This has been the question that keeps popping up. Withe every relivation of wrong doing by the federal government, states, corporations and the financial sector – it appears as though the population just keeps taking it on the chin. Stiff upper lip and carry on.
Douglas Kihn on Truthout gives some reasons and I will add some of my own as well. First of all a truth – unless you actually own the company, you are working for it.
“If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles . . . if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” These are the words of Sūn Zǐ, a 6th century BCE Chinese general, military strategist, and author of The Art of War, an immensely influential ancient Chinese book on military strategy.
All fighting is the same. Self-knowledge and knowledge of the enemy confer on the fighter the outlines of a winning strategy, based on the best utilization of available weapons of offense and defense.
The majority of Americans, unknowingly, are members of the working class, AKA the proletariat, and will be fighting for the kind of socialism in which sharing, cooperation, volunteerism, and wellness replace the drive for individual profits, competition, ego, and the desire for power over others. Most Americans would like to see an end to global poverty, war, and injustice, and one day, we shall discover that the means to this end involves the social ownership and democratic control of the world’s wealth. Only with this in place can the benefits of that wealth find their way back to the vast majority – the bottom two-thirds of the economic ladder.
This is one thing that escapes the American conscientiousness. Even if you are a well payed engineer or manager. Yet those in these types of positions do not see themselves this way. They see them selves as special and above those who are laborers and crafts people and what not.. That there have been historically those who have collectively with others fought back successfully.
In 509 BCE, the Roman people overthrew the last king and established a republic, which was composed of three socioeconomic classes: the patricians, landed aristocratic families who owned and controlled the wealth, did no physical labor, and made all of the decisions; slaves, who performed forced labor in the fields and the homes; and the plebeians, the Roman proletariat who served the Republic as soldiers, shopkeepers, crafts people, skilled and unskilled workers, and small farmers.
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A more recent example would be the phenomenon of Polish Solidarity, whose full name is “Independent Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarnosc.” At the time, Poland was a Stalinist workers’ state with one owning class – the working class – and a bureaucratic caste managing and usurping wealth and privileges, much as some corrupt union officials today are make decisions and live well while the silent rank and file struggles.
Solidarity emerged on 31 August 1980 at the Gdańsk Shipyard. It was the first non-governmental trade union in a Warsaw Pact country. This very large union reached 9.5 million members – 1/3 of the total working age population of Poland – before its September 1981 Congress.
Soooo…why have Americans been sitting back and just watching HBO ? Well here is the author’s list of reasons.
1. Lack of class consciousness. This is the single most important obstruction blocking the road to a successful fightback. The terms capitalist class and working class have been completely obliterated by the Orwellian Newspeak of American discourse. Americans are burdened with a peculiar and spurious definition of class. In the post-World War II textbooks and mass media, class has suddenly and curiously become synonymous with income level. When class is confused with income level, political self-identity becomes entirely connected to the selfish accumulation of personal wealth. This is the game played by the ruling rich. Workers cannot play that game and expect to create any kind of class solidarity. As in the case of the Roman plebs and Polish workers, class is what unites the toiling majority and solidarity is our most potent weapon.
This I think is the main point right here. Americans have been propagandized into believing that “Anyone can become a member of the ruing class if only they would work hard enough at it.” Along with that is the old canard of “Those who are worse off, it’s their own damn fault.“ What is interesting is that regardless of their economic status, they rarely see any financial problems they are having as their responsibility and almost never blame those in charge except the government. Not their bosses or employers or Wall Street. But they will oft time blame those underneath them economically for “stealing their hard earned money.”
2. The bad taste left in the collective mouth by the Stalinist experiment. When the Soviet Union finally collapsed of its own massive internal contradictions in 1989, capitalism had lost its best defensive weapon against socialist revolution. After all, nobody wants to live in a totalitarian police state. It has been a quarter-century since that momentous event and still working people are leery of the socialist goal, not yet realizing the difference between top-down socialism and bottom-up socialism. Totalitarianism has been relentlessly associated with all forms of socialism by the big business press and their educational system, while the democratic aspects of the Cuban revolution remain a big secret – like the elephant in the room that everyone tries to ignore.
Except that neither the Soviet Union or Cuba or China were communist. There has never been a communal nation state and these states were only barely socialist. Just ask anyone who actually lived there. They were/are state capitalist. Even Lenin said that the Soviet Union would not be communist as he did not think it would work. But you would have a very hard time convincing people today that communist meme was a major load of crap.
Now in this part the author also has his doubts about cooperatively run businesses – at least on a large scale. Personally I am at a wait and see on this.
3. Fossilized, bureaucratic unions. American labor unions need to be thoroughly rebuilt from the bottom up. In periods of general retreat such as we find ourselves in today, the likelihood is greater that elected leaderships will put their own interests first, ahead of the interests of the shell-shocked membership. Their jobs depend on defending the existence of the unions while at the same time not confronting the dominance of the ruling class – not rocking the boat. This middle-man strategy leads to the ruthless extermination of genuine fightbacks and the inevitable steerage of working class aspirations into the harmless arena of electoral politics – and specifically the Democratic Party. All electoral efforts are aimed at reform – improving capitalism – and away from any real challenge to the bosses’ profits or their for-profit structure.
The truth is that union bosses to very well under capitalism and have no motivation what so ever to have it changed. Just read some history of the Teamsters.
4. Capitalist electoral politics. Voting is an important right that must be jealously defended. However, there are a hundred-and-one methods that the ruling class can and does employ to make certain that pro-capitalist candidates will always win their elections. These days, scores of Western-supported tyrannies around the world hold “elections” which they always win, such as the recently fallen Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt, to name just one notorious example.
Capitalism and politics have been in bed together in this country from the very beginning. Best government money can buy as they say. See George Carlin.
5. Arbitrary divisions of the proletariat. Nationalism, sexism, racism, and xenophobia serve the interests of the ruling class in a big way. These major divisions prevent the formation of solidarity, the most potent weapon in the working class arsenal. “Divide and conquer” has ever been the strategy of ruling minorities, because they know in the dark recesses of their hearts that sufficient numbers will defeat their lawyers, guns, and money.
- The nation-state is purely an invention of 15/16th century capitalism, used by the investor class to protect their profit-making abilities. The tribes, city-states, and regional states that preceded the nation-state eventually gave way to the approximately 195 national governments that currently keep humanity divided against itself.
Working class politics begins with the world. The disasters we face today – poverty, war, climate change, disease, and the ever-present threat of nuclear holocaust – are planetary in scope and require global solutions and an “earthling consciousness.” This means that the concept of Amerika can no longer retain its religious hold on people’s loyalties, and that working people must stop taking responsibility for the concerns and crimes of the ruling rich. Working people will learn to avoid using the first-person plural pronouns of “we,” “us,” and “our” when referring to the capitalist government and military, (we invaded Iraq, we must fix our economy, they hate us for our freedoms, and other inanities), and instead use these pronouns when referring to our class and our human species.
This is also a biggy. Nationalism, sexism, racism, and xenophobia trumps class-ism with a large section of the population. At least the white section of the population. The Trayvon Martin. case is a perfect example. And their are many, many more. It is what it is.
6. The capitalist propaganda machine. The big-business media and educational system are organs of the capitalist order whose functions are to make a profit, while keeping the majority of us misinformed, confused, and distracted. Their message to us is loud and clear: We are “consumers” who should only be concerned with earning money, spending money, and avoiding politics.
The proletariat will need to cast a skeptical eye on this propaganda while developing its own informational and educational vehicles that will promote the interests of workers. Defending press freedoms and free speech and opposing censorship of all kinds will be crucial in this process.
And because it’s not declared as “state run” but “private”, people believe it’s on the level. Even though it media here has always parroted the government and business line. Any program that attacked the powers that be got a swift heave ho. See That Was The Week That Was and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
7. The American security state. The ruling class as a whole would prefer to maintain their power and privileges here and abroad through non-violent means, using electoral politics and a steady stream of disinformation. It’s easier. But these are not easy times for them or us.
As the crisis of capitalism drags on, fightbacks will increase in quantity and quality. The oligarchy will be tempted to use every repressive weapon in its arsenal to instill terror and a sense of hopelessness and disorientation in its adversary, the international working class. These terror weapons include cop harassment and violence, repressive laws, frame-ups, prisons, kidnappings, the use of torture, assassinations, private goon squads, and military invasions and occupations. The tallest nail gets hammered down.
So as long as Americans can drive home in their Kias and watch Desperate Housewives on the flat screen TVs in the comfort of central A/C, there is little motivation to take action. However if the cable and power should fail for any length of time …..