The struggle is old, and it has taken many phases, but, as Marx and Lenin predicted, we have reached the end of the line, and could be facing the most decisive battle of all. We must choose between a highly seductive barbarism or true civilization grounded in social justice and a permanent peace with the natural world.
BY GUI ROCHAT [print_link]
C L A S S W A R F A R E has been a feature of the American Republic since its inception. It was played out in the Constitution where white men of property were given equal rights to each other, while excluding women and all other-than-white races. It then permeated the South where genteel ladies and suave gentlemen had their leisure on the extortion of labor from the ‘lower’ classes, i.e. enslaved Africans and poor white sharecroppers. From time to time the class war was exposed whether it was as a race war (John Brown) or a true class war like the revolt of the laborers in Rockefeller’s Ludlow mines in 1914. The victory of the corporate empowerment legislation in 1885 rested on giving incorporated businesses full autonomous personhood, which made them legal entities that could sue any individual as well as another corporation and not be held responsible under Federal law, in sum a highly protected, privileged “citizen”.
IMAGE: Class warfare is inherent in class-divided society. It was alive and festering more than 100 years before Christ in Rome, where the noble Gracchi brothers (Tribunes Tiberius and Gaius) attempted far-ranging reforms in favor of the people. Both were eventually assassinated by plutocratic factions who also exacted a vicious, bloody revenge on their supporters.
Because the corporations developed into instruments for control by the powerful rich who were their major shareholders and were shielded by limited liability, they became the prime players in the political commerce of lobbying at the Federal level.
The recent Supreme Court ruling finalized this transfer of democratic powers to the corporations by allowing them to buy openly into their candidates for public office. The modern corporation is the expression and the instrument of social power as a monolithic hierarchy containing a widespread number of wage slaves, supervisors, managers, then fewer assistant vice-presidents, vice-presidents and a much more restricted number of top executives and finally a president, all overseen by trustee directors.
Structurally, nothing much has changed from Pharaonic society in ancient Egypt, equally dividing the plebes from the administrators and the court, while the burial structure of the pyramid was in itself an expression of the Pharaoh as a lone leader who oversees the whole system. Capitalism is based on a bundling of forces which always means a pyramid-form of control by the few over the many. It is clearly visible in the Federal government where the corridors of power become symbolically ever narrower, from the populous house to the exclusive senate, the small cabinet and finally ends with the president as a sort of ultimate super being.
In fact the contemporary political structure of the U.S., like the corporation or ancient Egypt, is built up as a concentration of powers towards the top by a diminishing number of elected officials, and is by and in itself inherently anti-democratic. Likewise one should also remember the step pyramids of Mesoamerica where the hapless victim was dragged up higher and higher to be ultimately sacrificed at the apex by priests. That is true power and it has slowly invaded all societal systems built up by human beings. Factually the class wars have survived ancient imperialisms and feudalisms and they may survive capitalism as well. Class wars have always used these societal organizations to reach their goal of separating the mass of humanity from the directors of society, whether it was a pharaoh, emperor, king or president.
IMAGE (BELOW right): The frequently slandered Julius Caesar was also murdered by aristocratic plotters for attempting to reduce the privileges of the ruling circles. His real story is not to be found in the pages of mainstream historians
The argument is that one sees this in nature with alpha males playing major parts in the herd’s decisions for survival, as for example amongst apes and wild dogs in Africa and so it is assumed that a pyramid-type limiting of power is also a natural state for humans to be in, because humans are said to need leadership and direction. That this is a cultural phenomenon and not an inborn necessity is deliberately ignored. Class warfare is thus at the bottom of any and every systematization of human relations in non-cooperative societies and has been since recorded history. It is not a result of feudalism or capitalism; on the contrary these formations followed others in which the class separation was also deep, and the pyramid was even steeper. The notion that most of humanity did have the strength or wisdom to determine their own fate was naturally abhorrent to such power systems, which are, in essence, built around the concept of natural and non-erasable inequality.
In the United States, as soon as all the territories, villages and small towns became part of the Federation in 1776, they lost all traces of genuine independence and democracy. The wars against the original inhabitants became combined into more cruel state-organized attacks and the first steps towards expansive imperialism were taken, while the very large landholdings of the political and military leaders, who became known thereafter by the bowdlerized term ‘Founding Fathers’ guaranteed them full participation in governing. Thus the major underlying factor of class warfare was glossed over at the very inception of the new utopia, a fact replicated in most modern bourgeois democracies. In Soviet Russia too, a new privileged (in relative terms) stratum arose from the ranks of managers, artists, scientists, top military leaders and technocrats (the Apparatchiks). The new formation was denounced as a de facto “class” mimicking the attitudes of capitalist bosses, but this is an exaggeration. The class perquisites that separated the Soviet “ruling class” (70:1) from line workers were certainly substantive in their society, but ludicrously small by Western standards of inequality, where it’s not unusual to find income differentials ranging from many thousands of dollars to just one dollar for the folks struggling in the lower ranks. And the gulf is even bigger when we examine wealth itself. Further, these officials could NOT pass their acquired advantages to their kin by right of inheritance, a distinguishing fact of all property-owning classes. Still, while abuses multiplied as entrenched privilege contravened the ideals of communism within the USSR, in the “democratic West the notion of limitless privilege, exploitation of others, and endless accumulation remained totally legal and societally sanctioned under capitalism.
Class war may take subterranean forms
The class war by the elites against the populace if not always physical, is relentless and violent, but it certainly guarantees that they can get away with domination in a rational and emotional sense. This is possible because the power holders know that their control is ephemeral, unless protected by an ideological curtain. It rests on general consent (the most effective method of domination, hence the need to constantly fabricate a spurious consensus) only as long as populations are willing to allow for gradations in access to resources and power. This obviously remains true in what we have been indoctrinated to recognize as democracies, but it is also traceable in relations between nations whereby the few richest and strongest control the many smaller countries that lack the means to refuse their dominance, despite the fact that these have often a far larger combined number of inhabitants (the British Raj comes to mind, among other cases). All of gradated, class-divided society is riddled with oppression, as is all of international politics.
The major boss nation is the United States, which from its inception geared itself to become the ultimate force in the world and the means to reach that status—as has been true for all empires—has been physical and economic warfare. Today, the rape of the world is proceeding via the central United States banking system in the hands of its financiers collaborating with the government (the justly hated financial oligarchy). This cabal— and one can certainly name it as such—works by guaranteeing the world that all investments in the United States are safe and profitable. This is pure bluff and clever marketing because there are no guarantees except the productive power of the population itself, which is the true capital of any country and in fact everywhere in the world. But this knowledge is of course carefully hidden from the subject public, while its rulers and administrators parade as if they were in fact the productive factor, which they never are; on the contrary they clearly form the exploitative classes.
Revolts in the subjugated countries have little effect because the center of power lies elsewhere, not in the victims’ territory but in the dominating country in heavily fortified governmental committee chambers and in many electronically barred from the public military installations. Never before in history has power been so concentrated and so well safeguarded in military and economic centers and securely protected by a now immensely overdeveloped media.
Looking back on the class wars in the twentieth century one can see that every effort was directed to undermine and destroy all popular movements with singular fervor. The main problem for the power holders is the huge increase in populations to be controlled and especially in the twentieth century many techniques were developed for that purpose such as human engineering and intense governmental support for the newest communication techniques. Control over power becomes ever more complicated as people of different cultures need to be integrated into the oppressive system. To encourage that, the three Western fascist countries in the twentieth century became ultra-nationalist. While the more advanced choice here fell on Obama in order to calm down potential black and liberal unrest, government policies remain almost exactly the same as they were from Reaganite “destructionism” onward.
IMAGE (left): The Paris Commune—the first effort to do away with the state— lasted barely two months in 1871, but its significance has never diminished. Its lessons are still being debated among social reformers and revolutionists. One of the probable lessons suggests that spontaneous revolts without the benefit of an overarching strategy, a defensive and coordinating mechanism and no clear programmatic goals can lead to painful defeats. (Photo: Dead communards.)
A great deal of political energy and economic power is written off as overhead to keep the power structure safe. The system can afford the loss of power at the edges, as well as absorb and coopt the sporadic protests and the shibboleths of freedom of speech. It has no sense deploring the lack of resolve or action on the part of a large or small progressive section of society – the forces arranged against any political change are humungous. But it is also clear that what threatens the status quo is public unrest and this is well understood by the power holders, because it weakens and may shatter the propagandist’s safety net that is thrown over their comfortable existence, as if it were a colossal shield. Definitive proof of that was the sixties movement, since demeaned as an ineffective upper-middle class youth rebellion. The revolt gave rise to some so-called enlightened social policies, but any diligent observer can readily see that under the gestures of goodwill and accommodation nothing material has changed in power relations, and the entire “movement” was rather easily coopted. In fact, the system is far better at this game than its challengers. For one, its enormous resources allow it to outlast most malcontents.
Nevertheless by their speed and malice, and by the quickly organized reactionary counter measures unleashed on a still largely atomized population, we could see the centers of power had perceived the period as one capable of threatening their hold on power. Social unrest is frequently a catalyst for unmasking power and if strong enough will dislodge the political retainers of the entrenched elites. The power holders themselves may not be affected, because human society is constructed as an near immovable pyramid. However a temporary disconnect could well be brought about in the dysfunctional political structure. It could cause a more rational manner of being governed though maybe not ever reaching the ideational goals of true liberty, equality and fraternity.
The nineteen sixties young were pushed by a desire not to conform, not to perform and not to be caught in the fake machinery of progress and this remains a powerful motive for turning away from political bondage. The economic ties that hold the young and the whole populace in submission are by now far stronger and better organized than in the sixties (credit and tuition debts, mortgages, lack of political organizations with a credible agenda among the masses, etc.), but so are the unavoidable leaks in the heavy propagandist veils of the media. It is now much easier to see the gears of exploitation moving than fifty years ago. That is where the strength of a progressive movement may come from, a refusal of the usual obeisance to artificial, read consumerist societal rules. The bourgeois ethic that is seemingly so heavily entrenched in the present-day social fabric is just a superficial requirement for survival, because it only functions to promote addictive spending, a fact which was already fully grasped by the rebelling youth of the sixties.
The intensity and the ferocity of the perennial class wars should never be underestimated and the only way to resist is to refuse completely. As soon as small accommodations are given to oppressive rules, one loses the advances that resistance has offered. This will not be easy and it is an enormous task to convince others that non participation in the usual social commands is a strategy worth adopting. But few other choices remain viable within the present state’s totalitarian structure and strength always lies in large numbers, not in individual or small group “voluntarist” actions. Meanwhile, freedom through resistance is well expressed by Emma Goldman: “If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution”. Some rebellions may well arise spontaneously (as we witness in Greece these days) but, devoid of a strong organization and clear programmatic goals, they will stand little chance of really effecting systemic change. Accommodations, yes, especially if they are transient, as a way of defusing a flammable situation.
The young from every background have by now no control over their own lives nor do they possess the political power to direct their own future. That needs to be made abundantly clear to them by those progressives with access to large numbers of the young and the fact explained that unless they act, they will lose whatever choices they still have.
GUI ROCHAT is a Senior Editor with Cyrano’s Journal Online and The Greanville Post.com. He makes his home in New York City.