Over the past two parts of the series, I traced the challenges faced by the United States that lead to the very sorry state of the present economy. From the dependency on forced, free labor to the inability to shake this crippling millstone, and the compromise of segregation, today's socio-economic and political system built on the foundation of American Apartheid, the indictment of capitalism's failure.
The bold fact is that American capitalism, as a system, is now increasingly challenged. Within the recurring crises of boom and bust, American capitalism's critics have been developing a newfound love of socialism that is a reaction to and a desperate search for a more perfect system that "lifts all boats." But as enticing as that is, capitalism's defenders have not given up their near fanatic belief that this now failing system's glory days are not over. So while American Apartheid that is the bedrock on which the nation's capitalist system is built undergoes its tortuous undulations across all aspects of American life, capitalism, the economic system that drives its privilege and entrenched social socio-economic status, is also exhibiting serious internal and structural problems.
Economic inequality, stagnation and race polarization have now become the norm in American Apartheid. Socialism, that once maligned "ism" is still linked to that other "ism" -- communism. Socialism has been used invariably as a kind of vague rhetorical gesture expressing tepid criticism of the capitalist status quo, not real and objective advocacy of a modern concrete alternative to a failing system. In this environment, professed socialist parties and socialists now mainly support capitalism but with a human face -- a type of "if you can't beat them, join them" kind of thing. They believe that American capitalism, with its built in flaws, can be salvaged and cannot contemplate its replacement by a new, more equitable and fairer system. They call this utopia as if that's not something to strive and yearn for.
So nowadays, from Senator Bernie Sanders to young socialists on American college campuses, opposition to capitalism is all about supporting social safety nets that "conservative capitalists" disdain. To be sure, the advocacy of today's socialism can, at times, express a rejection of, or opposition to, American capitalism and its apartheid parent. But it's these tangential approaches to progressive thought, action and processes, and American Apartheid's still strong grip on things American that muddles the current definition of the term "socialism. " To me, it lacks a clear, concrete definition of what genuinely new economic system it entails. It begs the question: what exactly differentiates "modern socialism" from and renders it superior to capitalism and American Apartheid? Or is it just simply the old socialism re-packaged, re-dressed and dusted off because there is no other socio-economic challenge, not to mention alternative, to American capitalism?
Ok, so what's the solution to dealing with American Apartheid and its enforcer American capitalism?
I believe that we must first reimagine socialism, not as it was, say 20 years ago, but how it should be in a 21st century environment. We must also repurpose it. We must rid socialism of its accumulated historical baggage that prevented it from being that agent of socio-economic change in the first place. That done, we must create a new narrative and content that both inspires and motivates oppressed peoples all over the world. Without these two perquisites any discussion of an alternative to American capitalism in 2017 and beyond will fail. The fact is that "old 20th century socialism's" fundamental failings were based on social and economic myopia and a rigid, bookish political modus. Today, that's a point of reference to move forward with an alternative to capitalism.
The paradigms that drove the old American Apartheid system and its economic henchman, capitalism, are rooted in old 19th and 20th century mores that have not kept pace with changes in the international global superstructure or base. Likewise, old socialism's response to this was to first draw a contrast between both systems by pointing out the inherent ills of capitalism that was build on the "private means of production" and two, the inherent flaws and fissures that are to be found in the market regulation and distribution of goods and services. The by-product was the socialization of the labor force and the unfair and unequal distribution, and unjust appropriation of the fruits if that labor by the few.
To shame American Apartheid and capitalism, "old socialism" stressed government-owned-and-operated enterprises and government central planning as the economic and marketing distribution system. The so-called control of the "commanding heights of the economy." Both supporters of American capitalism and socialism accepted this set of differentiating definitions and constructs. That set the stage for the many debates and struggles over capitalism versus socialism that swirled around the relative virtues and flaws of private versus state enterprises and of markets versus planning regimes. That in a nutshell has been the debate raging in American society for over 100 years.
Those debates and struggles seemed to be resolved by the collapse of the USSR in 1989 and subsequent changes in Eastern Europe, the PRC and elsewhere. For the triumphalist cheerleaders of capitalism, history had "proven" the non-viability and failure of socialism, and the superiority of capitalism. Today, that sentiment still lingers on in American society, especially among those who believe that capitalism is a perfect economic system. The old ingrained and debunked American social mantra of "work hard, play by the rules and you'll get ahead."
This lack of critical thinking and attendant myopia caused them to be blinded by the fact that what failed was one version of socialism, an early, less than 60 year old experiment, in what it might mean to construct a system beyond American capitalism. In their perverse eagerness to proclaim, "socialism/communism had failed" these apologists for American capitalism conveniently forgot the many similarly "failed" efforts, centuries earlier, to construct capitalism out of a declining moribund European feudalism. In fact, history tells us that it was only after countless such failures (characterized by wars and bloodshed) did objective and subjective conditions exist to enable a general system change into modern capitalism.
So the next question is: why would the same not apply to socialism as a successor to capitalism?
Today, both socialist and Marxists must start with an acknowledgement that the excesses of over-concentrated state power and inadequately transformed production systems were a major fetter to the development and success of "old socialism." That's a fundamental fact. But there are still some lessons to be learned from old socialism's achievements in the context of American Apartheid and capitalism - especially its rapid industrial development and the remarkable provision of social safety nets. Today, China is a shining example of the remaking of "old socialism" and what a potentially new socialism might look like minus the control of the one-party apparatus and internal democratic system and norms.
Still, American Apartheid and its capitalist principles will not die easily. Its endurance is also tied to the demise of old socialist parties that are fading or imploding. The contradiction here is that as they are fading so is capitalism experiencing great challenges and difficulties, especially since the global crash economic of 2008. It's this failure of American (and global) capitalism that spawned increasing mass opposition to it and a renewed interest and embrace of socialism by about 40 percent of young Americans. That's because they see no future for them in a system plagued by injustice, structured poverty, racism and wealth disparities. The ugly, distorted optics of a system owned and controlled by the 1 percent of 1 percent of American capitalists, where healthcare is a cash cow for the pharmaceutical industry, and where the U.S. Congress and Federal Government now does the bidding of a tiny, uber-rich American elite, is not sitting well with millennials and younger Americans now heavily in debt. Capitalism, for all its much-touted successes, has failed to create hope for an entire generation of Americans.
So what that social resistance desperately needs is a new socialism with attractive, basic transformative goals. The point is rather and finally to transfer power into the hands of the change-making workers themselves. That will be no easy task. There will be no quarter given by the supporters of American Apartheid. American capitalism is old and sick but not dead. Still, power is more than mere politics. I'm referring to the collective social power at the economic base of American society, fund in the thousands of workplaces producing the goods and services upon which all our social lives depend.