Most people can see that the government serves the interests of corporations and the rich, but at the same time there is a widespread feeling that nothing can be done to change the system. Many argue that the U.S. is a hopelessly right-wing country, where workers are too conservative and comfortable to fight for fundamental change, much less socialism.
It is true that capitalist ideology still holds a powerful influence over many people, like the idea of the “American Dream”-that if you work hard, you can raise your standard of living. But this idea is beginning to crack under the pressure of Corporate America’s unprecedented attacks on working peoples’ living standards.
The American Dream seemed to ring especially true in the exceptional 1945-1975 economic boom following World War Two. During these 30 years, U.S. and global capitalism enjoyed unprecedented growth.
Previously, the majority of working people faced poverty wages and sweatshop working conditions. The emergence of widespread “middle class” living standards did not develop until the post-war period. This was the result of huge struggles by the labor movement in the 1930s and 1940s. These struggles won major reforms from big business, such as mass industrial unions, the 8 hour day, social security, and decent pay and benefits for significant sections of the working class. Given the unprecedented growth of the economy and profits during the post-war boom, big business had more room to grant these concessions.
This economic upswing provided the material basis for the relative stability of the U.S. political system. It led to the myth of the conservative, complacent American “middle class” worker.
However, we have now entered into a fundamentally different period. The world economic recession in 1973-75 ushered in a phase of systemic crisis and relative stagnation for capitalism. U.S. corporations, along with their counterparts around the world, could only keep their profit rates up by ruthlessly lowering labor costs and attacking the gains workers had previously won.
Big business launched an all-out “neoliberal” offensive against workers’ wages, benefits, trade unions, environmental protections, taxes for public services-basically any restriction on corporate profits.
Vanishing of the American Dream
The American Dream has now turned into a nightmare.
While CEO salaries and corporate profits soar, workers are working harder and faster for less pay and benefits.
Americans now work six more weeks per year than in 1979 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Congress has frozen the minimum wage at $5.15 an hour for 10 years, even though the cost of everything (gas, healthcare, education, housing, etc.) has been steadily rising.
Personal debt is now a record 130% of disposable income-up 33% since the mid-1990s. The number of Americans with no health insurance has risen to 46 million people.
The widening gulf between rich and poor is the highest it’s been since before the Great Depression. The richest 1% of the population now owns more wealth than the bottom 95%! (CommonDreams.org, 9/14/03)
These are not the signs of a capitalist system that is taking U.S. society forward, but rather the signs of a decaying system.
Each corporation is scrambling to squeeze more profits out of its workforce in a desperate attempt to extract themselves from the crisis, but the overall intensification of the exploitation of the working class is only paving the way for an even deeper crisis, because workers will be even less able to buy back the products we make.
All the endless flag-waving and rhetoric about freedom, liberty and opportunity in America, which are deeply ingrained in the American psyche, are going to come back to haunt the ruling class with a vengeance. There is simply no way that U.S. workers will accept their living standards being driven down to the level of a third world country.
Economic woes are not U.S. capitalism’s only problems. The U.S. is also suffering from that fatal disease of all empires-imperial overstretch.
Every empire appeared all-powerful in their hey-days, but later these empires crumbled to dust when they militarily overstretched themselves abroad and could not satisfy their population’s needs at home.
Now the U.S. is bogged down in a guerrilla war against a growing insurgency in Iraq. Like in Vietnam, the U.S. is facing an historic defeat. The war has cost the U.S. over 2,600 soldiers and $310 billion. A Zogby poll released 2/28/06 found that a staggering 72% of troops in Iraq think that the U.S. should leave Iraq within one year. This poll reflects what politicians call the “Vietnam syndrome.” It is a historic shift in consciousness of American workers, signifying their growing unwillingness to sacrifice and die for U.S. imperialism.
Wars are often popular at the beginning when the ruling class rolls out its nationalistic propaganda machine, but as working-class families increasingly realize that they are being used like pawns in a war that will only benefit the rich, wars have become the catalysts for numerous revolutions.
There has already been a rising tide of protest, although the capitalist media invariably tries to downplay and discredit them. The Iraq War has provoked national protests of hundreds of thousands of people. On April 25, 2004 1.15 million people marched on Washington against Bush’s assault on women’s reproductive rights, which was the largest protest in U.S. history. But last spring, this was surpassed by even larger protests across the country against the vicious scapegoating of immigrants by Congress.
The labor movement has also waged important struggles recently. In 2005, the California Nurses Association led a popular movement that defeated all four of California Governor Schwarzenagger’s right-wing ballot initiatives. For 3 days in December, the transit workers’ union shut down New York City, the financial center of world capitalism, to defend their pensions and the wages of new hires, demonstrating the enormous social power of the working class.
At the same time, there are growing cracks in the two-party system. A Reuters/DecisionQuest poll from 9/22/04 revealed that 61% of Americans had lost faith in leaders and institutions. Distrust of politicians and business leaders has reached an epidemic level, as a result of declining living standards, the Iraq war lies, Bush’s theft of the 2000 presidential election, and corruption scandals.
A record number of voters, 25%, register as independents now. Independent candidates and parties have had some impressive success: the growth of the Green Party in a number of parts of the country, the Reform Party’s Ross Perot taking a whopping 19% of the 1992 presidential vote, and the Reform Party’s Jesse Ventura who was elected Governor of Minnesota in 1998. Ralph Nader received an historic 3 million votes in the 2000 presidential election, the highest vote for an independent left-wing candidate in half a century.
Taking all these factors together – the huge polarization of wealth, defeat in Iraq, and the growing political discontent at home – the U.S. is faced with an explosive cocktail. We are living in a period of enormous turmoil and historic shocks, which will unleash unprecedented social struggle and the resurgence of socialist ideas at the very epicenter of world capitalism.
Many workers are not yet fully conscious of these underlying trends, but they will learn quickly under the hammer blow of major events. History shows that consciousness can change, sometimes extremely rapidly. For example, 9/11 temporarily catapulted Bush’s approval ratings up to 90%. But major events like the chaos in Iraq, Bush’s catastrophic failure over Katrina, and high gas prices have sent Bush’s approval ratings plummeting, now around 30%!
A Global Movement
More and more, mass workers’ struggles in other countries will influence the outlook of American workers. The establishment of a genuine democratic socialist society anywhere in the world, giving real economic control to the majority in society and demonstrating the huge benefits of a planned economy, would transform world politics overnight-including in the U.S.
The heroic example of the Russian working class taking power in 1917, before its Stalinist degeneration, sparked an enormous world-wide wave of revolt against capitalism, affecting the outlook of millions of U.S. workers. With today’s flood of mass communication technology and media, the impact of a successful revolution would be immeasurably greater.
The working class already runs society. Nothing would move without us. The great Achilles heel of the capitalist machine is its reliance on human labor.
The key task for realizing this power is for workers to become conscious of their power and get organized in their workplaces, communities and schools. Workers and young people need to build up our own mass organizations, unions, and a political party to be able to effectively defend our interests and fight against big business’s system of capitalism.
Socialist ideas are an inevitable outgrowth of working people’s struggle to live a decent, dignified life. As capitalism makes this increasingly impossible, workers’ readiness to join the struggle for socialism will grow-explosively at a certain stage. But this won’t happen automatically. That is why we are appealing for you to join us today, to help lay the foundations for a powerful new socialist movement in the belly of the beast.
Ramy Khalil, Justice #50, September-October 2006
In their own words…
“The movement to date has done much for the middle class but little for the black underclass. We are dealing with class issues. Something is wrong with capitalism… maybe America must move toward democratic socialism.” – Martin Luther King
“We do not fight racism with racism. We fight racism with solidarity. We do not fight capitalism with black capitalism; we fight capitalism with socialism…The very nature of the capitalist system is to exploit and enslave people, all people. So, we have to progress to a level of socialism to solve these problems.” – Bobby Seale, Black Panther Party Co-founder
“You can’t have capitalism without racism. And if you find a person without racism and you happen to get that person into a conversation and they have a philosophy that makes you sure they don’t have this racism in their outlook, usually they’re socialists.” – Malcolm X
“This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career. I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy.” – Albert Einstein