Dec 18, 2013
Power Concedes Nothing Without a Demand
Posted on Mar 14, 2011
By Chris Hedges
“At one time in the U.S. in the mid-nineteenth century, a hundred and fifty years ago, working for wage labor was considered not very different from chattel slavery,” Chomsky told David Barsamian. “That was not an unusual position. That was the slogan of the Republican Party, the banner under which Northern workers went to fight in the Civil War. We’re against chattel slavery and wage slavery. Free people do not rent themselves to others. Maybe you’re forced to do it temporarily, but that’s only on the way to becoming a free person, a free man, to put it in the rhetoric of the day. You become a free man when you’re not compelled to take orders from others. That’s an Enlightenment ideal. Incidentally, this was not coming from European radicalism. There were workers in Lowell, Mass., a couple of miles from where we are. You could even read editorials in the New York Times saying this around that time. It took a long time to drive into people’s heads the idea that it is legitimate to rent yourself. Now that’s unfortunately pretty much accepted. So that’s internalizing oppression. Anyone who thinks it’s legitimate to be a wage laborer is internalizing oppression in a way which would have seemed intolerable to people in the mills, let’s say, a hundred and fifty years ago. … [I]t’s an [unfortunate] achievement [of indoctrination in our culture].”
Our consumer society and celebrity culture foster a frightening historical amnesia. We chatter mindlessly about something called the “American Dream.” And now that the oligarchic elite have regained control of all levers of power, and that dream is being exposed as a cruel hoax, we are being shoved back into the cage. There will be hell to pay to get back to where we were.
Slick public relations campaigns, the collapse of public education—nearly a third of the country is illiterate or semiliterate—and the rise of amoral politicians such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who posed as liberals while they sold their souls for corporate money, have left us largely defenseless. The last vestiges of unionized workers in the public sector are reduced to protesting in Wisconsin for collective bargaining—in short, the ability to ask employers for decent working conditions. That shows how far the country has deteriorated. And it looks as though even this basic right to ask, as well as raise money through union dues, has been successfully revoked in Madison. The only hope now is more concerted and militant disruptions of the systems of power.
The public debate, dominated by corporate-controlled systems of information, ignores the steady impoverishment of the working class and absence of legal and regulatory mechanisms to prevent mounting corporate fraud and abuse. The airwaves are saturated with corporate apologists. They ask us why public-sector employees have benefits—sneeringly called “entitlements”—which nonunionized working- and middle-class people are denied. This argument is ingenious. It pits worker against worker in a mad scramble for scraps. And until we again speak in the language of open class warfare, grasping, as those who went before us did, that the rich will always protect themselves at our expense, we are doomed to a 21st century serfdom.
The electronic and much of the print press has become a shameless mouthpiece for the powerful and a magnet for corporate advertising. It makes little effort to give a platform to those who without them cannot be heard, instead diverting us with celebrity meltdowns, lavish lifestyle reports and gossip. Legitimate news organizations, such as NPR and The New York Times, are left cringing and apologizing before the beast—right-wing groups that hate “liberal” news organizations not because of any bias, but because they center public discussion on verifiable fact. And verifiable fact is not convenient to ideologues whose goal is the harnessing of inchoate rage and hatred.
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