by Ellen Isaacs
July 12, 2020
The system in “systemic racism” has a name: capitalism. The disaster in “public health disaster” has a name: capitalism. The abolish in “abolish police” needs to name that which must go: capitalism. There is talk of revolution, but revolving from what to what? From capitalism to workers’ power – communism. Not said. Let’s start naming names.
So many militant fists are raised as the nation destructs. So many multiracial movements are marching, stopping evictions, occupying streets, going on strike, but not naming capitalism. So many workers are risking their own lives to do their jobs, so many are volunteering to aid their neighbors, but not naming capitalism. So many articles are written on disparities but not naming the instigator: capitalism.
The Ruling Class is Quaking in Fear
The New York Times, the main mouthpiece of liberal capitalism, has said the word capitalism over the last eight days — in a plea to save capitalism from itself. On Sunday, July 5, the entire editorial section contained articles on the decline of US workers’ standard of living – and, by implication, the danger that poses to the stability of the capitalist class. The Editorial Board says: “Over the past four decades, American workers have suffered a devastating loss of economic power….Picture the nation as a pirate crew: …the owners of the ship have gradually claimed a larger share of booty at the expense of the crew.” Various articles then go on to document and bemoan increasing wage and wealth gaps, racial disparities and racism, fall in unionization, rising unemployment, lack of affordable health insurance and housing, lack of dignity for low-paid workers, mass incarceration, and short-sighted investment strategies.
A visitor from another planet could hardly believe they were reading a description of the richest and most powerful nation on earth. The ruling class must indeed be worried to parade its weaknesses so boldly and try and convince us they can be remedied within the system.
Nonetheless, what solutions do these many pundits offer? The editorial board suggests raising the minimum wage to $15/hour, stopping labeling workers as contractors, increasing paid leave and easing unionization and job switching, and enforcing anti-trust laws. “The influence of the wealthy must be curbed…. Americans need to restrain the power of corporations.” For the most part, change will rely on the wealthy recognizing the need to do so. Subsequent articles suggest voting; protest; the privileged giving up their privileges; prison reform; making the rich pay more taxes; some sort of health insurance reform; raising and equalizing wages for women and minorities; urging banks and corporations to make reparations to black customers, homeowners and businesses; and producing more black professionals. Robert Reich, a former secretary of labor is the most concrete- he promotes “profit-sharing.” This practice of giving workers shares or bonuses of something like 5 % of net earnings was done by several corporations from 1916 to the 1970s. Its main benefit was promoting worker loyalty and productivity. As corporate consolidation and globalization increased in the 1980s, maximizing profits and CEO salaries meant reducing payroll costs and the practice virtually disappeared. Do it again, he says.
On July 12, the Times even published an op-ed by Amna A. Akbar that commends current movements that fight to “redistribute power from elites to the working class.” She says that protestors want a new society and an end to state-sanctioned violence. The cancel rent demand, she points out, contradicts the fundamental private property contract that is the basis of our social order. “The way to respond is to stay focused on building mass movements of ordinary people who are serious about restoring and redistributing social wealth.” She even names capitalism as the common cause of social ills. Perhaps she could say no more in the capitalist paper of record.
Needed: A Discussion of Replacing Capitalism, with Communism
The word capitalism often makes it into the fliers and webinars of leftist activists. Sometimes even revolution., but the goal of revolution is virtually never discussed. In fact the end point is usually seen as large-scale reform brought about by mass movements, but still under capitalism. Sometimes the goal is seen as setting of small islands of an ideal society that may or may not transform the society as a whole – an anarchist vision.
Revolution means replacing the rule of one class by another, actually changing the mechanism of society. Thus the American Revolution of 1776 is badly misnamed, for it only replaced the British rule with that of propertied white men who favored the continuation of an even crueler slavery based system. Many nationalist anti-colonial struggles since, whether called revolutions or not, have achieved only more capitalism, replacing the foreign with a native-born capitalist class.
Only the Soviet and Chinese revolutions in recent times actually displaced a ruling class and installed the working class in power. (I am excluding Cuba, whose revolution occurred after that in USSR had already begun its political decline and lacked its own full-fledged vision, although it certainly improved life in many ways.) In order to do that, these two revolutions were led well-organized parties with deep roots among industrial workers, peasants, soldiers and students. They had to have an army and a plan for protracted war against the ruling class, foreign and domestic. They had to have a vision and a plan for the society they wished to create, a worker run state — communism.
We cannot escape from the fundamental rule of capitalism, that it is based on profits extracted from the labor of workers. Profits not only support the wealth of the owning class, but are used to reinvest in machinery and technology, to explore and capture raw materials and new markets, and to pay dividends to stockholders. Moreover, competition requires that each producer maximize profits in order to attract investors and gain access to bank funds. The extraction of value from workers is not a moral question or a matter of choice.
The state, which represents the interests of capitalists as a whole, does have the power to moderate profits overall through many laws, regulations, and tax policies, for it must raise monies to maintain armed might and provide services like education and infrastructure. When profits are high, the amount returned to workers in benefits and social spending can also be higher, which has the upside of a happier and more quiescent working class. To be sure, workers can and have fought to increase their share, through a long history of unionization, strikes and movements like those for civil rights. Nonetheless, even before the current pandemic, we have been in a period of a wealth gap and racial disparities as great as ever in US history.
It is necessary to restate these basic principles because it is not possible to take the profits and the need to protect them at all costs out of capitalism. It is not possible for capitalism to forego the need to use military force to capture markets and raw materials overseas. It is not possible for capitalists to produce goods that workers need, like affordable housing and healthy food for all, if they cannot be sold at a profit. It is not possible for capitalists to share the total value of what is produced with workers, for then they would be failed capitalists. It is not possible for capitalists to do away with poverty when it requires a large body of unemployed to keep wages down. It is not possible for capitalists to do away with racism, the most powerful tool to divide bodies of workers against one another as well as lower the wage and service levels for all. It is not possible to do away with armed power, both to repress angry workers and maintain international might.
In addition to these general constraints, we must recognize the US is in a period of decline relative to international capitalism. Once the producer of over half of the world’s goods after World War II, the US now produces only about 18% and is being outdone by China. For 60 years the dominant military and financial power in the world, the US is now rapidly losing ground to China and Russia. Having lost the war in Vietnam and gained no new territory or control of oil in Iraq and Afghanistan, and losing control of Syria and Iran, the US is sinking behind in political and monetary influence. As China builds infrastructure throughout Asia, Africa and South America and a whole alternative banking structure, the US remains only pre-eminent in the size of its military. But without the manpower or will to actually occupy foreign countries, that might is much in question. In fact, the so-called liberals or Democrats, are more in favor of wielding international power than the isolationist Trumpians and so pose a greater danger to the budget and to soldiers.
Whether Democrats or Republicans are in power is not the main question. Both parties believe in capitalism, from their left to their right wings. They may vary on tactics of social control or degrees to which their own class may be disciplined to share a little of the wealth, but the fundamental equation does not change. As the US sinks in the world, there will be ever less give in the system and a greater need that workers fall in line. Thus the hope expressed both by the liberal NYT columnists and many protestors for a more equitable society cannot be realized, at least not in great quantity or for a long duration.
Actual Revolution is Required
So then we must get to the question of what we must fight for. The only way to meet the needs of workers for stable and rewarding work and the meeting of basic needs like housing and education and health is to have a society run by workers. Such a society would be in the interests of the vast majority of people and so would be free of most of the conflict we see today, once the power of the wealthy was destroyed. However, to get there we must recognize that a violent struggle will be needed, for the capitalist rulers will not give up willingly. They will fight with all their military strength, which will be limited only by how many of the enlisted turn their guns around. It is also not even likely that such struggle would begin in the US, but wherever it does begin, other ruling classes will come to the aid of their allies. Before such a battle can be won, of course, millions must be won to its necessity and a vision of a better world.
There is only one name for a society which is run by workers – communism. That also means that we must recognize that no society in the world today is communist, even if some still use that name. In the first few decades after previous communist revolutions in the USSR and China, giant strides were made in public health, education, industrialization, egalitarianism, democracy – and happiness. Unfortunately, facing war and massive deficiencies in human necessities, the mistake was made of allowing many aspects of capitalism, such as wage differentials, to remain intact in order to assure rapid material progress. It was political progress that suffered. Here is not the place to discuss all the errors that were made, as well as the achievements, but the fact remains that capitalism must be replaced with a worker-run society and we will try and learn from the errors of the past and make only new mistakes. Because one thing is certain. Capitalism is going to kill billions of us and the planet as we know it. Not only have the evils of climate change and new inter-imperialist war been evident for years, but this pandemic has laid bare the total death-dealing non-functionality of this society.