Cooking the Books 1 – ‘Woke capitalism’: a contradiction?

‘DeSantis and other prominent Republicans blame ‘woke’ politics for Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse instead of bankers miscalibrating risk’ was the headline in the Business Insider (14 March).

The claim is that the bank neglected maximising profits by promoting diversity and other ‘ethical’ issues like protecting the environment and so went under. There is no evidence for this, but attacking not just the Democratic administration for ‘wokery’ but capitalist corporations as well has become part of Republican politics.

In an opinion column in the New York Times (2 December) Jamelle Bouie examined why Republicans were criticising capitalist corporations when they have traditionally been staunch defenders of capitalism and advised, in the words of the title of his article, ‘Before he takes on “Woke Capitalism”, Ron DeSantis should read his Karl Marx’.

Bouie paraphrased the passage in the Communist Manifesto where Marx (and Engels) pointed out:

‘Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned…’

He commented that, while Marx was writing here about pre-capitalist social and economic arrangements, this could be taken as a general tendency of capitalism and that capitalism tends to also dissolve the sort of conservative and reactionary attitudes and values defended by the likes of DeSantis. However:

‘There are even two competing impulses within the larger system: a drive to dissolve and erode the barriers between wage earners until they form a single undifferentiated mass and a drive to preserve and reinforce those same barriers to divide workers and stymie the development of class consciousness on their part.’

There is certainly a drive under capitalism for employers to be interested in the quality only of the labour-power they purchase, irrespective of the sex, skin colour, language, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, etc. of the bearer. What employers want is an efficient worker and for the pool from which to draw efficient workers to be as wide as possible. This drive works to end all discrimination on the basis of characteristics that are irrelevant from the point of view of working efficiency. In this sense, the logic of capitalism could be said to be ‘woke’.

The second drive has certainly, historically, been a feature of capitalism, sometimes to prevent trade union consciousness though more to promote nationalism. Politically, capitalism is divided into competing states whose ruling class seeks to inculcate and maintain in its subjects a sense of being a nation with a common interest different from other nations. Nationalism, then, is also a feature of capitalism. But this is a drive to divide workers of different states rather than to divide workers within a particular state; it is not necessarily incompatible with the first drive.

Because the first of the two drives Bouie identifies is the stronger DeSantis and the others are on to a loser. On the other hand, there is nothing inherently anti-capitalist or revolutionary in campaigns against discrimination as is sometimes claimed (more in the past than now). That doesn’t mean that such campaigns are not worth it, merely that they are not anti-capitalist. Capitalism and being woke are not incompatible.

Next article: Bird’s Eye View – Howling lapdogs and the wrong tree ⮞

Leave a Reply