Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
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:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail