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Exploding myths:

Capitalism, socialism & personal property

Published Oct 31, 2008 8:10 PM

On Wall Street the other day, at a rally demanding that public funds be used to bail out the people and not the bankers, no one had a kind word for capitalism.

Perhaps more remarkable, of the hundreds of workers from the area who stopped to listen, only one heckled the speakers. And he worked himself up into a real sweat because no one agreed with him.

Capitalism is a bad word these days. How many politicians or even financial experts and analysts are extolling its virtues, as they did only a year ago? Remember all the great wealth that capitalism was said to create? Remember how, even if some people were getting obscenely wealthy, enough of it would trickle down to the masses to make everyone happy?

Now, half that paper wealth is gone. (Paper is all that capitalist financial institutions create. It’s workers who create the real wealth, the wealth you can eat and wear and drive around.) The global stock markets have lost 51 percent of their value so far this year. And after the market collapse comes the collapse of production as layoffs begin. Disaster on a big scale is already here for the millions who have been losing their jobs and/or their homes.

Okay, capitalism is rotten and now a lot of people know it. So, what comes next?

This article is not about reforming capitalism. It’s an economic system, not just a policy that can be changed by putting in new CEOs or changing politicians and laws. Capitalism is driven by profits. The search for profits drives it to expand; the need to make profits also drives it to overproduce and implode into crisis. These cycles have been recurring for more than two centuries and no one has ever figured out a way to fix the system. When there’s a really major contraction of markets, capitalism “fixes” itself by destroying productive capacity—often in major wars, snuffing out the lives of millions of people and decimating their lands.

So this isn’t about trying to fix capitalism. It’s about getting rid of it entirely. But the next question is, what can replace it? What can get production going again, but this time on a rational basis, where everyone can get jobs making what society needs? Where the real wealth they create working together benefits everyone, not just a small class of super-rich?

The answer is a society where the means of production—factories, mines, railroads, the energy sources, all things used to create new wealth—are owned publicly, not privately. And that means socialism—a society where private property has been abolished.

Here’s where there is the most confusion about socialism. Those who really do benefit from capitalism will lie and tell you that under socialism you can’t have your own PERSONAL property. You can’t own your own home or your own boat, etc.

The truth is that your personal property—what you need to enjoy a secure and comfortable life—is a lot safer under socialism than under capitalism.

Until this economic crisis, tens of millions of people in the United States thought they owned their homes, their cars, their furniture and so on. Yes, they sent checks every month to the bank or the finance company, but if you asked them, it was their home, their car.

Ah, but it wasn’t. It belonged to the bank. The people weren’t really homeowners after all, were they? They had a contract. The small print said that after paying on a mortgage for something like 30 years, during which time they would fork over several times what the house was priced at, then they would be the owners.

Likewise, how many people really own their cars outright? Isn’t the real owner GMAC or some auto dealership? Won’t the repo man come and take it away if you don’t make your payments?

Personal property is very precarious under capitalism. For the vast majority, wages are too low to be able to buy outright all the things they need so they have to go into debt to get them.

But let’s say you’re lucky enough to have a good-paying job. Even workers who have managed to pay for their homes, cars and household goods can still lose them once the economy implodes. They may be faced with catastrophic medical costs because there is no socialized medicine. Or they can get laid off and then where will they get the money to live on? How many people are already selling many of their possessions to raise cash? Garage and yard sales are everywhere.

It is times like these that expose the illusion that capitalism protects personal property. Whether you bought on time or not, you can still lose everything.

What capitalism does protect big-time is capital—that is, the kind of private property that is used to exploit workers and create profits. That’s why the capitalist government was so quick to bail out the banks and corporations when they were facing bankruptcy. It has now spent trillions of the workers’ money to save the corporations and banks that exploit them.

Under socialism, the “right” to exploit other people doesn’t exist. That may hurt the way the superrich lead their lives, but it’s nothing most working people have to worry about.

What’s more important? The “right” to become a rich parasite? Or the right to a job, the right to a free education, the right to free quality medical care, the right to assistance if you can’t work, and the right to plan for your future without having to worry about cyclical capitalist economic crises? And, of course, the right to your personal property. All this is possible—not under capitalism, but definitely under socialism.