Thursday 6 October 2011
by: Henry A. Giroux, Truthout | Op-Ed
We’re young; we’re poor; we’re not going to take it anymore. -Occupy Wall Street chant
Class warfare has once again entered the vocabulary of mainstream national politics, but this time with a strange twist. Right-wing politicians such as Paul Ryan and various high-profile conservative media pundits and corporate-funded think-tank spokespersons have made visible what ruling classes have long tried to bury beneath the discourse of meritocracy and the myth of the classless society – that is, the harsh consequences of class power, hierarchical rule and savage inequality.
According to the ruling elite, the real class war is being waged against the belief in free and unfettered markets, the reign of unchecked capital, a culture of individualism and happiness itself – in spite of the fact that it is precisely these beliefs that serve the interests of Wall Street elites who brought the world to the brink of ruin in 2008. Arthur C. Brooks, the president of the ultra-right American Enterprise Institute, says it all in defending the legitimating and empty ideology of the rich and elites in his comment: “Free enterprise brings happiness; redistribution does not. The reason is that only free enterprise brings earned success.”(1) In this insipid comment, railing against inequality amounts to railing against earned success. But the secret order of politics that haunts this statement is a fear of democracy matched only by a hysteria that fuels an unabated belief in the virtues of a plutocracy and a disdain for democratic ideals.
The appeal to “earned success” and individual entrepreneurial rings hollow given the millions of dollars in bonuses paid to failed CEOs and hedge fund managers and an economic recovery that has only benefited banks. With CEOs taking in millions in salary and bonuses while major corporations are laying off thousands of workers each month, the assertion that an unrestricted market is the only mechanism ensuring one’s hard work pays off appears both disingenuous and desperate. What Brooks willfully omits is that any society in which morality disintegrates into self-interest and cruelty is celebrated as a central element of a market-driven social order has nothing to do with either freedom or democracy.
As thousands of young people are marching against corporate power and rallying in protest against the symbols of Wall Street greed across the United States, the political and economic elites respond by engaging in a form of class warfare and clinging to the celebration of the shark-like culture of casino capitalism, revealing all too clearly their own criminal behavior and how it represents a major threat to American democracy.
Of course, ruling elites have had good reason in the past to discredit or neutralize the concept of class warfare because it made visible vast differences of power and inequality between ruling elites and corporations and just about everyone else, especially the working classes and poor. It also functioned to focus attention on the violence and social costs of ongoing class warfare waged by the rich, along with the human suffering and dire material consequences of such struggles. After all, historically, the concept of class warfare conjures up images of American workers fighting collectively and valiantly to secure fair wages, safe working conditions, decent housing and control over their own labor. And the costs were often high. The struggle for decent working conditions and basic economic and labor rights was often met with the brutal acts of violence on the part of employers, rogue detective agencies and the National Guard.(2) A few historical examples include the Ludlow Massacre in which the Colorado National Guard used a machine gun to fire randomly into the tent city erected by the striking coal miners. Nineteen people were killed.(3) The same script, involving state and corporate violence against workers and their families, also played out in different incidents in the Spring of 1920 in West Virginia in what is known as the Matewan Massacre and the Battle of Blair Mountain. Hoover-type thuggery also resulted in a government attack on what was known as the Bonus Army in the early 1930s in which the Army shot and wounded 55 veterans. These are just a few of the many and more well-known conflicts waged against working people to protect class privilege over the course of the 20th century.