James Weinstein Knew That Capitalism Was Killing Us

In 1976, the first editorial in the first issue of In These Times called for socialists “to speak to corporate capitalism as the great issue of our time.”

James Weinstein

James Weinstein reads the writing on the wall on Chicago’s Milwaukee Avenue in 1976.

In A job whose time has come,” the first editorial in the very first issue of In These Times, James Weinstein called for socialists to speak to corporate capitalism as the great issue of our time, and to socialism as the popular movement that will meet it.” As ITT’s founding editor and publisher, Weinstein set out to create a socialist organ of news and opinion” inspired by widely circulated weeklies like Appeal to Reason in the early 20th century. Strip away the Ford-Carter era editorial cartoon and all the references to a newspaper,” and Weinstein’s words are no less relevant now than they were nearly 50 years ago. There’s still an urgent need for a pro-democracy, anti-sectarian political movement to confront the protection agencies of corporate capitalism,” but it can’t happen without a diverse, principled and rigorous media to amplify, critique, inform and give the movement direction. This has been In These Times’ purpose from the start. The job may not be finished, but it’s never been more necessary. —Craig Aaron


The election returns are in, but the future of the United States remains in doubt. Almost everyone was dissatisfied with the available choices. Few are delighted with the result.

Yet this campaign was not significantly worse than most presidential contests of recent decades. The difference between this and past elections was not that most voters acted against rather than for a candidate or party. That has been common in this century. Nor were the two major parties less different from each other than before.Their differences were as real and explicit as at any time since the 1930’s.

The new element in this election is that more and more people find these differences inadequate to meet the problems facing our society. Voters and non-voters alike know, or sense, that the limits to public discourse set by the major parties prevent shedding old alternatives and defining new ones.

To more and more people it is clear that the political system is at an impasse. It presents us all with little more than dilemmas: choices between equally obnoxious or no longer credible alternatives. That is why the more exposure President Ford and President-Elect Carter got, the harder it was to choose between them.

A disembodied mouth munches President Jimmy Carter's leg as he clings to the United States seal.
A cartoon of then-Pres. jimmy Carter accompanied Weinstein's editorial.

Since World War II, Republicans have won the presidency by promising to end wars presided over by Democrats and to bring prosperity with peace. Democrats have captured the White House with promises to end recessions presided over by Republicans and to bring progress through growth. But it is difficult to believe in, no less remember, prosperity without war. And it is no longer believable that simple material growth in the pursuit of private gain signifies progress.

The polls show that people want peace without unemployment, economic insecurity and lost opportunities. They want progressive development, a healthy economy, without war. They want stable prices and full employment, not one at the expense of the other. They want good education and health care, adequate housing and livable communities, honorable work and dignified leisure, without crushing taxes and bankrupt cities. They want a compassionate society without paternalism and dependence.

They don’t want the moon, just modest attainments in what the politicians never tire of telling them is the best country in the world” — and the richest beyond ancestral dreams. And increasingly they know, or sense, that the system of economics in this country is unable to deliver the standard of living and quality of life they want, and that the system of politics is unwilling to make it do so.

It is true that inflation and unemployment, crime and healthcare, education and housing, free enterprise and big government, liberty and equality, even Karl Marx and socialism” are discussed in election campaigns. But never the underlying reality. Corporate capitalism, this society’s system of property, investment, resource-and-labor allocation is a political taboo. And yet, without that discussion all the rest remains abstract, hollow, and unconvincing.

Capitalism is the unspoken reality of American politics. That is the one thing the major parties agree upon: praise capitalism (not too often and preferably by another name) but don’t discuss it. Preclude serious discussion of the central reality of our times.

This is to be expected. The major parties are the protection agencies of corporate capitalism. They are committed in bipartisan consensus to accommodating government policy and public expectations to the capacities and limits of the system. It is their job to keep corporate-capitalism out of, above,” politics, just as it was the job of the pre-Civil War Whig and Democratic parties to keep slavery out of politics. They failed then because determined people brought the reality of slave power into the electoral arena, giving birth to the Republican party.

It remains to be seen whether the Democratic and Republican parties will succeed in keeping corporate power out of electoral politics. If they do they will only be doing their job, and socialists will not be doing theirs.

Socialists' job is to bring capitalism into politics as the great issue of our time.

That job is to bring capitalism into politics as the great issue of our time. This newspaper is committed to beginning the job and to seeing it through. It is a job whose time has come.

The existing socialist parties, either through sectarian elitism or failure of nerve, also have evaded the task, or obstructed it. As if in a silent partnership with the major parties, they have brought aid and comfort to the bipartisan consensus and thus share responsibility with the major parties for the impasse in American politics and for the low level and shallow content of campaign debate.

This newspaper is committed to helping to break the impasse, by doing its job as a socialist organ of news and opinion.

The first step is to break with both the sectarian legacy of the socialist left, and the timidity and incapacity of the social reform tradition. We intend to speak to corporate capitalism as the great issue of our time, and to socialism as the popular movement that will meet it.

The cover of In These Times' first-ever issue which was published in November 1976.

In subsequent editorials we will explore this commitment and its implications. Our news reporting and columns, what we cover and how, the range of opinion in our pages will exemplify that commitment.

A decent respect for the opinion of our readers leads us to declare the basic principles underlying this newspaper.

•Our overriding commitment is to democracy, to socialism as the means to its attainment, and to the inseparability of the two in modern industrial society.

•We are convinced that capitalism is irreconcilable with liberty, and equality, and democracy.

•We recognize the urgency of moving toward socialism to preserve and extend democracy in the everyday practice and in the convictions of the people.

•We will continuously explore the meaning of a socialist democracy rooted in the American people’s experience and in their struggle to change the capitalist present.

•We will focus upon translating the principles of self-determination and citizen participation, essential to democracy, into their socialist meanings.

•We proceed on the premise that socialism is not the private property of self-proclaimed vanguards but represents the struggles, the experiences, the thinking of the working class and ultimately the entire people as a democratic citizenry.

We anticipate and favor a diversity of movements for socialism that will have to forge unity among themselves in mutual consent and with respect for differences and disagreements.

At the heart of our approach is the conviction that diversity is the soul and basis of any democratic socialist unity:

• The diversity of the working class now and of a healthy people in a socialist society.

• The diversity within socialism — the diversity of ideas, outlooks, experiences, and values among socialists and socialist organizations.

Because these are our principles, we anticipate and favor a diversity of movements for socialism that will have to forge unity among themselves in mutual consent and with respect for differences and disagreements.

We favor multiparty politics in capitalist America and in a socialist America.

• Finally, we are committed to the principle of civic initiatives through freedom of association, conscience, advocacy, and travel. We take as fundamental the principal that sovereignty resides with the people, not with the government, the state, the party. Corporate-capitalism has made the sovereignty of the people a dead letter. The socialism deserving our commitment will rejuvenate, honor, and practice it.

This is where we stand.


Please consider supporting our work.

I hope you found this article important. Before you leave, I want to ask you to consider supporting our work with a donation. In These Times needs readers like you to help sustain our mission. We don’t depend on—or want—corporate advertising or deep-pocketed billionaires to fund our journalism. We’re supported by you, the reader, so we can focus on covering the issues that matter most to the progressive movement without fear or compromise.

Our work isn’t hidden behind a paywall because of people like you who support our journalism. We want to keep it that way. If you value the work we do and the movements we cover, please consider donating to In These Times.

James Weinstein founded In These Times in 1976. He also founded the journal Socialist Review and the Modern Times bookstore in San Francisco. Weinstein is the author of several books, including The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State, 1900-1918 and The Decline of Socialism in America, 1912-1925. His final book, published in 2003, was The Long Detour: The History and Future of the American Left. He died in 2005.
Illustrated cover of Gaza issue. Illustration shows an illustrated representation of Gaza, sohwing crowded buildings surrounded by a wall on three sides. Above the buildings is the sun, with light shining down. Above the sun is a white bird. Text below the city says: All Eyes on Gaza
Get 10 issues for $19.95

Subscribe to the print magazine.