Category Archives: Working Class

Why Middle-Class Left Liberals Should Dump the Democratic Party: Finding Common Ground with Socialists

Many of you in the middle class are opposed to socialism. You still think there is some chance for you under capitalism and you fear that the socialists will take what little you have and divide it among the shiftless and thriftless. You need not have the slightest fear. The socialist has no use for your small capital; it would do (them) not the least good. (They are) after the earth, the trusts, and the machinery of production. Besides, soon you will have nothing to divide. When the big capitalists get through with you, you will be ready for us. You may not be ready yet, but you are ripening very rapidly. When you have been stripped of what you have, when you have become proletarians, when you have become expropriated, you will be ready to join us in expropriating the expropriators.

— Speech by Eugene Debs over 100 years ago in Chicago about the middle-class fear of socialism

Orientation

Almost five years ago I wrote an article in Counterpunch: “Lost at Sea: Left Liberals Have No Party.” In that article I challenged the blithe interchangeability of the words “liberal” and “democrat”. I tracked eight historical changes of liberalism from left-liberal, to centrist-liberal to right-center liberals (neoliberals). I also argued that the words liberal and democracy are used interchangeably by liberals, even though it wasn’t until the 20th century that liberals were clearly for democracy (translated as universal suffrage for white males).

The problem with my article as I see it today is that I lumped upper middle-class left liberals with middle-class liberals. Two years later I wrote another article called “The Greater of Two Evils: Why the Democratic Party is worse than the Republican Party for 85% of the U.S. Population.” In that article, I outlined how, since the 2008 crash, the social classes whose wealth grew were the ruling class, the upper-class and the upper-middle-class, constituting about 15% of all social classes. Everyone else was doing worse, including the middle-class.

In my first article I slurred the differences between the upper-middle-class and the middle-class, advocating for both classes to get out of the Democratic Party. I have since come to see (as I will get into later) that the upper-middle-class has done very well under the umbrella of the Democrats and it is not in their material interests to leave. This is no longer true of the middle-class. Historically, the material interests of the middle-class and the upper-middle-class has more in common with each other than the working-class. In other words, the difference between news anchors, lawyers, senior managers on the one hand and high school teachers, librarians and supervisors on the other hand are more differences of degree than kind. After all, they all did mental work, as opposed to the physical work of the working-class. However, in the last 50 years middle-class life has gotten far worse than the life of the upper middle-class. It has gotten bad enough to be able to say it is closer to the working-class. Whether they realize it or not, for middle-class left liberals, the Democratic Party has left the building 40 years ago.

My claim in this article is that:

  1. Middle-class FDR liberals need to leave the democrats and be part of building a new party
  2. Middle-class left liberals need to form alliances with the working-class and the poor, not the upper middle-class
  3. The new party should advocate for socialism

What follows is why this should be so.

Difference Between FDR Liberals and Neoliberals

Left liberal values

Left liberals are broadly for the following. They are pro-science as well as for investing in scientific research and development as well as investing in infrastructure. They are for the separation of church and state as well as for the use of reason in problem-solving, such as raising children through what is called “authoritative parenting”. They support the matriarchal state: universal health care, unemployment, pensions, food stamps and a minimum wage automatically raised to keep up with inflation. They expect the state to intervene in the economy to soften the hard edges of capitalism, following a Keynesian economic policy. They are committed to gradual change and a lessening of race and gender stratification. Left liberals support an expansion of unions. This left liberalism has been present in the United States for roughly 40 years, from the mid-1930s to the mid-1970s.  Since then, Democratic Party has slid further and further right to the point that their platform today is a center-right neoliberal party which embodies none of these values. The problem is the collective denial left liberals have in ignoring this fact.

Right-wing neoliberal values

Neoliberals are directly opposed to the matriarchal state. They support the economic policies of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Von Hayek with minimum state involvement in the economy.  Neoliberals have withdrawn funding from long-term science programs. They have presided over the rise of New Age thinking initiated by Marilyn Ferguson’s book The Aquarian Conspiracy. Neoliberals have become extreme relativists championing the rise of identity politics which began in the early 1970s. Neoliberals have lost hope and have failed to bring the principles of the Enlightenment forward. They have abandoned investment in profits made on manufacturing and instead make their profits on the defense industry, arming the entire world. Under their rein most of the remaining profit is invested in finance capital.

Neoliberals have presided over the destruction of unions over last fifty years.  They have stood by and watched the full-time, well paid secure working-class jobs disappear.  Work hours under neoliberalism have gone from 40 hours per week to at least 50 hours per week for those lucky enough to be employed full-time. In general, the standard of living has declined in the US so that the next generation can expect to make less than their parents. It’s no accident that credit cards became available to the working-class in the early 1970s, so workers didn’t have to directly face the fact that their standard of living had declined. The civil rights movement spoke to what minorities had in common with organized labor, which was low-cost housing and fair wages. Today we have individualist identity politics where being recognized for your identity along with using politically correct language is all that is asked for. In the 1960s, community college was free. In the last 50 years the cost of college education is so high that student debt appears to be debt for life.

Neoliberals have supported the explosion of the prison-industrial complex which has expanded many times over since the 60s despite the rate of crime going down. The police departments have been equipped with military weapons that make the equipment of police prior to the 1970s pale in comparison. They have presided over the growth of the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical companies which now have control over our physical and mental health. The official diagnostic manual was 50 pages in 1950. Today the same manual is well over 1000 pages. Today upper-middle-class parents are no longer authoritative but instead are practicing a form of “permissive parenting”, which easily results in spoiled, narcissistic children, with helicopter parents fretting endlessly over their little darling’s self-esteem. Please see Table A for a comparison.

Differences Between Middle Class and Upper Middle Class

Not everyone is middle-class

In the United States, most people think of themselves as middle-class. Last time I checked 80% of the working-class mistakenly thought they were middle-class. Why? Because in Yankeedom, it’s an embarrassment to be working-class. So too, upper-middle-class people, nervous about being seen as well-to-do, play down their wealth. Nevertheless, there are real parameters around what it means to be middle-class, as I’ll get to. But first the social class composition.

Social class composition

Based on the work of William Domhoff, in his books Who Rules America and The Powers That Be, the ruling-class and the upper-class together compose about 5% of the population. They live off stocks and bonds and don’t have to work. Their investments are principally in oil, mining, the military and banking. They have been characterized as “old money” and are mostly Republicans.

The upper-middle-class is about 10% of the population. They make most of their money off scientific innovations like computers, internet and electronics. They are called “new money” and are mostly Democrats. Upper-middle-class people are also doctors, lawyers, architects, senior managers, scientists and engineers, as well as media professionals such as news commentators, magazine and newspaper editors, college administrators and religious authorities.

The middle-class consists of about 25% of the population. Occupational examples include high school and grammar school teachers, registered nurses, librarians, corporate middle managers, self-employed artisans and tiny little mom-and-pop operations. The middle-class is at the bottom rung of the Democratic Party not well-represented at all.

The working-class is about 40% of the population and consists of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers. The skilled working-class include carpenters, welders and electricians, wait-staff and store clerks who are likely to vote Democrat. Their interests are not represented by the Democratic Party either. The semi-skilled are bus drivers or train operators and along with unskilled are less likely to vote. The last 10% consist of what Marx called the “lumpenproletariat” who live by their wits as prostitutes, hustlers, gamblers or those on welfare. These folks are not likely to vote either.

Income is not the most important determinant of social class: the nine dimensions of social class

When most Yankees try to understand social class, the first thing they think of is how much income a person has. But this is only one of the nine dimensions of social class, and not the most important one. Most of these dimensions are covered in the work of Marxist Erik Olin Wright as well as some of the followers of Max Weber. The first dimension of social class is technical, and this consists of three parts: a) the proportion of mental and physical work the job requires; b) the amount of independence or interdependence the kind of work involves; and c) the proportion of the work that is mechanical rote work versus creativity. So typically, a good upper-middle-class job will involve mental work, be independent from others and involve creativity. At the other end of the spectrum is unskilled working-class labor which predominantly involves physical labor and working with other people, while the work itself is repetitive. Other social classes have various combinations in between.

The second dimension of social class is political and economic authority relations. This consists of two sub-categories. The first is the degree of power the person has over resources, tools, goods and services. A capitalist has control over all these things. Workers usually have control over none of them, except that skilled workers might own their own tools. The second sub-category has to do with the proportion of order-giving and order-taking involved. The owner of a company gives orders and takes no orders. His workers take orders and don’t give orders. Middle-class people in corporations may give orders to workers but must take orders from senior management. This category is simply – who gets to boss around who and under what conditions.

The third dimension of social class is mobility. How easy is it to move up or down the class hierarchy both within one’s lifetime or across generations? The fourth dimension of social class is resources. Most people think of resources in terms of income. But wealth also includes assets such as inheritance, real estate, stocks, bonds and property. Sometimes upper-class people may work only part time, but it would be deceptive to make sense of their class position by some part-time job when they have an inheritance.

The fifth dimension of social class is education. This consists of the number of years of school completed as well as the quality of the school attended. The sixth dimension of social class is status. This is the degree of prestige in which one’s occupation is held by others. One reason why income is unstable as an indicator of social class is that some workers can make a good deal of money, such as unionized garbage collectors, but have low status. Conversely, an adjunct college instructor can have high status among the Yankee population but make significantly less money than a garbage collector.

The seventh dimension of social class is lifestyle and consumption patterns. This has four sub-categories. The first is health – birth and death rates. As many of you know, working-class people die on average seven years younger than people in the middle and upper-middle-classes. The second sub-category is how people dress, their speech patterns, body mannerisms and manners. The third sub-category is their recreational habits – whether they ski, play baseball or go bowling. The last sub-category is their religious beliefs. Religions are class divided. In the case of the protestants, there are the Unitarians, Episcopalians and Presbyterians near the top and Baptists and fundamentalists at the bottom.

The eighth dimensions of social class is the degree of awareness people have of their social class. Generally, the upper class and the ruling class are extremely class conscious and are very fussy about who is allowed into their circles. The upper-middle-class and the middle-class tend to be less class conscious. In countries other than the United States, the working-class is very class conscious. But here in Yankeedom, workers see themselves as “temporarily indisposed millionaires”. The last social dimension of class is the ability to take collective action. Capitalists at the end of World War II and soon thereafter organized a big campaign to win back the allegiance of workers. The ruling class has exclusive clubs in which they organize class strategy. The World Economic Forum and the Bilderberg group are examples. At the other end of the spectrum, when workers join unions or strike, they are showing class consciousness. No social class fits neatly into each dimension. There are what Wright calls “contradictory class locations” where a person is caught between two classes either between generations or within their lifetime.

Why does class count?

Why have I gone over the dimensions of social class in such detail? One reason is to show that upper middle-class people and middle-class people are not interchangeable. They vary in the technical division of labor, authority relations, class mobility, resources, education, status, lifestyle, degree of class consciousness and their willingness to take collective action. They also differ in their attitudes towards the meaning of work, as well as in their attitudes towards time and eating habits. If we want to suggest that the middle-class should break its alliance with the upper middle-class and get out of the Democratic Party, we have to expand and deepen their differences as I am starting to demonstrate.

Summary: two reasons why middle-class left liberal should get out the Democratic Party

Summarizing, the first thing we needed to do is to establish that the Democratic Party is a center-right neoliberal party which has next to nothing to do with being left-liberal. This is reason A to get out of the Democratic Party. The second reason is that the Democratic Party serves the interests of the upper-middle-class not the middle-class. The most obvious indicator of why the middle-class should no longer align themselves with the upper-middle-class is to understand what has happened since the crash of 2008. Both Thomas Piketty and Richard Wolff argue that the “economic recovery” was very class specific. The rulers, the upper class and the upper middle-class have done considerably better in that “recovery”. All other social classes, including the middle-class, have done worse. The middle-class, economically and in other dimensions, is far closer to the working-class than it has ever been. Reason B to get out of the Democratic Party.

But can these two classes really get along? There is a built-in tension and discomfort about doing mental work and physical work; there are differences in the degree of status in the two classes’ occupations.  If we want to move middle-class people and working-class people closer together, we have to understand their commonalities and where the tension points are in their differences.

Similarities and Differences Between Middle Class and Working Class People

Similarities

The biggest similarity between the two classes is a decline in the standard of living. This includes income, work stability, increase in hours worked and lack of benefits. Another commonality is sports. Working-class people and middle-class people can unite around being fans of baseball, football and basketball professional teams. In terms of music, rock or country rock might bring these two classes together. Another commonality is that both classes have what sociologists have defined as achieved status. Unlike the upper classes, they usually do not come into life with an inheritance. Lastly, both classes see hard work as a virtue.

Differences

One of the major differences between these two classes is that middle-class people make their living primarily by doing mental and/or supervisory work. Working-class people make their living primarily with their hands and their bodies. A second major obstacle to overcome is that middle-class jobs usually have higher status. The third difference is that middle-class people often give orders to working-class people, but the reverse is not the case. This can lead to jealousy and resentment among working-class people. Middle-class people are very individualistic and not likely to organize as a class. There is likely to be tension between the classes when the working-class agitates to start a union or take strike action. There are also differences between the classes around the meaning of work. For working-class people, the meaning of work is less important than the money and material benefits. Some middle-class people might trade off a higher paying job for work that seems socially redeeming to them.

In terms of resources middle-class people today are likely to own their own home and have stocks and bonds. Working-class people’s assets are usually a car and possibly a home. Mostly they do not own stocks. Whatever savings account they have, that is it. There are also differences in their health conditions. Working-class people are likely to have eating, drinking and smoking problems and middle-class people are healthier. Working-class people are more likely to go to gambling casinos and play the lottery. Middle-class people see that as a waste of time and money.

Another tension point is education. Usually, middle-class people will have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, while working-class people will have no degree or an associate degree at best. Middle-class people will dress, speak and have manners that will be different from the working-class, and this will produce class tensions. Middle-class and working-class people will attend different religious denominations. Working-class religious services invite submission, confessions of being a sinner as well as altered states of consciousness like speaking in tongues, singing and dancing in the church aisles. In middle-class religions, there is less pressure to make you feel like you are a sinner. At the same time, sermons are designed to appeal to what is reasonable rather than to force you to have a revelatory experience which alters one’s state of consciousness.

Middle Class People Meet Socialists

Surely you are kidding

Let’s suppose middle-class left liberals have enough doubts about the Democratic Party because they are no longer New Deal liberals, and they’re starting to see that the party no longer looks out for middle-class interests. Let’s assume that economic, political and ecological disasters will continue to plague capitalism, and somehow a third party – a mass party – has emerged founded on socialism and is getting up a head of steam. This party has some working-class support as well as some union support. What would it take for middle-class left liberals to join?

Fears Middle-class Liberals Have About Socialists

Dictatorship and one-party rule

In its propaganda war with socialism, capitalists inevitably point out some of what it perceives to be the dictatorial tendencies of communism – in Russia, China and Cuba – as the archetypal example of socialism. What it does not do is study the conditions under which one-party rule occurred and what the authorities were up against. I am not going to get into pros and cons of this here because this kind of socialism – whether Stalinist or Maoist – is only one type of socialism. There are six types of socialism. Starting from the right and moving leftward there are social democrats and then three kinds of Leninists – Maoists, Stalinists and Trotskyists. Continuing leftward, there are left communists or council communists and the anarchists. In my efforts to convince middle-class liberals of the feasibility of socialism I will address as much as I can what most or all of these types are in agreement on. For now, let’s just say that dictatorial rule is not a foundational principle of socialism, even for the Stalinist and Maoist parties that have been called dictatorial by capitalists.

Furthermore, I think it is ludicrous for members of the Democratic Party to complain about the one-party rule of socialists when in Yankeedom there are only two parties. The Democratic Party is hardly democratic when it only serves the interests of the about 10% of the population (Republicans serve the ruling and upper classes) and leaves over 85% with no representation at all. The party I call the “Republicrats”, representing 15% of the population, is one party, the party of capital.

Confusion of personal property with social property

We socialists have a running joke on our Facebook posts, mostly in reaction to over-the-top conservatives who think we want to abolish personal property. We say “yes indeed, we are coming for your tooth brush.” That perceived threat is accompanied by imagining that socialists are all having group sex. But seriously, when we socialists say we want to abolish private property we only mean social property. We want to abolish capitalist control over water, food, energy systems, tools, all the necessities that people need to live. We don’t believe resources that everyone needs in order to live should be privately owned. On the other hand, personal property will remain with the individual as it would under capitalism.

Discouragement of innovation

Capitalism has a very shallow and narrow understanding of human nature. Capitalists imagine that people are lazy at heart and unless the carrot is held in front of people – the prospect of being a millionaire – they will do nothing. Further, they look at the types of “leisure” activities a working-class person enjoys after another 50-hour work week and take those as representing what human nature is really like. For example, on Friday night the worker wants to play cards. On Saturday he watches a ball game and have a few beers and on Sunday he sleeps in. For the capitalist this is lazy. What the capitalist thinks is that if workers did not have to work, then playing cards, watching football, drinking, getting laid and sleeping is all he would ever do. What the capitalist doesn’t understand is that the entire weekend is not leisure at all. Its recovery from the week and preparation for the new week.

Under conditions of socialist work, alienation would be minor – and I am being conservative here. The natural collective creativity on the job will arise. People will work less, perhaps 30 hours a week at first. Because workers will control the workplaces as well as decide what to produce, how to produce it, how much they should work and how they will be compensated, work will be a joy, not a curse as under capitalism. There will be plenty of room for innovation, in fact, much more than under capitalism where most workers are imprisoned in wage labor and told not to be curious and not have their own ideas about how things should be run.

All this collective creativity gives the lie to the ridiculous capitalist notion that people want socialism because they want “free stuff” with no contribution. All socialist plans have a budget and decisions have to be made about what and how the budget will be spent. No one will “get out of working”. What the capitalist cannot imagine is that under socialism people will want to work. The idea of not working would be painful – not liberating.

Equality of poverty

In its heyday, between the 1930s and the 1970s, the Swedish Social Democratic Labor Party was a socialist society which produced great material wealth. The socialist countries that have been showcased by capitalists as poor – the Soviet Union, China and Cuba – were only poor during certain times of their existence. What capitalists fail to inform us of is that before the socialist revolutions, as Michael Parenti points out, those countries were even more poor. What material wealth does exist in capitalist societies has taken hundreds of years to build up. In China today, absolute poverty was eradicated within 40 years.

There will be far more innovation than existed under capitalism because under socialism the workplaces will be controlled by the workers and workers’ activities will be guided by an overall plan. To cite one instance, before Yugoslavia was destroyed by capitalists, Yugoslavian productivity under worker self-management was higher than in any capitalist country. The same was true during the Spanish Revolution under worker self-management in both industry and in agriculture.

People are naturally greedy

Cross-cultural research on happiness has found that there is a direct correlation between money and happiness when people move from poverty to a middle-class life. However, the movement from middle-class to upper-middle-class and beyond is no longer correlated to happiness. In other words, people who are upper class or upper-middle-class are not any more likely to be happy than are middle-class people. This gives the lie to the capitalist notion that people are greedy and that everyone secretly wants to be a millionaire. What is more likely is that people want to be middle-class. They want basics in material security. After that they want other things; creativity on the job, to be able to contribute to society and to be recognized for their work, to mention only a few things.

Socialists will want to abolish religion

I admit that the state socialist attempt to decree the abolition of religion was a big mistake. I also think that doing so was contrary to the principles of materialism Marxists aspire to. While I stand firm in the ontological belief that there are no gods or god, at the same time I understand the degree to which people wish to hold on to religion as an expression of their alienation of social life. As generations pass and prosperous ways of life become normalized, I predict three things will happen. First, more people will become atheists. Secondly, those who continue to believe in religion will notice that the nature of the gods, or god, will change. The gods or god will blend more with the nature we know because social life will be more likely to begin to resemble heaven on earth. Third, the fundamentalist religions that plague many working-class people will disappear because the working-class will no longer consider themselves sinners or need fire and brimstone to make things right.   

Commonalities Between Middle-Class Left Liberals and Socialists

Need for a mass party

We socialists think you’ll agree with us that we badly need a mass party that can speak to the needs of the 25% of us who are middle-class and the 40% percent of us who are working-class. This party will develop a program and a step-by-step plan for implementation of the plan over the next 5, 10 and 15 years. It will be a dues-paying party and we will implement methods for getting input into what the plan will be. The issues will be prioritized, and everyone will have a say in carrying out the plan. Once the plan is set, people will be able to sign up for tasks they agree to carry out over the course of weeks and months. In addition to a thirty-hour work week, approximately five hours per week will be devoted to this “political” work.

Massive support for Unions

We socialists know that you left liberals have supported unions from the 1930s to the early 1970s. However, we also know that it was under liberal presidents that the best organizers of unions, the communists and the socialists, were drummed out of unions in the 1950s. This limited the vision of unions as they turned into “business unions”. We also think you should be very upset with the neoliberals in the Democratic Party who have not supported unions for the last 50 years, causing union representation in Yankeedom to be now less than 10%. We hold neoliberals directly responsible for the fact that wages, working conditions and job security are pretty much last in the industrial capitalist societies. The vision of unions needs to be built back up to the ways of the Industrial Workers of the World who saw unions as workshops for how to run a society, not merely a way to sustain and improve everyday working conditions.

Society can be engineered

Like you, we socialists agree with the great project of the Enlightenment that a better society can be engineered by its members. Unlike conservatives, we do not accept that social organizations should be ruled by kings, aristocrats, priests or any traditional authorities. Neither do we think society is some kind of reform school in preparation for the next life. We also don’t think society is best governed by the automatic preservation of traditional institutions that have been here the longest. Like you, we agree in the notion of progress.

The value of science and technology in producing a society of abundance

Like you we are very disappointed and angry that capitalists have chosen to invest their profits in warfare and in finance capital rather than in scientific research that could make our lives better. We also think you should blame the neoliberals for allowing this to happen over the course of the last 50 years. As socialists we have always felt that the scientific method is the best way to know things and that science is a crucial ingredient in Marx’s call to “develop the productive forces”. For us, the creation of socialism was never any kind of sacrifice or doing with less. Nor are we unrealistic about human nature. We fully understand that the foundation of socialism has to be the production of more than enough wealth to go around. With abundance in place, there is no motivation for stealing or wanting what others have.

The value of the state overview

We socialists are in complete agreement with the value you hold about the importance of the functions of the matriarchically state. We also think it is important that the matriarchal state take over the realm of overall planning. This does not mean that all social production and distribution is centrally planned with no feedback from the local and regional levels. We see the relationship between the three in a dialectical manner. The local and regional levels feed up to the state level what products and services are needed. The state incorporates our feedback but then makes adjustments based on the fact that at the local and regional level we cannot see the whole. Once the state produces an over-all plan, that is then fed down to the local and regional levels. It will no doubt take a number of times for there to be a smooth “cybernetic” rhythm established.

Micro-level – the value of cooperative learning and authoritative parenting

We socialists are well aware that you middle-class left liberals have always supported public schools. Some of the more visionary of you might have had the money to send your children to a Montessori school. Some of you might have heard the name Lev Vygotsky and associated him with cooperative learning, which is used in Montessori education. What you probably were never told was that Vygotsky was a communist and he and his followers, Alexander Luria and Aleksei N Leontiev, founded a whole school of psychology, the “socio-historical school of psychology”. They developed a theory of cooperative learning that has been applied not only in school settings but in the design of social intelligence tests, the development of theories of cognitive development and in working with the deaf. Vygotsky’s work could be massively applied to the fields of social psychology, and possibly to therapy, as one group in New York City is currently doing.

Lastly, we admire the way that many of you have raised your children using authoritative child-rearing methods. You have avoided both extremes in child rearing. On the one hand are the authoritarian methods of conservative child rearing which raises children who are repressed, frightened and lack curiosity. On the other hand, it is the permissive parenting of upper-middle-class neoliberal parents that has turned out a generation of narcissistic, entitled, ungrateful brats who are the product of neoliberal schooling where the focus was on raising self-esteem in every school program. We think the authoritative (as opposed to authoritarian) method with its flexible structure, welcoming of dialogue, appeal to reason, rather than emotion is the best way to raise children. We are on the same page with you.

Deeper Differences between Middle-Class Left Liberals and Socialists

Commitment to an antiwar international policy

We socialists have always been against wars because we know they are usually turf wars between capitalists about resources and that it is the workers and the poor people who do the fighting, not the capitalists. As far as wars go, we know that your class has supported the Cold War and the war in Vietnam. Beyond the 1970s you seem to have treated these wars with less enthusiasm except for perhaps, the war on Iraq. As it stands now, the capitalists in Yankeedom not only make a fortune in military warfare to “protect our borders” but they also arm the entire world. If counties decided to end their wars the capitalists here would be destitute. These wars need to end, not just because of the senseless deaths at home and abroad, but for pragmatic reasons. All this money could go into the trillions of dollars’ worth of infrastructural work that is left undone. Suppose the military was employed on these infrastructural projects. Suppose the military was employed to build low-cost housing in every city. Living in a society of abundance requires the reinvestment in the military from wars abroad to infrastructure and natural disaster relief at home.

Anti-imperialist international policy

We socialists are also against imperialist wars where capitalists invade other countries to steal their political or economic resources, land and labor to make a profit. This can be most blatantly seen in Africa. Yankeedom also continues its imperialist ventures in Latin America, regularly attempting to overthrow governments there. Why? For the simple reason that freely elected governments (socialist or not) may have the nerve to set their own economic policy, which might not necessarily be friendly to transnational corporations.

Yankee capitalists want to rule the world and they don’t want any competition.

China, Russia and Iran refuse to tow the line and have formed an alliance. The Chinese represent the best hope of the world now. Why are they such a threat to the United States? Because they are making a profit through building infrastructures, not just in China but in other parts of the world. China, Russia and Iran have also withdrawn from the US dollar as a use of international currency, which costs the western banks in significant loss of profits. Yankee capitalists are slitting their own throats, and ours as well, by acting like big-shot imperialists fifty years after their time has passed and their own territory is falling apart. As middle-class people we think you can see that nothing good can come from this and we need to rebuild our own society.

Dismantling the Deep State

Unfortunately, most middle-class people don’t know any more about the FBI and the CIA and what these organizations do to promote themselves, including what is on television and in movies. The FBI has upended or ruined the lives of socialists for decades. Their role in undermining the New Left has been documented in David Cunningham’s book There’s Something Happening Here. The CIA is in a class by itself, the world’s most powerful terrorist organization. I will limit myself to three books: The Mighty Wurlitzer by Hugh Wilford; The Cultural Cold War by Frances Stoner Saunders and The Devil’s Chessboard by David Talbot. Funding for these organization should be ended, and the sooner the better.

 Class Dismissed, Where Left Liberals Missed the Boat

For socialists of any stripe, social class has been the foundation for understanding capitalism. The capitalist class makes its profits by exploiting the working-class. As Marx points out, workers produce all the wealth, but they are given only about 40% in the form of wages (the first four hours of their labor) which allows them to support themselves. But the worker works another 6 hours. Who gets the value from that? The employer. The employer uses the rest of the surplus value produced by the worker to pay the middle-class managers, pay landlords for the use of plant and set aside funds to pay the state in taxes. They claim the remainder of the surplus as profit.  Middle-class people have stood structurally between the working-class and the capitalists, giving orders to workers, taking orders from capitalists. There are other social classes as I’ve discussed earlier but the major dynamic is between the capitalist and the worker.

Middle-class people, like most other classes, do not talk about this because class is about political and economic power between groups. It is uncomfortable and middle-class people among others have been afraid to discuss this. Why? Because they feel guilty, that maybe it is their fault they have a better life? Maybe they owe the workers something? Middle-class people need to get over this, because the fact is, you are sliding south, in the same direction as the working-class. In fact, you now have more in common with working-class people than upper middle-class people.

Race relations: Social Movements vs Individualist Identity Politics

Strange as it may seem, middle-class people have been more comfortable talking about race than class. After all, many middle-class people prided themselves as left liberals by supporting the civil rights movement. This was a social movement in which racial minorities joined together to fix objective conditions such as higher pay, better housing, legal rights. I suspect most of you did not know that Martin Luther King, a paradigm of middle-class respectability, was a socialist.

However, since the mid 1970s, but especially from the 1990s on, race relations have turned from a social movement into something different. Identity politics is a psychological spin-off from the civil rights movement with a very different agenda. In the hands of upper middle-class, neoliberals of all colors, including lawyers and university professors, identity politics has been used to win political seats in the Democratic Party. They do this by focusing on the rights of individuals to recognition, the right to be called a certain pronoun and rights to declare being offended by this or that innuendo. Identity politics has crippled the ability of working-class and middle-class people to form alliances by dragging meetings through competitive battles as to who is more offended than whom. When an organization as corrupt as the ruling class Democratic Party starts babbling about “white privilege” it’s time to get off that sinking ship. The mess that race relations are today is made worse by the upper middle-class neoliberals seizing on identity politics. Here is yet another reason to dump the Democratic Party and any alliance with the upper middle-class. A terrific short book that lays out the limitations of identity politics is Mistaken Identity by Asad Haider.

Democracy is economic and participatory more than political representation

Middle-class left liberals in the 20th century have thought of democracy as synonymous with voting. Democracy was having the right to vote for one of the two major parties. For socialists this is a sham. Both parties are ruling class parties and workers have nothing to say about what candidates are running and what they will do after the election. For us, democracy is economic. We think it is ridiculous to imagine we live in a democracy when we go to work to be bossed around from beginning to the end of the day by the employer. For us, democracy begins and ends in the workplace. Workers should have a say in what is produced, how it is produced, where it is distributed, how long we work and how we are compensated. In addition, within socialism democracy is also present by its involvement in city planning. This includes participatory planning councils at the local level, participating in setting agendas and deciding how city revenue should be spent. Under socialism, political parties will still have their place, but they will operate under direct democracy, not representational democracy.

The future of capitalism

All socialists are against capitalism except for some right-wing social democrats who believe in a mixed economy. For us, capitalism is a system plagued by crises and inherently unstable. Various Marxist crisis theorists have developed theories about how and why capitalism will end. Even non-Marxist political economists have theories about how it will end. Please see my article “Name Me One Capitalist Country That Works: A Thirty Year Reckoning” for more sources. Where I think we can agree is that capitalist profits should not be made on wars, or on fictitious capital. It is the neoliberals, not you, who have made profits on fictitious capital and wars over the past 50 years. Rather, capitalist profits should be made on the production of goods and services. We still think that eventually capitalism will fail even if it only produces goods and services, but we can’t convince you of that until we are further down the road.

What is the place of competitive markets? Some of you might feel that having markets is a better mechanism for quickly finding out what people need and how those goods and services have been delivered. As Michael Parenti writes in Black Shirts and Reds, the central planning mechanisms in the USSR were no bargain. At the same time, we know that during the Spanish Revolution, the workers and peasants self-organized in industry and on farms for 3 years, covering millions of people and had better production records than the Spanish government had before the revolution. So, our choices are more than choosing between the state and the market. In the new society perhaps there might be a minor place for markets instead of state planning or worker planning, but the markets should never be among the major players. We can do better than markets.

• Published first in Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism

The post Why Middle-Class Left Liberals Should Dump the Democratic Party: Finding Common Ground with Socialists first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Working Class Backbone of Hi Tech

In his comprehensive and educational book, Coders (2019 Penguin Press), tech writer Clive Thompson tells the story of computer programmers, a workforce that is undoubtedly one of the “most quietly influential on the planet.” Thompson writes:

You use software nearly every instant you’re awake. There’s the obvious stuff, like your phone, your laptop, email and social networking and video games and Netflix, the way you order taxis and food. But there’s also less-obvious software lurking all around you. Nearly any paper book or pamphlet you touch was designed using software; code inside your car manages the braking system; ‘machine-learning’ algorithms at your bank scrutinize your purchasing activity.

While the field isn’t something I plan to pursue (I’m too much of a wannabe Luddite for that to happen), it was fascinating to learn more about what programming actually is; its language; how the work combines engineering and art, logic and puzzle-solving, passion and patience. I also learned more about the people that do the work; how they think and why; the heady impact of being able to literally change the world overnight, particularly when an app or program generates millions of global users. Of special interest was the history, beginning with the first coders: “Brilliant and pioneering women, who, despite crafting some of the earliest personal computers and programming language, were later written out of history.”

Coders affirmed two things for me. One is that in the struggle for social justice and human liberation, coders are a decisive force for success—arguably the decisive force, particularly in any pursuit of a People’s Internet, or at the very least a People’s Media. Indeed, the digital battlefield is paramount.

My second affirmation was being reminded, yet again, about the power of the working class. The Internet, embedded in the lives of billions around the globe, is routinely compared to a cloud, a place without place, without distance. But that’s an illusion. All it takes is for service to go down for us to realize that someone has to fix it, be it a broken fiber optic cable, a damaged router, or a down electrical line.

When we rely on the Internet, we rely on workers, from mainframe engineers to computer programmers to office workers to maintenance personnel. In his 2012 book, Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, Wired correspondent Andrew Blum describes how the Internet is “as fixed in real physical places any railroad or telephone ever was. It fills enormous buildings, converges in some places and avoids others, and it flows through tubes underground, up in the air and over the oceans all over the world. You can map it, can smell it, and you can even visit it.”

There is a human, geographic side to the worldwide web, intricate and utterly interdependent on the other: Those who keep the power going and the work stations clean; the workers who mine and extract the silicon, the silver, copper, mercury, aluminum, tin, lead, and all the rare earth elements; the vast and global workforce that assembles the computers, smart phones and tablets. Then there are those who do the shipping and delivery, who dispose the toxic and radioactive electronic waste.

I think of tech’s working class whenever I feel I’m too becoming user-centric, and forgetting about the human beings whose labor makes it all run, with the awesome power to make it not run as well.

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Vaccinations and Stimulus Packages Won’t Mend the Economy

The social and economic destruction engulfing the U.S. and dozens of other countries remains out of everyone’s control and more chaos, instability, and insecurity now mark the global landscape.

The ruling elite have repeatedly shown their inability to tackle any serious problems effectively. They are at a loss for how to deal with current problems and refuse to consider any alternative to their obsolete economic system. The best they can do is recycle old ideas to maintain their class power and privilege. Their efforts to block the New focus mainly on promoting disinformation about “new and better forms of capitalism,” including oxymorons like “inclusive capitalism,” “responsible capitalism,” and “ethical capitalism.”

Since the outbreak of the “COVID Pandemic” in March 2020 every week has been a roller coaster for humanity. The economy and society keep lurching from one crisis to another while incoherence and stress keep amplifying. It is said that 1 in 6 Americans went into therapy for the first time in 2020.

Unemployment, under-employment, inequality, mental depression, anxiety, suicide, environmental decay, inflation, debt, health care costs, education, and poverty are worsening everywhere. Thousands of businesses that have been around for years keep disappearing left and right.

Top-down actions in response to the “COVID Pandemic” have made so many things worse for so many people. Many are wondering which is worse: the covid-19 virus or the top-down response to the pandemic. Governments everywhere have steadfastly refused to mobilize the people to solve the many problems that are worsening. The moral climate is low and more people are worried about the future.

An atmosphere has been created whereby people are supposed to feel like the exhausting “COVID Pandemic” will last forever and we can all forget about getting back to any normal healthy non-digital relations, activities, and interactions. No society in history has worn face masks for an entire year. We are told over and over again that there is no returning to anything called “normal.” Moving everything online and repeatedly asserting that this is great, “cool,” and wonderful is proving to be unsatisfactory and unfulfilling. People want and need real, direct, non-digital connections and interactions with other human beings. Life behind a screen is not life.

Even with all the restrictions and shutdowns the virus, according to the mainstream media, continues to wreak havoc at home and abroad. It is almost like none of the severe restrictions on people’s freedoms made any difference. People have had to endure this humiliation while also not being permitted any role in deciding the aim, operation, and direction of the economy or any of the affairs of society; they are left out of the equation every step of the way and not even asked for superficial “input” that always goes unheeded anyway. Existing governance arrangements are simply not working to empower people or affirm their rights. The people’s interests and will are blocked at every turn by an outdated political setup that advances only the narrow interests of the rich.

Despite intense pressure to blindly rely on the rich and their political representatives to “figure things out,” this is not working. Nor does it help that the mainstream media approaches multiple crises and issues with endless double-talk, disconnected facts, catchy sound-bites, dramatic exaggerations, angry voices, political axe-grinding, and lots of confusion. Coherence and a human-centered outlook are avoided at all costs. People are constantly left disoriented. Jumping arbitrarily and rapidly from one thing to another in the most unconscious way is presented as useful analysis and information. This is why sorting out basic information has become a full-time job for everyone. People are understandably worn-out and overwhelmed. Disinformation overload degrades mental, emotional, and physical health.

The world has become an uglier and gloomier place—all in the name of “improving health.” It is no surprise that a recent Gallup Poll shows that the majority of Americans are extremely dissatisfied with government, the economy, the culture, and the moral climate.

In this hazardous unstable context, there are two ever-present key pieces of disinformation operating side by side. Both are designed to deprive working people of any say, initiative, outlook, or power.

First there is the “once everyone is vaccinated things will be much better” disinformation. This ignores the fact that capitalist crises have endogenous causes not exogenous causes and that the economic crisis started well before the “COVID Pandemic.” More than 150 years of recessions, depressions, booms, busts, instability, chaos, and anarchy have not been caused by external phenomena like bacteria, germs, and viruses but by the internal logic and operation of capital itself. A so-called “free market” economy by its very nature and logic ensures “winners” and “losers,” “booms” and “busts.” It is called a “dog-eat-dog” fend-for-yourself competitive world for a reason. The modern idea that humans are born to society and have rights by virtue of their being is alien to “free market” ideology.

Despite the fact that millions have been vaccinated at home and abroad, poverty, inequality, unemployment, debt, and other problems continue to worsen. Businesses continue to suffer and disappear. Hospitality, leisure, recreation, and other sectors have been decimated in many countries. Air travel is dramatically lower. So are car sales. It is not enough to say, “Yes, the next few months will be rough and lousy economically speaking but we will get there with more vaccinations. Just be patient, it will all eventually work out.” This is not what is actually unfolding. The all-sided crisis we find ourselves in started before the “COVID Pandemic” and continues unabated. Such a view also makes a mockery of economic science and the people’s desire to decide the affairs of society and establish much better arrangements that exclude narrow private interests and do not rely on police powers.

In the coming months millions more will be vaccinated but economic decline and decay will continue. Both the rate and amount of profit have been falling for years. And owners of capital are not going to invest in anything when there is no profit to be had and when it is easier instead to balloon fictitious capital and pretend everything is a stock market video game. The lack of vaccinations did not cause the economic collapse the word is currently suffering through, nor will more vaccinations reverse economic decline and decay. The “COVID Pandemic” has largely made some people vastly richer and millions more much poorer. The “COVID Pandemic” has significantly increased inequality. Unfortunately, the so-called “Great Reset” agenda of the World Economic Forum and Pope Francis’s recent call for a “Copernican Revolution” in the economy will make things worse for millions more because they will perpetuate the existing moribund economic system. Such agendas are designed to fool the gullible, block working class consciousness and action, and keep the initiative in the hands of the global oligarchy.

The same applies to so-called “stimulus packages.” Various versions of these top-down monetary and fiscal programs have been launched in different countries, and while they have assuaged some problems for people, they have not been adequate or fixed any underlying problems. They have not prevented poverty or mass unemployment. Economies remain mired in crisis. In most cases “stimulus packages” have made things worse by increasing the amount of debt that many generations will have to repay. This is in addition to the many other forms of debt Americans suffer from and rent payments that will one day have to be paid.

Many are also wondering why trillions of dollars can be printed and instantly turned over to the banks and corporations with no discussion but the same cannot be done for social programs, public enterprises, and the people. Why, for example, can all not get free healthcare or have taxes eliminated? Why can’t various forms of personal debt be wiped out instantly? If the government can print money for “them” why can’t they print money for “us”? Who is government supposed to serve? Billionaires?

Nether the CARES Act of 2020 nor the stimulus package passed in December 2020 nor the one President Biden is pushing for in March 2021 will be adequate or solve any major problems. Many felt that the $600 stimulus checks that went out in December 2020 were pathetic and insulting.

The problem lies with a socialized productive economy run by everyone but owned and controlled by a tiny handful of competing private interests determined to maximize profit as fast as possible regardless of the damage to the social and natural environment. There is no way for the economy to benefit all individuals and serve the general interests of society so long as it is dominated by a handful of billionaires. The social wealth produced by workers cannot benefit workers and the society if workers themselves do not control the wealth they produce and have first claim to.

The outlook, agenda, and reference points of the rich must be rejected and replaced by a human-centered aim, agenda, direction, and outlook. The current trajectory is untenable and unsustainable. The situation is dangerous in many ways, but perhaps one good thing to come out of the accelerated pace of chaos, anarchy, and instability are the contradictions that are presenting new opportunities for action with analysis that favors working people.

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Can the Rich Fix Their Outdated Economic System?

A key feature of disinformation is that it robs people of an outlook, not just ideas and views, but a coherent world outlook that enables and empowers them to make sense of the world, figure out what is going, avoid illusions, and take actions that favor the public interest and restrict the unjust claims of owners of capital.

Joe Biden’s Economic Dream Team

Such disinformation is evident in a January 6, 2021, BBC News article titled: “Joe Biden: The team he hopes can fix the US economy.”

How exactly will the rich and their political representatives fix their obsolete economic system? Why wasn’t the broken economy fixed long ago? Why are inequality, poverty, unemployment, under-employment, debt, the labor force participation rate, environmental decay, and other major social problems steadily worsening regardless of which party of the rich is in power? Will there even be a useful analysis of what is actually unfolding and what is needed to serve the general interests of society?

Will Biden’s “team of Ivy League trained economists and lawyers, well-versed in the ways of Washington,” as the BBC News article describes them, bring about prosperity and security for all? Is it possible that such a “team” is exactly what is not needed?

Working people want to know why previous fiscal and monetary policies have not fixed the economy so far? Why does the economy keep lurching from crisis to crisis? Why are stability and security so elusive? Why do so many people have a nagging bad feeling in their stomach about what lies ahead? If previous economic stimulus strategies did not work and failed to avert economic collapse, why will the one currently being proposed by Biden work?

It is known that Biden’s “team of Ivy League trained economists and lawyers, well-versed in the ways of Washington” has experience bailing out large for-profit corporations and serving in one of the two parties of the rich in the past, but how does that help the average American who is confronted with growing inequality, joblessness, endless bills, inadequate healthcare, inflation, debt, anxiety, uncertainty, and insecurity?

The U.S. economy is not failing because someone never assembled a “team of Ivy League trained economists and lawyers, well-versed in the ways of Washington.” A “team of Ivy League trained economists and lawyers, well-versed in the ways of Washington” is actually part of the problem because it should be working people who decide the affairs of the economy, not someone else. Production and distribution of social wealth cannot take place without workers. Shouldn’t workers decide the aim, operation, and direction of the economy? Why are they not even in the picture? As the only source of value, why are workers dismissed so casually?

The BBC News headline, “Joe Biden: The team he hopes can fix the US economy,” is meant to keep working people marginalized, humiliated, and deprived of any say over the economy. It is designed to perpetuate the illusion that only the rich and their political representatives can figure things out and should be trusted to do so. The opinions and views of workers are to have no meaningful space or role in directing the economy or the affairs of society.

Unfortunately, Biden and his economic team will do nothing to address the basic contradictions inherent to an outdated crisis-prone economic system. No one believes that a massive surge of amazing jobs that provide people with a dignified existence and security is right around the corner. No one believes that workers in different sectors will suddenly have a real say in how things are run in their sector. And no one believes that the stock market is not going to crash again soon.

Jerome Powell Intensifies Disinformation

“There’s nothing more important to the economy now than people getting vaccinated,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday, January 27, 2021.

This is part of the stubborn “the vaccine will reverse economic problems because the virus, not something else, caused the economic collapse” disinformation being relentlessly promoted by the rich and their representatives. Many media outlets are tirelessly promoting the illusion that vaccinating everyone is key to restoring economic well-being. In other words, capitalist economic collapse is not caused by the internal logic and operation of capitalism but by “external” forces like germs or natural disasters. There is apparently nothing inherently wrong with the outmoded economic system itself and no serious analysis is needed: “We just have to get through this pandemic via mass vaccinations and then all will be well again. Just hang in there.” This makes a mockery of economic science.

With or without a vaccine the unplanned chaotic obsolete U.S. economy will continue failing and leave tens of millions behind. About a million new first time unemployment claims have been filed in each of the last 46 consecutive weeks. This is historically unprecedented and unheard of. Staggering by any measure. Even mainstream news sources like Reuters can’t ignore damning and indicting economic data and statistics.

The brutal “business cycle” that plagues all capitalist economies is not caused by bacteria, viruses, or germs. Most, if not all, slumps, busts, recessions, and depressions in the past have had nothing to do with bacteria, viruses, or germs. Pandemics, natural disasters, and other phenomena can affect economic conditions but they are not the underlying reason for endless “boom and bust” cycles that regularly wreak havoc on millions.

So far, big “stimulus packages,” infinite money printing, more pay-the-rich schemes, and endless other distortions of the economy have not solved any problems or given rise to a path that people can call stable, reliable, and sustainable.

Many countries have actually been describing their economic “recoveries” as “jobless recoveries” for decades. Others have used the phrase “another lost decade” to describe the economic mayhem caused by an economic system that cannot provide for the needs of the people. Where is stability, security, and prosperity for all? Why is the financial oligarchy so inept at solving basic problems in the 21st century?

The only solution to the constantly worsening economic crisis is to vest sovereignty in the people through democratic renewal so that they can be the actual decision-makers. Only when decisions are made by the people themselves can their interests and rights be upheld. Keeping people disempowered does not solve any problems. Talking about inclusion while constantly excluding people will ensure that things keep going from bad to worse.

In practice, the existing authority is committed only to making the rich richer. This is why constantly relying on and begging and pressuring the rich and their politicians to do the most basic simple things has not reversed growing inequality, joblessness, hunger, poverty, debt, anxiety, and insecurity. Such begging and pressuring only puts working people, the producers of all social wealth, in a humiliating impotent position. It causes lots of burnout and disillusionment as well. Sadly many will keep begging politicians without ever cognizing that the results of their begging are very poor or nonexistent. They never seem to realize that there are far better ways to advance the public interest than endlessly begging unaccountable politicians. They have yet to realize that existing governance arrangements no longer work, which is why problems keep worsening.

There is an urgent need for an entirely new outlook, direction, politics, and agenda in society, one that stems from working people and serves the general interests of a society free of the destructive influence of narrow private interests and their political representatives. The ideas, views, politics, outlook, and agenda of the rich are anachronistic and retrogressive. They have made things worse for the people and society. No one should believe for one second that the rich and their political and media representatives have the best interest of the people at heart. The power, necessity, and hope for opening the path of progress to society lies only with working people.

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The Culture of Slavery v the Culture of Resistance

Inde etiam habitus nostri honor et frequens toga; paulatimque discessum ad delenimenta vitiorum, porticus et balinea et convivorum elegantiam. Idque apud imperitos humanitas vocabatur, cum pars servitutis esset.

(They adopted our dressing fashion, and begun wearing the togas; little by little they were drawn to touches such as colonnades, baths, and elegant talks. Because they didn’t know better, they called it ‘civilization,’ when it was part of their slavery.)

— Tacitus, Agricola

Introduction

The general problem of culture today is its ability to facilitate and support negative aspects of society through encouraging escapism, diversion and ignorance regarding many important issues of contemporary life, such as economic crises, repressive legislation, poverty, and climate chaos. Or worse still, the use of culture to promote elite views of society regarding power and money, as well as imperialist agendas through negative depictions of a targeted ethnic group or country.

In this, some would call a neo-feudalist age, we see echoes of an earlier feudalism with its abuse of power and wealth that the philosophers of the Enlightenment tried to deal with and rectify. The Enlightenment was an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries.

It was led by philosophers such as Cesare Beccaria, Denis Diderot, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, John Locke, Montesquieu, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, Hugo Grotius, Baruch Spinoza, and Voltaire. Their concerns about injustice, intolerance and autocracy led to the introduction of democratic values and institutions, and the creation of modern, liberal democracies.

A painting of the 1840 Anti-Slavery Conference. The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840, by Benjamin Robert Haydon (died 1846), given to the National Portrait Gallery, London in 1880 by the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. Oil on canvas, 1841. 117 in. x 151 in. (2972 mm x 3836 mm). This monumental painting records the 1840 convention of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society which was established to promote worldwide abolition.

However, a new movement in the arts and literature arose in the late 18th century, Romanticism, which emphasized inspiration, subjectivity, and the primacy of the individual. Romanticism was a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, aristocratic society and politics, and the scientific rationalization of nature. Romanticism became the basis of many subsequent cultural movements whose common feature has been anti-science and individualism.

The Romanticist influence can be seen in ‘mainstream’ mass culture and high culture in terms of its emphasis on formal experimentation or emotions over sociopolitical content. Romanticist reaction stressed “sensibility” or feeling, and tended towards looking inwards. It was a movement whose ideas have come to dominate much of culture today.

Weighing scales, planets, and fractals

Romanticism is portrayed as having left and right aspects. If we picture a weighing scale with opposing ideas, for example,  we can have the radical opposition to fascism (Romanticist Expressionism) on one side and the radical right of National Socialism on the other side. However, what if this weighing scale was on one side of an even bigger scale? On the other side of that bigger scale would be Enlightenment ideas.

Little weighing scale on one side of an even bigger scale

We rarely get to see the Enlightenment side of the larger scales. We live in a society where we are generally presented with the small scales two sides to everything (the bi-party system, good Nazis [only following orders] v the bad Nazis [gave the orders], this ‘good’ person v that ‘bad’ person, good cop v bad cop) but the reality is that they are usually different sides of the same coin. Similarly, on the smaller scale, the left and right aspects of Romanticist ideas are also two sides of the same coin, because what they both have in common is their rejection of science and reason.

Yet, on the big scales, the Enlightenment side we find progressive politics, the left opposition who were the first to be put into the concentration camps in the 1930s, the community workers, writers, and activists who work diligently today for change in the background are all squeezed out of the large, dominant media-controlled picture.

The problem with this skewed picture is that understanding what is going on becomes as difficult to ascertain as the movements of the planets were to the ancients. Seeming to go in all sorts of strange directions, the ancient Greeks called the planets ‘planeta’ or ‘wanderers’. The movements of the planets were perplexing in a geocentric (earth-centered) universe. It was only with the application of modern science, putting the sun at the center of a solar system, that the odd movements of the planets suddenly fell into place and made sense. We have the same experience of ‘revelation’ or understanding when science is applied to many different difficult problems in various aspects of history, philosophy and society itself.

‘Planets appear to go in one direction, take a looping turn, and then go in the opposite direction. This appears because of the differences of our orbits around the Sun. The Earth gets in an inside or outside track as we pass them causing a planet to look as if it had backed up and changed direction. They wander around the sky.’

The word ‘science’ comes from the Latin wordscientia‘ meaning ‘knowledge’ and is a systematic exploration that allows us to develop knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.  The development of science has allowed us to determine what is truth and what is falsehood. Truth is defined as the property of being in accord with fact or reality and the application of science allows us to verify truth in a provable way.

In this sense truth is like a fractal. Fractals are geometrical shapes that have a certain definite appearance. When we magnify a fractal we see the same shape again. No matter how much we magnify the shape, the same geometrical patterns appear infinitely. Truth is similar to a fractal in that whether the truth of something is held by one person, a group of people, a community or a nation its essence remains the same on a micro or macro level.

‘Fractals appear the same at different levels, as illustrated in successive magnifications of the Mandelbrot set. Fractals exhibit similar patterns at increasingly small scales called self-similarity, also known as expanding symmetry or unfolding symmetry.’

The heliocentric view of the universe remains true even if only one person believes or many believe, even in the face of powerful forces. For example, Galileo’s championing of heliocentrism led him to be investigated by the Roman Inquisition in 1615, where he was found guilty of heresy and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. The truth eventually came out and Galileo was pardoned by the Roman Catholic church (359 years later).

Contradictions and falsehoods

It has often been said that the truth will set you free. We live in a society of contradictions and falsehoods where lies, cheating and deception contradict reality. However, many refuse to see the truths of modern society, while others are actively involved in creating the deceptions that maintain the status quo. We know that people are ‘unfree’ and we accept many different levels of this condition: captivity,  imprisonment, suppression, dependency, restrictions, enslavement, oppression.

We may even see this condition as applying to others and not to ourselves. But if we examine closely and truthfully our own position in the societal hierarchy we may recognize our own powerlessness: the contradiction between our view of ourselves and the reality of our situation. Although we vote and we recognize the social contract by rendering taxes to the state, the fact is that very little of substance changes and generally things seem to get worse.

As I have written elsewhere, the fact is that we are triply exploited: we are taxed on wages, alienated from wealth created (profits), and we pay interest on the money borrowed from the wealthy to pay for the capital and current expenditure needed for the maintenance of society and fill in the gap created by the wealthy in the first place.

How is this system of exploitation maintained? Aside from the obvious threat of imprisonment for nonpayment of taxes, and the existence of police and army to enforce the laws of the state: the most influential, and sometimes most subtle tool, is through culture.

The culture of slavery

Culture has a long history of use and abuse, from the bread and circuses of Roman times to the social media of today.

In modern society mass culture helps to maintain this system of exploitation and keeps people in general from questioning their position in the societal hierarchy. The middle classes are lulled into thinking they are free because of better wages making for an easier life, while the working class work ever harder to achieve the benefits of the middle class: higher education, higher status, higher wages. (It has been suggested that the middle class are essentially ‘working class people with huge debts’; e.g., large mortgages.)

However, in general, people work in a globalized system of exploitation in states that support and maintain it thus making wage slaves of the 99 percent.

Slaves in chains during the period of Roman rule at Smyrna (present-day İzmir), 200 CE.

The traditional definition of slavery is ‘someone forbidden to quit their service for another person and is treated like property.’ Modern slavery takes on different forms such as human trafficking, debt bondage, and forced labour:

Experts have calculated that roughly 13 million people were captured and sold as slaves between the 15th and 19th centuries; today, an estimated 40.3 million people – more than three times the figure during the transatlantic slave trade – are living in some form of modern slavery, according to the latest figures published by the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation. Women and girls comprise 71% of all modern slavery victims. Children make up 25% and account for 10 million of all the slaves worldwide.

While this may apply to the most extreme cases in modern society, the majority of workers have no control over the wealth they produce:

One of the defining features of the employment relationship in all capitalist countries is that the worker’s will is, by law, “subordinate” to the employers. The employer has the right, within broad bounds, to define the nature of the task, who performs it, and how. This shows up in all kinds of surveillance, control, and submission — also known as maximizing productivity and extracting profit.

The investors and the shareholders benefit the most, while the employees receive wages of varying levels according to the demand for their particular skill-set.

We are encouraged to accept this way of life and there are plenty of different state methods to make sure that we do. However, culture is an important tool of soft power, in particular, mass culture.

The role of mass culture is absolutely essential for the creation, maintenance, and perpetuation of a broad acceptance of the ever-changing forms of technological ‘progress’ and geopolitical shifts in modern capitalist societies, particularly as the global financial crisis (corporate and national debt) deepens.

Culture on three levels

To do this, modern mass culture operates on three different levels. The first level is creating acceptance through diversion and escapism and turning people into passive consumers. Secondly, through the overt representation of elite ideology. Thirdly, and more controversially, through covert manipulation of mass culture to benefit the agenda of elites.

In the first case, consumption becomes inseparable from the ideas of enjoyment and fun. Earlier twentieth century theorists of the Frankfurt School saw consumers as essentially passive but later theoreticians such as Baudrillard saw consumption as an unconscious social conditioning, consuming culture to achieve social mobility by showing awareness of the latest trends in mass culture.

Secondly, overt representation of elite ideology is evident in mass culture that glorifies the upper classes and promotes racism and militarist imperialism. In particular, mass culture depicting historical and contemporary events can be portrayed from an elite perspective.

Thirdly, conscious manipulation of the masses using psychological means, and more controversially, predictive programming. In the 1930s Edward Bernays was a pioneer in the public relations industry using psychology and other social sciences to design public persuasion campaigns. Bernays wrote:

If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it? The recent practice of propaganda has proved that it is possible, at least up to a certain point and within certain limits.

‘For Adorno and Horkheimer, the culture industry creates false needs to keep us purchasing products we do not actually need by manipulating our psychological impulses and desires.’

Another form of mass manipulation is the concept of predictive programming. Predictive Programming is the theory “that the government or other higher-ups are using fictional movies or books as a mass mind control tool to make the population more accepting of planned future events.”  It is by its nature hard to prove yet the many extraordinary coincidences between events depicted in mass culture and later actual events is, at the very least, disconcerting. For example, the film The Manchurian Candidate depicting the son of a prominent U.S. political family who is brainwashed into being an unwitting assassin for a Communist conspiracy, was released in 1962, a year before the assassination of J F Kennedy in 1963 by Lee Harvey Oswald, an emotionally disturbed ‘communist sympathizer’ who declared his innocence and believed he was being used as a ‘patsy’.

Thus, these three levels allow elites to control how the past, the present, and the future is depicted in mass culture, according to national and geopolitical agendas.

Cultural producers

In their defense, the role of cultural producers has never been easy, and the more money or support that is needed for a cultural project, the harder it is to maintain an independent position.

While with modern production methods and technology it is easier to produce books, films and music independently of the major producers and distributors, in the past elite pressure, censorship, and imprisonment were common.

Pushkin, for example, in his Ode to Liberty, exclaimed with indignation:

Unhappy nation! Everywhere
Men suffer under whips and chains,
And over all injustice reigns,
And haughty peers abuse their power
And sombre prejudice prevails.

However, later during the time of Nicholas I, he changed and ‘adopted the theory of art for art’s sake’:

According to the touching and very widespread legend, in 1826 Nicholas I graciously “forgave” Pushkin the political “errors of his youth,” and even became his magnanimous patron. But this is far from the truth. Nicholas and his right-hand man in affairs of this kind, Chief of Police Benkendorf, “forgave” Pushkin nothing, and their “patronage” took the form of a long series of intolerable humiliations. Benkendorf reported to Nicholas in 1827: “After his interview with me, Pushkin spoke enthusiastically of Your Majesty in the English Club, and compelled his fellow diners to drink Your Majesty’s health. He is a regular ne’er-do-well, but if we succeed in directing his pen and his tongue, it will be a good thing.” The last words in this quotation reveal the secret of the “patronage” accorded to Pushkin. They wanted to make him a minstrel of the existing order of things. Nicholas I and Benkendorf had made it their aim to direct Pushkin’s unruly muse into the channels of official morality.

Pushkin’s contemporaries, the French Romanticists, were also, with few exceptions, ardent believers in art for art’s sake, the idea of the absolute autonomy of art with no other purpose than itself.

In the twentieth century, Ars Gratia Artis (Latin: Art for Art’s Sake) would become the motto for the American media company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, to designate art that is independent of political and social pressures.

Of course, while some believe that art should not be politicized, others think that if art was not a social endeavor, then it would be used as a commercial item only available to the rich; e.g., a profitable escapist product while simultaneously maintaining and promoting a conservative mindset.

‘During the Cold War period, films were an important factor in the persuasion of the masses. They would be used in various ways, to present the ideal image of their country and to distinguish a national enemy, to name a few.’

However, any thoughts of art as a progressive tool were soon quashed by the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) in the USA, a body which was set up in 1938 to investigate alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens, public employees, and any organizations with left wing sympathies.

Dialectic of Enlightenment

Not long after, a theoretical analysis of consumerist mass culture was published in a book by Theodor Adorno (1903–1969) and Max Horkheimer (1895–1973) in 1947 entitled Dialectic of Enlightenment in which they coined the term the Culture Industry. For Adorno and Horkheimer “the mass-media entertainment industry and commercialized popular culture, which they saw as primarily concerned with producing not only symbolic goods but also needs and consumers, serving the ideological function of diversion, and thus depoliticizing the working class.”

They believed that the production of culture had become like a “a factory producing standardized cultural goods — films, radio programmes, magazines, etc.— that are used to manipulate mass society into passivity.”

Thomas Hart Benton, Hollywood 1937-38 oil on canvas; 56×84 in. (142.2×213.4 cm)

More significantly, Adorno and Horkheimer also believed that the scientific thinking the Enlightenment philosophers had developed “led to the development of technologically sophisticated but oppressive and inhumane modes of governance.”

Adorno and Horkheimer believed that because the rationalization of society had ultimately led to Fascism, science and rationalism provided little optimism for future progress and human freedom.

However, this view of the history of science and its relationship with human emancipation is, according to Jeffrey Herf in ‘”Dialectic of Enlightenment” Reconsidered’, one that ignores many progressive movements and changes brought about by Enlightenment ideas, and that Horkheimer and Adorno’s view of modern society and politics simply reduced modernity to technology, science, and bureaucracy. Herf outlines many of the events, institutions, laws, rights, treatments and other human benefits that Adorno and Horkheimer (and others) had ignored:

In Weber’s sociology, Heidegger’s philosophical ruminations, or Dialectic of Enlightenment, the panoply of ideas and events associated with the 1688 revolution in Britain, the moderate wing of the French Revolution, and the ideas and institutions that emerged from the American Revolution, and then from the victory of the North in the American Civil War, are simply absent. As a result of this paucity of historical specificity, Horkheimer and Adorno’s view of modernity during World War II was a very German caricature that did not include ideas about the extension of citizenship, British antislavery, American abolitionism, feminism in Europe and the United States, and the rule of law. Theirs was modernity without liberal democratic ideas and institutions, the rule of law, and the freedom of speech, of assembly, of the press, and of religion or unbelief. […] Dialectic of Enlightenment presented modern science as primarily an exercise in the domination of nature and of human beings. Theirs was a view of the history of the scientific revolution that left out Galileo’s challenge to religious authoritarianism and Francis Bacon’s liberating restatement of the role of evidence in resolving contentious issues. From reading Horkheimer and Adorno — as well as Heidegger and Baumann — one would conclude that modern science was first and foremost a source of control, and would have no idea of how modern medicine, unthinkable without the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution, had come into existence.1

Thus, Adorno and Horkheimer’s view leaves us with an almost Nietzschian nihilism, that knowledge is impossible, and life is meaningless because to try and improve society will fail and ultimately only increase oppression. Without action, Nietzsche predicted a society of ‘the last man’, the “apathetic person or society who loses the ability to dream, to strive, and who become unwilling to take risks” and slave morality characterized by pessimism and cynicism. A society which has not only lost its ‘will to power’ but also its will to revolt.

The culture of resistance

Throughout history, oppression has been met with resistance in many forms such as uprisings, rebellions, and insurrections.

‘Richard II meeting with the rebels of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.

(The Peasants’ Revolt, also named Wat Tyler’s Rebellion or the Great Rising, was a major uprising across large parts of England in 1381. The revolt had various causes, including the socio-economic and political tensions generated by the Black Death pandemic in the 1340s, the high taxes resulting from the conflict with France during the Hundred Years’ War, and instability within the local leadership of London.’)

The resistance often starts with strikes, boycotts, and civil disobedience, leading to mass movements of people who ultimately reject the old system of governance and change it for a new system which can be anti-colonial, anti-imperialist or anti-capitalist. The rise of resistance seems to generally develop in three stages, each affecting culture in very different ways. These different stages could be called criticism, substitution and implementation.

Irish Citizen Army group outside Liberty Hall. Group are lined up outside ITGWU HQ under a banner proclaiming “We serve neither King nor Kaiser, but Ireland!”. Photo taken in early years of WWI.

Resistance often begins as criticism of the policies or nature of government, or the state. This can be aesthetic or intellectual resistance appearing, for example, in various art forms. Critiques can be of an ideological nature, or simply to highlight social problems and issues. Resistance can take the form of criticism of officially sanctioned culture through demonstrations and boycotting.

It may also take a violent form, for example, the blowing up of colonial statues in Ireland (see my comprehensive list of statues blown up in my blog post here). The blowing up of Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin in 1966 was celebrated subsequently in two different ballads which became immensely popular, an aesthetic critique arising out of a violent ‘critique’.

On a formal level resistance can also be ‘form-poor’ as struggle without help from educated or trained professionals is left to amateurs.

Substitution

Gradually, a new ideology, a different reading of history, a new set of artists and writers produce culture which eventually substitutes the old culture with a new culture as the movement gathers momentum.

The less costly forms like art, music, ballads, books etc. can become very popular and important elements of the resistance itself. The more expensive cultural forms are difficult to produce in the new culture; e.g., cinema, theatre, opera, TV etc., (unless, of course, if the format is changed like in community theatre substituting for state theatre).  Digital equipment can be vastly cheaper to use for the making of movies for mass viewing assuming that the outlet for presentation, the internet, is not closed off through censorship.

Implementation

The final stage is implementation, whereby popular resistance takes control of the state and is able to implement progressive culture as state policy. This is particularly important for the most costly art forms which also gain access to state finance and auditoriums. It allows movies, for example, to cover ignored themes such as histories of resistance, or to show past events from more radical perspectives than the previous elite mindset and agendas.

These different levels of cultural change: criticism, substitution, and implementation can be a long process or all come together in a short span of time.

The storming of the Bastille, 14 July 1789, during the French Revolution.

I have tried to show in my previous examination of ten different art-forms (see: art, music, theatre, opera, literature, poetry, cinema, architecture, TV, and dance articles) that since the Age of Enlightenment there has been a strong vein of radical ideas relating to social progress. Over the centuries radical culture has looked at the plight of the oppressed using different forms such as naturalism, realism, social realism, and working class socialist realism.

The philosophers of the Enlightenment believed that advancements in science, technology, economic development and social organization would have universal application globally. They also believed in the idea that empirical knowledge should be the basis of society and that with these ideas political and societal change would strengthen civilization itself. While social progressivism, as a political philosophy, is reformist in nature, it also has the potential to snowball into more radical action through discussion around questions as to who runs the state and ownership of the means of production.

The form and content of the culture of resistance has many aspects. Some emphasize change on the community level, developing the skills, community spirit, and artistic sensibilities of the community members whether they be producers, creators or observers. An important element of this strategy for social change is encouraging critical thinking through participation in active dialogue. General themes for discussion have been, for example, gender equality, human rights, the environment and democracy.

The Bash Bush Band musical protesters at Bush’s 2nd inauguration, Washington DC.

Others have taken a more radical approach of examining human conflict and its sources. They look at human conflict from a social perspective and see society in terms of conflicting economic classes. By portraying economic classes in conflict they hope to evolve or expand a working class consciousness or at least an understanding of, and empathy with, oppressed groups. Radical artists, writers, composers etc are encouraged to take a scientific approach and work against superstitions and blind practices. As radical cultural producers they try to present the truth and inspire wide-ranging social and political activism.

Future of culture?

Modern resistance, often in digital form on the internet today, is now subject to a creeping censorship as big tech tries to slow down the efficacy of the internet at making widely available different perspectives on many different issues. At the same time, big tech tries to portray technological progress as social progress, and is at the forefront of liberal campaigns for individual rights at the expense of mass movements for collective or group rights. Such group rights allow for organizations to speak for, and negotiate on behalf of, trade unions, trade associations, specific ethnic groups, political parties, and nation-states.

However, internet censorship and the gradually increasing power of the state (through police, courts, and prisons) using current and new legislation will be able to continue unabated, that is, unless the slave culture that facilitates it is shaken off and a new culture of resistance is born.

  1. Jeffrey Herf, Dialectic of Enlightenment Reconsidered, Source: New German Critique , FALL 2012, No. 117, Special Issue for Anson Rabinbach (FALL 2012), pp. 81-89 Published by: Duke University Press [p84] Stable URL.
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Vaccine Will Not Reverse Economic Problems

No matter how many vaccines are rush-produced by large for-profit corporations with a long record of malpractice, vaccines will not reverse severe economic deterioration because the economic collapse, nationally and internationally, was not caused by any virus.1

The economic depression that is unfolding was a long time in the making and was accelerated and intensified by the “COVID Pandemic” but not the direct result of it. A severe economic collapse was going to take place with or without a virus. If anything, the virus provided convenient cover for what was inevitable.

It is well-known that the unplanned chaotic capitalist economic system habitually goes through violent upheavals, leaving millions perpetually insecure, poor, unemployed, and stressed. This is not news to anyone. Equally disturbing, we are routinely told that the so-called “business cycle” is inevitable and normal—just a “natural” part of life, as if the economy is beyond human comprehension and conscious control. There is supposedly no alternative to the “invisible hand” of the so-called “free market” regularly wreaking havoc on us. We are all to feel helpless against “forces larger than us.” We are to believe that there is no economic science that can ensure stability and prosperity for all. The “law of the jungle” is allegedly the best humanity can muster and no alternative to this inhuman system is to be considered.

Long after vaccines have come and gone the economy will continue to deteriorate because the economy is in the hands of competing owners of capital who treat the socialized economy as theirs to plunder for private gain, no matter the damage to the social and natural environment. The tendency for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer was going on for decades before the “COVID Pandemic” and will continue so long as those who actually produce the wealth in society remain disempowered and marginalized, alienated from and unable to deploy the very wealth they produce for the benefit of society.

Economic crises, recessions, and depressions—including wars—are usually how the obsolete capitalist economic system temporarily “resets” itself before crashing again. During periods of over-production and under-consumption, labor and production are destroyed until a “new zero” can be established. “De-leveraging” has to take place, sometimes for years, before capitalism can establish a temporary “new equilibrium” again. Carnage is unavoidable in this historically-exhausted economic system that privileges a tiny ruling elite. The problem is that each crisis, recession, and depression sets the stage for a deeper crisis, recession, and depression the next time. Just look at the number of long-term unemployed, inequality, the labor force participation rate, the number of homeless, the “gig economy,” and debt at all levels. All keep steadily worsening, leaving many anxious about the future. In June 2020 the Congressional Budget Office went so far as to say it would take ten years to return to pre-pandemic economic conditions, which were not that great to begin with. Recall as well that after the 2008 economic collapse most countries ran on gas fumes for years, there was no real and meaningful “comeback” for most countries. International imperialist organizations like the IMF and World Bank continually revised not-so-rosy growth predictions downward. The economy has been stagnant and lackluster for a long time and this is not about to suddenly change in the final and highest stage of capitalism. Without organized working class resistance, more parasitism and decay is in store for the economy. The rich and their representatives have no solutions.

The economy will not serve people and the general interests of society until there is a change in the aim, direction, and control of the economy. It does not matter what “plan” is put forward by establishment politicians or “leaders.” So long as maximizing profits as fast as possible for a tiny ruling elite and depriving workers of any say in anything remains the norm, problems will keep going from bad to worse. Things will not magically improve on their own or when left in the hands of a few billionaires. There is no scenario in which the economy serves people and society while the actual producers of wealth remain sidelined and removed from the levers of power. Lofty words, phrases, and promises from politicians and “leaders” are designed to dupe the gullible and prevent people from engaging in action with analysis that favors them. The rich and their representatives do not want people to break free from capital-centered thinking and think and act independently. All thinking and action is to take place from a capital-centered reference point.

The main thing the “COVID Pandemic” revealed very sharply is that the richest and most powerful countries are not set-up to serve the basic needs of the people. In these and other countries where the neoliberal antisocial offensive has been wreaking havoc for decades, the “COVID Pandemic” left millions sick, dead, unemployed, depressed, dehumanized, and poor while the rich got much richer. Does this make sense to anyone? Would this happen if sovereignty was vested in the people and they decided the affairs of society? “Representative democracy” is increasingly revealing itself to be defunct, corrupted, and ineffective. There is no mechanism for people to effectively direct affairs in their own vision and interests. Existing institutions block people from affirming their rights. The so-called “social contract” underpinning economic and political arrangements for decades in the U.S. died long ago, and “leaders” and politicians have left everyone rudderless and disillusioned.

A main task confronting working people is how to open the path of progress to society under very difficult conditions. Already it can be seen from a variety of events and actions that unfolded in 2020 and early 2021 that people from all walks of life are in motion on several fronts. People are striving to affirm their rights and are gradually developing better actions and better analyses. Many are fed up with an outmoded system that keeps making life more difficult for them. This sentiment can be seen and felt worldwide. One can sense a change in the energy of the world’s people and a more robust pro-social thrust and desire among people. It is critical to nurture this drive so that it is not continually sabotaged by the anticonsciousness and disinformation of the rich and their political and media representatives. The current heroic struggles of farmers in India is a good example of workers defending their rights in the context of defending the rights of all.

Health crises, economic crises, and social crises cannot be resolved so long as society and the economy are dominated by a handful of billionaires. Only when defunct liberal governance arrangements are rejected and social consciousness and the human factor are unleashed can problems be solved effectively by the people themselves who already know what is needed to move society forward.

  1. It is even said that covid-19 vaccines will not prevent virus transmission and everyone still has to wear masks and socially distance. And many continue to experience a range of side effects from covid-19 vaccines.
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An Open Letter to Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys (cc: Antifa)

Have you ever found yourself surrounded by masked rioters being chased by flag-waving patriots and thought, I’ve seen this movie before?

I woke up this morning dreaming that I was speaking at one of your rallies.  I thought then, well, if I probably won’t be getting an invitation to speak at one of them, what would I say if I were to be asked to share some words?

Contrary to popular opinion in kindergarten, words are far more powerful than either sticks or stones, and I think this is something that most of us actually already know.  Words can be used to divide and rule entire societies, it seems.  We can have some people on some TV networks saying some sets of words, with other people on other networks using different vocabulary, and a different perspective, to talk about the same issues, and pretty soon we can achieve an endless series of tragic physical results from such words.

So I especially like to avoid alarm-bell words that require lots of defining if you’re going to use them successfully, or else no one really knows what they mean.  If I do use such a word, I’ll tend to define it clearly first, unless I’m writing for a very particular audience.  I’m mostly talking about “ism” words such as as socialism, anarchism, communism, capitalism, fascism, nationalism, supremacism, racism, anti-racism, sexism, progressivism, conservatism, liberalism, elitism.

Other words are important, or at least to some people they can be, so I’d want to first say that I’m so sorry Aaron Danielson was killed.  Without getting into the details and not having been present, many of us were expecting something like this to happen.  Whether the next person killed at a protest was going to be shot or run over was unknown, but that someone else would be killed was just a matter of time.

Many people, of course, avoided downtown that day, knowing there would be lots of armed people with different opinions all in the same place at the same time, shouting at each other and worse.  Other people, perhaps people with stronger political convictions than most, can’t stay home.  Such as many of the folks who I hope might be hearing these words right now.

There are a lot of people, from a wide variety of political orientations, who would think it pointless for me to even attempt to communicate with you.  They think the divide is too great.  They’re expecting all the predictions of civil war to come true.  They think folks like you and I live in our insulated little echo chambers, in different worlds, and we couldn’t even communicate with each other if we tried.  And then, going to protests, as you and I have done so often, any of us can bear out the fact that there is a whole lot more bear mace being sprayed in different directions than anything resembling communication going on.  Looking at my YouTube channel, the comment section on certain songs largely consists of people exchanging death threats with each other.

But I think the folks who think we’re hopelessly polarized and have no grounds for communication are completely wrong.  I think we live in the same world, and we face the same sorts of problems, and could benefit from the same sorts of solutions, too, and I think many of you already agree with this notion.  That’s what I would really want to focus on, if I were speaking at one of your rallies.

I think about so many of the rallies when I’ve seen you guys around, and I don’t want to judge too much by appearances, but to me you look mostly like members of the working class.  Some of you might be rich, I don’t know, but I’d be willing to bet that at least 99% of you aren’t.  Many of you are military veterans, which is also true of no small number of those among the ranks of the groups you oppose.

Being members of the working class living in the Portland area, as so many of you are, and as I and most of my friends are, I’ll bet there are a whole lot of things we have in common.

I’ll bet half of us live in the same sorts of two-story, wooden, grey, Class C apartment complexes that you can see lining most of the major roads in most of the neighborhoods of both Portland and across the river in Vancouver.  I’ll bet many of us have the same landlord, in the form of an investment group, such as Prime or Randall.  I’ll bet our apartment complexes are managed by the same stingy management company, such as CTL.  And I’ll bet your rent also doubled over the past ten years, and this development has caused you great consternation, made you angry, made you want to find solutions.

Oh, and did you happen to notice that during the time your rent doubled, Obama was in the White House?  Hard not to notice coincidences like that.

And while your rent was doubling during the Obama years, maybe you, like me, were having kids, making a family, hoping to move into a bigger place, maybe to buy a house, only to see any such hopes dashed by the reality that the cost of buying a house or renting a bigger apartment was out of the question, if you didn’t have a six-figure income.

And during that decade, who was running the city you lived in, where the rents and the taxes kept going up and up, while your income did not?  Democrats.  I noticed that, too.

When you look around your neighborhood at all the construction sites here in the booming Pacific Northwest, and you see the workers, and when things break at your apartment complex and you see who comes to do repairs, and who maintains the grounds, did you notice that most of the people doing most of the work are immigrants?  I noticed that, too.

And who are the people always advocating for the rights of immigrants, and for taking in more immigrants and refugees, while the cost of living keeps going up and jobs are as scarce as they are?  Democrats, once again, as I know you have observed.

Have you ever wondered, if we had a lot less immigration in this country, what that might do to wages in the construction industry?  They’d go up, right?  That’s obvious, isn’t it?  Same for other industries, too, right?

A lot of people look at all of this, they put two and two together, and they conclude that the policies of the Democratic Party are not very conducive to our survival.  If they want to do things like welcome lots of immigration, export jobs with free trade deals, and govern cities in such a way that the rent doubles every ten years, maybe it’s very reasonable to conclude that the Democratic Party isn’t representing the interests of the general population.  Did you reach that conclusion at some point along the line?

And then someone comes along who wants to deal with this mess, to do something on behalf of most people, drain the swamp, build the wall, stop the flood of immigrants taking so many of the jobs, end the endless wars and stop policing the world, get out of free trade deals, put up tariffs, and try to make moves to reverse the trend of everything going in the wrong direction all the time, and for supporting his evidently reasonable policies, you are called every bad name in the book.

But then, as you have been giving your support to this president, you may have also been noticing that many of the policies he’s been talking about are opposed not only by the Democrats, but, at least until very recently, by most of the Republican leadership as well.  You may also have begun to notice that the man doesn’t necessarily support the things he says he supports, and he hasn’t drained the swamp at all.  Am I right?  Or did I just lose you there?  I’m just guessing there are a lot of you who realize, on some level, along the line, that Trump is mostly just saying the things he thinks you want to hear, and then governing on behalf of big business, like very rich politicians have done in DC for a very long time.

Being a history buff, if I were speaking at one of your rallies I’d want to try to talk about what I see as some pretty clear historical parallels between now and a century ago.  Trump seems new and unconventional in many ways, but this kind of societal divide between large groups of economically struggling Americans on different sides of issues like immigration goes way back.

Exactly one hundred years ago here in the Pacific Northwest and around the United States, as well as across Canada, conflict raged in the streets.  Veterans of the First World War made up the ranks of many of the people involved on all sides of it.  The cities were full of returning soldiers, many of whom were sick with the Spanish Flu.  Disease was rampant, there was insufficient housing, and not enough jobs, either.  At the same time, a massive influx of immigrants from war-torn Europe was coming, along with the returning soldiers from the war.

It was a situation designed for conflict, and conflict there was.  On one side were people who viewed themselves as patriots, who wanted to control the dramatic impact that widespread immigration was having on the job and housing markets, and in society generally.  On the other side was a labor union led largely by immigrants, who said everyone — the working class throughout the world, regardless of nation, race, gender or other such factors — should be organized into One Big Union.

This movement saw the First World War and immigration from Europe that was going on at the time as just two more ways the ruling class was trying to divide the working class, and have us fighting each other, whether on different sides of trenches in European wars, or in competition over low-paying jobs here in the US, in order to make sure those jobs keep on paying badly, and the owners make more profits.  Instead of opposing immigration, they organized immigrants along with everyone else.  They had learned that they had to make a choice between supporting their nation, in the sense of supporting the imperial goals of their governing elite, or supporting their class, and they chose the latter.

Today, there is no massive, ecumenical movement of the working class for us all to join.  No such alternative like that currently exists.  When it did exist, laws were passed, called the Alien and Sedition Acts, and a national police force was formed — called the FBI — in order to destroy the movement.  Union halls across the country were burned to the ground, and union organizers of all races were lynched under bridges here in the Pacific Northwest.

But the kind of vision that formed this movement that was so targeted by the authorities back then has in the past been so powerful that it has brought down governments, it has forced the world’s biggest corporations to make massive concessions, it has reshaped entire societies for the better.  It has also brought down upon it such terrible repression, it has been so targeted by the authorities and so alternately vilified and silenced by history, that even the very concept that the movement ever existed seems like a utopian fantasy, not like a practical reality that has shaped the world as we know it, perhaps more than any other force besides gravity.

I may be a geek, but if I had the chance to speak at one of your rallies, I’d want to talk about patterns.  There is a pattern happening here, and these consistencies between Portland in 1920 and Portland in 2020 are not accidental.  The dynamics of the conflicts in this society now are created by the same sorts of people who were creating them back then.  In many cases, their direct descendants.  These things tend to run in the family, as does inherited wealth.

Why does the political elite enact policies intended to create these conflicts, and why do they then make moves to exacerbate them?  In the back of our minds, I think we all know the answer.  If I were speaking at one of your rallies, and I asked this question, would anybody shout, “divide and conquer,” or am I being overly optimistic?  Because it seems to me that as long as those who, for example, support increasing immigration and those who support decreasing immigration can be in conflict with each other over the scraps dropped from the table of the ruling class, the ruling elite wins.

The ruling class logic is so simple and effective on us, it’s hard to even see it’s there.  Most Mexicans accept such low wages because they’re either undocumented and living in the shadows of the law, or they’re competing with people who are in that situation.  And, as you know too well from personal experience, in all likelihood, the rest of us are competing with them, too.  And unless we take the concept of exclusion to its logical conclusion and we really think laws and walls are going to keep out the hundreds of millions of people just on the other side of the southern border who also need to feed their children, or unless we believe genocide is the actual solution here, then all the people living in this country are going to have to have the opportunity to work, and if they’re going to work, they’re going to have to be paid, and if they’re going to be paid, then whatever they’re paid is what you’re going to get paid, too.  So if you want to be paid well, and to live in an affordable place, you have to stand up for everyone else’s rights to a living wage and decent housing.  That’s what these conflicts in other societies have taught us.  The ruling elite here learned those lessons from history, too, which is why they divide and rule the way they do.

I’m a musician, by profession, and before the pandemic I used to tour a lot.  Ireland is one of the places where I have the most fans.  There are reasons for this, both political and cultural, but I’ll save that discussion for another time.  Point is, I have a fairly deep familiarity with some other countries where I have spent a lot of my time over the decades, working.  In a part of Ireland called Northern Ireland, which is more a political term than a geographical one, the population is fairly evenly divided between Catholics and Protestants.  The Catholics there have long lived as second-class citizens, and what has come to be known as the Troubles, which resulted in thousands of people being killed in Northern Ireland from the 1970’s to the 1990’s, was largely about Catholics having equality with Protestants.

So, you can see if you look at it that there is this, even now, a simmering conflict going on between two groups of people in this very conflicted part of the world that we call Northern Ireland.  If you’re part of the society, you will likely have developed ideas about the folks who live on the other side of the wall — those Protestants only care about other Protestants, or those Catholics are criminally inclined, etc. — and you likely will have developed a sort of bipolar, Catholic/Protestant view of the world, as a sort of default, whether you feel passionately about it or not.

But if you back up and look at it from the outside — even if you just go work in England for a few years, like so many Irish do, from both sides of the sectarian divide — what you’ll see looking back at Northern Ireland are two groups of people we call Catholics and Protestants, one group of which is generally a little better-off than the other, but what you’ll notice most of all is that the majority of both Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants are poor by European standards.  I heard one speaker at a union rally in Derry note that the Catholic community in Northern Ireland has the fifth worst quality of housing in Europe, while the Protestants have the sixth worst housing standards.

Back to the US.  Contrary to the rhetoric, our ruling elite consists of millionaire Democrats as well as millionaire Republicans.  The Congress consists almost entirely of millionaires, the Democrats being slightly richer than their Republican counterparts.  And history shows us in abundance that different elements of the two groups of millionaires are always vying, over the years, decades, and centuries, to convince us all that they represent us, or different elements of us, the people of this country.  What they’re doing in their efforts to appeal to different segments of society, in effect, is practicing divide and rule politics.  Who they’re trying to divide from whom doesn’t even vary that much over the years, though the dynamics evolve somewhat.

What I’d most want to get across, if I were ever to have access to your attention, is that the reason they need to divide us is because they can’t afford to have us be united.  And the reason they can’t afford to see us united is because they don’t rule on our behalf, they rule on behalf of the 1%.  Neither party represents us, the working class majority, of whatever color or gender.  And Trump doesn’t, either, no matter how much he may succeed in painting himself as an outsider or a rebel of some kind.

What the elite from both ruling parties want is division.  What they want is for us to shout at each other and shoot each other.  They will try in so many different ways to make that happen.  They — and their friends who run the major social media platforms, with their conflict algorithms, and their friends in the corporate media, whether CNN or Fox — will do their best to reduce the debate to some people calling others fascists who love racism, while others are called communists who hate freedom, or anarchists who love chaos and arson.

What they fear most, I would conclude, is a united working class.  Or, to put it another way, a working class that is aware of its own existence.  Or, to put it another way, class solidarity, and especially international class solidarity.  What they love most are pawns.

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The Solutions Are Obvious, But It Will Take A Revolution To Win Them

The United States has reached a severe crisis point and the next few months will determine how we address it. The COVID-19 pandemic is raging across the country and some areas are struggling to provide enough hospital beds and staff to care for people. The recession is deepening as unemployment benefits and the moratorium on evictions run out. Yet, members of Congress cannot even agree to pass a weak version of the CARES Act they passed last March when the situation was less serious.

This is our moment. This is the time to make demands that the government take action to address the people’s needs. Even the most ‘progressive’ members in Congress  have shown they are unwilling to do more than talk about the crisis. They refuse to use what little power they have to confront their leadership. It is up to us to bring the crisis to members of Congress and demand immediate action.

Twitter

The minor economic recovery that occurred over the summer when businesses started to open back up has faltered. The real number of unemployed people rose in November as hundreds of thousands of people stopped looking for work. On top of that, the crises have gone on for so long that businesses, especially restaurants, are scaling back or closing making the job losses permanent. In fact, 110,000 restaurants have gone out of business this year.

Bill Quigley provides some “tragic facts” about the crisis. Without Congressional action, 87 million workers will lose their sick leave, 30 million people will face eviction and 12 million people will lose their unemployment benefits by the end of the month. The student loan deferment is also set to expire.

Hunger and poverty are rising with 50 million people, including 1 in 4 children, lacking food security. The number of children who are homeless, 1.5 million, is at a record high. And fewer students are applying for college.

Unemployment, homelessness and hunger put people at risk of poor health and death from COVID-19 and other causes. It is all connected and there are obvious solutions to these crises. The problem is that Congress is refusing to act.

Sarah Lazare points out that Congress had no trouble approving a $740 billion budget for the Pentagon on December 2. She writes, “That we can find the mon­ey for war but not for coro­n­avirus relief expos­es the moral rot at the cen­ter of U.S. pol­i­tics, a rot that must be dug out and expunged if we are to get through this crisis.”

This week, Congress agreed to a one week extension of funding to keep the government open and to give them more time to agree to a COVID-19 relief package. The package currently being discussed is much smaller, just over $900 billion, than the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act passed by the House last May. It would give $300/week in unemployment benefits for 18 weeks and extend the two pandemic unemployment programs, one that targets gig and self-employed workers and the other that extends unemployment benefits. It would provide some funding to small businesses and local and state governments as well as funding for vaccines and health care. It will also extend the eviction moratorium and student loan deferment, give funds to schools and increase food stamps. It will not provide direct payments to people.

The sticking point seems to be that the Republicans are insisting on immunity for businesses from liability for workers being infected with COVID-19 on the job. There have been record numbers of complaints to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) this year by workers who are not being provided with adequate protection on the job. The Democrats are refusing to concede on this provision in the bill, which is far weaker than what is needed.

CNBC.

Project Syndicate reports that scholars who study wealth inequality and its impact on the overall economy are pretty clear about the problems and solutions. The wealthy, who have benefited greatly during the pandemic, hoard most of their money, keeping it out of circulation. The rest of the people spend any money they have out of necessity to cover basics like food and housing, but this doesn’t add up to much when the bottom 80% of people only hold 14% of the wealth.

The consensus is that the best way to stimulate the economy and reduce wealth inequality is to give more money to the bottom 80%. Project Syndicate cites policy recommendations from MIT’s Task Force on the Work of the Future that include taxing the rich, raising the minimum wage and strengthening collective bargaining, and providing government healthcare, free education and more extensive unemployment benefits.

These are similar to demands that many groups are making. This week, taxi drivers from New York to Maryland converged on Washington, DC to demand relief. They rallied at the Capitol and drove around downtown with signs on their cars. Health care workers continue to strike over long hours and lack of protection. Students at Columbia University, the most expensive school in the country, are preparing for a tuition strike to protest student debt. Teachers are also resisting school re-openings. Churches are raising funds to buy up and forgive medical debt.

One demand that is getting a lot of attention is National Improved Medicare for All (NIMA). The Congressional Budge Office came out with a report this week that found NIMA would save $650 billion a year in administrative costs. If it included long term care, it would still save $300 billion. There is a NIMA bill in the House that is pretty good, HR 1384, introduced by Pramila Jayapal.

Jimmy Dore is calling on so-called progressive Democrats who champion NIMA to demand a vote on HR 1384, which has 115 co-sponsors, by threatening not to support Pelosi for Speaker of the House if she refuses. The Democrats will have a slim majority in the House next year, so even if as few as 15 members had the courage to do this, they could force a vote. This would expose whether the Democrats who have run on NIMA and won really mean it. The Congressional Progressive Caucus is the largest caucus in the House. They have the power to stop legislation, but to date, they have refused to use that power.

If there were ever a time to demand NIMA, it is now. At least 14 million more people have lost their health insurance this year, bringing us to similar numbers of uninsured people as there were in 2009 when the health reform process took place. But, sadly, it doesn’t look good. Even the “Squad” in Congress is refusing to go against Pelosi.

People’s Dispatch.

This is why it is up to us to take action. We can’t count on Congress or a Biden-Harris White House to take action to meet our needs. In his most recent article, Chris Hedges calls out the liberal class that called itself “The Resistance” while Trump was in office. Where will that liberal class be in 2021 as the pandemic, recession and right wing violence escalate?

The liberals and those who are funded by Democratic Party-aligned groups will not demand what is needed unless there is a strong left that exposes them and holds them accountable. In fact, groups like the Poor People’s Campaign have already abandoned support for NIMA and are supporting the totally inadequate Biden-Harris healthcare proposal.

To win what we need, we must be clear about what we are demanding. The People’s Agenda is a good place to start. And we must take action in our communities to pressure lawmakers at every level, to withhold our support through strikes, boycotts and other actions, to build networks of mutual aid to sustain us through these crises and to create alternative institutions that are founded in equity and democratic participation. This is what revolution looks like.

Caitlin Johnstone wrote in “In an Insane World, Revolution Is the Moderate Position,” that our demands for putting people and the planet over profits and for respect for human rights are not radical, although the power structure will tell us they are. If we want to defeat the extreme right, we must create a country where all can prosper. It is economic insecurity and the power holder’s blaming certain sectors of society for it instead of taking responsibility that is fueling division and violence.

Johnstone concludes with these wise words:

To live a revolutionary life, you should insist on the normality and mundaneness of your own position. Sanity should not be special and unusual, and we should not participate in the delusion that it is. Let your life be an expression of the common sense ordinariness of revolution.

It is time to take revolution mainstream.

The post The Solutions Are Obvious, But It Will Take A Revolution To Win Them first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Privileged People Complaining About Privileged People

How NPR Divides and Conquers

What is the result when a media outlet does a new story every day about the history of racism in the US, without ever mentioning the history of the multiracial radical labor movement whose white and BIPOC organizers were lynched for fighting for equality and freedom?

I listen to NPR a lot.  I’m not going to go into all the reasons I do this, but there are many, and they are contradictory.  Generally it’s a combination of a desire to know what’s going on from a news source that has actual reporters on the ground, and wanting to know how the liberal elite is spinning everything.  Depending on the stories they’re covering, my nickname for the news outlet changes — Nationalist Petroleum Radio, Nationalist Pentagon Radio, Nationalist Privilege Radio.  The nice young, intersectional crowd of reporters working for NPR did not necessarily sign up to be part of the liberal elite, nor do they know they are part of any elite, nor are they necessarily even being paid very well, even!  But that’s the role they unwittingly play, along with most of their guests.

Wow, you may be wondering, how can you unwittingly be part of a liberal elite, when you’re not even necessarily rich, white, or any of those traditional liberal elite things?  Simple:  you do it by ignoring the elephant in the living room.

It’s an easy elephant to ignore, for a variety of reasons.  Your editors know it’s there — they’ve been around the block, they know what they’re doing and who they’re working for.  Everybody else generally ignores it, either because they don’t see it there with any clarity, or they’re not really given a chance to mention it within their story’s allotted sixty seconds, or because at every turn, growing up in the US or elsewhere, they have been told it’s not about the elephant, it’s about something else.  The favorite standbys for a long time now?  Race, gender, and sexuality.

I’m not now going to name any names, because this isn’t about specific hosts or guests.  Nor do I want to pick an argument with an author who was being interviewed recently whose book I have not read.  I understand how little time they have, and how little can be said within the confines of such an interview.  And it’s not about the interview or the individual, but the overall message communicated by both the format, which issues are often addressed and which aren’t, and the preponderance of privileged people who tend to be involved with mainstream media.

The word “privilege” gets thrown around a lot without being defined, so I just thought I’d join in.  But no, let me define it a little bit more here.  Privileged people — who are unaware of their privilege, which is part of the deal with privilege generally — don’t tend to see people who aren’t privileged.  The non-privileged majority are invisible, unless they are normative, in which case they are visible.  That is, Black men are supposed to be hanging around on the street corner wearing a hoodie, hands in their bulging pockets, looking like they’re up to something illegal.  So when we see a Black man acting like that, we might manage not to block out that image.  When we see white guys engaging in exactly the same behavior, we’re more likely either not to see the same behaviors the same way, or, even more likely, we just don’t see the person at all.

This is because white poverty is institutionally invisible.  Here in Portland, it just doesn’t fit any of the usual narratives.  Oregon was founded as a white homeland, with Portland as its capital city.  The land was given away to white settlers, almost exclusively barring people of color from owning land.  Exclusion laws were on the books for decades afterwards, with both formal and informal forms of institutional racism rife to this day.  That’s all very true, and some aspect of this racist history is now mentioned daily on NPR, as it should be.

Portland was for a long time also one of the main bases of operation for a radical labor union that was explicitly anti-racist and anti-sexist and actively welcomed women and people of color.  The union still exists, and it’s called the Industrial Workers of the World.  You will never hear this union or this union’s radical and transformational local history discussed on NPR.  You will not hear about the lynchings of the white union organizers.  But you will hear about the lynchings of the Black ones now, occasionally.  One lynching fits the racial narrative, the other doesn’t, and is best ignored, as with labor history generally.  Is this absence of labor history on NPR — and PBS — intentional?  You can ask Elsa Rassbach, one of the few directors who managed to address labor history on PBS, before giving up on further efforts and moving to Berlin.  Yes, it’s very intentional.

Given the history of exclusion and extreme racism, why, even after the Vanport flood destroyed the biggest Black community in Portland, even with a vicious police force targeting people of color from before Oregon became a state right up to the present moment, even with all kinds of formal and informal forms of discrimination, did Portland’s Black population continue to grow throughout the latter half of the twentieth century?

The answer is pretty simple.  There were jobs here, to some extent.  That’s why Portland developed a Black neighborhood in the first place.  That’s why most cities did.  Not just a Black population, but a population, period.  This is mainly why people move to cities, whether they suck to live in or not.

And far more importantly, for the purposes of the point I’m making here, why has Portland lost more than half of its Black population between 2000 and 2010 — and many more since then?  Has Portland become a more racist place now than it was in the 1980’s?  If you talk to any person of color who lived in Portland in the 1980’s, I doubt you will find one who will say that it was a great place to live back then.

So, what happened?  What explains this flight of the Black population?

I’m hoping you already know the answer, but if you don’t, you can be forgiven, I suppose, if your main source of news is NPR.

It’s called capitalism.

Portland has lost most of its Black population for the same reason that it has, invisibly, lost most of its working class population generally, that being mostly its white working class population:  because there is no real rent control, we are all subject to the whims of the real estate marketplace and the oligarchs investing their Russian and Norwegian and Texas oil money into the profitable US property and rental markets.

I have seen the Class C apartment complex I have lived in here in Portland since 2007 completely transform, from a place that housed mainly white, Asian and Latinx families, to a place that mainly houses young white people, living together in apartments where each resident is an income-earner, paying their rent, the only way many people can afford to live in cities like Portland anymore, with the multi-generational families forced out.

To the privileged NPR guests lecturing their listeners about unconscious bias and rarely-defined forms of privilege day in and day out, these young people with their parents’ Priuses and their Black Lives Matter bumper stickers are the white people.  The rest are invisible.  The fact that most of the tent-dwellers on the sidewalks are white men is an inconvenient reality best ignored, or referred to in passing as “white poverty” or the “white poor,” as if this group of people is a tiny, insignificant little segment of the population that we can basically sweep under the rug.

White people make up a bit more than half of this country’s population and are the biggest group of people living in poverty as well.  These kids in their Priuses are not representative either of the population as a whole, or of the white population.  The average Black family can’t afford to live in a two-bedroom apartment in Portland.  While the average white family is in a better position to afford the rent in this city, most of them would opt to leave the city and go somewhere where their money goes a lot further in terms of a spacious place to live, if they have any options.  And whether white or Black, that’s what they are doing.  As they leave, the liberal elite increasingly populates the city, turning it into a playground for the rich, like San Francisco, Seattle and New York have largely become.  Which are the white people they are generally referring to when they talk about the displacement of Black Portlanders (or San Franciscans, or Oaklanders, or New Yorkers, etc.) on NPR.

And yes, those rich people are mostly white.  But to say that these people spending $500,000 on a house in north Portland, displacing the Black families that lived there, and putting Black Lives Matter signs on their lawns represent the white population of the country is like saying that the Cosby family represents the Black population.

What is making them leave is the fact that they can’t afford to live here.  What is making them not be able to afford to live here certainly has nothing to do with the invisible white working class families who are also fleeing the city they grew up in in droves, who aren’t even worth mentioning on NPR, almost ever.  Even the privileged people coming in from New York and San Francisco to buy up houses in Portland, even this set isn’t necessarily responsible for causing the chaos and devastation of all of this massive displacement of the white and Black working class of this city.  Because even these yuppie house-flippers didn’t necessarily create this system.  They don’t even necessarily believe in it.  They’re just playing along with the way the system works, with what makes money, doing what we’re all supposed to do in this society, and being “successful.”

Of course, on the upper end of privilege, with the corporations who do the lion’s share of the house-flipping and profit the most from the housing crisis, it’s another matter entirely.  These corporations and their lobbying arms actually created this crisis, that being the housing crisis, and more broadly, the crisis that unregulated capitalism represents, on so many different levels, from the cost of housing to the minimum wage to workplace safety to environmental destruction.

They created this crisis because they run the country.  The “they” I’m talking about are the capitalist elite.  The system they are running is called capitalism, specifically a corrupt and unregulated (or wrongly-regulated) form of capitalism.  This is why Portland is getting whiter.  This is why gentrification is happening.  This is why the working class white and Black populations and the artists and so many other people left or are leaving this city.  The corporate landlord lobby.  The capitalist elite.  That’s the elephant we need to address here.

And we will be, regardless of whether NPR ever does this in any serious or systematic way.  Capitalism itself is making sure of that, by giving us no other options.  But the sooner we can stop over-emphasizing the importance of microaggressions and unconscious bias and stop talking so much about the racial and gender diversity of Biden’s cabinet full of privileged corporate stooges, and talk about the fact that they are a bunch of privileged corporate stooges, the better.  If Black lives really matter, that is, and it’s not all just about appearances.  And by the same token, the sooner we stop pretending that the average white person is this country, or even in Portland, is possibly represented by the privileged elite that can afford to spend $500,000 on a house, the better.

The post Privileged People Complaining About Privileged People first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Past Lives On: The Elite Strategy To Divide and Conquer

“They call my people the White Lower Middle Class these days. It is an ugly, ice-cold phrase, the result, I suppose, of the missionary zeal of those sociologists who still think you can place human beings on charts.  It most certainly does not sound like a description of people on the edge of open, sustained and possibly violent revolt,” wrote the marvelous New York journalist, Pete Hamill in “The Revolt of the White Lower Middle Class” in New York magazine.  He added:

The White Lower Middle Class? Say that magic phrase at a cocktail party on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and monstrous images arise from the American demonology. Here comes the murderous rabble: fat, well-fed, bigoted, ignorant, an army of beer-soaked Irishmen, violence-loving Italians, hate-filled Poles. Lithuanians and Hungarians….Sometimes these brutes are referred to as ‘the ethnics’ or ‘the blue-collar types.’ But the bureaucratic, sociological phrase is White Lower Middle Class. Nobody calls it the Working Class anymore.

He wrote that on April 14, 1969. Yesterday. Little changes.

Transferred from NYC to the middle of the country half a century later, these people are referred to as Trump’s “deplorables.” They come in baskets, as Hillary Clinton said.  And even though they represent nearly half the voting public in the last two presidential elections – 70+ million Americans – their complaints are dismissed as the rantings of ignorant, conservative racists.

Name calling substitutes for understanding. This is not an accident.

Like Hamill, I am a NYC born and bred Irish-American – my working-class Bronx to Pete’s Brooklyn. We both attended the same Jesuit high school in different years. Unlike Hamill, known for his gritty street reporting, because I have been a college sociology professor, I could falsely be categorized as a northeastern liberal intellectual oozing with disdain for those who voted for Trump.  This is false, because, like Hamill, I see it as my intellectual duty to understand what motivates these voters, just as I do with those who voted for Biden.

I didn’t vote for Donald Trump, nor did I vote for Joseph Biden, or Hillary Clinton in 2016.  I am not one of those sociologists Hamill refers to; I use the term Working Class and am acutely aware of the social class nature of life in the U.S.A., where the economic system of neo-liberal capitalism is constructed to try to convince working Americans that the system cares for them, and if they grow disgusted with its lies and inequities and rage against the machine by voting for anyone who seems to be with them (even a super-rich reality TV real estate magnate named Trump who is not with them), they are dumb-ass bigots whose concerns should be brushed off.

The truth is that both the Trump voters and the Biden voters have been taken for a ride.  It is a game, a show, a movie, a spectacle.  It hasn’t changed much since 1969; the rich have gotten richer and the poor, working, and middle classes have gotten poorer and more desperate.  Those who have profited have embraced the fraud.

The Institute for Policy Studies has just released a new analysis showing that since the start of the Covid-19 “pandemic” in mid-March and the subsequent transfer upwards of $5 trillion to the wealthy and largest corporations through the Cares Act, approved 96-0 in the U.S. Senate, 650 U.S. billionaires have gained over a trillion dollars in eight months as the America people have suffered an economic catastrophe.  This shift upward of massive wealth under Trump is similar to Obama’s massive 2009 bailout of the banks on the backs of American workers. Both were justified through feats of legerdemain by both political parties, accomplices in the fleecing of regular people, many of whom continue to support the politicians that screw them while telling them they care.

If the Democrats and the Republicans are at war as is often claimed, it is only over who gets the larger part of the spoils. Trump and Biden work for the same bosses, those I call the Umbrella People (those who own and run the country through their intelligence/military/media operatives), who produce and direct the movie that keeps so many Americans on the edge of their seats in the hope that their chosen good guy wins in the end.

I am well aware that most people disagree with my analysis.  It does seem as if I am wrong and that because the Democrats and their accomplices have spent years attempting to oust Trump through Russia-gate, impeachment, etc. that what seems true is true and Trump is simply a crazy aberration who somehow slipped through the net of establishment control to rule for four years.  To those 146 + million people who voted for Biden and Trump this seems self-evident.  But if that is so, why, despite their superficial differences – and Obama’s, Hillary Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s for that matter – have the super-rich gotten richer and richer over the decades and the war on terror continued as the military budget has increased each year and the armament industries and the Wall Street crooks continued to rake in the money at the expense of everyone else?  These are a few facts that can’t be disputed. There are many more. So what’s changed under Trump?  We are talking about nuances, small changes.  A clown with a big mouth versus traditional, “dignified” con men.

If you were writing this script as part of long-term planning and average people were getting disgusted from decades of being screwed and were sick of politicians and their lying ways, wouldn’t you stop the reruns and create a new show?  Come on, this is Hollywood where creative showmen can dazzle our minds with plots so twisted that when you leave the theater you keep wondering what it was all about and arguing with your friends about the ending. So create a throwback film where the good guy versus the bad guy was seemingly very clear, and while the system ground on, people would be at each other’s throats over the obvious differences, even while they were fabricated.

Variety is necessary.  You wouldn’t want to repeat the film from 2008 when a well-spoken black man came into town out of nowhere to clean up the mess created by the poorly spoken white sheriff who loved war and then the black hero went on to wage war in seven countries while his fans sat contented in the audience loving the show and making believe they didn’t see what was happening on the screen even though their hero jailed whistle blowers and greatly expanded the surveillance state right in front of their eyes.

No, as the years passed, those two guys turned out to be buddies, and their wives hit it off, and a famous photograph appeared of the good guy’s wife hugging the bad guy, which was not a good thing for the script that has the Republicans warring against the Democrats.

A new story line was needed. How about an opéra bouffe, someone suggested, and the rest is history. Or pseudo-history. This is the real matrix. The most sophisticated mind control operation up to this point, with the coronavirus lockdown added to propel it to what the producers hope is a conclusion.

What more can I say?

Billy Joel said it:  “JFK blown away.”

The Towers pulverized. David Ray Griffin told us the truth repetitively.

Minds of this generation destroyed, as Allen Ginsberg said in Howl: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.”

It’s been many generations now.  There has been a form of social madness growing over the decades and it is everywhere now.  Look at people’s faces, if you can see them behind the masks; everywhere the strained and stressed looks, the scared rabbit eyes that you see on the wards of mental hospitals. The look that says: what the fuck has happened as they stare into a blank screen in a tumbling void, to paraphrase Don DeLillo from his new book Silence, where people speak gibberish once their digital world is mysteriously taken down and they wander in the dark.  We are in the dark now, even though the lights and screens are still shining for the time being.

Let those who think I am wrong about Trump and Biden being players in the same show, consider this. If Trump is truly the opponent of the Deep State, the Swamp, the corrupt establishment, he will pardon Julian Assange, Chelsey Manning, and Edward Snowden who have been persecuted by these forces.  He has nothing left to lose as he exits stage right.

The journalist Julian Assange has done more than anyone to expose the sick underbelly of the gangster state, its intelligence and military secrets, its illegal and immoral killings. That is why he has been hounded and locked away for so long. It’s a bipartisan persecution of an innocent man whose only “crime” has been to tell the truth that is allegedly the essence of a democratic society.

Chelsey Manning has also suffered tremendously for exposing the savagery of U.S. military operations.

And Edward Snowden has been forced into Russian exile for telling us about the vast global surveillance systems run by the NSA and CIA to spy on the American people.

Three innocent truth-tellers at war with the Deep-State forces that Donald Trump says he opposes.

If he is what his supporters claim, he will pardon these courageous three.  It’s all in his power. A simple, clear message as he goes out the door. If by the smallest chance he does pardon them, I will be very happy and publicly apologize.  If he doesn’t, as I expect, please don’t say a word in his defense.  My ears will be stuffed with wax.  For he won’t, because, like Biden, he is controlled by the very forces that these truth-tellers have exposed.

But back to the working class “deplorables” that voted for Trump. They aren’t going anywhere.  Their grievances remain. For decades, under Democratic and Republican administrations, their lives have been hollowed out, their livelihoods taken as corporate thieves have ravaged their towns and cities by closing down the factories where they worked and sending them overseas for greater profits. Small farmers have been “liquidated” for agribusiness.

As always, the coastal urbanites have considered rural people stupid, uncouth, and clownish, as the words clown, boor, and villain have all originally meant farmer or countryman or lower-class peasant.  Such hidden etymological social class prejudices have a way of persisting over the years.

Towns and small businesses disappear, traditional values are ridiculed, drug addiction and suicide increase, the fabric of traditions crumble, etc.  This list is long.  The people who voted for Trump feel betrayed; feel like victims. Of course, as Pete Hamill wrote of the NYC white working class in 1969, there are racists among them, and with all racists, they have their reasons, but these reasons are poison and despicable. But overall, these Trump voters are, in Hamill’s words, “actually in revolt against taxes, joyless work, the double standards and short memories of professional politicians, hypocrisy and what he considers the debasement of the American dream.”  Any politician, he added, who leaves these people out of the political equation, does so at a very large risk.  That risk has been growing over the decades.

Yet desperate people do desperate things, and for many Americans these are desperate times.  Everywhere you look, there are long lines at food pantries and soup kitchens.  The unemployment numbers are staggering. Homelessness. Suicides.  Drug and alcohol addictions rising.  Clear signs of social disintegration.  This is true not just in the United States but is happening around the world as neo-liberal economic policies are exacerbated by the widespread lockdowns that has given rise to massive protests worldwide, protests that the corporate press has failed to publicize since doing so would give the lie to their promotions of the lockdowns.

In England, the Mirror newspaper just printed the legendary Australian journalist John Pilger’s article about his 1975 interviews with impoverished English families with this lead:

John Pilger interviewed Irene Brunsden in Hackney, east London about only being able to feed her two-year-old a plate of cornflakes in 1975. Now he sees nervous women queueing at foodbanks with their children as it’s revealed 600,000 more kids are in poverty now than in 2012.

Vast numbers of people are suffering.

Many Trump voters no doubt know that Trump was never going to save them. But he said the right things, and desperation and disgust will grasp onto the slightest will-o’-the-wisp when disbelief in the whole rotten system is widespread.

Let’s not bullshit: everyone knows the game is rigged.

Trump is a liar.

Biden is a liar.

Great Britain’s Boris Johnson is a liar.

Fill in the names of the political charlatans.

The system is built on lies to keep the illusions brightening the screen of the great picture show, what Neil Gabler has rightly called “life the movie.”

Biden voters no doubt desperately hope that we can go back to some semblance of “normal,” even while knowing this is a losing game. Many of them try hard to conceal their true feelings, that their hatred for Trump and their love of living in times when imperialism is concealed as democracy is what they want. They don’t want to know. Concealment of the atrocious underbelly of normal is their hope and desire, even while they too are being fleeced and secretly know that the “new normal” will be far from their restorative dreams.  There are exceptions, of course, true believers who think Biden will significantly change things, but I would say they are a very small minority.  Many Biden voters say they have voted for the “lesser of two evils,” an old, worn-out excuse that in a rigged system will perdure.

Little changes. The past lives on.

Next year’s Academy Awards will be interesting.  A wit I know suggested that perhaps Trump and Biden will be nominees for the Best Actor in a Leading Role and they will tie for the Oscar.  That will be the second time that has ever happened.  The first was in 1932 when Fredric March and Wallace Beery shared the award.  March starred in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Beery in the boxing film, The Champ.

Both winners will be announced as starring in the same film, confusing the audience until it’s named: The American Nightmare.  Then raucous cheering will erupt from the jaded audience.  Dr. Jekyll will embrace Mr. Hyde and the melded Champ will take a bow as he winks for the cameras.

The post The Past Lives On: The Elite Strategy To Divide and Conquer first appeared on Dissident Voice.