Capitalism fails to promote access to culture

An essential component to any healthy society is the level of culture enjoyed by its population. In a modern, complex society such as ours, access to culture becomes a basic requirement for a comfortable, productive and meaningful existence. By this virtue, the access to culture is a social right of the population which is inalienable – it cannot be taken away, nor can it be ceded by those who possess it.

The economic crisis has led to a decrease in both government expenditure for the arts and private donations for cultural institutions threatens to undermine this social right. On a national scale, the assault on culture has taken the form of eliminated arts programs and shuttered or privatized schools, libraries and cultural institutions.

The most graphic expression of this process is the current attack on the living standards of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians who now are entering the seventh week of their strike against management’s attempt to impose a 33 percent wage cut coupled with a reduction in benefits.
Facing a $9 million budget deficit, The New York Times reported that banks – the same banks rescued with some $23 trillion in public funds – have stopped lending the DSO money. Meanwhile, the familiar argument has been advanced, there simply is “no money” to continue supporting this nearly-a-century old, world-class institution.

This is not a question of society possessing the resources to maintain and expand culture, even during an economic recession. Indices such as the stock market and the Forbes 400 list show, the resources do in fact exist. As the recent census demonstrated, these resources are concentrated in an ever dwindling number of hands.

The question is then, who controls society’s resources? If capitalism proves incapable of providing the basic necessities of modern life, it deserves to be overthrown and replaced with a system that can.

In the final analysis, the assault on culture is the product of the protracted decline of American capitalism which has transformed the US from an industrial powerhouse to a crisis-ridden epicenter for financial speculation and manipulation.

This process has unquestionably changed the physiognomy of the country’s ruling class from the “Captains of Industry” which oversaw the country’s economic rise in the early 20th century to today’s “Wizards of Wall Street” whose fortunes are bound up with the financialization, and thus deindustrialization, of the economy.

By way of example, Andrew Carnegie’s fortune was the result of his development of the steel industry which allowed railroads to criss-cross the nation’s vast land mass and high-rise buildings to scrape its skies. What took Carnegie a lifetime to amass has been achieved by the likes of Facebook CEO Mark Zucerberg in a few years. This unquestionably has an impact on the latter’s disposition toward philanthropy.

However, any society whose access to arts and culture is dependent upon the “goodwill” gifts of corporations and philanthropic whims of wealthy individuals is a severely diseased one at best. There can be no talk of democracy in such a society where matters of culture affecting hundreds of millions of people are dependent upon the decisions of a handful of individuals. Such social organization is more properly referred to as dictatorship.

If culture in general and the DSO in particular are to be defended, it will be by an independent movement of students and working people in opposition to the archaic capitalist system.


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