The prison without walls in the name of capitalism

There are no walls

in this prison

It is built on a foundation of fear, intimidation, and threats.

Keep the history book closed 

Keep the historian in prison 

The prison without walls 

Has room for many. 

The poem, Kenya, A Prison Without Walls, depicts the situation in Kenya. But that situation is not confined to Kenya only. It is the situation in countries under capitalism for working people. Although a sizeable number are held in prisons with walls, particularly in the US, others are held in other types of prisons created by capitalism and imperialism.

The primary type is the economic one where working people are reduced to almost slave-like situations and kept at the bottom of the social and economic order by debt created to keep them in life-long bondage to capitalism. Whether it is student loans, housing mortgages or loans that people are forced to acquire for food and rent, the result is the control of working people through financial manipulation.

Employment, when available, cannot provide enough funds to survive. Once the wages of one person (male usually) was enough for the survival of the entire family. The capitalist thirst for extraction of ever more surplus value now means that even with two members of a family working, the wages are sometimes not enough even for food. All social services, once provided by the state, are being privatised and made ever more difficult to access.

The provision of food is no longer the responsibility of a disappearing welfare state. It is being returned to the community through a volunteering process they call ‘food banks’. Even as branches of financial banks close, food banks are flourishing in Britain. In such ways, capitalism takes away the self-respect and dignity of working people for having to depend on others for their survival, even though they work ever harder.

And there are other types of prisons that control working people. An important one is the imprisonment of minds, done through distortion and hiding of news and knowledge that can liberate the captured working-class minds. Mass media, education, publishing and similar avenues are used to control information about their world, their culture, their history.

Another prison created by capitalism is the prison of hate against other people. Thus, people’s potential class allies are turned into their enemies. This is achieved by capitalism creating and reinforcing divisions among people, based on religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other supposed differences which had not prevented people from living together peacefully in the past.

Such measures are not undertaken for their own sake. They are meant to prevent people from resisting their exploitation and oppression by capitalism. That is the way that capitalism has survived, even though it has been rejected by working people.

But it is not just people who are thus put into prisons without walls. The tactics used against people are also deployed against countries, which are tied down by invisible chains of debt by capitalist institutions such as the World Bank, IMF and the World Trade Organisation. Just as people are tied down by lifelong debts, countries similarly face never-ending debts and interest payments, depriving funds for supporting people. International financial institutions are the unseen forces that imprison countries.

Capitalism then creates its own jailers in countries of the South to run their profit-extracting machinery. Whereas they had to send in their own agents to do the dirty work of exploiting and oppressing people, they have now franchised these functions to the newly created (by capitalism!) agents of capitalism who are of the same colour and come from the same countries as those of the exploited people. They are thus less conspicuous as oppressors from outside and do the same work but with little payment from imperialism. Their wages are paid from the resources of people and countries they exploit and manage on behalf of capitalism. That is another reason for the survival of capitalism in the South.

Capitalism has impoverished people to such an extent that there is now a growing tide of resistance everywhere, including in the Global North. Resistance at an international level also comes from the actions of BRICS, which is taking steps to create an alternate financial, trade and support structure aimed at countries currently ‘imprisoned’ by capitalism and international finance. The battle has begun. But it will be a fierce struggle before capitalism itself is put into prison.


Selection from the forthcoming book by Shiraz Durrani, Guerrilla incursions into the capitalist mindset: Essays with Focus on Kenya,1979-2023. To be published by Vita Books (Nairobi).


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