Corporations Are Against Individualism

Socialism for the top one per cent

by Gwydion M. Williams

When a book bears the title “Creating WE[1], your first guess would be that the author was some sort of Anarcho-Communist. The first sub-title, “Changing I-Thinking to WE-thinking” would strengthen this impression. But then you see below this “Build a Healthy, Thriving Organisation“, and might wonder. And in top in smaller print you see “Creating WE is a blueprint for ridding the corporate world of the paralyzing groupthink and the barriers of blame and corporate castes that impedes innovation and progress“. This is from Bob Lutz, at that time Vice Chairman of General Motors and still a very important in the business world.

The key to understanding the seeming contradictions of the New Right is to recognise that talk about “free capitalism” has been just talk. Small business people still get crushed as a social class. A small number of them rise to exalted realms of Big Business, but not many.

If you think about it, there is nothing at all odd in a privileged stratum on top of the society being keen on regulating those below them, but hostile to being regulated by anyone above them. Yet the evidence from world history is that the economy as a whole does rather better when the state takes an active role and rich are restrained by state power. The New Right get round this by labelling as “capitalist” any economy that is doing well, regardless of how much state control their really is.

Business people are in the habit of putting different labels on things that are useful to things that are unwelcome or obstructive. Most of them also are impressively efficient within their own little world and not well informed about the wider world. And not keen to receive bad news or unwelcome insights, although a successful business person will have learned to tolerate and reward it when it is necessary to assimilate the bad news in time to stop a difficulty turning into a disaster.

Creating We says nothing much about wider issues, but repeatedly takes a collective view for the best organisation of individuals within a profit-making organisation. Thus:

“Even in our I-dominant society, the WE instinct is so strong it expresses itself anyway. Consider adolescent behaviour. Just one look at teenage fashions and fads is enough to make the case that what is so ardently pursued as individual expression is actually an extreme expression of WE. Ironically, teens try to be rebellious and nonconformist against authority (their parents) by dressing like one another. And we need only consider gang behaviour to see that the need to belong and express a shared sense of community is so instinctive and essential for human beings that it will find an outlet – even if it is destructive to society as a whole.”[2]

Most societies take care of this by giving teenagers their own distinct groupings, independent of parents but under social control. Liberalism imagined that this was an interference with some excellent “human nature” that would blossom wonderfully if restraints were removed. Nice idea, shame about the reality.

Reading this book, I was amazed at how collectivist the outlook was. Collectivise for the privileged, obviously. But if that’s the best way to get things done, which is pretty much the universal conclusion for those whose task is to give

This is all US culture, of course, where one “rugged individualist” is very much like another. Where each unit of individual will insist on its uniqueness in stereotyped formulas with out any inkling that this is absurd.

I may be wrong, but I’ve a feeling that sound business advice would need different packaging for Britons, where business people would regularly encounter serious socialists, and indeed serious Communists in the Trade Unions before the CP’s decline.

(Incidentally, I think that the big problem for the Soviet Union is that when Khrushchev and his heirs decided to copy the West, they copied what the West claimed to be doing rather than what it was actually doing. This and the pretence that there was some vast difference between Lenin and Stalin were the main causes of the decline of the Soviet Union and its global extensions. China has been much wiser in what it copied and what it ignored.)

The reality of business life is collectivism within corporations. It has little connection with the free-floating individuals envisaged by theoretical economics. I’m now retired, but my working was spent as a computer analyst-programmer, almost all of it in the private sector and a lot of it in the IT department of a single company. Mostly we deal with middle-managers in other departments, and need to understand them, so we got sent on courses to explain good business principles. I found that what was being described was not at all what I had understood as “capitalism”. A lot of it was about cooperation, and also making people think that they were part of the corporate entity.

Gore Vidal commented even before the 1980s that the USA had socialism for the corporations but not for ordinary people. This has got much worse since they voted in Ronald Reagan and voted out those Democrats who still held that the state had a useful role. The voters hate the way

Economic theory of the sort currently in favour assumes a mass of disconnected individuals with no relations except greed. From this they derive fancy maths, which totally fail to predict what is going on. For a physicist, simplified assumptions are usually necessary to make the maths usable, but if the results don’t match reality, too many simplifications must have been made and the work must start again. Economists have no such doubts: it is maths so it must be Deep Truth.

If the ideas used for practical work is quite disconnected from theory, then the theory is almost certainly worthless. Conventional economic theory carries on with the notion of detached individuals, as a justification for inequality. But what’s really going on among managers is a special form of collectivism. Not sharing with everyone, obviously. But a Collegiate outlook, a limited group that share with each other but not outsiders.

It’s not at all surprising that this works. The Collegiate outlook could also be called a Tribal outlook, since it is the actual viewpoint of most tribes. I’d say that Engels blundered when he put the label “Primitive Communism” on early tribalism. Early tribalism did indeed have collective ownership, of a sort that seemed quite extraordinary when Engels wrote, at what was probably the height of liberal individualism’s dominance of Europe. But Communism implies a group open to everyone who accepts its ideology, as well as a group that shares its possession. Universalism is a concept that grew very slowly, and within complex class societies that had largely accepted private property and inequality. Limited Universalism wants a place for everyone, but not at all an equal place. And it is hard to impose, jarring at our basic nature when we discover that some strangers do indeed have very different outlooks and habits, and are mostly not ready to give up their ideas in favour of ours.

People will ask, “in a Darwinian world, why should this be so?”. Or they might say, “since it is so, surely Darwinism must be mistaken”. But I’d say that the problem lies much more with the “spin” that’s been put on many of the advocates of Darwinism, including Charles Darwin himself.

The true principle of Natural Selection is “survival of the grandkids”, not the commonly-cited “survival of the fittest”, which looks just at individual lives. A big strong creature is not a success if it leaves behind no surviving offspring.

It’s an interesting fact that many of the most powerful individuals in human history have died childless. Others have children but no grandchildren – true of Alexander the Great, Qin Shi Huang the unifier of China, Julius Caesar, Ivan the Terrible and Henry 8th of England. Of course they also put their mark on history, for good or ill. But that was only possibly because they operated within an advanced civilisation.

Another interesting fact is that life on land has seen repeated extinctions of the big strong carnivores, and also the massive and dangerous herbivores that are too big for the carnivores to tackle. The common habit is to see the creature that kills others and is seldom itself killed as the dominant and successful creature. In the long run the very opposite is true.

For life on land, the general rule is that any creature bigger than a fox will be extinct within ten or twenty million years, its gene-line extinguished. Some smaller creatures will also have perished, but others will have given rise to new and larger species that will take the place of the vanished giants.

Humans, I think, are an exception to this rule. The best animal brains in the animal kingdom are found in creatures quite a bit larger than a fox: Great Apes and Dolphins and Elephants. And unless we destroy ourselves, we are in little danger of replacement. But to survive, we need to understand our own natures rather better. (Marxism had a lot of insights, but also many deficiencies, which is probably why its ideological grip faded once its best insights were taken up by other eclectic thinkers who felt no need to hang on to its errors.)

For most of our evolution, we existed in small bands. These might be based on close relatives, but they also had to accept outsiders to prevent inbreeding.

Such newcomers must have been acceptable to the whole group, and this would probably rest on an assessment of their character. If you knew that they were fairly altruistic, that would make them a good candidate.

Note that it would be much less a matter of individual choice than it is now. A lone male or a man and woman might live on their own, though probably on marginal land. But it must have helped to be part of a tight-knit group to raise children successfully. And for them to find marriage partners.

Even if a few selfish loners managed it, the balance of reproductive advantage would be to the collegiate-minded. (This is much less true in modern society, where loners can purchase help and have the law to protect them from neighbours who don’t like them.)

Which isn’t to say that there is a “real human nature” that we can rely on. To take an extreme case, the Nazis did not deny altruism as such, they simply biased it on a racial basis. They were an example of the Collegiate outlook that is perfectly viable among imperfect humans. If you were within their racial criteria then you were supposed to be looked after, and a depressingly large number of people were quite content with that. Including many Anglos, before Hitler became the Great Enemy. Including many Jews for Mussolini’s original Fascism, before it changed and become anti-Jewish.

In the case of modern New Right ideology, the outlook is universalist but also selfish on a Collegiate basis. The richest 1% look after each other but take a scornful view of the others, the “plebs”. (Leading Tory Andrew Mitchell was definitely in the habit of using the word, though it remains disputed if he used it to the police on the occasion that gave rise to his resignation.)[3] But the weakness is that the “plebs” need to be strung along with false promises. And while the plebs have been rather slow to learn, they are learning.

[1] Creating WE, by Judith E. Glaser. Platinum Press 2005.

[2] Ibid., page 22.

[3] []

First published in Labour & Trade Union Review, 2013.