Do we really owe modernity to capitalism?

The narrature of capitalism


One of the claims that the apologists of capitalism most repeat and last question is that which has been the system that has created the most wealth and progress in history. We owe you the Internet, the planes, YouTube, the computers from which we write and all the medical advancement and social and individual freedoms we can find today. Capitalism is not the worst or the least criminal of the systems that have existed, but this arrogant interpretation is also a kidnapping that ignorance makes history.

In absolute terms, capitalism is the period (not the system) that has produced more wealth in history. This truth would be enough if we do not consider it as misleading as when in the 1990s a Uruguayan minister boasted that his government had sold more mobile phones than in the rest of the country’s history.

The arrival of man on the moon was not a simple consequence of capitalism. To begin with, neither public nor private universities are, in their foundations, capitalist enterprises (except for a few examples, such as the Trump University fiasco). NASA was also never a private but a state-owned enterprise and was further developed through the hiring of more than a thousand German engineers, including Wernher von Braun, who had experimented and perfected rocket technology in Hitler’s laboratories. Invested fortunes (certainly, with some economic and moral aid from the great American companies). Everything, money and planning, were state. The Soviet Union, especially under the command of a dictator like Stalin, won the space race by putting for the first time in history the first satellite, the first dog and even the first man in orbit twelve years before Apollo 11 and just forty years after the revolution that turned a backward, rural country like Russia into a military and industrial power in a few decades. None of this is understood as capitalist.

Of course, the Soviet system was responsible for many moral sins. Crimes. But it is not the moral deficiencies that distinguished bureaucratic communism from capitalism. Capitalism is only associated with democracies and human rights by a narrative, repetitive and overwhelming (theorized by the Friedman and practiced by the Pinochets), but history shows that it can coexist perfectly with a liberal democracy; With the genocidal Latin American dictatorships that preceded the excuse of the war against communism; With communist governments like China or Vietnam; With racist systems such as South Africa; With destructive empires of democracies and millions of people in Asia, Africa and Latin America, as in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were England, Belgium, the United States, France, etc.

The arrival on the Moon as the creation of the Internet and the computers that are attributed to capitalism were basically (and, in cases, only) government projects, not companies like Apple or Microsoft. None of the scientists who worked on such revolutionary technological programs did it as an entrepreneur or seeking to become rich. In fact, many of them were ideologically anti-capitalist, such as Einstein, etc. Most were salaried teachers, not the now revered entrepreneurs.
To this reality must be added other facts and a basic concept: none of this emerged from scratch in the nineteenth century or the twentieth century. Atomic energy and bombs are direct daughters of Albert Einstein’s speculations and imaginary experiments, followed by other wage geniuses. The arrival of man on the Moon would have been impossible without basic concepts such as Newton’s Third Law. Neither Einstein nor Newton had developed their wonderful superior mathematics (none of them due to capitalism) without a plethora of mathematical discoveries introduced by other cultures centuries earlier. Does anyone imagine infinitesimal calculus without the concept of zero, without Arabic numerals and without algebra (al-jabr ), to name a few?

The algorithms used by computers and internet systems were not created by a capitalist or in any capitalist period but centuries ago. Conceptually it was developed in Baghdad, the capital of the sciences, by a Muslim mathematician of Persian origin in the ninth century called, precisely, Al-Juarismi. According to Oriana Fallaci, that culture gave nothing to the sciences (ironically, capitalism is born in the Muslim world and the Christian world develops it).

Neither the Phoenician alphabet, nor commerce, nor republics, nor democracies arose in the capitalist period but tens of centuries before. Not even the printing press in its different German or Chinese versions, an invention more revolutionary than Google, were thanks to capitalism. Neither gunpowder, nor money, nor checks, nor freedom of expression.

Although Marx and Edison are the consequence of capitalism, no great scientific revolution of the Renaissance and Modern Age (Averroes, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Pascal, Newton, Einstein, Turing, Hawking) owed that system. Wild capitalism produced a lot of capital and many Donad Trump, but very few geniuses.

Not to mention more practical discoveries, such as the lever, screw or hydrostatic of Archimedes, discovered 2300 years ago. Or the IX century compass, one of the most transcendent discoveries in the history of mankind, by far more transcendent than any smartphone. Or the wheel, which has been used in the East for six thousand years and has not yet gone out of style.
Of course between the invention of the wheel and the invention of the compass passed several centuries. But the so vaunted “vertiginous progress” of the capitalist period is nothing new. Except for periods of catastrophe such as the Black Death during the fourteenth century, mankind has been accelerating the emergence of new technologies and resources available to a growing part of the population, such as the different agricultural revolutions. It is not necessary to be a genius to realize that this acceleration is due to the accumulation of knowledge and intellectual freedom.
In Europe, money and capitalism meant social progress before the static feudal order of the Middle Ages. But soon they became the engine of colonial genocides and then a new form of feudalism, like that of the twenty-first century, with a financial aristocracy (a handful of families accumulate most of the wealth in rich and poor countries), with dukes and political counts and villains and demobilized vassals.

Capitalism capitalized (and capitalists sequestered) centuries of social, scientific, and technological progress. For that reason, and being the dominant global system, it was able to produce more wealth than previous systems.

Capitalism is not the system of some countries. It is the hegemonic system of the world. Its problems can be mitigated, its myths can be dismantled, but it cannot be eliminated until it enters its crisis or decline like feudalism. Until it is replaced by another system. That in case there is a planet or humanity. Because capitalism is also the only system that has put the human species on the brink of global catastrophe.


JM, July 2017

Rebelión has published this article with the author’s permission under a Creative Commons license , respecting its freedom to publish it in other sources.


An Open Letter to Donald Trump

Not rapists: just abused*


An Open Letter to Donald Trump


Mr. President Trump:

Throughout the centuries, long before your mother arrived from Scotland, long before your grandparents arrived from Germany and had a lot of success in the hotel and brothel business in New York, the Mexicans had their families here and they had already named all of the Western states, rivers, valleys, mountains, and cities. The Californian architecture and the Texan cowboy, symbols of the “authentic American” are nothing more than the result of the hybridity—like everything else—of the new Anglo-Saxon culture with the long since established Mexican one. Can you imagine one of the founding fathers coming face-to-face with a cowboy?

When your mother arrived to this country in the 1930s, half a million Mexicans were deported. The majority of them were American citizens but they were very unlucky when the frustration nationwide, because of the Great Depression, got them speaking Chicano. They were blamed for the Depression since their faces looked as foreign as they could be.

Your idea that the Mexicans that come here are rapists, criminals, and invaders it’s nothing new and it couldn’t be farther from the truth. In this country’s prisons, you will find that immigrants—both legal and illegal—are underrepresented. Immigrants in American prisons make up only one-fourth of what would be the total percentage of the immigrant population in the United States.  In case you still don’t understand: the statistics say that “wetbacks” are four or five times less likely to commit a crime than your own beautiful children are, Mr. Trump. Where immigration dominates, the crime rate drops and prejudice and racism increase.

These people were seen as foreigners and rapists (you aren’t the first person to know this) since the United States took possession (it’s best to say it this way so we don’t offend anyone) of half the Mexican territory in the middle of the 19th century. And as those people that were already there didn’t stop speaking such an uncivilized language such as Spanish and refused to change their skin color, were persecuted, deported or simply murdered, accused of being bandits, rapists, and foreign invaders. The real Zorro was dark skinned and didn’t fight against any Mexican despotism (as Johnston McCully depicted the story in order to be able to sell it to Hollywood) but instead he fought against the Anglo-Saxon invaders who took his land. Dark skinned and rebellious like Jesus, even though you see this Nazarene man always depicted as blonde haired with blue eyes and rather docile in the holy paintings. The hegemonic powers of that age that crucified him had obvious political reasons for doing so. And they continued crucifying him three centuries later when the Christians stopped being illegal immigrants and were persecuted so much that they hid in the catacombs. Eventually, they became the official persecutors when they took power.

Fortunately, Mr. Donald, the European immigrants, like your parents and wife, didn’t look like foreigners. Of course, if your mother had arrived forty years before, then maybe she would have been confused with an Irishwoman. Those people certainly did look like invaders. Besides being Catholics, they had hair just like yours, red and curly, something that offended the local white people, and by white people I mean those that, at one time, had been discriminated against by their Polish, Russian or Italian accents. But fortunately, immigrants learn quickly. As González Prada wrote more than a century ago, when an individual rises above the level of his social group he usually becomes its worst enemy.

This is what you and many other people demand, of course: that the immigrants should assimilate to this culture, instead of just integrate into it. But, which culture is that exactly?

In a truly open and democratic society, no one ought to forget who is to be accepted or, as I understand it, the virtuous thing to do must involve integration and not assimilation. Assimilation is violence. In many societies, it’s a requirement, especially in all of the societies where fascism survives in one way or another. 

Mr. President, the creativity that you see among the businessmen and women in this country is admirable even though its importance is exaggerated and many negative aspects are forgotten: It wasn’t businessmen who promoted democracy in Latin American but rather, they did just the opposite. Various successful American businesses promoted bloody Coups d’état and supported a long list of bloody dictators.

It was businessmen like Henry Ford, who made interesting contributions to the industry, but it’s often forgotten that, like many other businessmen, Ford was an Anti-Semitist who collaborated with Hitler. While the US denied refuge to persecuted Jews in Germany—as they now deny it to Muslims today for almost the same reasons—Alcoa and Texaco worked together with the fascist regimes of that time period.

It wasn’t businessmen who developed new technology and science but amateur inventors or salaried professors instead; from the foundation of this country to the invention of the Internet, continuing with Einstein and finally, the arrival of the first man on the moon. Not to mention, the basis of the sciences—which were shaped by those horrible and uncivilized Arabs centuries before—from the numbers that we use to Algebra to algorithms and many other sciences and philosophies that are part of Western civilization today, continuing with the Europeans in the 17th century. None of these men were businessmen, of course.

It wasn’t businessmen who achieved, through resistance and popular activism, almost all the progress with the civil rights that are now known today in this country, when at the time they were demonized as dangerous revolutionists and anti-Americans.

Mr. President Trump, I know you have been all your life too busy making money, so you don’t know this simple evidence: a country is not a business, it’s not a company. As an employer, you can hire and fire as many employees as you wish, for the simple reason that there was a State that gave an education to those people before and there will be a State later on that will be responsible for them when they are fired, with social welfare services —or with the police, as a worst case scenario.

An employer doesn’t know how to resolve any of these externalities. He’s only concerned about his own success that he will later confuse it with the success of the whole country and sell it in that same way because that is what a businessman does best: selling. Call it what you want.

You always boast about being immensely rich. I admire you for your bravery. But, if we consider what you have done starting with what you received from your parents and grandparents—money aside—it could be said that almost any businessman, any worker in this country that has started from nothing—and in many cases incurring enormous amounts of debt from his educational costs—is much more successful than you.

The Turk Hamdi Ulukaya was a poor immigrant when he founded the yogurt company Chobani a few years ago, which is now valued at two billion dollars. That type of story is very common in a country as great as this one, without a doubt. But this creative businessman had the decency to recognize that he didn’t do all of this by himself. That it would have been impossible without his employees and having been in as free of a country as this one. And actually, recently, he donated 10 percent of the company’s stocks to his employees.

In Mexico, there are similar examples to yours. But better ones. The most well-known example is Carlos Slim, the son of Lebanese immigrants, who took advantage of the economic crisis at the time—as any man with money would—now has eleven times your fortune.

Mr. President Trump, democracy has its own Achilles tendons. It’s not the critics, as any fascist society normally considers them—it’s the demagogues. The ones that beat their nationalistic breast in order to abuse the power of their own nations.

Twenty-five centuries ago, the first democratic example, Athens, took pride in welcoming foreigners; this wasn’t her weakness—nor political or moral. Athens had slaves just like your country had for a couple of democratic centuries, and in a way it continued this disgrace with undocumented workers. Athens had its demagogues too: for example, Anytus, a successful businessman who convinced the rest of society, very democratically, so that they would put the thinking mind of their age to death. Socrates’ downfall was questioning everything too much, for believing too little in the gods of Athens and for ruining its youth with doubts.

Of course, almost no one remembers Anytus today and the same thing will happen to you. At least you can double your bet and turn into one of the figures just like we’ve seen in European history of the 20th century with your exacerbated nationalism and your hatred for those people who looked like foreigners without even being so. You will always find followers—because that is also part of the political game—and right now, we don’t have a better system.


Jorge Majfud