Obama suggests (I paraphrase of course) “ok, let’s cut Medicare and Social Security to get rid of the deficit, but at the same time let’s start taxing the millionaires at the same levels we did before Bush”. The Republicans cry out “It’s class warfare!”. Obama strikes back: “It’s not class warfare, it’s common sense”. Mitt Romney thinks the wall-street occupation is “dangerous”. He calls it “class warfare”.
Of course it’s class warfare. Somewhere, probably on a sign at a labor rally in the 20’s or 30’s, I have seen a sign saying “They only call it class warfare when we fight back.”. Finally, after some 30 years of brutal class warfare, America’s beleaguered and beaten working class has begun to awaken and react. In a desperate attempt to rally the fear of communism Republicans are crying out class warfare. Both Republicans and Democrats pay lip-service to some ephemeral concept they call the “middle class”, which has all but disappeared from the American landscape. If you look at their actions however, both the Republicans and Democrats are defending the interests of the ownership classes. Obama just wants them to make small gesture of compromise, so he can effectively convince us (the working classes) that it is not class warfare.
To properly understand the battle-lines here, we need to understand that the class lines are not between the middle class, upper class, and lower class. These are disgusting terms on principle, and aren’t helpful in framing discussions and solutions. The true class lines are between the working class and the owning class. While there is some merit to using terms like “moneyed elites” to describe the principle antagonists in this conflict, I prefer the ownership class. This is the group of people who believe they should make their income, their living, by virtue of owning things. Once the owning classes owned slaves. Then they owned factories and businesses. In both these cases there was at least a minimal interest in protecting the value of their capital: keeping their slaves, and later their factories and wage slaves alive and healthy enough to provide them with lifestyles and prestige they enjoyed. Now they own capital, and in today’s age of mobile capital, there is little to no interest in protecting these working classes, and boy does it show.
We need to construct a society in which managers are recognized as another form of working class, working to keep social structures and industries functioning. They should be payed their worth, which might be a little more than a good janitor (10 times? 12 times?) — but certainly not 500 times the value of the work done by the scientists, engineers, and skilled laborers producing the actual products resulting from their labors.
Through a happy accident of history, we in America have a relatively democratic form of government, which gives us, the citizenry a certain amount of power to control how our society has been organized. For many years our country became more and more democratic, thanks to the hard work and sometimes bloody sacrifices of working classes. It’s been all downhill since Reagan though, whether Democrats or Republicans were steering things. There have always been at least two mechanisms of decision making in America, the democratic principle (one person one vote), and the capitalist one (one dollar one vote). Since Reagan the nation has moved, sometimes faster sometimes slower, in the direction of capitalism and away from democracy. Things have gotten so critical now that we have taken inspiration from Egypt, and attempt to bring democracy to the USA.
So I say bravo. Yes it’s class warfare. Yes we are fighting back. It’s those of us who work for a living — whether we sit at a desk or stand at a workbench, against those who collect dividends off the labor of others. We are fighting for the principle of democratic processes, over the principle of financial processes deciding the course of human progress. The political class is far too allied with the owning classes. Capital plays far too large a role in our electoral processes, which have never been sufficiently democratic in the first place. In our workplaces (for those of us fortunate enough to have work) where we spend the majority of our waking hours, democratic principles scarcely play a role. Wall street however plays a very large and direct role, regardless of where you live.
I live in Switzerland, where I enjoy the fruits of a democracy much stronger and more direct than America has enjoyed since the white man wiped out the Iroquois. If my heart and courage were strong enough to follow my convictions, I would fly to New York and at least stay till my vacation time ran out (which is 5 weeks a year, imagine that!). Thus far however I am too much of a coward. I am afraid of losing the comfort and privilege I enjoy, even though I know you, not the owners of my employers, are the ones defending that comfort. So I apologize for my cowardice.
All of you participating in the American spring, my hat is off to you. I feel guilt and shame that I am not with you in body, but I am with you in spirit.