Today is my birthday, and this year it falls on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Today our media portrays him as a Civil Rights Activist, who led the movement for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We are taught about his non-violence campaigns for equality, but we were not taught about how he critiqued Capitalism. How he was anti-war, speaking up especially against the Vietnam War. How he fought against the growing economic disparity of Americans and strove for a fairer distribution of wealth. These lesser known views are rarely mentioned in history lessons, and he lost a lot of support during his latter years because of these views. It is of his views on anti-war and economic justice that I speak of today.
He wrote Coretta Scott in 1952, whom he was dating at the time, but who would soon become his wife:
I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic. And yet I am not so opposed to capitalism that I have failed to see its relative merits. It started out with a noble and high motive, viz, to block the trade monopolies of nobles, but like most human system it fail victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has outlived its usefulness. It has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes.
He goes on to say:
Our economic system is going through a radical change, and certainly this change is needed. I would certainly welcome the day to come when there will be a nationalization of industry. Let us continue to hope, work, and pray that in the future we will live to see a warless world, a better distribution of wealth, and a brotherhood that transcends race or color. This is the gospel that I will preach to the world.
King saw how Capitalism had turned down a dark road, one where the rich got richer and the poor poorer. He, in a way, predicted indirectly the loss of the middle class as he pointed out the problems with the wealth distribution, how it was failing. He even had plans to organize a 1960s version of the Occupy movement, but alas, he never saw these plans to fruition as he was murdered before the occupation happened.
He even advocated for a better system such as democratic socialism in a 1966 speech:
[W]e are saying that something is wrong … with capitalism…. There must be better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism. Call it what you may, call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.
Bernie Sanders today also advocates for Democratic Socialism. But what is this economic system? A lot of people misunderstand it because much of American Media casts socialism as evil and paints it all as the same as communism. That misunderstanding is causing us harm as it silences conversations on how to solve the problem of income inequality within our nation today. We need to have these discussions in order to understand the nature of the problem and create solutions that will benefit the vast majority of Americans and not just a privileged few. The video below explains in detail what Democratic Socialism actually is:
In his speech in 1967, King also spoke out against America’s militaristic powerhouse:
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
His critiques on America was solely needed even today, where America still spends more than any other nation on the world on military, where the income inequality is even worse today then it was in King’s time, where the rights of people of color are being trampled throughout our country.
In order to truly understand Martin Luther King Jr., we need to recognize not just his Civil Rights efforts, but also all of his views, especially those that people still try to silence today. He sought to push society toward a “warless world, a better distribution of wealth, and a brotherhood that transcends race or color.” We still have a long way to go, but the fight isn’t over yet.