Radicalism, as in 'the root and heart of the matter'

Harry L. Cook offers a number of important points in his commentary "Is radicalism vindicated?" (see March 18 Tidings). Crucially, he accepts that "recent potentially catastrophic developments on both the political and economic (financial) sides (of capitalism) do make you wonder" about the viability of that system of political economy.

He also notes explicitly how, in practice, the capitalist "economy" has broken entirely free of any "political" restraints while, in fact, it stands in constant need of political cover, which it obtains through the corruption of both our electoral process and our political representatives themselves.

To cap it all, American "free market capitalism" is addicted to vastly expensive public financial support in order to sustain itself and huge taxpayer bailouts when it fails, as it does more and more frequently and catastrophically.

Harry clearly sees where we all stand with this development. As does Martin Wolf, of the Financial Times and arguably Britain's leading economist, who writes: "Another ideological god has failed. The assumptions that ruled policy and politics ("Free markets, good; government, bad.") over three decades suddenly look as outdated as revolutionary socialism." And, I would add, as shattered and, in the event, exposed as the false utopian swindle it always was.

Harry is correct in asking, "Where do we go from here?" And an answer must be provided, especially by those like myself, who have long rejected the myth of "democratic, free market capitalism" because it was none of those things — to say nothing of it being antithetical to Christianity, which is yet another matter.

To the task: What do we radicals propose? In the most general sense of what is needed, we propose an economic system embedded within a truly democratic, egalitarian, socially just and economically equitable society. My favorite statement on the matter is from Robert Heilbroner: "If socialism is to be a new form of socioeconomic formation then it must depend for its economic direction on some form of (democratically guided) planning, and for its culture, on some form of commitment to the idea of a morally conscious collectivity."

In our desire to overcome the deeply imbedded and indoctrinated myths surrounding capitalism, we "radicals" are at disadvantage. It's like criticizing Mother or the Fatherland, or Christmas — so many people take offense. As with all human endeavors, capitalism was and remains a historically determined contrivance or set of propositions. As such, it has many times in its career undergone structural and ideological changes, its devotees and beneficiaries always explaining, however falsely, that its essence never changed — very much like some religions which, in fact, it resembles.

Capitalism stole into the world unnoticed and certainly unannounced. This was to its advantage. In the 16th and 17th centuries, when it was but a fledgling form of economic organization, it was able to insinuate itself into a society undergoing profound and extensive transformations without causing much concern and without being seen as the "radical" agent of change it actually was.

The word itself, "capitalism," did not appear in English until late in the 19th century, appropriately with the word "unemployment." By the time the Western World realized what it had engendered, capitalism was in the driver's seat, and it has now achieved its fulfillment, apotheosis and utter collapse. Aside from ecological disaster, if we do not transcend its failures, it will leave no sign it ever existed.

So, what can replace it? As noted above, a democratic, ecologically sane economic system. We "radicals" see no real challenges in a democratically ordered economic system, one, let me emphasize, devoted to something other than profit, the exploitation of nature and striving for infinite "growth." The examples of two world wars indicate what is possible in terms of organizing society — millions of people — in a common effort for a common goal. The great advances in productive technology and in computerized responses to public needs demonstrate that satisfying our basic needs is quite possible. If Walmart, in its grubby profit-seeking, can collect and store more information than the Pentagon, be in contact with 140,000 "Point of Service" systems around the world and record 20 million customer transactions every day, it is clear that there is no technical reason why every citizen's basic needs could not be fairly produced and efficiently distributed in a democratically organized way.

The essentials for a decent human community consist of the essentials of any community: adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, medical care and access to nature and recreation. There is no need for the types of consumption that today are ruining our lives and habitat. Under such democratic direction, there may, or may not, be a function for "markets" other than local produce and crafts types. In any event, such a system could do no worse than the existing monstrosity.

Gerry Cavanaugh is a retired professor of history and social theory who has lived in Ashland for 15 years.

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