Are there any parallels in recent history that will help us understand the predicament that the US finds itself in regarding systemic corruption and capitalistic power? At the dawn of the 1990’s the Soviet Union seemed to be on the verge of true change in favor of civil liberties and more economic democracy. Gorbachev was dragging the USSR and the political cabal that ran it kicking and screaming towards a less authoritarian state socialism. We sadly never got the chance to see a former dictatorial superpower open up and reform its system. A right wing and capitalist sponsored coup toppled Gorbachev and killed the Soviet Union and ended a flawed but ongoing experiment towards state socialism and revolutionary reform. Boris Yeltsin and his capitalist supporters took pains to make themselves appear to be the harbingers of change and hope for Russia and they took steps they felt were justified by their show of force to speak “for” the people and “revolutionize” the Russian/Soviet system from the top down.
Certainly the USSR was no more or less violent than the US in its projection of power abroad and imperial expansion internally. It was at least founded upon an ideal of human equality and workers rights, whereas the USA was founded as a Republican and Capitalist state that depended upon slavery and economic exploitation for its very existence. The Russian Revolution showed that a nation could kill absolute state power and control by popular protest and revolutionary action. It also showed that the people must be wary of trusting power to brash and egotistical “leaders” who want to create a top down state socialist system. Utopian aims were used as an excuse to acquire and abuse enormous amounts of state power and cultural control. While the US consumed the resources and people of the non-”western” world and exploited its minority communities at home the USSR consumed its own people as a resource for societal engineering on a horrifying and awe-inspiring scale.
In 1990-91 there was a chance for a new stage of the Soviet experiment but that chance was smothered in its cradle. Today as a result Russia is a gang-ridden, crony-capitalist big brother state with a dictator at the helm and the people more exploited and impoverished now since they have been since the collapse of the Soviet system. The state that once enforced loyalty to the state socialist system now enforces loyalty to the pary of Putin, the Billionaire State-Subsidized energy barons, and the increasingly bigoted and radical Russian Orthodox Church. LGBT people and their supporters are beaten openly in the streets, political groups are banned or harassed, journalists are threatened or “disappeared” and artists, like the revolutionary anarchist artist collective Pussy Riot, are persecuted and imprisoned. Rates of alcoholism, domestic violence, homelessness and poverty are through the roof and if you happen to be an ethnic minority your chances for a stable safe life are even lower. Corporations own the natural resources of the nation and write the laws that allow them to manipulate and exploit workers. Russia is a Neo-Feudal kleptocracy on a scale not seen since the Czar and his family were dragged from their palaces and shot.
Does this seem like a problem unique to Russia? Are the “dirty reds” paying the price for their flawed socialist delusions? Is this sort of societal and economic collapse unique to the Russian experience? It is worth looking at the conditions extant in the other superpower on the world stage in order to investigate. The United States has been shaken to its core by a series of economic disasters of epic proportions. The political system is deadlocked and the people are beginning to demand reform of the Market System and the government that manipulates and profits from its continuation and expansion. Capitalism itself is facing a crisis as more and more power is placed in the hands of fewer and fewer companies and individuals. The government supports, incentivises and promotes this monopolization of all industry and all resources. This leads to a state where the worker as alienated as is possible from the product of his labor and the means of production itself. The American working public must “compete” against the miniscule wages and abysmal working standards of the corporate slaves employed in the “third world”. As Lenin observed in his Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism
Free competition is the basic feature of capitalism, and of commodity production generally; monopoly is the exact opposite of free competition, but we have seen the latter being transformed into monopoly before our eyes, creating large-scale industry and forcing out small industry, replacing large-scale by still larger-scale industry, and carrying concentration of production and capital to the point where out of it has grown and is growing monopoly: cartels, syndicates and trusts, and merging with them, the capital of a dozen or so banks, which manipulate thousands of millions 1
With the banks that finance the monopolies guaranteed a “bailout” by the “democratic” government there is no incentive for reform within the capitalist edifice. The “concentration”, as Lenin put it, is therefore inevitable as are the side-effects of a fully consolidated capitalist oligarchy. With full financial support from the government and with an enormous corporate welfare system in place the financial and corporate sectors have rebounded dramatically with no commensurate increase in worker pay or employment prospects. The corporations demand more and more cheap unskilled labor and demand a level of unemployment that will make it easier for them to use “market forces” as an excuse to further suppress wages and workers rights. In Chapter 25 of Das Kapital Marx tells us
It is the absolute interest of every capitalist to press a given quantity of labour out of a smaller, rather than a greater number of labourers, if the cost is about the same […] The more extended the scale of production, the stronger this motive. Its force increases with the accumulation of capital.
The explosion of debt that comes from the glut of spending on behalf of Corporate and financial interests plays into to a conservative reaction against all government spending, which is erroneously seen to weighted in favor of the poor and working classes. This conservative backlash is encouraged by “libertarian” businessmen and political leaders who stoke conservative fears of draconian “wealth confiscation” by the government in favor of the “freeloaders” (assumed to be racial minorities, immigrants, young people, and the poor) in order to have further support for their austerity plans. Austerity is essentially regressive tax on the working classes and the poor. While public sector spending on social welfare programs, education, healthcare and poverty is cut or eliminated entirely spending on corporate welfare increases exponentially and the cycle repeats itself ad nauseum. Increased poverty, desperation and the closing off of “economic/social mobility” leads to desperation in the population, with some turning to nationalistic, jingoistic and radical libertarian movements as way to express their rage and frustration. This sort of angst is easily manipulated by the political parties into any number of bigoted policies against hated or feared minorities and the working poor.
Whether it is Obama or Yeltsin or anyone else the problem is that politicians of any political persuasion will always seek to personify “hope” and “change” in order to usurp the legitimate power of the people. They will tell us that circumstances dictate what must be done and that they alone (or at least with the token support of those people allowed the vote and choose to exercise it) can bring about needed reform and administer justice. This is a false paradigm and one that must be overthrown. The people must dictate what is to be done and they must be central to the process of reform and revolution. Change cannot come from the top down and it cannot come from political operatives who claim the mantle of “hope”. Any man who claims to be the personification of human striving and dignity is most likely the one who will destroys hope and demeans the people in the name of preservation of the status quo. These are the real facts on the ground and they do not change from person to person or from place to place.