FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Systemic Foundations of American Capitalism

by NORMAN POLLACK

We justifiably celebrate the memory of Dr. King on this day. As CP contributor Paul Street points out, the real Dr. King has been sanitized, his fundamental criticisms of American society and policy making not merely toned down but altogether ignored, so that the image preserved comports with alleged gains on the home front and humanitarian purpose abroad. In fact, today Dr. King would be perhaps more horrified than ever as to the transmogrification of American democracy into the not-so-preliminary stages of fascism under liberal cover.

Race per se, however, is no longer the chief indicator (although obviously an integral component) of this emerging societal formation; rather, one must take capitalism as a totality into view, with economic inequality the substantive core in the normalization of hierarchy, repression, ever-widening class differentials of status and power.

Since Dr. King’s martyrdom the antidemocratic context for American growth has only worsened—and his removal from the scene, and the radicalization of criticism he offered and represented dying with him, has only compounded the situation. Few voices of national prominence remain to peel away the layers of betrayal and obfuscation protecting an increasingly unified ruling class fusing militarism and capitalism via financial concentration and global interventionism.

Dr. King’s opposition to the Vietnam War and his class-inspired Poor People’s Campaign would seem now faintly anachronistic (although deeply courageous and necessary for his time), so far down the road has America traveled since in both the domestic if silent exploitation of all working people—evidenced by unemployment, wage stagnation, household debt, mortgage foreclosures—and a foreign policy of belligerence,, market penetration, and, yes, imperialism in its many guises, now including the blanket surveillance of the globe.

The promise of racial-emancipation and –democracy, seemingly on the horizon with the passage of the voting-rights and civil-rights legislation of the 1960s, can now be seen as a surface corrective, though important in its own right, because the underlying system of capitalism, already dependent on the military-factor as vital to its further development, had not thereby been affected, nor even touched. One might argue that intrinsic to capitalism is inequality, and, in the American cultural context, intrinsic to capitalism is racism, as the means for enforcing this structure of inequality, race providing the vehicle and example for the subordination of the entire working class.

Perhaps systems of capitalism in other nations, with greater mixed features and significant public ownership, as well as different patterns of historical development, have not fostered such extremes of wealth and poverty, but America stands unique for its puristic institutionalization of capitalism—and for that reason, self-criticism becomes akin to treason, whether the issues be foreign or domestic.

With the above in mind, it is essential to make inequality the touchstone of societal criticism, inequality as the pervasive reality defining the social order, and the factors contributing to its maintenance and its renewal in more intensified form. This may seem like preaching to the choir—a CP audience fully aware of what I am saying. I hope so! But still, in light of present general understanding, as typified by Paul Krugman’s column in The Times, Jan. 20, inequality is a thing in itself, unrelated to context, discussion of capitalism strictly verboten, wholly divorced from militarism, hegemony, financial concentration as a structural process.

My point, simply, is that inequality permeates the social system, taking multiple forms, themselves integrated, because the essential capital-accumulation process requires invidious distinctions, actualized in terms of power arrangements, across the board. Savaging the social safety net, cushioning the profits of JPMorgan Chase, targeted assassination in Yemen, a resurgence of racism, anti-immigrant feeling, gender discrimination in all its phases, a half-trillion dollar military budget in the next go-around, all of these form constituents—along with much else—in the systemic organization of inequality.

My New York Times Comment on Paul Krugman’s article, “The Undeserving Rich,” Jan. 20, follows:

What must be faced, and Prof. Krugman consistently dodges this, are the systemic foundations of wealth inequality. It is not enough to point to the upper 0.1% as though a self-contained explanation and/or even indictment. The political economy that creates the 0.1%, i.e., capitalism, must be analyzed in a causational framework. American capitalism has always been unjust, with extremes of wealth and poverty easily documented from the post-Civil War to the present. What is comparatively new, however, are the changes within American capitalism: to wit, its militarization and financialization. Krugman notes the latter in passing, the 0.1% largely in finance–yet he offers no recommendations for correcting the situation. But on the other, militarized capitalism, he is silent.

Americans have suppressed the history and knowledge of US global hegemony, a foreign policy of war, intervention, drone assassination, under both major political parties. No one, least of all POTUS, will connect the dots between enormous wealth accumulation and an aggressive foreign policy, for if one did, that would bring into question the authenticity of American democracy. Exposure to truth, granted, is mind-numbing, but going only half-way, as here, minimizes the problems facing American society, and transforms criticism into a safety valve so that nothing effective is done.

Open the windows, let the fresh air of informed social criticism come in; ignorance is not bliss.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism.  His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism.

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail