Letʼs play a game, dear readers.
If you are of the political left, (and if you arenʼt, thank you for taking the time to read a piece from the other side, hopefully it will be thought provoking), raise your hand if you have ever been told “Start your own business/be your own boss/be creative and make money/etc.”
Chances are, most of you have your hand up.
This line of reasoning is frequently encountered because itʼs meant to be encouraging. The implication is that you are a bright man or woman, and as such there is no reason you canʼt “make it” – and once you have some cash in the bank, you will have a different perspective on capitalism. This ignores the obvious truth that most socialists in the developed world are not completely destitute; it also misses the slightly less obvious truth that perspectives are impacted by material conditions. If you owned slaves, you would most likely have a different perspective on slavery as well.
So letʼs pick apart this line of thought, and explain why socialists arenʼt attempting to be the next Bill Gates, Ted Turner, or Mark Zuckerberg.
For one thing, you will notice that all of those examples of the “self-made man” came from wealthy or middle-class backgrounds, are white, and are male. As such, they enjoyed a variety of privileges and advantages that those of us who are poor, non-white, or non-male (or any combination thereof) do not.
Mr. Gates, for example, is a man with considerable intellectual gifts. But he is also a man who could afford to drop out of Harvard due to his familyʼs upper-middle class status. Most of us, especially in todayʼs economy, canʼt even afford to go to college, much less drop out of one (or quit our job) to pursue our dreams. As affluent white men, most of these “self-made men” are also dramatically more likely to be extended loans by financial institutions and be taken seriously in the business world.
There is also the issue of credit itself. If you want to do practically anything of consequence in 21st century America, you have to go through a bank to do so. Want to start a business? Better get a loan. Buy a building to operate out of? You need a mortgage. Go to school to get an education in what interests you? This will take you right back to the bank. Buy a car to make deliveries? Guess where you’ll find yourself again.
Instead of being self-made entrepreneurs, most business owners are more accurately the indentured servants of predatory financial institutions. The demands of high finance cripple the majority of start up companies within their first few years of life, and the birth of new companies is usually left to the whim of various investors who have no personal connection to the employer, the employees, the work being done, the product being sold, or the communities affected, and who seek no end other than their own profit.
Being the ward of finance capital is the reality for millions of Americans, and it is incongruous with the image of rugged individualism that pervades American culture. A cynic could draw the conclusion that bankruptcy court is the River Styx of the “American dream.”
Beyond this, we come to the ideological schism that goes unrecognized by our well-meaning advice givers.
As socialists, we donʼt want others to work for us; we want others to work with us. We recruit comrades, not employees. We find capitalist business to be dependent upon the subjugation of the lives and dreams of others to that of their employers — John Galt and his never-ending speech be damned.
The idea of growing so large and “successful” that our business is dependent upon paying poverty wages at home and relying on slave labor abroad is appalling to us. We reject the hierarchy of the corporate world to seek an egalitarian order where people are truly equal.
As opposed to competing with other employers to more effectively exploit labor, we seek to direct our efforts towards the empowerment of labor, towards the ultimate end of a social order where workers and their communities reap the benefits of what they create, rather than a property owner who does none of the actual work. We seek to empower others, not employ them. We believe that the best employment is how we can best employ our efforts and energies.
When confronted with the ideal of the “self-made man or woman,” we point out the hypocrisy of that image in the face of the reality of finance capital. To the wealthy exceptions to the rule of capitalist misery, we bring the rest of the teaming masses into focus. When asked to further the growth of the corporate state, we instead look to other options to cooperate, to build and grow together, and to build a new society from within the shell of the old.
So, to our well-meaning, wealth-seeking fellow workers, we appreciate your input, but we say “No thanks.” It’s time for our ideas.