Capitalism’s ‘Modest Proposal’

A Socialist Viewpoint Editorial By Bonnie Weinstein

The 1729 satirical essay, “A Modest Proposal,” by Jonathan Swift, was written in response to the heartless attitude the capitalist elite of Ireland had toward the impoverished masses. The proposal was that the Irish poor could sell their children as food to the wealthy thereby solving their economic woes. The title, “A Modest Proposal” is the common title. The real title epitomizes the attitude of the current commanders of capital. It reads, “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial for the Publick.”1

It underscores that what was true for capitalism then is even truer for capitalism today—the working class must sacrifice not only our welfare but the welfare of future generations in order to ensure an ever-increasing rate of profit for the ruling elite. Without effective subjugation of workers, the capitalists—a tiny minority, even less than one percent—would be powerless.

Dividing and conquering and making our children pay

The uprisings of the poor and working class against capitalist-enforced “austerity measures” in the face of the widest gap of wealth ever between the rich and the poor is now universal. The struggle is the same whether it is taking place in Syria, South Africa or here in the U.S. In Chicago teachers are on strike against the privatization of public education. Nationwide, more than 300,000 school employees have lost their jobs since the recession ended in June 20092. (We include several articles on each of these topics in this issue of Socialist Viewpoint.)

No matter what workers believe in or what politics we call our own, whether on the right or the left, our wellbeing is inconsequential to capitalism’s pursuit of profits.

Workers, no matter what our religion or politics are, get paid only as much as is necessary for our survival; or as much as we can force (i.e., win through united labor struggles) from the boss. But never near the amount of wealth the boss ends up keeping which is the bulk of the wealth that we produce by our labor.

Our strength lies in the fact that, in spite of all our superficial differences, we all really want the same things—to live happy, productive lives with the goal of providing an even better future for our children.

The capitalists try to convince workers that we have to compete amongst ourselves to make improvements in our lives. That we have to “win out” over others of our class (not them, of course) to “rise to the top.”

But that’s only true as long as we continue to believe we have no right to the full amount of wealth that we produce. And as long as they can continue to blind us to our strength as a unified force with the power to claim all the wealth we produce for ourselves to be shared by all, and for the good of future generations.

The fundamental problem with capitalism is that it can’t increase the rate of profit and our standard of living and protect the planet all at the same time. It’s one or another! Or, more accurately, it’s them or us!

The only way capitalism can increase the rate of profit is to plunder the Earth for more resources as cheaply as possible while forcing workers to sacrifice their wellbeing, the wellbeing of their children and future generations, for basic survival today.

The income gap keeps growing between the wealthy elite and the masses. And, as long as capitalism survives, the Earth’s natural habitat will continue to take a beating from capitalism’s toxic and wasteful production practices endangering the future for all of us.

One-way ticket to Hell or Heaven—it’s our choice

Every despotic war, every assault against protesting workers, every labor defeat, every school closed and prison built is an assault against the working class and will become the inheritance of generations of workers to come if capitalism doesn’t destroy the Earth first.

The contempt the ruling commanders of capital have for workers is felt by the revolutionary workers’ movement in Syria who are being slaughtered by their government; by the sick and starving striking miners of Marikana, South Africa who suffered an attack by police which took the lives of 34 miners and wounded many more; and who still stand to be held responsible and charged for the police murders of their own colleagues; and by the millions locked up in U.S. prisons for “crimes” directly linked to the blinding poverty of the communities they come from.

Certainly no one incarcerated in this “incarceration nation” can come near the guilt of the commanders of capital.

The truth is, we can put an end to this capitalist insanity. There is a real alternative—an independent, self-organized, democratically run revolution of the masses of workers to ensure the happiness and wellbeing for all.

This requires that we put an end, once and for all, to the dying and decrepit system of capitalism because it’s an insane way to use the world’s resources, and to treat the world’s people. In fact, it’s barbaric. And it simply doesn’t have to be this way!

The mass incarceration rate in this country is no accident. It’s meant to become so large, that it touches each and every one of us personally. Who doesn’t know of a family member or friend affected by incarceration?

This is why capitalists don’t care about “collateral damage”—the murder of innocent civilians—in their wars. And why they don’t care if an innocent person on death row is put to death or is kept languishing in jail for the rest of her or his life.

The ruling capitalist class wants us to get the message loud and clear that they can do what they want; and that we are powerless over them.

With the largest and most powerful military in the world, actively engaging in more wars and “conflicts” than ever before, with the largest police force, and the largest incarceration and capital punishment rate in the world, it’s hard to believe that the capitalists really are powerless.

The truth is, they are only as powerful as we allow them to be because we massively outnumber them. We all want the same thing, to share the wonders of the Earth, and preserve its bounty for the future.

Our hope for the future lies in massive, organized resistance to capitalism’s brutality. The good news is that this resistance is growing as evidenced by the articles we’ve included in this issue of Socialist Viewpoint.

Capitalism is all that’s standing in our way of choosing Heaven over Hell.

1 Title Reference:

“A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift, 1729

“A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick.”

2 “In Standoff, Latest Sign of Unions Under Siege” “...more than 300,000 school employees have lost their jobs since the recession ended in June 2009.” By Steven Greenhouse, September 10, 2012