The consumerism generated by capitalism throughout the ‘Developed‘ or ‘Western’ World is a major obstacle to tackling climate change, the biggest problem facing mankind. So the next question must be: why is capitalism still so widely accepted? Why do workers in the ‘West’ vote overwhelmingly for pro-capitalist parties?
One of the less obvious features of capitalism is that by exponentially expanding its ‘free’ market into every corner of life it puts a price on everything, and it thereby becomes a great social leveller: kings and lords, upper-class birthrights and privileges decline as possession of money, which by chance can be acquired by anyone, comes to measure everything. As a result, other than the massive inequalities of money, we now live in a society with a level of personal equality that was unimaginable throughout human history up to perhaps 40 years ago for gender, race, single mothers, LBGT, etc. But crucially this equality drive of capitalism has always encouraged constantly growing agitation by workers for a just and equal economic share of their social production. They now see themselves as the social equals of their bosses, which causes desperate problems for capitalists. Capitalism thereby lacks the acceptance of difference which earlier civilizations did, and which could last thousands of years in spite of vast degrees of inequality, class divisions, emperors, slavery, etc.
England’s history demonstrates this capitalist dilemma. In response to the rapidly growing agitation the capital-owning class must react, like any ruling class, in two ways: some groups are violently repressed and exploited; some are bribed to keep them loyal. Thus colonies were plundered by Imperialism to deliver ‘bribes’ to English workers (noted in England by Engels1 ) finally resulting in the compromise of social democracy. For example while the famine was devastating Ireland massive amounts of food were exported under British army guard to Liverpool. Violence was used in the 1819 Peterloo massacre of protesters. But when Chartist agitation for equality grew towards 1850, this time instead of violence the Corn Laws were ended to allow imports of cheap food to quieten the agitation. It is clear that most wars fought during Hobsbawm‘s Age of Empire2 and continuing today were concerned with access to cheap labour, food, raw materials, and later oil. The home working class was comfortable enough to forgo dangerous agitation, even gaining the vote over the years. But after 2 diverting world wars, which were much caused by imperial rivalry, in the 1970’s there arose further demands for economic equality by English workers (e.g. the miners strike) and also agitation by the colonies for their own liberty, for the equality of nations. As there were no new colonies to invade Thatcher and others in the West had to find another source of wealth to answer this new agitation.