Let’s Get This Class War Started
Posted on Oct 20, 2013
By Chris Hedges
“We Americans are not usually thought to be a submissive people, but of course we are,” Wendell Berry writes. “Why else would we allow our country to be destroyed? Why else would we be rewarding its destroyers? Why else would we all—by proxies we have given to greedy corporations and corrupt politicians—be participating in its destruction? Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us. How do we submit? By not being radical enough. Or by not being thorough enough, which is the same thing.”
The rise of an oligarchic state offers a nation two routes, according to Aristotle. The impoverished masses either revolt to rectify the imbalance of wealth and power or the oligarchs establish a brutal tyranny to keep the masses forcibly enslaved. We have chosen the second of Aristotle’s options. The slow advances we made in the early 20th century through unions, government regulation, the New Deal, the courts, an alternative press and mass movements have been reversed. The oligarchs are turning us—as they did in the 19th century steel and textile factories—into disposable human beings. They are building the most pervasive security and surveillance apparatus in human history to keep us submissive.
This imbalance would not have disturbed most of our Founding Fathers. The Founding Fathers, largely wealthy slaveholders, feared direct democracy. They rigged our political process to thwart popular rule and protect the property rights of the native aristocracy. The masses were to be kept at bay. The Electoral College, the original power of the states to appoint senators, the disenfranchisement of women, Native Americans, African-Americans and men without property locked most people out of the democratic process at the beginning of the republic. We had to fight for our voice. Hundreds of workers were killed and thousands were wounded in our labor wars. The violence dwarfed the labor battles in any other industrialized nation. The democratic openings we achieved were fought for and paid for with the blood of abolitionists, African-Americans, suffragists, workers and those in the anti-war and civil rights movements. Our radical movements, repressed and ruthlessly dismantled in the name of anti-communism, were the real engines of equality and social justice. The squalor and suffering inflicted on workers by the oligarchic class in the 19th century is mirrored in the present, now that we have been stripped of protection. Dissent is once again a criminal act. The Mellons, Rockefellers and Carnegies at the turn of the last century sought to create a nation of masters and serfs. The modern corporate incarnation of this 19th century oligarchic elite has created a worldwide neofeudalism, where workers across the planet toil in misery while corporate oligarchs amass hundreds of millions in personal wealth.
Class struggle defines most of human history. Marx got this right. The sooner we realize that we are locked in deadly warfare with our ruling, corporate elite, the sooner we will realize that these elites must be overthrown. The corporate oligarchs have now seized all institutional systems of power in the United States. Electoral politics, internal security, the judiciary, our universities, the arts and finance, along with nearly all forms of communication, are in corporate hands. Our democracy, with faux debates between two corporate parties, is meaningless political theater. There is no way within the system to defy the demands of Wall Street, the fossil fuel industry or war profiteers. The only route left to us, as Aristotle knew, is revolt.
It is not a new story. The rich, throughout history, have found ways to subjugate and re-subjugate the masses. And the masses, throughout history, have cyclically awoken to throw off their chains. The ceaseless fight in human societies between the despotic power of the rich and the struggle for justice and equality lies at the heart of Fitzgerald’s novel, which uses the story of Gatsby to carry out a fierce indictment of capitalism. Fitzgerald was reading Oswald Spengler’s “The Decline of the West” as he was writing “The Great Gatsby.” Spengler predicted that, as Western democracies calcified and died, a class of “monied thugs” would replace the traditional political elites. Spengler was right about that.
“There are only two or three human stories,” Willa Cather wrote, “and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.”
The seesaw of history has thrust the oligarchs once again into the sky. We sit humiliated and broken on the ground. It is an old battle. It has been fought over and over in human history. We never seem to learn. It is time to grab our pitchforks.
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