The Young Turks are an online news and opinion program that recently reached two billion views on YouTube. As a progressive outlet they provide a platform for a variety of viewpoints that rarely find expression in mainstream sources. They provide excellent, valid critiques of corporate malfeasance and misfeasance, political corruption within the political parties, the modern state of policing, civil liberties, economic inequality, reproductive health rights, and so on; they are a valuable arrow in the Left’s political quiver. One of their longest standing projects is something called Wolf-Pac. It is a political action committee created for the sole purpose of passing a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizen’s United Supreme Court ruling and bar the influence of money within politics. While in and of itself this is a noble goal it is reflective of a general misunderstanding on the Left as to exactly how capitalism functions.
The Young Turks believes that cases like Citizen’s United and the financial collapse in 2008 are a byproduct of a corrupted capitalism; a capitalism that only functions on behalf of the wealthy, the ruling class. From this perspective it makes all the sense in the world to address the malfunctions of the political system as a product of a disproportionate influence over the process by the rich. Therefore, the solution is to exclude from the entire calculation what the rich have that the rest of us do not: capital. This is misguided. Ignoring for the moment the entire consideration of what function the State actually serves within a class society, mainly as the enforcement mechanism of the dominant class’ hegemony over the rest of the society, we are still left with this underlying assumption that capitalism is innately democratic but has somehow been co-opted, and with just the right amount and kind of regulatory infrastructure it can be harnessed to produce the kinds of equitable outcomes liberals and progressives want.
This is one of the gravest problems the Left must overcome if it is to have any real influence over the direction of the society in the coming decades. Yes, acquiring political power is important, a vital first step to enacting the kinds of changes we want to improve our society. However, we cannot continue to make the same mistakes. The Left in societies as different as the European and North American welfare state as well as the Left in state capitalist countries China and the Soviet Union, among others, has historically conflated political power with economic power. By assuming political office and then wielding the apparatus of State to enact the changes we want the Left has argued that this is socialism, or liberalism, or progressivism, depending on where one lives. Not once have they sought to disentangle the relations of capitalism through economic democracy, the removal of the distinction between employer and employee. Only through the destruction of this distinction can actual Socialism be achieved. We must not equate political control in a capitalist society to economic control nor to the overthrow of capitalism. Only through economically democratic control over the distribution of the surplus created will we be able to begin the construction of a more equitable society.
Certainly it will not be the last and only step in this process. The social relations of class society under capitalism will persist for some time, and action will have to be taken to protect minority communities from the negative effects of majoritarianism. In America in particular minority groups such as African Americans, LGBT, and others will need affirmative action programs and other privileges in order to bridge the historical discrimination visited upon these groups by our society. But until we realize that attempts to reform the society when taken from the purely political aspect, as in the case of Wolf-Pac’s constitutional amendment, then counter-revolutionary forces will always have the advantage, given that they control the economic base of the entire process. Capitalism has always been an inherently undemocratic mode of production. The mere fact that the vast majority of the wealth on the planet is controlled by far less than one percent of the population should be proof of that fact. Unfortunately, many on the Left today are unwilling to admit the true nature of capitalism. Wealth creates poverty. Examine it from the perspective of the austerity regime currently in place throughout Europe.
From the point of view of the mass of the people austerity seems irrational, self-destructive. Why should we continue to cut public services, fire public employees, reduce pensions along with other portions of the welfare state, raise taxes on middle and working class people, when all that produces are increased deficits and the need for further cuts? This is one of the primary ways capitalism historically, and in the twenty first century, produces wealth. The productive capacity of the society must be reduced in order to restore profitability, which then restores investment, which then restores employment for the mass of the people. From the point of view of the capitalist class austerity makes perfect sense. Create economic instability for a majority of the people. This makes them less combative when it comes to destroying the welfare state, driving down wages, and so on, so long as they believe that things will not get any worse. If all the policies and practices earned by the working class movements over the last century can be rolled back then less and less of the surplus created will be used in maintaining those policies and practices. Thus more of the society’s wealth can be redistributed back to those on the top of the food chain. This is not a conspiracy by a secretive cabal. This is the fundamental logic of capitalism. And this is why it is our enemy.