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Learn about, Be Explicit about, Capitalism

I had working-class and raised-poor parents. My raised-poor mom pushed me hard to be middle class. My dad was proud to be a working-class guy. I married a raised-poor man who got the G.I. Bill (government education funds for veterans of war) to pay for college. He then worked as an engineer with a large corporation. We lived a middle-class life after the first few years of marriage.

I was a social worker in a hospital in the early years of our life together and was shocked to see the hardships of poor and working-class people, whose experience had been hidden from me at the schools I attended. I was angry at how they were treated by most social service agencies. I often went home and cried about it and about my inability to find the resources they needed. Family, friends, and people at church responded more to my discomfort than to the injustice. I found that equally shocking and frustrating.

Dan Nickerson1 recently asked those of us on the RC working-class e-mail discussion list to say what we thought about capitalism. Could it be controlled or reformed, or did it need to go the way of slavery and feudalism?

LEARNING ABOUT CAPITALISM

I was slow to understand the nature of capitalism. For many years I thought that if we could just make democracy work well enough, we could control or regulate capitalism so that it would be okay. For years I heard from a few RC leaders about “a classless society” and “the contradictions of capitalism,” but that tiny trickle of hints was not enough. I finally began reading more. Each year, for ten years, I read several books about economics and the history of capitalism. I wanted to understand this economic system. When did it start? What happened to people during its early years and as it became more dominant?

Millions of people have been brought into the middle class and had materially better lives in part due to capitalism. Capitalism may have also encouraged inventiveness and creativity. However, over the three to four hundred years during which it has dominated our economy, it has utterly ruined and made miserable millions of lives. It has also destroyed much of the beauty and health of the world’s plant and animal resources. Capitalism now threatens the health of almost every creature on land and in the seas. Experts say that in the 1980s or even earlier, we surpassed the capacity of the earth to sustain the “economic growth” that capitalism has demanded in order to remain somewhat stable.

Can democracy modify or control or regulate modern-day capitalism enough to restore the balance that has been destroyed? I don’t think so. Enormous wealth and power have accumulated in the hands of very few people. As a result, U.S. democracy may be beyond repair without revolutionary change. I suspect this is also true worldwide.

NEEDING MORE HELP

I have spent most of my life (I am now almost seventy-seven) poorly informed about the nature of capitalism. I have been Co-Counseling for over forty-four years and have attended a great number of RC workshops. I’ve led on environmental issues and women’s issues in the wider world. But not enough information was presented for me to really understand this economic system that dominates the world today.

I’ve been in a feminist book club for forty-five years. No one in it but me says anything about capitalism. No one in my church, which has some activists within its ranks, says anything about capitalism. No one in my precinct Democratic Party2 says anything about capitalism. (I did finally find a mostly African-heritage-led environmental group in which one speaker said something about how capitalism had greatly damaged the environment in our state.) For me, and for many good people wanting to work for justice, there is only the slightest trickle of clues about what the problem is.

We Co-Counselors live in a world that seldom provides sound information about capitalism. We also encounter the misinformation, fear, and persistent societal patterns that defend capitalism as the only way to go. And we are busy—Co-Counseling, attending workshops, making a living, raising families, and doing things to improve the world. We need more help to understand the specific history and problems associated with capitalism.

OVERCOMING THE OBSTACLES

Now that I understand more, my struggle is to persistently express the truth about capitalism in the face of almost universal disapproval and lack of understanding. I am writing a book in which I give a detailed analysis of capitalism. I include information about alternatives to this economic system, which abound all around us but get no attention.

I think that because RC is so dominated by middle-class people, two common patterns get in our way.

1) Those of us in the middle class “feel” stuck about getting working-class people into RC classes. But we are not really stuck. We all have lots of contact with working-class people and have the skills to build relationships with them.

2) We wonder, “Can I handle all the distresses that working-class people might bring to my RC classes?” This is a middle-class fear, from the conditions created by capitalism. (We also often feel like we must “fix” people rather than empower them.)

To think clearly about our economic situation, we need far more than a drip and trickle of hints and phrases about it. More of us can start reading and learning for ourselves. We can formulate a vision of a cooperative society and articulate it clearly and often. There are many cooperative endeavors that point in the direction of a classless society—non-profits, advocacy groups, worker-owned businesses, land conservancies and trusts, fisher-people cooperatives, religious organizations, food-producing operations, and more—and talking about these would work well at any RC event and on most occasions.

We also need to develop in our Communities a strong core of working-class leaders. With counseling support, they will make the trickle of hints and phrases into a major stream for justice, and together we’ll be able to build the new world we all yearn for.

Anne Mackie
Cary, North Carolina, USA

Reprinted from the e-mail discussion
list for RC Community members


1 Dan Nickerson is the International Liberation Reference Person for Working-Class People.
2 A precinct Democratic Party is the most local organization of the Democratic Party, the more progressive of the two main political parties in the United States.


Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00