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How Capitalists Enrich Themselves By Co-Opting Social Justice Movements


From the Black Lives Matter movement to Pride month, corporate America is enriching itself through the appropriation of anti-capitalist cultural leftism. Capitalists have co-opted the causes of anti-capitalists, and neither party is fully aware of the incongruity—least of all the leftists applauding a system they theoretically deplore.

Corporations are at least partially aware. Genuine anti-capitalists understand the incompatibility, as do some cynical corporate CEOs who outwardly pivot to cultural leftism purely for financial purposes. But movie stars and pundits and singers whose wealth, past and future, is made off the capitalist system seem entirely unaware that Black Lives Matter, for instance, is an anti-capitalist movement that would render their lucrative careers obsolete if its economic goals were realized.

To seriously engage the social justice movement is to recognize it is openly and honestly predicated on an anti-capitalist worldview. That applies to its work on race, sex, sexual orientation, immigration, and more.  In a document commemorating the four year anniversary of Black Lives Matter, for instance, the group’s organizing director specifically listed “capitalist values” as an obstacle to its progress. BLM’s Portland chapter said part of its mission was to organize against capitalism. Right now, a whole lot of capitalists are currently promoting Black Lives Matter—some presumably with good intentions. (The Women’s March, another mainstream favorite, also exemplified this tension.)

Consider this argument in a recent Jacobin article: “[U]ntil we can build a movement that can defeat racism and capitalism, until working people of all races unite against capitalists and their repressive apparatus, it is a good thing that bosses, government officials, and the police who protect them are sometimes reminded that black lives matter through a little proletarian fury.”

On June 1, Occupy The Port tweeted, “This is about structural racism. That means it is about capitalism.” That same day, the Black Alliance for Peace wrote, “Police violence is only a mechanism used to fulfill capitalism’s main mandate to contain and control the working class—in particular the Black and Brown colonized working-class communities—and to protect private property.”

Writing for KQED, Pendarvis Harshaw said the killing of George Floyd as, “gives further evidence that capitalism and racism are a married couple of mosquitoes, pulling blood from black folks, everyday.” Protesters have graffitied “Capitalism is murder” onto buildings during recent demonstrations.

These are representative encapsulations of the worldview which activists and academics organizing protests over Floyd’s death are actually fighting to promote. They’re honest about it. Yet corporations and millionaires have rushed to convey their “solidarity” with the protests and the BLM movement in the last week. That includes actors like Dylan O’Brien and Sarah Paulson, whose careers depend on the capitalist system, and corporations like Intel and AirBnb, whose business models are predicated on it.

Some leftists who support the social justice movement may genuinely believe themselves to be anti-capitalist, despite their unwillingness to and disinterest in actually dismantling the system that made them rich or comfortable or both. Others are more authentically radical. And some simply don’t realize the movement is led by organizers who categorically do not believe equality is achievable in a capitalist society.

That’s why AirBnb’s Instagram post announcing a donation to BLM earned comments like “YES AIRBNB WE STAN YOU” and “World class.”

The far Left is is not winning the argument on economics, although it’s made some inroads. It has, however, won the argument on culture.

(One interesting consequence of the neoliberal embrace of social justice is the demise of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign which, if you buy the thesis advanced by Michael Tracey and Angela Nagle, stemmed partially from his embrace of cultural leftism, pushed by establishment operatives.)

What’s frustrating for radical leftists, however, is they don’t believe their cultural victories are won without dismantling capitalism. But they’ve actually won cultural victories because the people in newsrooms and boardrooms have been imported from college campuses to the working world, and either run these companies or intimidate the people who do. Cultural leftism is fashionable. Economic leftism, quite literally, is not, no matter how concerned Anna Wintour purports to be.

For these reasons, corporations are partially motivated by a sincere interest in helping the black community by announcing donations and flooding social media with their statements of solidarity. But they also fear losing business for staying silent, and they are increasingly convinced shifts in consumer preferences make their overtures good for business too.

That means their lip service to social causes with anti-capitalist underpinnings are ultimately perpetuating the capitalist system. It also means liking a corporate social justice post on a platform facilitated by Big Tech with your iPhone doesn’t make you the ally you think it does.

Capitalism is an essential tool in the fight against poverty. It should be reformed, not dismantled. That isn’t a subversive argument, because corporations and Hollywood and media outlets aren’t yet willing to go full leftist. Some of them don’t want to, and some of them simply have no idea what that means.