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Close-up of logo for Coca Cola on glass bottle in a restaurant setting, Walnut Creek, California, March 4, 2021. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

Are Crazed Commies Running American Corporations?

If we agree that economic justice is a defining issue for socialism, then complaining that CEOs and business owners have made an abrupt left-turn is patently ludicrous.

Carl Rhodes

For a previous generation it would be unimaginable. The chief executives of America's largest corporations are being publicly vilified for their politics. This time it's not anti-globalisation protestors or Occupy Wall Streeters of the past who've got beef.

The captains of industry are being condemned for being part of a "neo-Marxist consensus." They are embroiled in "corporate-run communism," active and willing to "do the bidding of the far left."

Those who fear this C-suite red peril are taking decisive action! Citizens of the North Carolina's Surry County were so affronted by the Coca-Cola company's political position on voting laws that local government officials banned Coke vending machines in their offices.

Surely that will teach those carbonated commie rabble rousers. No wonder Coke's logo is red!

A Victory for the Left!

The far-left's takeover of the corporate world has been dubbed 'woke capitalism.' Exported from the United States to the liberal democratic world, riled-up reactionaries from Australia, France, and Britain are bemoaning the leftist turn by corporations.

If CEOs want to embrace progressive politics, they need to also start campaigning to increase the minimum wage, implement universal basic income, redistribute income by higher taxes on the rich, and ensure workers' rights through trade unionism.

Namby-pamby CEOs are accused of surrendering to "to hard-left wokeness." Just last month U.S. advocacy group Consumers' Research led the charge. They launched a "name and shame campaign" against corporations who "put woke politics over consumer interests."

The group coughed up at least a million dollars on a series of ads targeting American Airlines, Coca-Cola and Nike and their CEOs. They accused these companies of trying to "curry favor with woke politicians" at the expense of their customers.

A little more than a week later the same debate was aired all the way up in the U.S. Senate. The heads of six of the Unites States' biggest businesses were hauled over the coals. Republican Senator Pat Toomey accused them of "wokeism" and "attacks on capitalism" for speaking up against voting laws.

"Woke capitalism is running amok" claimed Republican Senator Tim Scott. Others worried that this left lunacy might get so out of hand that the banks would stop financing the natural gas and fossil fuel industries in order to protect their credentials.

The Left's Evil Magic

The conservatives at the National Center for Public Policy Research brand them as "far-left CEOs." The Free Enterprise Project damn the whole shebang as "the left […] rapidly working its evil magic" on all spheres of life.

Even the most casual knowledge of socialism would alert would-be conspiracy theorists that one of its critical features is the social ownership of the means of production. Most socialists do not go quite that far today, settling instead for a program of wealth distribution that reverse the hardships caused by inequalityhardships that divide the world across class, gender, racial and geo-political lines.

So where are the better-red-that-dead CEOs when it comes to economic justice and wealth redistribution? Despite the devastation that COVID-19 brought to economies around the world, in 2020 America's top bosses took home an average of $13.7 million. That's up almost a million dollars from the year before.

For billionaires, COVID was even more lucrative. According to Forbes there were 2,755 billionaires in 2021, 660 more than the previous year. Collectively they are worth $13.1 trillion. That's a mind-boggling $6.1 trillion increase since 2020.

What Has Woke Capitalism Achieved?

If we agree that economic justice is a defining issue for socialism, then complaining that CEOs and business owners have made an abrupt left-turn is patently ludicrous. No amount of arguing over identity politics is going to change that.

If woke capitalism has achieved anything it has been to break the yoke between the social and economic politics that have traditionally united the right. This means that corporations can support social justice without having to worry about its inexorable relation to economic justice.

If CEOs want to embrace progressive politics, they need to also start campaigning to increase the minimum wage, implement universal basic income, redistribute income by higher taxes on the rich, and ensure workers' rights through trade unionism.

The worst part is that when woke CEOs are condemned for being left-wing nut jobs, CEO political activism effectively draws attention away from the core political issue of economic inequality; the very inequality that too many CEOs represent.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Carl Rhodes

Carl Rhodes

Carl Rhodes is Professor of Organization Studies at UTS Business School Business School in Sydney, Australia. His research critically investigates the ethico-political dimensions of business activity and working life, with a special focus on justice, equality, resistance, dissent and democracy. His latest book, “Woke Capitalism: How Corporate Morality is Sabotaging Democracy” (Bristol University Press).

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