Voices From the Inside Out: Prisoners debate socialism and capitalism

June 26, 2019

From the July-August 2019 issue of News & Letters

by Robert Taliaferro

Over the past several years there has been a heated debate in the U.S. regarding socialist idealism, and its relationship to the capitalist structure that defines this country. These conversations are often discussed in the same breath as Senator Bernie Sanders, former president Barack Obama, and a variety of candidates currently vying for the Democratic nod towards a presidential bid in 2020.


This discourse is not limited to people in the community; these same issues are discussed nationwide within its prisons, with an interesting level of diversity which rivals the opinions one finds beyond the prison walls.

The division of opinions regarding socialistic ideas, versus capitalism, often falls along racial lines, with Black prisoners often more supportive of a socialist agenda, while white prisoners—especially in their forties and older—tend to be more capitalist oriented, particularly if they hail from rural communities.

In discussions and arguments against social programs that have been inspired by ultra-right conservatives, there is a rhetorical idealism that a socialist agenda of any ilk would immutably damage the fabric of American society and its core values.

This conservative fearmongering has been seen throughout the history of this country whenever the concept of socialism has been raised. This is especially so whenever any ideas are presented which refer to equitable distribution of wealth, equal pay for equal work, issues regarding mass incarceration, reasonable and affordable healthcare, raising the minimum wage, or other social programs that are created to enhance the quality of life for all, regardless of color, gender, economic or social status.

Opponents of socialist agendas feel that U.S. culture is, at its core, hardwired and destined to be competitive and that through this competition the nation will progress in a meaningful manner.

They also feel that a socialist agenda will destroy any personal incentive for individual growth, adding that the end result would be that people would rely on the state to manage their needs with little or no effort being put forth by the individuals to change their lives.


Donald Trump and his supporters, for instance, feel that ideas like a responsible immigration policy which protects Dreamers and allows them a clear path to citizenship, would discourage individual efforts of competitive advancement for those who—for instance—immigrated to the country legally, thus providing no real incentives to achieve. Such rhetoric disregards the fact that many of those dreamers have, in fact, contributed substantially to those vaunted American values that he and his cronies espouse.

The reality of capitalism is that it’s all about privilege and class. That small percentage which controls the majority of wealth dictate the terms on which the means of life—ranging from where one can live to how much one can earn at a specific job—can be used to control a segment of the population in an inequitable and discriminatory fashion. It is a form of social and economic slavery; a doctrine of human greed and selfishness which robs the workers who produce the means for garnering wealth, and inequitably rewards those who own the companies who, in turn, exploit those workers.

The social and cultural unrest that is prevalent today is largely traceable to conflicting elements in our communities that restrict, and marginalize, individuals per their cultures, race, gender or gender identity, economic or social status. This aspect of marginalization is a primary component of the capitalist doctrine.

In contrast, the reality of socialist agendas is that they are based on a belief in equality, individuality and initiative for every man, woman and child regardless of their circumstances—a worldwide democracy, for the freedom of everyone, that defines a civilization that takes into account the needs of the many, rather than the inherent greed of the few.

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