We steer only by the grossest landmarks. Turn left at bewilderment. Keep going til you hit despair. Pull up at complete oblivion, turn around, and you´re there. Richard Powers, The Time of Our Singing, New York: Picador, 2003.
The statistic 99% is not just arbitrary figuration, the sad truth is that 99% of the American public is disadvantaged by the trends in United States economy, polity, and society. Yet we can expect that most of the 99% are not in the short run going to be mobilized on the streets by the Occupy Movement. In the elections of November 2012, voters divided closely between Republicans, a party that now represents the extremes of retrograde, right-wing ideology and Democrats with more gentle rhetoric and weak defense of social programs, but who in the main are servile to economic power and the imperial ambition and hegemony that economic power pursues. The system that we endure disadvantages and misleads the bewildered majority and morally corrupts the minority. Republican Zombies have greed-locked political life and infiltrated the minds of the loyal opposition. The electoral process is made a farce by big money and ossifies in political paralysis. The judicial system opens avenues for the rule of money and wider repression while there is closure to the use of the Law to curtail the extension of the repressive apparatus or to punish the misdeeds of the powerful. Public education, with sectors becoming privatized with Charter Schools, fosters standardized tests on students that measure how well teachers teach and youth grasp the necessity to fit in the roles that the powerful define and how far away education can move away from teaching independent, critical thought. Institutions of higher learning are privatized, or made so expensive they become exclusionary, and change educational missions to business programs and research missions to get their hefty corporate grants. The press is downgraded to serve up banality and lies, allowing the extreme right to define the news agenda and frame the limits to acceptable thought. The economy is in the hands of financial oligarchs whose malfeasance brings the economy down. Indignation is here and there but submerged in fear, while effective actions expressing outrage is confined to the fringes of right and left. So America will muddle along under the sway of the Plutocrats and their servants in political power, despair and discontent at every higher level, until the Occupy Movement can mobilize the forces of unity among the 99% and do more than make noise.
The delusions that Republicans propound and Democrats hide from find their home in the despair that prevails among the bewildered and suffering populace, in the main oblivious to real solutions with consciousness subverted by now threatened privileges, however petty these may be, of previous class positioning; by xenophobia created in a climate of fear, hate and endless futile war; by the pervasiveness of racism and the resurgence of patriarchy and sexism; and most of all by the founding myths of capitalism that have turned American society, and most of the world with it, into a war of all against all wherein only the fittest of the rich survive. We need some new landmarks constructed piece by piece by those no longer bewildered and despairing because they have vision and inspire redemption from the evils of savage capitalism in its degenerative phase.
I am an Old-timer from the 1960s—in those days a student activist and young professor of sociology– but now an old curmudgeon, an aged and obdurate radical, yet inspired still by the better years and hope for resurgence. What I really want to convey here is a sociological analysis of American political economy as it effects the class situation of the 99% and to draw from that strategic concerns for genuine social change. This requires an analysis of the sources of economic stagnation and crisis and the manners in which these sources transform the relations of social class. First though, a look at the immediate and more familiar sources of the current crisis. In the economic sphere this crisis is rooted in the ascendance of bankers to the leading position within the capitalist class and that economic dominance has lead to plutocratic control of the greed-locked political sphere.
THE FINANCIALIZATION OF CAPITAL AND THE POLITICAL POWER OF PLUTOCRACY
Throughout his long tenure as Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan regularly appeared before the Congress. The obsequious Senators bowed to Greenspan as if he were the Messiah of the century illuminating the most profound words of wisdom, an appreciation enthusiastically shared by President Clinton in the 1990s and President Bush in the 2000s. The financial crisis devastatingly revealed that Chairman Greenspan was a blower of bubbles, a purveyor of obscurantism, a servant of Wall Street power, a charlatan, and an exalted example of the Neanderthal Zombies now in the saddle of power. In 2008 we expected more of a President who promised change. Yet, President Obama´s appointments to the Fed and the Treasury Department in 2008-09, and the staff that surround them, are all out of the same Wall Street mold—just as Obama´s appointments to the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency, and the CIA were figures associated with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the war crimes and crimes against humanity of the Bush era.
With the depth of the financial crisis and the subsequent economic decline in the United States and extending throughout much of the world and given the widespread comprehension of the causes of the debacle, how can one understand the Business As Usual ambient that prevails in the United States, and in somewhat different circumstances in Europe?
The United States is a nation in which the economy is predominantly controlled by finance capital, the .01% among the 1%, and the moneyed elite at the head of big banks and Wall Street investment firms hold positions on the Boards of Directors of the major corporations in all sectors. They also have very substantial political power with unrestricted funds to pollute the political culture and to bribe politicians. Mitt Romney´s top campaign contributors were Wall Street investment firms and banks, with Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase at the top of the list, which also includes Credit Suisse and Bain Capital. In contrast, Barack Obama´s chief contributors were technology companies like Microsoft, Google, and IBM, along with universities. These lists do not include the many millions raised by the Super-Pacs organized by corporations and the wealthy most supporting ads and activity supportive of Romney. The plutocrats will likely forgive Obama his reference to Wall Street “Fat Cats” as long as his actions are consistent with their interests, as they will likely be.
Two statistical references illustrate the increased dominance of the financial sector within the U.S. economy. During the decade of the 1960s financial profits as a per cent of total corporate profits averaged 15%. This percentage increased in the 1970s, hovering around 20%. The proportionate increase in financial profits rocketed from 1985 to 1995 to over 30%, dipped a bit in the economic difficulties of the late 1990s, to again take off in the 2000s, ascending to 40% of the corporate take in 2005-2007. The corollary to this tendency is the long-term decline since 1985 in non-residential fixed investment as a per cent of Gross Domestic Production. During the 1970s productive investment averaged over 4% of GDP—a low figure reflecting the long-term stagnation tendency of the U.S. economy—but by 2005-2007 fell to 2.7%. (1) Excess productive capacity of U.S. industry has steadily increased, while American industrial corporations, often with financing and consultative services from the big banks, shifted their investments to China and to countries where labor is cheap and the investment climate good. Thus, the modest growth of the U.S. economy since 1985, but especially in the 2000s, has been mainly due to activity in the financial sector not in the ¨real economy¨, that is to say in financial speculation, not in the production of useful goods and services that provide jobs and income to consumers. In a functioning economic system the financial sector must be the facilitator of production, not a usurper of surplus and economic power. From the point of view of finance capital, the economy that produces real goods and services has the disadvantage of spreading income downward to employees and consumers in the economy, whereas financialization of the economy allows siphoning monies upwards to the plutocrats without the proceeds having to be spread around the debt-burdened population. The debtors had a temporary fix to their increasing precarity since the 1990s by borrowing against increasing home equities and credit cards until 2007-08–in the end they paid not only the interest but lost their homes and jobs.
Economic growth of the U.S. economy over the years since 2000 was due largely to two factors, government military expenditures in armaments and war and speculative financial bubbles in real estate mortgages and various asset derivatives. For many years the U.S. has spent more on armaments than almost all other nations in the world combined! While vast ¨defense¨ expenditures provide employment to American workers, American consumers cannot eat bombs or live in the drone aircraft that have the sole use of killing people in other countries. Meanwhile, big banks and Wall Street investment firms packaged home mortgages into Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDD), invented derivatives and other aggregated assets to make them into marketable instruments and then sold them throughout world financial markets. This precipitated an extreme appreciation of real estate and other asset values in the U.S. and elsewhere, especially Europe. The Federal Reserve, largely deregulated from controls over Banks under President Clinton, obligingly facilitated the real estate spiral and consumer debt by lowering the interest rate to historic lows in the 2000s Consumers borrowed against equity in their homes and charged heavily against credit cards liberally advanced by the banks. Workers and middle class employees, in total dependence on commodity markets, sought to compensate for declining incomes by borrowing to preserve their standard of living. Rising education costs and falling government subsidies to higher education forced students to resort to loans that they may never be able to repay, potentially causing yet another bubble that may eventually pop. In 2007 and 2008 all the asset and derivative bubbles burst. But the financiers who created the world´s greatest Ponzi schemes are still there doing Business As Usual, having been bailed out financially and reinstated politically, while they continue to engage in criminal activity, like the 2012 Libor interest rate rigging scandal, with impunity.
The bankers that reward themselves with stupendous annual bonuses for their dedicated work in destroying the world economy and along with the corporate rich in general avoid paying taxes by stashing trillions—that is trillions, not billions or millions—in off-shore tax havens. (2) Then President Bush and the Congress gave tax cuts, Obama extended the cuts and held open loopholes in the tax codes so that the rich can engage in financial speculation at even higher levels and hide yet more money off-shore.
Finance capital is now highly concentrated into conglomerate groups. The 10 largest conglomerates hold more than 60% of U.S. financial assets, compared to 10% in 1990. These giants include JP Morgan Chase (caught up in yet another financial scandal in May 2012), Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and Goldman Sachs. This constellation—not established industrial giants like GE or the high tech innovators like Microsoft—is the center of economic power in the U.S. The Wall Street financier, not Microsoft´s Bill Gates, is the symbol of where money, systemic direction, and economic and political power now reside. In the new Obama administration, it is likely that all the top appointments to the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department, the National Economic Council, down to the President´s advisors and staff, will be from or closely linked to the Wall Street conglomerates. Plutocracy rules economic policy; government is of, by, and for financial capital, and not just in Washington but in the European Union as well. Finance has become a global criminal enterprise that operates with impunity for crimes of fraud, malfeasance in office, money laundering, tax evasion…and then collects from the public treasury even when its bubbles burst and its schemes are exposed.
Of course, finance capital is not confined to the big Banks and Wall Street Investment firms, there are a wide range of financial upstarts on the fringe, the vulture capitalists that started in the 1980s and 1990s in the hostile takeover mergers of vulnerable firms, the dot.com swindlers, Enron and Bernie Madoff scams, and companies like Bain Capital where Republican Mitt Romney made his fortune by taking over businesses to restructure at the expense of stock holders and workers, to load companies down in debt, strip their assets, and then abandon them to their fate. Romney got Bain´s start-up capital from Salvadorian oligarchs tied in with the Death Squads and stashes his millions in ill-gotten gains in foreign tax shelters.
While it is abundantly clear that finance capital in the decade of the 2000s has shifted its role from a facilitator of production via provision of credit to become a leading, essentially predatory and speculative, sector of the capitalist class, there is more to it than that. Banks and Wall Street Investment firms played from the 1970s through the 1990s an increasing role in delaying stagnation and crisis by pooling the economic surplus derived from the “real economy”, creating credit in advance of production to fund credit worthy companies and depriving non-competitive business of credit, extending liberal consumer credit to compensate for declining consumer income, and opening up new investment opportunities and markets on a world scale. The policies spearheaded by financial institutions and supported by all fractions of capital worked very well, for them, for three decades. Global capitalism became a truly integrated system with Wall Street at the helm. In the end the ascendance of finance capital and its machinations resulted in deep and enduring recession while transforming the structure and relations of the social classes that make up the 99%.
CLASS TRANSFORMATION, STAGNATION AND CRISIS
Stagnation and Crisis. The current economic situation in the United States and Southern Europe is a result of the exhaustion or lack of efficacy of the historical sources for the accumulation of capital. Accumulation is the dynamic of capitalism, the wherewithal to invest and make more profits–when accumulation reaches limits crises come about.
Subsequent to the Great Depression and the Post War expansion of the world economy, the problem of stagnation of the economies of the advanced industrial countries of North America and Europe came about in the 1970s and was combined with high rates of inflation, referred to in that period as “stagflation.” The response to the economic situation from the 1980s onward was to embark on new strategies of accumulation and global development. The crisis caused in the U.S. and other countries by the 1980s “Volker Shock” imposed by the Federal Reserve with high interest rates introduced a new form of attempts to restructure a failing accumulation strategy. This took the form of “globalization” and the implementation of the policies of what came to be called “neo-liberalism”. A fundamental part of accumulation tendencies since the 1980s has been the shift from investment in the production of useful goods and services to financialization of the economy. This has resulted in an economy in which unproductive activity, such as in speculative finance, promotion of wasteful pursuits as in a wide range of superfluous services and the sales effort, the promotion of cultural spectacles as products of mass consumption and diversion from social and economic realities, and socially destructive activity as in armaments and war, have become the principle means of generating profits. These activities led directly to the financial and economic crisis of 2007-2008 and continuing in recession until today. What is often ignored or downplayed in economic analysis however is that economic developments and shifts in the accumulation process are fundamentally transformations in the structure and relations of social class.
A digression into theory and history is necessary for an understanding of the factors underlying the present structure and relations of class and crisis in respect to questions of strategy for bringing about fundamental change. (3)
Historical studies of accumulation often view technological innovation as the main source of development. Capital puts its money, gained from the appropriation of value produced, into new technological sectors. The application of power to mechanical devices in the Industrial Revolution, the steam engine and railroads of the nineteenth century, and the automobile, electronics, and computers of the twentieth Century indeed were “epoch-making” innovations. But there is one source of accumulation that is even more important than technical advance, or as a consequence of innovations: the incorporation of increasing proportions of the population into the waged labor to capital social relation, a relation that allows capital to appropriate value produced in the form of profit. The cotton mills of early industrialism, the laying of railroad track and manufacture of trains, the automobile factories…could not come into being without waged labor. There are other sources of accumulation that rival technology advances in significance: the internationalization of capital and the growth of the modern state, both of which are also dependent on incorporation of labor, although in different ways than in the direct production of commodities that allow the appropriation by capital of profit on the value of goods produced by labor.
Without the production and appropriation of economic surplus that is reinvested in expanded production there is no accumulation and economic development, the system regresses to stagnation and into ever deeper crisis. In the system that we have lived under for two centuries and more this means that capital must be in a position to exploit labor directly for a portion of the value produced or to appropriate surplus that is generated outside the capital to labor relation. In the earlier stages of development, capitalism depended considerably on the appropriation of economic surplus through relations of unequal exchange with non capitalist sectors, with colonized territories, or with dependent economies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. For example, the slave plantation system of the Caribbean and the southern United States produced a considerable surplus that merchant capital, in those days the dominant fraction of the capitalist class, appropriated through a variety of mercantile mechanisms. Some of the surplus found its way into the accumulation process in industrial sectors, furthering industrial development first in England and later in Europe and the northern region of the United States.
With the growth of the monopoly form of industrial capitalism in the late nineteenth and at an accelerated rate in the twentieth century the principal means of accumulation shifted from unequal exchange to the dispossession of independent producers and their incorporation by carrot or by stick into the waged labor to capital nexus. This permitted the subsumption under the aegis of capital of production previously outside the sphere of capital and the direct appropriation of value from a labor force subject to relations of exploitation and, often forceful, oppression. In the plantation areas, slave labor became waged labor on modern capitalist plantations. In America, the supply of exploitable labor was greatly increased by immigration. Through the course of the twentieth century, accumulation proceeded rapidly on a basis of dispossession and incorporation to waged labor, so that today the great majority of the population, (including, in recent decades, the majority of housewives) has been transformed into a mass of dependent waged workers. They are, without alternative fixed in the employment of capital, yet are entirely dependent on the consumption of the marketed commodities they produce. (4)
In recent decades workers and the population in general became more and more dependent upon the financial sector. Paychecks are deposited in banks and bills are paid by check or nowadays by electronic transfer, pension savings are invested in the stock market, purchases made by bank credit card can´t be paid on the due date, and as income does not meet expenses home equities became sources of financing the increasing cost of living. The decline in purchasing power of consumers was partially compensated by the abundance of cheap imports produced by run-away shops exporting American jobs to low waged countries.
But the machinations of the financial sector came to a sudden, bitter end in 2007-08. The expectation of the bankers to keep accumulation going by extending credit to increasingly credit unworthy consumers and financing industrial production abroad to keep the flow of cheap consumer goods flowing was smashed.
With financialization money flowed upward to the financiers, not downward to the working population enabling production of goods and services in the “real economy” to expand and consumers to purchase the products produced. The main source of economic stagnation and the crisis of accumulation is the steady decline of the real wages of the working population, workers and sectors of middle class employees, such that there is insufficient demand for the goods and services produced, or potentially produced, by a willing and needy labor force. With real wages in decline, workers and middle class employees sent more family members into the labor force and turned to borrowing money on home equities and credit cards as a means to maintain their standards of material existence and social status. The Bankers took advantage of this to the extent that debt levels became unsustainable and the financial system collapsed.
There is a long history in the interrelationship between the accumulation process, class formation, stagnation and crisis. While the formation of a class of waged laborers dependent on commodity production for jobs is central, concomitant with the formation of the working class, different segments of a qualitatively new intermediate class were formed in the context of the polarization between increasingly concentrated and centralized capital and a growing mass of subordinated workers. Large-scale production employing new industrial techniques greatly increased the productivity of the growing labor force and created a sharply rising demand for engineers, scientists, and experts in organizational work. Scientists and engineers designed new means of augmenting worker productivity; administrative experts reorganized the labor process to more effectively subordinate labor; workers were subjected to routinized, dequalified work and whatever skills they once had as skilled craftsmen were separated from their work and transferred to the new experts. Control of the production process and labor became a central concern; supervisors proliferated. Reproduction of a labor force now entirely dependent on wages and stripped of folk knowledge and arts and communal survival services of the previous era became a problem; a growing army of professionals was formed to deliver babies and attend illness, provide schooling, produce culture as a commodity rather that folk art, and apply a presumed expertise to all manner of acute social problems.
Historically, there has been a shift from extensive accumulation via incorporation of peoples into the sphere of waged labor to intensive accumulation via reorganization of the labor process to extract a greater level of profit. In recent decades extensive accumulation has shifted geographic location from North America and Europe to Asia and Latin America. Intensive accumulation has shifted from rationalization of the labor process to increase productivity to measures to reduce the real incomes of workers in order to increase profit rates. This shift now effects the class situation of segments of technical, administrative, and professional labor that were employed by capital for the purpose of intensive accumulation.
The internationalization of capital has constituted a principal source of accumulation. This has a long history, culminating in global capitalism guided by finance capital. The development of England and Spain as the first colonial powers depended upon the pillage of tangible wealth of the world. Later, relations of unequal exchange between primary production in the Periphery and growing industrial activity in the industrializing Center were established and the European continent and America began to rival England. Still Later, the export of modern capital from the Center, now emanating mainly from the United States, into the areas previously underdeveloped by colonialism and imperial subordination became a main source of accumulation. Plants are closed down in the Industrial Centers, forcing communities into decline and worker´s wages downward, as capital employed extensive accumulation and shifted its activities to countries with low wages, no unions, and a friendly attitude toward foreign investment.
The internationalization of the accumulation process has tended, particularly in the recent decades with the ascendance of multinational corporations and international finance, to internationalize class relations. Local business classes, a growing working class, intermediate classes, and vast under classes of marginalized peoples are formed in the Periphery under conditions of dependency that are structured by accumulation on a world scale. These classes are involved in rapidly changing relations within national contexts, and these relations are necessarily seen as fixed within an international dimension, but also have their own dynamic in the tumultuous events of Africa, Latin America, and Asia. (5)
The formation of the North American middle class and to a considerable degree the class situation of the working class is necessarily analyzed in part as an outcome of the rise of U.S. corporations, complemented in recent decades by U.S. banks and international financial institutions, as the dominant economic forces on a world scale. During the post-WWII period the United States became the technical and administrative center of multinational capital and “free world” empire; middle class employees guided the administrative and technical apparatuses of the global reach of the multinationals and banks and the agencies of state (the Departments of State, the Treasury and Federal Reserve, intelligence agencies, U.S. AID, and other agencies of government) that preserve and expand empire ; a growing proportion of the productive jobs that opened up were abroad, not in the United States, the Admistrative Center.
The internationalization of capital is related to another source of the accumulation of capital, the expansion of the modern state. The “imperial” or “warfare” dimension of the “welfare/interventionist/warfare” state is a source of employment of large numbers of administrative, technical, and professional employees. The “welfare” dimension of the modern state, now under severe roll-back pressure, has evolved in the context of the difficult social conditions produced by historical development and in relation to the level and complexity of social struggle accompanying development, especially since the Great Depression. The decline of necessary social services previously part of community life, the misery among urbanized workers and immiserated populations, the social demands of peoples´ movements have required the state to provide a wide range of services.
The “interventionist” or “positive” dimension of the modern state has come about in response to periodic crises and the need for regulatory, monetary, and fiscal policies that facilitate accumulation. In the most recent phase of degenerative development, the U.S. state´s deregulation of the financial sector became the key factor in the inflation of assets and the bursting bubbles that are the proximate cause of the current international economic crisis. This does not mean that laws reinstituting greater regulation of banking and finance will be an effective means of overcoming crisis. As long as the economic and political power of plutocracy is present, regulations will only enhance the power of the financial oligarchy.
The Imperial or warfare side to the American state came about mainly in the period after World War II. The United State emerged from that War economically and militarily supreme and engaged the Cold War and intervened whenever and wherever in the world social forces threatened change. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the imperial design reemerged with oil fever and a War on Terror. The growth of the security apparatus and military adventurism of the American State has resulted in a vast recruitment of security and military personnel, the promulgation of Executive Orders and Congressional Laws that curtail individual and collective freedoms, a culture of fear, and an entirely new agency, Homeland Security, that competes effectively with government social services for scarce budgetary resources.
The middle class then was formed in considerable part to fill the multiplying interstices of the welfare/interventionist/imperial state. The welfare and interventionist sides to state activity are now increasing subordinated to the imperial side. This means that middle class public employees in social services, teachers and social workers in particular, are being downgraded while security personnel are on the ascendance. This has serious implications for the Occupy Movement that will be examined shortly.
The accumulation of capital—while it has an economic appearance in investment decisions, capital movements, and paths of historical development—is fundamentally one of the formation of classes and transformation of relations between classes. This is a process of multiclass relations in a bi-polarizing structure. Over the last decades the rationalization of the labor process, institutional centralization, financialization and technological innovation have contributed to a sharpening structural polarization between capital and labor in which the middle class is less and less in the middle and more and more bifurcated into an upper and lower strata, the one pulled closer to the dominant fractions of capital, the other pushed toward or into the working class. This has considerable implication for determining which fractions of the middle class can be mobilized for change and which sectors will likely be allied with enemies of change, analyses to be drawn out later.
The Dominant Class. Capitalist societies tend to be ruled economically, socially, and politically by those who own and control productive property, the circulation of commodities, and the flow of money. There is historically a leading sector that exercises predominant power. In nineteenth and early twentieth century America it was the “Robber Barons”, in the decades after World War 11 large industrial corporations, by the 1970s conglomerates of diverse enterprises and the U.S. based multinational corporations spreading activity worldwide, during the eighties the energy companies and the defense contractors, and by the late 1990s down to the present times the bankers and financiers. It is this leading sector of plutocrats, finance capital, that now holds predominate control in the economy—and in the political sphere. Wall Street is the center of this control, but it extends to Europe as well and to much of the rest of world. German, Swiss, British, and French bankers and financiers are part of the same class of plutocrats, as are those who head up the European Central Bank, IMF, and Central Banks in many countries. It is also this fraction of the larger dominant class of capitalists that is now engaged in a hegemonic project to remake the United States, and world society, into a savage capitalism in which their vested interests and class privilege are sacrosanct. They are the Modern Neanderthals that have disentombed all the Zombies that inhabit and pervert the current political culture. But we have always to keep in mind that there is no current serious division within the dominant class as a whole, the 1% is united behind the tenants of the .01% and neo-liberal ideology–and in the U.S. hailing the religion of Republicanism, even though sectors have covered their bases by contributions to the Democrats. There is no significant division between industrial and financial capital, between big, medium, and smaller business, or between American based capital and the national capitals of other countries. They coalesce in their view of salvation as reconstituting and extending the “neo-liberal” project (to be analyzed in depth shortly). The wealthy also dominate the U.S. Congress, in 2007 45% of Representatives and 67% of Senators were millionaires, and their wealth increased 11% during the crisis years 2008-2011. All of Obama´s appointments in his first term to the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department were plutocrats drawn from Wall Street, and his Council of Economic Advisors were all trained in neo-liberal orthodoxy. There is no reason to believe that Obama won´t appoint servants of economic power to key positions in his second term. The American state today is as close as any time in history to the dictatorship of capital engaged in a fierce class war against the 99%. Obama and the Democrats are not willing or able to face that reality. They must be pushed hard by the Occupy Movement.
The Working Class. Workers are those that are employed by capital to produce value in the form of goods and services. The object of capital is to appropriate the maximum possible of the value produced and capture that value as profit. Until the twentieth century a majority of the American population was not working class, but independent producers—small farmers, craftsmen, independent practitioners, small businessmen. The essential history of capitalist development is the incorporation of ever increasing proportions of the population into the wage-labor to capital social relation. The first to disappear were the independent producers, then former slaves found jobs in industry, and vast numbers of immigrants became American workers. As the twentieth century progressed the universalization of the market became complete. Families could only live by gainful employment to then participate in the purchase of commodities. By the 1980s, women became incorporated, largely in subordinate positions at lower salaries, as working class families could no longer live on one income. Today, no politician in the United States talks of the deterioration of the situation of the working class; they lament the lack of jobs for the “middle class”, as if the American Dream had previously eliminated the working class. Even the head of the AFL-CIO won´t talk about workers, but uses the term middle class. I suppose that President Obama and union leaders fear that using proper terminology might lend credence to the Republican labeling of such proclamations as socialist. The vast majority of the American population is working class subject to a sharply deteriorating class situation. Within the limits of a stagnant economy, the scope of this class is continually augmented; the more so as substantial sectors of the middle class are pushed downward in the social order, while other workers are forced into the abyss of marginal existence. Bruce Springsteen captured the reality very well in his song, “Shackled and Drawn”;
“gambling man rolls the dice, working man pays the bills
it´s still fat and easy up on Banker´s Hill
up on Banker´s Hilll the party´s going´strong
down here below we´re all shackled and drawn.”
While almost all workers are subject to forces causing a deterioration of their class situation, in America the working class is also divided—stratified in social hierarchies and their function in the labor process. The divisions within the working class are based on race, ethnicity, gender, unionized or not, geographical factors, the nature of their work…and other factors. This has implication for what sectors can be mobilized in a movement for change and which groupings will present challenges to win over or to neutralize.
The Under Class of Marginalized Peoples. The marginalization of peoples from the mainstream of economic and social life is a long historical process, but in global capitalism has become accelerated in recent decades. Today, not more than 1,000 plutocrats have cornered as much wealth as possess the poorest 2.5 billion people on the planet! The process has degenerated from incorporating people into the waged labor to capital relation at wages increasing roughly in relation to advances in productivity and is now being transformed into a process of des-incorporation. Waged workers in the Industrial Center and poor farmers in the Periphery are being pushed out from places in the economy that allowed them to live into a world of helplessness and poverty. They survive as best they can with social service subsidies where available and in the informal economy of street vending, casual labor, drug pushing, and street crime, they occupy homeless shelters and eat from food stamps and charitable bread lines. Marginalization is also a process of immiseration, embodying the grossest of social injustice. In a later section, data on increasing income inequality and rising poverty that reflect immiseration are presented.
The social change involved in historical development has meant that human beings are constantly shuffled and reshuffled into different social classes. Independent producers and immigrants became
industrial workers, sons of workers became white-collar workers; sons of white-collar employees became technicians and professionals. But development has also meant that some groupings change their location without changing their position of the bottom of the economic and social pile. African slaves became Negro sharecroppers and share-croppers became African-American unskilled laborers and urban service workers, while others are ghettoized without steady employment, immiserated and marginalized. The under class in America is disproportionately African-American, Latino and ethnic minority, although in the contemporary period increasing numbers of white folks are forced into the under class.
Marginality is a relatively new concept that has its origin in the age-old concern for the plight of the poor urban groupings uprooted from rural subsistence by economic forces and subjected to the vicissitudes of life as “surplus population,” “lumpen proletariat,” “masses,” “reserve army of the unemployed,” colonized peoples, populations of a “dual society” one sector developed the other underdeveloped, or simply the “poor who have always been with us.” These are descriptive terms that do not have much analytical value. The analytic problem has rather to do with the character and quality of participation in the institutions of society by members of certain structural grouping created by economic changes. Marginal under classes are excluded from participation, only minimally participate, or participate under discriminatory conditions in certain institutions, such as the political and education. At the same time participation in other institutions, such as the economy, is irregular and only yields minimal social rewards. Peoples of the marginal under classes cannot claim, or find difficult access to certain privileges, advantages, or opportunities built in the social structure of society that accrue to members of other classes. Groupings in American society include, now more than ever, those whose skills are superfluous to a technologically geared economy and consumer society that exports factory jobs and outsources employment abroad. Then there are the hard-core unemployed, those who find occasional employment in sweat shops, migrant agricultural labor, peoples trapped in rural and mining communities in which the local economy is shut down, minorities locked out due to race and ethnic discrimination, the large populations in urban industrial centers that have been destroyed by plant closures, and many of the aged and infirm from physical or mental incapacity.
The immiseration of peoples is an accelerating global process in the present period. An ever greater proportion of the population is marginalized from the mainstream of world society as stagnation and crisis persist and globalization extends to furthest reaches of our planet. In America, programs of social services to the needy are reduced, redefined as more effective means of social control, or eliminated entirely. I will return to the potential role of marginalized people in social change in a concluding section on strategies of change for the Occupy Movement.
The Middle Class. The old middle class of independent producers has been largely eliminated as the majority was forced into the waged labor force, while some elements became incorporated into the middle class. The “new” middle class formed over the course of the twentieth century is composed of diverse sectors that do not directly produce value but serve in intermediary, mediating places between capital and labor. The middle class is composed of several occupational groupings:
-The administrators, including supervisors and middle-level bureaucratic functionaries. They perform the “line” and “staff” authority functions in the technical division of labor and are directly enmeshed in the antagonisms of capital to labor. This fraction of the middle class in the present, degenerative phase of development, is being bifurcated with most being pushed into or in the direction of the working class, while some are being elevated to directly serve the upper echelons of managerial capital and governmental bureaucracies. In the private sector their bonuses may not compare with those of the Bankers, but their class privileges are elevated. In the public sector, those administrating public services are facing budget cuts and layoffs while those occupying positions in the security and repressive apparatus have generous budgets and increasing employment.
-The semi-autonomous employees, such as scientific and technical personnel and many professionals constitute a large sector of the middle class. The “semi-autonomy” refers to their place in the labor process, which has historically evolved to fragment and routinize “worker´s work”, while elevating coordinative and developmental activity to work conditions that are more creative, higher paid, and freer of direct controls. The same process of dequalification of labor functions that scientists and engineers evolved to subordinate labor is now being applied to the formerly semi-autonomous employees. There is ever greater fragmentation of technical work, such that much of what needs to be done can be outsourced to employees in India where employees need only English and computer literacy to earn their meager wages.
-The service professionals are mainly state employees who produce use values in the sphere of social services, but also include private sector employees in health and other services. Obviously, the impact of rolling back the services provided by government at all levels by greater bureaucratic centralization and control, by cutting budgets, by eliminating many of the social programs gained by worker´s struggles over many decades, by fiscal crisis…have deteriorated the class situation of service professionals. The process of transforming the older class of independent practitioners of the professions to government employees through a process of professionalization now has a contrary tendency, deprofessionalization. This process is strikingly evident in the teaching profession in public schools and universities; teachers are required to function as guardians and university courses are increasingly taught by adjunct instructors at minimum wages.
This process of professionalization/deprofessionalization, as well as qualification/dequalification of the administrative and semi-autonomous segments of the middle class, I will analyze in more depth and relate the tendencies in class transformation to questions of strategy for the Occupy Movement. Capitalist development is one of multi-class relations in a bi-polarizing structure. Economic and political power is ever more concentrated under the control of the 1%, while the under class and working class grow in numbers and decline in class situation, and the middle class bifurcates into elevated and downgraded segments. In the current phase of degenerative development, the context is a one-sided class struggle by the 1% against the 99% in a situation of stagnation and economic crisis. This crisis is being utilized to further the striving for absolute hegemony by the 1%. For this reason it is important to determine the class relations in which the dominant class, workers, middle class employees, and marginals are enmeshed within and the class situation and mobilization potential of the classes and fractions of classes that make up the 99%.
Income Distribution and Stagnation. The trend toward greater and greater inequalities in the distribution of income in the United States is striking. Obviously, this is a major factor in the stagnation of the U.S. economy. If most of the 99% are more and more hard pressed economically, their ability to purchase the goods and services they produce is reduced. In the terms used by Keynesian economists reduced real income depresses effective demand. This in turn causes recession to deepen and extend for a longer period. Keynesian solutions in the Great Depression and since have involved government stimulus measures, tax reductions to spur consumer spending, public works projects, greater government involvement with giving direction to the economy…but the programs of very limited scope applied by the Obama administration proved ineffective and Republican intransigence prevented serious measures. The “interventionist “ side of state activity is stymied by Republican intransigence, there are only private enterprise solutions, not public. It remains to be seen whether in Obama´s second term there will be space for some modest Keynesian fiscal measures, but it is doubtful. Monetarist policies by the Treasury and Fed will continue as in the past several years. The main stimulus from 2009 to 2012 was the Federal Reserve release of hundreds of billions of dollars to financial institutions in exchange for toxic assets and keeping interest rates near zero, but this did not result in credit being available for investment in the production of useful good and services. Monetary policies freed up funds that have in the main resulted in speculative investment in stocks pushing up indices; commodity futures spiraling prices for minerals, grains, and oil; foreign short-term speculations appreciating foreign currencies in relation to the dollar; and other activities that do not have much impact on the productive investment needed to stimulate growth and employment.
Today, 46 million of the American population materially exists below the official poverty line. 40% of households earn incomes near or below the poverty line. Millions are being pushed toward poverty with job loss, health coverage disappearing , homes foreclosed, and pensions gobbled up by Wall Street malfeasance and millions more face a similar fate if the recession is prolonged, as it will likely be. Inequality has markedly increased since the 1970s. In the decades prior to that period of stagflation, workers´ real wages increased more or less in tempo with productivity gains. While productivity in the American economy has doubled between 1973 and 2010, the real wages of workers have declined by 7%. The middle class too has lost ground. In 1970, the middle class controlled 62% of national income, but in 2010 only 45%. Occupations conventionally considered middle class are also shrinking. The upper 10% on the other hand increased their income take from 29% in 1970 to 47.9% in 2010, so it is not just the 1% who has a vested interest in the status quo. The distribution of assets is even more skewed than income. On a world scale the richest 1% hold 40% of global assets, while the bottom half of the world´s population has 1% of assets. The top 1% in the U.S. has recovered quite well from the crisis they created in 2007-08; during 2009-10 they captured 93% of the income growth from the modest economic upturn.
It is not just that U.S. unemployment stood at 9% in 2011 and 8% in 2012 with a slight downward trend just before the November 2012 elections. Official figures ignore hidden unemployment and underemployment and there is no indication of improvement. Of course, unemployment is at higher levels in southern Europe and most of world. That does not mean that the U.S. 99% is much better off. Wage levels for those still employed are being forced downward while benefits in health and retirement are cut, unions where they still exist are under attack and not able to protect jobs and benefits, income inequalities between the rich and their higher paid staff and the middle and working class, increasing since the 1980s, are now at record levels. American corporations close down their U.S. plants and shift their investments to low wage countries; technical jobs are outsourced abroad; millions of home owners are having their mortgages foreclosed; families, cities and states are facing bankruptcy. And the political response is more of the same neo-liberalism that created the problems– cut government spending for any and all social services; strengthen the repressive apparatus of the state; build more prisons and turn them over to private control as profitable businesses; curtail civil liberties; play the racist card and discriminate against, jail, and deport immigrants; create anti-Muslim hysteria; license the corporate media to shut out critical viewpoints and incite an incipient neo-fascism; vigorously pursue the Imperial Vision with endless military interventions. Prosperity for the 1%, austerity for the 99%, repression for those who protest at home and war against supposed enemies abroad. Of these responses the repressive is as notable under Obama as it was with Bush–prolonged war, assassination of presumed foreign enemies, curbing the civil liberties of American citizens, clubbing and gassing demonstrators, imprisoning millions of persons whose main crime is being poor, black, or Latino. Undocumented immigrants are thrown into jail and then deported. America has by far the highest incarceration rate in the world. The weight of the criminal justice system falls heaviest on the African American population. There are more blacks in prison or under probationary control than there were slaves on plantations in 1860. In ghettos 4 out of 5 of black youth get in trouble with the law. In California, one of the more enlightened states, the number of inmates of all races has increased eight times faster than the population growth. Prisons are increasingly privatized so that private capital profits at state expense. Once freed from prison, ex-cons have few rights and lack employment opportunity, marginalized into the under class permanently. America is in serious trouble and Obama and the more progressive Democrats are not of a mind, or in a political position, to do anything about it. What the 99% do have today is powerlessness and the mobilization questions are to convert powerlessness to strength.
Elsewhere in the world, fortunately, people are rising up with demands for real democracy and social justice, in North Africa and the Middle East, in Greece, Spain, and Portugal people are in revolt, and in most of Latin America progressive governments are departing from the policies of neo-liberalism and globalization. In May 2012 the French elected a socialist president who, at least rhetorically, promises to tax the plutocrats, save social programs, and reject austerity in favor of growth policies. In October 2012, Venezuelans reelected Hugo Chavez to his third term as President to further the progress toward “socialism of the 21st century.” What a contrast with the American November 2012 elections! In Venezuela, the National Electoral Commission managed to register 96% of eligible persons, as compared to 65% in the U.S. The voter turnout was massive and Chavez won by a wide margin. Voting there is electronic with paper ballots receipts reviewed by partisans of all parties. Jimmy Carter, who heads a vote monitoring organization, referred to Venezuela´s system as “the best in the world.” What was more impressive however is that Venezuelans, unlike American citizens, had a real choice, one candidate promising to do even better in advancing the nation, the opposition candidate offering a return to neo-liberalism and the country´s subservience to U.S. regional dominance.
In the current phase of degenerative development the most unproductive, wasteful, environmentally degrading, and socially destructive activities are the principal sources of accumulation. Even in productive sectors like energy the future appears of dubious efficacy. The thrust in the United States is energy independence, limiting imports of foreign oil and producing energy from shale sands deposits, fracking for natural gas, and “clean coal.” Solar, wind, and hydroelectric power it is claimed are too expensive. This ignores the cost of externalities by the environmental degradation caused by mining shale, fracking, and mining and burning coal that could lead to environmental disaster. In the phase of degenerative development, the composition of the working class shifts from sectors engaged in employment in the production of useful goods and services, to unproductive labor in armaments, commercial, financial, sales, services, and security activities—often at lower wages with fewer if any benefits. The fact that growing numbers of workers labor in unproductive, wasteful, or destructive activity does not change their class positioning as working class—but their unproductive function in the labor process can affect their consciousness and propensity to mobilize to demand change. The nature of their work is one more factor that divides, fractionalizes, and stratifies the working class, along with race, ethnicity, and gender. The function performed in the labor process and the other divisions matter, but in the end a young worker today may have a stint in the military when facing unemployment, and later drift to being a security guard, to supermarket clerk or fast food attendant or other low waged work. It is all the same misery to him or her.
So American capitalism degenerates to having two main sources of profit and accumulation, the intensified exploitation of labor at all levels—the working class and growing sectors of what used to be a socially privileged middle class– and shifting the activity of capital from productive to unproductive and socially harmful activity, financial speculation being in the forefront of this activity.
IDEOLOGY AND HEGEMONY
Neo-Liberalism. The ideology and the economic and social policies that flow from the political power configurations of capital are termed ¨neo-liberalism¨, closely associated with the notion of ¨globalization¨. Neo-liberalism´s essential tenants are global in reach and the principles are daily repeated in the American political scene and in the countries of Europe forced into austerity by the European Central Bank, the IMF and the German, French, and Swiss plutocracy that controls these institutions. In many other countries, the policies that flow from neo-liberal ideology have been forcibly pursued by dictatorship, some of them the worst since European fascism. The clichés propounded worldwide center around free market fundamentalism—financial deregulation; elimination of economic controls and subsidies to promote development; dismantling of state sponsored development programs leaving all to private enterprise; labor flexibility; monetary orthodoxy of Central Bank policies, divorced from fiscal development policy, and confined to inflation control, money supply, and interest rate adjustments; free trade in commodities and services; no restrictions on global capital movement but no freedom in international labor mobility; privatization of state enterprises and many government services (in the U.S. including prisons and military forces); rollback or dismantling of programs of social amelioration; commodification of useful services to bring all cultural, social, and economic activity into the sphere of capital. Very much part of globalization has been the implementation of financial orthodoxy of Central Bank policies worldwide that are confined to inflation control, money supply, and interest rate adjustments. Dating from the 1980s these policies became globalized, although held in check in some parts of the world by the strength of traditional state intervention, trade unions and popular organizations, and social democracy. These policies are imposed on a world scale by the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, the European Central Bank, and U.S. government agencies. However, monetarism does not necessarily apply to the U.S. Federal Reserve or the Treasury Department, the controlling agencies of global finance, which do whatever is necessary—such as bail out investment banks with hundreds of billions of dollars or lower interests rates to near zero to facilitate the activities of speculative capital that searches the world for opportunities for short-term profit-taking.
The reach of American finance capital is global and has extremely adverse consequences for the economies and peoples of other nations. Among the major consequences of the international financial crisis of 2007-2009 and continuing to the present day is a considerable investment of speculative capital from the United States to the more vibrant economies of Latin America and Asia. In Latin America in 2010 net private foreign investment reached $203.4 billion up from $57.5 billion in 2003. In a number of countries in the region, especially Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Costa Rica, this influx of dollars has had the effect of rapid and substantial appreciation of local currencies. This has serious implications for these economies. To the extent that portfolio investments emanating from the United States find their outlet in foreign stock markets, local investment funds and financial instruments, real estate, commodity futures, government bonds, short term currency speculations, and other mainly non-productive investments, the currency appreciates, local assets become overpriced, and bubbles of the kind that brought on the U.S. crisis of 2007-2009 can and will likely come about. In 2008 there was the Iceland financial debacle and default. Today the countries of southern Europe are under the thumb of austerity rollbacks imposed by the European Central Bank and IMF, which are in turn subservient to German, French and Swiss banks, and ultimately Wall Street and the U.S. Federal Reserve and Treasury Department.
Currency appreciation is a serious problem for Latin American economies that are highly dependent on primary exports in minerals and food products. An overvalued currency exchanges dollars for fewer reales, pesos, or colons required by export businesses to cover operating expenses in the local currency(6), reducing profitability and limiting the export-led development strategy that these countries have adopted—or more accurately stated, strategies that have been forced upon them by their dependent position in the global economy. Conversely, imports become relatively cheaper, harming local industry that serves the domestic market, while deepening balance of payments deficits. Overvaluation of local currencies invites speculative investment, especially short term activity with easy conversion to liquidity, but not to long term productive investment, as these investors must convert dollars or euros to local currency at artificially inflated rates.
The current problem is that the investment climate in the United States in particular is not inviting to those with liquid assets or access to credit. So investment flows around the world, in manufacturing disproportionately to China; in commodity futures driving up the price of raw materials, oil, and grains; in buying and selling stock in markets that do not serve the needs of corporations for capital but reflect a system of casino capitalism; and billions into economies that show signs of vitality that the U.S. economy entirely lacks or where interest rates and bond returns are higher. Most of the capital escaping the United States is portfolio investment, borrowed at low interest, speculative in nature and not destined for production of goods and services. Trillions of U.S. dollars are stashed in offshore accounts to avoid U.S. and other countries taxes. With the U.S. real estate market in collapse and the bursting of the various bubbles that until 2007-2008 sustained financial speculation by the big banks, investment firms, and plutocrats, idle money flows into foreign currencies, foreign stocks and bonds, and financial instruments and entities around the world where sources of funds can be concealed and made liquid and shifted to other activities at convenience. Added to the loose billions in the pockets of the rich tycoons are the billions of dollars in profits from the drug trade. These illicit funds are now more difficult to launder in the U.S.—drug lords have the same problem of what to do with their money as do the bonus rich Wall Street financiers, how to further profit from their illicit funds and stupendous bonuses.
A proximate cause of the flow of funds from the U.S. to other countries is the policy of Quantitative Easing (QE) by the Federal Reserve. QE1 was portrayed as a stimulus to the economic decline of 2008-2009 and the results were not particularly stimulating. With Quantitative Easing the Fed buys up assets, many of questionable quality if not toxic, from banks to bolster bank reserves and free up bank liquidity, not to make low interest credit available to business and consumers, but to relieve the banks of holding dubious assets and to allow them to use their reserves to borrow or buy bonds. QE2 was in part a scheme to fund federal borrowing interest free. In essence, the Fed simply declared $600 billion available to banks from non-existent real money (that is to say ¨prints money¨ on its computers) that is backed by the inflow of funds from foreigners buying Treasury Bonds. When China buys U.S. Treasury securities to allow moderation of the U.S. balance of payments so dollars will still be available to continue importing cheap Chinese manufactures, the interest is added to the national debt. When the Fed uses Treasury backing to add to the reserves of Banks, one quasi agency of the government pays another agency the interest, so that there is no net interest obligation. Neat. Potentially inflationary critics say, but now counteracted by deflationary economic conditions. There is no increase in “real money” in the form of credit circulating in the economy, just “printed money” the Fed created so that banks have cleaner balance sheets.
It is not clear that the programs of Quantitative Easing have been in part intended to appreciate foreign currencies so that U.S. exports become cheaper to buy abroad while imports to the U.S. from these same countries become more expensive, a kind of protectionism, or as some Brazilians and other critics say, the U.S. in engaged in a trade war. But it is clear that flow of speculative capital from U.S. banks and financiers has had serious effects in other economies and it is consistent with the Treasury and Fed as administrators for global finance capital.
The most generous reading of Quantitative Easing is that buying bank assets was not just another form of bail out, but that the Federal Reserve enacted QE1 and QE2 with the hope that banks would release billions of dollars in credit with low interest rates, even though they could not use the cash reserves provided by the Fed for that purpose. The rationale was that easy credit would revitalize the U.S. economy. This has not happened and with the entrenched power of Wall Street in the Fed and Treasury Department, subservient past and current political administrations compromised with these interests and lacking a vision of economic and social development beyond the rhetorical level, and the political stalemate with obstructionist Congressional Republican servants of economic power, it will not happen. To bring about an economic revival in the United States, the Fed could make billions available to states and cities burdened with debt to banks and rich bond holders incurred for debts to finance necessary public services and infrastructure projects, or to the Federal government for clean energy programs, interstate highways and rapid transit systems, high tech research and development, public works projects, improvements in education– in short a new New Deal of the kind that rescued the U.S. for the Great Depression. No way, not if the President capitulates to intransigent Republicans as in Obama´s first term and the Democrats allow the right wing zombies to define economic policy as deficit reduction, while giving tax cuts to the rich and spending billions upon billions of dollars in futile wars.
In September 2012 the Fed again acted to buy $40 billion monthly in mortgage secured assets from the banks for an indefinite but prolonged period and pledged to hold interest down for years to come. The Fed hopes that this will reduce mortgage lending interest rates and stimulate home construction, buying, and mortgage refinancing. Big banks are once again packaging multiple loans, with Fannie Mae loan guarantees, into packaged bonds and selling them at a profit.
In general Quantitative Easing is a policy that props up banks and investment firms, enhances their profitability, and protects them from losses. QE represents bail-out in different forms. The finance industry shifts shaky assets to the Fed and the Fed puts computer generated money into the banks¨ balance sheets. The balance sheets look good stripped of questionable assets, the better to make bets on derivatives, stocks, commodity futures, and all manner of short term worldwide, speculative investment. The Treasury Department has a program for underwater homeowners to refinance, but it is very modest. Neither government agencies nor banks are doing anything serious to rescue defaulting home owners, bail out cities and states near bankruptcy, or extend credit to the productive economy–business are not investing in the recession. There is no meaningful fiscal policy of public investments. The Euro and the Yen are troubled so dollars from abroad flow in to buy Treasury Bonds while American financiers put easy money in speculative investments in other parts of the world.
Lest we forget, in much of the world neo-liberalism was enforced by dictatorship. In Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s, neo-liberal policies were ruthlessly implemented by military dictatorship, as in Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay, and by right wing Central American governments, supported by the U.S., employing death squads and military massacres in counter-insurgency operations. The corollary to the globalization of neo-liberalism is American militarism and interventionism. It is no coincidence that the countries under military attack in recent years and today, while themselves dictatorial in state form but nationalist in policy substance– Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Libya—were or are nations that resisted pressures and attempted to pursue policies alien to globalization. The U.S. has been futilely trying to do-in Hugo Chavez and Venezuelan socialism for a decade, supporting a failed military coup in 2002, an oil sector shut-down in 2003, and funneling large sums of money to the neo-liberal opposition.
From the 1980s onward, neo-liberal policies were imposed by international institutions such as the IMF and World Bank, with ¨conditionality¨ attached to all lending. A number of nations, especially in Latin America, experienced debt crisis and ¨structural adjustments¨ were required to move these countries into a proper mode of globalization. Economic difficulties and growing social inequalities and social injustice in Latin America had political consequences by the 2000s. Left of center governments were elected in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, even Honduras and Paraguay until the progressive Presidents were removed from office by coups, and most recently Peru, and in more radical form in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. The civilian socialist governments that ruled Chile since the fall of General Pinochet largely maintained the neo-liberal polices imposed by the healed boot of the dictatorship, with some programs of social amelioration, but most of the rest of the region is moving decidedly away from these foreign prescriptions, save in Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica, and now Honduras and Paraguay with these countries safely back in the globalization mold.
While it could be argued that Americans in general benefited from globalization emanating from the Imperial Administrative Center for a time, that is no longer the case. The United States economy and the great majority of its people are principle victims of the neo-liberal policies of which Washington and Wall Street have been the originator, promoter, and enforcer on a global scale. In the United States, the financial crisis and economic recession precipitated by these policies since 2007 have had the effect of intensifying the process of rigidification of social inequalities that had been in the process for many years. The crisis is also taken advantage of ideologically to promote the extremes of neo-liberal nonsense that proclaims that inequality can be solved by even more of the same neo-liberal policy that caused the problem, of course when combined with individual victims¨ patience, hard work, thriftiness, and self-reliance in a Darwinian struggle for the supremacy of the fittest. Neo-liberalism´s discourse of privatization, commoditization, deregulation, and hyper-individualism is combined with the absurd notion, propounded by presidential candidate Romney and widely shared, that individuals are corrupted by government entitlements and the common good can only be served by giving free reign to the lord´s of savage capitalism.
Neo-liberalism is a formula for Failed States. And that is what the United States has become. In the established political sphere nothing can be done except what is forced on us by the interests and policies of the 1%. There is no “change we can believe in” enunciated by politicians or emanating from a state that is captive of the plutocracy. A failed state leads to mounting repression of the victims and change activists. Perhaps even worse is the generalization of a “failed sociality” in our culture. The ideological basis of the degenerate phase of capitalism fosters a War of All Against All among all the classes and peoples struggling for survival. Morality, civic responsibility, human decency are submerged in a culture of fear and social Darwinism. The culture seeks to crush souls in the religion of class privilege, in a futile striving for gain that produces guilt of failure, self-loathing, and the loss of soul. If allowed to continue this will represent the collective death of all that is worthy in the history of civilization. The Occupy Movement has a difficult long march to change failed sociality to one in which people are active subjects of their own liberation. This long march has difficult uphill inclines, steep precipices on both sides of the road, and road blocks erected by the repressive forces that must be hurdled.
I am given to overstatement to try to make a polemical point. Of course there are still shreds of decency and soulfulness in America that our history has produced. A current tendency is not today´s lived realty, but it could be tomorrows if we as a people do not find effective ways to resist and renew. The greatest threat in the United States to redemption of a decent sociality is the religion of Republicanism. This religion suffered a set-back in the election of November 2012, but nearly half the population are still believers in blasphemy.
Republicanism and the Striving for Hegemony. Republicanism in the United States is the religion of all the sectors of the capitalist class and most of those they employ to do their will, that is the higher echelon sectors of the middle class. They are moving all the considerable resources at their disposal to make the central tenants of their religion a hegemonic belief system within the wider population. They enshrine all the principles of neo-liberalism as the gospel truth and promulgate vile propaganda based on racism, ethnocentrism, sexism, xenophobia and militarism and these ideologies do resonate in too many sectors of 99%, especially among the 10% hangers-on of the 1% and white males of all classes.
This is not to say that the Democrats are an alternative. Republican politicians openly glad hand the 1%, the better to shake loose the bribes. The Democrats try to hide the glad hand in glibness, but most are the willing collaborators of the 1%. In the November 2012 election there were many who felt that if one is to vote at all, then the lesser evils are the slicker, more moderate servants of the system who would try to preserve some of the social programs and resist the extremes of Republicanism. But the Plutocrats and their corporate allies and political and media servants decisively frame the political, social, and economic discourse. Obama and the most Democrats accept the limits imposed by this framing and work within it. (7) The election results of 2012 have prevented, for now, the worst from happening. But the idea is to create real change, and in doing so it is imperative to take on the ideas that legitimate the system and replace those ideas with a vision of a nation and a world that serves the well-being of its citizens by production of genuinely useful goods and services under the control of democratic communities, takes action to curtail racism and sexism, neutralizes and then rolls back the repressive apparatus of the state, protects our environment from the ravages of the present system…and bring to realization all the visions of the Good that emerge from our struggles. The more successful struggles on multiple tactical fronts by the Occupy Movement, the more the most progressive sectors of the Democratic Party will respond supportively in pursuit of their limited ameliorative political ends.
The sadness is that many of us mistook some historical gains from people´s movements and demands as permanent achievements. We thought the raw power and murderous proclivities of capital were circumscribed by law and conventional wisdom of the proper role of the state to oversee the common good. We naively assumed that all that is good embodied in centuries of sacred historical documents down to the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights was inherent in the evolution of civilization. But Republicans these days are like Zombies raised from the grave of history demanding a raw return to the Survival of the Fittest. The political Zombies, bankrolled by their friends in corporate board rooms prepare to remove the Nation´s heart and replace it with a Made-in-China machine. The media zombies strive to privatize the consciousness of the populace, the better to render stupidity as a commodity in the political market.
The Zombies lost a skirmish in the November 2012 election, but they are entrenched in an obstructionist Congress, in State Legislatures, in private Think Tanks, in the media, and they thrive in the promulgated culture of fear. Our problem as a Movement is to Occupy the collective mind, wresting rational thought and ideals of decency from those who have so perverted the public consciousness only to sell that perversion to the high bidder.
The Powers that Be bribe, coerce and blackmail the reasonable yet complaint politicians to appoint the plutocrats and murderous Generals to controlling government bureaucracies and to follow their dictates to roll back social progress. Obama and most Democrats have and will continue to play the game, yield to intransigence, grovel to Wall Street, and play War Games for the profitable, murderous imperial designs of the Military-Industrial-Oil-Financial Complex.
The bankers succeeded in reversing the American Dream, immiserating the masses. Big Money inspires economic suicide while Fox News glorifies the perverse and CNN presents Big Lies as balanced journalism, most all the media offering Pentagon programmed militarism to torture reason, implant fear, degrade the noble, imprison the valiant, and strain to devour what remains of civilization.
The Zombies, their mental substance mummified, have no human sensibility. But yes one modern vice in gross excess, greed. Greed requires obfuscation to dress it up, inspires viciousness and requires forceful pursuit. Greed, obfuscation, and force infuse the mentality of the Rich and Powerful
everywhere that the stirrings of the Many frighten the Few. Everywhere, America in the forefront and Europe not far behind, the social gains of people´s struggles are rolled back and those few that remain are vulnerable.
The social pathologies fostered infect the consciousness of the petty-privileged– the tea toasters partying the death of decency, the white-skinned Machos reviving the vileness of racism and sexism; the Homophiles denying the civil rights of gays; the Xenophobic waving flags, spreading fear, spouting hate and applauding the torture of victims; those so morally confused that they believe that a fertilized egg is sacred life but celebrate killing a million people in Holy Oil Wars; those who thump the Bible, laud the sin of avarice, deny the virtue of mercy but champion the evils of their dogma propounded as universal. They make doublethink of the term Christian.
The germ of these social pathologies? The substance of work and life that the Few, the 1%, appropriate from the Many, the 99%. This absurdity yields the power that corrupts absolutely. Exploitation denies justice, buys social privilege, incites reaction, requires oppression–and eventually impels rebellion.
The pathologies are embedded in panoply of institutional forms that facilitate thievery, oppress and suppress the victims. With televised lies, printed distortions, and subliminal messages of the culture of domination the social pathologies feed on subverted consciousness and obliterated humanity.
We are witnessing the death agony of a system that has lived out its time. The Neanderthal Zombies espousing the latest fashions of classism, racism, xenophobia, sexism, in a word incipient fascism, need be buried in the grave of history to be mummified for eternity. Not by driving a golden stake through their cold hearts, violence is their way not ours, but by reasoned decency, the reclaiming of the notions of the common good, social justice and human progress, taking energetically and massively to the streets that lead to a better world. Occupy America! Occupy the World! and move toward decency, justice and progress!
CLASS RELATIONS AND STRATEGIES FOR CHANGE
The State as an Expression of Class Relations. I overstated the case in the analysis above with the statement “…government is of, by, and for finance capital…” While fundamentally this is indeed the case, it is more complicated than that. The state, conceived as government at all levels, is not simply an instrument of a ruling class to dictate at will their ends. The democratic state, as limited as it is in most nations, embodies the social gains of centuries of struggles by oppressed peoples for liberty, equality and fraternity, the cherished cries of the French Revolutionaries; the principles of the Declaration of Independence of the American Revolution and the Bill of Rights; the Rule of Law; the universality of the principles of Human Rights promulgated by the United Nations; and laws governing the rights of labor to organize, the civil rights of minorities and women, social programs for the destitute and aged…all these are what have made our world more civilized, and they are expressed and reflected in the modern state in the United States and many other nations. (8)
It is all these reflections and institutionizations of social gains that are being challenged by capital´s utilization of crisis to further their hegemonic project. Resistance to the programs of the Zombies is necessary. Skepticism of the rhetoric of Obama, Secretary Clinton, and other officials that covers dirty deeds is a must and those deeds need to be resisted. But defensive struggle does not in itself lead to new social gains. The idea is to broaden struggle from defense to offense.
Again, in order to evaluate strategy for the Occupy Movement, some historical and theoretical analysis is appropriate.
One of the great myths of our time is that capitalism and democracy go together like bread and butter, bratwurst und sauerkraut, o arroz y frijoles. From one historical situation to another the norm of political rule in capitalist society is an authoritarian form of the state, most often posed as the ultimate in democracy. America is a plutocracy, not an absolute authoritarianism, but a state of formal democracy without much substance. This is the so because the system of capitalism requires a political institution that manages its structural prerequisites and ensures its reproduction. The repressive apparatuses of the state are central to governance of the whole. These derive from the social relation of capital´s appropriation of value in the form of profit, which in turn is transferred for enforcement from the purely economic sphere to the relations of force embodied in the state. The system of law codifies the norms of property and commodity relations of society. The centrality of the agencies of intelligence, police, and military forces can vary in their specific historical expression. The Spanish Republicans lost the civil water to the Franco fascists. The German socialists, communists, and unionists were annilated by Hitler´s fascist forces. Stalin´s dictatorship created a highly privileged elite of party bureaucrats and enterprise managerial class that eventually decided that their wealth and privileges would be even more enhanced by a reversion to capitalism. This newly formed capitalist class in Russia and the various former socialist Republics today are only mildly less authoritarian than the Soviet regime that collapsed 20 odd years ago. In the 1960s and 1970s various Latin American countries responded to the class forces demanding fundamental changes with fierce military dictatorship, in Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile, the worst since European fascisms. In Central America, the Death Squads and U.S. interventions prevailed.
In contrast, while Europe in the 1930s succumbed to the fascist onslaught, the United States responded with economic and social reform deepening substantive democracy and extending a greater degree of formal democracy later furthered with the successes of the civil rights and women´s movements. These gains are now precariously institutionalized in the American State and under real threat. The repressive apparatuses however have been greatly strengthened, American military and political power of coercion is utilized to further the imperial ambition around the world. On the home front, government intelligence and police agencies are more and more strengthened by Patriotic Acts and Defense Authorization legislation, like that signed by Obama that permits secret renditions used by Bush against presumed foreign terrorist to now be applied in America to Americans. The next step could be targeted assassinations of American citizens. Homeland Security is a massive agency with 400,000 employees. Police Departments in all major cities are equipped by the feds with the latest technology and weaponry to effectively suppress protest and local police coordinate how to handle demonstrations and occupations with federal offices. The FBI infiltrates agent provocateurs into protest groups. The media trivialize and denigrate Occupy and ignore other protests. In short, in the America of the 1%, social gains and democratic rights are under pressure and the repressive apparatuses are ever stronger and more effective. The United States has become the best pseudo democracy that money can buy. The plutocrats buy politicians of both parties, and then portray government as corrupt, oppressive, and wasteful–only private enterprise can solve social and economic problems, so keep the budget balanced, limit taxes, de-regulate business. What business wants is what the 99% get. They plunge the system into crisis and blame government. Capitalism ruled by plutocrats is the vehicle for environmental suicide, political malfeasance, chronic economic crisis, and social decay. Yet, the only proper role of government is defense and security and strict service to the class that buys the politicians. This is what the Occupy Movement is up against and those that can be mobilized from the 99% will need effective strategies that advance democratic gains while not precipitating a situation like Spain, Italy, and Germany in the 1930s or Chile and Argentina in more recent times.
If the state is an expression of class relations, then to the degree that the Occupy Movement, the Spanish Indignados, the Greek protestors, the Irish who have resisted foreign domination for 400 years… make gains, as the struggles for just causes are articulated for the public mind, as progress is made and ideas take root, these gains will be reflected in the nature and activities of local, state, and federal government. Eventually, through persistent struggle over a long period of time, the Movement will evolve strategies to neutralize the police and military forces of repression and to forge a counter hegemonic project, the doing away with the present system and its replacement with one based on principles of liberty, justice, equality, human decency, and democratic control of our mutual destiny.
This is not a vision of revolution like those held by the traditional socialist and communist left, the seizure of power and the dismantling of the state to transform by political means the nature of the economy and society. Revolution will be gradual with the strengthening local communities and the institutions of civil society, by defeating the ideologies that subvert consciousness with dissemination of a counter hegemony throughout the population based on principles of the common welfare. Occupy minds first, then institutions, then the State!
STRATEGIC CONSIDERATIONS. The movements of peoples in the United States– and worldwide, the Indignados of Spain and the anti-austerity activists of Greece seem to be more advanced than in the United States– hopefully will work out tactical activities that fit within a strategy of total change. I consider here a few strategic considerations that can be considered fundamental. First, we need to come to grips with the divisions that exist among the 99% and to understand which groupings are potential allies, which sectors can be neutralized in a developing struggle, and which elements are likely to line up in militant defense of the System. Second, in the United States in particular, the culture of fear that has been promulgated must be challenged and the generalized anxieties in the minds of so many of the 99% moderated, their justified anger directed toward the real sources of grievance. Third, there is the need to fully recognize and act upon the fact that “Wall Street” is simply a short hand manner of referring to a world system that is given direction by the financial plutocracy but supported by all the factions of capital and administered by compliant politicians and those sectors of the middle class elevated to be the line and staff functionaries of capital and within the repressive apparatus of the State. The United States is the administrative center of imperial ambition that resorts to fear and war as its chief instruments of domination. Fourth, working classes on a world scale, and certainly within the United States, are the main elements in the 99%. The marginalized under class is growing and the role of rebellion by the most disadvantaged sectors has to be considered. The union movements of the last century, the anarchist, socialist, communist, and trade union militants responsible for the historical gains of the past, are no longer there and unions are not simply on the defensive, they are being destroyed. Support for unions to defend workers´ interests and to shift bread and butter unionism to class perspectives is essential. Finally, youth throughout history has been at the forefront of real social change. The situation of young people today is desperate, and they need, and likely will, become the militants of our age.
IDEOLOGY AND CLASS RELATIONS. ALLIES AND ENEMIES OF REAL CHANGE.
Income inequalities, the invidious distinctions of occupational prestige, differing educational attainments, ethnic and racial gradations, distinct lifestyles, residential location, income differentials, the difference between manual and mental labor, between blue collar and white collar work, or productive and unproductive labor, and other factors of function in the labor process and stratification of the population are real social phenomena. Stratifications are ideological manifestations of prevailing social inequalities, and they are perceived and acted on by people in daily life. These distinctions of social status are often mistaken by people (and by professional sociologists who specialize in ideological mystification) for social classes. Social classes are not based on gradations in income from upper to lower, nor on the social prestige accorded different occupations. In the real world of social class relations, distributional and ascriptive inequalities and invidious cultural and occupational attributes are integral to the social relations of exploitation and domination; they are facets of class relations in that the social meaning of stratifications systematically subordinates workers and serves to create divisions within the working class and to socially define boundaries between the working and middle classes. These are mystifications of social differences that form ideological notions that serve to keep people divided, envious of one another, and create sentiments of inferiority/superiority. The strongest of these ideologies in America of yesterday and today is racism. Racism is adaptable as time changes, from directed against African-Americans, the ideology has shifted now to make Latinos, illegal immigrants, and Muslims the objects of prejudice and discrimination.
The legacy of patriarchy and the ideology of sexism function to divide people and subvert consciousness of the place of the male population in the class order. It is no accident that the 2012 Republican campaign placed such a heavy emphasis on denying the rights of women. The Zombies are appealing to the white males who fetishize all things macho to mobilize them for right wing reaction, along with the fundamentalist Christian sects. Women´s bodies are meant to be controlled by men who tote guns, drive big pick-ups, and like to push people around. Women´s place is in the bedroom, the kitchen, the nursery, and the church pew, in America only lacking the hijab or head scarf in public. When males with macho self-conceptions are deprived of their class situational privilege and power to bully by the workings of the system, the more fragile can become their masculinity and the display of their peacock feathers ever more pronounced. The privilege of being male, especially but not exclusively white male, can and too often does morally corrupt. And the symbols of masculine superiority are daily reinforced with the flip of the television control– women are displayed as sex objects; war and killing are celebrated as defense of the privileged Homeland; the couch potatoes delight in spectator sports that are displays of violent aggression, that enshrine the glories of competition in which the strongest and best prevail. I don’t want to over generalize in putting down white males. Most are people who in their daily lives are good folk and in interactions with women or people of different ethnic origin or sexual preferences are decent and tolerant. But we have to understand that within the 99% who are objectively disadvantaged by the present system, nearly half don´t see it that way, and a disproportionate number are white males. Focusing on the divisions engendered by stratifications based on gender, race and ethnicity, and class positioning are central to that understanding.
Any type of privilege that flows from the various social stratifications can divide, corrupt, and immobilize, and the most corrupting of all is class privilege, and more dangerously so as these privileges are threatened. The white guy who all his life has gone to church, went off to war to serve his country, believed in the goodness of system, losses his job. His lifelong labors have come to nothing, his self-image threatened. Will he recognize that the convictions that guided his conduct and gave him his privileges have provided the basis for his personal failure? Will he understand that in fact it is not his personal failure, but that his lost privilege was built upon lies and that his belief system has been an accessory to his own demise? In the long run as the Movement´s messages permeate the culture, many men’s¨ heads will be turned around, but in the short run our guy will more likely pin blame on scapegoats, go home to beat his wife, and vote Republican.
In my moments of outrage, and they are perhaps too frequent, I view the subversion of consciousness by petty privilege as a rape perpetrated by the Powerful. But really it is more like a gentile seduction of willing participants in mass culture. Or perhaps it is better said that we are all tempted to prostitute our minds and bodies for the pittance offered by the rich Johns.
Whether it is rape, seduction or prostitution, the Republicans are the main thinkers of how to do it. The Republicans know how to cultivate subtle racism, anti-immigrant resentment, sexism, religious fundamentalist views on cultural issues, and to use these ideologies to snare the victims of the system they are determined to defend at any cost to the moral fabric of society. And the Democrats offer only mild platitudes, no serious critique nor appealing ways out of moral decline and systemic crisis. In the culture of manufactured fear and scapegoating, perhaps our guy will even go to a gun show and bring back a powerful weapon to battle uncertainty with a sense of powerful security, the better to target the ghosts that have stolen his hopes. I don’t what to stereotype as hopeless the white males who are tempted to cling to their white-skin and class privilege even when they become deprived of the economic and social status bases for their feelings of superiority. But America certainly does have a problem in southern states with a legacy of racism, a macho culture, and pervasive religious fundamentalism. And something is not right in small town and rural America too. It will take the Movement a lot of time and patient work to convert those who now stand with the real enemies of change to first neutralize their reactionary assertions and to eventually win them over.
Working class occupations are subject to differing income levels, type of employment, degree of subjugation in the labor process, relative security or insecurity of employment, and other factors and are stratified by race, national origin and gender. These change over time and with shifts in economic direction. One type of stratification is based on the blue collar/white collar distinction. Some analysts believe that a distinction based on function in the labor process is important and that a differentiation needs to be made between productive labor that produces value appropriated as profit by capital, the true proletariat, and unproductive labor that works in the sphere of distribution. There has evolved in the culture status distinctions between service and office workers and industrial workers–part of the mythology of making it into the middle class involves “white collar” employment. Certainly, office workers, service people, sales clerks, bank tellers, and the like who labor in the sphere of distribution or the circulation of money do not consume the fruits of productive labor. They produce a service not a physical product, but like a factory worker they are hired so that their employer can gain or realize a profit. In our time service workers are a growing sector of the working class and among the most downtrodden with low wages, job insecurity, and limited benefits. It is unlikely that the distinction of white collar, meaning middle class privilege, is still as pertinent as it once was. Most of these sectors of the working class are allies in the struggle for fundamental change.
When it comes to differentiating the working class and the middle class, function in the labor process has more relevance. Most employees generally considered middle class do not engage directly in productive activity, that is producing a good or service that capital appropriates a portion of as profit. But it is not the unproductive quality of work by supervisors, managers, professionals, and technical staff in corporate hierarchies that determines their location outside the working class—it is their function in the labor process. Class positioning has to do with place and role in the relations of production, with the relationship of different occupational groupings to the system of surplus appropriation and the class domination that sustains and reproduces that system. One of the most distinguishing features of advanced capitalist development has been the proliferation of employees retained to carry out the control functions of capital—control over the accumulation process, that is over the system of surplus appropriation, and control over the labor process, that is the means of control over workers.
The livelihoods and personal class superiority are rooted in hierarchically ordered systems of class domination. Historically, they have been involved directly in the middle of social relations of inherent antagonism to mediate those antagonisms. This is changing with the bifurcation of sectors of the intermediate groupings being pushed into or toward the working class, while other segments are elevated to higher management. Earlier I identified three main groupings within the middle class, the administrators, the semi-autonomous employees, and the service professionals. These groupings each had different historical roles in the subordination of workers. I also noted that in the most recent phase of degenerative development that each of these groupings is subject to the same process of dequalification of labor as was their role in relation to workers in the earlier phase of development. Their control function is fragmented and routinized, converted to dequalified and deprofessionalized tasks that appear more and more as worker´s work. The corporations and institutions in which they work are centralized with administrative control at ever higher levels. More and more employees become small cogs in the giant machinery of corporate and governmental hierarchies and less and less the intermediate level functionaries of capital.
Whether or not middle class persons being forced toward or into the working class are willing allies or enemies of the Movement to be neutralized depends in part upon how forthrightly declassed persons respond to changes in their situation, on the continuing strength or declining relevance of the divisive ideologies that the powerful promote. Among the most open to change are likely to be the service professionals being deprofessionalized, teachers now defined as guardians rather than educators, social service workers who are forced to be book keepers and bureaucratic agents of social control, medical workers laboring in a seriously ill medical system dominated by insurance companies, hospital administrators and elite doctors…. The many technical employees, who once had some autonomy in their work, find that work fragmented and dequalified by the very technology they invented, such as computers, while the system analysts and top engineers are promoted to controlling staff positions and technical work downgraded or outsourced.
It is those that work in the repressive apparatuses of the state that we have to worry most about. There is considerable selectivity in who becomes a service professional and those who look for work in police and security agencies. Teachers, social workers, and nurses, for the most part, tend to be women of kind heart and gentle disposition who want a life´s work in doing good. The profession of police work on the other hand can attract men who like exercising power over others, who get-off bashing heads of young punks, although the great majority of police officers no doubt are decent persons trying to do a difficult but necessary job, at least in most instances, to protect social order. During the 1960s demonstrations it was all too common to throw the epilate “Pigs” at policemen. This only demeans human beings, the name caller as well as the uniformed recipient. Better to nicely explain to the policeman blocking entry to Wall Street why you are demonstrating and asking the cop “why are you protecting these criminals anyway?” For the hundreds of thousands who work in the expanding intelligence agencies and Homeland Security, whose job it is to monitor your internet communications, to infiltrate your organization, to put you and me on a list to be dealt with, to identify supposed terrorists for assassination, to plan and carry out all manner of dirty tricks, we can only hope for an occasional whistle blower to expose their activities for public scrutiny—at least until their jobs are made impossible by the depth and mass of the movement.
The response of a decadent system when challenged is to employ increasing levels of repression and ever more frequent and more deadly recourse to pure force. Political paralysis caused by greed-lock prevents rulers from adopting sensible, system-saving solutions to the problems facing the multitudes that might contain protest or pacify discontent. Our rulers are clever in applying the means of repression, but like Obama and most Democrats, inept in reform. They are distant, arrogant, or politically paralyzed. The movement cannot possibly win a shooting war against the most efficient repressive machine the world has ever seen—the movement can take advantage of official intransigence and do nothing inertia and win the struggle for hearts and minds and divide, win-over or neutralize military might.
THE CULTURE OF FEAR. Effective social control by the Powers That Be is best achieved, not by law and punishment for presumed misdeed (though that helps), but through creating a generalized climate and cultivated culture of fear among the population. The causes evoked to instill fear may be spurious, grossly exaggerated, Big Lies, based on historical myth that persist, overt or subtle racism, or events brought about by our ruler´s actions in response to these fears. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are examples of promulgation of fear and then acting to make these fears appear to have more grounding in reality. The United States first intervened in Afghanistan to encourage and arm Muslim fundamentalists to drive out the Soviets. The United States created Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and extremist political Islam by arming Afghan fighters and by hard support of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, even introducing Islamic fundamentalists to Bosnia in support of interventionist policy in the breakup of Yugoslavia. Then when the Taliban gained power in Afghanistan, and was said to harbor terrorists, the U.S. and its allies intervened, creating a spiraling cycle of violence and giving occupied and warred- upon peoples good cause to fight back in the best ways they could, that is, with means that are considered by the occupiers as terrorist. In Iraq the official lies were perpetuated by a servile media. Saddam Hussein´s regime had something to do with the terrorism of the events of 9/11 and had Weapons of Mass Destruction. These were Big Lies based on manufactured intelligence that spread fear among the American population and then led to invasion, occupation, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, millions of Iraqis displaced, continuing violence and greatly increased militancy of Islamic fundamentalists and resistance fighters throughout the world.
The current climate of fear has antecedents in American history and took off with a vengeance after the menace of communism and the collapse of the Evil Empire made anti-communism not as viable to generate hysteria, conformity to the Conventional Wisdom, and fear. Consider the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
America! The Land of Freedom and Opportunity! The Melting Pot of diverse peoples! The Home of Liberty! Refuge for the Immiserated Masses of the world! For three centuries America opened to all races and creeds.
Well, yes, together and over time the immigrants struggled with adversity and made America a vital and unique nation– but that is not the whole truth. Waves of immigration came after the genocide against Native American “savages”, opening the vast expanses of the Western frontier for new settlers. The history of American immigration is also one of discrimination and oppression. Derogatory racist labeling of each new wave of immigrants was articulated to justify their inherent inferiority and corresponding mistreatment. Anti-immigrant sentiment was disseminated in a way that made the more privileged population feel fearful.
The current campaign against “Illegal Immigrants” in Arizona, Florida and throughout the land is a subtle but nevertheless virulent resurrection of the vilest aspects of the legacies of fear and ethnic prejudice in America. It is designed to make those insecure of their small class privileges, eroding with the onslaught of the offensive of capital, to blame those least able to defend their interests. Of course, certain key labels applied to immigrants are no longer in polite usage, anymore than is the term “Nigger”. The Mexican-Americans–the “Spicks” and “Wetbacks” of the 1940s and 1950s–are now just “Illegal Immigrants”; the Irish are no longer “Micks”, nor the Italians “Dagos”, the Poles “Pollocks” and the East Europeans “Bojunks”; the Chinese were “Chinks”, the Japanese “Japs”, and not so long ago the Vietnamese “Gooks”… In America, the successful Jews were once “Kikes” involved in a conspiracy for world domination, as the Nazis proclaimed.
The Italians, the Irish and other white skinned immigrants over time “made it” in the established stratification hierarchies, many into the middle reaches of a class structure that is in good part based on white skin privilege. The Orientals eventually became more accepted for their work ethic and respectability. Even the Jews became so well thought of that the United States protects Israel’s oppression of Palestinians with all its military and political power. Now we are down to two demonized populations, both off-white, illegal Immigrants and Islamic terrorists—the later encompassing most any person of Muslim faith as they are out to destroy the glorious American Way of Life. The success of this reversion to racist vilification draws upon not just the cultural persistence of racist ideology and fear of newcomers among the privileged classes and the less privileged emulators of the dream of social mobility. It depends too on the unthinking acceptance of ignorance and bold lies. The media is a willing accomplice to the promotion of vile propaganda, stupidity, intolerance, and lies. This is not confined just to the strident hysteria dished out by Fox News but generalized to agencies of misinformation, CNN and the major networks, who feebly try to be objective by presenting a commentator who does not wholly agree with the nonsense being promulgated. The print media that the right-wing mislabels “liberal media” is not much better. The Right agenda defines the issues for public discourse and frames dissidence from the official wisdom as beyond reason and rationality.
Why now all the hysteria about Illegal Immigrants and a renewed campaign against Islamic Terrorism extended to the home front even to presumed citizen sympathizers of terrorism? The campaign is mainly an attempt to displace anger against the system that has, since the 1980s, severely eroded the class situation of millions of working and middle class people. And also because America in 2008, faced with the excesses of the Bush Dynasty and a deteriorating economy, elected a Black President who stood for change. There is perhaps no greater tribute to the effectiveness of the Big Lie and Conspiratorial Spinning than the fact that, according to polls, more than 20% of the American population believes that Obama is not eligible to be President because he was not born in the United States, no matter all the evidence to the contrary. Once in office Obama was endowed with an added stigma, he is also a Socialist! Yes, he did make an effort, feeble and unsuccessful as it was, to push toward a system of Universal Health Care, which in the entire civilized world is a matter of public good not a marketed commodity. The vested interests did that in quickly enough. Otherwise, Obama proclaimed some good things that the world was waiting to hear, that, unlike the preceding Bush period, under his administration the United States would abide by international law and become a respectable world citizen. Unfortunately this was just nice rhetoric belied by later actions. Obama has been a rather good servant of the system and likely will continue to be; the old imperial vision still guides U.S. foreign policy everywhere in the world. The War in Afghanistan was escalated. The crimes against humanity involved in Bush´s War on Terrorism—targeted assassinations, secret renditions, bombing of civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan…continue. Torture of prisoners may be curtailed, but there are still prisoners in Guantanamo, that notorious piece of Cuban real estate confiscated from that unfortunate country long ago, paradoxically labeled by the State Department as a country that sponsors terrorism, a nation still suffering from U.S. state-sponsored terrorist aggression, mercenary invasion, and 50 years of economic embargo in futile efforts to destroy the Revolution.
The right-wing establishment feels threatened and engages a campaign to mobilize the blissfully ignorant into the ranks of Republican voters, to maintain the gullible in confused bewilderment, to hold white males in line by resurrecting macho and racist creeds, and misdirecting the growing population of economically depressed people into abject fear so that they misunderstand the real source of the problem and redirect their resentments against those on their side, and when necessary they will mobilize the know nothings on the fringe as their goon squads.
Feels to me like a New Face of Fascism, not yet there but agitating to become our future.
Fear, endless fear, more than a century of a system built upon fear. The immigrants, the early century anarchists, the outside agitators, labor union militants, the un-American rabble, then after World War 11, the grand crusade against communism, all elements to fear. The communists and socialists who led the union struggles for social progress were purged from unions and with McCarthyism decent people disappeared from public life in all areas of a civilized society. The roots of anti-communist hysteria and its effects are dealt with in the next section, Imperial Ambition and War.
This sad history has led to the present where the Soviet Evil Empire has collapsed and terrorism is transformed from a police problem to propaganda and dirty deeds to justify war, occupation, rendition of suspects for torture and indefinite confinement; creation of new agencies of state like the Homeland Security and more and more budgets for secret security agencies; presidential authority and use of it by presumably peace minded President Obama to assassinate any supposed enemy anywhere in the world, even perhaps within the Homeland, without any legal constraints; impunity for American officials responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
This is the worst side of the culture of fear, but generalized anxiety is promulgated in more subtle ways. Americans are instilled with fear of crime and therefore should own weapons, down to military killing instruments, for self defense. Then when home-grown fringe fanatics or people driven crazy, at least in part from the culture of fear, engage in massacres of innocents, no one knows what to do—weapon prohibition is beyond rational discussion– except become more afraid and go out a buy a more lethal weapon. Even campaigns for worthy causes are parlayed into sources of fear—unsafe food, chemical contaminants, global warming causing natural catastrophes. (9) Floods, draughts, tsunamis, earthquakes, and gruesome killings… are always top news. Fear is incubated and promoted with the rhetoric of safety and security in overt and subtle ways. In a culture of fear, violence is promoted within media and political spheres as a distraction from reality, entertainment. TV serials, movies, the evening news, all filled with violence in the expectation that we will all become immune, but still fearful. In the same vein, perpetrators of violence in media and political promulgations are identified not as agents of the state—not the computer operatives of drone aircraft killing supposed militants, nor the torturers in rendition prisons in Guantanamo and secret locations, nor the Justice Department lawyers who legitimate torture- -but as young people of color in schools and on the street fit only to be locked up in the booming, privatized prison industry.
Then who promotes this culture? The media, the politicians, universities, well-funded Think-Tanks, Super-PACS, and behind it all the class, the 1%, that benefits from keeping people subordinate to the existing system and strives for a thought hegemony in popular consciousness. I will have more to say about the perversion of the critical role of education and universities, institutions that properly should be countering this by imparting critical thinking, in the context of an analysis of students and youth as a principle base for social change.
The system produces and reproduces fear not just to keep people in line, but to foster irrationality of thought, legitimize greed, create openness to corruption of thought and activity, obliterate consciousness of critical thinking and consideration of others, and poses gross immorality as human nature in a society of War of All Against All where only the fittest are meant to survive. The culture instills fear of failure, feelings of guilt and inadequacy, projection of personal troubles onto scapegoats, an acceptance of violence against any and all rulers identify as enemies. Popular consciousness riddled with fear is a priceless commodity that politicians buy at a low price. Violence is routinized, normalized, those who buy into it dehumanized, and in the cultural sphere a commodity to be consumed for the profit of Hollywood movie moguls and the entertainment industry of popular culture, spectator sports owners, big business media, and ultimately the armaments industry. The War of All Against All does not mean that the fittest will survive and allow some trickle-down subsistence to the less fit, it means eventual collective suicide for all forms of social well-being.
At the heart of movements for change, there has to be a conception of reconstructing a world based on a moral vision of the common good. It is wrong to deprive people of their homes; it is unjust to reduce workers pay below a living wage or to push them into the growing class of immiserated peoples; it is evil to kill people in foreign lands in the pursuit of oil and empire; it is outrageous to obediently put the interests of privileged classes above those of the majority—and individual interest over the collective good—it is sinful to treat people of diverse color and ethnicity, illegal immigrants, and women as inferiors. This culture allows the corruption of people, perhaps especially persons of white skin and male gender, to feel themselves superior and to suppress rational thinking and feeling compassion, because one holds a steady job and income to live on, has “made it” in the stratification hierarchies, in a word has class privilege– however petty, and now threatened, those privileges might be.
The system we are subordinate to is profoundly immoral and systemically reproduces and generalizes that immorality. At the same time, I may have, again, overstated my case. We are dealing with a tendency toward gross immorality in the phase of degenerative capitalism not an absolute nor immutable reality. There is a dialectical relationship between the historical gains of civilizing principles from the Enlightment down to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, reflected in the nature of states as historical gains. In spite of the culture of fear, the regression to social Darwinism, the cult of individualism, and all the evils here described, most people (including many within the nearly half the 99% taken in by the religion of Republicanism) have at least a semblance of good sense and decency and forceful appeals to their feelings of what is right and wrong, what is decent and indecent, will, in time have an impact on consciousness and where people will stand in relation to real social change.
So how do Americans–and there are millions and millions of humane, thinking, decent folk–fight barbarism, dehumanization, racism, lies, perpetual war and manipulations that are very real threats– the things to genuinely fear– to America and to the world? Thinking critically helps, but only acts of mobilization for justice will make change possible.
To put Obama in the best light (which I am reluctant to do), we cannot expect a President of seemingly good heart and clear mind to do much, he is a prisoner of powerful interests and a pragmatist in real politic moving always in the direction of the winds of power. The progressives within the Democratic Party were justifiably upset with the President´s lack of progress toward making change possible in his first term. But neither a decent person as President, however immersed in pragmatism if not opportunism, nor the Democratic Party can do anything until they are pushed hard by people´s demands. The winds need blow hard in contrary direction to the gales from Wall Street, big oil, and defense contractors. Democratic reforms and social gains must be expressed in programs that civil society insistently and militantly demand of institutions of local, state, and federal governments.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century it was movements outside the dominant parties that effected change. The anarchists, socialists, workers movements, and progressives were champions of immigrant rights and working peoples´ interests, and found their political base there. They faced fierce repression but succeeded in achieving some progress. In the Great Depression it was mainly the labor unions, socialists, and communists whose agitation and mobilization facilitated the New Deal. In the 1960s the Civil Rights Movement forced Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to act and the clamors for justice found resonance in mainstream White America, former slaves are now African-Americans or Blacks, not “Niggers”. “Spicks” are now Chicanos or Mexican-Americans (except in Arizona). The Youth Movement was instrumental in bringing an end to the imperial war in Vietnam. The Women´s Movement brought greater equality and dignity, gains only to be challenged by outrageous sexism in the present American environment.
We need to build on this progress, recognize the racist diversion inherent in the terms Illegal Immigrant and Islamic Terrorist, act to end the nonsense, reject fears of diversity, deny white skin privilege and male supremacy, denounce ideological inventions that cultivate fear and appeal to petty privilege even as those privileges are being eroded.
It is time to take a closer look at another strategic consideration that needs to be directly and forcefully confronted, the continuing will to rule empire.
IMPERIAL AMBITION AND WAR. Prior to the 2003 invasion, the regime of Saddam Hussein
was portrayed as a Rogue State. Iraq was an authoritarian regime with nationalist ambitions, but hardly a threat to neighboring countries after the defeats in Iran and Kuwait, and certainly no direct menace to the United States, only to its vision of a New World Order. What the United States wanted specifically was the oil that Iraq sits on, to remove a nationalist from the scene, and more generally to subordinate Iraq as an example to all nations that resist being incorporated into the Bush Family and Associates Inc. dream of the New World Order, an order based on neo-liberalism in the extreme implemented by imperial power. The coercive power of the institutions that enforce globalization and neo-liberal policies–the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, the Treasury and Fed, and Wall Street–are not sufficient to insure conformity. Enforcement requires coercion and military force exercised by the United States.
In the American construction of a New World Order, the United States in the aftermath of 9/11 drew upon the experience of 50 years of anti-communist interventions throughout the world and became a Super Rogue State. The Super Rogue under Bush and continuing under Obama with only minimal constraints declares its right to use unilateral preemptive military means against whatever nation or political group is deemed to present a challenge to imperial design. It uses economic and military aid to construct and fortify Client Rogues that pursue policies of official terrorism, Israel being a prime example. The Super Rogue uses terrorist means to wage a War on Terrorism. The root causes of the terrorism of the desperate are totally ignored. Terrorists are to be exterminated, the horror of which incites resistance, initiating an escalating chain of violence. The Super Rogue prefers working diplomatically to forge alliances with friendly nations but will strong arm when necessary. It expects European allies to be, like Great Britain, vassals in the imperial system. It bribes and coerces lesser states to follow its dictates, or threatens them with sanctions, such as in Iraq prior to the invasion, and Iran, Syria, and Venezuela when they exercise some independence. The Super Rogue works to dominate international institutions, successfully with the IMF, World Bank, and World Trade Organization and when it does not get its way, seeks to undermine or to make these institutions irrelevant to its actions, as in several UN agencies, even the UN itself. The Super Rogue violates international law, established treaties, and human rights at will and with impunity and then celebrates these violations as bringing freedom and democracy.
The construction of the Super Rogue State was a political project of extremist mummies like Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, made possible by the events of September 11, 2001. The Burning Bush needed his violent homologues, his mirror images, Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.
It is truly mind boggling to realize that a War on Terror is being conducted with terrorist means far exceeding those for which the Super Rogue was the target.
Two events on Mayday 2011 provoked my sense of outrage beyond its usual limits. Most days I can watch the news with a mild sense of disgust at the state of the world or dismay that any decent human being with normal intelligence could believe the deceitful propaganda passed on to the gullible as news.
The first event was the NATO bombing of Qaddafi’s family compound in Tripoli, killing his son and three grandchildren. It is obvious that this was a targeted assassination attempt against a head of state, reportedly carried out by the British contingent of NAT0 and certainly with a green light from the United States. The Get Qaddafi pronouncements had been circulating in the United States for a time. The second event was the unprecedented late Sunday night May 1, 2011 gathering of the press at the White House for President Obama´s proud announcement of the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. It is not unreasonable to think that there are cases of justifiable homicide. If we are believe what we are told (mostly we should not) Bin Laden was the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attack which killed over 3000 persons in the World Trade Center. This fugitive managed to hide out for 10 years. And the Seals, trained as a mercenary killing force, carried out the assassination without prior notification to Pakistan of a pending operation. Since the building was surrounded one might think that a surrender order was appropriate, but no, the intent was to kill. I suppose that one could say that those who live by violence often die that way. Should not we then understand the killing in September 2012 of the American Ambassador to Libya and his former Seal bodyguards working as private security and intelligence contractors in that light? He was a U.S. point man directing the Libyan insurrection against Qaddafi. He and the security contractors were killed in action in a War the U.S. started. I think we have to recognize that violence begets counter-violence; that if a Pakistani who lost his family in a drone attack at a funeral for yet other victims can find a way he will exact revenge. But it is the larger meaning of these two events that is important. The War on Terror is a gigantic fraud, a largely successful attempt to ideologically justify America’s Imperial Ambition in the oil rich Middle East, a smoke screen for America´s state sponsored ¨offical” terrorism. This terrorism is exercised far in excess of anything that Islamic extremists have perpetrated.
The term Terrorism is a one-dimensional catchword, an ideological construct forged to instill fear and to encourage the flag wavers and build political consensus and popular support for violence and war. This allows plausibility for the official wisdom that invading another country, Afghanistan first then Iraq, later NATO serving as surrogate in Libya, and in the process cremating with bombs thousands of civilians, is not terrorism. People being burned alive and blown to bits are acts of terrorism, whether this occurs in Baghdad or the Pakistani frontier, Tripoli, Kabul or New York. Of course, this was not all Bush and Company and the Pentagon, it has a history—and a continuation under the President the majority elected in 2008, and with greater reluctance and skepticism again in 2012, to put a stop to wars, torture, and violations of international law and human rights. How does one characterize President Reagan’s bombardment of Libya in an attempt to assassinate Qaddafi, an alleged promoter of state sponsored terrorism, killing his daughter and a lot of other civilians? Or the deaths during Reagan’s invasion of Grenada? Or the first Bush’s invasion of Panama, killing hundreds, in the effort to extra-officially extradite a General who had the temerity to stop taking the CIA’s money and not be very supportive of American sponsored violent counterinsurgency in Central America? Let’s call the military interventions of the Americans for what they are, official terrorism. A long history of official terrorism is the root cause of the suicide bombings and other terrible acts of the terrorism of the occupied, the oppressed, the victims, and the desperate. Were the United States to end all forms of official terrorism, become a good world citizen practicing non-intervention, the terrorism of the desperate would diminish if not disappear.
And what of the official terrorism of the client states set-up or supported and armed to the teeth by the United States? The nasty confrontation between the United States and the Islamic State of Iran had a lot to do with American support for the repressive regime of the Shah. After Libya perhaps Obama will take on Iran and Syria, countries that resist as best they can to being incorporated into the global empire. The dictator Saddam Hussein was once a favorite of the Americans, who applauded as Iraqi armies invaded Iran and killed more than a million. That changed when Saddam got greedy for some oil fields in a nearby Kingdom carved out of the desert by British imperialism to which the Western Powers, led by the Americans, want to make sure they have perpetual access. The Philippines too had a lot of trouble with Islamic rebels. The origins of this conflict go back to the years of the corrupt dictator Marcos, kept in power with American military and economic aid. Indonesia can be considered one of these violent client states. Israel, a nation that engages state sponsored terrorism in the extreme, has received more American military and economic aid than any country in the world, allowing the continuation of the Palestinian occupation and violent repression of the resistance. Withholding that aid will likely end Palestinian attacks on Israel, bring a quick Middle East settlement, and go a long way toward making a more peaceful region.
The utter hypocrisy of the cries of the wounded giant after 9/11, hiding the Imperial Design since 2001 in a War on Terror, was once concealed in the rhetoric of the Cold War. Communism, that came to be defined as almost any threat of change to the established order, had to be and was fought by any means necessary. The torture of political prisoners was not unique to the Bush era; it had its origin in CIA programs in Latin America under President Kennedy in the early 1960s. During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy brought the world to the edge of nuclear holocaust by attempts to turn back the Cuban Revolution with the Bay of Pigs invasion, the embargo, sponsoring terrorist strikes within Cuba, and the real threat in 1962 of American military intervention that the Russian missiles prevented. The fiery explosions that destroyed the World Trade Center appear as mere candle lights in comparison to the napalm that cremated untold numbers of Vietnamese. The overthrow of democratic governments by right-wing military dictatorships in the 1970s, as in Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile—Chile, the first 9/11, bombing the Presidential Palace and killing President Allende– stemmed the socialist tide by disappearing socialists. The generals and death squads in Guatemala and El Salvador, with the blessings and aid of Ronald Reagan, kept the guerrillas in check through massacres and brutal repression. The U.S.-armed Contra forces smashed any hope for the Nicaraguan people. Fifty years of embargo and attempts to overthrow the Castro government have kept the Revolution isolated on one small island. (They even tried to get Fidel to smoke an exploding cigar. Congress finally banned assassination as a legitimate foreign policy tool, but the word later became Bin Laden and Qaddafi, and any presumed terrorist anywhere, dead or alive, preferably dead).
In the days since the May 1 events I am astounded at the media celebration of the killing of Bin Laden. There is not the slightest hint of any views that remotely resemble the ones expressed here. Many Americans have little or no sense of history and not much ability to emphasize with the plight of others not of their own kind. It has been drummed out of their consciousness by the omnipotence of the ideological order they live under, the total lack of exposure to critical thinking in the media, in schools, or in political arenas, and a culture with a strong legacy of racism and ethnocentrism. That is a main reason George Bush was able to make new American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Obama in Libya and now we should worry about interventions in Iran and Syria too.
The Administration of George Bush, with the support of most Democrats and large sectors of the population was determined to substitute the rhetoric and the violent actions of the Cold War with fighting words and dirty deeds dressed up as a just war against vicious terrorism. This happened at an historical moment when the opportunity existed to achieve a much more just and peaceful world, relatively free of violence, devoid of ethnic cleansing, a world where religious fundamentalists are free to practice their ways but not impose them on others in a secular world, where superpowers drunk on the arrogance of power are sobered in what they can do, where a global capitalism that generates social injustice and inequality is constrained by the powers of communities and tempered by popular demands for justice and equality. The first step in working toward a vision of a better world is recognizing the history and stopping the Americans from what they intend to continuing doing.
And that requires a realization that President Obama is as capable as George Bush of ruthless pursuit of the Imperial Ambition through official terrorism. Obama is up to now Bush Lite, but it could get worse. In considering these two assassinations approved by President Obama and Obama´s numerous personal approvals of drone killings of presumed “terrorists” in Pakistan and other countries it is ironic that Obama himself could be a target of assassination attempts. There are in the United States numerous white racists who would, if they could, kidnap the President to Mississippi to lynch him from the highest tree, or right-wing fanatics who would like to drown him in the Pacific surrounding Hawaii where they claim he wasn´t born, and certainly many millions of Islamic extremists who would delight in his demise.
Murder is not the right way, morally, politically or any way, to deal with the state of our world, be it Islamic extremist or imperial war and assassination. While the terrorism of the desperate may be viewed by them as the only option, it is only feeding the Imperial Beast what is needed to continue killing. Certainly Islamic fundamentalism feeds practices abhorrent to the secular mentality, but so do Christian and Jewish fundamentalism. Let the advance of secular culture drown fundamentalism. To oppression the strategic response is popular protest, not violence. I recall reading as a student in the early 1960s Herbert Marcuse One Dimensional Man, which viewed an omnipotent system as immutable. Then the 60s took off. It is past time for a repeat.
The wars, terror, and inhumanity of the Super Rogue can and must be constrained and eventually dismantled. This can be accomplished by worldwide activism of states that aspire, under pressure from their citizens, to become something other than vassals and by people everywhere demanding peace, justice, and equality. In this struggle, the role played by citizens of the United States is particularly crucial. The unilateralism, disrespect for the international norms of civilized society, and arrogant exercise of military power bring disgrace and shame to the people of the United Sates and violence and terror to the peoples of the world. Many American citizens have uncritically succumbed to a perverse patriotism and acquiesced to insanity, sending their sons and daughters off to kill and be killed in service to the Super Rogue State, to be brought home dead or wounded or suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. This victimization and dehumanization of large segments of the citizenry is conditioned by the overwhelmingly pervasive war propaganda machine of the big business media and of a government that represents the interests of the large corporations, especially the financial oligarchy, the armaments industry, and the oil giants. Those Americans less victimized need to not just lament but counter with loud reaffirmations of what remains of the American ideals of peace, justice, and democracy that have been so perversely subverted by our rulers and subordinated to imperial designs.
The Working Class and Unions. To trade unions we owe most of the social gains that made our world during the last century a better and more civilized place for all peoples. In Europe, union support for Socialist and Communist parties, and the Labor Party in Great Britain, made possible the advance of Europe toward an effective social democracy from the ashes of World War 11. Today the West European Communist parties are dead and Socialist and Labor parties are the administrators of neo-liberal capitalism and have turned upon the unions to discipline them into rollbacks and austerity. In Latin America union struggles and articulations to progressive political parties and movements has been and remain critical to the most important countries of the region being able to gain some independence within the American Empire. In the United States, the state of the unions is much worse than in Europe, they have been greatly weakened as effective forces to protect member’s most vital interests. As organizations to promote class solidarity of working people and as promoters of the broader social interests they are largely ineffective. Only one in ten American workers are in unions. As a matter of urgency the Occupy Movement—also as a matter of its own success or failure–needs to find ways to support efforts to revitalize unions.
Union struggles in America were once the examples for the world to emulate. A reminder of this is that Mayday, celebrated throughout the world, except in the United States, as a manifestation of workers¨ rights gained and to be yet fought for, originated in the killing of anarchists organizing workers in late nineteenth century America. The anarchist IWW in the first decades of the twentieth century, the emergence of industrial unionism, the merger of craft and industrial unions in a broad class organization, the AFL-CIO, the militancy of mine workers in the UMW and the dock workers of the ILWU, the Teamsters broad organizing strategy, the sit-down strikes of the 1930s, the forward looking strategy of the United Auto Workers, labor´s role in forcing the New Deal of the Great Depression—all made American trade unions strong and effective as a class force shaping a better future for America.
All that progress went into decline in the late 1940s and early 1950s with McCarthyism and the purge of communist, socialist, and all progressive and visionary leadership from the unions. The surviving union leadership shifted strategy away from workers as promoters of broader social demands toward what came to be called “bread and butter unionism.” This by and large worked for several decades—until the 1970s with stagflation and the 1980s with the advent of neo-liberalism and globalization—to keep real wages advancing for organized workers. The cost was doing nothing about the broader class interests of working people. The efforts to organize the unorganized were few and mostly futile. Division within the working class between organized workers and racial and ethnic minorities widened. It took the civil rights movement and the women´s movement to advance in these areas, with only hesitant support from unions. The AFL-CIO vigorously supported U.S. cold war activities abroad by aiding anti-communist unions in many countries. Unions failed to follow the direction of the economy away from manufacturing into the service sector and concentrate organizing efforts there. The leadership of the unions subordinated itself to the Democratic Party, and failed entirely to press for the broader interests of workers and the population as a whole in the programs of the Party. Change comes about through demands and pressures from below, not being co-opted into a ruling Party. In some communities there are campaigns by local labor councils in alliance with community groups for a “living wage” and other demands that reach out to the unorganized, minorities and undocumented immigrants. The Occupy movement can broaden this struggle so that unions get in step with a class perspective.
The relative decline of unions can be reversed as the class situation of the working class continues to deteriorate, and as the public sector employees become deprofesionalized and their unions attacked, as recently in Wisconsin and in Chicago, the unions fight back and attempt , with some success, to broaden the struggle.
Under Classes and Rebellion. The demands of under classes have been for provision of rudimentary social services, for equitable access to the institutions of the larger society that other classes enjoy, and against the routine police repression in communities. The social demands are reformist in character but have strategic implication in the present context because, within the limits of the system, it is impossible to incorporate significant numbers of new aspirants into the mainstream of society. During the 1950s and 1960s the Civil Rights Movement made significant gains for African-Americans for legal equality and more opportunity. Some of the ameliorative programs of the War on Poverty, such as Head Start, still persist in the face of roll-backs in programs. In general, when groups of the powerless succeed in organizing themselves to provoke the power structure, the response, as in the 1960s, is to co-opt the moderate leaders into official structures extending some privilege and isolating them from their base, to repress the militant leaders, and to yield to the mass something of what they want, work opportunities, city services, measured relief from police or administrative oppression…. These benefits are often transitory and the struggle is continual and the positive response reluctant. Then, from time to time, riots break out.
Incorporation of sectors of the underclass can be accomplished through extension of civil rights and political representation, by expanding job opportunities for unskilled or semiskilled labor, or by programs of qualifying unskilled labor such as extending educational opportunities or using the military or other institutions as agencies of socialization into what are considered appropriate skills, motivations, and attitudes. These are polices that act upon the situation of the marginal under class without necessarily implying basic changes in the institutions or social structures of society. In the depressed conditions of contemporary capitalism and the political climate of neo-liberalism, reformist solutions are not going to work. We can expect more acts of rebellion from the most oppressed sectors of the underclass. The Occupy Movement needs to analyze how to relate to rebellion, insurrection, and riots.
The United States military found during the Vietnam War that the draft of young people from the general population resulted in an army that did not take on the enemy effectively; in fact draft resistance was widespread among civilian youth and many soldiers turned against war and became an important part of the anti-war movement. So the military now depends upon volunteer military forces. And who volunteers? Mostly youth with few alternatives in life. Military recruiters visit schools in poor and minority neighborhoods, set up Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps in high schools, offer bonuses of $14,000 to $30,000 and educational benefits for recruits. To meet the manpower needs in Iraq and Afghanistan the military waived requirements of no criminal record, high school diplomas, no extremist views, good physical health… The United States military forces are disproportionately composed of under class youth, some of them street kids cultured in brutality, violence, and criminality. This may account for some of the atrocities committed by American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. On the other hand, a volunteer army composed of poor kids is not a dependable force to make war on protestors on the home front.
The difficult situation of under classes creates conditions of volatility. I recall returning to California in 1965 from getting training as a sociologist and my political education in a two year experience in Chile. I watched the insurrection in Los Angeles on TV, the Watts Riots, and thought WOW, this is a big change from my experience in the early 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Over the next several years ghetto rebellions occurred in larger U.S. cities and in many smaller communities. The Civil Rights Movement went into relative decline in favor of the Black Power Movement. The movement rejected notions of the poor and downtrodden forming an under class in favor of the conception of African-Americans as an “internal colony.” In the international context of the time, the Catholics of Northern Ireland carried out an armed national liberation struggle against British rule and their Protestant colonial administrators, the French Canadians were in nationalist revolt against English Canadian oppressors, and there were indigenous uprising in Central and South America against the essentially colonial domination of national power structures. The Black Panther Party became the vanguard of nationalist struggle for emancipation from racist colonial rule by the White Power Structure. The Black Panthers were done in by jailing and police force assassination. And prominent civil rights leaders who moved beyond the boundaries of civil rights into human rights, union organizing, and anti-Vietnam War activity, such as Martin Luther King, were also assassinated. Revolt by the most downtrodden is a serious threat to the Powers That Be.
It will be very difficult to achieve a measure of unity within the underclass, they are divided into populations of African-Americans, Latinos, “illegal immigrants” from all over the world, former white workers in depressed industrial cities and communities where mining is now defunct, the mentally ill either from genetics or living the hell of marginality, felons who are denied employment, casual laborers in agricultural and construction, locked-out youth, gangs, drug addicts, drug dealers, criminals, elderly people and the infirm whose pensions or assistance don’t reach to provide a living…. But these groupings in American history have and will again organize and form protest groups and engage in actions that the broader movement for change within the mainstream class society can work with and learn from in broad coalitions demanding social justice for all. Given the desperate situations of the underclass there will also be elements—veterans with consciousness brutalized by War and training as killers, White extremist groups armed with military weapons, those desperate for a hand-out and recognition, those driven to violent mental disturbance– ready to become the paid mercenaries and goons of those who would defend the system by whatever means necessary. Death squads unleashed against “subversives” in our era will not be confined to countries like Colombia and Honduras and they will likely be funded, as they were in Central America in the 1980s, by corporations and government agencies.
The Ambiguous Role of the Middle Class. In previous analysis it was established that the once expansive American middle class is subject to processes of de-qualification and de-professionalization of their labor. This has bi-furcated the class into sectors being pushed in the direction of or into the working class, now even to outright unemployment, and into an upper echelon moved into positions of line and staff servants of capital and operatives within the administrative apparatus of the State. One cannot expect employees on Wall Street, analysts at the CIA, many among the 400,000 employees of Homeland Security Agency to have any particular sympathy for change, although there are and will be “whistle blowers.” Although the place of middle class functionaries in general is to subordinate workers in the labor process and to administrate the apparatuses of the State, it is also the case that sectors of dequalified and deprofessionalized employees are potential allies. Many are losing their jobs and homes—poverty is now in the suburbs as well as inner-cities. The main problems are to overcome anxieties produced in the culture of fear, to mitigate the consciousness of petty-privilege by campaigns that identify that the real threats to their well-being are not terrorists, illegal immigrants, or other scapegoats but the forces that have depressed their class situation. Support for the struggles of public sector unions to defend their functions as professional groupings and at the same time the public good is essential.
Activities directed at winning over or at least neutralizing sectors of the middle class is strategically vital. In history, these classes have provided a militant and solid basis for right-wing reaction. The social bases of fascist regimes of Spain, Italy, and Germany and the enthusiastic support of middle sectors for the military dictatorships of South America in the 1970s and 1980s are examples that we cannot afford to have repeated in America.
YOUTH AND SOCIAL CHANGE . Young men and women are the principle victims of degenerative capitalism. Young people are increasingly marginalized to zones of exclusion and despair. They have nothing to lose but the chains that hold them down from being a principal force of social transformation. This is by no means a United States question. Young people in Southern Europe have unemployment rates as high as 50% and in Greece I read that youth unemployment is even higher, as compared to 15% to 37% in the U.S., depending upon race and ethnicity—unemployment rates for African-American youth is 36% and among Hispanic young people 37%. The general situation of American youth is closure of opportunity. Schools are being made over into custodial institutions, jobs in factories nonexistent, technical jobs for educated youth are outsourced to countries with low wages, more and more they give up an independent life to live with parents because they can´t afford an apartment or room of their own, higher education is so expensive that young people who do enter a college or university are burdened to their graves with debt while finding that their degrees don’t necessarily become the entry ticket into a middle class in decline. Some enlist to fight in foreign wars because the military offers bonuses and benefits for their future. Others succumb to being treated as inferior and disposable by becoming bitter, mean, criminal and violent. Many seek solace in the comfort of drugs and dealing becomes a way to support their dependence and make a living. Huge numbers of youth are locked up in prisons and when released have no future except becoming permanent members of the marginalized under class.
PUBLIC EDUCATION. Schools are now a front line in the battle for preserving education as a public good. Schools mirror all the class and racial injustices of American society. Custodial discipline is now the norm in urban and many suburban schools. Teachers¨ performance and jobs depend upon their students´ scores on tests that are standardized to reflect the kind of education that the corporate planners believe are most conducive to passive acceptance of subordination in the labor process and in the social order. The thrust of educational “reforms” being pushed by business and their political and religious allies are neo-liberal in form, reactionary in content–privatization of public education in the form of charter schools, test-geared rote teaching, removal of parent, public, and teacher control of schools, the breaking of teacher unions, curricula geared to narrow training for low level jobs. Even the Federal Reserve provides materials for “financial literacy.” History and social science instruction is sanitized so that there is no sense of how we got to be where we are at, much less what might be done about the grave ills that affect our social order. Civics is taught as rote learning about institutions, not about a functioning civil society and democratic political order. Art and literature are let go as they might foster creativity and intelligent thought. The educational “reforms” in vogue even among prominent Democrats, like Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago the former Chief of Staff of President Obama, aim to confine literacy to what is behind standardized tests, that is to say the purpose of reform is to embrace an illiteracy that defies logic or facts, abhors critical thinking, and disdains the idea that personal troubles and social problems can be subject to political solution. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Chicago Teachers Union in their strike of September 2012 for bringing these issues to public awareness. “…teachers are now being deskilled, unceremoniously removed from the process of school governance largely reduced to clerks of corporate sovereignty, or subordinated to the authority of security guards. “ (10) Teachers everywhere are the front line combatants in the larger class war; they are being de-professionalized to the status of guard labor and subordinated to better serve the ends of the “reforms” being forced on the education of youth. Teachers and their unions deserve the Movement´s energetic support to transform education to a public service that goes beyond reproducing the existing social order to the challenge of understanding the history of how we got to be where we are, to imparting critical thinking in civics and social sciences, to promoting tolerance and respect for diversity and crimping the youth culture of bullying, to tapping creativity by exposure to the arts, by gearing athletics to cooperative team sports rather than to the ruthless competitiveness that permeates the larger culture….
HIGHER EDUCATION. As an aspiring social scientist in the better days of the early 1960s I was paid as a graduate student to get a Ph.D. as much as the younger professors at Stanford University. I never had to borrow any money. Those were better days than now. Opportunity abounded for country kids like me and higher education was the vehicle. In the 1960s we were an ungrateful lot; rejecting the conformity of middle class lifestyle; sneering at the cold war and celebrating the Cuban Revolution; “tuning in, turning on, and dropping out”; resisting the draft to fight and die in Vietnam; participating in the struggle for civil rights…. In 1968 French students nearly created a real social revolution. In April, 1970 American students staged the first Earth Day, and then declared a general strike at all American colleges and universities in protest of the invasion of Cambodia and the killing of student anti-war protestors at Kent State and Jackson State. We could afford to rebel, the system welcomed us back when we were ready, giving us a good job and a place in social order. Not today, since the recession half of all college graduates are unemployed, that´s 400,000 every year. Now they take unpaid internships or work at low waged service jobs with overwhelming debt from student loans. The average student debt is $23,300, but the total for 36 million debtors is at one trillion dollars, rivaling the credit card debt total, and a real threat of yet another bursting financial bubble.
With the generalized guidance of neo-liberal ideology, educational policies and practices became harnessed to the requirements of the dominant class and the needs of the Warfare State. This transformation of Universities was generalized in American higher education from the 1980s down to the present day. Imparting of critical thinking is stymied, engagement with critical social and economic issues scoffed at, and what passes for conventional wisdom passed on to the next generation; teaching is done by part-time adjunct instructors at poverty wages and graduate student teaching assistants; elite professors administrate a system rampant with conventionality, elitism, cynical subservience to higher interests. To survive professors must seek research grants, with generous overhead payable to the University. The grants come from corporations and foundations established by corporations to further “knowledge” and scientific advance, as defined by the grantor. Of course, some of the ethical, intelligent professors and better programs have survived. A young person wanting to think and learn has to explore around a lot to find the right niche.
In the main, entering an institution of higher education today means young people become trained to fill the dwindling niches in technical and professional careers. To get an education in any meaningful sense beyond rudimentary training for a credential is not easy. And students won´t get the scholarships and other stipends that my generation was generously afforded. They borrow huge sums to get a degree that is of debatable value in today´s job market. But students are young people with hope and vision, they can again return to demanding Free Education, Real Education. Colleges and Universities, like other institutions and the state are expressions of underlying class relations. That higher education is more and more privatized and where still public becomes more expensive and class exclusive, while being transformed to more closely serve corporate ends, is a result of the upper hand in class struggles that the dominant interests have waged since the 1980s. That can be reversed by student and Movement struggles. Education must not be a commodity paid for by young consumers for their self-advancement in the hierarchy of class, but a right of the entire population for the advancement of a democratic society.
There is much more to say about the place of youth in the struggle for a just, democratic society. The very best analyses of the situation of young persons in our day are the recent writings of Henry Giroux.
“From Paris, Athens, and London to Montreal and New York City, young people are challenging the current repressive historical conjuncture by rejecting its dominant premises and practices. They are fighting to create a future inclusive of their dreams as the principles of justice and equality become key elements of a radicalized democratic and social project. At stake in their efforts is not only a protest against tuition hikes, austerity measures, joblessness, and deep cuts in public spending, but also the awakening of a revolutionary ideal in the service of a new society…” (11)
A SUMMARY OF STRATEGIC CONSIDERATIONS
Nationalization of Banks and Worker/Public Control of Bankrupt Firms. During the financial crisis, the Bush and the Obama administrations quickly came up with programs to bail out the banks, and bankrupt General Motors. This involved billions and billions of dollars and resulted in the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department being in effective control of Wall Street investment firms and a large industrial enterprise. In effect, the banks and a key corporation were nationalized. The government still owns majority stock of the failed big insurance company AIG. (Why not turn AIG into a real insurance company that protects against the risks of natural disasters that private insurers try to avoid compensating?) The purpose of nationalization however was not to reorient investment banks to assume a role to facilitate economic development to produce socially useful goods and services, such as clean energy or to improve a crumbling infrastructure. Nor was it to promote social development to reverse the terrible effects of financialization and neo-liberalism on the lives of people of people at home and abroad. The purpose was to provide the means for the financial oligarchy to regain control of their plutocratic power, and this is what happened in short order, and the Wall Streeters rewarded themselves with bigger bonuses. The Obama government held the controlling shares of GM and used that control to pressure management to further rationalize the labor process to reduce employment, force union concessions, and weaken the UAW, not to convert GM to become a broad transportation company, employing more people and revitalizing devastated communities, a public enterprise that converted production of private, gas-guzzling automobiles to mass transportation. The nationalization of major investment and commercial banks and failed corporations needs to be a central strategic goal of our movement for profound, democratic change. The FDIC can force bankruptcy and receivership upon banks, the stockholders take the hit and creditors are given some relief through negotiation. The Federal Reserve is not really a Central Bank controlled by the government. While created by an act of Congress the Fed is actually a private corporation wholly owned by the banks and acts only in terms of the interests of the financial sector. The Fed should be the first to be nationalized so that monetary policy has public control and monetary measures can be made consistent with fiscal policy promoting development goals. Of course there is not the slightest chance that nationalizations can be accomplished in a short or medium time frame. Rather, the demand will eventually forcefully emerge from an intensification of tactical actions that the Occupy Movement is already engaged in. There are campaigns for people to cancel accounts at the big banks to put their monies in credit unions and community banks; grass-roots pressures for local and state governments to set-up development banks to finance public sector activities designed to provide essential services and boost employment; direct actions against home foreclosures…. A very interesting demand would be that communities use eminent domain to take over foreclosed properties and return them to their real owners. (12) As local communities gain some measure of control over financing, the way may be open to make banking at all levels serve the real purpose of financial institutions, to provide credit for genuine economic and social development.
An increasing number of cities are edging toward bankruptcy. Over the last decades, cities have faced tax revenues in relative decline and insufficient to fund infrastructure improvement and to meet public service obligations. So they sold tax exempt municipal bonds to Wall Street and wealthy individuals to finance current expenditures. And what the bondholders now want from cities and states is austerity of the kind that afflict Greece and Spain, rollback of all public services from health care to education, elimination of public sector unions, cutting back pension funds…. They also want to privatize public services, pressuring city governments to sell off assets and turn formerly free services over to private capital as profit making businesses. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel leased the Skyway for 99 years to toll-collectors and the city´s parking meters for 75 years. Obama´s former Chief of Staff failed in his efforts to defeat the teachers union and fully corporatize education, but he has hired J.P. Morgan Asset Management to advise how to continue to privatize free public services in Chicago. (13) The intelligent response to such pressures are default on bonds, the establishment of municipal banks to fund city operations, and demands on the federal government for bailout and funding of infrastructure and services. The Occupy Movement can play an important role in resisting the further extension of the neo-liberal program for cities and in creative responses to municipal crises.
As industrial companies large and small continue to fail as a result of globalization, the Movement and a revitalized banking system needs to be there to demand that employees and public and consumer representatives own and control the business in order to orient these public entities toward useful activity that revitalizes communities in decline, provides employment, and produces really useful goods and services. In the United States today there are 11,000 companies that are employee owned and operated under a 1974 law on Employee Stock Ownership Plans, ESOP. Pension plans and employer health care plans too, now used by Wall Street to further their speculative ends and private insurers to further their profits from illness, need to be nationalized, that is employer and employee contributions should go into a genuine, secure social security fund that provides a decent livelihood to persons who have worked hard all their lives and into the financing of universal health care. Greatly expand social security, no privatizing, and no cuts!
From the ashes of the de-construction of communities inherent to degenerative capitalism, we need the gradual construction of a civil society based upon democratic control of our institutions and our lives.
In the interim what is happening with all the toxic and overvalued assets absorbed by the Federal Reserve in bail outs and Quantitative Easing of the financial conglomerates? The taxpayers will eat the toxic waste of the financial system. Where is an even a minimal effort to fiscal stimulation of the economy that is not a give away to speculators? New regulations of the financial system, if they happen at all, will be written by Wall Street tycoons. In the best of circumstances–or better stated in the worst of circumstances as the recession continues or the crisis deepens–a President and a Congress that has minimal of vision for the future of America Inc. will replace the staff of the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, and the President´s Council of Economic Advisors with some intelligent Keynesian economists. In circumstances yet to unfold, this might be a tactical demand consistent with the strategy of nationalization of all finance to build a sustainable economy and a just society. However, the Movement has always to keep in mind that Keynesian solutions aim, as did the New Deal of the Great Depression, to make capitalism more viable. The reforms advocated by the best of them, like Joseph Stiglitz, are meant to rescue the system, not change it.
Combating Fear, War, and Official Terrorism. Since the large anti-war protests in the U.S. and Europe against the invasion of Iraq, there has been very limited action against militarism. The policies of American official terrorism are recognized as such by few people. Unless the United States militarily intervenes in Iran or Syria, there does not appear to be much activity leading to campaigns of protest such as occurred during the Vietnam War. To become an effective movement against the culture of fear, war, and the terrorism of the powerful, the Movement needs to engage tactics that bring these issues to the fore. A larger presence of alternative media and cultural expression are necessary. The internet is one source that can become even more central, but we need print media that reach publics, more films in the vein of Michael Moore, street theatre, a deep revival of protest music and other cultural expressions of a people in movement, more expression in the manner of Bruce Springsteen. Totally neglected are actions against military recruitment. The recruiters are taking advantage of the very disadvantaged situation of youth to entice them into the Armed Forces with the promises of all kinds of benefits not available in civilian life. Follow the recruiters and force them out of schools! Bring outside agitators to the outskirts of U.S. military bases! Work in every way to resist militarism, xenophobia, and irrational fears.
Class Organization to Extend Social Programs. It is unlikely that unions can again become effective class organizations that promote the welfare of members while forcing changes at the level of the State for advances in social programs. But that does not mean that coalitions of workers´ unions, public sector employees, community groups, progressive political parties, and movements of popular organizations cannot articulate programs to press broader social demands—from defending social security and medicare to improving public pension plans for all and universal health care. The key is to transform defensive protest toward demands to make the country a just place for all to live decently and prosper.
Quality Education and Free Higher Education For All. The students of Montreal Quebec and Santiago Chile have it right. Education at all levels is a public right, not a commodity that is privatized and made costly. During the 1960s university students demanded and got reasonable financing for their studies and succeeded in making colleges and universities open to programs geared to social change, Black and Ethnic Studies programs, Women´s Studies…The City Colleges of New York even instituted, for a time, open admissions and free tuition.
Support for the struggles of teachers´unions and parents to stop the remodeling of public education into forms of indoctrination and technical training consistent with corporate ideology are indispensable. Improving the quality of education is a public investment that will help the stagnant economy and open young minds to critical thinking. The purpose of programs like President Bush´s “No Child Left Behind” and Democrat Rahm Emanuel´s Chicago program is to create a climate wherein docile workers are trained to fill the niches in the low waged service sector, while expensive private schools groom the sons of the Haves to fill the commanding positions within the economic and political order. The idea of accountability enshrined in standardized tests, the fallacy of choice in Charter Schools that undermine public education, the deprofessionalization of the teaching profession, the drive to undermine and destroy teachers´unions, the conversion of schools to custodial, disciplinary institutions, the elimination of curriculum and programs that stimulate creativity and thought, in short the corporate efforts to transform education into a culture of banality, conformity, and ignorance are to be strenuously resisted until such time that education becomes a foundation for a free, open, and democratic society.
Today in the United States working class youth is being excluded from higher education by the exorbitant cost, middle class students with family backing need incur huge debt to study.
Again, we need tactics that flow from the strategy of raising the level of demand. Defensive struggles against increases in tuition, the elimination of critical studies in favor of business and technical training, the increasing subservience of higher education to business interests–must eventually be raised to the level of generalized social demand for equal opportunity and free quality education. This is a key to the mobilization of youth as the fountain of social change. As Bruce Springsteen sings it, “Pick up the rock, son, and carry it on,” until that morning when we wake up not shackled and drawn.
A FINAL NOTE
American social movements, from the early part of the twentieth century through the 1960s, have always found cultural expression that furthered the struggles for justice, equality, and social gain. Now popular culture is just another commodity without any particular social content or end other than celebrity and profit. Bruce Springsteen is too lone a voice when he cries “Death to My Hometown”
“They destroyed our families´ factories and they took our homes
They left our bodies on the plains, The Vultures picked our bones…
Now get yourself a song to sing and sing it ´til you´re done
Yeah, sing it hard and sing it well
Send the robber baron´s straight to hell
The greedy thieves that came around
And ate the flesh of everything they´ve found
Whose crimes have gone unpunished now
Walk the streets as free men now…”
I cite some classic verses from two songs very much expressing our cultural legacy, “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night” and a Chilean verse of universal merit, “Gracias a la Vida.”
I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto
Alive as you and me, Me ha dado la risa y me ha dado el llanto
Says I, “But Joe you´re 10 years dead,” Así yo distingo dicha de quebranto
“I never died says he.” Los dos materiales que forman mi canto
“The copper bosses killed you, Joe” Y el canto de ustedes que es el mismo canto
“Takes more than guns to kill a man,” Y el canto de todos que es mi propio canto.
“What they forgot to Kill
Went on to organize” Gracias a la vida.
The Spanish lyrics are a verse from a famous song of Victor Jara, Chilean folk artist who expressed to the ultimate the aspirations of the Chilean people for revolutionary change. In English translation it is “Thanks to life that has given me so much.” The lyrics do not translate well because Spanish is the language of poetry and English of global business, but the final line translates “And the song of all is my own song”. In his art Victor expressed universal humanity, the will to live life as it should be, all the love and optimism that is so lacking in our time. The day of the real 9/11, September 11, 1973, Victor Jara was arrested by military forces in a golpe del estado, applauded by American officialdom, that reversed all the good changes in his native land and set back world aspirations of that epoch. He was taken prisoner to the National Stadium in Santiago with thousands of others. There his hands were amputated so that he could no longer play the guitar. Recognizing that he still had his voice, they murdered him, along with more persons than died in the 9/11/01 attack on the World Trade Center.
“I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night” is a movement classic, sung at labor rallies and protest gatherings from the 1930s onward. It was a favorite of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Phil Ochs and made famous by Joan Baez´ performance at Woodstock in 1970 and in the film “Woodstock”. In 1958 Paul Robeson performed a more classic version. It expresses the will for continuous struggle for justice. Joe Hill emigrated from Sweden to the United States in 1902 as a young man. His name was Emmanuel Hagglund and he traveled the western United States searching for work. He affiliated with the anarchist organization the IWW, the “Wobblies”, and became a song writer and activist. He was framed for murder in 1915 in Utah and executed for his militancy as an anarchist. His most famous songs are “Casey Jones” and “Pie in the Sky.” Casey Jones was given new versions by the Grateful Dead and Johnny Cash. The original Pie in the Sky still has contemporary relevance:
Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what´s wrong and what´s right,
But when asked how ´bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet:
You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky:
Work and pray, live on hay,
You´ll get pie in the sky when you die.
Revolutionaries die and cry that la lucha continua. Bruce Springsteen sings “We Are Alive”:
We are alive
And though our bodies lie alone here in the dark
Our spirits rise to carry the fire and light the spark
To stand shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart.
My father, Per Janssen, was a contemporary of Joe Hill, emigrating from Sweden to the United States in 1900 at age 16. He was not an anarchist, but a poor immigrant taking up a homestead in western South Dakota after the U.S. Calvary did in the Sioux at the massacre of Wounded Knee, near where I was born on a bankrupt homestead in a blizzard in the Depression in 1934. Growing up I knew nothing of the history of genocide against Native Americans. In the experience of life after South Dakota, I did learn something of the importance of history and the difference between where things are and where they ought to be. In 2000 I retreated to a peaceful life in Costa Rica, thinking perhaps I could escape the clutches of the Imperial Beast. Somehow I can´t escape my American roots. In starting and finishing this essay I dreamed I saw Joe Hill as live as you and me. I also thought about Che, not as a romantic advocate of guerilla warfare, but as a symbol of dedicated struggle to revolutionary strategy adapted to the times:
Aquí se queda la clara, Vienes quemando la brisa
La entrañable transparencia con soles de primavera
De tu querida presencia, para plantar la bandera
Comandante Che Guevara con la luz de tu sonrisa.
1. Data based on charts in John Bellamy Foster, *The Financialization of Capital and the Crisis¨, Monthly Review, Volume 59, April 2008. See also John Bellamy Foster and Hannah Hollerman, “The Financial Power Elite,” Monthly Review, Volume 62, May 2010. Two books are very useful in understanding of the political economy of crisis, Greg Albo, Sam Gindin, and Leo Panitch, In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives, PM Press, Spectre, 2010, and Leo Panitch and Martijn Konings, American Empire and the Political Economy of Global Finance, Palgrave and Macmillan, 2009.
2. Heather Stewart of the Guardian UK has estimated that the global super rich have as much as $21trillion stashed in cross-border havens. “$21 Trillion Hoard Hidden From Taxman by Global Elite,” http://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/320-80/12567 Other sources cite as much as $32 trillion, with some $280 billion in lost tax revenue.
3. The analysis of social class relations is drawn in part from Dale L. Johnson, (ed.) Class and Social Development: A New Theory of the Middle Class, Sage Publications, 1982. The analysis of this book pertains mainly to the United States .
4. The classic and best work on the formation of the working class and the universalization of the market is Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital, Monthly Review Press, 1974.
5. A sequel extending class analysis in Johnson’s Class and Social Development to other parts of the world is Dale L. Johnson, (ed.) Middle Classes in Dependent Societies, Sage Publications, 1983. See also Dale L. Johnson, “Class Analysis and Dependency,” and other chapters in Ronald H. Chilcote and Dale L. Johnson, (eds.) Theories of Development, Sage Publications, 1983.
6. For a more detailed analysis of the international impact of speculative capital flowing for the United States to Latin America, see Dale Johnson, “Emerging Economies and Exchange Rate Appreciation”, www.zcommunicaitons.org/zspace/DaleJohnson In some cases, like Brazil, increased prices for primary commodities, minerals, grains, and oil, have partially compensated for high production costs in local currency. Primary commodities have generally increased in price even with international recession due to speculative investment in commodity futures in the U.S. and Europe.
7. Chris Hedges analyzes very well the illusion of supporting Democrats in the Death of the Liberal Class, Nation Books, 2010.
8. I analyze in some depth the idea “the state as an expression of class relations” in Dale L. Johnson, (ed.) Middle Classes in Dependent Countries, Chapter 7, Sage Publications, 1983. The same book traces the roots of dictatorship that coincided with the initial spread of neo-liberalism through globalization as forms of political rule in Latin America, the West Indies, the Middle East, and the Soviet Union.
9. A highly overstated but challenging fictional depiction of the inter-relation between the culture of fear and environmental organizations and campaigns against global warming is Michael Crichton, State of Fear.
10. “On the Significance of the Chicago Teachers Strike,” http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/11530
11. Henry A. Giroux, “Days of Rage: The Quebec Student Protest Movement and the New Social Awakening, http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/11040 The situation of youth is profoundly examined by Giroux in Youth in a Suspect Society (Palgrave, 2009) and Education and the Crisis of Public Values (Peter Lang, 2012). Other pertinent writings are indicated at his website, www.henryagiroux.com
12. There are interesting solutions to mortgage foreclosures opened up by court decisions. The Washington State Supreme Court held that an electronic data base Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS) is not entitled to foreclose under a deed of trust, since the real claimants against properties cannot be properly identified, due to ponzi securitization schemes used by mortgage lenders.
In 2012 San Bernardino Country, California passed a resolution to try to use eminent domain to assist home owners in default. For details see Ellen Brown, “Real Remedies for the Foreclosures Crisis Exist,” http://truth-out.org/news/item/11045 See also on the efficacy of publicly backed investments Chapter 10 of Gar Alperovits, American Beyond Capitalism, summarized at http://truth-out.org/news/item/12466
13. For a more in depth analysis of cities facing bankruptcy see Michael Hudson, “Wall Street´s Next Profit Scheme,” http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/279-82/13864
13. For a more in depth analysis of cities facing bankruptcy see Michael Hudson, “Wall Street´s Next Profit Scheme,” http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/279-82/13864
We steer only by the grossest landmarks. Turn left at bewilderment. Keep going til you hit despair. Pull up at complete oblivion, turn around, and you´re there. Richard Powers, The Time of Our Singing, New York: Picador, 2003.