Saturday, May 07, 2005

Comment on Seabrook's "We dodged the real issue"

Dear Friends,

Here is a very interesting, insightful (and short!!) article (We Dodged the Real Issue) about the conflict between advocates and opponents of global capitalism, with a little critical comment by me.
We dodged the real issue
Jeremy Seabrook
Friday May 6, 2005


It is often claimed that electoral apathy in the western democracies comes from the absence of any big issue separating mainstream parties. But no such consensus exists globally. Western countries may shrink from acknowledging it, but the world is in the grip of an epic confrontation between those who believe in the capacity of capitalism to bring plenty, peace and progress to all humanity, and those equally convinced that only disengagement from its destructive dynamic offers the hope of planetary survival.

The ideological divide cuts through traditional political allegiances. On one side are the supporters of corporate interests, unreconstructed socialists and many "progressives". They point to the conquest of disease, increasing longevity, the comforts of life extended to more people than ever before. On the other are the anti-globalisers, as well as an unknown number of the world's poor, who ask only for sufficiency and security. They have some uncomfortable allies, particularly traditionalists whose faith forbids humanity to defy God by interfering with the integrity of creation. In defence of their position, they cite the sicknesses of excess, the contamination of the resource base, and the baleful impact of industrialism upon climate, ecosystems and biodiversity. [full text at,3858,5187265-103677,00.html ]


In the middle of this article, Seabrook writes, "The war of these ideologies has long been engaged. If it remained apparently subordinate for so long, this is because conflict within western societies - local contests between capital and labour - was a more pressing concern. But with the settlement of that old dispute, the assault upon indigenous peoples, the self-reliant and other bearers of ancient and sustainable life-ways has been renewed. These are being compelled into the 'benefits of civilisation'."

It is true that in the Marxist framework (which I reject) the contest between capital and labour is viewed as a conflict of opposing self-interests, with each side wanting the same thing -- to maximize its material wealth; hence in this framework, Seabrook is correct. But if, as I believe, the conflict between capital and labor is essentially a conflict between working class versus elite cultures, over what values should shape society (inequality, competition, top-down control versus equality and solidarity and democracy) and a conflict about whether the purpose of human life is to increase economic production or to create relations of trust and mutual support among people, then the conflict between capital and labor is in fact the conflict between world capitalism and its opponents that Seabrook is talking about, and that conflict divides ordinary people from their elites within advanced nations like the U.S. just as it divides the world's poor from the world's elite.

How we see this question has enormous consequences for how we approach our fellow citizens in developed nations like the U.S., Canada, Australia etc. when we discuss Palestine/Israel or any other similar issue. In the Marxist framework, we view our fellow citizens as people with a stake in (and with values supporting) world capitalism and in the other framework, which I think is true, we view them as people whose values and sense of what it means to be a human being are attacked everyday by capitalism. In the former view, we define ourselves as an "enlightened minority" wheras in the latter view we define ourselves as champions of the great majority of our fellow citizens. The former view prevents us from winning; the latter view makes it possible.

Since Seabrook discusses the role of religion in this conflict, I encourage you to read some articles I have written about religion, also in this context: and .

--John Spritzler


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