The capitalist class is not the primary enemy

Posted at — Feb 8, 2022

A lot of socialist rhetoric focuses on framing the capitalist class as the primary enemy of socialists and of the working class. However, the capitalist class itself is not the primary enemy of socialism.

The real enemy is the self-replicating, expanding process called Capital. This is an algorithm which operates in the real world by being encoded in various social relations, institutions, and technologies. You can think of it as an evil AI that is encoded in a complicated, diffuse way in our social-relations, institutions, and technologies, and which has enslaved most of humanity (capitalists and workers alike).

In this post, I will write Capital capitalized and in bold, to remind the reader that it is an algorithmic process that has an independent existence and should be thought of as an agent in the world.

A self-replicating cellular automaton, which you can think of as a metaphor for how capital works
A self-replicating cellular automaton, which you can think of as a metaphor for how Capital works

The core algorithm is very simple and was described by Marx in Capital Volume 1. It is what he calls MCM’ and it basically consists of the following loop

accumulator = 1
while True:
  accumulator *= ratio

where ratio is some number greater than 1.

Normally the running of this algorithm wouldn’t really be a problem – for example, I ran the above on my laptop and it had no noticeable impact on my computer or the rest of world.

The problem for humanity is that accumulator is instantiated in the real world as the total amount of labor time accumulated in commodities. Since this is at base the only “metric” considered by this algorithm, there are various negative side-effects of its execution as is well known1.

Moreover, because the encoding of the above algorithm is not perfect, various “error-correcting” systems are constructed (some de novo, some by modifying pieces of previous societies) to ensure that the execution of the above idiotic, pointless loop (which is the black heart of capitalism) continues unimpeded. These include

What about the capitalist class then?

The capitalist class is made relatively comfortable by its position in the system of Capital. Also, they are encouraged by their experience of comfort to identify their own interests with the performing of tasks that the Capital algorithm requires certain people to perform. This includes allocating productive resources, coordinating commodity production, disciplining laborers, supporting the funding of institutions (both inside and out of the state) that Capital uses for error-correction, etc.

As a result, because most of them do not understand that they are serving a role in an idiotic algorithm (or if they do understand, then they are content with that role), they will act to preserve the execution of that algorithm.

So, they become an enemy to the movement to destroy the idiotic algorithm of Capital because they identify their own self interest with its continued execution. Also, in their role of running specific businesses, their specific interests as business-owners typically run counter to the process of worker self-organization (since such organiziation can result in increased wages and worker-control). And, because this self-organization of workers is likely necessary to build the kind of social force necessary to destroy Capital, they also in this specific way act to preserve the system.

To reiterate, the problem is not the people who are capitalists themselves, the problem is that they have internalized a role within the algorithm of Capital that obstructs the fight against that algorithm.

What is socialism?

Socialism is the struggle by humanity to stop the above algorithm, which is currently running our society (making many of us miserable in the process) and then to construct a new world system out of the raw material of our current society. A world system which is not based on constant expansion and enslavement of humanity to a meaningless task like making a counter go up, but in which there is real freedom. That is, a world in which institutions and relations allow us to actively decide how we want to live, both individually and collectively, instead of our choices in life being largely determined by circumstances which cannot be affected by human agency.

  1. These include: the ignoring of effects on the natural world (which is now leading to our system’s suicidal response to the climate crisis); the fact that people have no control over the world we are creating and must serve an idiotic algorithm, which leads to feelings of depression and hopelessness; because the algorithm tries to accumulate as much labor time as possible, workers are forced to spend more and more time working under worse and worse conditions; the lowering of wages to the absolute minimum (as wages are a cost which decreases the ratio) and many other things. ↩︎