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 sychophants 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. Overthowing 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.
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