We live in a time of extreme contradictions. On the one hand, our civilization has eliminated smallpox, brought us cell phones, robotics, and space travel, and boasts immense resources and wealth. On the other hand, we face the worst crises in human history. We are experiencing a calamitous level of species extinction brought on by massive ecological destruction. Wars of domination have torn whole regions of the world apart, killing millions of people. Around the world billions of people face poverty, homelessness, and disease while in 2017 the richest eight people own more wealth than the poorest half of the world’s population combined. In the U.S., millions of people have jobs that barely provide a living wage. Homeless people occupy the streets throughout our cities. Less visible are the hungry, and yet, one in six people in the U.S. face hunger today. These crises are not the result of poor decisions by world leaders. They are the result of the functioning of the capitalist system in its relentless drive to generate profits.
The Profit Motive
While we are told that profit is the result of creativity and ingenuity, in reality profit has only one source: exploitation. Under this economic system, the basic resources humanity needs for survival are privately owned by corporations. Without the incentive of profit, the owners and stockholders will not invest in production. These profits have one source: the exploitation of labor. The more work that can be squeezed out of workers, and the cheaper the price of their labor, the higher the profit. At the same time, the greater the number of unemployed workers competing for jobs, the easier it is to lower workers’ wages. Ingenious inventions, often the result of the work of salaried engineers whose patents belong to the corporations that hire them, are not the sole source of profit. All wealth ultimately comes from the labor of working people.
Divide and Conquer
Those in power have always attempted to use a “divide and conquer” strategy – pitting one group of people against another to maintain their power. The elites use their well-developed propaganda tools to turn us against each other, fueling the fires of resentment among those who have the least. One way is to give some rewards to one group for accepting the degradation of others. Sexist attitudes encourage the acceptance that women do the unpaid work in the home, face discrimination and lower wages at work, and are subject to violence rarely experienced by men. Racism too has created an enormous divide. Racism was used to justify the slaughter of the native population in the Americas, and to maintain and justify slavery. Racist ideology has infected our society like a virus, and created a racial caste system. The same lies, ignorance and frustration that fuel racism have also been used against anyone who can be labeled as different or “other” in our society. As capitalism continues to create fear and insecurity, virulent voices use racism, xenophobia, sexism and homophobia to divide us.
The War Machine
War plays a basic role in the functioning of capitalism. To maintain control over resources and populations, the world is ravaged by endless war. The history of the U.S. has been one of systematic war and violence, beginning with the expropriation and murder of the Native peoples in North America, and the enslavement of millions of African people, followed by wars around the world. The estimated death toll from wars in the 20th century was 187 million, without counting the millions of people whose lives were ruined in their aftermath.
Military spending is enormously profitable. Today the U.S. spends 28% of the Federal budget on the current military, projecting to spend over 700 billion dollars for the coming year. The cost of past wars account for another 20%. On average U.S. spending amounts to the equivalent of the next seven biggest military spenders combined. The U.S. government maintains about 900 military bases in 130 countries around the world. The horrible impact of these wars cannot be overstated. The U.S. wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have ripped these countries apart, killing millions.
In the last decade, under the banner of the so-called “war on terror,” in addition to the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, both Democratic and Republican administrations have carried out military strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Mali, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, and Syria. The U.S. military continues a reign of terror using drone-strikes and assassinations, killing innocent civilians. The horror of countless attacks have given rise to even more sectarianism and terror in the crumbling societies left in their wake. The U.S. government defends the slaughter of civilians as accidental “collateral damage.” This is the basic functioning of a system of imperial domination, which ensures that the banks and corporations maintain their profits.
There have been five mass extinction events on earth in which most of the larger plant and animal species were wiped out. The last mass extinction event killed the dinosaurs. It was most probably caused by an asteroid crashing into earth, leading to a drastic climate change. And today we are living through the sixth mass extinction. This time, however, scientists tell us that our own species is the cause of the disaster and will also be its victim.
Ongoing carbon emissions into the atmosphere are causing drastic worldwide changes in climate patterns. We see all the symptoms with record-setting temperatures each year, melting glaciers, rising oceans, drought, famine and massive storms. This decimation of the earth’s ecosystems is resulting in the extinction of many species.
The ultimate cause of severe climate change is not simply carbon emissions, but the capitalist system that demands a constant expansion to maximize its profits. The fossil fuel industry, along with all of the industries tied to it, is not a small piece of the global economy, but rather at the center of it. It includes the energy industry, agriculture, transportation, pharmaceuticals, shipping, plastics, armaments, and the banks. The people who own these industries are the global ruling class. The mounting evidence of their actions over the past quarter century has not led them to curtail their destructive activity. They would like us to believe that climate change does not exist or that capitalism will develop the technology to stabilize the earth’s climate. This is a fantasy that disregards the conclusions of climate scientists around the world.
A System That Must be Replaced
As long as the capitalist system exists, the crises we see around the world will continue. The capitalists’ political system is there to maintain the functioning of this system. It gives us the choice of electing candidates presented to us by their two parties, which both represent the same interests of the 1% with slightly different policies.
Efforts to reform capitalism will run into the same dead ends as they have in the past. If the power is left in the hands of the owners of capital, successful reforms will be temporary, taken back when the struggle to maintain them subsides.
As a species, we have arrived at a crossroads. The fate of humanity cannot be left in the hands of the tiny elite who own and control the world’s resources. Either we put an end to capitalism or we will likely face our own extinction. Our future depends on what each of us chooses to do. It depends on the millions of workers around the world who make this society run. Collectively we have the power to put an end to capitalism and replace it with a new society run by those who do the work and for the benefit of all of humanity.