A friend recently asked me what is it I want. I have been writing and criticizing US domestic and foreign policies, its imperialistic agenda, the mainstream media, and the US populace that has stood by passively accepting getting lied to, manipulated, and exploited.
So, allow me to clarify, as best I can, what I see as my personal agenda.
We live under the umbrella of an economic system called capitalism, a system that honors and rewards capital over labor.
I remember working one summer, while in high school, with my father who was a manager for a trucking company. My job that summer was to work as a helper with one of the truckers. The job entailed getting up every morning at 5 a.m., riding with my father to the terminal in Jersey City (we did stop for breakfast), riding the truck back into New York City, fighting traffic, and delivering the merchandise to various merchants.
After completing the run, we almost always had to stop at one of the warehouses to pick up the merchandise for the next day’s deliveries and deliver it to the terminal in Jersey City.
The job was constant bending and lifting and, although I was only 17 years old, at the end of each day, I was exhausted. What impressed me was that that was the work these men did every day, 5 days a week.
A few times a week, the owner of the company would drive up in his “big” Cadillac, spend a couple of hours at the terminal and leave in the same “big” Cadillac.
At some point that summer, I mentioned this to my father and he responded to me by explaining how the owner had invested his money and was entitled to make as much of a profit as possible. While the owner drove his Cadillac, my father drove a Plymouth, lived in a one bedroom apartment that housed him, my mother, and three children.
It wasn’t till I got older that I realized that although this man invested his money, my father and the truck drivers were investing their labor, often working 10–12 hours every day. And yet, their lifestyles were nowhere near that of the owner. Wasn’t their investment of labor worth as much as the owner’s investment of money?
As I became more knowledgeable, I also realized that this was the ethos of capitalism . . . the classes were clearly defined, there were the workers and then there were the owners. The relationship between the capitalist and the worker were, by the very nature of the system, antagonistic and adversarial.
Capitalists often attempt to justify this system by offering that it reflects the true nature of humankind . . . competitive, greedy, ruthless, and interested only in their personal gratifications.
Do we have people like that? Of course! Is it because that is the true nature of man or woman? I don’t believe so. If we were to look at the history of humankind, we would find that survival was dependent on the cooperation of the community. No man or woman alone was equipped with the physical attributes to survive the hostile world that surrounded him without the support of his community.
The competitive, greedy, narcissist is not a reflection of man’s true nature but a reflection of the capitalistic society that breeds these individuals. We all have grown up in a milieu of consumption and the constant need for more and more wealth and material possessions. The more you have, the more you want, and the more respect and deference you receive from others. Success is measured in the accumulation of wealth and material things.
Capitalism is often equated with freedom while socialism or communism is experienced, here in the US, as an oppressive system. On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall, which separated communist East Germany from capitalist West Germany, officially came crashing down. Tom Brokaw, NBC newscaster, triumphantly said to the East Germans, “Welcome to the free world.”
I often wondered what freedoms did we, in a capitalist society, enjoy that was not available to a socialist society. The only answer that made sense to me was that capitalism gave us the freedom to exploit others for personal gain, accumulate as much wealth as we could, make everything, products and services as well as personal crises or achievements marketable for private profit, and to find ways of not paying taxes by hiding money outside the US.
Other freedoms, those for the working class, include the freedom to be homeless, the freedom to not afford health care, the freedom to not be able to eat or feed your family, the freedom to be unemployed.
Most people who perceive socialism to be an oppressive system have been brainwashed into thinking that one cannot pursue one’s personal goals and interests and that the state dictates one’s life.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Having a centrally controlled economic system does not preclude what goals one can pursue in life. In fact, when people have guaranteed affordable housing, guaranteed employment, income levels that allow the people to live comfortably, healthcare for all, free public education through college, it FREES people up to pursue their goals and dreams without the angst of fearing lost income or bankrupting medical costs.
Millions of Americans are immediately locked out of opportunities because they come from poverty. The US has one of the worst records among Western industrialized nations regarding the opportunities for upward mobility among its people.
Yes, capitalism is seductive. There are individuals who rise up from poverty into wealth and riches. Among African-Americans, there are men with athletic abilities who attain wealth as professional athletes. There are also men and women who find success in the entertainment field. Unfortunately, for every one who makes it, there are hundreds of thousands who remain in poverty, who do not have the special skills or talents. These are the people we must focus on.
In the early 1990s, Russia, under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin, converted their economy to a market economy or capitalism. Russia got serious about diminishing the state role in big companies. US companies expanded their interests in Russia with Cisco and PepsiCo leading the way.
The Russian economy underwent a depression in the mid 1990s. Life expectancy declined sharply and the poverty rate was estimated to be as high as 49% in 1993. It must be noted that crime increased, as did prostitution. The safety net was no longer operative, and many people expressed their desire to return to a communist system.
Admittedly, there were people, who were known as the “Russian Oligarchs,” whose life style improved but like the US, this was a small minority of the population.
The disparity, in the US, between those who have and those who have not is enormous. Capitalism breeds an elite class and a working class. It needs a hungry working class that would be willing to work for whatever wages offered. Therefore, the only protection available for workers has been to organize into unions where their joint demands have leverage with the ruling class. But, if one were to look at the current situation, it would be difficult to ignore the fact that the corporations, with government cooperation, have emasculated the union movement. For most working people, they have no union to protect them or bargain for them.
Socialism offers us a system where there is no wealthy and politically powerful ruling class and, therefore, no adversarial relationship between worker and management. Management would exist only to perform functions that the workers have little or no time to perform. It would not be based on an arbitrary hierarchy.
Because capitalism sparks competitiveness, the capitalist must always be looking to expand, find new markets and resources in order to compete and survive. Corporate management is always looking for ways to reduce costs and maximize profits. Their obligation is to the stockholders, not to the community in which they function nor the worker who provides the labor.
Seeking new markets and resources is not limited to the boundaries of the US. In fact, much of corporate activity goes into foreign countries.
For many decades, the US has implemented an imperialistic agenda, going into foreign countries to develop investment opportunities for the US corporate elite or international capitalists. The US has never hesitated to meddle in the political affairs of countries that are resistant to this agenda of economic domination, often sponsoring coups against such governments.
There is a reason why the US spends more than half of its federal budget on the military (This is more than the amount spent by several allies combined). Our military involvement in the Middle East, for example, has nothing to do with protecting the US from the threat of these countries but rather helping promote “regime change” and the installation of governments receptive to the US imperialistic agenda. If the needs of capitalists are to expand their markets and control valuable resources, a military presence is necessary. The US military is the enforcing or potentially enforcing variable in all US international relationships.
While capitalism promotes the notion that the production and distribution of goods and services is better served by allowing privately formed corporations to perform this function, socialism puts such production and distribution in the hands of the state (the public).
There is the myth that privatization provides greater efficiency while public institutions are wasteful and incompetent. Yet, to the contrary, the government has successfully and efficiently operated the Social Security System , Medicare, and Medicaid for years, serving millions of people.
Therefore, in a socialist economy, these tasks would be centrally controlled and planned for. What to produce, how much to produce, where to distribute to are all determined centrally and in response to human need rather than to the desire of individuals to accrue as much profit as possible.
A perfect example is the pharmaceutical industry that makes decisions about where to distribute its drugs based on whether or not the populace can afford to pay the price. There are many poverty areas of the world where sick people could be saved if they had access to the appropriate medications. Unfortunately, those medications never get there.
On the other hand, Cuba, a socialist country has responded several times recently to humanitarian crises by sending hundreds of their doctors to provide medical care.
In a capitalist society, there is much waste. Individuals or their corporations, involved in a competitive market, flood the market with their products. One must ask whether or not they really need a choice of several renditions of corn flakes, produced by different companies, in the supermarkets or 30 different models of cars, etc.
Despite the fact that many corporations are poisoning the air and water we need to survive, they are allowed to continue their operation. In fact, the proposed TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) would allow corporations to sue localities if there were regulations that hampered the corporation’s profit-making agenda. This includes the laying of oil pipelines, fracking, ocean drilling for oil, etc., all with a history of environmental disasters.
Despite the advancement of technologies, the oil and gas industry, with its powerful lobbies and political contributions, have successfully convinced government to neglect implementing projects for sustainable energy sources.
A socialist economy would avoid all of this. Since there would be no profit motive in the operation of industries, since the workers would have a vested interest in making the companies successful and since there would be no pressure from lobbyists, laws and regulations would be geared to the safety and well-being of workers and the general public.
How about democratic representation? It is a misnomer to think of socialism as an oppressive, undemocratic entity. In fact, the potential is to have a more authentic democracy within that structure. For example, the US runs elections that are financed primarily by the elite or ruling class. Therefore, the candidates are unavoidably indebted to these financiers. Our options, as voters, are to elect one of two ruling class candidates (Democrat or Republican) to office. Any attempt to offer a candidate who truly represents the working class is quickly and efficiently squelched.
Socialism would remove private financing of elections from the equation. The media would not be owned and operated by the ruling class. Instead, the publicly owned media would be required to offer free air time to the candidates and to debates. The debates would not be limited to 2 parties but would encourage other parties, with other agendas to make their case in these debates.
Some people will respond to what I have presented and claim that I’m being too idealistic and unrealistic. I disagree. We may not find utopia but the time is ripe to strive for meaningful change in how we live.
With Trump’s election, we find ourselves moving towards a fascist state. People are frightened and looking to do something. There has been no better time to organize and move the public towards a greater consciousness of where the real dangers lie.
We can no longer afford to split our efforts, fighting the numerous fights for justice and dignity. We must mobilize and focus on the core cause of most of the ills we endure . . . and it is capitalism. Signing petitions and calling “your” congressman will not be enough. These are actions the establishment will be happy to have you engaged in. We’ve been there, done that.
There will be no better time to focus people on the sickness and inherent corruption of capitalism and the dangers it presents to our lives and the ability of our children and grandchildren to survive on this planet.
Bernie Sanders’ candidacy is a barometer that has shown there is a large segment of society that is ready to move. Although he is not really a socialist, the popular response to the things he was proposing was overwhelming and demonstrated that we on the left have to move in and use this momentum to organize the people.
Capitalism works for the few at the expense of the rest of us. Most of the suffering in our society is generated by capitalism and its holy profit motive. Whether its healthcare, public education, racism, justice, wars, affordable housing, livable wages, a meaningful safety net, etc., it all comes back to the essence of capitalism . . . once you are born, you’re on your own, it’s every man for himself. The ruling class is all too happy to see people divided, actively involved in various social and political struggles while ignoring the crimes and corruption of this same ruling class.
The “Occupy” movement was on the right track, focusing on Wall Street and transcending all the other issues that pulled us in different directions and focused us on different agendas. We must all stay focused on the real enemy of the people, the CAPITALIST and his/her agenda.
We have been engaged in class warfare for centuries . But it’s been limited to the attacks of the ruling class on workers. Every time workers complain about the inequities, they are accused of initiating class warfare.
Well, friends, it’s time for us to recognize we’re in a war and declare war on the elites.
If we can’t mobilize people now, then when?
Dave Alpert has masters degrees in social work, educational administration, and psychology. He spent his career working with troubled inner city adolescents.