Monday, August 10, 2020

The Golden Rule Is Capitalism's Intrinsic Incompatibility With Democracy

alternet |  The capitalist economic system has always had a big problem with politics in societies with universal suffrage. Anticipating that, most capitalists opposed and long resisted extending suffrage beyond the rich who possessed capital. Only mass pressures from below forced repeated extensions of voting rights until universal suffrage was achieved—at least legally. To this day, capitalists develop and apply all sorts of legal and illegal mechanisms to limit and constrain suffrage. Among those committed to conserving capitalism, fear of universal suffrage runs deep. Trump and his Republicans exemplify and act on that fear as the 2020 election looms.

The problem arises from capitalism’s basic nature. The capitalists who own and operate business enterprises—employers as a group—comprise a small social minority. In contrast, employees and their families are the social majority. The employer minority clearly dominates the micro-economy inside each enterprise. In capitalist corporations, the major shareholders and the board of directors they select make all the key decisions including distribution of the enterprise’s net revenues.
Their decisions allocate large portions of those net revenues to themselves as shareholders’ dividends and top managers’ executive pay packages. Their incomes and wealth thus accumulate faster than the social averages. In privately held capitalist enterprises their owners and top managers behave similarly and enjoy a similar set of privileges. Unequally distributed income and wealth in modern societies flow chiefly from the internal organization of capitalist enterprises. The owners and their top managers then use their disproportionate wealth to shape and control the macro-economy and the politics interwoven with it.

However, universal suffrage makes it possible for employees to undo capitalism’s underlying economic inequalities by political means when, for example, majorities win elections. Employees can elect politicians whose legislative, executive, and judicial decisions effectively reverse capitalism’s economic results. Tax, minimum wage, and government spending laws can redistribute income and wealth in many different ways. If redistribution is not how majorities choose to end unacceptable levels of inequality, they can take other steps. Majorities might, for example, vote to transition enterprises’ internal organizations from capitalist hierarchies to democratic cooperatives. Enterprises’ net revenues would then be distributed not by the minorities atop capitalist hierarchies but instead by democratic decisions of all employees, each with one vote. The multiple levels of inequality typical of capitalism would disappear.

Capitalism’s ongoing political problem has been how best to prevent employees from forming just such political majorities. During its recurring times of special difficulty (periodic crashes, wars, conflicts between monopolized and competitive industries, pandemics), capitalism’s political problem intensifies and broadens. It becomes how best to prevent employees’ political majorities from ending capitalism altogether and moving society to an alternative economic system.

To solve capitalism’s political problem, capitalists as a small social minority must craft alliances with other social groups. Those alliances must be strong enough to defuse, deter, or destroy any and all emerging employee majorities that might threaten capitalists’ interests or their systems’ survival. The smaller or weaker the capitalist minorities are, the more the key alliance they form and rely upon is with the military. In many parts of the world, capitalism is secured by a military dictatorship that targets and destroys emerging movements for anti-capitalist change among employees or among non-capitalist sectors. Even where capitalists are a relatively large, well-established minority, if their social dominance is threatened, say by a large anti-capitalist movement from below, alliance with a military dictatorship may be a last resort survival mechanism. When such alliances culminate in mergers of capitalists and the state apparatus, fascism has arrived.

During capitalism’s non-extreme moments, when not threatened by imminent social explosions, its basic political problem remains. Capitalists must block employee majorities from undoing the workings and results of the capitalist economic system and especially its characteristic distributions of income, wealth, power, and culture. To that end capitalists seek portions of the employee class to ally with, to disconnect from other, fellow employees. They usually work with and use political parties to form and sustain such alliances.

In the words of the great Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, the capitalists use their allied political party to form a “political bloc” with portions of the employee class and possible others outside the capitalist economy. That bloc must be strong enough to thwart the anti-capitalist goals of movements among the employee class. Ideally, for capitalists, their bloc should rule the society—be the hegemonic power—by controlling mass media, winning elections, producing parliamentary majorities, and disseminating an ideology in schools and beyond that justifies capitalism. Capitalist hegemony would then keep anti-capitalist impulses disorganized or unable to build a social movement into a counter-hegemonic bloc strong enough to challenge capitalism’s hegemony.