Are you free if you have to work 80 hours a week to provide food and necessities for the people who depend on you? Are you truly free if you’re living paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford to get sick because you have a pre-existing condition? These are some of the many questions that have been on my mind lately and that have been brought up by prominent voices in the Democratic Socialist movement. Though Socialism and left-wing thought in general have many differing factions, ideological camps, and movements, most of them are united by a common goal; changing the Capitalist system. Capitalism is more than just an economic system, but it is an ideology that also permeates through our lives culturally, politically, and socially. Because of this all-encompassing nature, it can be hard to imagine what changing that system would look like, but the need for change is obvious.
In order to understand the appeal of Socialism (or why Capitalism needs to be changed in general) one must begin with an understanding of Capitalism itself. In its simplest terms, Capitalism is a market/commercial system in which industries (the means of production) are owned privately. It is important to note the difference between personal property, like your house and toothbrush, and private property, like a factory or another type of business. The underlying issue in Liberal Capitalism, especially Neo-liberal Capitalism, is that economic and political power becomes consolidated within a ruling class which ignores the needs of the vast majority of people living within the system.
Before delving into the virtues of Socialism, I’d like to address a few common misconceptions. Firstly, Capitalism is not human nature. Commerce and trade have been around for the vast majority of history, but Capitalism is a relatively new system, with roots in European Feudalism and Mercantilism, the system was crystalized by theorists like Adam Smith in the wake of the industrial revolution during mid-18th century. Unlike Communism, Socialism does not require a state planned economy, though some veins of socialist thought do, others, like Democratic-Socialism would not require the same level of centralization as the Communist Chinese or Soviet economies. The examples of Communist China and Russia are frequently used to decry Socialism in general. Millions died due to the regimes that were in power, and it would be absurd to ignore that fact. It would be even more absurd to ignore the deaths that have been caused by Capitalism, and the deaths that it continues to produce. Colonialism was a direct byproduct of Capitalism, which resulted in millions of deaths. The United States has waged countless covert and overt wars through the military and national security state that have enabled the domination of developing nations by international (American) Capitalist interests. Not to mention the military industrial complex which directly links violence and Capitalism through a profit motive; we would not manufacture Geneva-Convention banned weapons in the United States if it weren’t for Capitalism. Above all else, it is important to note that Capitalism needs an underclass, and the system is rigged to keep certain populations in the underclass. For every historical example someone lobs at Socialism, I could name three more instances in which Capitalism has fueled even more destruction.
In a perfect world, everyone would have equal access to the marketplace, would have equal opportunities (or even an opportunity) to accrue capital, hierarchical systems like racism, patriarchy, heteronormativity, and others would not exist, and human greed would not be sending us on a crash course with environmental catastrophe. However, this is not the world we live in, and therefore, we cannot rely on Capitalism to give us a solution. The invisible hand of the market works to perpetuate status quo, not improve it. We’re living in an era of unparalleled income inequality, and capital is so concentrated in the upper class that the ultra-wealthy do not work or contribute to society, they merely own and pass their capital possessions on to their progeny. Socialism gives us an alternative to this system through radical democratization at the work place, in government, and socially in order to create a more equal and equitable society in which the needs of every person can be met. With the ever increasing pace of technological advancements and automation, we’re increasingly becoming more and more able to provide to those in need, but when there is not a profit motive for it, it will not be done under Capitalism. Feudalism was probably preferable to tribalism, and eventually we will have to move on from Capitalism. I believe that we must strive for a better system, for ourselves, our communities, and our planet.
—Lukas Kret, Senior Political Science Major