We are powerless. The threat of revolution is all we have. Not so long ago we could negotiate but today, established power does not see human needs as a calculation. Yesterday, the corporate/political establishment showed a measure of respect. Today, it is absent. The important message for today is that respect was earned.
We may have some expectation that we are going through a rough patch and things will get back to normal. What is happening however the driving force for production, trade, is and employment has changed its nature. That driving force is capitalism itself. Even if people with power wanted to, it is very likely the greater capitalist system does not have capacity to turn back the clock to restore adequate pensions, decent wages, and a humane social safety net. That is not to suggest these things are out of reach. Under the status quo however, they are.
Another ongoing change is not a change as much as manifestation as a result of the environment in which it operates. In times of luxury and growth, capitalism is naturally liberal. Liberalism facilitates growth and flexibility. During times of scarcity and fierce competition however, capitalism has a distinct and necessary brutality to it. It becomes increasingly fascistic.
While there is no shortage of individuals, organizations, and even nations wanting to alter the system to be more humane, there is an obvious shortage of respect for those with their hand out. On the other hand, any serious discussion of what wealth is, of how it is created and who owns it will get respect. Actually taking steps to restore social programs and public wealth will turn that respect to fear.
The bottom line is wealth is not what they think it is. We create it and they take it. If they have seduced you into believing that they create it, read on.
The Bankruptcy of Reform
Reform minded movements and individuals are barely fighting to increase minimum wages and restore social programs. Our collective powerlessness including the powerlessness of the union movement is obvious. Aside from begging we have no strategy at all. Collective begging that consists of complaining to lawmakers, signing petitions, protesting, and various other means garners no respect, nor should it. These tactics are utterly toothless. Our voices of discontent are not treated with respect and all our good, rational, and compassionate arguments are simply ignored.
Reform had been granted in the past as a result of building class consciousness among citizens. In 1936 and 1937 workers in the United States began sit down strikes all over the country. The Communist Party in the United States reached a membership of 50,000. The capitalist class were insecure. They were terrified of revolution and they were cognizant of the power of poorly fed citizenry. Russia revolted twenty years ago and the same thing could happen again.
It wasn't only Roosevelt and the United States that were concerned with the possibility of revolution. Internationally, intellectuals, economists, politicians and business leaders themselves strategized ways to stem the tide. They found those ways and it was articulated by John Maynard Keynes.
Fear of the citizenry and the possibility they may be attracted to communism, which would end their dream completely, compelled changes to mitigate that risk. Joseph Kennedy said of that time, “In those days I felt and said I would be willing to part with half of what I had if I could be sure of keeping, under law and order, the other half”.
Reasonable middle class expectations are that 'they' will do it again. The posture of the citizen beggar and the dynamics of the master/slave mentality that exists between established power and the rest of us must change and we are responsible to make that change happen. Corporate interests and their politicians have done their part; they have shipped our jobs abroad, they are tearing the social safety net to shreds, and they are proceeding to militarize the globe including domestic police forces. The 1% are clearly as class conscious as any Marxist and have shown absolutely no loyalty to workers, consumers, or nations. Our first great revolutionary act is to simply look.
The mess we are living through is not a matter of evil and greedy people becoming ever more callous as they grow. It is not a matter of capitalists or politicians being evil and selfish. The problem is much more serious. The problem is systemic and even if we jailed all the capitalists and the politicians today, the system would run exactly the same way tomorrow.
The system is rapidly changing due to the nature of capitalism itself. This is an energy that has a revolutionary life of its own. Its nature is dynamic and focused. That focus itself is one large problem for human beings. So is its dynamism.
Notwithstanding the depression and World War 2, past reforms were carried out during a period of relative global stability. Even responses to those world shaking events didn't change the nature of the beast. Its nature has been to evolve faster as it matures and today, it has successfully morphed to an inhumane feeding machine that can in no way be satisfied. Part of this monstrosity is due in part to emerging economies that had not been factors in earlier times. In the past, national capitalisms had some domestic control. When it comes to economic matters that is no longer the case.
A substantial factor that has been changing is its efficiency. The invention of new technologies aimed to increase production is changing the very nature of capitalism and its relationship with human beings. Today, those inventions are rapidly reducing and replacing the need for human input for a given volume of goods produced or services rendered. Paradoxically, these efficiencies have a negative influence on the aggregate real profit margin.
Arguments against neo-liberal policies may conclude that extremists like Thatcher or Reagan have ruined our standard of living. They assume a return to standards and regulations and general sanity will right the ship and so, it is a matter of getting the right politicians elected. Something amiss however. No matter what social democratic party or good guy politician is elected, like Obama, they always govern for the banks and the corporations and against Main Street. It isn't that the politicians are cruel or cowardly as much as politicians do not govern. They merely sit in a given seat and are told what to do. That is a more serious matter than if we were simply dealing with opportunists and self-serving oafs.
The best example of this is Obama's Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton. He may be blamed for the deregulation of international capital when he repealed the Glass–Steagall Act, an Act that was passed in 1933 in response to widespread financial fraud and abuse by investors. Under the Act, banks could take deposits and make loans while brokers could sell securities. No entity could do both due to the obvious conflicts of interest. In 1999 Clinton and the GOP controlled Congress were directed by the big banks to repeal the legislation. We may ask ourselves why a leader of the left side of political spectrum would repeal an act that has been a source of safety and financial security for business and ordinary Americans. And we can look at the current Democratic President of the United States and ask ourselves the similar questions. Again, it isn't personal. These are not necessarily evil people. They are simply immersed in a system they barely understand and they are powerless.
After Glass Steagall was repealed, financiers behaved exactly as they did in the 1920s and 30s. Banks created a system of fraudulent lending and sold packages of dirt to their customers in the form of securities. We can see that in many ways the nature of capitalism is exactly as it was almost a century ago. The differences will be most salient when the inevitable reform movements to come try to repeat history in terms of recreating generous social programs and restoring the old Keynsian order. The New Deal is not only old, it is dead.
As we remain bogged down in economic stagnation (notwithstanding the stock market bubble) and danger of another serious financial crash, reformist economic policies are a logical choice. But where is Obama's New Deal or anything like it? It makes perfect sense. The more spending power the consumer has the more the consumer will demand goods and services and this is naturally good for business. Here we are seven years after the shock of 2008 and our great salvation of reform, of change, the heroic Community Organizer, Constitutional Law Professor and President of the United States cannot do anything to stimulate the economy or, apparently, anything else he wants to do. Obama himself is clear evidence of Presidential castration. If he did build another Hoover Dam and if he repaired public infrastructure in the United States, he would lift America out of its financial misery. Main Street would be hopping again. Yet there is no new Hoover Dam or large infrastructure developments while America's streets and bridges continue to crumble. Instead, there is war. From Main Street, it makes no sense whatsoever. From Wall Street, it makes perfect sense and from there, he is directed not to stimulate the economy.
The Pragmatics of Revolution
There are two aspects to the notion of revolution and depending on the temperament and beliefs of an individual, one is more vital than the other. Those two aspects are sincere proletarian revolution with the aim of taking control of production, distribution, and government. The other is the threat of sincere proletarian revolution. The latter has been a governor in Western nations for the past century and we were not even aware of it. The USSR as well as legions of radicals in the 1930s threatened Western capitalism in the USA and abroad. Leaders of the day were forced to throw crumbs to the peasants lest they revolt.
Today, competition for legitimacy from the USSR has disappeared and we are increasingly dominated by Washington. Pressure on ordinary people stemming from vital human needs will continue to increase and at some point a critical mass will be unable to take it anymore. Revolutionary movements will spring up. Although that may seem remote and obscure, there is no overestimating the fickleness of crowds with starving children.
Until that threat is real, until we have a critical mass calling for full revolution against capitalism, we will remain weak, pathetic, and servile as we beg for table scraps from the omnipotent master. If you'd like some crumbs, you ask. If you want the whole cake, you take it. If you want reform, demanding the whole cake might not be a bad idea.
Wealth distribution from the 1% to the rest of us seems like a logical remedy. Problems with that as a remedy are deep however. First of all, the wealth owned by the 1% is empty of substance. If they had to cash it in it wouldn't be available. It is mirage created by bankers and the IMF and its rot will soon be in full view when the stock market bubble bursts and the whole illusion comes crashing down.
Real wealth is usable stuff or services. Money is merely a representation of that wealth. Wealth is created when minerals are removed from the ground, when timber is cut and when fish are caught. It is created when we manufacture, when we cure the ill, and when we build a bridge. And it is ordinary human beings that create that wealth. We seem to think we need our masters to tell us what to do; when to build bridges, when to manufacture medicine for human suffering, when to work and when to beg. The most revolutionary of all realizations is that we do not need the investors. We can build and distribute all we want and need. Simply seeing the truth of that statement is potent and it is revolutionary.
As long as we remain mired in out master/slave mentality we will not be anything more than beggars and slaves.
Look upon hard core radicals with the respect they deserve. Anarchists and communists and left wing radicals of all stripes will demand, they won't ask, what is rightfully the property of the people. It is the threat they present to the comfortable bourgeois nest that forces change. Begging is neither helpful nor respectable.
The first step here is to understand the nature of wealth.
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|Liaquat Ali Khan|