By John Slaughter
There is no scene more tragic in all of America than that of a family’s belongings piled in mounds in front of their foreclosed home. Kicked to the curb. Yet that image has come to characterize the very nature of the economic crisis we are now enduring. Millions are being dispossessed of their homes, but also their jobs, their health care, their kids’ education, their pensions. The 95 percent of us that the politicians like to call the middle class are being forcefully transformed into a new class of dispossessed, robbed of our very livelihood.
Why is this happening? It is rooted in the breaking down of the economic system which forms the foundation of our society. Those who rule this society would like to have us believe that the crisis has been brought on by the greed and excesses of a few speculators on Wall Street. The truth is that greed, as the law of the maximization of profits, is what drives the capitalist system of production, and that has led to the irrevocable rupturing of the mode of production of society.
To put it another way, we had a deal, and that deal was that workers would work for the capitalists for a wage, and in turn the capitalists would be allowed to exploit the labor of the workers and sell the commodities they produce for a profit. It never was a good deal, but what we might otherwise call the social contract was that the wages of the workers would be enough to allow us to procure the things we need, including our health care and education, our security in our retirement years. But the drive to maximize profits led to the workers being forced to work longer and harder for less and less pay.
Finally, the capitalists introduced a new technology into production – electronics, computers, robots – that permanently replaces workers, and that is what is at the root of the crisis. Laborless production means wageless workers, and workers without money cannot purchase the very goods they produce. It is the first act of dispossession, and it gives rise to all the rest. The social contract is ripped.
Meanwhile, while we are being kicked to the curb, the corporations have moved to take over the government and to run it in their own interests. Some are describing this as a kind of Wall Street socialism, the end of capitalism as we know it, even going so far as to nationalize the banking and financial system. Others call this reorganization a “new capitalism” in which the government takes a direct role in the operations of the economic and financial system. Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz describes the new capitalism as “a public-private partnership where the ‘private’ gets the profits and the ‘public’ gets the losses.”
We the dispossessed are also being dispossessed of our government. Nationalization in the hands of the corporations is devastating. But in our hands? A new social contract written by we dispossessed could take the form of the nationalization in our interests of health care, education, energy, all of the things we need to live a full human life. Such nationalization of vital services could be a step toward a whole new kind of society, a cooperative society where each of us contributes according to his or her ability, and receives from society what we need. Now that would be a new America to which we all could subscribe.
We, the people. We, the dispossessed. We are America, and there is no higher patriotism than the fight for a new America that is based upon a program written in the interests of we dispossessed, and of a government that is of, by and for the people. We have to get beyond waiting for our bailout. The corporate/government solution has proven that no one is going to give us anything. We have to be about re-possessing what has been taken from us. If we are to attain a new America organized in our interests, we have to make this country our own.