Will there be bananas after capitalism? It's a quandary that has plagued many a socialist philosopher throughout history, including journalist Malcolm Harris, author of the new book Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism, and the World. In a recent Twitter thread, Harris contemplated:
Pro-growth lefties accuse their opponents of being out of touch with working-class preferences and focused on consumption instead of production but what do they imagine planning support looks like for, say, "fresh bananas at every American 7/11" among the world's banana workers?
That means fewer bananas for American workers, but if we're focused on production not consumption then the expropriation and suppression of Chiquita Corp. is obviously a huge win for the global working class (as well as the environment).
There need not be any moralism here ("When you eat a banana, you are bad") there just … won't be bananas. Because it doesn't make any other-than-capitalist sense to create a world-spanning daily banana infrastructure for people in Columbus, Ohio.
Harris also points out that even Marx himself differentiated between "utopian doctrinaire socialism," which uses socialism as a means of operating capital, and revolutionary socialism, which means the "abolition of all the social relations that correspond to [capitalist] relations of production."
If you're still reading, this may all sound very obscure and in-the-weeds of socialist discourse. Like, "It's a banana, Michael, how much could it cost? Socialism?"
But fear not! Because over in New York Magazine, "Intelligencer" journalist Eric Levitz got even more in-the-weeds on the topic of whether or not bananas — that delicious yellow potassium-rich fruit that is only so plentiful because of American military intervention in South America on behalf of corporate imperialism — will still be a common food source in a utopian socialist future. We're talking 3500 words deep on the subject of post-colonial bananaism. But if you, like me, find that sort of discourse to be gleefully delightful, then I highly recommend reading the piece. Preferably while eating a Chiquita banana.
It is difficult to have a coherent debate over this claim, since we're essentially discussing an underspecified sci-fi scenario. It isn't so hard to imagine socialists taking power in Ecuador and nationalizing its banana industry. But there is no reason to believe that Ecuador would stop exporting bananas in that hypothetical. Workers in the Global South's export industries generally agitate for a higher share of the income generated by such sectors, not for their abolition. And banana exports are integral to the Ecuadoran economy, accounting for more than 4 percent of its GDP, employing 250,000 people, and generating the foreign currency that it needs to pay its debts.
Presumably, this is a world in which markets cannot coerce people to engage in menial labor, since everyone's most basic needs will be socially guaranteed. But will the state be able to incentivize people to engage in socially desirable labor by providing such individuals with higher incomes or coveted goods? Or will the state be able to coerce people into work through authoritarian means? Or is this an anarcho-communist utopia in which we will wager the global food supply on the innate altruism of properly liberated human beings?
It is also unclear how (or if) this hypothetical global socialist government has solved the myriad coordination problems facing any attempt to completely remake the global system of agricultural production without triggering famines.