In Gulliver's Travels the tiny Lilliputians attacked the much larger Gulliver while he was sleeping and tied him to the ground with thousands of threads. In a similar way the ruling elite have tied the working class in bondage. Small in number but great in power, the elite have designed myriad mechanisms of control to hold the much larger working class down and force it to work for them. These include institutions such as mainstream politics, media, schools, labor unions, police, courts, military, and patriarchal gender roles. They also include emotionally laden concepts such as rugged individualism, a false image of socialism, and the very way we conceive of social class.
This last, the encultured view of ourselves, robs us of our class identity. Very few of us consider ourselves working class. The term has been made to seem a musty relic of the nineteenth century, synonymous with lower class, a disreputable band of losers who are to be feared and perhaps pitied, but certainly not to be identified with. Instead we are offered a hierarchy of many classes: upper, upper middle, middle, lower middle, and last and certainly least, the lumpen lower. Within these we are fragmented further by conflicting differences: ethnic, religious, gender, life style. We're supposed to identify with our niche and our job and to strive to move up or at least not slip down in the hierarchy. But more and more of us are slipping down, losing the few securities we had. In our bewildered anger we find allies only within our isolated niche, so our struggles are ineffective.
Almost all of us are in fact working class. Everyone in the world who has to work for someone else for the essentials of living is working class. Only when we join together in solidarity will we succeed.
The elite have also fragmented us geographically. The most exploited are far away from the centers of power and thus invisible to us except for media images of illegal aliens storming our borders or insurgents attacking our soldiers. They live under the heel of authoritarian governments held in power by the rich nations and are forced to work under deplorable conditions. The wealth extracted from their labor has enabled the corporations to pay their employees in the home country better wages, thus minimizing discontent here and stimulating consumption of their products.
That economic arrangement is changing, however, as global competition intensifies. Selling in the world market has become more important than selling in the home country. Competing globally requires low prices, so corporations are slashing wages and benefits. The international working class is being leveled. Our task now is to unite and overthrow the elite that rules us all.
This elite is composed of many nationalities and has many internal conflicts. They even make war on each other when economics demands it. But they always recognize their overriding interests as a class, and they will do everything in their considerable power to defend those interests. We, the workers of the world, need to recognize and defend our own class interests with as much determination as our rulers.
They have designed a political system in the USA that ensures their power monopoly. The candidates of both major parties represent their interests. Through winner-take-all elections, ballot-access laws, and slanted media coverage, they effectively exclude alternatives.
To break free of their political control and build genuine democracy, we must delegitimize in particular the Democratic Party, which exists to channel potentially radical discontent into dead-end streets. The Democratic Party is the graveyard of social movements, capturing people's hopes for fundamental changes, then burying them. It produces only superficial reforms that strengthen capitalism.
Each of us should examine the parties and organizations on the left, find one that matches our orientation, and actively support it. Just being angry at the system isn't enough. Unless we are organized and militant, a viable alternative to the capitalist parties won't emerge. The best program I've found is the Socialist Equality Party's: http://www.wsws.org .
Labor unions, like the Democratic Party, have become merely reformist. They have been purged of any anti-capitalist leadership and now serve the same function on the economic front that the Democrats serve on the political front: to convince the working class to accept the dictates of capital. Union leadership collaborates with employers to worsen the conditions of their members. They have become functionaries of capitalism and are richly rewarded for it. Workers are going to have to build an independent base of power that will throw out this bureaucracy and militantly confront bosses worldwide.
The reformism pushed by the Democratic Party and the labor unions is reinforced by the liberal media. They foster the idea that the system is basically good but just has some problems that need to be fixed. This is appealing because it's easy. Instead of revolution to replace the system, we just need to repair it.
Reforms have in the past improved a few conditions. Social Security helped stave off abject poverty in old age, and Medicare helped protect a family's savings from catastrophic health costs. From the 1950s to the '70s unions were able to force through higher wages and better working conditions in many industries. But these hard-fought reforms are being reversed now because of capitalism's need to reduce prices to compete with emerging industrial powers such as China and India. The pressure of international competition is being shifted onto us, the workers, and the Democrats and unions are implementing that. In this new economic reality, reformism has become a coward's dream, a way of avoiding the unpleasantness of protracted struggle. We need to abandon its delusion and prepare to fight for fundamental changes that will replace oligarchic capitalism with democratic socialism.
Another thread that binds us is the image of socialism that has been burned into our brains. We are continually persuaded that it means brutal dictatorship, concentration camps, no freedom, a slave state. To counter this, we need to condemn the regimes of the Soviet Union and China and point out that they weren't socialist. The totalitarian tradition in those cultures kept them from achieving anything close to real socialism. The government took over as the exploitative boss, and the workers had little power. Real socialism means economic democracy, where we decide together how our economic life will be organized. It puts the resources and productive capacity of the world in the hands of its people, who use them to meet human needs rather than to generate private profits for a few owners.
We are educated to serve the system: to be obedient, to respect authority, to fit into a hierarchy. We are channeled into learning skills the corporations need, and our labor has become just another commodity. Our deepest interests and talents often remain undeveloped, unrecognized even by ourselves. This won't change until students, parents, teachers, and other workers come together and educate one another to take power.
The mass media exist to control the masses by shaping our perceptions of reality. The pap they feed us switches off our brains, so we can't analyze society as a system. Instead of thought, we are offered a dazzling array of personal emotions and sensory stimulation to distract us from the bleak reality of our lives.
Through entertainment and news the media fixate us on physical violence, so we don't perceive the structural violence that causes it. We get lurid, fear-arousing accounts of violence committed by ghetto youths and Muslim guerrillas accompanied with commentaries calling for tough measures to combat these vicious berserkers. We get no accounts of the structural violence of poverty and oppression that capitalism and imperialism have created there. It's this built-in structural violence that generates the physical violence.
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