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Gary Leech: Capitalism: A Structural Genocide

Zed, 2012; 192pp; £12.99

ImageThis book is about contemporary capitalism and how it generates and perpetuates a system of inequality and structural violence. Despite its hefty title, it’s a page-turner, accessible to the general reader, as well as having a solid and thorough clarity to hold its own in academic circles.

Using case studies from around the world, Leech illustrates the intentions and realities of capitalism’s economic and social theories and policies.
Remember how Thatcher’s programme for the privatisation of social housing in Britain was packaged as beneficial for low-income people, enabling them to move from rental to ownership at reasonable prices, gain control over assets and increase their wealth? In reality, housing speculation took over (particularly in the prime locations), low-income folks were forced out, and social housing – is now more than ever – in short supply.

Leech carefully builds his case by exploring the questions ‘What is capitalism?’, ‘What is violence?’, ‘What is genocide?’, and of course, ‘What is structural genocide?’

The main topics used for this inquiry are food and agricultural policy, healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry, climate change and commerce, and the neocolonial NGO and charity sector working on issues like human rights and development.

For me, the greatest gift of this book is how it connects the dots between issues in a myriad little ways I’ve never considered before. On page after page the book almost shouts: ‘Wake up people! What is wrong with us that we allow such a system to stay in place?’
We have so internalised capitalist values, not only in our economic systems but also in our political and social spheres, that we have become alienated from reality. While most of us wouldn’t tolerate a dictator running the country, we quietly and unquestioningly accept economic dictatorship – benevolent or otherwise – each day when we walk into our places of employment.

But the book also offers a survey of little sparks of hope, suggesting that the revolution will emerge from Latin America, which has long been a laboratory for neoliberal economic policies, and a force-field of resistance, and pioneer in eco-socialism.

One disappointment for me in Leech’s argument was that – despite his faith in participatory democracy and social ownership of the means of production to pull us back from climate and capital catastrophe – he also foresees that the revolutionary moment when state power is seized will inevitably be marked by ‘some degree of violence’ (p152).

As an activist committed to nonviolence, and a trainer working with groups to draw together effective nonviolent campaigns, I don’t see inevitable violence, only the interplay of age-old values, attitudes, and behaviours, which I believe we can unlearn.

In whatever way you contribute towards building a more sustainable and just world – whether that’s through campaigning work and activism, in the relationships you cultivate at work and in the community, or how you raise your family – this book should be essential reading.

It can help us to know better our capitalist past, so we don’t make the same mistakes as we find our sustainable way forward.

Topics: Economics