Submitted by Marvin Miller

In his April 4 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam”,  Martin Luther King Jr.  called for a “revolution of values” against three “isms”: racism, materialism (acquisitiveness), and militarism. He said that our country needed such a revolution if we didn’t want to be endlessly protesting new wars here, there, and everywhere. Sadly, we did not heed his call. Over the past 47 years materialism and militarism have been as dominant as ever in our country. And while overt racism based on skin color has been largely pushed underground  by popular struggles, its effects are still apparent in many measures of human welfare, such as education and employment opportunities, imprisonment, and health. And imperialistic nationalism, a similar ideology based on where people live, characterizes our government’s foreign policy. Dr. King’s prediction about future wars has come true.

Every human action and institution embodies, explicitly or implicitly, its own hierarchy of values. When I do something, whether important or trivial, I am expressing the value that what I’m doing is the most important thing I can do at that time. The existence of every institution incorporates the value that that institution and its purposes are of prime importance.

The  predominant institution in the economy of our country, and in the rest of the world as well, is the business corporation. This fact is expressed in our architecture: the biggest buildings in most of our cities are the financial centers. (Washington DC is an exception–the biggest building in that area is the Pentagon.) The central purpose of a corporation is profit, leading to its own growth and to growing economic inequality.. Economic growth is deemed of prime importance by “both sides” in politics. Of the countless statistics that characterize the economy, only one, the gross domestic product, is called “the economy”. Liberals argue that policies that benefit people, like higher wages and unemployment insurance, are good because they benefit “the economy”. People are the means; the economy is the end.

Our government’s foreign policy has been based on the doctrine that it has the right to determine, by force and violence if necessary, who shall govern other countries. It has done this in Iraq and Libya; it has tried to do this in Vietnam and Afghanistan; it has implicitly, by not calling them coups, supported military coups in Honduras and Egypt. Top U.S. officials tell the ruler of Syria that he must go, and we arm those who are fighting to oust him. Only irresistible public opposition has kept us from war there.

Changing the values that rule the dominant institutions of society, and thereby rule society itself, would require that the structure of those institutions be changed. Business organizations would be ruled democratically rather than plutocratically. The measure of their success would be how well they serve the people’s needs rather than how much purchasing power they acquire for themselves. Our country’s military establishment would be no larger than is necessary to prevent an attack on us by some other country’s military forces.

The most powerful institutions in the world will resist any such proposed changes with all their might. Such resistance could be overcome only by overwhelming popular demand. It’s not surprising that the revolution of values called for by Dr. King hasn’t happened yet. The question of whether it will happen is open.