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Why Would David Suzuki Wish for a Society Without Corporations?

11/14/2011 01:06 EST | Updated 01/14/2012 05:12 EST
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Last week, in a Huffington Post blog environmentalist and long-time broadcaster David Suzuki recently aligned himself with the most extreme positions of the "Occupy" movement. He wants to do away with all private corporations. He acknowledges that "corporations may produce good things." But, "when profit is the primary goal, corporate leaders will fight to reduce their share of taxes, demand subsidies, oppose regulators, and fire employees for the sake of the bottom line."

"To me," Suzuki writes, "the Occupy movement is about putting decisions and democracy back into the hands of the people. We need democracy for people, not corporations, we need greater equity, we demand more social justice."

It is almost universally acknowledged that capitalism has excesses, which produces unhealthy social consequences. Often these consequences must be ameliorated through government regulation.

But it's one thing to control capitalism through regulation, and quite another to get rid of corporations and capitalism altogether. Reasonable people can disagree about what and when regulation is appropriate. But, although it may be news for David Suzuki, there have been enough disastrous attempts to create Communist societies without corporations to dismiss as foolish any suggestion that societies without private corporations are more humane than the ones that don't. Communist regimes have routinely murdered, imprisoned and deprived their citizens of all individual rights.

Suzuki says that our children and our grandchildren will suffer physically and economically if capitalism is not jettisoned. But that's just speculation. I say, millions have already be killed and imprisoned because governments tried to implement Suzuki's ideology.

For at least the last 40 years Canadians, particularly in the press, have had a blind spot for the horrors of societies "without corporations." For instance, it's now become fashionable to criticize our close economic relations with China. With good reason. China is a highly repressive state. But just a few decades ago Canada's leftist took pride that -- unlike the anti-Communist and capitalist United States -- their country maintained close relationships with China. Very little mention was made of the fact that the then-Chinese leader Mao Zedong had already killed millions in The Great Leap Forward, just as Canada was embracing China; that it was, as part of the Cultural Revolution, slaughtering millions of people. In the introduction to The Black Book of Communism, a French historian, Stephane Courtois estimates that 65 million people were killed by the Communist Chinese. As cruel as China is today, the government is not committing mass genocide; and those "evil" corporations have made it possible for millions of people in China to raise themselves out of poverty.

Mao's mass murder was no aberration for regimes that have done away with corporations. Communist regimes committed mass murder in places like Cambodia, North Korea and, of course, the Soviet Union. Courtois puts the total number of people slaughtered by Communist regimes at 94 million. That doesn't include the millions more who were injured, tortured, and imprisoned. But what's almost 100 million people, when there is, in Suzuki's terms, an ecosystem to be saved.

Has David Suzuki ever bothered to talk to anyone who lived in a country that abandoned capitalism? Has he ever heard the story of a refugee from the Soviet Union or any of the other gulags? There are plenty of them around in Canada. But Suzuki, like most Canadian writers and broadcasters, just aren't interested in their stories.

Of course, the "Occupy" protesters don't call themselves "communists." Indeed, they articulate no coherent ideology. But as the American writer Ronald Radosh has recently argued that if you take their muddled Robin Hood-like philosophy to its logical conclusion, you end up with "the call to go to the large homes of wealthy citizens, measure the living space of their domiciles, and by government action move poorer families into their residences to share their living space." Far-fetched? Radosh points that's just what happened during the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in the Soviet Union. Would it be possible to implement this agenda now with less blood being shed than in 1917?

Most critics of the "Occupy" movement dismiss the protesters as social misfits. I take the movement somewhat more seriously. Unfortunately, there are many like Suzuki who have worked diligently and successfully to erase the horrors of "societies without corporations" from our collective memory. It is this loss of memory that fuels the "Occupy" movement. That is, if we still remembered how much human misery the extreme collectivist left has already wrought, nobody would take it seriously, and the "Occupy" movement would have quickly fizzled out. As things stand, however, the "Occupy" movement may retain a continuing influence over our politics.

Suzuki's failure to appreciate the consequences of doing away with capitalism should have undercut his journalistic credibility. Instead, largely through the publicly-funded CBC, he has spent decades as an iconic social commentator. Indeed, most of Canada's media elite share his anti-capitalist bias. Certainly, that shouldn't be a source of Canadian pride.