Every year Merriam-Webster, the company which produces Webster’s dictionary, chooses a word of the year. The word is chosen by how many people look it up in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary website. This year Merriam-Webster had to bend the rules a bit because there were two words that people were looking up the most – Capitalism and Socialism.
It’s no wonder people are trying to understand what capitalism is. Every day we are being confronted by the facts of this system. Capitalism has caused a greater division of wealth than ever before in human history. An individual from the top one percent of the population is 288 times richer than average. In the U.S. today there are 17 million children who go to bed hungry because their families can’t afford food, while some individuals own more wealth than they could spend in a lifetime.
Capitalism doesn’t just mean these people take home bigger paychecks. Capitalism is a system based on private ownership of the means of life. From the minute we get up in the morning to when we go to bed at night we are working for someone else. Want a job? You have to apply to a corporation to hire you. Want a good paycheck? Only as long as your boss makes a profit, then you can take home a little something for yourself. Need to get somewhere? Only if you can pay Chevron for gas at the pump. Want health care and benefits? Just as long as the HMOs and health care companies make their share of profit off of your needs. Want to enjoy a night off with your loved ones? Whatever you want to do, it will cost you.
And of course it gets much worse when we look at the rest of the world. Open the paper to read any of today’s headlines. Coca-Cola in Columbia pays gangs of thugs to murder union organizers. Ten million people in the Congo have been killed in civil wars over control of the minerals of that country. And look at the wreckage caused by the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan in which the United States killed over a million people. Does anyone even remember the lies that were told by the U.S. government to launch those wars? There is no question today. They were wars to control the oil of the Middle East to profit American companies.
And then there is the threat of environmental destruction. Capitalism destroys the planet, consuming resources and poisoning the water, land and air. We are beginning to see the consequences of that pollution with super-storms, droughts and massive fires.
All of these things – the daily exploitation, the wars, and the destruction of the environment. These are the symptoms of capitalism in the 21st century. This is a system which threatens life on this planet.
But all over the world people are fighting back. In Egypt people are struggling against the seizure of power by Muhammad Morsi and the Muslim brotherhood. And no wonder, the Muslim Brotherhood regime is working hand-in-hand with the United States to open Egypt’s economy to corporate investments and to attack the wages and conditions of Egyptian workers. In the last months we’ve seen huge strikes in South Africa as miners struggle against their exploitation by the mining companies hired by international corporations.. Even in this country we’ve seen some struggles. In September we saw the Chicago teachers launch a fight against the attacks on education. And recently workers at the port of Los Angeles struck against attacks on their work conditions.
It’s no wonder people are searching for solutions. And the only real solution to capitalism is to create a new system – socialism. Socialism is a society where the means of life are the property of the people who do the work, not the property of a handful of wealthy wealthy bankers and corporate investors. Socialism means a world where the decisions that effect our lives are made by us, collectively and democratically.
This world creates more than enough wealth for everyone to be guaranteed the necessities from food, to clothing, to housing and health care. We could put an end to war for profit, and an end to the destruction of the environment. We could guarantee every person an education and the possibility to develop all of their talents. In other words, we could stop struggling to survive, and get on with living life. That is a future worth searching for.