Shirley Cereseto, in her groundbreaking article, “Capitalism, Socialism, and Inequality,” published in the Insurgent Sociologist Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 5-38 (1982), is the most comprehensive study of quality of life under the respective economic systems capitalism and socialism. She finds that poverty and misery among peoples of the “third world” are not caused by the reasons given by capitalist propagandists (backwardness and/or overpopulation), but rather result from the laws of motion inherent in the capitalist mode of production.
Cereseto uses World Bank data (which are biased towards capitalist assumptions) in her study of global inequality and quality of life among capitalist and socialist countries. The law of accumulation clarified by Marx (developed by liberal economists Smith and Ricardo) predicts that capitalism increases human misery while socialism improves the quality of human existence. This is because capitalism is an exploitative system in which the value produced by those who work is appropriated by those who do not work, whereas the value produced by workers under socialism is shared among all workers and their families. The law of accumulation is confirmed by the facts.
From the second world war to the later 1970s, inequality increased throughout the capitalist world, and along with it misery for a large and increasing proportion of world humanity. The opposite was true for socialist countries. World population grew by 60 percent between 1950 and 1975. The total production of wealth grew much faster that population, from one trillion dollars in the late 1940s to more than nine trillion dollars in 1978. One would expect that in a just economic system poverty would decline around the world. The opposite happened. Between 1963 and 1973, the period of the most rapid increase in wealth in the capitalist world economy, the number of seriously poor persons increased from 119 million persons to 1.21 billion persons, a figure representing 45 percent of the capitalist world. Cereseto writes:
Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole, i.e. on the side of the class that produces its own product in the form of capital.
This is how capitalism works. The majority produce the wealth while a minority appropriates that wealth. The massive transfer of wealth under the capitalist system is what creates extreme wealth at one end and extreme poverty for billions of persons.
Cereseto divides capitalist nations into three categories: rich, middle, and poor. These categories are based on GNP per capita, which is how the World Bank divides the world. Cereseto finds that the physical quality of life is better in rich nations than in poor nations. This is expected. What is unexpected from the ideological perspective promulgated by pro-capitalist demagogues is the fact that socialism is superior to capitalism in meeting the basic human needs and in improving the physical quality of life of people. All socialist countries in Cereseto’s time period fell within the middle income category. Only capitalist countries were among the poorest countries in the world. All “third world” countries that experienced a socialist revolution were lifted from the poorest category to the middle income category. All the people experienced a marked improvement of the quality of life based measures including inequality, infant mortality, heath care, life expectancy, and literacy. Furthermore, Cereseto found that the socialist countries did better than the capitalist countries in meeting the basic human needs of their members.
The socialist countries accomplished this with the same resource base as comparable capitalist countries. In fact, socialist nations did as well as the rich capitalist nations in meeting basic human needs. While inequality was increasing both within and between capitalist nations, inequality was declining both within and between socialist nations. Whereas the relationship between the “third world” and the capitalist core is one in which the “third world” is underdevelopment—that is, capitalist suck the wealth out of the periphery of the world capitalist system—the relationship between satellite and core countries in the socialist world are in fact beneficial to the satellites. That is the opposite of the imperialist dynamic that is now consuming the world with the fall of the more just socialist economies.
What Cereseto’s research (and every other piece of objective scholarship on this subject) proves is that the slogan “socialism doesn’t work” is false. As Michael Parenti puts it in his excellent book Black Shirts and Reds, “To say ‘socialism doesn’t work’ is to overlook the fact that it did.” Socialists long ago proved that socialism eliminates poverty, starvation, and ignorance generated by the capitalist system by making socialism happen. The best hope for a world now facing growing material inequality and an ecological holocaust that threatens the species is socialism.
To connect this to the question at hand, and I am speaking now about the Iraq occupation, the capitalists toppled Saddam because he stood in the way of their access to cheap energy resources necessary to expand the accumulation of capital. The current regime will not leave Iraq and risk the possibility that the Iraqi people will decide for themselves how to conduct their nation’s affairs. From the perspective of sovereignty, the US should leave and allow the Iraqis to create a society based on their wants and needs. From the perspective of imperialism, the US must stay and stabilize Iraq to pump the oil from its lands so Americans can drive their SUVs.
All this rhetoric about chaos and civil war erupting if the US leaves is designed to scare Americans into believing that the US military must stay in Iraq. But US occupation is not in Iraq’s interests. It is only in the interests of a fraction of the global capitalist class. And, obviously, in the interests of those who desire cheap gasoline for their gas-guzzling cars.