category

Class struggle


From John Wight in Scotland

Bertolt Brecht reminded us that it’s a far greater crime to own a bank than to rob one. Events over the past few months have emphasised how right he was. They also illustrate the fact that we don’t need a war on poverty in this country. Instead we need a war on the rich.

To put it another way, when a small coterie of obscenely wealthy bankers can plunge the global economy into crisis with their greed and lack of social responsibility, then subsequently be handed billions in taxpayers’ money, and still refuse to accede to the needs of the real economy by using it to pump liquidity into the housing market and into small and large businesses to preserve jobs, choosing instead to hoard what isn’t theirs to hoard in order to guarantee their bonuses and the dividends of their shareholders, then it is time to take those banks into public ownership, exactly where they belong and always have done.

The sheer arrogance of these individuals is astounding, evidenced in the fact that to date none have had the decency to appear in public and apologise for the misdeeds and recklessness that has plunged us into this mess. The human consequences in terms of people having their homes repossessed, jobs lost, and the concomitant strain such dire straits inevitably places on families and people’s health, demands punitive measures by the government to hold them to account.

What we’ve had instead is the shoddiest of lipservice to John Maynard Keynes with a package of measures that fail to grasp this crisis at its roots. To put it another way, it is time to nationalise the banks, our public utilities, transport system, and to tax the rich in a manner that befits a civilised society. Moving beyond this stage to placing the working class in power where it should be is of course the ultimate goal, but in the short to medium term realising the aforementioned minimum demands is achievable.

Poverty is no natural phenomenon. It does not fall from the sky like the rain. It arises and exists as a direct consequence of the actions of the few at the expense of the many under an economic system predicated on profit regardless of the human, social, or environmental cost.

Over the past 30 years the working class have been under a sustained attack from the champions of neoliberalism at home and abroad, many of them formerly of the left, in response to the falling rate of profit, which is an endemic feature of capitalism. So brutal has this assault been it has brought us to the point where the very idea of a living wage, decent and affordable housing, trade union rights, a 40 hour week, a decent pension, full employment, and a welfare state you would think belongs to the pages of science fiction. Yet at one time we had those things in this country; we had them and lost them. And now we find ourselves plunged into the night of pensioner poverty, child poverty, homelessness, and other symptoms of the social and economic injustice which has blighted the lives of too many of our class in the form drug and alcohol abuse, domestic abuse, mental illness, and rising crime.

These are the real human consequences of the system that the execrable group of human beings who currently occupy the commanding heights are more than willing to accept as the natural order of things.

But despite of this bleak assessment, there is hope. It resides as ever with the working class itself. Asleep it might be in relation to events, but when it finally wakes up, as it surely must, everything will change in a matter of weeks, perhaps even less. Then just watch the bankers, billionaires, CEOs and a government that governs on their behalf being swept aside as effortlessly as if they never existed.

For make no mistake about it, we are in the midst of class war. The only problem is that up to now one side in this war is yet to wake up to the fact. Therefore the objective that must guide everything we do now and in the future as socialists, trade unionists, and the class conscious in our communities, workplaces, campuses, everywhere, is waking our class from its slumber.

To paraphrase the words of one Percy Bysshe Shelley from another period of class struggle in this country: ‘We are many, they are few’.

  • Tony

    Fascinating read from so many perspectives. It’s really near impossible to know how to comment on this topic intelligently and I probably shouldn’t even try. Your wrote: “Therefore the objective that must guide everything we do now and in the future as socialists, trade unionists, and the class conscious in our communities, workplaces, campuses, everywhere, is waking our class from its slumber.” That says a lot and in some ways it’s somewhat odd or at odds with the paradigm I was taught when being trained to be just another brick in the wall of the Military Industrial complex. We were taught that the U.S. was a classless society. (there’s a pun in there, but I’ll skip it though it’s certainly a truism). But I guess the question that first came to mind was whether we really want to raise class consciousness? Doesn’t that inevitably lead to “class” warfare? Or perhaps the raising of class consciousness most benefits those who seek high position through the orgainizing of class identity. After all, without unions, there wouldn’t be any highly paid Union Bosses!

    That being said, I’ll share a bit of my perspective taken from 55 years of life on this planet. I am an expat, having only returned to the U.S. in 1974 and I’ve never really assimilated with the U.S. population or culture. At my age, it doesn’t really matter to me personally where this thing ends up, my future being in the rear view mirror as it were. So if there are those who think that terminating the rich as a class and taking their wealth is a good idea, go for it. God knows they’ve not done anything for me. But having obtained some degree of success here, I’ll warn you that I’ve learned the rich are like quicksilver and in a globalized economy, you may well find them slipping quickly from your grasp, taking their capital with them as they flee to more hospitable economic climes.

    In looking at this financial disaster it’s quite obvious to me that it’s been something of a set up deal. By that I mean, unethical politicians changed the rules such that this thing could happen. They did so on the promise of the insiders that they would get rich as well. The MSM Propaganda Ministry isn’t pursuing the culprits, nor will it.

    What I’ve observed in this country is that it’s cities are hollowed out shells surrounded by a ring of intense poverty beyond which lie the “suburbs” to which the white middle class fled to avoid violence at the hands of those “left behind” in the slums on the Federal Welfare plantation. These huge swaths of substandard housing, shoddy services and broken infrastructure house millions who of course despise those they’ve been told have it so much better because of the legacy of white entitlement. (etc., etc.). In the 60’s racial/class resentment led to riots and the siege of Washington D.C. which gave rise to the “Great Society” welfare state that some say broke the backs of Black families. Then in the 90’s came welfare reform, the rules were changed, the projects bulldozed and the “others” were moved into newly constructed apartment complexes in the suburbs. The result has been the destablizing of the white enclaves in the suburbs and prior to this election we’ve seen gun sales skyrocket. Many, myself included, literally ran for the hills, i.e., left town fearing a total collapse of civil society in the wake of this election. Others as doubtless you’ve read, were wealthy enough to Offshore their assets with UBS, who was scolded for soliciting tax haven dollars in offshore accounts and a recent headline noted that those wealthy people are now trying to make a deal with the IRS to avoid confiscatory penalties.

    My point in this recitation of near history is simply to remind readers that pursuing the deconstruction of the obviously flawed economic system carries with it great risk of social unrest and bloodshed. Generations of working/non-working or marginally employed have been raised on the mothers milk of racial envy, hatred and class envy. And believe me, “whitey” knows it. And of course, the white middle to upper middle income group knows they have been sacrificed in this by the wealthy class that has fled or plans to flee the country. Google on “New Global Initiatives ” and you’ll find that a recent Zogby poll indicates that near 23 million households have either left, made plans to leave or are in the process of making those plans, see http://www.ngiweb.com/index.html

    A recent Barron’s article, written by Bob Adams, breaks down the Zogby/New Global Initiatives data as follows:
    1.6 million (U.S. households) have already made the decision to leave
    1.8 million are seriously considering and likely to leave
    7.7 million are somewhat serious about leaving and may do so
    3 million are seriously considering purchase of non-U.S. property
    10 million are somewhat serious about purchase of non-U.S. property.

    My next point is on the subject of simple economics. I have a daughter who sadly married badly and then promptly spit out twins and a third child withing 18 months. Her husband, a prison guard, their family barely makes enough to live so she’s been forced to learn the new rules of the “welfare” state as reformed by Clinton. What she’s learned so far is that because the kids are covered in full by medicaid and because she qualifies for food stamps a job paying 40k a year isn’t economically viable. She’d have to shell out for insurance, pay for day care, etc. I couldn’t believe it so my wife and I ran the numbers, and she’s quite correct. However, I’ve continued to argue that the longer she stays out of the work force, the more difficult it will be to return. (that argument has fallen on deaf ears). If we’re going to expand the welfare state in pursuit of the socialist utopia, my question is, why would anyone work? I have long since lost interest in my career; why would anyone sign up to work the 60 hour week in boring American Industrial Nightmare type jobs? Well……….they won’t! Give me free health care and I’ll retire at 59. There’s no incentive for me to work beyond that point. How many will be virtually supporting…………how many?

    Be very careful in what you wish for.

  • Green Left Infoasis is a blog I read every day it has a post up. This post of yours is featured today. Thanks. Now I have another blog of importance to bookmark! 😛

    I like what you wrote here, particularly: “Poverty is no natural phenomenon. It does not fall from the sky like the rain. It arises and exists as a direct consequence of the actions of the few at the expense of the many under an economic system predicated on profit regardless of the human, social, or environmental cost.

    “Over the past 30 years the working class have been under a sustained attack from the champions of neoliberalism at home and abroad, many of them formerly of the left, in response to the falling rate of profit, which is an endemic feature of capitalism. So brutal has this assault been it has brought us to the point where the very idea of a living wage, decent and affordable housing, trade union rights, a 40 hour week, a decent pension, full employment, and a welfare state you would think belongs to the pages of science fiction.”

    Amazing (or maybe not so) that ‘working class’ was hardly mentioned in the recent presidential candidates’ debates or during the campaigns of the candidates of the monopoly parties in the USA.

    Cheers and belated Happy Thanksgiving.

  • DJ

    “These are the real human consequences of the system that the execrable group of human beings who currently occupy the commanding heights are more than willing to accept as the natural order of things.”

    Sorry, but it’s a load of crap. If you’re reading this blog, you’re in the world’s richest 10%. (And so am I.) That horribly downtrodden working class we lament lives head and shoulders above more than half the world– and produces greenhouse gases at ten times their rate.

    Let’s review: Only 10% of the world has internet access. Fewer than 9% own automobiles. 57% are malnourished. 21% of adults can’t read. Half live on less than $2.50 a day, which puts the world median income at about $890 per year– but the average income is $9,350 per year. In other words, those of us who make more make a lot more.

    Oh how sad it is that I have to ride lower down on the poor man’s back than the bankers!

  • So, because someone may be more miserable than me means I shouldn’t fight for what I see as right?

    Wall Street et al did pillage the financial system. But because there are peasants in Bangladesh without wifi we shouldn’t do anything about it? Sounds like a recipe for continued and prolonged inaction.

    Maybe the misery of the Bangladesh peasant has some of the same causes.

  • John Wight

    Tony #1

    You make some very good points. The central thrust of the piece, however, with regard to ‘class war’, is that it is already with us, that we are already at war. Just consider the evidence – the extent to which real incomes have fallen for the working class (in the US they call it the middle class, and for ideological reasons I believe); the cuts in social programs under both Republican and Democrat administrations; deindustrialisation and the exportation of jobs overseas, jobs offering a living wage, labor rights, and therefore dignity, which have been replaced by jobs in the service economy offering none of the aforementioned; and the concomitant spike in the prison population, divorce, mental health problems, etc.

    The problem is that one class, the working class, has been so defeated and is so demoralised after being routed throughout the 1980s and 90s, and split and fractured with the success of the new right’s use of culture wars to distract from the economic issues which truly define where we stand, that it has taken the Obama campaign to unleash a new wave of optimism and hope among the poor and formerly dsienfranchised. The problem is that Obama is not an avwedly working class candidate; due to the stranglehold which the plutocrats and big business has on the US body politic, he would never have gotten elected if he hadn’t posited himself as a champion of ‘one people united’.

    But the truth is that class division and antagonism defines any capitalist society. No, my hope with Obama’s campaign and election are the social forces it has unleashed from the bottom, not with Obama himself. Indeed, he is now in a vice as a result, under pressure from those social forces below to deliver on the rhetoric of change and hope, and also under pressure from the vested interests and big business from above, who’ve made like bandits from the status quo and are determined that things remain more or less the same.

    One thing’s for sure, Obama won’t be able to stay in the middle of the road. He’s going to have to pick a side at some point. Either he intevenes on the side of the many by taxing the rich, creating jobs, and investing in social services and welfare programs; or he sides with the rich by continuing on the same course as previous Democrat administrations, which have traditionally demonstrated the ability to package regressive economic and social policies with progressive packaging.

    The entire world is counting on the US working class in a way it never has since the Second World War. Let’s hope that Obama’s election marks the end of the beginning and not the beginning of the end.

  • Tony

    John, you make some good points as well; it would seem what we may need is something almost akin to a Marshall plan for the U.S., one that result in the rebirth, or “remanufacturing” of an economy that MAKES SOMETHING! Something people want to buy. I say that because I was listening to the “Round Table” on ABC’s George Stephanopolous show and one of the salient points made was, (and this is one of my greatest fears) that because the U.S. “workers” don’t “make anything” anyone wants to buy there isn’t any real output to support the value of the dollar which is surely going to fall hard and fast as a result of the bail out fiasco of the Financial sector of the economy. As one of the panelists pointed out, yea, you can stimulate the “consumer” because this is a consumer economy (as opposed to a maker/builder economy) but what your really doing is bailing out and stimulating China’s economy where all the stuff is made!

    What a friggin’ conundrum this places us in. On the one hand we want to be part of an economy that makes usefull stuff at a decent price, but on the other hand we want to pay the makers thereof a “living” wage? I don’t know how you reconcile the differences without starting some kind of trade war, i.e. by imposing import duties that would make it affordable to build stuff here.

    After reading your comment, it occurs to me that maybe there isn’t just one answer. To put it another way, (and I’m no fan of the American political scene), Obama’s Obama the politician and he’ll be able to do only so much, but…………..if we had a brain somewhere who could figure out how to manipulate the tax code and thereby incentivise some “progress” into the business community, it might be the answer to lead us outa this mess. In a world of dwindling resources, we don’t need a “consumer” economy. We need to focus on three things, 1) building an economy around stuff people really want and need for the future, for example, “green” energy technologies, such as better, less expensive solar panels for the roof of my house. I want to be 50% off the grid. Why can’t an American worker in an American factory build me a better solar panel, maybe connected to a better battery system so I can get off the grid? 2) we need to focus on “educating” the factory workers of tomorrow so they can be more productive, innovative, and I would think, happier on the job making stuff like #1 above, and 3) we really need to address food/obesity issue. I don’t want to eat a burger made of meat in a plant in Colorado where the slaughter 30,000 head of cattle a day. If I want a steak, I want it from cattle raised here where I live, where I can go buy select cuts from the raiser of the cattle. Sames true for vegetables, (though now I’m raising my own), and I fish for the fish I want to eat. We need a tax code that rewards the smaller farmer and farming co-ops and farmers markets. We need to abandon the obesity making high fructose corn syrup and the making of pre-packaged food stuffs that have so much chemicals they’ll burst into flame, i.e. pop tarts and twinkies. Did you know there are poisons and oil based compounds in twinkies? I didn’t until I watched a History Channel show yesterday!

    Finally, (I should have said four things), where are the passenger trains? Why can’t I drive my car onto a train and go on the train from Houston to San Antonio or Dallas or New Orleans? If Norfolk Southern can move a ton of freight 400 miles on a gallon of fuel, why aren’t people climbing aboard trains for their Thanksgiving trip to Grandma’s house? (For the sake of honesty, I have to admit, I hate flying, airports, airplanes, and the whole airplane experience).

    Anyway……….Tony’s thought for a Sunday.

  • DJ

    Bob, there’s plenty to be done. But improving the “plight” of the western worker in comparison with his/her wealthier bretheren steals from that vast majority of the world who are much poorer. We’re arguing about how to divide our outrageously large piece of the pie while the rest of the world starves.

    Probably 99% of the people reading this blog benefit economically from systems that burn most of the world’s energy and generate 8-10 times the median (and sustainable) level of CO2 emissions. Prescribing worldwide solutions from the golden tower in which most of us isolate is just another form of imperialism.

    So yes, absolutely, fight for what you believe is right. But how will we know what is right unless we get out and see the real world? Go meet some of those Bangladeshi factory workers. Or drought-stricken sub-Saharan subsistence farmers. Or Sri Lankan kids who’ve lost their limbs. Or Thai teens (male and female) who turn to prostitution to support their parents and grandparents. Or Indian kids who’ve parents have maimed them so they can survive by begging (rather than not survive at all).

    Work to understand what these people need and how they can have it. THEN decide what ought to be at the top of your priority list. Anyone with any compassion at all will come up with an entirely different list than they had before.

  • DJ

    BTW, my criticism is that we don’t get out more– without which it’s quite natural that we wouldn’t prioritize the very survival of the Bangladeshi worker above our own level of luxury. So please don’t think I’m calling you heartless.

    I think it’s sad that some people are so rooted in a systemic view bound by 19th century nationalism that they can’t see how the world has changed– and that such a view promotes imperialism of a different kind but imperialism nonetheless. But my criticism remains the same: we all need to get out more and challenge our assumptions.