Class War Spurs Violent Clashes in Europe -- Why Are Americans Just Letting the Super Rich Win?
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The great unspoken two words of American political discourse are class war. The moral and political premise of the modern, post-World War II “American Century” is that the U.S. had overcome class divisions and struggle. Everyone, or nearly everyone save the very poor and the very, very rich, was absorbed into a vast, undifferentiated middle class. [See “ The End of the American Century?: Suffering the New Normal,” CounterPunch, September 10-11, 2010.]
The fiction that America is a nation without class, a lie since its inception a half-century ago, gets more and more untenable as actual class struggle daily intensifies. It’s time to accept the simple yet profound fact that America is in the midst of class war – and the super-rich, the American sector of the global oligarchy, is winning.
Class struggle is being explicitly fought out in France and Britain. In France, it is expressed as mass and often-violent resistance, with blood on the streets. In the U.K., it’s being imposed as a ruling class demand for austerity through huge public-sector layoffs, cuts in public services and little overt resistance. In Germany and the U.S., the mediating lubricants of legal niceties and political parties continue to contain and blunt direct class conflict.
The far right throughout the West is the only political tendency engaged in explicit class warfare. Progressive tendencies have been effectively absorbed within the legislative agenda. However, among the far right, politics is seen not merely as an end in itself (i.e., the capture of state power), but as a means to a greater end: the utilization of state power to impose legislative, economic and moral discipline on the body politic.
The Tea Party is a popular movement engaged in (mostly) nonviolent class warfare. It is the voice of the vulnerable Christian white lower- and middle-classes. Their world is in crisis, collapsing around them. Their once-enviable race-based social privileges no longer provide protection against the vicissitudes of corporate capitalism. In response, they have retreated into the secure fortress of rage and aligned with the ideological and moral absolutism promoted by factions of the super-rich, the very sector responsible for their immiseration.
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Class struggle has long been a feature of American political culture. Such battles marked the earliest period of national formation, including the New York Tenant Uprisings of 1766, Shay's Rebellion of 1786 and the Whisky Rebellion in the 1790s. They flared throughout the 19th century, including the Workingmen's Movement of the 1830s and Nat Turner's Revolt in 1831 as well as the post-Civil War populist battles at Haymarket and Homestead in the late 1800s and Coxey's Army of unemployed workers in 1894. They continued throughout the first-third of the 20th century culminating in the veterans’ Bonus March, farmer’s Penny Auctions and CIO strikes of the 1930s.
Class and class war were forcefully suppressed during World War II and effectively disappeared with the integration of union labor and Taft-Hartley legislation following the war. The domestic program of prosperity and anti-communist McCarthyism combined with a foreign campaign of Cold War military intervention and Marshall Plan economic renewal served as a two-pronged bulwark for a revitalized capitalist order.
This new world order’s ideological value system that absorbed class war was articulated by a group of "post-Marxist" liberal intellectuals that included Daniel Bell, Sidney Hook, James Burnham and Irving Kristol. Backed by the CIA’s Congress for Cultural Freedom, they provided the rationale for the American Century. As Bell wrote: "Abundance ... was the American surrogate for socialism."
And abundance America got, at least for a couple of decades following the war. With the onset of the 1970s oil crisis and recession, the American Century began to unravel. By the mid-‘80s, abundance was a thing of the past. As David Bloom, a Harvard economist, warned in 1986: “There has been a thinning of the middle class. … As society becomes more polarized, it has more 'haves' and 'have-nots,' with fewer in between." [Time, November 3, 1986]