Sunday, January 14, 2018

The myths and realities in the film "The Post"

A review of the film

Produced and Directed by Steven Spielberg

Written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer

Starring: Meryl Streep as Katherine Graham, and Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee

Yesterday Judi and I viewed the film The Post. This film has a compelling story line as well as fine acting that dramatized the plot. However, while viewing the film I felt there was an elephant in the room that the writers of the script were extremely careful to ignore. So, in this blog I will first outline the narrative of the film and then write about the actual history of those times.

The Post

This film centers around thousands of pages of files that Daniel Ellsberg stole from the Rand Corporation that documented the United States policy in Vietnam for three decades. Ellsberg knew of these files because he worked for the former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. These files documented the fact that Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon all lied to the world about the war against the people of Vietnam.

The New York Times was the first newspaper to publicize these files. Then, the U.S. government sued the Times and they stopped their publication of this story.

At this time The Washington Post was sold on the stock market and there was a clause in the sale that the investors could withdraw their money one week after the sale. We also learn that the U.S. government initiated legal action that could have sent the owner and the editor of the Washington Post to prison for publishing this story.   

So, the owner of the Washington Post, Katherine Graham and her editor, Ben Bradlee had a decision to make. Should they risk the destruction of the Washington Post as well as prison sentences and publish the story? Or, should they take the advice of their legal staff and their board members and stop the publication of the story?

In the drama that unfolds we see Katherine Graham stand up to the advice of powerful men and make the decision to publish the story. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Washington Post.

The story behind the story

We can begin this narrative with the title of Ken Burns ten episode documentary titled, The Vietnam War. If we look up the word war in the dictionary we see that what happened in the horrendous conflict between Vietnam and the United States clearly was a war. However, the last war the United States declared against another nation was in World War II.

From what I can see, the war against the people of Southeast Asia was not a declared war, but an extended military engagement. Clearly, no one ever argued that the armed forces of the Vietnam ever invaded the United States. In fact, the capitol of Vietnam, Hanoi, is 7,649 miles away from Los Angeles, California.

This fact was not lost on the Vietnamese. They didn’t consider U.S. prisoners of this war to be prisoners of a war that had never been declared. They considered these prisoners to be criminals in their country. I don’t agree with this because any soldier who refused to be a part of the holocaust in Vietnam could be sent to prison in this country. The real criminals were the government officials like Robert McNamara who organized this extended military engagement by routinely lying to the people of the world.

So, in my opinion, the question to be asked isn’t just about why politicians lied about Vietnam, but why politicians routinely lie about their motives?

We can begin to see the answer to this question in the film The Post. We see the lifestyles of Katherine Graham and Robert McNamara who had been a business manager before working as Secretary of Defense. We see the opulent homes where they lived, the lavish dinner parties, and the full-time maids who tend to their needs.

No, the war against Vietnam didn’t erupt so Graham and McNamara would be able to live in opulence. However, the capitalist system is organized in such a way so that only a very small minority of the population will profit from the labor of working people who constitute the vast majority.

Understanding this reality, we can begin to see why the United States government made the decision to have an extended military engagement in Vietnam. We can also begin to see why the government felt the need to routinely lie about their motives.

We can see by beginning to understand that the First and Second World Wars had nothing to do with defending liberty, freedom, or democracy. No, those wars were about deciding what nation would become the capitalist super-power of the world. The United States capitalists were the winners of those wars.

After the Second World War liberation movements erupted in Guatemala, the Congo, Iran, Algeria, and Kenya. The United States intervened in an attempt to prevent liberation movements from taking power. Oftentimes the U.S. succeeded in installing puppet regimes that went along with U.S. corporate interests.

However, in Vietnam the United States government encountered a resistance they could not defeat. Many people who have looked at the war against Vietnam are familiar with the Tet Offensive. After the United States carried out an extensive bombing campaign in North Vietnam known as Operation Rolling Thunder, the Vietnamese launched their Tet Offensive where they attacked all the U.S. military installations in their homeland. The Vietnamese suffered horrendous losses in this offensive.

One thing I learned from the Ken Burns documentary was that the Tet Offensive was only one of the offensives launched by the Vietnamese. In all these offensives there was a horrendous loss of life to the Vietnamese.

However, this determination by the Vietnamese was, no doubt, the primary reason why the United States lost this war. Even U.S. military commanders were impressed with the fighting abilities of their Vietnamese opponents. The Vietnamese engaged in this war while experiencing the effects of eight-million tons of bombs and 19 million gallons of defoliants.   

The Civil War in the United States

Looking at this reality, I believe we can gain some perspective by looking at the Civil War in the United States. Today most historians argue that the primary issue of the Civil War was the need to overthrow the system of slavery. However, in those years this isn’t what the government argued. The government of President Lincoln argued that the issue dividing North and South was the fact that the South seceded and he viewed this as an act of treason. The southern states formed a new nation because of differences over the issue of slavery. So, even in those days, the government was not honest about their reasons for war.

Towards the end of the war the Confederate forces had fortified lines that the Union Army attacked over and over again. In the summer of 1865 the Union Army lost about 90,000 soldiers. This was a conscious decision by the Union to break the Confederate will to win using a strategy known as total war. This is the strategy that defeated the Confederacy. This same strategy defeated the United States armed forces in Vietnam.

As I’ve attempted to show the United States government always lies when it decides to go to war or an extended military engagement. We can recall the weapons of mass destruction lie used to justify the war against Iraq. In Vietnam the U.S. government lies were exposed because the Vietnamese had the tenacity to defeat the most powerful armed force in the world.

In the first five minutes of the film The Post we see a U.S. army squadron ambushed by the Vietnamese. This is the only glimmer in the film where we see any Vietnamese, who were, in essence, the central characters of this story.

Yes, it did take a bit of courage to publish the Ellsberg Papers in the Washington Post. Yes, the publication of those papers did aid the international movement against the Vietnam War. However, the true heroes of this story were the Vietnamese who paid a horrendous price so that they would not be ruled by a foreign power.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

For Workers, Capitalism Doesn’t Make a Lot of Sense

One of the stories we read in the newspapers is about the idea that the government, as well as corporations, need to operate in an environment of transparency. The facts are that those who have power work diligently to make sure working people will not uncover the basic facts of the capitalist system.

Entire sections of the news media are dedicated to reporting on the wellbeing of corporations. If there is a sharp upturn or decline in stock market prices, this might be a front-page story. The theme of all these stories is that working people and capitalists have similar interests. However, when we look at rarely mentioned facts, that idea boils down to a mixture of nonsense and absurdities.

Working people’s frame of reference comes from the jobs we do every day. We go to work, do what we’re told, and earn enough money to pay for some of the things we want and need. In the past, workers went on class battles called strikes. The result was that many workers won pensions, and after a lifetime of work they might have paid for college education for their children, a vacation home, and a comfortable retirement.

Today most workers see that environment as a relatively beneficial time in the past. We can see how the system works by taking a close look at the institutions that hold capitalism together.


Workers come in contact with banks when we need a mortgage to purchase a home. In order to purchase a home, first there needs to be a profit for the corporation that builds the home. Then, the banks sell what might be a 15 or 30-year loan. The workers who pay a mortgage learn that they will pay for this house many times over during the course of the mortgage.

Looking at these mortgages, we see that most of the money workers pay for their homes is in interest to banks. Banks require that the interest on mortgages be paid off first before the principal. Currently banks require an additional insurance charge that will cover payments on the mortgage in the event that workers loose a job. In addition workers must pay other insurance fees as well as taxes and utilities on this house. If a worker manages to pay off this mortgage, that worker can still loose the home for failure to pay taxes.

We might also think about the fact that most, if not all corporations, depend on financing for the day-to-day operations of their business. The interest payments made for these loans are not seen as profits, but as expenses for the corporations. So, while a corporation might claim they are loosing money, the facts might be that banks continue to profit from a corporation that shows no profit.

We should also consider that the only thing a bank does is move money from one location to another. Bankers never do the actual work required in providing for the goods and services working people want and need. These would include: food, clothing, housing, transportation, communication, health care, education, and exposure to culture—art, music, sports, recreation, film, theater, etc. However, banks receive interest payments from the corporations that manage all these enterprises.

Insurance Companies

Insurance companies also profit because banks require workers to pay for insurance in order to qualify for a mortgage. The government also requires workers to pay exorbitant insurance premiums just to drive a car. We should keep in mind that insurance agents never do the actual work to build homes or cars.

Hospitals are required to keep patient information confidential. However, every patient is required to sign a waver that allows doctors and hospitals to give patient information to insurance companies. We might ask the question: Why do insurance companies demand that patients sign this waver?

Clearly doctors study for eight or more years to qualify for treating patients. So, one would think that the diagnosis and treatment plan of doctors would be sufficient to care for patients.

However, insurance companies are in business to maximize profits. One way they can do this is to second-guess the treatment plans of doctors. So, while insurance companies have claimed they are health care “providers,” in reality they are in business to minimize payments for health care.

Advertising agencies

We might think about the fact that all newspapers, commercial radio and television stations rely on advertising for their survival. We might also think about how advertising is not meant to give a rational explanation of what product is the best value. Advertising is about promoting one product over others and only pretends to be objective. Last year over $200 billion was spent on advertising.

Why do corporations spend such vast amounts of money on advertising? In the capitalist system there is a routine decline in the percent of profits on investment. In the above paragraphs we see how corporations must pay exorbitant amounts of money for finance capital as well as insurance and advertising. Because of this reality, corporations are continually obsessed with cutting costs and selling more commodities.

This obsession with selling more commodities is the reason why corporations invest obscene amounts of money in advertising. While this vast amount of money adds no value to commodities, advertising clearly increases the prices for all the things we purchase every day.

One of the goals of advertising agencies is to promote an image of beauty that conforms to a 20 to 25 year old runway model. By doing this these agencies try and instill insecurities in most women about their appearance. By promoting these insecurities corporations sell billions of dollars worth of cloths, jewelry, makeup, and shoes.

In my opinion some of the most beautiful women in the history of the world would include: Harriet Tubman, Mother Jones, Ida Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer, and the Cuban revolutionary Celia Sanchez.

The government

From the time we are young, the government as well as the media indoctrinates us with the idea that we live in a “democracy,” where there is “liberty and justice for all.” The only evidence that supports this claim is that working people have the right to pull levers in voting booths on one day every year. The press routinely ignores candidates that aren’t in the Democratic or Republican Parties. This means that most people don’t even know the names of many of the candidates who are running for office.

Then, we work at jobs where we must do as we are told, or we might be terminated from employment. Employers and not workers are the ones who control the work environment. We have no control over the prices we pay, and little control over the wages we earn. Yet, people who have power routinely argue that we live in a “democracy.”

Clearly immigrants who come from many other nations argue that working people have more rights here than in their home country. We might consider that U.S. based corporations routinely profit off of workers in nations where wages might be $2 per day or less. Clearly a worker who lives in that environment has a strong incentive to come to a nation where the wages are significantly higher. That reality doesn’t make the United States a genuine democracy.

Workers throughout the world have ultimately the same interests. We would like all our family members to have the things we need, as well as some of the things we want. However, at times the government argues that workers in this country need to go to war against workers in other countries. Why?

Before the First and Second World Wars the British government literally ruled most of the world. The contending powers murdered close to eighty million people in those two wars. The Second World War determined what capitalist nation would be the next super-power. After the Second World War the United States went to war against the people of Korea and Vietnam in order to consolidate it’s position as the new world’s super-power.

Understanding this reality, we can say that wars promoted by capitalist powers in no way advance the interests of workers or small farmers. While the government argues that the wars of the past defended our freedom, the reality is that these wars have defended the interests of the most affluent families in the world.

For a combination of circumstances, the victory of the Union Army in the Civil War did benefit workers by abolishing slavery. However, a few years after this war the government also legalized Jim Crow segregation that effectively denied Black people citizenship rights in this country.

The corporate march to disaster

In the year 1929 an international depression erupted throughout the world. This meant that the United States experienced about 30% unemployment and most workers received a cut in pay. This depression lasted for about nine years and only ended because of the international holocaust of the Second World War.

We might consider that in the years of the depression there were sufficient numbers of workers as well as materials to make a dramatic improvement in the standard of living. However, history teaches us that in those years there was a sharp decline in the standard of living. Why?

The problem was, and continues to be, that there are too many commodities on the market that can be sold for a profit. As I’ve attempted to show, the real price of production of commodities is a small fraction of the price we pay. Included in the prices we pay are: interest payments to banks, insurance, advertising, as well as taxes to the government.

None of these payments add value to the goods and services we all want and need. However, in the capitalist system these expenses are all absolutely necessary for corporations to exist.

We might also consider that most of the so-called assets of banks are the loans they have. When a sufficient number of borrowers are unable to make payments on their loans, banks close their doors. The government has stepped in to insure the assets of banks, but that insurance policy will run out of money when there is a widespread run on the banks.

So here we can see how routine business practices that corporate officers view as successful by necessity lead to a full-scale financial disaster.


In the history of the world, we have seen working people take power in the Soviet Union and in the revolutionary government of Cuba. The Soviet government was betrayed by those who supported the politics of Joseph Stalin. Cuba continues to have a revolutionary government, but it is a largely underdeveloped nation. While the Cuban government gave everyone the right to education and health care, most Cuban people do not have many of the conveniences of workers in the developed world.

However, both these revolutions demonstrate that working people have the potential to transform the world and to work in harmony with the environment. In this blog I’ve attempted to show how there are tremendous resources that could be used to eliminate poverty in the world. In the next paragraph I will give just one more example of the enormous wealth that could be used to eliminate poverty if we had a workers government that makes human needs a priority over profits.

Anyone who reads this blog can Google the question: How much money is invested in derivatives? Google’s answer to this question is $1.2 quadrillion. Then, we can Google the question: What is the population of the world? Google’s answer is about 7.6 billion.

Now, we can divide the money invested in derivatives by the world population. The answer is close to $160,000 for every woman, man, and child on the planet earth. This obscene amount of money is not being used in any enterprise that might benefit workers. Derivatives merely sit as extremely complex bets on the future of the economy.

While Bernie Madoff and Michael Milken went to prison for violating the laws that regulate bonds, the inventors of derivatives received Nobel Prizes. Comparing the money lost by Milken and Madoff to the money invested in derivatives is like comparing a flea to an elephant.

So, the vast wealth that has already been created by workers would be sufficient to eliminate poverty in the world. This wealth as well as a rational political leadership would also eliminate the underlying reasons for war and discrimination. So, why hasn’t this happened already?

For quite a while, most workers in the developed nations have had sufficient resources with respect to our basic needs. While there is widespread hunger and homelessness, most workers have a place to live, food to eat, as well as transportation and a cell phone. In this blog I’ve attempted to show why these conditions will not continue.

My opinion is that when workers are denied the basic means to live, many will be open to the idea of taking power so that human needs and not profits become the priority. We should keep in mind that working people produce literally everything we want and need. Capitalists profit by moving money from one place to another.

In order to move in this direction we need to develop a different way of thinking and examine those who struggled in the past. Instead of thinking just about how to provide for our families, we need to think about how an injury to one is an injury to all. As Malcolm X once said: “Either we will all be free or no one will be free.”

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

It’s the Holiday Season

Call me sentimental, but I’ve always been moved by the holiday spirit at this time of year. What I find most moving are the songs that celebrate life and reuniting with one’s family and loved ones.

I clearly understand the argument that the Christmas holiday has been commercialized to nearly unimaginable proportions. Frederick Douglass, who escaped slavery to become a leading abolitionist, argued that slavery would have been overturned much sooner were it not for Christmas. Yes, people endure a lot so we can have a joyous time with our families.

One of the songs that has become a staple at this time of year is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I found that the history of this song explains much about what this time of year is about.

The Montgomery Ward retailer of Chicago assigned Robert L. May the job of coming up with a Christmas story that would promote their business. This was in 1939 towards the end of the depression. Aside from the depression of those years, May had other problems he needed to deal with.

May’s wife Evelyn had been battling with cancer for several years and her medical bills were overwhelming. Robert and Evelyn had a four-year old daughter Barbara who liked to go to the local Zoo. It was at this Zoo that Robert May first thought of writing a story about Reindeers.

Robert May was small in stature and wasn’t very popular in school. He eventually wrote and identified with the idea of his Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer overcoming his sadness and isolation to become loved by the other reindeers.

Eventually Robert May received the ownership rights to this story and convinced his brother-in-law Johnny Marks to write a song. Gene Autry sang Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and it became one of the most popular songs of all time.

Simeon Booker

The day before I started writing this column, I read and obituary of Simeon Booker. Booker was the Washington bureau chief of Jet and Ebony magazines for five decades.

In 1955 Booker lived in Chicago and learned that the son of Mamie Till-Mobley, fourteen-year old Emmett was missing. Emmett Till had been visiting his relatives in Money, Mississippi. Booker immediately understood what this story might be about, he visited Mamie Till-Mobley, and won her confidence.

Emmett Till’s mutilated corpse was found in the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi. Emmett had been raised in Chicago and didn’t think it was a problem to whistle at a white woman. However, there is a long history of lynching in this country. The federal government rarely prosecuted murderers who carried out these lynchings.

In the so-called trial of the murderers of Emmett Till, the courtroom was filled with onlookers who had a bottle of whiskey in one pocket and a pistol in the other. Simeon Booker, as well as others in the courtroom who were outraged by this murder needed to get out of town immediately after the not-guilty verdict. In an interview after the verdict one murderer of Till admitted his guilt.

At Emmett Till’s funeral in Chicago, there were many who didn’t want the press to be present. Mamie Till-Mobley was adamant that Simeon Booker and his photographer, David Jackson, witness the funeral. She also insisted that the funeral casket be opened. These were the words Simeon Booker recorded of Mamie Till-Mobley at the funeral:

“Her face wet with tears, she leaned over the body, just removed from a rubber bag in a Chicago funeral home and cried out ‘Darling you have not died in vein. Your life has been sacrificed for something.’ “         

Just a few months after the murder of Emmett Till, Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. This action, as well as the decades long resistance to Jim Crow segregation, sparked the 385-day Montgomery Bus Boycott.

During those years Simeon Booker would take off his suit and dress as a sharecropper in overalls in order to avoid the violence against Black people in those years. He also needed to hide in the back of a hearse in order to escape a racist mob.

My ride to work that day

After reading this story, I went to work and listened to the Christmas Carrols on the radio. One of those songs featured Levi Stubbs who sang with the Four Tops. Stubbs lived his life in Detroit, Michigan and refused to have his name featured apart from the Four Tops. The song was about a celebration of life at the holidays and getting together with family.

Clearly Levi Stubbs was well aware of the murder of Emmett Till and the institutionalized discrimination Black people endured in every part of this country. My opinion is that Stubbs as well as many other artists were able to transcend the horrors of their day, and give us their idea of how precious life can be.

Karl Marx once argued that:

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people"

My opinion is that Marx felt that if working people look squarely at our condition, we would be motivated to change it. Why should we work for our entire lives, so a tiny minority of the population can have more wealth than they could ever use?
Clearly Marx as well as Frederick Douglass were correct in their observations about religion and the holidays. My opinion is that while we can appreciate their ideas, we can also celebrate life and have good times.

This year we can celebrate the freedom of Oscar Lopez Rivera who served thirty-seven years in the dungeons of the United States. At this same time we see the utter indifference of the United States government in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane that hit Puerto Rico. Given this state of affairs, more and more people understand why Oscar Lopez Rivera dedicated his life to the independence of Puerto Rico.

Since Christmas is a religious holiday, I will conclude this column with a quotation from the Bible that I believe is relevant to all those who are religious as well as non-religious. This was about the battle between David and Goliath.

Before David engaged in his battle with Goliath someone argued that this battle would not be fair. Goliath was large and strong and had sophisticated weapons. David was smaller and all he had was a sling-shot. So, they warned David against fighting Goliath. But David said: “Is there not a cause?”

Yes, there continues to be a cause, and this cause is the future of the human race. While there may be times when we feel ridiculed and isolated, history teaches us that we have a real possibility to make this a truly wonderful world. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Looking Back From 2101

By Steve Halpern

Fifteen years ago, I self-published my novel: Looking Back From 2101. In my novel I transported a Jewish factory worker, Harry Goldberg, into the future world of the year 2101. The future world that I imagined had no poverty, and no racial or sexual discrimination. All enterprises did their best to operate in harmony with the environment. From the perspective of this future world, my characters had discussions where they talked about how and why the world had been transformed.

My novel has a similar format as Edward Bellamy’s novel Looking Backward that was published in 1888.  Bellamy lived at a time when humanity first discovered the many possibilities of electrical power. So, even before these inventions, Bellamy wrote about how there would be televisions, radios, telephones, computers, as well as aircraft.

However, the basic change Bellamy imagined was not of a technical nature. He felt that humanity would no longer be motivated to provide for their individual families alone. He felt that humanity would change so the core value would be human solidarity. In other words, an injury to one, would be viewed as an injury to all.

Edward Bellamy’s first cousin was Francis Bellamy and they both had similar political outlooks. Francis Bellamy wrote a piece of literature that millions of school children recite every day, known as the Pledge of Allegiance.

However, the first words of Francis Bellamy’s Pledge were, “I pledge allegiance to my flag.” Francis Bellamy felt that his flag would represent the future world his cousin Edward imagined in the novel Looking Backward. Francis Bellamy protested when the words to his Pledge were changed to “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.”

A few years after Bellamy wrote his novel, H.G. Wells also wrote a novel about the future titled, The Time Machine. Unlike Looking Backward, Wells’ portrayed his future world to be a horror story.

Since that time there have been numerous books and films that portray the future to be a horror story. Two of those films are Avatar and Hunger Games. Kevin Costner had leading roles in two films with horrific futures. These were Waterworld and The Postman.

So, at this point we can ask the question: Since literally everyone would like to imagine that a better world is possible, why do the majority of fictional portrayals about the future imagine a horrific future world? We can begin to see the answer to this question in the words of the Declaration of Independence of the United States. I believe the following words are relevant:

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

This quotation illustrates what I would consider two distinct trends in human history. One trend is that humanity has adopted to what I would call horrific political economic systems for long periods of time. These systems were slavery, feudalism, as well as the early years of the capitalist system. But then there is the other trend outlined in the above quotation. This is when the people find the political systems they live under to be intolerable and masses of people organize to bring about fundamental change.

Looking at the world as it is today we can wonder why people haven’t organized for this fundamental change a long time ago. Today, about half of the world’s population lives on about two dollars per day or less. Because of these conditions the United Nations estimates that about 30,000 children die every day of preventable diseases. Hundreds of millions of people in the world do not have enough food to eat, and are without direct access to electricity and running water.

Why do these conditions persist when the resources have been available for quite a long time to eliminate poverty? Before we can answer this question, I believe we need to look at how the capitalist system has functioned throughout its history.

The History of Capitalism

In the first years of capitalism, chattel slavery was the law. This kind of slavery was an institution of the Greek and Roman Empires. In the capitalist system workers are not owned outright, but are directly tied to the wages system. So northern capitalists became convinced that they needed to organize to militarily defeat the slave owners who controlled the U.S. government for sixty years. Therefore, the Civil War was actually the second revolution in the United States.

The U.S. government also went to war against Native Americans for over 100 years. The first nations of this part of the world organized communal societies where everyone shared in the work as well as the wealth of their world. These norms were intolerable to capitalists who’s core value was the accumulation of private property.

When this country industrialized, working people found themselves toiling for twelve to sixteen hours per day. They commonly lived in one-room cold-water flats. Health care and education were unknown to the masses of workers.

Black workers experienced institutionalized discrimination and didn’t have citizenship rights where Jim Crow segregation was the law. Women didn’t gain the right to vote until 1920. In the Jim Crow states most Black people weren’t allowed to vote until the mid-1960s.

The labor movement carried out a series of strikes from the year 1877 to the years 1934. Then, in the middle of the depression workers mobilized and forced employers to recognize the union. After the Second World War workers continued their battles in an all out strike wave. Then, the Civil Rights Movement erupted and the government was forced to do away with Jim Crow segregation.

Many liberals argue that since the labor, civil rights, and women’s movements were able to force the government to change it’s policies, all we need to do is to organize to force the government and employers to make changes again. Clearly working people need to organize ourselves. However, history has shown that the capitalist system can not be made to serve the interests of working people.

After the labor and civil rights victories, the government worked with capitalists to move their factories to nations where the prevailing wages are two dollars per day or less. Many people who were aware of this shift thought that this was an example of corporate greed. While greed clearly was a factor, this was not the primary reason.

In the capitalist system there is an absolute law that costs must be reduced while sales of commodities must increase. By moving factories to nations throughout the world, capitalists created new markets and cut costs at the same time. These events happened during the past forty years when the overall standard of living in the United States deteriorated.

So, understanding this history, we can say that increasing poverty is not something that can be eliminated in the capitalist system. No, dire poverty has always been an absolute necessity for capitalism. Without the hundreds of millions of workers who toil for ten dollars or less per day, the capitalist system would collapse.

Where is the money?

Every year advertising agencies spend hundreds of billions of dollars in an attempt to convince working people that we need to have the commodities they promote. Rarely, if ever, do we see a discussion of the goods and services working people actually want and need. When we think of these goods and services, I believe they are desirable for our entire lives. Today, we can only have these things when we have the money required.

I believe there are about eight things working people want and need. These include: food, clothing, housing, transportation, communication, health care, education, and exposure to cultural activities. Cultural activities would include: music, art, sports, dance, literature, theater, recreation, and the film. If we had a government that supported the interests of workers and farmers, the top priority would be to ensure that everyone would have a lifetime right to all these things. How would this be possible?

The capitalist system gives us visual aids to answer this question. In most of the largest cities of the world, there are massive buildings known as skyscrapers. These buildings typically cost hundreds of millions or billions of dollars. In order to work in these buildings, most people need to wear expensive clothing that conforms to a dress code. So, what are the enterprises housed in these astronomically expensive buildings?

Well, there are banks, investment companies, insurance companies, advertising agencies, corporate law firms, and corporate headquarters. When we read the last few paragraphs, there appears to be something strange going on. The enterprises housed in the skyscrapers do not contribute directly to the goods and services people want and need.

Clearly bankers never build homes or cars. Insurance companies never do the actual work of providing health care. Advertising agencies never actually produce the goods and services they promote. Corporate officers, rarely if ever, do the actual work that they benefit from. Corporate lawyers usually defend the interests of corporations against the interests of workers. Yet, the price of literally every commodity we purchase includes the cost of the enterprises housed in these skyscrapers.

At this point one might think that something very strange is going on. Massive amounts of money are used for enterprises that do not directly contribute to the goods and services people want and need. However, this state of affairs only illustrates a part of the problem.

Anyone with a computer can Google the question: How much money is invested in derivatives? The astounding answer is $1.2 quadrillion. That is one-thousand-two-hundred-trillion dollars.

If we combine the gross national product of every nation in the world, that amount of money would be about $60 trillion. This means that the amount of money invested in derivatives is about twenty times more than the gross national product of the world. Derivatives are nothing more than extremely complex bets on how the stock market will perform.

Today Bernie Madoff resides in a federal penitentiary. He was sent to prison for violating the laws that regulate the sales of bonds. Derivatives are not regulated by the government. The people who invented derivatives received Nobel Prizes. Therefore the massive investments in derivatives underscores that this was not a mistake of people who didn’t know any better. No, this investment is literally essential for the day-to-day functioning of capitalism.

So, when we look at the unvarnished reality of the capitalist system, we can also begin to imagine how the world might be transformed.

What can a socialist world look like?

When we look at the above facts, we come to an inescapable conclusion. If the funds used to benefit the affluent were used to benefit all of humanity, there can be a profound improvement in the standard of living.

James Cannon was a founding leader of the Socialist Workers Party. In 1946 he gave a speech that outlined what he thought a Socialist America would look like. He argued that in the future working people would give a certain amount of time to needed labor during their entire lifetimes. How much time would people need to work? This was Cannon’s opinion:

“I incline strongly to the idea that the great majority will elect to get their required labor time over with in their early youth, working a full day for a year or two.

“Thereafter, they would be free for the rest of their lives to devote themselves, with freedom in their labor, to any scientific pursuit, to any creative work or play or study which might interest them. The necessary productive labor they have contributed in a few years of their youth will pay for their entire lifetime maintenance, on the same principal that the workers today pay for their own paltry ‘social security’ in advance.”

We might think about the fact that these words were written in 1946 before the widespread use of computers and automation. Yet, when we look at the massive waste of capitalism that I’ve outlined, these words merely outline what a rational use of workers’ labor might look like.

When we look at the world from this point of view, we can ask another question: Why are there wars in the world?

As I’ve said, every day about 30,000 children die of preventable diseases. Hundreds of millions of people live on $2 per day and lack direct access to water and electricity. In order to maintain this state of affairs, capitalists and their governments have supported some of the most repressive dictatorships in the world. When the people choose to fight against these dictatorships, as they did in Vietnam, the United States government used it’s military power to intervene.

During the war against Vietnam, I can’t remember even one media outlet that argued that the money used to murder the Vietnamese people might be better used to unconditionally improve the standard living of that nation. A workers government in this country would make the elimination of poverty throughout the world its main priority. In this kind of environment, the idea of war would be inconceivable.

Today students and workers are alienated from school and work. When we come to grips with our reality, we can say that this is only logical. In the extreme, working people have become addicted to drugs so they might escape from the profound alienation they feel. Many, if not most workers, look forward to having a drink at the end of a grueling workweek.

Think about how this would change if all of society was dedicated to improving our standard of living. Certainly we would continue to have some stress, but this stress would come from doing the things we genuinely want to do. 

If you have read this column, you might be thinking that these might be nice ideas, but they are completely unrealistic. Only a tiny minority of people are thinking about making the kind of transformation that I’ve outlined. For those who are thinking along those lines, the following information might be useful.

When we look at the enormous amount of money invested in derivatives, we can say that the money we receive in our pay packets is borrowed money. Without the continuing performance of these derivatives, banks as well as investment companies will close their doors.

In 1929 there was an international depression that lasted for nine years. The Second World War and the loss of 67 million lives was the only way the world escaped from that depression. The coming depression, I believe, will be even worse than the last one. We will not survive another world war when there are literally thousands of nuclear weapons capable of eliminating human life on this planet.

My opinion is that working people have the capacity to transform ourselves into creating a movement capable of rebuilding the world on new foundations. This is why I wrote my novel Looking Back From 2101.