"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country.  As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign... until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of the war." 
                                                  - ABRAHAM LINCOLN (1864)

Corporate Power vs. A People's Agenda:
A Position Paper of the Alliance for Democracy

By Phil and Sue Wheaton

The Reality of Corporate Power

In August 1995, Ronnie Dugger, founder of the Alliance for Democracy,
sounded a call for citizens and "real populists" to "please stand up" and
retake control of our country from the mega-corporations that have come to
dominate society. In an historic article in The Nation he declared:

We are ruled by Big Business and Big Government as its paid hireling, and
we know it. Corporate money is wrecking popular government in the United
States. The big corporations and the centimillionaires and billionaires
have taken daily control of our work, our pay, our housing, our health,
our pension funds, our bank and savings deposits, our public lands, our
airwaves, our elections and our very government. It's as if American
democracy has been bombed.1

Dugger pointed to a reality that increasing numbers of engaged citizens
are coming to understand: a people's agenda - a fairness agenda - is
unlikely to be realized as long as those who control the huge corporations
are calling the shots based on maximization of profits over the needs and
rights of workers, ordinary people, and the welfare of the planet itself.
As anti-MAI crusader, Tony Clarke of Canada, stated at the 1997 Alliance
convention, "It doesn't matter whom you elect if the tools of corporate
power remain in place."

The goal of these transnational corporations is world control. David
Korten, in his ground-breaking book, When Corporations Rule the World,
points out that through the international financial organizations which
serve corporate and market interests, the corporations dictate to nation
states. He declares that "Globalization has rendered many of the political
roles of government obsolete...."  Even more disturbing, he warns:

The architects of the corporate global vision seek a world in which
universalized symbols created and owned by the world's most powerful
corporations replace the distinctive cultural symbols that link people to
particular places, values and human communities. When control of our
cultural symbols passes to corporations, we are essentially yielding to
them the power to define who we are.2

Jim Hightower correctly labels this corporate rule and global domination
"class warfare" with the corporate giants and investor elites making out
like bandits. There is, he says, a winner-take-all attitude built into the
corporate mentality that commands top managers to produce as much
money as possible, and as quickly as possible, no matter who is eliminated
or run down in the process.

Is there no alternative to this takeover by huge corporations? Dugger,
Korten and Hightower all believe there is if we pool our efforts and work
together for the common good.  Hightower explains what this means by
underscoring his Dad's philosophy: "Everyone does better when everyone
does better."

The Growth of Corporate Power in the U.S.

Corporations have not always had the enormous power they have today. 
Richard and Frank T. Adams point out in their excellent booklet "Taking Care
of Business" (Charter Ink, 1995, Cambridge, MA) that in the early years of our
country, state legislators granted corporate charters to build turnpikes, canals
and bridges. Corporate charters were usually restricted to a set number of years,
and legislatures often decided not to renew them. Incorporated businesses were
prohibited from taking any action which legislators did not specifically allow.

So how did these corporations gain the incredible power they have today?
As far back as 1819 in Dartmouth College v. Woodward, the Supreme Court
began to strip states of their ability to control corporate charters. Many
citizens then believed that exceeded the high court's authority.  But it was
the Civil War that provided the enormous funding that enabled corporations to
amass their first fortunes. They were chartered to supply the Union Army and many
of them delivered shoddily-made shoes, malfunctioning guns, and rotten meat.
Abraham Lincoln viewed the rise of corporations as a disaster, writing to a friend
in 1864:

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and
causes me to tremble for the safety of my country.  As a result of the
war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high
places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to
prolong its reign... until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and
the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the
safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of the war.3

Historian Howard Zinn describes how, during the last quarter of the 19th
century, in industry after industry,

...shrewd and efficient businessmen were building empires, choking out
competition, maintaining high prices, keeping wages low, using government
subsidies. These industries were the first beneficiaries of the "welfare state."
The banks had so many of these monopolies as to create an interlocking
network of powerful corporation directors, each of whom sat on the boards
of many other corporations.4

Then, in the 1886 Santa Clara case, "the Supreme Court decided, insanely,
that corporations are 'persons' with the rights our forbears meant only
for people." (Dugger, "Real Populists Please Stand Up," p. 160.) After
that, of the Fourteenth Amendment cases brought before the Supreme Court
between 1890 and 1910, nineteen dealt with Negroes, 288 dealt with
corporations. (Zinn, A People's History of the United States, pp.

With the Spanish-American War, U.S. corporations began to move abroad,
backed up by the U.S. Marines. The goal was not to drive colonial Spain
out of Cuba and Puerto Rico, but to gain control over the Caribbean and
use Hawaii, the Philippines and Guam as stepping-stones to the markets of
the Orient. Zinn says this was "a natural development of the twin drives
of capitalism and nationalism."  A Washington Post editorial declared in

A new consciousness seems to have come upon us - the consciousness
of strength.... Ambition, interest, land, hunger, pride, the mere joy of
fighting, whatever it may be, we are animated by a new sensation. We are
face to face with a strange destiny. The taste of Empire is in the mouth
of the people even as the taste of blood in the jungle....5

Strange destiny indeed! These are the more distant roots of a present
reality which is now becoming evident throughout the land and throughout
the world.  Not only is the corporate drive for profit and power superseding
people and principles, but we the American people have often been complicit
with this pattern, and only We The People can alter it.

Our Enchantment with Corporate Power & Its Promise of the Good Life

The Depression of the 1930's seemed to reject the euphoria of the "Dance
of the Millions" which followed World War I, while the welfare state of
Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s seemed to offer a governmental
version of the common good. But after World War II, that changed and the
drive for the good life turned our thoughts to modernity and materialism.

Environmentalist writer Jerry Mander describes what happened:

The new value system that was sold in the forties and fifties was designed
to fuel the most massive expansion of U.S. industrial and marketing sectors
in history. The 'American way of life' became an advertising theme; it drew
an explicit equation between how much you consumed and how American
you were.... To say that we, the public, had no participation in these vast
changes would be inaccurate. By our silence we gave our tacit approval....
It all happened so fast, and with SO MUCH POWER, it was difficult to grasp
what was changing, as it was changing. The process itself overpowered all
doubt. We asked no questions....6

During the 1980's we were told by President Ronald Reagan that we could
both spend enormous sums on the military and at the same times reduce
taxes. It was an economist's fantasy which became a corporate gold mine
and a people's nightmare. The United States fell into massive debt. But
corporations kept on expanding as markets grew, subsidies kept flowing,
and the stock market, despite fluctuations, kept rising. This allowed
corporations to keep most of their enormous profits and the good times
seemed to have no limits. But a day of reckoning was at hand for workers
and farmers.

Benjamin Friedman and Al Krebs explain what happened to these two key
sectors of the American labor force. Friedman on workers:

Of all the new year-round full-time jobs created since 1979, 36 percent
have provided workers with less than half of what the average worker made
in 1973.... The prospect of economic advancement is simply disappearing for
many Americans. The typical worker no longer earns what his father or older
brother earned at a comparable age a decade or two before.7

Al Krebs paints an even bleaker picture for the American farmer:

Not only have individual lives been stripped away, but entire rural communities
are disappearing. The number of U.S. farms have declined from 6.8 million in 1935
to under 2.1 million in 1989. The years 1985-1986 alone saw the loss of over
112,000 farms....As one farmer told me, "the earth is bleeding and I can't stop the hemorrhaging."8

Yet many affluent Americans, contented and indifferent, went on spending and
consuming as these former mainstays of U.S. society fell by the wayside. Contrary
to what the corporate libertarians would have us believe, David Korten warns:
Embellished by promises of limitless and effortless affluence, the vision of a global
economy has an entrancing appeal. Beneath its beguiling surface, however, we find
a modern form of enchantment, a siren song created by the skilled image makers of Madison Avenue, enticing societies to weaken community to free the market, eliminate livelihoods to create wealth, and destroy life to increase unneeded and often
unsatisfying consumption.9

So, Where Do We Go From Here?

We cannot hope to break out of the control by these huge transnational
corporations through piecemeal measures or the reform of existing trade
agreements or projected corporate strategies.  As long as the goal of the
multinational corporations and international banks is total control of the
marketplace and at forcing nation states to capitulate to their wishes,
reform is meaningless. The situation requires more fundamental change.

Just as the Clinton Administration promised to reform NAFTA by attaching
two side agreements (on labor rights and environmental protections) which
never materialized, so too, the draconian conditions projected by the
upcoming Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI) demonstrate we cannot
hope to reform projects and policies which only serve the interests of the

Before we can hope to achieve real progress toward economic justice, it
seems to us that we must first awaken the American people to the imminent
crisis facing us in the United States and to the even worse reality for
people in Third World societies. Clearly, alternative visions and specific
projects are already being developed and should be implemented from
outside the parameters of the existing system, but to alter the New World
Order, we must first develop a broad popular consciousness about the
threat of corporate power.

The problem with corporate power consists of more than specific immoral
policies and unjust practices. By their very nature, large corporations use people
and love things.  That is, they have no fundamental moral principle except that
of greater profit; they have no soul. The reason, says Jerry Mander, is that
corporations have no corporeality, in the sense that they are basically concepts:
a name, bank account, a legal entity. Their basic drive is to expand and make money, profit being the only standard by which a company is deemed worthy. In Mander's view,

All other values are secondary: community welfare, the happiness of workers,
the health of the planet, even general prosperity....In this sense a corporation is essentially a machine, a technological structure, an organization that follows its own principles and its own morality, and in which human morality is anomalous.10

This is why corporate power as global ruler is so dangerous: it refuses to
be accountable to people, democracy and society. It wants free reign to
pursue its ends without any public limitations or governmental controls.
Thus, its fundamentally anti-democratic nature. This is why WE THE PEOPLE
must bring these monster corporations back under our control.  Otherwise,
these powerful THINGS, will continue to usurp OUR fundamental freedoms.

Ideally, all corporations should have only one reason to exist: to serve people
and communities. Because power and greed have led large corporations to assume
they can control societies and rule the world, we must challenge their basic
assumptions even as we develop a peoples' agenda for the coming era.

1. Ronnie Dugger, "Real Populists Please Stand Up," The Nation, August 14/21, 1995, p. 159
2. David C. Korten, When Corporations Rule the World, Kumarian Press, West Hartford, CT, 1995, p.158
3. Jim Hightower, There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road But Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadilloes,
    HarperCollins, N.Y. 1997, p.31
4. Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States, Harper & Row, 1980, pp. 251-252
5. Ibid, p. 292, emphasis added
6. Jerry Mander, In the Absence of the Sacred, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, CA, 1991, pp 22-23
7. Benjamin M. Friedman, Day of Reckoning, Vintage, Random House, New York, 1988, pp. 159-160
8. A.V. Krebs, 'The Corporate Reapers,' The Book of Agribusiness, Essential Books, DC, 1992, p. 26
9. David C. Korten, op. cit.
10. Jerry Mander, op. cit.

The Alliance for Democracy
P.O. BOX 683
Lincoln, MA 01773, USA
email: peoplesall@aol.com