Introduction

My heartfelt view is that if we create political and economic institutions that allow workers to choose not to be exploited they will gravitate towards worker cooperatives and eliminate exploitation. Such an approach allows capitalism and exploitation to continue, but gives an equal opportunity to non-exploitative enterprises to flourish. In this sense the playground continues to exist for the capitalists, but it is marginalized so it cannot interfere with the serious business of running the economy.

In response to a socialist party platform calling for “education by the state”, Marx replies: “the state has need, on the contrary, of a very stern education by the people.” Despite common misconceptions, Marx supported free community-based education and not central-state-run education and felt compelled to make that crystal clear (Critique of the Gotha Programme, Chapter IV 1875). This is just one glaring indication that the common misconceptions promoted about Marx and communism in the US are way off the mark for some suspicious reason.Drawing on the work of Marx and the Marxian tradition, I am using the term exploitation in the sense of the appropriation of surplus labor by those other than the ones who performed the surplus labor. In this approach, the working day is conceptually divided into two parts. The first part of the day workers perform ‘necessary labor’ where the work performed produces commodities which carry the value equivalent to pay the wage or salary for the day, so that the worker can purchase the means to reproduce themselves as workers: in other words, the money needed for household consumption such as mortgage or rent, groceries, phone bill, gasoline, etc. This necessary labor generally corresponds to the value in money the worker receives as a wage or salary and so the necessary labor is proportional to the money-value paid to workers. After the necessary labor portion of the day is complete, the rest of the day is devoted to performing surplus labor, where the commodities produced in that portion of the day – and the surplus value revenues accruing from those surplus commodities – are appropriated as surplus labor (in contrast to the necessary labor that workers perform for themselves). Given the same weekly pay (the same necessary labor), the amount of surplus value an enterprise appropriates will be much greater if workers work a 60 hour work week rather than a 40 hour or 30 hour work week, because workers produce more and more products (commodities) the more they work.

In a ‘capitalist‘ enterprise the surplus labor is appropriated by someone else: for example, the board of directors and officers of a corporation. For a communist enterprise – for example, a workers cooperative like Mondragon – the surplus labor is appropriated and distributed by the workers themselves. Also for an independent producer like the corner barber shop, such a sole proprietor also appropriates his or her own surplus labor. Exploitation then is the term which indicates that surplus labor is being performed in an enterprise and that surplus labor is appropriated by someone else other than those who perform the surplus labor.

Overall I believe our ultimate goal should be to substantially curtail the exploitation of labor everywhere and encourage more participatory and decentralized modes of production, while simultaneously embracing the unprecedented innovation and worker cooperation facilitated by modern technology and modern cooperative production methods. I think we can achieve these goals primarily through tax policy and through legislative means.

Public and Private Debt as a direct result of exploitation

The over reliance on exploitative labor conditions also leads to other problems. For example our debt problem is a direct result of exploitative working conditions. To understand the situation imagine this scenario. You work for me as your employer and the net value you produce we split 50-50. Given those exploitative conditions we can both enjoy the same standard of living, but you do all of the work. Now imagine I hire 100, 1,000, or 10,000 employees under the same compensation conditions. With 10,000 employees I now can potentially enjoy a standard of living 10,000 times each employee. However, though I could try to consume all of my income, it is almost impossible now. If you forced me to consume all of that income, it would be cruel and usual punishment.

The only way to make sure that everything my workers produce is also purchased is if I can get my workers to borrow money from me. If I scare them about boogey men terrorists, I can get them to borrow lots of my income for military defense. If I can fill them with a fear of drug users I can sell an overblown prison-industrial complex requiring more borrowing. If I can over-inflate the real estate market, I can get them to accept incredibly large 30-year mortgages to buy the same house that used to require only a modest 15-year mortgage. If I can reconfigure cities by destroying urban mass transit I can get consumers to borrow immense amounts of money to support an inefficient private-vehicle-heavey and suburban-heavy transportation system where we all sit in traffic an hour or two each day.

The point here is that it is this wildly perverse distribution of income problem which forces the need for permanent structural debt. And it is the exploitation of labor which undergirds the wildly perverse distribution of income as those who do not produce amass together immense incomes for themselves by exploiting their workers. The government can reduce its debt and deficit but only if every American shoulders a greater debt burden. If both government and private households reduce their debt simultaneously, we have more financial and economic collapse.

Note too that this means so-called fiscal conservatives are full of bunk if they are not prepared to tackle the income distribution problem and likely the problem of exploitation as well. To advocate for balancing the Federal budget and eliminating the Federal deficit is to advocate for either economic collapse or forcing Americans to shoulder even more debt burden than they already face. What is fiscally conservative about that? After the Great Depression, when policy-makers recognized this connection between the perverse distribution of income and economic instability (see ‘America’s Most Egalitarian Banker’ at Too Much Online), they enacted a 90% marginal tax rate on every individual’s income over $50,000 (about $700,000 in current dollars): as if two wrongs could make a right. The two wrongs? First, they allowed exploitation to relieve the workers of the fruits of their labor, and then second, to fix that wrong, they instituted 90% marginal tax rates on everyone receiving over a particular amount of income. They had no other option if they wanted to keep the exploitation in place. I want to do away with exploitation and so I favor ending exploitation over instituting such ridiculously high marginal tax rates. However, if we continue to exploit workers, we will have little choice if we want to achieve economic stability then to institute such high marginal tax rates. Without exploitation and without natural monopoly dominance of markets, it is reasonable to conclude high incomes are earned and due to the hard work of the workers who jointly appropriate the fruits of their labor and their collective surplus value. With exploitation in place, most ridiculously high incomes are simply due to the exploitation of workers (though it is difficult to disentangle the sources of the high incomes).

Of course neoliberals today insist we can maintain the exploitation and low taxes by instead embracing and celebrating economic instability. For neoliberals, every boom and every collapse is another opportunity to dispossess workers of the fruits of their labor. In the boom times the process of exploitation is going well and those receiving enormous incomes from exploitation also enjoy other enormous incomes from the interest payments received by issuing government and consumer credit for the income they receive and cannot possibly spend. In the collapse, these same capitalists manage the crisis by consolidating assets into their own hands and wielding their power over government to distribute taxpayer funds to themselves in the name of ‘economic recovery’.

Even the Bible/Torah offers a solution to this nagging problem in what is called the Lord’s release or alternatively, the sabbatical year where every 7 years: “every creditor shall release that which he hath lent unto his neighbour; he shall not exact it of his neighbour and his brother; because the LORD’S release hath been proclaimed.” (Deutoronomy 15:2). So though the accumulation of wealth had not developed to such an extent as it has today, the ancient Hebrews still deployed a truly fiscally conservative policy to avoid such a perverse distribution of income. While there may be other reasons for the sabatical year unrelated to solving the debt problem and the perverse distribution of income, it nevertheless does address those problems.

So we have several possible solutions to these problems. We can every seven year simply forgive all debts. We can follow the neoliberals and simply allow greater and greater concentrations of wealth and embrace nearly universal impoverishment. We can impose extremely high marginal tax rates on incomes over a certain level as was done after the Great Depression. Or we can simply eliminate or severely curtail exploitation so that those who perform surplus labor collectively or individually appropriate and distribute that surplus labor as they see fit, to meet their collective or individual needs. To me the elimination of exploitation has no negative side-effects whatsoever and actually allows workers to lead more fulfilling lives. If capitalists believe that entrepreneurship is such wonderful thing, then should we not give everyone the opportunity to be an entrepreneur as a basic aspect of living one’s life? Allowing worker’s to appropriate their own surplus labor and distribute it to build an enterprise makes every worker into an entrepreneur (but not a capitalist since worker’s can bring a rich array of criteria in building an enterprise). For those who believe in sabatical year, there is no reason that we cannot eliminate exploitation in all private workplaces and still forgive all debts every 7 years. However, the elimination of exploitation in private workplaces makes all debts – whether forgiven or not – more manageable.

Ending exploitation by moving to worker cooperatives where workers appropriate their own surplus labor does not mean that workers will simply distribute to themselves all of the surplus value which they appropriate collectively. Much of that surplus value is needed to pay interest to creditors, pay taxes to government, accumulate new equipment or otherwise expand production and so forth. So it is not that workers transfer all of surplus value to their own private consumption. However, I think it is reasonable to assume that when workers are empowered to collectively appropriate their own surplus value, they will tend to compensate themselves adequately to live without excessive borrowing. In other words workers who appropriate their own surplus value can do so in a way that means excessive incomes do not accumulate at one pole while workers are left to sink into enormous debt at the other pole. Communist enterprise workers can instead either raise worker compensation or shorten the length of the work day to avoid producing so much surplus product that they must borrow to buy it all. We should not impose the solution on workers, but trust that they together will find the best solution for their situation. Workers cooperatives, in other words communist appropriation, enfranchises workers to meet their own needs and desires rather than allowing a separate oligarchical board of directors to decide the structure of production and distribution for workers.

Seeing how worker cooperatives and the associated communist appropriation of surplus labor helps solve our public and private debt problems, and also the wildly perverse distribution of income, provides only one example of the benefits of curtailing exploitation. When workers are empowered to appropriate their own surplus labor in place of an alien board of directors, other benefits accrue as well. For example, the communist appropriation of surplus labor helps supplant the myopic focus on the process of capital – the process of turning value into more value – and allows workers to see production as a means for human fulfillment instead of the means for insatiably consuming human beings to produce more and more value. So workers who enjoy communist appropriation and also enjoy the gift of productivity gains, might be more inclined to add more vacation days or holidays to the work calendar instead of simply continuing work at the same pace and dumping more surplus labor into speculative investments. A decision to reduce the pace of work is also a decision that diminishes the burden on the Earth and our limited and exhaustible natural resources. In contrast to communist appropriation, capitalist appropriation has only one goal: the ceaseless insatiable quest for more and more value, and once we subordinate ourselves and everything we care about to that process, it will consume every last bit of us and the Earth with no remorse. I could go on, but I hope it is clear by now that when communist appropriation of surplus labor replaces capitalist appropriation of surplus labor we also replace the impulse to focus all efforts to turning value into more value at all costs to workers and the environment and instead foster a much richer consideration of human need and fulfillment.

Slavery and exploitation

If we eventually want to totally prohibit exploitation in the private sphere we might need an amendment to the US Constitution. With the 13th amendment, we ended slavery which ended the ability to buy and to own another human being. However, the 13th amendment still permitted the leasing of human beings and their indentured service on an hourly and daily basis (as well as the extended indentured servitude of convicts which has been severely abused). While ending slavery was a monumental milestone in our nation’s history, we should understand that ending exploitation was a lost goal in ending slavery: which is what the commonly repeated phrase of “40 acres and a mule” sought to address. Those who have access to 40 acres and a mule have the power to appropriate their own surplus labor, whereas those without the means to produce must submit to someone else appropriating the fruits of their labor: in particular the surplus labor they perform and and for which they receive no equivalent of value in return. So though these former slaves were freed from slavery they were still continued to also be free of the means necessary to produce as workers and appropriate their own surplus labor just as when they were slaves.

However, ending slavery was not only about exploitation. It was also about ending the brutal conditions of slavery. During the 19th century though, brutal conditions also existed for workers in the newly emerging capitalist industries such as the capitalist workers in the New England textile industry where most workers were women often subjected to corporal punishment. So we not only ended the brutalization that took place within slavery, we simultaneously ended much of the workplace brutalizations that took place within capitalist enterprise as well. We still have brutal and arcane working conditions in certain places – especially among the most marginalized workers. Although we seldom hear of the fiery death of an entire factory’s workforce – due to a policy of locking employees inside – it does still occur.

In the 19th century we witnessed the rapid growth of such capitalism where production increasingly accompanied the exploitation of wage and salaried workers: in other words the payment of wages and salaries to essentially lease workers, where the net product of their work belonged to someone else. We take this for granted today, but this type of exploitation was traditionally an attribute of only feudal or slave production and is precisely the sort of oppression our nation’s founders sought to eliminate – through their advocacy of yeoman farming, for example. We think of an employers right to exploit labor as a right inextricably tied to the ownership of property. But there is nothing inherent in the ownership of instruments of labor, raw materials, and other property that implies the net product of the labor applied to those instruments and raw materials must be owned by the owner of those very same instruments of our labor and raw materials. For example, ownership of a slave does not necessarily entitle someone to brutalize that slave, but many slave owners took their ownership as proof of their right to brutalize their slave. However, property rights are always circumscribed by law and custom so that precisely what it means to own something is socially inscribed. In ancient cultures simply because one owned a slave gave them no right to mistreat or brutalize that slave. We eventually changed customs so that most capitalists also no longer brutalized their workers, so such custom and law can be changed. We could likewise change custom and law today to ensure those who perform surplus labor are the ones who collectively appropriate and distribute that surplus labor and not those who happen to own the materials, land and equipment which with those workers work. Or we could ensure that those who perform the work also own the instruments and raw materials with which they work though a new cooperative worker corporate form.

Note that slaves, just like capitalist workers, perform both necessary and surplus labor. For example, slaves perform necessary labor during the portion of the day they pick the cotton equivalent in value in the Atlantic triangular trade needed for the slave-master to buy commodities for the slave to live and reproduce. Slaves also performed necessary labor in their own gardens and, just like capitalist workers today, performed necessary labor in their household to sustains themselves which also diminishes the money needed to buy commodities for their sustenance and therefore diminishes the portion of the day devoted to necessary labor. The sustenance provided slaves in the early US was much smaller than capitalist workers receive today and moreover capitalist workers enjoy the choice of what specific commodities they consume to sustain themselves. Both slaves and capitalist workers also worked more hours in the 19th century than we do in the 20th century. However given the great productivity gains over the last century, the time spent laboring to create our sustenance, has shrunk dramatically (even when accounting for our higher standard of living so that ‘sustenance’ today includes: entertainment; travel and tourism; and for a brief time education for education’s sake rather than simply for vocational skills for the capitalist workplace). Given those great productivity gains, and the corresponding shrinkage in time spent laboring for that sustenance, we face higher rates of exploitation today than the slaves and capitalist workers of the 19th century. This means their is a greater abundance of surplus products which workers produce and which are used for all sorts of purposes often times adversarial to the interests of workers (such as pervasive rent-seeking activity, imperial military adventures, capitalist apologist think tanks, and so forth).

Though ending slavery required a Constitutional amendment, ending capitalist exploitation likely does not. Since ending slavery actually constituted a much more fundamental changed to the property rights of Americans (as opposed to changing the surplus labor appropriating rights which are not fundamental to American principles). The 13th amendment ended the ability to treat another person as a personal asset and so stripped slave-holders of their monetary assets. The ending of slavery could have been accomplished alternatively by using tax revenues to compensate all slave-holders for the loss of their slave ‘assets’, but the slave-holdig elite in the south conspired to make war against the United States and so they created the seeds for their own dispossession without monetary remuneration when they attacked Fort Sumpter and supported treason. In contrast, an end to capitalist exploitation requires only legislation to change the contract law reshaping the permissible relations between employer and employee. I do not mean to make this reshaping of contract law sound simple and trivial. Capitalist exploitation is a complicated and the potential for loopholes is strong: especially if we try to prohibit it. It is far better that we create the opportunities for workers to extricate themselves from capitalist exploitation by leveling the playing field and allow worker cooperatives that appropriate surplus labor communistically to flourish and thrive.

Republican Governance

Article Four of the US Constitution guarantees a republican form of government to the states and to the People.

The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.

While the plain language suggests a guarantee “to every State”, in this context this clause serves effectively as a guarantee to the persons of every state: a guarantee of a republican form of government within each person’s state. In other words, the United States will guarantee that, whether through foreign invasion, domestic unrest, a vote of the majority, or even a state constitutional amendment, no one can replace any State’s governance with a non-republican form of government such as a monarchy or oligarchy. Such a change to end republican governance would require a US Constitutional amendment and thus one of the ways the framers of the Constitution artfully protected the minority against the tyranny of the majority was through the republican government guarantee clause. Certain things can happen through a vote of the majority, but the integrity of minority opinion cannot be assailed without Constitutional amendment. However, even if we have the support to amend the Constitution on some issue we still should not do so in my view unless the amendment serves a genuine social interest in empowering the government to curtail the behavior of the minority. Carrying forward the spirit of the Constitution implies that we never seek to attack the liberties of minority subcultures simply because “we have the votes” unless it represents a clear violation of the rights of others.

A republican form of government including popular participation in elections and representative form of democracy have long been an important part of our political tradition within the US. However, during the 19th century, we saw not only an end of slavery on one hand, but also, on the other hand, a rapid growth in capitalist forms of exploitation where workers were denied the very republican form of government in their workplace which they were guaranteed in other public spheres.

As a firm believer in the US Constitution and the republican forms it guarantees, I strongly believe we should extend those republican and democratic forms into every corner of the public sphere: including the commercial workplace.

Many of my policies are designed to provide opportunities to workers to remove themselves from exploitative conditions. For example, when credit is socialized in the hands of a democratic and transparent National Credit Union, we will end the bias in favor of capitalist exploitative corporations in the credit markets and usurious credit practices designed to intensify the rate of exploitation (by routinely burdening workers with debt too overwhelming to manage without taking second jobs or otherwise working themselves to death). Furthermore, the reform of corporate charters to permit, and even encourage, non-exploitative workers cooperative corporations creates new opportunities for workers to seek non-exploitative conditions. Likewise improvements in education, technology, and community investment creates new productive opportunities for workers and likewise helps to emancipate workers from exploitative capitalist conditions.

In addition to the other policy prescriptions I support, future steps might include:

  • Public education reforms to bring a new era of computer assisted craft production with both home-baseed and community-center-based equipment developed (what has been called personal numeric control or PNC)
  • Encouragement and aid to communist households and larger cooperative communist households
  • A Constitutional amendment abolishing exploitation so that, like the abolition of slavery, the use of workers to labor for products owned and controlled by someone else would be permanently and completely abolished: not simply by ending slavery but by ending all exploitation
  • Conversion of other businesses to workers cooperative corporations or sole-proprietorships or encouragement of s-corporations without any exploited employees.

Socialized natural monopoly enterprise

I say curtailing exploitation rather than ending exploitation because there is one area where I think it should remain: only in the government-run natural monopoly industries (See my issue page on the socialization of natural monopoly industries). Since my view is that natural monopolies should be operated transparently, democratically and accountably by government at the appropriate level, workers who serve in the public sector therefore provide a public service above and beyond the typical understanding of that role. They also would submit themselves to exploitation by a democratic government. My view is that it would be undesirable to end the exploitation within such socialized monopoly enterprise because of the conflicting interests between the electorate in general and the specific collective workers of the socialized enterprise. The surplus from these workers: in other words, the surplus labor they perform and the resulting surplus value and surplus product of their labor should instead be appropriated by government. In other words it is up to Congress (at the Federal level) to determine what should become of the surplus value from these socialist enterprises. For example for an interstate railway, Congress can decide to distribute the surplus value to the users of the railway in the form of lower user fees to encourage an ecologically more sustainable mode of transportation (note that such distributions of surplus labor in the form of price reductions obscures the very existence of the surplus labor but all the users of the railway benefit from that surplus labor distributed in the form of a user fee reduction). On the other hand, a Federally operated interstate electrical grid might instead seek to encourage conservation by distributing the surplus labor of the socialized enterprise workers into the public treasury to diminish the tax burden on the entire population, thus keeping electrical distribution fees high to discourage overconsumption of electrical energy.

Considering that public employees also would eventually constitute the only workers denied the privilege to appropriate their own surplus, it is appropriate to distribute some modest portion of the surplus to the public employees themselves in the form of competitive wages and salaries. Given that these public service employees will not appropriate the their own surplus labor like other workers, they should instead enjoy the benefit of collective bargaining including competent representation in all rounds of collective bargaining. Since government should appropriate all of the surplus labor they perform and distribute it as government sees fit through thoroughly democratic procedures, the workers should be empowered to bargain over their working conditions, their salaries and other compensation, expectation over the intensity of work and the length of the work week – just as private employees and many public employees already do today. The only area of bargaining that concerns me within public enterprise is in the area of the size of the workforce. Because innovation is so common in such natural monopoly enterprise, and because the public has such an overriding interest in reducing the work resources which go into such enterprise, my view is that government must be free to control the scale of production in such industries in the uninhibited interests of the People, regardless of the collective bargaining unit’s desire to preserve its workforce size. In contrast, private enterprise collective bargaining, such workforce size negotiations should remain an integral chip on the bargaining table, but in the public sphere it should be off-limits.

Wouldn’t socializing natural monopolies lead to “socialism” and fostering communist enterprise and households lead to “communism”?

Sometimes constituents I speak with end up misconstruing these things because of the unavoidable preconceptions about this language I feel compelled to use. For example, they wonder if the socialization of national monopoly industries and other monopoly resources is the same as China-style “socialism”. And relatedly, they wonder whether fostering non-exploitative local, community and household based production through communism in independent enterprise and independent households is the same as China-style “communism”. Like the manipulation of the term “freedom”, these terms get appropriated and manipulated by governing elites. While this mixing of “socialist” and “communist” sound much like the sloganeering used by state capitalist countries like China or the former Soviet Union, what I propose here is very different (though the capitalist elites in both China and the Soviet Union also played on the confusion to carve out and maintain privileged positions for themselves to exploit their workers). Just as our governing elites use the slogan of democracy to make us feel good about their rule over us, so too do the Chinese leaders use “communism” and “socialism” to make their workers feel good about the state capitalist rule of their workers. I use the labels because, though the public relations world distorts these words in order to make it more difficult to talk about the concepts to which they refer, that does not mean we should or can easily surrender these words indispensable in discussing the concepts they designate. Also to surrender these terms further suppresses the tradition from which they originate. The distortion of essential terminology has been done with all sorts of terms: ‘democracy’, ‘conservative’, ‘liberal’, ‘communist’, ‘socialist’, ‘fascist’, ‘capitalist’, ‘Marxist’ and so forth. All of these terms are attacked, celebrated, distorted, vilified, and undermined as needed in a public relations exercise of branding. Such branding makes it easy to manipulate the People but it also makes it difficult to discuss, deliberate, and debate without first leaving public relations inspired preconceptions at the door. For example by using the brand names “Democrat” and “Republican” the governing elite have been able to lure the People into supporting more and more corporate control over our government. The party that ended slavery is now the party in favor of furthering other exploitation and even believes in brutalization of capitalist workers as an inalienable right of their employer. The party of the New Deal now accepts greater oligopoly and oligarchical dominance of the economy and government. However, much of the Democratic rank-and-file and much of the Republican rank-and-file continue blissfully voting as they always have, despite the massive tectonic shifts in the both party platforms: all because of branding, marketing and public relations.

Similarly when Marx railed against capitalism he did not mean it as a synonym for markets or free enterprise as we are now told by the public relations spin doctors. Marx understood it to mean the subordination of everything to the process of capital – defined as the process of turning value into more value. So, for example, in subordinating everything to capital, to meet our needs for retirement, we look to the process of turning money into more money. To educate our children, we bow to the process of capital. When considering how to meet our health care needs, we only concern ourselves with which method is most profitable. As productivity increases, we rarely ask whether we should work fewer hours or fewer days or less intensely because that would reduce profits. Our enslavement to capital is worse than Marx could have ever imagined. While we have addressed much of the workplace brutalization and safety negligence which Marx wrote about, and while most of the child labor abuses have either ended or been outsourced, we often show much more concern for the process of capital – the process of turning value into more value – than concern for our own well-being and toward that of our fellow human beings (socialists and communists use the term ‘comrades’ as a synonymous gender-neutral expression for ‘fellow human beings‘ but which, here too, has been distorted so that we cannot utter the word ‘comrade’ without resulting in some sinister inference).

The point is that workers deserve to control their lives – including the fruits of their labor. That does not mean creditors cannot loan at interest, nor does it mean that individuals, corporations, and other collectives cannot own property. It merely implies that we should appropriate – individually or collectively, whether in households or as entrepreneurs – the fruits of our own labor including our surplus labor. We may willingly enter into credit agreements with lenders, but ending exploitation implies the enterprise and other sites of production should be protected from anyone else appropriating the surplus labor of others (and credit intermediation should be made equally available to all without special privileged access to it). Just as we ended the ability to buy a slave or sell oneself into slavery, we would further end the ability of anyone to buy a worker even for the hour (to end the leasing in addition to the buying and selling of workers). This is a restriction on the freedom to contract but so too is the prohibition against slavery.

Conclusion

As ‘Marxism’, ‘socialism’ and especially ‘exploitation’ and ‘communism’ are so often distorted in America and elsewhere to serve the interests of ruling elites, there will no doubt be a strong tendency to misunderstand the topic of this issue page. Not only do these topics create a knee-jerk reaction in many, but the very conceptual apparatus required to understand these terms is forbidden in the media, in educational institutions and in most realms of public discourse. Essentially an entire discourse – a discourse indispensable for understanding our current economic and political problems – has been stamped out. This stamping out began over 100 years ago and continued with FBI intimidation and harassment of the Industrial Workers of the World in the early 1900s, McCarthyism in the 1950s, and self-serving distortions throughout the 20th century in the Soviet Union and China. Except in ever-diminishing circles in academia, few ever encounter anyone knowledgeable about communism as advocated by Marx and his colleagues. Most only encounter the strawman-communist-creation of the public relations wing of the corporatist elites and neoliberal spin doctors. It is easy to dismiss such strawman-communism because it is completely offensive to the views of every last American. Again, in this case too it is only branding that leads some into defending strawman-communism, just as others end up defending Democrats or Republicans against the opposing brand.

The advocacy of genuine communist enterprise – which has been all but stamped out in America – is on the other hand very much in the tradition of the United States. The yeoman farmer was very much about ending exploitation. 40 acres and a mule was very much about ending exploitation. At the origination of the US Constitution, capitalism was in its infancy (as opposed to markets which had been around since ancient times). Many of our founding fathers felt that slavery and other exploitation could be ended though mechanisms such as yeoman farming, homesteading, and Westward expansion (which had some disastrous side-effects in the violent confrontations and eventual dis-posession of native Americans). In the intervening years, capitalism socialized production in the sense of bringing many workers collectively together under one roof in unprecedented levels of cooperation. So capitalism combined this newly created form of exploitation on the one hand, with worker cooperation within the workplace on the other hand: fueling new unprecedented levels of labor productivity. Yet the pro-capitalist public relations spin we get today tends to suggest that Jeffersonian ideals of yeoman farming would lead us to condemn the workplace cooperation but not condemn workplace exploitation. Perhaps Jefferson would condemn both, but my sense is that he simply had not ever conceived of the notion of the communist enterprise which would not proliferate until the following century. Then Robert Owen, Karl Marx, Frederich Engels, and many others would advocate combining the cooperative labor process popularized by capitalism with the collective, democratic, and representative decision-making advanced by the American revolution – inventing the communist industrial enterprise. This communist industrial enterprise is not, as governing elites would have us believe, the same as state capitalism as practiced in China today. It is an independent entrepreneurial establishment allowing a collection of workers in a cooperative workplace to avoid exploitation by employing collective forms of decision-making to appropriate and distribute their own surplus labor together. They therefore collectively can avoid exploitation as easily as the lone yeoman farmer or a newly freed slave granted 40 acres and a mule might have done by appropriating surplus labor individually.

We think of the Soviet Union and China as places where governing elite propaganda runs rampant: and that is certainly true. However what we so often fail to realize is that contrast is the very bread and butter of the propagandists as they contrast how ‘free’ workers in the United States are versus how ‘enslaved’ workers are elsewhere. However, from a Marxian perspective both the US and China are capitalist. The US has a form of almost pure private capitalism whereas China has a form of almost pure state capitalism: though both are experimenting with mixed forms of state capitalism and private capitalism. That means that neither China, nor the former USSR have all that much to do with socialism and communism: at least not as Marx and his colleagues imagined.

So whereas propaganda in China and the USSR arises in the form of a celebration of Marx and ‘communism’ in name, propaganda in the US arises in the form of a vilification of Marx and ‘communism’. While Marx is a very difficult read at first, those who sincerely plough through it will not find the skewed strawman communism or Marxism that we are presented within the United States. These misconceptions about Marxism and communism therefore pollute our political discourse and undermine our ability to diagnose our political situation and establish suitable solutions. Because the preconceptions are the hardest step to overcome for those of us steeped in US governing elite propaganda, I will repeat that the ‘communist’ appropriation I write about here and the ‘socialized’ enterprise I write about here and elsewhere have nothing to do with ending markets, state central planning, or eliminating personal property. Instead these policy prescriptions are aimed at fostering greater decentralization, more thorough grassroots democracy, and more fulfilling community based economics.

In place of capitalism – in other words, in place of the subordination of everything to the process of turning value into more value – communist enterprises and socialist enterprises allow us to focus on a much richer array of markers of human fulfillment. The usual criticisms that apply to strawman Marx do not apply here. There is no additional bureaucracy involved: in fact, there is substantially less bureaucracy involved. Nor do these proposals do anything to undermine market mechanisms and the valuable price signals they convey. Nothing in these proposals damages rewards for ingenuity and individual initiative. Finally, curtailing exploitation has nothing to do with making everyone the same and compensating them equally, regardless of their contribution, needs and other criteria. Rather these alternate economic approaches actually promote economic and discursive diversity and facilitate democratic deliberation and decision-making to determine compensation and working conditions according to the wishes of the workers themselves.

Inevitably the many criticisms lobbed by the propagandists turn out to be psychological projection about capitalism itself. Capitalism fosters immense bureaucracies especially as it requires the private for-profit ownership or other control of natural monopoly industries and responds to this bureaucratic pathology with a remedy that merely adds more bureaucracy: large government anti-trust regulatory agencies. In terms of market mechanisms capitalism undermines markets in all sorts of ways such as government subsidies to the well connected capitalists and predatory market practices to cause panics or dominate markets. Also by producing first and foremost to myopically increase surplus value and not for a complete array of criteria for human fulfillment, capitalism foster a herd mentality through advertising, marketing and public relations which brings to bear immense rhetorical powers to make consumers into interchangeable parts which can then be sold to with high-volume cookie-cutter products. This last point is important because the common ideal of markets is that buyers and sellers enter into commerce with one another based on their independent desires, but in capitalism enormous resources are expended to make those desires uniform so that consumers become interchangeable parts as capitalism sees them as just another input into the process of capital. While turning consumers into interchangeable and uniform buyers of capitalist products on one side of the equation, capitalism also turns workers into equally uniform workers as inputs into the process on the other side of the equation. Therefore capitalism also subordinates the diversity of human expression to its need for conformity.

Everything is thus subordinated to the capitalist process. Capitalism tells us it is the most efficient engine of growth, but that is simply a propagandistic way of saying capitalism subordinates everything in life to turning value into more value. If all criteria in life are subordinated to the desire to turn value into more value, then it is simply a tautology that capitalism is the most effective system for turning value into more value. Note however that subordinating everything to capital is not the same thing as prosperity and fulfillment.