by Elisabeth Wichser, Independent Socialist Group
In the last decades in the U.S., we’ve seen continued war, poverty, and oppression become the new normal. From police brutality to climate change and natural disasters, from the wars in the Middle East to immigrant detention centers, we have witnessed what happens when a system that values money over human life rules the world. As we enter into new, uncharted territory with COVID-19 and the associated social problems of unemployment, homelessness, and a broken healthcare system, many are rightly questioning whether capitalism is the way forward. Capitalism normalizes inhumanity; it’s time for us to fight for a better world where genuine equality and workers’ democracy, not profit, are the foundation of society.
One way that people are trying to fight for a better world is by reforming capitalism. While this desire is understandable—since simply modifying capitalism seems easier than re-doing an entire socio-economic and political system—reforming capitalism does not address the main source of the problem. For example, let’s look at the Nordic countries, the hallmark of European “socialism,” often cited by politicians like Bernie Sanders as the ideal for a “socialist” economy. A study by Göran Therborn found that there are 32 billionaires per 10 million people in Sweden, 30 in Norway, and 17 in Denmark; the U.S. number, for comparison, is 18. Like the U.S., Finland, Sweden, and Denmark have seen a steady rise in income inequality since the 1980s. This means that though these societies have better social infrastructure than the U.S., they are no more equal. This is because under capitalism, income inequality must exist. Capitalism works when a handful of people own all the “means of production”—factories, banks, offices, etc.—and profit off of workers who create more value than they’re paid back. Hannah Sell, in her book Socialism in the 21st Century writes:
Capitalism is based on production for profit and not for social need. The working class creates new value but receives only a portion of that new value back as wages. The capitalists take the rest—the surplus. As a result, the working class collectively cannot afford to buy back all the goods it produces.Hannah Sell, Socialism in the 21st Century
The problems that need to be solved like global poverty and income inequality, climate change, and homelessness cannot be truly eliminated without also eliminating capitalism. Ideologies that reinforce inequalities and divide the working class, like racism, sexism and homophobia, are also symptoms of capitalism that can’t be solved without completely scrapping this rotten system and creating a new one. The U.N. recently reported that attitudes like racism, sexism, nationalism, and xenophobia are also on the rise in Scandinavia as much as they are in the U.S.
While simply reforming capitalism would certainly be easier, as long as capitalism is around—no matter how “nice” it seems—its foundation of inequality and exploitation will eventually rear its head again. While we welcome and fight for every progressive reform that will improve the living conditions of the working class, no matter how much we reform capitalism, its drive for profit at all costs will prevent lasting change. For example, in the midst of a global pandemic, Jeff Bezos, the owner of Whole Foods and the richest person in the world, is asking Whole Foods employees to donate earned time-off to their co-workers instead of paying for everyone to have sick time. Meanwhile, 43,000 of the richest individuals in the U.S. have received around $1.7 million each in stimulus during the pandemic. This insatiable greed at the expense of human lives is the foundation of the capitalist system, making it impossible to reform for good.
What we need is a socialist system. Instead of riding the unpredictable rollercoaster of recessions and booms, a socialist economy would ensure that everyone’s needs are consistently met. Hannah Sell writes:
A socialist economy would be a planned economy. This would involve bringing all of the big corporations into democratic public ownership, under working-class control. Of course, it would not mean bringing small businesses, such as local shops, many of which are forced out of business by large corporations, into public ownership. Nor would it mean, as opponents of socialism claim, taking away personal ‘private property’. On the contrary, socialists are in favour of everyone having the right to a decent home and the other conveniences of modern life. A genuine socialist government would not be dictatorial. On the contrary, it would extend and deepen democracy enormously.Hannah Sell, Socialism in the 21st Century
Under socialism, the way workers interact with democracy would be much more comprehensive than it is now. Instead of turning up to vote every few years, workers could play an active role in shaping society for the benefit of all. While we work toward socialism, it’s important to use every method we have available to us, which includes fighting for immediate reforms, organizing active and democratic unions, and running in elections as part of working towards the creation of a new mass independent party of the working class. This party could help implement policies that would pave the way for revolutionary change, like a living wage that increases with inflation, universal free healthcare, and a mass public jobs program as part of a socialist Green New Deal. Winning these and other crucial demands will build the confidence of the working class and help to develop workers’ democracies that plan the economy for human need, not the greed of a few. Only through a fundamental restructuring of society, with power firmly in the hands of working people, can we end the suffering of capitalism and create a socialist future in the U.S. and around the world.
Image credit: MrsEllacott / Wikimedia Commons