“We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both” – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis
Economic democracy is the only language in which political self-government may even be whispered. We have been falsely educated against the virtues of democracy for centuries by being cultured against our common interest and judgement. This fallacy has been established by the ruling classes, who believe that destiny chooses a select few in every epoch to lead the majority to some greater port. This corrupted script of oppressive delusion is performed in every theater in which human endeavor occurs, but as any materialist will tell you, economics is the most fundamental endeavor of all. In this theater, both major narratives of the past century: state capitalism in the West and state socialism in the East, have at least fallen ill. It is a cure for this illness that concerns us here.
We will proceed with the supposition that the fall of the Soviet Union and post-Maoist China’s concession to markets under Deng’s “Socialism With Chinese Characteristics” both resoundingly pronounce the death of state socialism. Let us then begin with the diagnosis for state capitalism.
The Laissez-faire free market is, and has been, a myth since the inception of the market itself. The first modern offering of investment to the public was done in 1602 by the Dutch East India Company, and did so with a royal charter granting them monopoly of trade with what were called The East Indies. So the state guaranteed the success of the first piece of stock ever issued. Fundamentally, little has changed over the ensuing four centuries, with the notable exception of the relation of the corporation to state power.
No longer is corporate power dependent upon the greed or xenophobia of state power. With representative democracy, corporations now choose who holds state power, with the understanding that state power always supports private interest. And while the West’s claims of it allowing more individual rights than it’s eastern counterpart are veritable, this is the case only when individual rights don’t conflict with corporate rights. So the Agribusiness’ right to contribute 10 million dollars to the 2008 presidential campaign is greater than the public’s right to know if their food contains GMOs. The people’s right to the fourth amendment has nowhere near the gravity of the data industry’s right to profit from an Orwellian surveillance labyrinth. And the financial industry’s 141 million dollar campaign donations in 2008 determined their right to clemency for the crime of bankrupting most of the world, as well as turning millions into nomads.
Yet these examples are not our diagnosis of the state capitalist system, but rather a litany of symptoms. Public officials, who auction their influence to the highest corporate bidder are not to be blamed, and neither are the corporations. They are acting in compliance with directions from the system. In any society, the most valuable asset is political power. The ability to make and repeal laws and regulation, the capacity to award public contracts, and the facility to determine economic and foreign policy are the greatest endowments that can be boasted of. To believe that in an economic system in which every asset is for sale, where consumption and acquisition are cardinal virtues above all others, that somehow the most valuable asset of all would somehow be beyond financial subjugation, is nihilistically juvenile. And herein lies our diagnosis of state capitalism. Though the players are flawed and unjust, they are still operating according to the rules of the game.
The lectures of the past century tell us that both state models of economics, and therefore political influence, have failed. Therefore, we must look at economics beyond state control. The two alternatives which we will look at are the anarcho-capitalist/libertarian conservative model of the right, and the anarcho-syndicalist/libertarian socialist model of the left.
The libertarian conservative model dictates that the individual should absolutely determine his or her own economic destiny without the hazards of taxation or regulation. In the U.S. this is politically supplemented with some utopic return to a strictly constitutional federal government. This ideology exists inside of the framework which believe government hinders people from reaching their full potential. The premise here is that, in a country where five hundred people own more wealth than 150 million combined, the poor have been too catered and the wealthy too restrained.
Capitalism creates no wealth without the exploitation of the worker. The worker does not get paid the entire value of his or her own labor, and it is in this exploitation where wealth is created and polarized. If we assume that capitalism that can sustain itself without state intervention, which is emphatically unproven, then wealth would polarize itself to a greater extent than it is now. It follows that the current social handcuffs that arrest so many from economic and political freedom would become even tighter when the limits to private power were completely removed. Just as ineffective as a completely free market would be to economic concerns would a return to a strictly constitutional government be to political ones. The constitution was the womb from which the current U.S. Government was born. The alleged constitutional restraints of government would again last only as long as it was profitable for the affluent. We would return to, if we were to ever depart from, a government of, by, and for the wealthy.
An alternative to this model is the anarcho-syndicalist/libertarian socialist model. In this model, terms of production and working conditions are not dictated by owners or controlling shareholders, but rather voted upon in a democratic assembly of the stakeholders; people whose livelihoods and community are affected by these production decisions. A primary objective of this model would be the production and the agricultural sovereignty to the fullest extent possible for every region. Profitability would be replaced by sustainability.
This model has been proven perhaps most successful with Mondragon in Spain, but Cleveland’s Evergreen Cooperatives are a vibrant U.S. example. With the vacant factories that are seemingly the trend in North America, workers could follow the Argentine Recovered Factory model and begin occupying and producing in the factories without waiting for benevolence from private investors. Since we have seen how the economic structure of a nation reflects its political structure, then it follows that if an economy is controlled by the workers then politics would be controlled from the grassroots level as well. And this would begin with a democratic division of economic power.
One of the most ardent objections to any variant of Marxism has always been the doctrine of redistribution of wealth. Property rights are paramount in Western Civilization, in some cases even above human life, as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina demonstrated. What price must the people pay for the right of the few to wealth? King John had a divine property right to autonomy, and King George III was the ruler of the whole of the realm. Yet, their crimes were great enough that this property of theirs, which is now conceptually archaic, was expropriated.
The wealth of the few now imposes a new tyranny. The epidemic of suicide among third world farmers due to multinational agribusiness, the environmental effects of globalization, the oppression of workers’ rights in the Far East, and the human costs of war are seen as mere public relations liabilities for defense contractors. Why should one man’s right to exploit be greater than the many’s right to a full life?
In Federalist Paper #10, James Madison argues against democracy because of his disdain of a “Tyranny of the Majority”. This is nothing if not an endorsement of a tyranny of the few. To believe that democracy should be restricted to the ability of choosing one’s own oppressor is to doubt one’s own humanity. The acceptance of anecdotal exhibits about the success of individuals as evidence of the incompetence of the multitude and vindication of the system is a verdict for oppression. The financial aristocracy of the West and the vanguard parties of the East have both failed.
It is therefore up to the people to construct a society which refuses both secular deity and private baron. The arguments against democracy and solidarity have polluted the waters of history far past any appropriate hour. Only one argument need be made in favor of democracy: The toil of the many should no longer be the sustenance for the opulence of the few.
originally edited by Alicia B. Cheramie