How to start a class war in 21st century America
Although this may come as a shock to some on the right, Barack Obama is not a Socialist. Like, really not a Socialist. Had you ever met and talked to an actual Socialist, you’d get that. Barack Obama is what the rest of the world would deem a center-right politician.
For all intents and purposes, I am a socialist. I veer between Libertarian Socialist for idealistic purposes (think Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn), and Democratic Socialist for practical purposes (think Bernie Sanders). I am way, way, way far to the left of Barack Obama. This is how I know he is not a Socialist. He is very, very much a Capitalist.
Yet this very obvious fact is drowned out by the histrionic screams of “OBUMMER IS A MOOSLIM SOSHALIST!” day in and day out. Why might that be?
I have some thoughts.
Whether you agree with him or not, Karl Marx was a very smart man. To overlook his body of work entirely, because one is so very devoted to America and Capitalism is really quite ignorant, and may cause you to go around calling people Marxists who are not actual Marxists.
He postulated that class struggle was the impetus for the creation of each economic system throughout history. The struggle between nobles and slaves led to the feudal system, the struggle between lords and serfs gave way to Capitalism. The class struggle of Capitalism–the bourgeoisie and the proletariat (the owner and the worker)–would lead, he predicted, to Socialism. Which would then, eventually, evolve into a stateless Communist utopia.
Now, Marx is right. When you have a bunch of really, really unhappy people, people whose labor is exploited, people who can’t feed, clothe or house themselves, shit is gonna go down eventually. You can’t expect a huge subsection of the population to be totally miserable for very long, particularly when a small (and thus easily beheadable) percentage of that population is living so lavishly.
But America wanted to avoid a class war and hold on to Capitalism, as did many other countries in Europe. So, what they did was implement some socialistic policies here and there to keep the proletariat class reasonably comfortable. If they were reasonably comfortable, if they had food, shelter, housing, security–if they had jobs that could earn them a decent living, if it seemed like they had a decent chance at transcending class through education and hard work–if they weren’t scared for their lives–it might just stave off a class war.
So, in America, we had the GI Bill, Social Security, Food Stamps, TANF, a minimum wage, unions, a 40-hour work week, Medicare, Medicaid, public schools etc. Other countries, particularly in Europe, went further, setting up free health care for all citizens, higher minimum wages and stronger labor laws than we have here. Yes, there was some compassion involved here, of course. Of course there were people who just wanted things to be better for the least well off among us. But those people are very rarely in the majority in government, and there were many others who agreed to these programs out of fear of a class war.
Those fears are less urgent now than they once were. The Cold War resulted in most Americans fearing Socialism and embracing Capitalism fervently. However, one must remember that Marx never called for anyone to set up a Socialist government. It was never a call to action. He simply said that one day it would evolve and that it would be the natural result of class conflict between the rich and the poor coming to a head.
Now, I get that many on the right would desperately love to see all these social problems abandoned, post-haste. They want all their money to be their money, and they don’t want to have to “share” it with the people they view as lesser. They want to be able to take advantage of every advantage afforded them. They want the “freedom” to be rich beyond their wildest dreams and for everyone to cheer them on. They don’t want their “pockets picked.” They don’t want to subsidize people they’ve pegged as lazy rather than desperate.
They scream that we are inciting a class war every time we ask to raise the minimum wage or make things better for the poor. They scream “class war” every time we criticize the insanely wealthy, or suggest that the insanely wealthy do more.
Whenever I’ve asked an Ayn Rand/Austrian School Capitalist what their ideal economy would look like (they get super mad if you mention Somalia), they’ve said “The Industrial Revolution.” What they don’t get is that it was the Industrial Revolution that first caused people to turn towards Socialism in the first place. They don’t get that lusting after a society where the poor are fine with being exploited and miserable is far more “utopian” than any leftist has ever dreamed of being.
A war requires at least two participants. The rich are the ones waging war against the poor in this country. They keep poking and prodding, and poking and prodding. Demanding more work for less money each year. Productivity goes up, wages stay stagnant and only the executives and stockholders rake in the profits. Unions disappear, pensions disappear, reasonable career options for people who can’t afford a good college disappear. It goes on and on. People become miserable. They look at the upper classes, and they think to themselves, “Did this CEO really earn that golden toilet seat? Or were the odds stacked in his favor from the beginning?”
You cannot keep a large portion of the country in misery and expect that they will just accept it. People like me, people who point out iniquity, are not the ones you have to worry about in the long run. The ones you have to worry about are the ones who are actually miserable. The ones you are making miserable with your greed and your All-American selfishness. Remember—desperate people do desperate things, miserable people do miserable things, and hungry people do hungry things.
When I was heavily involved in organizing and activism in college, many of the people I worked with said we were actually better off with Republicans in charge–in terms of the end justifying the means. Because people would be so horrified by what they did–starting wars, screwing the poor, etc. etc. that they would naturally revolt and then we’d all be living in a glorious, post-revolution utopia somehow. “After the revolution” was something I heard a lot. I never agreed with that, because I very much believe that violent revolutions create violent societies. Because I believe that we can do better without that being necessary.
If you want to start a class war in this country, the fastest way to do that is to let the rich do whatever the hell they want. Let them continue betting that people will default on their loans, that small companies will fail, that people will lose their homes. Let them keep their wages and benefits at the bare minimum. Let people lose their life savings over hospital bills from a traffic accident. Take away the safety nets that keep them from hitting rock bottom. Let your laissez-faire freak flag fly.
Just don’t say we didn’t warn you.