Business seems to be the very opposite of a radical political strategy. Businesses are, after all, the primary unit of the way capitalists view the world and are, by virtue of their definition, intrinsically linked into the capitalist system. When left-wing radicals talk about how goods and services would be distributed in a post-capitalist world, they focus on need rather than profit, and social good rather than endless innovation. In the long-term, businesses as we know them are terrible for our livelihoods, our understanding of each other as people and for the majority of the human race. However, given the distinction between short-term and long-term strategies I laid out in my last article, the question remains: can business be part of a short-term radical political movement?
Living in Norwich exposes me to a few businesses with radical edges to them. There are fairtrade vegan cafés, countless living wage employers, and some pubs here and there that are part of the artistic community of the city before they are businesses. Is that really enough though? Does an organic health food store turn capitalism on its head? Does a vegan café that hosts poetry readings and live bands constitute part of a revolutionary fervour? I would argue no. I would argue that these are institutions that contain radical thought and make it easily digestible and harmless. Sure, to survive as a provider of goods and services in this country you have to sign up to some of the more unpalatable aspects of capitalism, but we can, and should, go much further.
But they still, through the distribution of power and pay, sign up to the damaging hierarchal system that enshrines the structures of capitalism
How many businesses do you know that have a flat, non-hierarchical structure? There are elements of this: businesses with committees where representatives of workers sit as equals to shareholders, or businesses like John Lewis who make any member of the firm a shareholder with voting power. But they still, through the distribution of power and pay, sign up to the damaging hierarchal system that enshrines the structures of capitalism.
Worse though, these businesses tend to be very small in their scale, seemingly focusing on providing venues or food and drink. Where is the radical electronics company that develops its own ethical smartphone using a business model with no more than a 10:1 ration between the highest and lowest paid? Where is the radical banking firm which invests in social movements and really protects to people which use its services from the financial shocks of capitalism? Where is the radical internet service provider? The radical shoe shop? The radical musical instrument builders?
At some point, you may just have to have blind hope that people will support you because of what you stand for
It’s not easy to take on businesses that are at an advantage for being unethical. At some point, you may just have to have blind hope that people will support you because of what you stand for. However, alongside voting radicals into parliament, creating businesses that function ethically with radically different distributions of power and wealth, can be part of a much larger, overall short term strategy to change the way people think and push public opinion away from neo-liberal capitalism.