If "Progressives" Didn't Exist, Big Business Would Have to Invent Them
by Kevin Carson
Daily Kos recently reprinted a popular column that periodically makes the rounds (“75 Ways Socialism Has Improved America”) by someone using the nom de plume TheNewDeal00.
Not just “75 Examples of Socialism,” mind you, but “improvements.” Going down the list, you’ll notice items like “The Military/National Defense,” “War,” “The Pentagon,” “Homeland Security,” and so forth, that mainly involve murdering or imprisoning people at home and abroad. The relentlessly positive spin on each item, including the most authoritarian aspects of the National Security State and Military-Industrial Complex, suggests we’re dealing with the kind of reflexive liberal for whom anything done by government is automatically “progressive.”
It’s a fairly common specimen, unfortunately. There’s a certain kind of liberal whose vision of “progress” deems anything called “regulation” good, because — by definition — it’s a restraint on corporate power. Further, anything funded or controlled by the state is “socialism.” This was the mindset of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who treated big government and big business as diametrically opposed, identifying “liberalism” as an idealistic movement characterized by the use of state power to restrain the excesses of big business.
But state ownership, funding and control do not, as such, constitute “socialism.” In fact a defining characteristic of monopoly capitalism is increased state involvement in the economy. Most state activity, far from restraining big business, actually props it up. If we go down TheNewDeal00′s list, we see that most of the enumerated functions in some way maintain the structural prerequisites for corporate capitalism.
“National Defense” and “War” stuff, it goes without saying, serves primarily to impose corporate capitalism on the rest of the world — guaranteeing transnational corporate access to natural resources, by force when necessary, and serving as enforcement arm for the global legal and political framework of the World Bank, IMF, WTO, GATT, and assorted “intellectual property” accords. The reason the U.S. government spent decades installing dictators in most of Latin America, the Philippines, Iran, South Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Congo was to keep the world safe for corporate power.
The military-industrial complex serves another vital role for big business: It absorbs a great deal of excess production capacity and surplus capital when private demand is insufficient to keep the wheels of industry running.
My favorite, for sheer liberal naivete, is the highway system, “created for all of us to use”: “That’s right, a republican president created our taxpayer funded, national highway system. This was a different time, before the republican party came down with a vicious case of rabies that never went away.”
Would this be the Interstate Highway System created under the supervision of Defense Secretary (and former General Motors CEO) Charles Wilson, famous for the phrase “What’s good for America is good for GM?” The main effect of the Interstates was to lower the cost of distribution, artificially increasing the size and market area of the typical firm, and enabling national big box chains to drive local retail out of business. Or the local freeway systems, the top priority of local governments owned lock, stock and barrel by real estate developers? These subsidized freeway systems are the main culprit behind suburban monoculture, sprawl, and the car culture.
Farm subsidies? Only the most naive goo-goo thinks the USDA serves any interests other than those of Monsanto, Cargill and ADM.
Public schools and prisons? The first state public school systems were created in the 19th century to produce factory workers conditioned to show up on time, line up on command, eat and pee at the sound of a bell, and take orders from authority figures behind desks. Their primary purpose is to process children into docile human resources sufficiently skilled to undertake the labor demanded of them, but not educated above their station in life.
When the schools fail at creating an easily manageable work force, the criminal justice system takes over in maintaining social control. Thanks to the Drug War, one of the most potentially radicalizable segments of the population — inner city blacks — are kept under tight surveillance (something like one third of black males are entangled in some component of the criminal justice system). The United States has a larger prison population than China, much of it providing slave labor for corporations.
As for cops and Homeland Security, who do you think it was firing tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets at Occupy protestors last year?
Naive liberals like TheNewDeal00 who embarrass themselves writing stuff like this just go to show that liberalism has nothing to do with the genuine Left.
Genuine Leftists take a far different view of things. Marx called the state, quite accurately, the Executive Committee of the Ruling Class. Engels wrote that, in the most advanced stage of capitalism, capitalists would operate through their state to manage the economy in cases where they were incapable of doing so through purely private means. The nationalization of railroads, telegraphs, and mines, and the creation of welfare states under so-called “social democracies,” he wrote, was simply a function of the capitalist state.
New Left historian Gabriel Kolko argued that the main function of the regulatory state was to enforce regulatory cartels, restrict competition, and thereby stabilize oligopoly markets against the threat of competition. Neo-Marxist James O’Connor wrote that the state has steadily socialized the operating costs of big business — or, as Noam Chomsky put it, socialized risk and cost while privatizing profit.
Market anarchists, especially left-wing market anarchists like me and my comrades at Center for a Stateless Society, know what the state is about. It’s not a restraint on private power; it’s the instrument of private power. Its central function is to suppress competition, create artificial property, and enable economic ruling classes to extract rents. Our economy, in its fundamental structure, is an alliance between big business and big government. Conservatives who denounce Barack Obama as a “socialist,” and Progressives who praise the corporate state as “socialist,” are just useful idiots for corporate power.
Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center's Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He is a mutualist and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. Carson has also written for such print publications as The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty and a variety of internet-based journals and blogs, including Just Things, The Art of the Possible, the P2P Foundation, and his own Mutualist Blog.
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