Capitalism's Tarnished Image and the Rising Popularity of Socialism
Thomas Edsall, writing on November 18, 2012 in The New York Times’ series about the 2012 Election, “Campaign Stops,” in the series’ final installment entitled: “Is Rush Limbaugh’s Country Gone?”, ends with this:
the parameters and focus of the national and political dialogue as predominantly about gender, race, ethnicity and class. This is the paradigm, the template through which many Americans, probably a majority, more or less view the world, our country, and the election. It is a divisive strategy and Democrats have targeted and exploited those divides. How else can we explain that more young people now favor socialism to capitalism?
In fact, the 2011 Pew Research Center poll Bennett* cites demonstrates that in many respects conservatives are right to be worried:
The PRC poll is reproduced below and of particular note are the percentages among blacks, Hispanics, those making less than $30k/year, and young people (18-29 y.o.), where more of them in each group have negative attitudes towards capitalism and some of them — blacks and people under 30 — also showing a majority with a positive attitude towards socialism.
Among blacks the percent saying they’re positive towards capitalism is 41% and negative towards capitalism 51%, and when asked about socialism, black respondents are 55% positive and 36% negative. Among 18 to 29 year olds of all races/ethnicities, 46% are positive towards capitalism, 47% negative, and 49% positive towards socialism and 43% negative towards socialism.
Among Hispanics, 32% are positive towards capitalism and 55% negative towards it, and 44% positive towards socialism and 49% negative. Among those making less than $30,000 per year, 39% are positive towards capitalism and 47% negative.
In sum, among blacks, Hispanics, those making less than $30k, and people of any color 18 to 29 years old, a majority of them are negative towards capitalism.
The total for all races, incomes, ages, party and ideology is 50% positive towards capitalism and 40% negative, with 31% positive towards socialism and 60% negative.
Notably, because of the overwhelmingly negative treatment that socialism gets in the U.S., there are not surprisingly many more – 20 points more — who express negative sentiments about socialism than those who are negative towards capitalism, even though a full 40% have negative sentiments towards capitalism.
For a country more hostile to socialism and more positive towards and more a bastion of capitalism than any other in human history, the 50% positive and 40% negative towards capitalism of the aggregate is not very robust. Given the near total absence of positive media and education towards socialism (especially in K-12) and the minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, year-by-year celebration of capitalism, these numbers should concern Mr. Bennett. Imagine what the numbers and cleavages would look like if socialism were to actually emerge in a significant way through a visible movement for revolution in this country and/or elsewhere in the world, instead of being constantly censored and condemned as unthinkably bad?
As Bennett decries, the majority of those among 18 to 29 year olds’ stated preference for some unnamed socialist society than the existing capitalist one is especially troublesome for capitalism’s cheerleaders and apologists. If this is “the best of all possible worlds,” then how come only 50% think so and 40% of the entire population beg to differ? If this is the new generation, then does this bode well for this system’s continued existence?
Bennett doesn’t note this, but what should also be alarming to him is the much higher negative attitudes towards capitalism and “its virtues” among blacks and Hispanics, and those who make less than $30,000/year, even if Hispanics and those making under $30k are not more positive towards socialism than negative at this time.
It should be added here that what exactly people mean by “capitalism” and especially “socialism” in this poll are undefined. One should not interpret someone saying that they’re positive towards socialism as meaning that they are also ready to fight for capitalism’s overthrow and the establishment of socialism. But the results are nonetheless extremely intriguing and at the very least show that the conventional wisdom that everyone is a huge fan of capitalism and will fight for it to the death is untrue.
Bennett says “the parameters and focus of the national and political dialogue [are] predominantly about gender, race, ethnicity and class” and he attributes this to the Democratic Party.
But what he fails to note, either from deliberate oversight or because he doesn’t see this, the salience of gender, race, ethnicity and class is something that the right-wing has been chiefly responsible for making central to people’s political awareness and done so for the express purpose of being divisive. Without divisiveness and hate speech, people like Rush and Bill O’Reilly would be mute because they would not know what to say.
Class, of course, is not something that the Republican Party has raised directly and explicitly except to deride anyone challenging the distribution of wealth and the vast and growing inequalities as engaging in that unspeakably awful “class warfare.” But the celebration of the spoils for those who are rich that the Republicans are front and center about, that is obviously about class. The “Real Housewives of ________,” the Kardashians, the endless and nauseating repetition of how big and fancy so and so’s mansions are, as if the whole society had become like a high school and everyone was utterly infatuated with money and status, are all testimony to the rising salience of class.
As for gender, race and ethnicity, it’s been called the Culture Wars for a reason, with the right-wing specifically since the 1960s trying to use culture, color, gender and sexual orientation as wedge issues to break apart the New Deal coalition and the insurgent alliance dating from the 1960s’ upsurge between intellectuals/academia/literati and the middle and upper-middle classes and minorities, immigrants, women, young people, and LGBT folks.
What has happened is that these issues, which gave the right-wing such currency and impetus for so many years, has finally started to turn against them, most dramatically from their perspective, in what they evidently did not expect at all, the drubbing of Romney and other reactionary candidates of theirs by the groups that they had made their gains attacking for so long. This was a shock to their systems and akin to the reaction that people have who have been isolated in an echo chamber of their own fabricated facts and truths too long, upon stepping outside of that box into the open air.
* I can’t help but note for those who aren’t that familiar with William “Mr. Virtue” Bennett that he made his name and fortune touting conservative virtues and deriding liberals as inherently less moral than conservatives, while secretly gambling on the slots and losing more than $8 million. My main point here is not the rank hypocrisy of people like Bennett, even though their hypocrisy is actually one of their more striking features: those who cry the loudest about sin are invariably committing acts in private that they fervently conceal.
Dennis Loo is Professor of Sociology at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is a Harvard honors graduate in Government and received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the author of “Globalization and the Demolition of Society” and Co-Editor/Author of “Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney”. Website: Dr. Dennis Loo