When liberal politicians like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders say that we can solve inequality by taxing the rich, they’re trying to make it seem like the relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is a legislative dispute instead of a class war. They’re proposing that the interests of the ruling oligarchs can be reconciled with our interests, and that all this will take is a rearrangement of the tax system.
But this won’t rectify the situation, both because it wouldn’t take the rich out of power and because modern capitalism gives the rich too many loopholes for avoiding paying taxes. As the Twitter account of the socialist Hampton Institute recently observed:
“The days of “taxing the rich” are likely long gone. Even if such laws are passed, who’s gonna collect? Anything short of deploying heavily-armed “people’s recuperation squads” won’t cut it. And even then, the rich have international networks of wealth havens that are untouchable.”
In a globalized neoliberal world where traditional borders no longer exist, and where plutocrats can use a borderless global network of corporate power to fortify their wealth, the heavy taxes on the wealthy from the Eisenhower era can’t effectively be reimposed. And it’s unrealistic that in the American political system as it now exists, such social democratic policies will be allowed to pass. Far-right ideologues have dominance over Washington, with the Republicans holding control amid a deeply rigged electoral process and a Democratic Party that‘s too enamored with corporate power to carry out meaningful change. The attempts from the Sanders wing to change the Democratic Party won’t lead to an upheaval either, because the DNC will be able to steal the primary from Sanders even if he overcomes the slanted primary contests.
Politicians like Sanders continue to promise that American social democracy can be enacted because this is the limit to the kinds of changes they’re willing to imagine. They don’t want to replace capitalism, they want to save it. And the political systems that have replaced capitalism are invariably vilified by these politicians as “tyrannical.”
I’m talking about the systems of Cuba, the DPRK, and the other socialist states. The DPRK’s approach towards running its economy is a particularly good option to emulate when it comes to the question of taxation, because in socialist Korea there are officially no taxes. The DPRK’s state gets much of its resources directly from the labor of those in the proletariat, who make up the government-employed workforce that would otherwise work for corporations if they were in a capitalist country.
Because this ideal of total state employment hasn’t been able to practically work in the DPRK’s isolated post-Soviet era economy, many private enterprises also exist in the country, which give part of their profits to the state. But despite this tax-like arrangement for the relatively few private businesses within the DPRK, the country has no tax system and hasn’t had one since 1974. The country has an arrangement where the people, rather than being taxed for the work they do, are compensated for their work with a robust social safety net and a system where workers get special food rewards.
The DPRK’s economy isn’t perfect from a communist perspective, since it still has a (disempowered) bourgeois class and it isn’t totally able to provide its people with material necessities. But this is because it’s struggling against capitalist economic sabotage, whicg has promped it to adapt by partly utilizing private business. The same is essentially the case for Cuba, and for the other socialist nations Vietnam, Laos, and China. These places haven’t achieved communism’s goal for a classless, stateless society, but they’re all workers’ democracies where the state is controlled by the proletariat rather than the bourgeoisie.
Among them, the DPRK has achieved an especially advanced level of Marxist social development by moving beyond taxes. They’ve demonstrated a solution that social democrats like Sanders won’t consider, because they don’t want to move towards socialism but towards a “fair” version of capitalism.
Oligarchs like Mike Bloomberg have tricked people, even leftists, into thinking society relies on wealthy people like him. The idea that we should try to solve poverty by getting the rich to pay out more of their money perpetuates our dynamic of dependency on the ruling class, and it advocates for the opposite of putting ownership over the means of production into the hands of the workers. This is why while Sanders decries Bloomberg’s antics in the Democratic primary, Sanders ultimately wants to perpetuate Bloomberg’s role in society. No politician in the two major capitalist parties wants to do what must really be done, which is to take people like Bloomberg out of their roles as members of the bourgeoisie.
How can this be done? Not by voting for Democrats, or by claiming the welfare capitalist states in Scandinavia are “socialist,” or by doing the other things that the social democrats say are revolutionary. Our priorities need to reflect the ones of those who created the existing socialist states, which were: educate the masses about the need for seizing the means of production, build the communist organizations that can carry out the revolution, and overthrow the capitalist-controlled state before replacing it with a proletarian-run democracy.
Raising taxes on the rich, like establishing monopoly trusts, raising the minimum wage, and expanding social programs, has in the past served as a band-aid for the inequality caused by American capitalism. FDR used it to save capitalism amid a time of rising class tensions, and Sanders hopes to do the same. The idea of trying to raise taxes on the rich is naturally appealing to the economically disenfranchised, and it’s understandable that so many people have decided to support Sanders due to his desire for this and other social democratic policies. But our interests really lie with the forces of class war-not the illusion of “class war” that Sanders represents, but the goal of ridding the country of the exploiting class.
The possibility that millions more people will start working towards this goal in the coming years, perhaps as a result of Sanders’ supporters further developing their political consciousness, is what truly terrifies oligarchs like Bloomberg. Oligarchic media sycophants like Chris Matthews are terrified of it as well, which is why they’re now disingenuously attacking Sanders as if he were actually a radical. They know that as the proletarian outrage over neoliberalism continues in the coming years, enough people might join the communists for a real revolution to get going.
So join the class war. Overthrowing America’s bourgeois state is our only route for defeating capitalism. And in an America where democracy has deteriorated too much for even an FDR liberal like Sanders to be effectual, overthrowing the government may also be the only way we can end neoliberalism.
Creating A Dictatorship Of The Proletariat Is Crucial
After four months of racist terror campaigns, illegal seizures of power, and violent intimidation tactics from the police and the military, Bolivia has become a far-right dictatorship. Amid months of propaganda from U.S. regime change agents who were determined to tarnish President Evo Morales’ public image, Bolivia’s U.S.-backed right-wing opposition responded to the October re-election of Morales by inciting political violence. Indigenous people were targeted with racialized terrorism, Morales’ family and top officials were threatened, and the imperialist media manufactured sympathy for the white supremacist factions which were falsely claiming electoral fraud. Morales was forced to resign a few weeks after the election.
Morales was coerced into leaving by the far-right paramilitary forces of the racist millionaire Louis Fernandez Camacho, who helped compel Bolivia’s military officials to recommend Morales step down. He was replaced by Jeanine Añez Chavez, a Christian fundamentalist who’s called indigenous people “satanic.” In the chaos following the coup, the new regime used violent intimidation tactics to target the indigenous socialists who were mobilizing against the illegitimate new government. The police and the military were given legal impunity to shoot those resisting the government, protesters were massacred, and groups of indigenous people were attacked with pogroms as an example to others.
The allies of the exiled Morales weren’t able to overcome this, even as they gathered into militias and won some police personnel over to their side. The “transitional government” was solidified, and it’s since become a dictatorship. It’s privatized the water, expelled many foreign nationals, closed down the Bolivian TV networks of RT and TeleSur, detained foreign journalists, and created a squad of masked, armed death squads that terrorize resisters. To help ensure that it won’t be voted out in May’s election, last month the regime publicly mobilized the military in order to intimidate the population. Candidates from Bolivia’s socialist party have been forced to organize abroad amid an atmosphere where opposition leaders have repeatedly been detained, and where critical journalists have been found dead under suspicious circumstances.
For all who care about indigenous rights, poor people’s rights, democracy, and the environment, what’s happened in Bolivia has been a tragedy of incalculable proportions. Morales cut poverty in half and reduced extreme poverty even further, and he was creating an eco-socialist Bolivia by giving the environment equivalent rights to human beings. His move to continue running for re-election was entirely legal and supported by the dominant facet of of Bolivia’s voting population, and the U.S. media’s disingenuous outrage about him “undermining Bolivia’s democracy” has led to the creation of a genocidal dictatorship.
What is the lesson that the opponents of fascism, imperialism, and capitalism can learn from this? It’s that socialists should always approach revolution with the goal of dismantling the structure of the capitalist state, as opposed to working around the power of the state.
It’s not an absolute rule that socialists who’ve gained power through elections are overthrown, but it is a notorious trend. The Marxist Chilean president Salvador Allende was stormed by Chile’s own armed forces in the 1973 coup that began the Pinochet regime. The rest of the history of CIA interference in Latin America shows numerous other elected socialist leaders who’ve been removed through what the scholar Steve Kangas described as:
“propaganda, stuffed ballot boxes, purchased elections, extortion, blackmail, sexual intrigue, false stories about opponents in the local media, infiltration and disruption of opposing political parties, kidnapping, beating, torture, intimidation, economic sabotage, death squads and even assassination.”
These methods for destroying socialism are relatively easy. In the cases of fallen Marxist-Leninist states like the USSR and the GDR, the imperialists have more often had to resort to larger-scale and more difficult types of attacks. Defeating the USSR and its dependent socialist states required decades of military encirclement, economic warfare, and nuclear threats, which prompted the USSR’s leadership to heavily invest in the military and make concessions to the imperialists through pro-capitalist reforms. This compounded the rightward ideological shift away from Marxism-Leninism that had been taking place in the USSR’s bureaucracy, which could be considered a slow coup on the part of the imperialists. It culminated with the traitor Gorbachev, who sold his people out to neoliberalism.
And this long struggle to overthrow communism in Russia was far from the end of the threat to imperialism from Marxist-Leninist states. The People’s Republic of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which both came to power with help from the Soviets, are now arguably stronger than ever in the face of frantic imperialist attacks against them. The U.S. lost the Vietnam War to Ho Chi Minh’s Marxist-Leninist state, and Vietnam has remained socialist since then. The socialist governments in Cuba and Nicaragua, which both resulted from efforts to overthrow the capitalist dictatorships that had previously ruled these countries, remain undefeated after decades of imperialist sabotage.
It’s no surprise that Muammar Gaddafi, one of the few socialist leaders who the U.S. has had to remove through an outright military invasion, took power through a coup instead of an election. History shows that socialist revolutionaries who’ve gained power through overthrowing the bourgeois state have had firm control over the state apparatus, making them nearly impossible to remove without a regime change war or decades of difficult cold war.
Venezuela’s Chavistas are rare in representing perhaps the only decades-long surviving socialist government that came to power electorally. And the methods they’ve used to gain and maintain power resemble how Marxist-Leninist states have fortified control. Hugo Chavez was able to overcome neoliberal Venezuela’s rigged political process by building a network of support within the military, which helped allow him to win the 1998 election with relative security against a coup. Chavez and his successor Maduro have been able to retain power after all the CIA’s coup attempts foremost by maintaining control over the military.
I think that many factors beyond the control of Morales prevented him from creating such a solid power structure (like the strength of the Bolivian bourgeoisie compared to the relative weakness of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie), while he can also be blamed for it in other respects (such as his decision not to create an armed revolutionary defense wing like Maduro has). But judging Morales as an individual isn’t the point of this essay. It’s to point out that in a capitalist-run electoral process, the capitalists have the upper hand, so they can remove a leader they don’t like fairly easily.
If Bolivia’s socialist candidates are prevented from winning May’s election, it will prompt the country’s proletarian movement to take a route towards socialist revolution that’s always been its most realistic option for victory: overthrowing their capitalist government and creating a dictatorship of the proletariat. The same is the case for the socialist movement in every other capitalist country in the world, especially in the countries whose democracies have deteriorated in ways comparable to Bolivia’s.
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