Tuesday, February 23, 2016

"Making it" v World Socialism (1977)

A Letter from America from the September 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the entertainment business, good lines that catch the attention of the viewer are not easy to come by and many a Show Biz personality—whatever the field —must sweat blood to hold interest. Happily, though, there is one tried-and-true exception to this rule and any number of movie, radio and TV stars have used it to good advantage. It is the reminiscing by a successful one of his and his family’s earlier bout with poverty. If there is one tale that never goes stale with most audiences it is the saga of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps, as the saying goes, or making it against the world on one’s merit. Having been the butt of capitalist propaganda from nursery school times, it is little wonder that the average worker continues to get a vicarious thrill from the rags-to- riches story.

Not that we would challenge the argument that it is still possible to work one’s way up the “ladder.” It is being done and we are more apt to hear of it now because of the growth of the media, particularly TV. But unlike news broadcasting, which features disasters, plain-and-simple entertainment does not generally deal with those who fall off the “ladder” or get stuck on the bottom rungs. It is the exceptional success that gets the play. For the entire philosophy and rationale of modern capitalism rests on the possibility of rising from rags to riches or, at the very least, the opportunity to combat and overcome economic adversity.

True, there is widespread admiration, even veneration—in America as in the “old countries"—for those who have inherited their wealth and status and who have never been compelled to do a day’s “honest” work in their entire lives. We have our “royalty,” too — the Rockefellers, Fords, Du Ponts, Kennedys, etc., almost any of whom have been or could be represented in the elective bodies of the land. But this is somewhat of an aberration in the general scheme of American capitalism. Lurking behind all of the professional representation of “black and city poor” in the USA by organizations—such as National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League is the philosophy of an individual’s right to “make it” if he has “what it takes” and is not being deliberately shut out by those in political control.

Item: The writer, James Baldwin, appearing recently on an educational Network broadcast, defended the looters in the recent NY City blackout, most of whom were black (as were their small-business victims). The looters had been conditioned, he contended, by the advertizing of a “consumer oriented” society to acquire status items so, when the opportunity presented itself, they took advantage of it. The problem, according to Baldwin, is that black workers are being deliberately deprived of the opportunity to live a good life by being denied good jobs with “decent” wages. The fault does not lie with the organization of society on the basis of wage-labor and capital, it would seem, but with those who are in a position to shut out blacks, especially, from opportunities to “make it.” An interesting aspect of that affair was the fact that those who committed arson as well as theft, did their victims a favour—at least those who were covered by fire insurance. On the other hand, and also of academic interest, was the response of horror from the authorities at the magnitude of the crime of looting. Hundreds of the culprits were incarcerated in cells with no facilities, and with no communication with lawyers or family permitted, during a record heat-wave while awaiting for days for arraignment. “Let the punishment fit the crime!” One example of “Human Rights” in the USA.

Now, Socialists maintain a “hands off” stance in regard to activity such as helping the city poor to “make it.” It is not that we object, in any way, to individual workers beating this jungle system. We all must live until we die and certainly it is easier to live under capitalism when one enjoys comparative affluence. Nor are we concerned, as an organization, with the manner in which one “makes it”—whether through inheritance or by one’s wits, legally or otherwise. Our goal is to spread a different gospel. It no longer makes sense to maintain a society wherein individuals have the need to acquire economic or political power in any degree whatsoever. Capitalist mass production techniques have long since made possible a world in which every man, woman and child can be secure by having the right to access to the goods and services that provide security. Modern capitalism must concern itself more and more with damning this potential by slamming production floodgates to accommodate a market. It is possible, given a sane system of society, to change the meaning of “making it.” When brain power no longer must be wasted on “beating the system” the frontier of the future will be unlimited.
Harmo, WSP, Boston.



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