Salon: Reagan Popularized 'A False Dichotomy Between Communism and Capitalism'

Competition between rivals often brings out the best in both. Think of Bird and Magic, or Lennon and McCartney. In a Tuesday piece for Salon, writer Edward McClelland dared to adapt that principle to the quintessential Cold War foes, the United States and the Soviet Union, contending that American capitalism "never functioned better than when it was forced to compete with [the] rival economic system" in the USSR during the three-plus decades after World War II.
 
McClelland asserted that President Reagan's hostility toward both the Soviets and American labor unions led us down the path to today's globalized economy in which big business can mistreat workers with near-impunity now that Communism in its greatly weakened state can no longer keep corporations in check.

From McClelland's story:

...Communism, with its denial of both God and the individual, never appealed to me as a way of life, and I doubt it was much good for the Russian worker...

Communism was, however, fantastic for the American worker. It's no coincidence that the golden age of American equality, that period from the 1940s to the 1970s when the gap between CEOs and employees hit its all-time low, was almost exactly coterminous with the Cold War. As any capitalist will tell you, competition is good for the marketplace...The same is true for capitalism itself: as a means of raising the living standards of an entire society, it never functioned better than when it was forced to compete with a rival economic system...


Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev boasted of building a workers' paradise in the U.S.S.R., but Americans actually lived in one: suburban houses and vacation cottages, a new car every two years, meat for dinner every night. One of our arguments against Communism was that it could not create wealth for the average worker, whereas capitalism could, and did...

...To Reagan and his fellow ideologues, the Soviet Union had to go not just because it interfered with their designs abroad, but because its existence was an affront to the idea that there should be any check on the free market, anywhere...When the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization went on strike in 1981, Reagan fired the lot. His enemies called him hypocritical for supporting Poland's labor-based Solidarity movement, while opposing unions at home. But Reagan saw no contradiction. Solidarity was fighting Communism. PATCO, the UAW, the steel workers and the Teamsters were fighting capitalism.

Wiping out Communism removed the final obstacle to the global triumph of capital. No longer did corporations doing business in the Third World have to worry about workers' movements, or nationalization of their assets...And if corporations didn't have to worry about treating workers abroad well, they didn't have to worry about treating workers at home well, either. They could simply threaten to move their operations abroad if Americans demanded high wages, or job security.

Communism's defeat has done more than its 75-year-long victory to validate the theories of its founder, Karl Marx, who foresaw both globalization and the misery it would cause the common worker...

An economy without a marketplace will produce only the bare minimum necessary for survival. But capitalism, in its rawest form, leads to the same result. Unless tempered by unionization or a social welfare state, the iron law of wages reduces the majority of workers to a subsistence level, while creating vast wealth for a tiny ownership class. Ronald Reagan advanced a false dichotomy between Communism and capitalism that is still with us, 25 years after his presidency ended...

Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson is a contributing writer for NewsBusters