Guest Opinion: The relevance of socialism in the U.S.
Politicians rarely use the words “capitalism,” or “republic,” rather obscurely touting the virtues of “free markets,” and “democracy.” Our politics maintains an economy that indiscriminately pursues profit without regard to externalities such as people (excepting wage relations) and the environment.
Republicans have argued for “entrepreneurial capitalism”: allowing people to “rise,” compete, fight for business, take risks, fail, and suffer consequences of good and bad decisions. Democrats mistakenly look to a capitalism working in spite of the system, regarding the constant class battle that was the hallmark of 1950s America. The president’s present attempt to create “inclusive capitalism” has been ineffectual, and efforts at government regulation are beaten back by capital.
Excepting possible 2016 presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, few question capitalism or advocate for alternative structures of enterprise. At the base of society is an economy, and our capitalism is inefficient. A system in such conflict with social welfare is not sustainable; a new structure is needed.
Socialism conceptualizes the means of production controlled by those doing the work, therefore democratically run, and markets comprising firms not dominated by self-interested profit and class antagonism. There are living examples: firms collectively owned, sometimes called worker-owned cooperatives, make decisions regarding production and revenue together by debate and vote, sometimes by directly elected boards of directors.
As worker-owners interact in trade, domestic or overseas, without capitalistic hierarchy and the negation of third-party contractors, personal relations are cultivated between peoples, and, therefrom, between countries. This framework allows for disagreement in subjective outcomes, while objectively allowing that our lives be self-directed and democratic in relation, not unjustifiably commanded.
Why does capitalist ideology persist? Briefly explained below are two paradigm ideas regarding capitalism.
Modern neoclassical economics assume markets where goods and services are exchanged as buyer and seller, comprising small, privately competing firms; one can conceptualize an unregulated and free market. Adam Smith discussed these principles in 1776: self-interested pursuits, guided by natural sentiments for others, would guide markets to increase the general welfare — given, without a preferential or obstructing government. These friendly affections maintain society; if not, we would hold on for the sake of utility.
18th century North America was near ideal for conditions of individual liberty and equality; establishing private enterprise, hiring workers to learn the trade and earn wages enough to own their own enterprise — assuming unlimited land, resources and labor. Political troubles would attend the real relations between capital owners and laborers. The former tended to live more lavishly, and the latter on subsistence wages, wages maintaining themselves and a family — a new generation of workers.
Over centuries of capitalism’s debate, Karl Marx used Smith’s market and labor assumptions, (value determined by labor into production) arguing capitalism had inner contradictions. Further, that private property was an obstacle to self-realization and objective economic and social liberation.
Marx argued that capitalists (private owners of productive resources) hire employees’ labor-power as a commodity (all the worker has), just as other resources. Given a working day’s length, she pays the worker wages proportionately less than the full labor-value of what the worker produced. This portion unpaid is profit, going toward maintaining and/or expanding the business, or to the proprietor’s discretion. In this relation, the worker is “free” only upon leaving the workplace. The wage subsists the worker for the next day, and possibly maintains a family, a future generation of workers, creating a class of people.
Marxian analysis of social relations can examine various historical contexts, observing how relations of surplus (profit) and necessary labor (maintaining individuals and institutions) influence societal development, culture, politics and religion. In a sense, turning around the field of view, seeing real and not abstract relations of labor and capital. Capitalism, then, was part of historical conflict and exploitation. Movement toward a more free arrangement of the production process was needed.
Capitalism today ignores human costs and the cooperative realities of production and innovation, as well, without government, shows little regard for the laborer. Sanders opposes government support of corporations shipping jobs overseas for low-wage labor, rather, “to provide assistance to workers who want to purchase their own businesses by establishing worker-owned cooperatives.” Socialism’s principles and tendencies may provide a helpful framework for internally restructuring our economy, helping to resolve issues of justice and sustainability.
Jonathan Chenjeri is a student at SOU. He can be reached at JonathanChenjeri@gmail.com.