I am writing this piece mostly in frustration over a growing ideological tendency that I am encountering frequently. It is not one incident that has prompted me to write this, but the general drive of large sections of the political left towards this erroneous dead-end.
In the political left-wing, dead-end ideologies and Utopian rubbish are cheap and plentiful (anything to keep tangible revolutionary models at bay). The particular ideological tendency/movement that I’m speaking of does not have a name, but it centers around a common theme of “escaping” from, or “walking away” from , capitalism. For lack of a better term, I’ll refer to this tendency as ” Social-Escapism“.
I hear it everywhere; it is on the campuses, it is in the lyrics of socialist music, and recently it has infiltrated my own organization and work. This widespread theory keeps popping up, stating that class-war, that a revolution, is “not necessary”; capitalism “doesn’t need to be overthrown”. The answer, according to these ideologues, is simply “walking away” from capitalism; choosing “not to participate” in capitalism, via commune living, sustenance farming, forming a movement that is “so large in numbers, that the capitalists won’t even be able to take up arms against it”. These deluded petty-bourgeoisie believe that you can “ween yourself off of capitalism”.
See, this is an incredibly dangerous tendency. I’m not saying it is dangerous because I’m afraid of it; that isn’t the case. I’m saying it is dangerous, because it leads otherwise well- informed, politicallly active comrades away from class-struggle, and into the rural areas to grow beets and carrots; away from revolution, and into the abyss of this social-escapism.
Speaking for myself, I have only voiced support for commune living on one occasion, in my early political development; even then, I believed that the commune was simply a tool of organization, a way to get all of the political forces together, rather than as an alternative to capitalism. Utopian commune-dwelling has never appealed to me, possibly because of my up-bringing around the local Hudderites of Alberta, and other failed Utopian experiments.
Anyways, to get back on topic, I would like to propose a scenario to try and counter these notions of social-escapism. In this particular analysis, I’m focusing on the situation of our Victorian/British Columbian social-escapists in particular.
Okay, let’s say that some of these social-escapists did band together, and do what they are keen on doing: going out to the rural areas, getting some land with dwellings, and starting to grow their own food. Perhaps they also raised their own bees for honey, (an idea from a Victorian social-escapist) and possibly livestock. As for electricity, solar panels for all! A form of anarchist councilism somehow prevailed as the organizational/legislative model, and the people are blissful.
This is the vision. Now, here are the stumbling blocks of reality, to pop the bubble.
First of all, under a system of capitalism, it is not possible for an individual, or even for a collective of individuals, to purchase a single plot of land in perpetuity. Even if this group of Utopians “owned the land” that they were cultivating and living on, they would still have to pay property taxes .
Now, this insight throws a giant stick into the spokes of this Utopian theory by itself. The taxation levied by the capitalist government on these social-escapists, you would think, should be enough to jar them back to reality, a reminder that they have not “severed” themselves from capitalism, no matter how rural their surroundings.
Although property taxes can be quite low (especially for uncultivated land,), this introduces a new variable into the lives of those who are trying to avoid “participating” in the capitalist system : expenses.
Now, these expenses give rise to a necesity for currency, in order to continue the upkeep and operation of the commune and farmlands. Now, the social-escapists may deal with this problem in many ways. In the event that some (or all) of their membership have to resume wage labour employment to raise funds, well then I think that their whole attempt at “waling away” from capitalism becomes moot. If this does become the case, the commune dwellers are as dependent on selling their wage labour as ever, and still firmly tied to the capitalist world and system.
More likely, as I have been told by social-escapist ideologues, the commune dwellers would sell part of the fruits of their labour. For the sake of argument, lets say that these fruits would include vegetables, honey, unique crafts, fresh bakery products…
Now we see, in reaction to the taxes levied by the capitalist system, the rise of another fatal error on the commune: commodity production. All of the sudden, rather than selling their surplus at their own leisure and discretion, the social-escapists start to produce products and designate entire sections of their garden produce as commodities, to be sold for profit (supposedly to help keep the commune going.).
So, now the commune-dwellers sell some of their fruits, perhaps at local farmers markets and whatnot. Now they have acquired a limited income for the commune.
Well, with income comes income tax; More taxes. Once again, the capitalist class (whom the social-escapists didn’t think it was necessary to defeat,) levies taxes from the commune dwellers.
More taxes become more expenses. More expenses lead to the commune-dwellers being forced to sell more of their produce (which was formerly geared towards the needs of the commune,) to continue the upkeep of the commune. Perhaps to accomplish this, the commune dwellers purchase advanced machinery to help increase the harvest (which turns out to be yet another expense, especially when fuel and insurance are concerned.).The commune dwellers are forced to expand gardens, and produce more home-made products( the materials needed to produce these, may bring another expense), solely for the purpose of commodity production. They also are forced to find more outlets to sell their wares. Ah, the increase in commodity production, and the beginning of their expansion into as many markets as possible. More and more, the commune acquires symptoms of capitalism, from the ground up.
Of course, it is also reasonable to assume that the commune would have a vehicle of some sort, almost definately gas powered. Even though social-escapists are typically life-stylists, who prefer bicycles (and other emision free modes of conveyance,) , bicycles are impractical for long range travel (remember,they are living in a rural area), for transportation of goods, and especially impractical in the winter, in most of the northern hemisphere. Because of these factors, they are most likely to have a vehicle to start with, or the commune will purchase one when the necessity of commodity production forces them to adopt one (The very act of purchasing a vehicle may place more weight on the budget of the commune.).
Vehicle ownership leads to (you guessed it,)…Expenses! Fuel, repairs, and of course Insurance! The commune dwellers will require a street-legal vehicle to use (even if they only have one,), so they will accept all of the costs that go with it. More costs, more expenses. The strain on the commune may force a member to have to take a job, in which case it is quite clear that they have not escaped capitalism. At this point, they also need to do things for the capitalist authorities, like possess a valid driver license ( How can any person claim to not be reliant on the system ,when you are subject to it’s rules and regulations?).
I know from experience, it is very difficult to feed a whole family on only what you produce, let alone a group of people, big or small. Now, by this point in time, the commune is producing largely for profit, trying to juggle the needs of the membership, with the demands for currency. During this time, the availability of food becomes more and more scarce, as it has to be sold to pay for upkeep;this leaves commune members hungry. How are they going to feed their members? Well, I guess they could buy groceries… another expense!
Take into consideration also that people get sick. What are these social-escapists going to do if one of their number gets sick or injured, especially seriously so? Herbal teas and home remedies only go so far; if you have appendicitis, you need surgery. Now, assuming that everyone on the commune has the possibility to get sick or injured, that would mean that every person would require a health care card, which is yet another monthly expense! If they didn’t live in a country that had socialized-medicine, it would be even worse, because they would have to pay even more for an HMO or insurance. More expenses, more demands for currency ( health-care for upwards of ten people can really add up,), and yet another bond forged to the very world and social system that they are trying to “ween themselves off of”.
In actuality, the sheer weight of the contradictions and financial demands on the commune would have forced the social-escapists to either become wage-slaves (and defeat the whole purpose of the commune), or devote the overwhelming majority of their productive forces to commodity production, for profit.
Now, even if hypothetically they are able to maintain a level of commodity production, in exchange for currency, and cover their operating costs, by that time capitalism has triumphed. The goal of the commune has shifted overwhelming from self sustenance to profit, and the commune members are not only completely subject to all of the rules and regulations of the capitalist state, but they are tax-paying citizens of it. What began as a self-sustaining commune has become a commercial farm; the social-escapists, in the eyes of the capitalist state that they reside in, are simply farmers, economically indistinguishable from other farmers enthralled by the system.
Now, keep in mind that this is a very austere estimate; I didn’t factor in any miscellaneous expenses, or “habits” that the commune members may nurse, all of which lead to miscellaneous demands upon the commune for currency. My estimate assumes that the social-escapists do not smoke, drink, or engage in any other form of leisure that would require repeat purchases of commodities ( a cigarette habit alone consumes ten dollars a day from most smokers. If the commune has ten smokers out of the whole, that’s one hundred dollars a day. That’s a lot of potatoes that they have to sell!).Even assuming that these social-escapists live a minimalistic, utilitarian lifestyle, they are still doomed.
In the event that the social escapists abandon the law-abiding road, they may prolong their existance in a valiant “robin hood” style, but they are still doomed. Whether they evade taxes, poach wild-life, squat on property, grow illegal crops like Marijuana (for profit and/or personal use), or engage in any other type of illegal activity, they guarantee that their commune will be stamped out by force, and that their membership will be arrested. Even if they initially manage to evade notice of the illegal activities committed by their commune, it makes little difference; the longer that they continue the existance of the commune (and these illegal activities along with it,), the more certain the reality that they will be caught, and eventually the day will come when capitalist police forces will “remind” these Utopians who is really in charge; capitalists don’t fuck around when it comes to tax evasion. Anyways, even being a bandit upon the system is still a form of reliance and dependency.
Well, there you have it; from the best of intentions to probable dissolution within less than a decade. the commune is doomed to failure (not a single one of these communal social-experiments attempted in the past have survived.).
See, the most important point to expose about the flawed nature of this social-escapism is that it actually doesn’t aim to “escape” capitalism; it aims to co-exist with it. Perhaps this is the fundamental flaw of the whole notion.
See, it is not true escapism, as escape from global capitalism would require nothing less than a space faring vehicle ( and given that there are no known inhabitable planets other than earth in this system, you would actually still be dependant on earth for the import of vital commodities.). What the social-escapists aim to do is occupy a plot of land/geographical area (which is already claimed by capitalists,), and try and survive there, without being bothered by any of the forces of capitalism. For their part, the self stated ambition of the social-escapists is not to make any effort to defeat capitalism, so therefore the true aspiration of the social-escapists is hermit-like co-existence of their own socio-economic system with that of the global capitalism.
Now, this is a large part of where the theory falls flat, as historically speaking , at no point in history has capitalism ever co-existed with a separate economic system. Capitalism brought about the defeat of feudalism in the advanced colonial countries (the American revolution ,the French revolution, etc), swept away tribalism in colonial nations, and fiercely sabotaged all past experiments in the building of socialism. By their very nature, with their lust for new markets to expand to, as well as new sources of capital and resources to exploit, capitalism can never co-exist, side-by-side with any other system, and from it’s place of global dominance, it will allow no up-starts. If there is only one lesson to heed from the revisionist Soviet premier Nikita Kruschev, it is the fallacy of his attempts at “peaceful co-existence”, which majorly contributed to the ruin and defeat of socialist countries/organizations everywhere.
In addition to this naive and erroneous desire to co-exist, and be left in seclusion as social hermits of this earth, among all left-wing political tendencies, this social-escapism is a current that is the bringer of revolutionary defeatism: ” We will never win against capitalism, things will never change; fuck it. Get the kids, an axe, and some camping supplies, we are going to live in the woods.”
Now, don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I am not suggesting that the commune system is inherently reactionary and doomed to failure (peoples communes actually functioned quite well in the PR China, as part of their grand efforts to build socialism and self-sufficiency.); what I am saying is, quite simply, you can not “escape”, “walk away from”, “ween yourself off”, nor co-exist with the likes of capitalism.
The only way to end the tyranny of this capitalist system is to cast it down from it’s perch, and the only way to that is, and always has been, by awakening the masses to assume political power in their own interest. Utopian escapism and naive, hermit individualism will only lead in circles, back on your knees to the very system you boasted of “escaping”.