Thursday, April 21, 2011
Marxist author, students discuss capitalism, globalization
By Workers World Los Angeles bureau
Published Apr 20, 2011 4:49 PM
Fred Goldstein, author of “Low Wage Capitalism,” spoke about capitalism and globalization to an audience of more than 130 students during a two-and-a-half hour meeting in a packed lecture hall at Long Beach City College in Southern California on April 13.
Students at this two-year community college are almost all from working-class families. In this part of Southern California this means they are also from Latino/a, white, and some Asian and Black families.
The students were well aware that besides being the author of a book their instructors were using in their one sociology and three history classes, Goldstein is a Marxist and a member of the Secretariat of Workers World Party and a lifelong fighter for socialism. This information was prominent in the publicity for the April 13 assembly.
Goldstein spoke for a half-hour on how “globalization” is a benign word designed to cover up the reality of spreading capitalist sweatshops around the world using the latest technology to seek the lowest labor costs and boost profits. This was followed by two hours of questions and answers, during which everyone remained in the room and many asked questions or added comments.
The enthusiasm and preparation of the students was a sign that the two professors that had organized the session, Julian DelGaudio and Janet Hund, had created an atmosphere that encouraged open discussion of the most difficult topics.
Since this was a new kind of experience in a period when such an audience is searching for answers in a genuine way to break out of a capitalist mode of thinking, Workers World thought it would be worthwhile to ask Goldstein, who also spoke at a public meeting of the Los Angeles branch of Workers World Party, some questions about what happened in Long Beach.
WW: What were the questions that seemed to interest these students most?
FG: If you think they were asking how to get a job for themselves, you’d be wrong. This might have also been on their mind, but they were asking general questions about how capitalist society is organized. How does capitalism exploit workers? How do the corporate media create false consciousness? How would people learn to live cooperatively when they have been trained from birth to compete? What do we do to change things?
Many of the students were easily persuaded of the evils of capitalism and were sympathetic or at least open to a discussion of socialism. Because it is so unfamiliar to them, they were searching for an understanding of the concept. Examples of Cuban socialism, its free medical system, its free education, affordable housing, all in a poor country, helped to clarify things.
One openly Republican student, because he was well-prepared and ready to engage in discussion, also wound up asking lots of provocative questions that opened up topics. When we were discussing hospitals — many of the students are studying nursing or other hospital employment — he defended the capitalists’ right to profits by arguing that the administration deserves some of the wealth provided because they buy and maintain the building and the equipment, and organize the tasks.
WW: Did you give a Marxist viewpoint on this?
FG: My intervention took a while to clarify the point, with its subtleties. The short answer was that ownership as such is not necessary for the performance of those functions. Most of the real owners don’t have anything to do with actually running the place. Workers and administrators chosen by the workers can run it.
WW: Did you discuss how capitalism works?
FG: I said that under capitalism, everything that’s produced — from the students’ clothing to the building they’re sitting in to a Boeing 747 — is produced not because it is needed but because some capitalist can make a profit out of it. The only answer to this private property is to socialize it and organize production to meet people’s needs.
The students also engaged in back-and-forth discussion. My comments on socialism led to an earnest exploration by the students about what socialism would be like and how people could work in a society that emphasized social solidarity and cooperation when they have been conditioned to be individualistic and everyone seems so isolated.
One student got up and asked what would keep a socialized administration of society from leading to a situation where the higher ups started taking advantage of most of the people all over again. He gave as an example that the media would be controlled and the authorities would use propaganda on the people.
Another student replied that the media are already controlled now by a handful of rich owners, and the only thing that comes through is their message. Many of the students agreed with this.
WW: That only seems to answer part of the question.
FG: I added to this discussion by saying that under capitalism the government administration, whether it be the White House, the FBI, the Federal Communications Commission or the other organs of the government, is controlled by the capitalists who are exploiting people and stealing their wealth. These capitalists have a class interest in putting forward propaganda to mislead the people.
In a socialist society, where the revolution has abolished capitalism and exploitation and where the goods produced go to the people for their own needs, there is no intrinsic antagonism between the administrators and the people.
WW: What was the central point of the discussion?
FG: There were a lot of questions about people’s attitudes. How could people go from being individualistic to being socially cooperative? You see how people are today, they would say. How can people change?
One student answered, “Everyone thinks they’re alone and responsible as individuals for everything. We have to explain that it’s not the individual, but the system, and we have to cooperate and break down the barriers between people, because we’re taught to think individually.”
I added that revolutionary transformations of society from capitalism to socialism don’t happen overnight. They are made by people during a process. Only by the sacrifice of workers and students can they bring about socialism. By the time there is a socialist overturn, many, many people will have changed from an individualistic mentality to having attitudes of social solidarity because of the revolutionary process itself.
Because some of my comrades participated in the occupation of the state Capitol in Wisconsin, I could bring up their description of how masses of workers changed their mentality even during that two-week occupation. And it’s only the beginning.
Regarding the discussion, I don’t know if there was one central point. But one of the most important questions was, “How do we get out of it?” The vast majority of students seemed to be of the opinion that the profit system was no good and hurting everybody. It was a natural question to ask, then, “What is to be done?”
I said that in the short run they had to get together to fight back. But the only ultimate solution is to get rid of capitalism and private property and make all the property of society belong to people collectively. That’s a socialist system, where production is planned and things are produced for use.
One of the students had her own view on it that is worth repeating. She said that she saw the problem of how to get out of it — capitalism — as a generational problem. “Much of the older generation,” she said, “still acts according to the conservative old ways. We in our generation have nothing to look forward to. It’s up to our generation to start fighting back and to change the system. We have to do it ourselves.”