The capitalist system is extremely flexible and able to absorb radical anti-capitalist narratives and to turn them on their heads, i.e. turn them into tools through which to perpetuate the system. Arundhati Roy (2015) exposes some of the ways in which this happens in her book “Capitalism, A Ghost Story” (Verso Books, London). This is a must read book for radical and left-wing activists. Here is a summary of these blunting mechanisms with some of my own observations thrown in:
1) The feminist movement. Basically the challenge for capitalism was to delink the women’s struggle for gender equality from socialist and anarchist radicalism. It did so by promoting through advertising the image of the woman as rebel – the chick radical woman who smokes and goes braless. This first step was important because it turned the content of the feminist struggle from one of substance to one of image, It is easier to appear radical than actually being radical. Taking it a step further it divided the middle class intelligentsia of the feminist movement from the working class factory worker, farm worker or housewife, by pushing the notion of the woman as manager, as stock broker and as capitalist. This took out the analytical sting of that movement.
2) The black power moment in the USA. This was an exceptional powerful radical and leftist movement. It undermined the war effort of the USA in Vietnam and it challenged white supremacy in the USA itself. It too had to be separated from its radical content and turned into a marketable commodity. The entertainment industry allowed for black entertainment figures to share in the profitable spoils of a very lucrative and important component of social control, namely the media. Through this process the notion of the black capitalist emerged with the underlying theme from the “American Dream” being, “work hard and you may also become rich, use your talents and you may also become part of the pinnacle of the pyramid.
3) The white working class in America. The idea of micro-loans to the working class came into fashion after World War 2 as a response to President F.D. Roosevelt’s empowerment if Trade Unions through the New Deal. Loans to working class families to buy homes, cars, and consumer junk broke the back of trade unions because loan repayments and defaulting made strikes and worker solidarity impossible.White workers spent their time catching up with their debts and became de-radicalized.
Liberation movements such as the ANC. In 1978 the Rockefeller Foundation produced a policy paper warning of the influence of China and Russia over liberation movements in Southern Africa. In particular the ANC. The Foundation recommended that funding agencies fund the education of key ANC figures in the USA, Britain and Europe as a mechanism through which to influence the future outcome of the liberation struggle. So while Russia, Cuba, East Germany and others funded the training of MK activists Western agencies funded the education of the ANC leadership and future government of South Africa. The idea being to ensure that the ANC leadership understands what spectacular wealth they may realise for themselves individually by compromising with global capital.
4) Martin Luther King. King began to publicly expose the relationships between capitalism, imperialism, black oppression and the Vietnam war. Not surprisingly he was assassinated. A whole impression management industry was then set in motion to turn the narrative around King’s legacy toxic through the corporate King Centre which works closely with the United States Department of Defence, the Armed Forces Chaplains Board and others. It co-sponsored the Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture Series called “The Free Enterprise System: An Agent for Nonviolent Social Change.”
5) We all know about the corporate sponsored image management industry created around Nelson Mandela in South Africa.