By Tiisetso ‘Afrika’ Makhele
In most platforms where I argue for socialism, I always get the brisk question; “Where has socialism worked?” My sincere belief is that the question that needs to be asked is; “Where has capitalism worked?” The latter question carries much more weight compared to the former question as the system of capital accumulation has been in existence for more than 500 years.
The socialist system, in contrast, was only experimented in the 20th century. Following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, socialism was exported in various nations in the world. Even during the existence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), capitalism continued to be a powerful economic system in the world. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 almost gave a blank cheque for imperialism – the highest stage of capitalism – to thrive.
While some nations, amongst them Cuba, China and North Korea, still pursue Marxist-Leninist policy positions, most nations of the world, South Africa included, are still predominantly capitalistic in policy outlook. So if we all agree that capitalism is the oldest system, and that it remains in existence in the majority of nations of the world, must we then not answer the question; “Where has capitalism worked?”
The failures of capitalism
Any attempt to search for the failures of capitalism, anywhere in the world, is equal to searching for the horse you are riding. In fact, those who claim not to see the failures and challenges of this centuries-old system display the highest form of political and economic absentmindedness. By its very nature, capitalism is a challenged system. It thrives on the exploitation of the sellers of labour power (workers), by those who are not really working, but who actually steal from workers by virtue of them being owners of the means of production.
Because the primary mandate of private firms is profit maximisation, bigger and more powerful owners of firms are always looking for ways to grow their capitalist interests and have greater market shares. Smaller, emerging entrepreneurs are either forcefully removed from the market, or are simply swallowed by these economic sharks. Bourgeois economists tell us that this is normal. We are told that this shows that market fundamentals are at play.
Below are some of the grave failures of capitalism:
- Financial inequality continues to rise unabated and more wealth is being concentrated in the hands of the few. According to Forbes, the world’s 10 richest billionaires own $505 billion in combined wealth. This sum is greater than the total value of goods and services produced by most nations on an annual basis. Bourgeois economists tell us that these people are entrepreneurs and, by virtue of them being “risk-takers”, they deserve this amount of wealth, at the expense of the world population.
- The crisis of poverty is deepening. Almost 50% of the world population (3 billion people) live on less than $2.50 dollars a day, while more than 1.3 billion live on extreme poverty (less than $1.25 a day). The United States, which is host to 46% of the world’s population of millionaires, has more than 550 000 homeless people. These poor, desperate people, who sleep on the streets of major cities like New York (home to the New York Stock Exchange), California, Los Angeles etc., often build structures that clearly expose the contradiction between greedy wealth accumulation and exploitation of the poor by the capitalist class. The above picture is a reality in most capitalist nations, South Africa included.
- Nation states are captured by private capital. The challenge of corporate state capture, unlike many believe, is not a South African problem. It is an inherent characteristic of capitalism. In the current context of global imperialism, powerful multinational corporations act like global economic cartels to influence the policy and legislative decisions of nation states. It is because of this arrangement that the wealthy Rothchilds family, amongst others, has stakes in almost all central banks in the world. These are real examples of state capture, brought to us by capitalism, and not incidences of alleged nepotism, fraud or corruption which are sometimes elevated to state capture.
- Commodification of essential services. Capitalism is very ruthless. A dying patient, whose chronic ailment has been caused by the gas emissions by a firm mining in his locality, is chased away from a private hospital because he does not have money to pay for healthcare. Because of economic crimes of collusions and price-fixings, the state, whose resources are limited, depletes her budget by paying exorbitant amounts on medication from pharmaceutical companies. The state is then unable to employ more nurses and staff. By the time the ailing patient mentioned above gets through a long queue at the public hospital, his body may have given up on the fight against disease. In short, capitalism literally kills people through commodification of health, education, etc. as well as evil collusions and other methods.
What needs to be done?
In the short term, progressive nations must collectively introduce wealth taxes in their countries. In the context of South Africa, there is a need for the nationalization of, amongst others, minerals and banking sectors. The South African Reserve Bank must be owned by the state. There must be a creation of a state pharmaceutical company. Collusions and price-fixing must be criminalized. But all these need a decisive and capable state, with a strong and effective party giving direction and providing oversight. And, lastly, workers of the world must unite to destroy capitalism, and bring about a socialist world order!
Makhele is an ANC member in Bram Fischer Branch, Mangaung Region, Free State. He writes in his personal capacity