A couple weeks ago, Wonkette covered the wingnut antitruth, popular among the various faux-intellectual right-wing think tanks, that Thanksgiving is a celebration of the triumph of capitalism over socialism. As the story goes, the Pilgrims tried the whole socialism thing, nearly starved, then realized the folly of their ways and finally got their invisible hand out of their pants and got to work like good capitalists.
It’s probably obvious enough why this whole notion is fuckheaded, but you should read the article either way because it’s great. But what strikes me most about this whole revisionist history is that, as an anarcho-socialist linked to in the Wonkette piece points out, the glorious free market utopia the Pilgrims build in the wingnut tale isn’t actually capitalist.
Let’s look at the setup again: each family has its own farm and each family keeps the fruits of its labor. And that’s basically it. Now, if that sounds like capitalism to you because of all the mumble mumble bootstraps mumble mumble, ask yourself this question: who, in this scenario, are the capitalists?
“And when everyone’s a capitalist… no one will be.”
If you answered, “Everyone,” congratulations! That’s a really dumb answer! Such an arrangement cannot, by definition, be capitalistic. Just as you can’t be a predator without prey, and you can’t be a salesperson without a customer, you can’t be a capitalist without laborers. Capitalism is, by definition, a system wherein the means of production are owned by somebody other than the people who do the actual labor of production.
“But wait,” you might say. “Couldn’t that also describe feudalism?” Yes, yes it could. Congratulations, you’ve just spotted the man who’s been behind the curtain for the past 600 years. You know, the one who hides his uselessness by handing out worthless facades of fulfillment.
The notion that even ordinary Joes and Janes like you and me can be capitalists too is merely the latest con job used to keep the laborers from noticing that they’re being screwed. 401(k)s, the widespread availability of credit, and the push for universal home ownership are all Reaganomics-era innovations designed to give you the illusion of control over your financial life while, hilariously, actually serving as yet more vectors by which to transform you into a serf. You may also recognize these things as being major factors in the recent economic crisis.
Anyway, it’s that particular con that the narrative of Pilgrims as Noble Capitalists was designed to serve. The fact that it’s incoherent and ahistorical, not to mention the fact that you’ll never see Warren Buffet subsisting entirely on the produce of his own two hands, is irrelevant. The fact that these supposed champions of capitalism don’t even seem to understand what capitalism is is also irrelevant, because what they’re actually championing is class inequality and the suppression of labor rights. So yeah.