Between 1900 and 2011 there have been 24 recessions in the United States (including the Great Depression), about once every 4.6 years, some decades more, some less, largely from inevitable overproduction and greed.
Yes, capitalism’s highly productive and has made many Americans rich and facilitated Washington’s global rule. It’s also an unstable system responsible for extreme inequality, poverty and stagnant wages at home and adventures abroad to advance US economic interests. Yet, how frequently in the mass media, government or in progressive or liberal circles is the system itself criticized, even given the mess that it is creating today for a majority of Americans?
What has made capitalism so sacrosanct in our society? It wasn’t always that way. For about 65 years to the start of the Cold War following World War II in 1945 there had been lot of talk about socialism in the U.S. and criticism of capitalism among native and immigrant workers. A number of labor leaders and unions identified as socialist. The great union leader Eugene V. Debs(1855-1926) obtained almost a million write-in votes as the 1920 Socialist Party presidential candidate while in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary for having opposed World War I. The Communist Party is said to have had 100,000 members around 1940.
The major factor in the virtual silence today about the shortcomings of capitalism as a system is that several generations of Americans, starting in the late 1800s and accelerating wildly since the Russian Revolution in 1917, have been trained throughout their entire lives that socialism is an existential danger to the “American way of life” and to democracy and freedom.
This was accompanied by several periods of red hunts, mass jailing, deportations and severe political repression, culminating in 1945-1960 with the purge of socialists and communists from the trade union movement and political witch hunts, the imprisoning of communist leaders, and firings of teachers, writers, actors, directors and ordinary workers from tens ofthousands of jobs. Workers in millions of occupations had to sign loyalty oaths.
Anti-communism became the watchword throughout America but the actual target always was and remains much wider, including all the many varieties of socialism from Marxism-Leninism to mild democratic socialism, extending even to non-socialist social democracy, and implicitly to everyday progressivism and liberalism when reforms are contemplated.
The implosion of the USSR and the end of the Cold War reduced the obsession with communism, and course there are small communist and socialist organizations and left publications in the US, but criticism of America’s laissez-faire form of capitalism or capitalism as a system is considered out of bounds in the rest of our society. If this doesn’t change, nothing much is going to change in terms of gross economic inequality and distortions of democracy because anticommunism, in essence, has come to mean pro-capitalism-no-questions-asked.
We think Joel Kovel made a good point, at the end of his important 1994 book “Red Hunting in the Promised Land,” when he wrote: “The capitalist order, with all its brilliant accomplishments, had not succeeded; it has only won [the Cold War]. There can be no future worthy of human beings unless the existing system is challenged. For this, the overcoming of anticommunism is indispensable.”
Americans may live in the richest country in the world, but it is in a society where about 10 percent of the population possesses nearly 90 percent of the nation’s assets. Democracy can never fulfill its potential under suc circumstances, and the “American dream” is fast fading for the working class/middle class as the US economic system seems headed into a second recession and the weakening of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Isn’t it time for the American people to directly question what’s wrong with capitalism, or at least inquire, in the words of an old saying: “Where are we going and what are we doing in this hand basket?”