[sixties-l] Re: corporations

From: Ted Morgan (epm2@lehigh.edu)
Date: Mon Jul 17 2000 - 17:48:14 CUT

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    This is an interesting thread. It seems that, a few posts back, Bill,
    you read my response to you as a defense of what gets called "socialism"
    --i.e., the state-socialist Communist bloc countries-- as part of my
    criticism of capitalism. [I also sensed that my comment about your
    "buying into" the 2-alternatives dichotomy rubbed you the wrong way
    --apologies if it seemed inflammatory; it wasn't meant to!] That would
    by no means be the primary thrust of my criticism. I consider the
    state-socialist/authoritarian systems to be a very clearly 'failed
    experiment.' Not only did they fail to produce adequate material
    comforts for their populations (for a variety of reasons, including
    those that others have mentioned --i.e., their perceived need to
    mobilize for massive economic take off, their perceived need to match
    the hostile West in military development, etc.), but more important,
    they were at times horrifically brutal and authoritarian in their
    control of their populations.

    So, let's put that aside, ok? I'm sure no one on this list (well, maybe
    no one) would embrace those systems. I also believe that Marx himself
    would have shuddered at what his theories and predictive work has turned
    into. On the other hand, your comment, ("By every measure of human
    welfare --life expectancy, health, education, whatever -- people are
    better off in the "developed" capitalist countries than anywhere else")
    puts, I think, too quick a spin on things. For one thing, with respect
    to the developed (vs. 'non-developed') part of this statement, one has
    to bear in mind the fundamental fact at a good piece of the development
    you speak of comes about because it is grounded in exploitation of the
    'undeveloped' world. That has alot to do with these statistical
    advantages. Second, with respect to capitalism-'communism,' I think you
    too quickly dismiss the actual human welfare accomplishments of at least
    some of these systems --e.g., the improvements in human health,
    nutrition, education, etc. that have been brought into effect in places
    like Cuba & Nicaragua under diverse leftist regimes. Check out, for
    example, what happened to infant mortality rates, literacy levels
    housing after the Sandinistas took power in Nicaragua --then compare
    what's happened since they lost power and the market-friendly (US
    sponsored) regimes took over.]

    But more importantly, I think it's also the case that capitalism is a
    'failed experiment.' At least any 'capitalism' that we can see &
    recognize. I have not been convinced that markets of all kinds should
    be thrown out (as Michael Albert of Znet argues, for example), though I
    realize they contain within them the seeds of what we have today. There
    are, however, many reasons to think imaginatively and organize
    politically to move beyond capitalism (and I believe that real
    democracy/ 'deep democracy'/ 'radical democracy' should be our guide in
    this project.

    To expand just a bit. In rejecting what Paula has said about
    "syndicates" & worker-owned cooperatives, etc., Bill commented: "As to
    workers' collectives or co-ops, there is a long history, with a very
    rich literature, pertaining to the Soviet Union, the United States, and
    other countries, showing that industry
    functions best when a single individual gives the orders. Unpleasant but
    true. Production and workers' collective co-ops may last a decade or
    two. They usually don't. Absolutely none have the longevity of the
    greatest corporations..."
    Two points: (1) I'd like to hear more about this literature showing that
    the "single-individual giving orders" is what "functions best" (in what
    sense? economic productivity? efficiency? worker satisfaction?). The
    literature that I'm somewhat familiar with (e.g., Bowles & Gintis, and
    works they've cited in Capitalism & Democracy) points to the higher
    levels of productivity in a number of the worker-owned collectives/
    cooperatives. (2). You're probably right about longevity, vs.
    corporations. BUT, one has to take into account the context (heavily
    imbalanced marketplace) within which this is all taking place. Existing
    heavily capitalized corporate conglomerates will and do consistently
    take whatever steps they can --with considerable influence over the
    political process-- to shore up their competitive advantages.
    Undercapitalized industries (and poor regions & localities) are at a
    huge competitive disadvantage in a 'market' in which they compete
    against these mega-corporations. Among the many tactics corporations
    pursue are (a) controlling innovation, (b) engaging in 'price wars'
    (recall the airlines & trucking industries after deregulation) which
    have the effect of reducing profitability in smaller-scale enterprises
    that can't live off accumulated capital as long, leading to (c) buying
    out these "economic losers" and thus further accumulating market
    control, etc. It should come as no surprise then, in a 'market' system
    defined by these political rules, that these experiments, etc. find they
    can't compete in selling their goods. It's the same thing today, in a
    sense, within globalizing capitalism. Why DO Vietnam, China, etc.
    'embrace' the "market?" Why do a "socialist government" in France, and
    more recently social-democratic parties in control in the UK, Germany,
    etc. move in the direction of neo-liberalism? Two reasons, really, for
    the latter: (a) they are heavily influenced by the corporate money
    they've come to rely on to achieve political success, and (b) external
    forces have shaped the rules they have to play by to succeed --i.e., if
    the UK doesn't want to go down the tubes, it needs to "attract capital,"
    etc. To do that, they "must" lower their labor protection, their
    environmental protections, their social welfare spending, etc. This
    cannot all be attributed to some economic/efficiency 'superiority" of
    corporations (though it does provide the basis for powerful & persuasive
    propaganda to that effect).

    Finally, Bill, you and Marty bring up the unchallenged fact that people
    all over the world clearly "want" the kind of material goods that our
    system can bring them.
    Again, I think there is something in this, but it's too quick a gloss.
    Consider (a) the atrocious conditions they live under, and the degree to
    which, so some extent, those are due to colonial/imperial/post-imperial
    exploitation, (b) the fact that there is a great deal of "advertising"
    for the great things they will gain by coming to the US, by buying all
    sorts of stuff, etc. In fact, it's pretty constant 'advertising' that
    is spreading more and more throughout the world, shaping people's
    expectations of what is 'worth while.' But there's a huge gap between
    the advertisement and the 'product' --in so many ways-- and this IS
    crucial in evaluating this system we live under. Consider (only one of
    several applicable examples) the immigrants lured to American shores by
    the promise of a better life. Yes --true, no doubt-- in many
    circumstances (back to #1). But, it's also false: slum squalor, brutal
    exploitation, horrific conditions, etc. in a system which makes it
    extremely difficult to hold on to the cultural richness & traditions
    they bring with them. And this system REQUIRES this exploitation of
    SOMEONE, even as some are able, in a generation or two, to move up into
    the middle class. I'm reminded (since this is a sixties list) of
    Bernice Reagon's quote: "The Civil Rights Movement exposed the basic
    structure of the country, which, as it's set up, cannot sustain itself
    without oppressing someone."
    I think we need to organize for something different! I don't consider
    this a "running down" the United States argument --though that's, of
    course, how the Right (and Center) like to spin it.

    Ted Morgan

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