behind the mobilization of the Tea Party, was very aware that the mass mobilization of people, and state intervention on the level of control, was necessary––this is why they worked extremely hard to create a social movement consisting of masses who would argue for the basis of exploitation.

After all, successful capitalists understand the fact that some sort of mechanism of state repression is necessary––why would the majority of people (this "herd" who, according to the Randroids, are unremarkable and pull down the unique and "productive" individuals) accept brutal capitalist exploitation in the first place?  How the hell can you generate all of the value required for modern capitalism without those masses of workers you despise tricked into working for you?  Just because they decide to because they think you're brilliant?  Well, maybe, but some mechanism of hegemony has to function so as to get them to think this way in the first place––this is probably why so many conscious and successful capitalists were reading Gramsci!  So no, the end-game scenario of Atlas Shrugged is ludicrously utopian: the rugged capitalists would, in actual fact, find themselves in a world where no value could be produced… who would make the food, till the fields, work the factories, etc. without the very state these utopians believe is in the way of their self-actualization?  Nobody.

Hence, every successful capitalist proves the significance of historical materialism since s/he must, in order to be successful, abide by the logic Marx uncovered in Capital.  And yet this logic is self-defeating because it also explains the contradiction these successful capitalists must invest time and energy to mute, hide, and actively repress/suppress: the fact that, while capitalists require workers to be capitalists, workers do not need capitalists.


  1. This is great - I encourage you to convert the piece into a Financial Post op-ed!


    Further evidence: When this Sri Lankan Marxist economist teaches Marx to investment bankers, they often respond along the lines of "Wow, that's what I've been doing the whole time. Now it makes sense." It's true, on some level, the successful ones understand how it actually works. What that says about them as people is another question..


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