Can capitalism save democracy?

BY: Scott Hiley| October 28, 2018
QI want to say at once: I was born and live in Russia, so I immediately apologize for possible errors in the text. I am very interested in the political struggle in the USA, because on the Internet I often see young, energetic Americans who take to the streets with posters and slogans in support of communism, socialism or other left-wing, macrsite ideas. It surprises me. I myself am a student, and I myself participate in a political struggle, but already in Russia. And this is what I want to say: young people in Russia act in a completely different way. We take to the streets in support of right-wing ideas, libertarian values, and advocate capitalism free from pressure. We oppose Putin and his regime because he is a former KGB officer who is nostalgic for Soviet times and is trying to crush the market and business with government intervention. The Russians are the only people who have felt the fullness of the ideas of Marx and Lenin. We lived in the times of socialism, our parents sought communism, and what did this lead to? We do not want to go back to the times of Red Russia, because these times are monstrous. And while we rejoice for the Americans who have chosen the real capitalist Trump, the Americans want to overthrow him. It's funny, but only from the side. America is a great country, and it has become so thanks to the principles of capitalism, on the dollar system keeps the entire world economy. In socialism, we see a threat to this system. You are theorists who have never lived in a socialist system. We lived and know what it is. We know what a team, state economy looks like. We know what it is like to go out into the streets in the pouring rain with red posters and march, and say, “Thank you the Party for our happy childhood!” When everyone wants to go home as quickly as possible. We know what it is like when the rate of your currency is shaped not by free competition, but in the offices of officials. We know how to live in a world of universal equality and closed borders. Believe me, I do not wish America such a fate, and therefore I wonder why this is what you want.
AHello, and thank you for writing to us.  I will say the same thing: I apologize if I have misunderstood something about the political situation in Russia.

To us, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin seem very similar. Both are capitalists (in the literal sense: both got their fortune from owning companies).  Both are right-wing nationalists and both use a cult of personality as their main political tool. Both make alliances with reactionary Christian groups. Both use state power to advance the interests of billionaires over those of ordinary citizens.  Neither values democracy or a free press, and neither cares anything about the working class--even though both pretend to be men of the people.

Your overall question, which is about democracy and how we get there, reminds me of something that Lenin said in a speech on the fourth anniversary of the October Revolution: capitalist democracy cannot fulfill its promises. 

Just after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ruling class of my country fully embraced the economic policy called neoliberalism: deregulation, privatization, lower taxes on the rich, and cuts to social services for the poor.  They promised that the free market would protect democracy and promote economic opportunity.

So where are we now, almost thirty years later?  Forty percent of the children in my country live in families who do not earn enough to pay for the basic necessities of life.  Most people in my generation  live paycheck to paycheck, with no savings and no plan for retirement, because all benefits of economic growth go to shareholders, not workers. The average life expectancy is decreasing because our private, for-profit health care system is extremely inefficient. The cost of university education has more than doubled in the last 30 years, leaving students trapped in debt.  And the Republican Party (the main party of big business) is passing laws that limit the democratic rights of citizens, but expand the rights of corporations.

Capitalism has failed the people of our country. We study and learn from the Soviet example, especially Lenin's works, but we are not trying to rebuild the Soviet Union or create a one-party state under Communist rule. We are trying to help our people take the next step forward in the struggle for democracy.  Our vision of socialism is a multi-party state under the control of the working class majority, who will make collective decisions about the use of publicly owned resources.  You can read about it here.

Anyway, since it sounds like we're both struggling against corrupt, right-wing, nationalist leaders, I wish you the best.  But I agree with Lenin: if you pursue democracy far enough, eventually you will have to go beyond capitalism.

P.S. , but I was punished at school when I refused to salute the American flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to our country.  Indoctrination and propaganda are just as intense from the capitalist side.
    Scott Hiley has taught French, literature, history, and philosophy at the high school, college, and post-graduate levels.  A member of CPUSA since 2010, he is active in struggles against austerity and for education justice and labor rights. His articles have appeared in the People's World (US), the Morning Star (UK), and l'Humanité (France). He lives in a rural town in upstate NY.

Comments (2)

David | December 10, 2018 at 10:09 AM

This is an interesting discussion. I would like to add to it by pointing out some of my reactions to growing up in the USA. (1) Many of the best things in the USA, such as we often see on TV, are only available to the wealthy. (2) Like many others in the working class, I have difficulty getting decent medical and dental care due to lack of money and lack of good insurance. Even when I was working and had insurance through my job, it was a low paying job and I could not afford copayments. Therefore I went without good medical care and totally without dental care for years. I was afraid of getting sick because I lived paycheck to paycheck. I was afraid of losing my job because of sickness, injury, or any other reason, because I would probably become homeless. I was afraid when I was driving to and from work because my car was old and I could not afford repairs if something went wrong. All this after having worked like an animal, doing twelve-hour shifts, at a menial job. Once I had a much higher paying job, but that was before there was mass replacement of American workers with cheaper foreign labor, all done with the purpose of maximizing the profit of the capitalist oppressors at the expense of the workers. (3) I know that I was lied to when I was younger about the USSR. For example, I remember seeing a program with the commentator George Putnam. He said that the reason we never see photographs of smiling and laughing Russians is because they live under Communism and are always miserable. I saw many other false portrayals of Russians and the Soviet Union. (4) Russia was kept backward for centuries by the Czarist system. Once the Bolsheviks took over, the country quickly industrialized and developed to the point where it could take on Germany, the mightiest nation in Europe. Literacy was wiped out and there was universal free education and free health care. Can you think of any other society in history that went from the level of Russia in 1917 to Russian in 1941? Would this have been possible under any other system?

Of course I have read about problems in the Soviet system. Of course no system is perfect, and to expect a perfect society to exist at this stage of history is not reasonable. But we should consider whether a society’s goal is to benefit the workers or the exploiters.

I could raise many other points about problems we have in this society. “Freedom” and “justice” are fine slogans, but where is the freedom and justice for a worker in our legal system, where your financial status often determines the result of a case? For example, we have the death penalty, but when is the last time a wealthy person was executed? The wealthy in our system can afford the best lawyers.

How about education? One would think that in a sane society, every student would be able to attend school and university up to their ability at no cost to themselves, regardless of their financial situation. This makes sense because having educated workers is better for everyone. But here many people must work even in high school as well as when they attend university. Many are saddled with very high student loans, and then can’t find a decent job. Meanwhile the exploiters outsource jobs to other countries.

Things are not that good here for many workers. Most workers have no job security. There is no right to a job in the USA, just as there is no right to a home or to medical care. In many cases, a company can fire a worker for any reason or for no reason, and there is nothing the worker can do about it.

Let me mention one other problem we have here in the USA. I feel quite strongly about this since it concerns the rights of children. We still have corporal punishment in schools in some states. I recall that in the Soviet Union this practice of beating children was banned. But here in the USA the practice is widely praised.

These are just a few of my comments which indicate how the USA is far from an ideal society, and how perhaps in some ways the USSR had better policies. That is all for now. If you like my comments, please post them. Perhaps this will encourage me to comment again. Thank you.

Gary Mueller | October 30, 2018 at 10:02 PM

I am becoming quite a fan of yours Mr. Hiley.

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