The Paradox Of Divestment From Capitalism

Estelle Ellison
6 min readSep 1, 2023

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What exactly are the consequences of leftist organizing methods and disciplines that refuse to resist reactionary values and behaviors? Across generations of struggle, we continue to find scarcely acknowledged recurring patterns of oppressive power dynamics. As a result, there are generations of people discarded by those same recurring patterns that have yet to be addressed.

When we evaluate what it means to experience burnout from formal and informal organizations alike, we often find that the phrase “burnout” is defined by new injuries, traumas, disabilities, and prison sentences that came from giving themselves to actions and disciplines with insufficient political aftercare and support. Likewise, those with pre-existing ailments or conditions often have their needs dismissed while trying to engage in various political projects. An absence of long-term care networks for those who engage in that work or the presence of support networks that proved insufficient leave many with no choice but to tend to themselves and seek supportive connections that make access needs a priority.

This throughline trend of organizing struggles we’ve inherited but have yet to resolve for good persists in cyclical internal conflicts over which values to uphold. Some conflicts may be about determining what amount of charity work should entitle a person to harming and abusing others. Others may be over what level of inaccessibility leadership deems acceptable. These conflicts are fundamentally about which forms of prejudice should be tolerated from leaders and members of leftist groups.

Despite these disheartening shortcomings, there are always those who would much rather improve how we build towards a liberatory future than make endless excuses for stagnation. More often than not, they are cast out of already established formations instead of being embraced by them in a meaningful way that causes tangible improvements to be implemented. After losing what some may regard as a “political home”, those who refuse to accept reactionary values and behaviors are left to either do work on their own terms or grapple with the subsequent alienation from the people they once called comrades.

In the midst of this current historical period where normalcy is the primary recruitment tool of fascism, leftists who make consistent compromises with oppressive systems sometimes make paradoxical calls for us to divest from capitalism. The collapse of political projects, the aftermath of crises, the exhaustive splits in groups and formations, and people succumbing to precarity and eugenics all seem to prompt them to call for us to become less dependent on means of survival that are shaped by capitalism’s terms. This is not to say that they are wrong, in a strict and literal sense. On the contrary, they are correct in their assertion. So why is it that these calls seem to reek of so many contradictions?

It is important to note that those who have been neglected and left with no choice but to form their own support networks do make this call to divest from capitalism in earnest. By contrast, there is something that does not ring true when the calls come from those who consistently delegate support and care work to others, substitute conditional wealth redistribution for actual commitment to dismantling oppressive power dynamics, and urgently push for high-risk actions that only think to organize care work after the fact (maybe). Calls coming from the latter of these two groups more closely resemble forms of victim-blaming than a genuine effort to organize and participate in care work.

The call for divestment from capitalism takes on different meanings depending on who’s making the assertion. It simply should not be coming from leftists who are the beneficiaries of organizing methods that come at a steep cost to the communities they claim to serve as well as those they target for recruitment. Compromises with oppressive systems are the antithesis of care networks that could feasibly make divestment from capitalism a widespread possibility. Yet, the people who are the quickest to chime in with this call to divest from capitalism in the face of people’s suffering tend to have the most centralized* (read as hoarded*) resources and are the most culpable in defending organizing methods that contribute to burnout, intracommunal conflict, and ableist neglect. In many ways, this phenomenon is an evolution of “join an org, any org” that has found, through co-optation, fresh opportunities in the increasing popularity of care work among those of us who wish to end fascism in our lifetimes.

It is when this call rings hollow from so many people that making a mass divestment from capitalism seems paradoxical. If we agree that this is the most pressing need, why are safe and supportive care networks so rare? Why have so many organizations and formations struggled to weather recent years without crises, conflicts, and collapses? Why is finding supportive community is such a fraught process right now? Why is it that so many of us become isolated for choosing not to compromise on our access needs instead of being met with affirmation and support in our pursuit of fulfilling those needs? Why is any of this the case if we truly agree on the need for care networks?

The fact of the matter is that far too many people who have contributed to this period of severe precarity and vulnerability to fascism have not answered for their actions. We need acknowledgment about why our prospects for building care networks en masse are so slim right now. Widespread systemic loss of trust in leftist formations due to acts of ableism and abuse apologism cannot be regained from simple slogans. These empty calls for divestment from capitalism will simply result in what has always happened–The people who have the most to gain from robust care networks will continue being the ones who are most pressured to do the work on behalf of everyone.

We don’t need instructions barked at us by those with the greatest access to resources while we are already struggling. We need offers of easeful access to support from those who are best positioned to provide care. We need recognition that many of us in the margins are often only able to survive due to the generous actions of people who are also struggling to survive and coordinate care online and offline in decentralized, autonomous, and spontaneous ways. It is these kinds of labor that rarely if ever even make it into the mission statements of today’s non-profits and organizations. Rather than romanticize our perseverance in the face of increasingly lethal societal threats, we need understanding that those with the least capacity should not be the people providing the most care.

There is no utility in endless complaints about divisions among leftists when the divisions are the direct results of compromises with the systems and cultures that are killing us. There should be no compromises with fascism, period. If leftists still advocate for left unity and forced forgiveness in the face of so much atomization during our present political situation, then they prove themselves to have always been unable to dismantle capitalism. If, in the face of daily reminders of who all dies and suffers from being the primary targets of fascism, leftists would still rather delegate care work to others than learn to proficiently provide care, history will mark them as yet another type of reactionary who contributed to our oppression when it mattered most–when we all needed to make possible the project of liberation.

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This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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Estelle Ellison

Time dissuades us from getting free... Black Trans Disabled Writer (She/They)