For several days now, I have been struggling to pull together into one coherent narrative a number of themes to which I have devoted many words and many years of my life. I have not yet been successful in this effort, so this morning I decided to set it to one side and simply to talk about each of them, one after the other.
Let me begin by expanding on things I have often said about the significance of the several liberation movements that have been so important a part of American life and politics for almost 2 centuries. I have in mind four such movements. The first and by far the greatest was the Civil War which, with enormous bloodshed and loss of life, established once for all that chattel slavery has no place in the United States. The second movement, which began more than a century ago, is what came to be called Women’s Liberation: first the struggle for the suffrage for (primarily white) women; then the demand for equal pay for equal work; and finally the attempt to break all of the glass ceilings that limit the aspirations and accomplishments of women. The third is the modern Civil Rights Movement, which is now more than 60 years old and continues to the present day with its inclusion of demands for the equality of Latinx and Native American men and women. And the fourth liberation movement is the demand for equal rights for non—heterosexuals, which perhaps should be called the movement for Gender Liberation rather than for Gay Liberation.
Viewed in a certain light, all four of these movements, despite the resistance they have engendered and the drama they have contributed to American life, are fundamentally conservative in their nature. To see what I mean, try to imagine with me an America in which the goals of all of these movements are fully realized. This would be in America in which there would be equal pay for equal work, in which every job category from the production line to the corporate suite would be occupied by persons in proportion to their racial or ethnic or gender presence in the American population as a whole. There would be as many female garbage collectors proportionally as there are women in the labor force seeking jobs. And there would be as many female CEOs in the corporate hierarchy proportionally as there are women in the labor force. There would be as many Latinx doctors, professors, lawyers, and architects proportionally as there are Latinx men and women in the population. There would be as many gay multibillionaires as straight multibillionaires in the upper reaches of American wealth and the total value of the holdings of each subset would be the same. And so forth and so on.
This would be an unimaginable change from the present situation but it would not have the slightest effect on the capitalist structure of the American economy. Exploitation would continue apace, capital accumulation would proceed unimpeded, and the job pyramid would remain unaltered. To adapt a famous phrase from Napoleon Bonaparte, America would offer careers open to talents but this would in no way alter the fundamental inequality that is an inescapable feature (a feature, not a bug) of capitalism.
There would almost certainly be significant improvements in the well-being of those at the bottom of the pyramid: a $15 an hour minimum wage, universal healthcare, perhaps even guaranteed paid parental leave. But year after year, capital would grind on extracting a surplus from the labor of workers. There have been a few voices on the left calling for some amelioration of the inequality, but not many if indeed any challenging the private ownership of the means of production.
These thoughts, which I have had many times over the past half-century and to which I have given expression on numerous occasions in my writings, were brought back to me by watching some of the first evening of the Democratic Party convention last night. I live in terror that Trump will somehow manage to win a second term and I will do everything I can to make that not happen, consistent with my efforts to keep myself and my wife safe from the virus. But I very much doubt that had Bernie won the nomination and were to win the election, the fundamental structure of the American economy would be under any greater threat.
This is enough to say for the moment. Tomorrow, perhaps I can try to connect this to my thoughts about what is happening under the influence of the virus to higher education in America.