A Very Brief History of Capitalism
Das Kapital is Karl Marx’s most thorough work on capitalism, although The Communist Manifesto is probably his most popular and widely read work. In reading Kapital, one can’t help but be impressed by the precision of Marx’s logic (the premisses upon which that logic is erected are another matter). It’s a classic work of the mental-rational consciousness structure, and it certainly left an impression on world history.
There was, nonetheless, an intriguing “mystical” side to Marx that was discovered later and assembled as The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. Probably, then, Marx was still under the influence of Hegel and Hegelian “Spirit” before he “turned Hegel on his head” and adopted his method of dialectical materialism and quantification for the sake of making his Socialism “scientific”. But if Marx felt he had to make Socialism “scientific”, it was because the origins of socialism (just like all contemporary ideologies — liberalism, conservatism, anarchism, etc) lie in religion and in an interpretation of the Gospels. They were, originally, various “heretical” sects or theologies of the Protestant Reformation.
So, it’s not from classical Greece or Rome that the “heretics” derived their models of the good society, but from Mark, Matthew, Luke or John. In mythical terms, these four correspond to “The Guardians of the Four Directions”, and as such they were often represented in Christian iconography, as here in their zoomorphic forms
Or here in the illustration called Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”)
In Blake’s terms, these are the “emanations” (or avatars) of the Four Zoas, Luvah, Tharmas, Urizen, Urthona, which could be easily mapped to the Sioux Sacred Hoop as the “directions” or to Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”. The mythological consciousness structure, in other words, still works its way through us despite ourselves. That’s the meaning of Freud and Jung, in fact. We did not really “invent” the contemporary ideologies. We were, in effect, invented by them. I think it was Andrew Greeley or Joseph Campbell who once quipped that “the modern-day incarnation of Oedipus stands on a street corner waiting for the walk light to turn green” — or Electra, for that matter.
What ideologies are, are in effect the translations of symbolic forms into “ideas” or into secular terms. “Narcissism” is just a secular or “neutral” term for what was once called “idolatry”. And all the old gods reappeared as “concepts” or “principles” or “ideas”. They became idols of the mind. The Greek word “eidolon” (or plural “eidola“) which is Plato’s word for Ideas or Forms, also shares parentage rights over the word “idol” as well. In contemporary terms, “eidolon” has been defined as “an apparition or phantom” or as “the image of an ideal”, or icon. In effect, Plato merely stripped the classical gods of their own will and subjectivity and translated them into “eidola” — forms, ideas, or archetypes. But the point is (and this set the precedent for the mental-rational consciousness), their implicit geneaology remained intact. They were offspring of the mythological and the magical consciousness structure. By simply re-baptising and re-naming them, Plato preserved a certain degree of continuity with the past.
In those terms, “ideologies” are really the corpses of dead gods — or only partially “dead”. For every “-ism” is, in fact, a disguise for a god (or a Zoa).
This is also true of “capitalism”. The president of Goldman Sachs still insists that capitalism is “doing God’s work” and is not, as some have called his corporation, “a bloodsucking vampire squid”.
The history of the human race is compressed into names and words. “Capital” is an interesting one. It’s related to the word “cattle” and to “chattel” and to Latin capus (and German “kaput“, too) — the head. That is, the count of the head of cattle. Cattle were once capital (and still are, in some places), which suggests the beginning of capitalism, in its primitive form, as lying with the Agrarian Revolution and the end of the hunter-gatherer way of life. A lot of the terms used for capitalism still retain their agrarian pedigree. (“Management” originally meant “to handle horses”, and a manager (related to “manger”, of course) was a horse-handler or herdsman or shepherd. And having brought this attitude to the managing of men in a factory, you can perhaps understand the truth about the real antagonism that existed between Capital and Labour).
So, the geneaology of the word “capital” from “cattle” (head) probably referred to the number of surplus cattle you had over and above what you needed to sustain yourself or your kin. The surplus. How to you get more cattle? Well, by breeding (the interest rate, as it were) or by theft — raiding, rustling, pillage, and stealing, which is rather quicker. And capital has been accumulated by both means. Imperialism as much as innovation. “Property is theft” was Marx’s judgement of the former method. There’s a curious ambivalence in the word “private” as well, privare, which means both to steal and to liberate. It has a connection, of course, with “privateer” and “piracy”.
But you don’t have to look so far back in history to find the reason for that ambiguity of liberation and stealing. It’s in the reason for “potlach” ceremonies or “give-aways” as practiced in tribal societies still today. Someone who accumulated from shared or communal resources more than they needed — a hoarder — was, in effect, a threat to the tribe, to the “we” — a potential pirate. Such early “privatisation” threatened the “we” with dissolution and fragmentation. The “give-away” restored the membership of the “private” individual in the community. In fact, the more you gave away, the more fame and honour accrued to you. It became a matter of some pride that you had lots to give away. I’ve attended a couple of give-aways, which were once banned by the government as being “irrational” and contrary to the principles of the individualism and the pursuit of happiness and self-interest. That is, primitive “communism” clashed with “advanced capitalism”, but it was really the clash of two very different consciousness structures, at root. One which saw “private” as piracy and another which interpreted it as “liberation”. In some locations, it was even a surrogate for warfare. It was a matter of tribal pride which rival chieftain could give-away the most, sometimes leading to total impoverishment for the “victor”.
Of course, to the avaricious mind, this was totally irrational and contrary to “common sense”. And the colonial authorities banned it outright, perhaps forgetting their own spiritual authority who once declared “give away all that thou hast and follow me”.
In effect, capitalism became a religion competing with Christianity (and “winning” I might add). We might call it, to use a contemporary term, “the cult of rationalisation”, but it’s largely because the civilisation can’t reconcile its contradictions between it’s alleged spiritual authority and it’s actual practices that Christianity is on the wane. Churches are being closed everywhere. In effect, society has decided that man’s “worldly goods” are of far more value, and more tangible, than the welfare of his “soul”, which is vague unless one can turn it into capital — as “having” a soul, “possessing” a soul that has exchange value. Something you can bargain with and for. The next big step for capitalism (and probably its last most desperate act) will be buying and selling “soul” or souls much like the Church once sold “indulgences”, that got Martin Luther so riled up. And we know what the consequences of that, were.
And I kid you not. There are already schemes afoot for doing just that. It’s probably the ultimate debasement and degradation, but that’s essentially what Trout and Ries’ Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind is all about. It’s really no longer the “marketplace” where capitalism and corporations wage their competitive battles for resources and “loyalties”. It’s now “the mind”. For all intents and purposes, “market” and “mind” have become one and the same thing. You don’t “position” your brand in “the market” (where is that anyway?). You now “position” your brand in the mind, 24/7. Or you even “position” yourself as a “brand” — the “Me-Brand”.
This is called “progress”. In fact, it’s quite decadent and degenerate. We might call this invasion of the soul “psychic imperialism” or “psychic colonisation”, but in some ways it resembles the selling for profit of phoney “keys to Paradise” in the form of the Indulgences.
We have to become conscious, now, just as a matter of psychic self-defence.