“Violence is at the heart of capitalism. To submit to the capitalist system, consciously or not, is always to do violence to yourself”
Georges Lapierre is a contemporary critic of Western capitalist society who moved from his native France to Oaxaca, Mexico.
In 1987 he co-authored, with Yves Delhoysie, the book L’Incendie millénariste, an account of historical uprisings including the Münster rebellion of 1534 and the 17th century radicals of the English Revolution.
More recently he has written works focusing on Mexico and indigenous cultures, including Invitation au voyage: Rencontre avec des indigènes zapatistes (1999) and La Commune d’Oaxaca (2008).
In his 2015 book être ouragans: écrits de la dissidence (being hurricanes: dissident writings) he explained that what marked our contemporary Western civilization, and separated it from other cultures past and present, was that it was an entirely mercantile culture.
This did not just involve the way it organised itself, but the way it saw and the way it thought, he said. The “cosmovision” of our society was based entirely on money: “In a mercantile society we are all merchants, our heads are filled with the thoughts of big capitalist merchants, we all think about money”. (1)
He equated mercantile thinking with a virus creeping into the social organism, silently spreading gangrene until the whole of society was corrupted.
Echoing Ferdinand Tönnies’ distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, Lapierre described the mercantile attitude as amounting to a separation of the individual from the collective. This stranded individual became nothing more than a helpless slave to the system.
He wrote: “From time immemorial, the slave has been the one reduced to being nothing but an individual, someone separated from their community or from their people, someone who is no longer driven by their own thought (in other words, the thought of the collectivity to which they belong) but by that of their master”. (2)
Lapierre expressed astonishment at how this had ever come about, at how a mentality so alien to every healthy human culture could have come to dominate the species.
He wrote: “Let’s not forget that in a traditional society the merchant is the stranger, the one who doesn’t respect the rules of the social game, and here we have this being who has set himself apart from society, who doesn’t take part in the interplay of mutual obligations and who only acts in his own interests, and is now poised to conquer the planet”. (3)
Lapierre made it clear that this mercantile domination was not something that had evolved peacefully or somehow emerged naturally through any kind of consensus. The capitalist world-view had always been imposed by force.
He cited the example of Australia, where “the Aborigines had to submit to the idea of exchange held by the British colonists, or else disappear: massacres, deportations, reserves or concentration camps; the indigenous people and their way of seeing the world do not interest the British colonists, they are wiped out or fenced in”. (4)
Again and again, said Lapierre, “absolute violence” had been used to impose the rule of money: “Violence is at the heart of capitalism. To submit to the capitalist system, consciously or not, is always to do violence to yourself”. (5)
Because of this, simply reforming the industrial capitalist system was not an option, because the system was never going to stand by and let that happen.
He said: “Those who have power are obliged to exercise it, or else it will disappear. It is completely absurd to ask them to slow down their movement, which would be like asking them to commit suicide, which they do not seem ready to do.
“They prefer to drag the whole planet down into the torment which awaits us, in a collective catastrophe, a social disaster on a planatery scale, rather than to give up one ounce of their power, because giving up an ounce of power is giving up all their power”. (6)
He also described the deceit which, as part of the domination of mercantile thinking, involved the hiding of the mercantile nature of our society, the induced forgetting of the notion that there could ever be another way of living.
This lack of consciousness was one of the veils that prevented us from understanding our society – the others included inadequate critiques of our contemporary society which did not embrace this fundamental problem of a mercantile mindset.
One of these inadequate critiques was Marxism, said Lapierre. He pointed out that Marx’s analysis of capitalism came very much from within the capitalist system itself and thus remained trapped inside the mercantile cosmovision: “In fact, Marx never challenged the form of exchange with which he and his contemporaries were already familiar. He grasped its workings, and criticised them, but he didn’t criticise its spirit, or barely so”. (7)
Lapierre concluded that authentic opposition to capitalism could never arise from within a broadly capitalist mindset and could never merely amount to attempts to reform capitalism, to make it nicer and more liberal or to place it under the control of a different group of people.
What was needed was a total rupture with the current mercantile, capitalist civilization, by attacking the physical infrastuctures of the system.
He wrote: “It’s not about winning power and taking over the state, but about fighting power, opposing any project coming from above or elsewhere.
“It’s on the terrain of resistance to a capitalist project – mines, dams, wind turbines, monoculture, factories making consumer goods, high-voltage power lines, motorways, high-speed rail lines, etc – that you can judge the reality and validity of a struggle, its authenticity.
“All other forms of action – fights against poverty, for decent wages, for jobs, for access to goods, for shelter, for culture, for fuel, for education, for citizenship, for democracy etc – hand victory to the mercantile world”. (8)
In the 2016 booklet Les ours prennent souvent la forme humaine (Bears often take on human form), Lapierre described the vision of an organic universe held by so-called primitive cultures and based on the individual’s connectedness to community and cosmos.
He wrote: “Man finds himself at the centre of a cosmic-scale communication network, at the centre of a network of universal correspondences. We find that hard to accept”. (9)
Rules for existence that we might regard as moral or social were in fact part of the structure and natural harmony of this organic cosmos, he said. (10)
But Western culture had not respected those rules: “For our part we have broken the primordial pact and are paying this price for that on every level: social disintegration, spiritual blindness, the overturning of the cosmic environment. Human life will become impossible”. (11)
Audio link: Georges Lapierre, Radio La Locale (1hr 2 mins)
1. Georges Lapierre, être ouragans: écrits de la dissidence (Montreuil: L’insomniaque, 2015) p. 206.
2. Lapierre, être ouragans, p. 84.
3. Lapierre, être ouragans, p. 276.
4. Lapierre, être ouragans, p. 381.
5. Lapierre, être ouragans, p. 392.
6. Lapierre, être ouragans, pp. 343-44.
7. Lapierre, être ouragans, p. 351.
8. Lapierre, être ouragans, p. 440-41.
9. Georges Lapierre, Les ours prennent souvent la forme humaine, p. 18.
10. Lapierre, Les ours prennent souvent la forme humaine, p. 10.
11. Lapierre, Les ours prennent souvent la forme humaine, p. 11.