Not Naming the System: Say It Ain’t So, Capitalism?

10-29-08, 1:19 pm

People of the United States. Capitalism. Capitalism. People of the United States. There, you’ve been introduced. Don’t say I’m not a good host.

Lately there’s been all kinds of talk about Capitalism’s ugly kid brother; Socialism. There has also been a ton of scary doomsday talk about needing to hurry up and give starving bankers emergency money. And even more talk about needing to pass Bills like they were going out of style – yesterday.

And suddenly, look! Here comes the bailout! There it is. And there it went. No posing for pictures, no comment, no autographs. Afterwards, Hank “Goldy” Paulson takes care of his friends at the Wall Street saloon, where he buys everyone a round or 700 billion, on him. Actually, on us.

The next morning, like so many pretentious Pauls on the road to too many Starbucks, it suddenly becomes clear to all us worker types. Having been rudely awoken by some sober bolt of lighting we come to the realization that we Main Streeters just got made by a bunch of proverbial fat cats on Wall Street – using tactics that are, get this, Socialist! Lucky bastards.

Overnight our evil and meddlesome government has turned more, well, eviler. It’s turned Socialist! “Socialism for the rich” is the mob’s cry! Socialism for the Rich on CNN, Socialism for the Rich on AlterNet, Socialism for the Rich on daytime talk shows, bloggers, notes passed in class, The Washington Post, tagged on city walls, uploaded to Youtube, gossiped in supermarket checkout lines, etc. Socialism is all the rage they say, it’s what the kids are all into.

Then, I’m assuming, to mark the glorious 91st Anniversary of the October Revolution that juggernaut of a presidential ticket, McCain/Palin, go around this past month giving Karl Marx and his wacky ideas even more primetime exposure by calling Barak Obama a socialist. I don’t know about you but all this talk of Socialism in October makes me very nostalgic.

The use of the word Socialism has been used to hide the reality of something even more misunderstood to U.S. Americans than Socialism or Communism, mainly, Capitalism. And while the McCain/Palin crowd ravenously shouts down the words “spread the wealth” as if it meant “Praise Satan”, Barak Obama has suddenly become more Marxist than Marx. Meanwhile we poor saps have been duped into being put on the road to Socialism and the horrors of a money-less world called Communism.

But is all this uproar even valid? Was the bailout really Socialism? Does Obama really want to replace the Constitution was Das Kapital 1, 2 and 3? Does Obama prefer to be bought out by Wall Street in the morning or more towards the evening when things are a little quieter and a little bit calmer?

In a recent phone interview with the radio program Guns & Butter, financial economist and historian, Michael Hudson, further elaborated on the recent “Socialist” rhetoric and the uncritical way so many Americans sopped it up. His was an even less hopeful view of what’s next for the U.S.

“This is nothing like Socialism at all”, Hudson proclaimed against the charges thrown at the bailout. “When you give away money to the wealthiest class, this is old fashion Kleptocracy and it’s a step back toward Feudalism. It is not a step toward Socialism at all.”

And yet according to the media here comes Barak Obama, you know, that one. The newest Socialist leader without facial hair, primed to take over the U.S. and turn us all into uniform laboring masses with nothing to show but hot gruel for dinner. But hey at least we will have our depressing state subsidized housing that we can call home when all is fails. Oh, wait. Ok, so a lot of us don’t have state sponsored housing. Lots of us are about to have no housing. Some of us (me) rent. So who’s the sucker now, huh? Ok, that’s beside the point.

Any way all this talk of Socialism in the midst of yet another crisis in the history of Capitalism struck me as very interesting, nay, revealing. Why did people, when hearing about this bailout, say that a bunch of rich people getting free money was somehow Socialist and not, say, oh I don’t know, Capitalist? I mean isn’t the whole idea of you going to work for a certain number of unnecessary hours of the day to produce wealth for someone else (beyond what you actually need for yourself) kinda the whole point about Capitalism, that Capitalism is the ultimate screw over job since slavery? And if Hudson is correct than we need not worry about a new red menace but instead welcome the resurgence of pleasantries like debtor’s prisons or those really uncomfortable stocks they use to put people in.

Many of us don’t really know the economic and ideological system we live under. We do, however, apparently know and understand the system of our worst enemy from yesteryear. And of course the powers-that-be know all too well that this “Evil System” is much more dangerous than Islamic fundamentalism because it actually offers an inclusive, just counterargument to our current system. So when Capitalism was again blatantly robbing us blind in 2008, it had us so fooled we blamed it on Socialism! We never even stopped to question Capitalism, as it continued on its merry way, only to disappear into the shadows once more.

I remember when I was weaned, from a very young age in public school, on the fundamentals of Marxist economic theory. As I am sure you were. I mean it’s so obvious, when you look around this country, how we all breezed through the Dialectic, by second grade we completely understood that so-called Communism has never existed despite what Stalin or Capitalism wished us to believe, in the fifth grade we mastered our Historical Materialism qualifying exams in one sitting and we laid out those C-M-C’s or M-C-M’s down like pros.

And yet somehow with all the Marxist theory we’ve been forced fed since pre-school we totally blanked on the idea that Socialism and not Capitalism was meant to give away money to a bunch of faceless mega-millionaires who ruled you like a ruler everyday, forever and ever, until your offspring took your pencil-pushing place at the workplace. What went wrong? Why couldn’t we remember the right answer on this super easy test?

Not having been born during the heyday of McCarthyism I don’t know the extent to which Americans were brainwashed on the Red Menace. I am not sure on the exact numbers of people from one generation to the next that inherited the unquestioned hatred for Communism, Socialism or Karl Marx like some people inherit shiny heirlooms or casserole dishes. But what I do know is that growing up I never knew anything about Capitalism. But Communism, though vague and fuzzy, I do remember. Take that one rite of passage we all experience: The “Commie” insult. I remember the first time someone said it. I immediately knew that it was a bad thing but I didn’t know why. And it was even more weird given that we knew so very little about current politic events since, you know, we were in the fourth grade. Somehow the “Capitalist!” or “Cappie!” insult never caught on.

But when was the last time someone really explained to you what Capitalism was all about? When, before all this economic calamity, did you hear “Capitalism” in the news and media so much? Even I felt strangely uneasy whenever newscasters or journalists uttered or wrote the word “Capitalism”. Capitalism, Capitalism, Capitalism. I was uneasy because I was not use to seeing or hearing or reading any examination of this word except in crazy Communist newspapers or from out of work Leftists. It is indeed better for some, it seems, to let the sleeping dogs of capitalism lie (and cheat and steal and murder).

Capitalism works because it is unexamined by the people who keep it going. Us. It works because it is unfamiliar even though it’s been around some 500 odd years or so. Capitalism works because when times are good for you it hides the places where times are bad for others. But then when times are bad for you it blames everything and the kitchen sink. Everything except Capitalism that is. Capitalism works because we don’t know anything about it. Sure politicians claim to know about it, so do writers for economic newspapers and magazines, so do college professors, so did Alan Greenspan. But what about everyone else?

All we wage labor lovers do know is that we have to go to work tomorrow and pay the bills the next day, or maybe the day after that. If we don’t, we starve. That’s what everyone says right? Or maybe, just maybe, we’d organize. Who knows? In the end though, there is still one truth in our so-called post-modern world of non-truths: the Capitalist system we are born, live and die under remains for many of us a total stranger.

A couple years ago this college professor Michael D. Yates (I know what I implied about college professors but this one is ok) wrote a book called Naming the System. It was basically explaining how you could blame all of your problems on Capitalism and still get rich. Well, not quite. But what it was doing was making a valid argument, one that is needed now more than ever. We need to name the system. Call it out. We need to expose Capitalism and all it’s grievous faults as Capitalism. We need to make everyday connections between peoples all over the world though this understanding. Between wage earners here and there. We need to examine what we are all doing here in the name of Capitalism day after day.

And sure you can keep calling it “Empire” or “Imperialism” or “The Man” or “The Shitstem” or just plain old “The System”. But peel through the names and you will find the core of the matter. Capitalism. And I know what you are thinking, just when you thought we had already established Al-Qaeda as the new evil that gets to threaten the entire world this century here comes that damn Karl Marx to jinx our blissful economic lives. Move over Osama here comes Karl.

And so here, at the end of this piece, I will not look to extricate myself from Marx after using his ideas and words to sound radical but not too radical. No. Nor will I end this piece, declaring like some blowhard recently did from an article in The Economist that,

Over the past century and a half capitalism has proved its worth for billions of people. The parts of the world where it has flourished have prospered; the parts where it has shrivelled have suffered.

No, I won’t end with that. Capitalism, may be said to survive on quotes like these because again, there is zero critical analysis of just what happened in those places where it “shrivelled” up. The problem lies somewhere besides Capitalism. Exit the notion that the failures of markets over there in places we shall not speak of have no other culprit but dark skined fools who didn’t believe enough in what they were told to do. Exit U.S. foreign policy. Exit U.S. history since World War I. Exit other people’s realities from the pages of The Economist. Exit Capitalism, again and again.

No, I already believe. Like many of you, I’m a believer. So, you know, I got no beef with Karl Marx. But having said this, I like to think of Marx nowadays like my dear old papá. He’s gotten me this far in life but at some point I will do my own thing. And that’s ok. We will all have to get there in different ways. Just start getting there. Name the system and pass it on.

But I won’t forget you dear old Karl, I mean, Dad. Always respect your elders, and, uh, always s cite your original sources. After all, Karl Marx said it would be like this.