When Capitalists Get a Free Ride

A few days ago I received an e-mail from a friend encouraging me to sign a petition against the possible privatization of our oceans. I was aghast even at the hint of this next privatization scheme by the world’s capitalists. So it’s come to this. Absolutely everything, even our oceans, is for sale. Nothing is sacred. I signed the petition with a vengeance. But as I signed I wondered why we have let these greedy capitalists run roughshod over all of us. How has this happened? Where are the demands for economic democracy and protection from greed?

As we discussed land ownership, an elder in the Philippines once told me “How can you own something given to you by God?” If there was ever a religious statement in the world with merit, it has to be this statement of wisdom from the elder.

While some in the U.S. have fought a battle against corporate greed, most of us have basically let greed have a free ride. In fact, ever since Karl Marx wrote about the tragic impact of exploitive capitalism in the 1800’s during the industrial revolution, the corporate elite has fought against those who would regulate their unfettered desires for profit. The effects of which have definitely been felt. Senator Joseph McCarthy exacerbated this when he launched his anti-communist campaign in the United States in the 1950’s.

Congress censured McCarthy in 1954, but his mission didn’t end then – we are still feeling the dramatic, tragic and chilling effects of the McCarthy era. Ever since that period American activists have largely skirted around the issue of economic policies or even and especially discussions about economic philosophy.

As this anti-communist campaign continued to resonate in the United States and throughout the world, the world’s capitalists have used it and continue to use it as a tool to protect or advance their economic interests.

Labeling someone a communist often has had nothing to do with the targeted person or group’s political or economic beliefs but rather usually that there is a “collective mindset” ­ that’s what the corporate elite work against and fear most. A collective mindset, or economic democracy, that stresses the importance of fairness and equity for the whole ­ not the few. (You can call that communism if you like. It sure sounds good to me! But then the term “communism” has been so bantered about that it no longer has context or meaning in the United States ­ it’s simply used to demean without context.)

I was recently called a communist for demanding rights for immigrants! This creative labeling is often used when someone doesn’t agree with you and they want to denigrate you, regardless of the reason, by calling you a communist. Examples of this are abundant. It’s the “c” word!

And what does the corporate elite want? In a word ­ “everything”. They want to own everything from the oceans to our schools. Free enterprise they call it, the privatization of everything and making governments but hollow shells. Influenced by economist Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics, to me free enterprise is the pinnacle of evolved capitalism and it destroys everything ­ people, culture, nature. It’s deadly to be sure. All right folks in the debate over economic systems can there be anything worse than free enterprise? I can’t think of one. I’m sure everyone wants to bow down to McDonalds or Monsanto or Wal-Mart and having the stop sign at the end of your street brought to you thanks to General Electric! Actually the “c” word should stand for “capitalism” ­ forbid someone should be called or, in fact, strive toward being a capitalist given its vast destruction in the world.

And how do you define “free”? The Oxford/American dictionary defines it as “not under the control or in the power of another; able to act or be done as one wishes.” In other words, absolutely no regulations!

George Bush has been great at creating policies that let these corporate criminals regulate themselves ­ what a travesty! And yes, we need regulations to protect us all from this dreadful free enterprise mindset. The battleground on this has been set some time ago.

So the question the corporate elite has had is how to end or circumvent democratic systems or the “collective mindset,” the “compassion for the other,” the “cries for fairness,” the “demands for equity,” the “protection of the environment?” In the United States, for one, they’ve used the label “communism” to quell the activism, and more recently in the U.S., as Naomi Klein notes in “The Shock Doctrine: the rise of disaster capitalism” they’re using disasters such as Katrina to sweep in and buy everything from schools to land. Internationally, with government or military collaborators, they’ve also used torture.

To demonstrate this Naomi Klein writes in the “The Shock Doctrine” that Argentina’s privatization policies (thanks to the Chicago school) in the 1970’s included torture in an attempt to rid the concept of collectivism from the mindset of activists. Torture was used “to cure” them of collectivism and to instill greed whenever possible. She said that most who were arrested were “community workers, many church based, who organized the poorest sectors of society to demand health care, public housing and education ­ in other words the ‘welfare state’ being dismantled by the Chicago boys. ‘The poor won’t have any do-gooders to look after them anymore!’ Norberto Liwsky, an Argentine doctor, was told as ‘they applied electric shocks to my gums, nipples, genitals, abdomen and ears.”

Some history to set this in context: Since the McCarthy era activists have often been afraid, and some still are, to open their mouths with anything that might smack of radicalism or against the economic exploitation they’ve witnessed. Often there was a fear that an informant was likely in their midst who would report to the FBI. For fear that you would be placed on a list for observation or whatever else the FBI deemed necessary to make your life miserable, or that, forbid, you would be labeled as a communist by the community where you work. I know people today who are still so nervous they will not admit they were communist card-carrying members in the 1950’s or won’t talk about it even if they were not members but labeled as such.

It was thought that if you were labeled as a communist, all of your work for justice (whatever it might be) would be undermined. There was some truth in that, unfortunately, and it still resonates today. The chilling effect is a reality. In the 1950’s, during this intensive anti-communist period, people were arrested, cajoled, labeled, blacklisted for anything that smacked of challenging the status quo whether economically based accusations or not. Your demands for social justice and human rights made you vulnerable.

The elite in the Southern United States honed this skill of communist labeling in the 1950’s and 1960’s in an attempt to keep out anyone challenging the Jim Crow laws of racial segregation or demanding fair wages or maybe adequate housing, healthcare and pubic education. The Southern elite still does this to a degree!

During the Jim Crow years, white folks having Blacks to dinner were sometimes called communists. The Highlander Center in Tennessee that focused on assisting and training for social justice and workers rights was labeled as a “communist school.” Blacks, of course, were targeted when opposing Jim Crow. Martin Luther King was called a communist. The NAACP was called a communist front, as were labor unions. There seemed no limit to this senseless battering of movements that were demanding justice. Because of this many people were forced out of the South ­ we, in fact, have always had a brain drain in our region because of the arrogant anti-democratic Southern elite.

Even in Atlanta today there are people who will not consistently honor one of our greatest early residents ­ the renowned and brilliant W.E.B. Dubois who taught at Atlanta University in the early 1900’s, was one of the founders of the NAACP, who later joined and left the Communist Party because it would not appropriately address the issue of racial exploitation. The fear of honoring Dubois is of being labeled by association. It’s astounding that the effects of this are still felt.

The additional problem is that since the 1950’s the successful chilling effect of the use of the “communism” label to anyone working for justice in the United States has spread internationally. The results have been devastating! The practice has become accentuated by the corporate and political elite in countries the U.S. has wanted to control from Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Vietnam, to the Philippines, to name only a few ­ thankfully a lot of this is now being reversed in South America. And in those countries being black listed as a communist usually means you are subject not only to harassment but often to torture and/or summary execution. I witnessed this in the Philippines in the late 1980’s and it continues in that country.

In the realm of economics, those of us in the United States have generally left to “others” what should always have been our responsibility. This applies to even serious discussions about economic justice, about capitalism versus communism or mixed economies, or curbs on massive wealth and a distribution of wealth, or understanding the global markets and what effect they have on our domestic and international economies, or about the importance of labor rights and fair wages.

Regarding the importance of economic justice, years ago economist Ray Marshall, President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Labor, told me that “The basic evolution is that first you have political institutions that are controlled by the people and not special interest groups – that’s political democracy. After workers get the right to vote then you have industrial democracy, which means worker participation in the work place. That’s collective bargaining. Most countries have taken that further than us. Then there’s social democracy where you have safety nets – a minimum level of welfare services. Every industrial country in the world is more developed in social democracy than us in, for example, health care and education. Finally, there’s economic democracy where individuals and not special interests control their economic institutions. Economic democracy strengthens all other forms of democracy. If you have economic democracy then people can’t intimidate you when you vote.”

This year the NAACP held an event to bury the “N” word. We need to do the same with “anti-communism.” It needs to be buried and replaced with economic activism focusing on just and fair economics that is “people” centered and controlled and not “corporate” centered and controlled. I have enough faith in people to think that if we had done this long ago we would not now be talking about privatizing our oceans. Time is of the essence.

HEATHER GRAY produces “Just Peace” on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news. She can be reached at hmcgray@earthlink.net


Heather Gray is a writer and radio producer in Atlanta, Georgia and has also lived in Canada, Australia, Singapore, briefly in the Philippines and has traveled in southern Africa. For 24 years she has worked in support of Black farmer issues and in cooperative economic development in the rural South. She holds degrees in anthropology and sociology. She can be reached at hmcgray@earthlink.net.