Corruption: Part and parcel of the capitalist system

Committee for International Revolutionary Regroupment

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A reading of the U.S. establishment press could easily lead to the conclusion that corruption is a problem principally in countries such as our neighbor Mexico. This article, originally published by the Partido Obrero Socialista in Mexico, one of the FSP’s fraternal organizations in the Committee for International Revolutionary Regroupment (CRIR), puts corruption in the broader institutional context of how the ruling classes use the state to maintain the capitalist status quo.

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A modern take on “The Pyramid of Capitalism,” a 1911 U.S. cartoon based on a Russian flyer circa 1900.

There is a lot of concern today about corruption as a huge number of politicians and businessmen worldwide are involved in illegal acts to boost the bottom line. In Mexico, you will find guilty individuals belonging to all the main political parties on the run or sitting in jail, from the president’s office on down to state governors and other functionaries.

It is fine to reject and condemn this corruption as a social cancer, but that is not enough. It’s necessary first to rationally understand the problem. We need to punish the criminals but we also must attack the problem at its root and do away with capitalism, a system based on theft from its very outset, i.e. stealing the wealth that workers create with their daily labor.

Business as usual. Corruption is a natural product of capitalism. It flourishes and develops under a system which has turned the acquisition of money into its true god. Everything is permitted and even admired if it produces the accumulation of wealth, since goods are produced in a capitalist economy to obtain profit not to satisfy human needs. For example, if a capitalist establishes a bakery, this bakery will close if no profit is produced, even though there are people who desperately need bread to survive.

When Karl Marx, the political theorist of working-class liberation, studied the nature of the capitalist state, he revealed that it was established as an instrument for the domination of workers and the oppressed by means of laws, courts, judges, elected officials and the military. According to Marx, different groups of capitalists fight among themselves for control of the state apparatus and consider it booty to be plundered after winning that battle. “The state…,” he wrote, “is truly a sphere for the fomentation of the most scandalous acts of corruption, of all the scandals of the bourgeoisie, and the arena for its total putrefaction.”

Ernest Mandel, a Belgian Marxist, made a thorough study of the long history of state corruption. He concluded that “since the mid-twentieth century, capitalism has increasingly existed on the outer edge of legality, if not in complete violation of established laws.”

Capitalist realism. This conclusion is supported by the Harvard Business Review which reports:

“Any business that defines itself in terms of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cannot survive. You can only expect a company to serve the social interest as long as it serves its own interest. The archives of the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration and other government agencies are full of cases concerning reputable companies that don’t think twice about breaking the law when they think it is to their advantage. It is not uncommon for a company to break a particular law, even sometimes with full knowledge that this violation will be discovered. The company figures that the cost of the fine ultimately levied will represent only a fraction of the profit to be realized by the violation of the law itself.”

It is clear even to Harvard’s business elite that a capitalist economy free of corruption is out of the question since there is a difference in the minds of capitalists between a business decision and an ethical one. What is good for business is right, even if it is ethically wrong for humanity. This makes the theft of public funds by government officials and corporate CEO’s easier for them to rationalize.

Corruption is such an inherent part of the system that corporate avoidance of paying taxes is considered normal and inevitable, a legitimate, evasive art. One glaring example of this is the fact that the Internal Revenue Service has in the past allowed companies to deduct bribes paid to foreign agents as legitimate business expenses.

Dirty parties. None of Mexico’s capitalist parties, including the Partido de la Revolución Democrática and Morena, advocate the destruction of the bourgeois state apparatus and the creation of a new one controlled by workers. Each merely wants to seize control of the state administration in order to wield its power for themselves; they are incapable of doing away with one of the most abominable features of the capitalist state — the axis of corruption — because they are a critical part of the system itself.

In Mexico today, we see how Partido de la Revolución Democrática and Morena join with Partido Revolucionario Institucional, (PRI) and the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) to cover themselves with the mud of graft and corruption to achieve ever deeper levels of indignity and shame.

Juan Reséndiz is a unionized worker at Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM). This article was published in the Partido Obrero Socialista (POS) newspaper in a slightly altered form.

CRIR is an effort to bring together Trotskyist organizations of different countries to work jointly toward the foundation of a new socialist international. Get in touch through


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