The capitalist illusion – Part 4 – The ultimate deception

■ Part 3 of this article was published in May

Harry Houdini, probably the world’s most famous illusionist, when performing his acts would mesmerise his audience with feats that defied all logic or reason. He would make the impossible possible. Audiences would be left speechless at his escape routines, and he toured the world displaying his death-defying acts.

Great magicians and illusionists who have followed in Houdini’s footsteps continue to captivate audiences the world over. Even though we all know when we see these entertainers that an illusion is taking place, that “real” magic doesn’t exist, it’s hard to disbelieve what we see in front of our eyes. Tricks, stunts and illusions are made to look random, but at all times the great illusionists are in total control.

Illusionists, as explained by the magician David Kwong, employ seven secrets to ensure their success (which might be familiar to some). They are: fill the gap, write the script, load up, design free choice, employ the familiar, conjure an out, and control the frame.

By “filling the gap” they give the audience enough evidence, allowing the brain to fill in the gaps. They “write the script”: magicians manipulate your memory of what happened and tell you what they want you to hear to fit their narrative so as to complete the trick. They “load up”: this is a magician’s term for doing all the preparatory work beforehand. They “design free choice”: the idea is to make the audience think they picked a certain card freely, even though the magician knows that it was pretty much the only choice they had.

They “employ the familiar”: the brain tends to respond best to patterns, so they leave a few of the original cards in the pack to “prove” to the audience that it hasn’t been rigged. They “conjure an out”: for every trick, magicians have three or four back-up plans ready to go. Finally, they “control the frame”: they get the audience to focus on something else, which redirects your attention from what they are doing. You see only what they want you to see.

It’s clear from these essential secrets of magic that magicians use quite logical, thought-out and well-planned methods to be able to dupe an audience; and essentially that is what a magician is doing: fooling you into believing that they have extraordinary or supernatural powers.

In this series of articles we have revealed some of the different tricks of the capitalist class: the non-equivalence of exchange within the wage system and foreign trade, revealing the need for poverty and exploitation to thrive in order for capitalism to survive. We have exposed the fallacy of capitalism’s technological innovations in dealing with the environmental depletion and the destruction of the planet; we have displayed the limits of capitalist democracies and exposed the class nature of the state and its ability to influence and infiltrate working-class forces to remain the dominant class force in society.

All these are done by using the same or similar secrets as the magician.

But now we must reveal the greatest capitalist illusion of all, the ultimate deception: Socialism failed. And there is no alternative.

What this mantra is really all about is the concerted effort to conceal the war that has been raging continuously and mercilessly for more than a century. Since Marx and Engels produced the Communist Manifesto, the great class war of the bourgeoisie and proletariat, the owners of capital versus the workers for capital, has proceeded.

This war has revealed itself in periods of open military conflict and was heightened during the anti-communist “Cold War,” beginning in 1917 (not in 1947, as the capitalist powers never accepted the fact that a section of their class had been overthrown and replaced by the working class). Ever since the defeat of the socialist bloc it has remained, and will remain, the core element of capitalist class rule.

Class war, as opposed to conventional warfare, which the capitalists of course also employ, has as its objective the crushing of the ideological strength of their enemy rather than just the physical and numerical strength. One of the most effective ways to do this is to first of all deny Marx’s fundamental conclusion that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” i.e. to create the illusion that class relations, interests and conflict are not the driver of change in society, that class is nothing more than a category, a way to denominate a wage level.

It is subtle, a sleight of hand, but essential in weakening class-consciousness. “Class” nowadays is more commonly interpreted as a person’s socio-economic status. As one moves up in wages or earnings there is this concept of upward mobility, where only the level of wages separates the working class from other classes, and with enough hard work everyone has the ability to move up to the top.

This is a fantasy. Rather than reveal class in its true form, as a citizen’s relationship to the means of production—the means by which all our needs, wants and desires are met—the capitalist is trying to conceal class relations and, by extension, class struggle and the class war.

In doing this, the capitalist class lurks in the shadows, hiding their own class interests, i.e. keeping the main means of production, land, labour, resources and the majority of its proceeds in their private hands, and convincing wider society that private ownership is the most efficient and the fairest way to organise an economy.

By simply ignoring or playing down the existence of class relations and defining this as some sort of numerical category, they are trying to convince the people that no illusion is taking place, that what people everywhere in the world witness daily are random acts, free choices made by free individuals in democratic countries, never predetermined. The consequences of those acts, people then believe, are undetermined, disconnected, and therefore can be changed, just as the audience member in a magic show believes they have free will and that they can determine the outcome. But, just as the magician is in total control, so too are the ruling class.

The great magicians use simple rules with which to fool the audience. The capitalist class similarly employ rules in order for them to fool the people and so maintain their privileged power. How else can we explain the great juxtapositions?—

  • where wealth and a country’s economic, social and political infrastructure, year after year, are stripped from the public, are privatised, and concentrated in fewer and fewer hands
  • where profits are soaring, yet wages, terms and conditions are constantly eroded
  • where the cost of living rises but the value of labour shrinks
  • where the productivity of labour has soared for decades but real wages have stagnated
  • where debt is crippling for the poor but is an asset for the rich
  • where homelessness spreads but the fetishism of housing is fed by all the mainstream media
  • where depression, suicide and alienation grow in commodity-rich societies
  • where the exploitation of labour, land and nature is accelerated when it should be stopped
  • where global poverty, hunger and diseases are thriving, yet billionaires are multiplying
  • where resource and regime-change wars are constant yet are dressed up as “human rights” interventions, to “spread democracy”
  • where military budgets soar but public and welfare budgets are slashed
  • where we have fires raging, glaciers melting and temperatures rising but still rely on a carbon economy for energy, transport, industry, and agriculture
  • where we have a growth model of infinite economic growth but with finite resources
  • where not only have we unsustainable production and consumption economies but they are also catastrophic for the natural world and for civilisation.

Let them not fool you. Capitalism, the dominant global economic system, is the primary cause of the impending climate and civilisation collapse. Its benefactors are willing to sacrifice it all for their short-term enrichment.

History is full of vile emperors and empires, but there are perhaps none so vile as the real, existing capitalist ruling class residing within our countries today. And, ironically, all the while this is taking place around the globe the majority of people in the Western world see no alternative to capitalism, the very system that is responsible for this global misery.

This is the great deception in operation. The reality is often laid bare, but the totality of it, the class nature of it all, is rarely exposed, which of course is by design. By ignoring and concealing the class struggle the ruling class can continue to spread the idea and the belief that there is no alternative. But it must be stressed that this belief, like most things in a capitalist society, is orchestrated by the ruling class and enforced by the reactionary, opportunist and capitulating forces in wider society.

The real power behind TINA (“there is no alternative”) lies not just with this fictional “post-class” society but, more importantly, is rested upon the full-scale assault and total falsification involved in discrediting the real, living socialist systems that came into existence since the October Revolution in 1917.

The reason why socialism is treated with such contempt, and at every opportunity, why it is criminalised by imperialist mouthpieces—when, for example, the anti-historical fallacy of equating communism and the Soviet Union with fascism and Nazi Germany is promoted—is that they know socialism is the only system that can threaten, and has threatened, the monopoly on wealth of the capitalists and imperialism.

So at every turn they must denounce it, distort it and destroy it in the eyes of the working class. They fabricate horror stories, tales of mass murder, repression, and terror, and disseminate these lies as fact—in news items, in schoolbooks and university textbooks, in films, television series, documentaries, and other popular media. They create monsters out of socialism’s leaders and make martyrs out of its defectors; they blacklist or ignore scholars, such as Michael Parenti and Grover Furr, who challenge the anti-communist paradigm.

Where socialism has been built, or is in the process of being built, or even where a country is trying to steer an independent course from the imperialist centres of the United States, Britain, and the EU, the imperialist powers impose sanctions and embargoes as well as trade, travel and flight restrictions to bleed the country dry and stunt potential growth and development.

They employ espionage to infiltrate its political and administrative offices, they finance and arm counter-revolutionary movements, and instigate military and political coups and assassinations. They murder trade union, labour, community and party leaders and help instigate rioting, looting, and the destruction of public property and services. They carry out overt and covert full-spectrum operations that promote internal sabotage of the economy and infrastructure, seizing whatever assets they can in the meantime.

They do all this, and more, to ensure that as much chaos as possible is created to discredit the socialist or independence project. The goal, as Richard Nixon once declared, is to “make the economy scream.” Then the carrier pigeons of the Western media spread the message: that the economy is in turmoil, the country’s leaders are dictators, its people are rising up, a humanitarian crisis is unfolding, “socialism has failed”; we must intervene, we must support the rebels, we must bring democracy!

This bombardment of reaction from the mainstream reaches the mass of the people, is talked about on social media, in pubs, work-places and elsewhere and then fed back in the form of active or tacit support for the Western powers’ intervention, regime change, and puppet governments.

This is what happened or is happening, to a greater or lesser extent, all round the world: in the European socialist bloc, Viet Nam, Korea, Cuba, Chile, Libya, Syria, and Venezuela, to pick just a handful. And the goals of the ruling class have mostly succeeded in their objective.

Western propaganda is so invasive that we often hear self-described left, Marxist or socialist movements upholding the imperialist agenda—a complete embarrassment and, frankly, a disgraceful position to take. As soon as they side with the imperialist agenda, all their credibility as a genuine class-conscious workers’ movement is destroyed; what is left is only their revisionist or opportunist line, which should be consciously challenged and uprooted to avoid sowing further confusion in the workers’ movement.

A crucial objective in the class war is to create and reinforce in the minds of the masses the idea that socialism has failed, which further strengthens the ideology of “no alternative.”

This then raises the question: If there is no alternative to capitalism, how can there be any real opposition to capitalism? And if there is no opposition to capitalism, how can we overcome the enormous and species-defining moments of our time: resource depletion, climate crisis, environmental collapse, and civilisation collapse?

The answer is, of course, that we can’t and we won’t overcome the global crisis centred on curbing or reforming capitalism. If the entire scientific community is adamant (and it has been for some time) that with our current output (predominantly Western) we are headed full tilt for, and very shortly will hit, the point of no return, then this gives an urgency to the need to raise class-consciousness everywhere and anywhere, to oppose and challenge TINA in all its manifestations, to try to avert this suicidal course.

The most important task of our class is to shatter the illusion that socialism failed. Socialism—the real, existing socialist states of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, directed by the most advanced section of the workers’ movement—contrary to what we are all taught to believe by the ruling-class ideologues, can not only succeed but in fact can thrive, even given the very tight spaces in which it is allowed to operate, and despite the capitalist onslaught, invasion and encirclement that plagues it.

The only solution for all the peoples of the planet to the impeding global environmental and civilisation collapse, as Marx famously stated in 1848 in the Communist Manifesto, is for the working class of all countries to unite and for each one to set about constructing a planned, publicly owned and publicly directed socialist economy, based on the sustainability of our planet and its resources, on a true equivalence of exchange between nations and workers, and once and for all ending the exploitation of people by people.

■ The continuation of this part will deal with socialism’s successes, strengths, and shortcomings.