Capitalist Competition or Socialist Cooperation? A critique of Imperialist Democracy

Ralph Nader has pointed the finger at the main enemy, the giant monopolies. He has performed a progressive service in unmasking the Democratic and Republican parties as taking their marching orders from big business. In a speech on the Capitol steps in Madison, Wis., on Nov. 1, he said that whoever wins doesn’t matter much “because of the corporate government in Washington” that runs things. To the applause of the crowd, he accurately described the two parties as fighting to get into the White House in order to get payoffs.

Ralph Nader has pointed the finger at the main enemy, the giant monopolies. He has performed a progressive service in unmasking the Democratic and Republican parties as taking their marching orders from big business. In a speech on the Capitol steps in Madison, Wis., on Nov. 1, he said that whoever wins doesn’t matter much “because of the corporate government in Washington” that runs things. To the applause of the crowd, he accurately described the two parties as fighting to get into the White House in order to get payoffs.

For everyone who has grown up under the political monopoly of these two big-business parties, this can only be a breath of fresh air and a political breakthrough that is long overdue. And the enthusiasm with which younger people are greeting Nader’s attacks on corporate welfare, low wages, environmental destruction and the commercialized culture is a particularly hopeful sign.

What can be done?

The Nader movement, like the Seattle resistance movement, has opened up the broad question of what to do about it all. And that is where enthusiasm and resistance must be accompanied by analysis and understanding.

The struggle against the monopolies and all their abuses must be fought every day in every arena, whether it is against strike-breaking, toxic dumping, handouts to the military-industrial complex, racist police brutality, the corporate prison industry or murderous sanctions against Iraq.

But sooner or later the questions of program, perspective and class orientation must be answered if the movement is to succeed.

Nader sees the struggle against the monopolies as a matter of bringing back competition to capitalism. When asked during the “Talk Back Live” show on CNN on July 5, “Are you a Marxist?” Nader replied, “No… I believe in democracy. I believe in competition. I think big corporations are destroying capitalism. Ask a lot of small businesses around the country how they’re pressed and exploited and deprived by their big-business predators.”

Nader’s general view is that monopoly domination destroys democracy, while competitive capitalism that empowers small business will somehow bring it back. And the way to bring democracy back is to build a popular movement that will advance from election to election.

In its early stages this “watchdog party” will act as a pressure on the big capitalist parties. When it has mustered enough electoral power, it will be able to transform the system and reintroduce old-style capitalist competition through legislation, regulation and the active mobilization of progressive advocacy and pressure groups: the unions, civil rights groups, consumer groups, women’s rights groups, environmental groups, and so on.

Democracy and the rule of capital

Imperialist democracy exists today mostly in the United States, Europe and Japan. In these electoral systems the masses periodically choose political parties to take office, but the monopoly capitalist class continues to run society on the basis of wage slavery and the profit system.

The capitalists, with their police, military, courts and government bureaucracy, maintain the continuity of capitalist exploitation, oppression and imperialist expansion from year to year, regardless of which party or parties get into office. This happens even in the most representative parliamentary systems in Europe.

“Democracy,” when based on private property and class exploitation, turns out to be a political form by which the capitalists maintain their class dictatorship over the workers and all of society. Likewise, putting the emphasis on parliamentary, regulatory and pressure-group methods of controlling, let alone breaking up, the giant monopolies leaves much to be desired. A movement that has set such an ambitious task as overcoming the powerful corporate predators must base itself firmly on social reality.

All of history shows that the struggle under capitalism to push back the monopolies and expand the democratic rights of the masses must be fought in the streets, the communities and the workplaces. It must involve militant, fighting mass movements if deep improvements in the lives of the masses of people are to be made.

But putting aside political analysis and the question of method, Nader’s social goal itself, his broad program, must first be analyzed.

Big vs. small business

A necessary condition to reviving competitive capitalism would be to break up big business and replace it with small businesses. But this is like trying to break up a giant ocean liner into small boats. This is hardly a solution to the problem.

If the ocean liner, which is a great technological achievement, is going in the wrong direction, then the answer is not to break it up into small units but to seize the controls from the ship’s commanders and turn it on its proper course.

Replacing big business with small business is not something for the working class to look forward to. Small businesses are less apt to have unions. Bosses in small plants and shops tend to have more power over the workers. They usually pay lower wages and provide fewer if any benefits. They have an easier time evading labor laws and are apt to super-exploit immigrants and undocumented workers.

Furthermore, even if it were possible to break up the monopolies, they would quickly reconstitute themselves because the laws of capitalist competition and maximization of profit would drive them to swallow each other up and reproduce monopoly capitalism.

One of the achievements of Marxism was to show that the development of giant industry had the effect of concentrating the working class into larger and larger units, facilitating collective class action against the bosses. Given the incessant competition that workers are subjected to under capitalism, it is easier for 73,000 Verizon workers, for example, to stand up to the telephone monopoly than it is for 50 to 100 workers to deal with some small shop owner.

Large industry increases the potential social power of the working class, putting them in a stronger position to wage the class struggle, shut down capitalism altogether and run society on a socialist basis.

Monopoly cuts two ways

In fact, Nader’s promotion of pre-monopoly capitalism is a reflection of the anti-historical economic aspirations of the class of medium and small proprietors who are being crushed by the insatiable appetite of the monopolies.

But there is a Marxist, working-class, anti-monopoly view that is rooted in historical reality and shows the way out the morass.

Marxism has also shown that monopoly and big business have played a contradictory role in history. Both sides of the contradiction must be understood in order to figure out how to move society forward.

On the one hand, the monopolies live by plunder and exploitation. They are the fundamental source of all social, economic and political reaction.

They are behind all the anti-labor legislation, union busting, low wages at home and abroad, industrial death, injury and toxic illness. They ruthlessly carry out massive layoffs. Their system produces inevitable economic crises that bring mass unemployment, poverty, dislocation and suffering to hundreds of millions of people.

They are behind militarism, war and intervention all over the world in order to protect their global investments and profits. The monopolies thrive on the Pentagon budget. Their class war of capitalist globalization against oppressed Third World countries destroys Indigenous cultures, ravages local economies and plunders local resources in the name of the so-called “free market.”

Through their ownership of the media, their control over the education system and the publishing industry, and the financing of right-wing politics, they promote racism, national oppression and all forms of social oppression at home. This is their time-tested means of dividing the working class and reaping super-profits from wage inequality for people of color, women, immigrants, disabled people and any sector of society they can victimize.

They poison the land, the sea and the air and are willing to risk destroying the atmosphere, the glaciers and the planet itself in pursuit of monopoly profits. They destroy entire communities when they march in with mega-stores, or march out taking factories and large enterprises for relocation in pursuit of the highest profit.

Imperialist monopoly is a malignant growth that threatens to consume all of society if left to grow unchecked.

Historic role of monopoly capital

But there is another side to the development of big business and monopoly capital that is crucial to the development of humanity. In their global pursuit of maximum profits and the highest productivity of labor, which are directly linked, these bloodsuckers have created a worldwide integrated economic apparatus.

This global productive apparatus, once it is liberated from the hands of the billionaire parasites who run it for private profit, holds the potential for raising the material level of existence for the entire human race.

This development has come at an incalculable cost in blood and misery. It is unplanned development that is completely uneven, arbitrary and advances only in areas where it serves the profit interests of big business.

For example, the monopolies can plunge into developing the productive forces of East Asia while leaving Africa devastated, despoiled and totally underdeveloped.

They can develop instruments to mine the moon and planets but will block solar energy because of the profit interests of big oil. They will develop the most sophisticated laser surgery while undermining preventive medicine in order to protect the pharmaceutical companies.

They do not develop world production out of concern for humanity but out of lust for profit. Nevertheless, they have created a vast, socialized world system of production in which hundreds of millions of workers on all the continents have been brought into a global division of labor. It could serve as the platform for the transition of humanity from the age-old state of scarcity to a condition of abundance.

Global socialization of labor

The monopolies have organized scientific workers, engineers, technicians, researchers, production workers, service workers, maintenance and transport workers, agricultural workers and hundreds of millions of peasants into objective cooperation on a world scale. And this organization is behind the enormous increase in the world productivity of labor.

The problem is that it is all done on the basis of a predatory struggle by each monopoly grouping to gain “market share” and eventually to vanquish its rivals. They struggle against each other by competing to exploit more workers more intensely. That is what capitalist globalization is all about.

General Motors has 388,000 workers on all continents; General Electric has 340,000 workers in 100 countries; IBM has 307,000 workers in over 170 countries; Exxon has 123,000 workers across the globe. The same holds true for AT&T, Proctor & Gamble, Citicorp and all the Fortune 500. This exploitation–the appropriation of unpaid labor in the form of surplus value–is the basis of their wealth and political power.

The U.S. has a $10 trillion economy. The economic hardships in this society do not flow from insufficient wealth. They flow from the fact that the capitalist class sets the priorities based on the profit motive. This determines what is produced and how the wealth is distributed. That is why there is such obscene inequality of wealth. If it is less extreme in Europe, that is because the class struggles of the past by the working class have forced more concessions on the weaker European ruling class.

In the hands of the workers, this wealth could easily be used to rebuild the communities and give everyone free education, health care, medicine and child care. There would be plenty left to help oppressed countries make up for the underdevelopment caused by U.S. imperialism.

Cuba, an underdeveloped country with 10 million people under economic blockade by the U.S. government, has managed to provide everyone with free quality health care and free education. The masses there are involved in political life and have a strong enthusiasm for socialism and their revolution.

If Cuba can do that, imagine what could happen in the United States under socialism.

The goal of the movement must be to help organize the working class and the oppressed in this country to take this vast productive structure out of the hands of the monopolies and run it collectively for the benefit of humanity. That means to fight for socialism and eventually for communism and a classless society.

To look backward towards capitalist competition not only means setting one’s sights on an unattainable and undesirable goal, but it keeps the movement from looking to a socialist solution, which is the only way to take society forward.

Author: Fred Goldstein

News Service: Workers World News

URL: http://www.workers.org/ww/2000/nader1116.html