4-4-08 Sinclair and socialism
Apr 8, 2008 2:00 PM
Mike Callicrate’s letter in the March 7 Colorado Catholic Herald presented a view of American society I do not share. His letter is a paean to the movie “There Will Be Blood,” the screenplay based upon the novel “Oil!” by Upton Sinclair.
Upton Sinclair was not only a prolific writer; he was also a strong advocate of socialist views. He founded a socialist commune, Helicon Hall Colony, in 1906. He ran for the U.S. Congress on the Socialist ticket three times. Sinclair was noted for his muckraking style of writing. The main goal of his novel the “The Jungle” was to demonstrate the inhumane conditions of the wageearner under capitalism, not to inspire reforms in how the meatpacking was done.
Callicrate’s view of America is clear by his words: “we are back to the days when profit and power were valued at all costs over people,” “a no-holds-barred arena with such dominating and perverse power,” “an unhealthy obsession with money and power,” “our ruthless big business/government will not rest until it finishes wrecking our country.” I disagree with his unsubstantiated statements. Callicrate’s opinion of our capitalist socioeconomic system is not accurate.
Catholics should be wary of socialism. Countries which have drifted to socialism have not been kind to our faith as evidenced by the current situation in Venezuela. America is the most generous nation in the world and its workers have a standard of living most can only dream of.
We can label people and governments as socialist, fascist or democratic, but the real question to me is this: do people have the basic rights to economic freedom, equal opportunity and social justice? Today, the relationship between government and big business is far too cozy. The business interests of Wall Street trump the interests of Main Street. Unfortunately, what is good for Wal-Mart, GM, or Exxon, is not necessarily good for America as a whole. Too many of the laws policing the spectrum from domestic business to international trade policy are written and enforced in the interests of large multinational corporations and at the expense of small independent businesses and producers.
Remember that capitalism is a broad term, and what passes for capitalism today is different from the version that inspired our nation. Catholic philosopher G. K. Chesterton said, “Big Business and State Socialism are very much alike, especially Big Business.” — G.K.’s Weekly (4/10/26). He also said “Business, especially big business, is now organized like an army. It is, as some would say, a sort of mild militarism without bloodshed; as I say, a militarism without the military virtues.”
G. K. Chesterton’s Distributism: [audio:http://nobullmikecall.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/10-19-11DaleAhlquistDistributism.MP3]
Mr. Lynch is right about Upton Sinclair. When uncovering big meatpacker abuses he got the public’s attention, not by triggering their empathy for the abused workers and animals but with the threat of dirty food and the danger to their own health. What has changed from 100 years ago? The meat packing industry is far more concentrated than it was a century ago with four beef packers controlling over 80% of the market. Unsafe food is a huge problem. Recently 143 million pounds of beef were recalled after being shipped all across the nation to schools, churches, hospitals and senior centers. Meanwhile, the big meatpackers depend on cheap labor from the world’s economic refugees. According to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, a supervisor must speak around 18 different languages in order to communicate in the typical big meatpacking plant.
I don’t think St. Paul was a socialist in the way we think of the former Soviet regime, but in 1 Timothy 5:18 he stated, “The husbandman that laboreth must be the first partaker of the fruits.” These very words appear over the portico of the U.S. Department of Agriculture headquarters in Washington, D.C. But sadly, it’s hard to see how this goal has been applied to modern food and farm policies when thousands of farmers go out of business every month.
In his new book, Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill), David Cay Johnston, long-time reporter for The New York Times states, “A system in which government, whether federal or local, picks the winners in the economy, is not capitalism, it’s not competition, it’s not free market, it is corporate socialism, it is statism, it’s the state making these choices.”
Don’t assume concerns for a vibrant, just economy are partisan views. Our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, along with U.S. presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Teddy Roosevelt, all warned of the dangers of corporations and the concentration of power and wealth into the hands of a few. Franklin Delano Roosevelt said it well: “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power.”
I think most Americans can agree that a centrally planned economy like the former Soviet Union, controlled by a few individuals — or a centrally planned government controlled by few corporations — does not deliver the basic rights of economic freedom, equal opportunity and social justice. We don’t have to look far to see evidence of abusive corporate power over our current politics and economy.
I want to thank Mr. Lynch for sharing his comments and for the opportunity to further discuss the important issue of corporate concentration.