7 de febrero de 2011

G. A. Cohen: Against Capitalism

He aquí la transcripción (en inglés) del video de G. A. Cohen: Against Capitalism (1986) --que recién generara controversia en la blogósfera--, donde Cohen ilustra de una manera sorprendentemente clara y sencilla, pero sólida, el carácter intrínsecamenete injusto del capitalismo. Quiero expresar mi agradecimiento al Dr. Nicholas Vrousalis de la Universidad Católica de Lovaina (Bruselas) por compartir con nosotros la fuente: World Socialist Review (1987).

Al Capp, the cartoonist, told a story about a creature called the shmoo, which was ten inches high, something like a pear in shape and creamy white in color. It had no arms, tiny feet and big whiskers under its nose. The shmoo had only one desire: to serve the needs of human beings, and it was well equipped to do so. Its skin could be made into any kind of fabric, its flesh was edible, its dead body could go brick-hard and be used for building, and its whiskers had more uses than you can imagine. If you looked it a shmoo with hunger in your eye, it dropped dead in rapture because you wanted it, after first cooking itself into your favorite flavor. Since they multiplied rapidly, there were plenty of shmoos for everybody.

But the capitalists hated the shmoos, for the shmoos provided everything people needed; nobody had to work for capitalists anymore, because nobody had to make the wages to buy the things capitalists sold. And so, as the shmoos spread across the face of America, the capitalists began to lose their power. So they took drastic action. They got the government to tell the people that the shmoo was un-American. It was causing chaos, undermining the social order. The President ordered the FBI to gather the shmoos and gun them down. Then things went back to normal. But acountry lad, called Li'l Abner, managed to save one female and one male shmoo. He carried them off to a distant valley, where he hoped they'd be safe. “Folks aint yet ready for the shmoo,” Li'l Abner sighed. But Li'l Abner was wrong. Folks were ready for the shmoo. It was the capitalists that weren't. The shmoo spoiled their monopoly over the means of existence.


Some capitalists defend their ownership of the resources we need for survival by saying that they got them through their own talent and effort. But everything the capitalist now owns either is or is made of something which once nobody's private property. With what right did anyone transform it into private property in the first place?

Never mind the doubtful origin, capitalists may say. Whatever started capitalism off, the system benefits people, for the following reasons. Capitalist firms survive only if they make money, and they make money only if they prevail in competition against other firms. This means that they have to be efficient. If they produce incompetently, they go under. They have to seize every opportunity to improve their productive facilities and techniques, so that they can produce cheaply enough to make enough money to go on. They don't aim to satisfy people, but they can't get what they are aiming at, which is money, unless they do satisfy people, and better than rival firms do.

Well, improved productivity means more output for every unit of labor, and that means that you can do two different things when productivity goes up. One way of using enhanced productivity is to reduce work and extend leisure, while producing the same output as before. Alternatively, output may be increased while labor stays the same. Let's grant that more output is a good thing. But it's also true that for most people what they have to do to earn a living isn't a source of joy. Most people's jobs are such that they'd benefit not only from more goods and services but also from shorter hours and longer holiday's.

Improved productivity makes possible either more output or less toil, or, or course, a mixture of both. But capitalism is biased in favor of the first option, increased output, since the other, toil reduction, threatens a sacrifice of the profit associated with greater output and sales.When the efficiency of a firm's production improves, it doesn't reduce the working day of its employees and produce the same amount as before. Instead, it makes more of the goods it was already making, or, if that isn't possible, because the demand for what it's selling won't expand, then it fays off part of its workforce and seeks a new line of production in which to invest the money it thereby saves. Eventually, new jobs are created, and output continues to expand, although there's a lot of unemployment and suffering along the way.

Now, the consequence of the increasing output which capitalism favors is increasing consumption. And so we get an endless chase after consumer goods, just because capitalist firms are geared to making money, and not to serving consumption itself.

I'm not knocking consumer goods. Consumer goods are fine. But the trouble with the chase after goods in a capitalist society is that we'll always, most of us, want more goods than we can get, since the capitalist system operates to ensure that people's desire for goods is never satisfied.

Capitalism is supposed to be good at satisfying our needs as consumers. But people have seeds which go beyond the need to consume. One of those needs is a person's need to develop and exercise his or her talents. When people's capacities lie unused, they don't enjoy the zest for life which comes when their faculties flourish.


Now, people are able to develop themselves only when they get a good education. But, in a capitalist society, the education is threatened by those who seek to fit education to the narrow demands of the labor market. And some of them think that what's now needed to restore profitability to an ailing British capitalism is a lot of cheap, unskilled labor, and they conclude that education should be restricted so that it will supply that labor.


The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, said in a speech a couple of years ago that we should now think about training people for jobs which are, as he put it, “not so much low-tech at no-tech.” What sort of education is contemplated in that zippy statement? Not one that nourishes the creative powers of young people and brings forth their full capacity. Nigel Lawson thinks it's dangerous to educate the young too much, because then we produce cultivated people who are unsuited to the low-grade jobs the market will offer them. An official at the Departmentof Education and Science recently said something similar. He said: “We are beginning to create aspirations which society cannot match…When young people...can't find work which meets their abilities and expectations, then we are only creating frustration with...disturbing social consequences. We have to ration...educational opportunities so that society can cope with the output of education...People must be educated once more to know their place.”

What we've got here is a policy of deliberately restricting educational provision so that state schools can produce willing sellers of low-grade labor power. It's hard to imagine a more undemocratic approach to education. And notice that to prefer a democratic distribution of educational opportunity you don't have to believe that everyone is just as clever as everyone else: Nigel Lawson isn't saying that most people are too dim to benefit from a high level of education. It’sprecisely because people respond well to education that the problem which worries him arises.

There's a lot of talent in almost every human being, but in most people it remains undeveloped, since they don't have the freedom to develop it. Throughout history only a leisured minority have enjoyed such freedom, on the backs of the toiling majority. Now, though, we have a superb technology which could be used to restrict unwanted labor to a modest place in life. But capitalism doesn't use that technology in a liberating way. It continues to imprison people in unfulfilling work, and it shrinks from providing the enriching education which the technology it has created makes possible.

Is it possible to create a society which goes beyond the unequal treatment that capitalism imposes? Many would say that the idea of such a society is an idle dream. They'd say that there'salways been inequality of one kind or another and there always will be. But I think that reading of history is too pessimistic.
There's actually much less inequality now than there was, say, 100 years ago. Then, only a few radicals proposed that everyone should have the vole. Others thought that was a dangerous idea, and most would have considered it to be an unrealistic one. Yet today we have the vote. We are a political democracy. But we're not an economic democracy. We don't share our material resources, and most people in this country would regard that as an unrealistic idea. Yet I think it's an idea whose time will come. Society won't always be divided into those who control its resources and those who have only their own labor to sell. But it'll take a lot of thought to workout the design of a democratic economic order, and it’ll take a lot of struggle, against privilege and power, to bring it about. The obstacles to economic democracy are considerable. But just as no one, now, would defend slavery, I believe that a day will come when no one will be able to defend a form of society in which a minority profit from the possession of the majority.

Fuente: World Socialist Review, vol. 1, no. 3, Summer 1987, pp. 3-4.