Civil Rights, Poverty and Capitalism
Date Written: 2014-01-01
Publisher: Against the Current
Year Published: 2014
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX20346
Oppenheimer examines poverty in the United Stated during the 20th century and analyses the power structures that have prevented improvements to the basic living standards in American society.
Civil rights demands (especially voting) threaten existing white-dominated political institutions (government), and elite social institutions because they challenge the white ruling class's political domination and its monopoly of decision-making circles, such as exclusionary private clubs. But these demands do not inherently question capitalism as such.
Economic demands on the other hand, such as access to decent-paying jobs, nondiscriminatory working conditions (including for women), and the right to collective bargaining, do challenge corporate priorities and private property "rights" because they threaten to shift the balance of decision-making power from a monopoly by property owners to a bargaining situation in which others also, unions for example, have a say. These demands challenge the profits of the corporation, and for some lead to questioning an economic system in which profits come before justice.
Whether civil rights or economic demands, they are resisted by the power structure with every means at its disposal. In the South civil rights were reisted by force for a long time, and today voting rights are still in danger. On the economic front unions were attacked by paid thugs and the National Guard and later by legalisms, obstruction, and well-organized attempts, often successful to destroy them.
Yet resistance to change by the power structure only goes so far in explaining why there has been so little improvement in basic living standards for large numbers of Americans, especially Blacks and Latino/as. The historic fact is that the civil rights movement (as well as other protest movements of the 1960s) died down.