“Can’t #endpoverty without ending capitalism!” It’s the type of trite and nonsensical slogan we’re all used to certain outlets chucking around. So when this tweet popped up in my Twitter timeline earlier today, I had a shortlist of usual suspects instantly in mind before I saw the handle of the account posting it. The Canary, Skwawkbox, Novara Media, ‘Rachel Swindon’, JC4PM…
But on closer examination this was a new platform for the hard left…wait a sec…Teen Vogue?
Owned-by-Conde-Nast, part-of-a-hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars-a-year-publishing-empire, have-you-even-seen-what-the-fashion-industry-involves Teen Vogue?
Yep, that’s the one. Having been driven out of the hard-copy magazine market by the cruel medium of people not wanting to buy it any more, the online-only version is apparently set on wreaking its dreadful revenge on capitalism. Either that, or it needs the clicks to keep going.
That’s not to say that the tweet is stand-alone nonsense, or simply an untrue headline with nothing underneath. Far from it: it’s backed by a real depth of inaccuracy in the linked article, too. Here it is in all its, ahem, glory.
Let’s begin with the first sentence:
‘Capitalism is defined as an economic system in which a country’s trade, industry, and profits are controlled by private companies, instead of by the people whose time and labor powers those companies.’
Except, of course, it isn’t. That distinction between companies and individuals is simply false – had the author clicked on her own link to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, she’d find a more reasoned definition regarding private ownership, decision and competition, where private means people and businesses. Where the dictionary says ‘private’, Teen Vogue has wrongly concluded it to mean ‘corporate’.
It doesn’t really get much better from there. Here’s the history part:
‘Where did capitalism come from?
The origins of capitalism are complicated, and stretch back to the 16th century, when the British systems of power largely collapsed after the Black Death, which was a deadly plague that killed off up to 60% of Europe’s entire population. A newly formed class of merchants began trade with foreign countries, and this newfound demand for exports hurt local economies and began to dictate overall production and pricing of goods. It also led to the spread of colonialism, slavery, and imperialism.’
Ruh-roh. ‘The origins of capitalism are complicated…’ – full marks, definitely true – ‘…and stretch back to the 16th century…’ – hmm – ‘…when the British systems of power largely collapsed after the Black Death, which was a deadly plague that killed off up to 60% of Europe’s entire population.’ Woah, woah. What?
In the 16th century, there wasn’t a ‘British system of power’. Britain wasn’t a country yet. Maybe the author means England, or the countries of England and Scotland? But the ‘systems of power’ in those countries were very much alive and kicking in the 16th century. You might know them from such hits as the Reformation, Henry VIII being in charge, Elizabeth I being in charge, defeating the Spanish Armada, and various people being burned at the stake in quite a powerful way.
I digress. What was meant to have collapsed these systems of power, which didn’t collapse, in a country that didn’t yet exist, again? Oh, right – ‘the Black Death, which was a deadly plague that killed off up to 60% of Europe’s entire population’.
That would be the Black Death, which did indeed kill up to 60 per cent of Europe’s population…in the 14th century, having first arrived in England in 1348, a good 152 years before the start of the 16th century. Bubonic plague was around in the 1500s, and later, of course – Pepys wrote about the outbreak in London in 1665 – but the author is a whole two centuries out on the date of the pandemic she is referring to. So far, so all over the place.
What were the effects of this misdated plague? ‘A newly formed class of merchants began trade with foreign countries…’ Er, nope. Trade with foreign countries, and merchants, were a thing well before the 16th century. They were a thing before the 14th century, when the plague actually happened. Indeed, that’s how it got to England in the first place – aboard merchant ships, engaged in trade with foreign countries..
It’s probably worth noting that the ‘source’ for these assertions is an article published on Marxists.org and written by a former senior activist in the Socialist Workers Party. Big whoop for facts.
The author goes on and on in this vein. Apparently trade ‘hurt local economies and began to dictate overall production and pricing of goods’, for example, which makes it hard to explain its visible beneficial effects, or the fact that trade in itself ‘dictates’ nothing.
Despite the existence of masses of genuine academic texts on the topic, the chosen source on the history of the Industrial Revolution in England is the Solidarity Federation, an obscure anarcho-syndicalist collective.
Supporters of capitalism are presented as caricatures – fat, wealthy, and selfish, with their supposed views defined by their opponents – while there is no mention whatsoever of the extensive data demonstrating the vast numbers of people lifted out of poverty by the power of the free market (the actual delivery of the #endpoverty goal claimed in the original tweet).
Readers may not be that bothered by the news that Teen Vogue presents to its audience such a misleading account of both history and economics – though you probably should be, given the number of people it claims to reach. But what I find more interesting is the process by which an inherently capitalist company, sitting at the pinnacle of the conspicuous consumption denounced in the article, came to be pushing such bogus ideological rot.
The term ‘late stage capitalism’ is often used to highlight the obscene extremes of indulgence, wastefulness, and counter-productive misbehaviour which Marxist true believers expect to eventually undermine the capitalist system. The old Leninist critique of social democrats was that it was a mistake to seek to alleviate the suffering and misery of workers, because doing so would delay the revolution – far better to allow capitalism to drive the people to the barricades.
I wonder if they’ve got the transposition of theory to practice a bit wrong, though. Perhaps rather than provoking the revolution by glorying in a repellent orgy of capitalism, corporations will bring on socialism by promoting it in a desperate search for clicks and revenue. All that time wasted spent bashing big businesses, when the left should have had the confidence in their own theories to sit back and wait for them to do the job for them.