It’s no secret that capitalism advances economic inequality. The gaps are opening wide between rich and poor, creating a world of haves and have-nots. What capitalists must worry about — indeed, what the Pentagon worries about — are potential world conflicts due to inequality, climate change and the fight for survival.
Capitalism has a problem defending itself from this expected consequence. It can only claim in its defense that winners make it better for everybody, denying the zero sum nature of the game. Pure zero sum is completely uncomplicated. If I steal some of your money, I have more and you have less. Economics is less pure and more complicated. Putting it figuratively, a rising tide lifts all boats that are not leaking.
A subject gaining attention among progressives is the relationship between class and race. Let’s do a thought experiment and suppose that capitalism has been supplanted by socialism, eliminating the hierarchal arrangement between owner and worker. Workers are no longer an exploited class.
The question arises. If economic classism vanished, would racism still exist? Just to pose this question suggests the complexity of the relationship because racial minorities disproportionally belong to the lowest economic class.
It’s apparent that even in a complete absence of class distinction that racism would not be eradicated. This necessary admission is due to the still primitive nature of the human animal. Suspicion and fear of the “other” has survival advantage. Things that don’t look like you can kill you, like snakes and wild animals. Ancestors least fearful died off sooner and were at a reproductive disadvantage. It’s possible that in a far off future, the human brain will have evolved past this primitive mode. We won’t see it. Maybe others will.
But admitting the persistence of racism does not imply that the eradication of a class system would have a null effect on racism. It is bound to have a positive effect because race is tied into status. Lifting lower class status should reduce racism to some degree.
Let’s do the opposite thought experiment and suppose that racism has completely vanished. How would this effect class structure? Under our present capitalist system, a null result should be expected. Capital exploits all shades of workers. Racism is a moral question but capital is inherently amoral.
So which is worse? Racism, at least widely acknowledged as an abhorrent immorality, or capital, openly and safely operating beyond moral scrutiny while creating sub-classes of people either unable or unwilling to question their subordination?
The question about which is worst is not serious. It is posed to tie racial justice into social and economic justice. If there is an insight to be gained from the comparison it is that one side, racism, will continue to generate interest as a controversial subject, while the other side, classism, slinks along unnoticed.
Our primitive brains have evolved sufficiently far if not to eradicate racism then to push for racial, social and economic justice. Standing in the way is finance capital. The economy, Washingtonian politics and the Pentagon all answer to Wall Street. Both capitalist political parties favor huge expenditures to continue American imperialism. Both parties put corporate interests first, while the condition of wage earners grows steadily worse.
For years, Americans have been teased to borrow their way into a better life. Today, most of the 95% are in debt to the 5% in one way or the other between mortgage debt, credit card debt, vehicle debt, pay day loan and school loan. Working means keeping up with the interest, for those fortunate enough to be working. And, on top of that, most workers are unhappy with their dull and mindless jobs.
There was a time in this country when socialists and socialist publications were common. Between the red scares and McCarthyism, capitalists decimated them, and not for the benefit of the ordinary person. But this is now, and the contradictions in today’s capitalism are glaring and unsustainable.
The choice is between staying on the path of imperial war, civilizational collapse, environmental calamity and nuclear disaster or transitioning to socialism. Capitalism is already doing its part by self-imploding. The rest is up to class struggle.
James Rothenberg, of North Chatham (Virginia’s last home) writes on U.S. social and foreign policy.