When We Fight Back
Morality in the land of the free is a curious mix of Tinkertoys and torture racks. We have just witnessed a full week of brutal coordinated police assaults upon peaceful protesters. The Occupy movement must therefore rise to a new level of coordinated and class-conscious actions against the corporate state. But let’s not be seen in public with signs saying, “They only call it class war when we fight back.” We might frighten away all our potential friends in high places. Every last member of the Occupy movement must have the patience of the saints while being pepper sprayed, or else the ruling class will not enjoy three square meals of duly seasoned sacrificial lambs.
Certain front groups of the Democratic Party, including MoveOn, have sought to force the wider Occupy movement into the narrow channel of their chosen corporate party. And the more bureaucratic labor unions such as the SEIU (dominated by labor bosses aligned with the Democratic Party) have also taken up the 99 percent slogan. Although working people are welcome, labor union bosses should be reminded that they remain bosses. Indeed, the Occupy movement is a public forum in which workers can call into question the class collaboration of their own union leaders.
So we shall see just who is better at changing minds about this capitalist system. Socialists should avoid triumphalist rhetoric, since we, the people, now face grinding regimes of austerity round the world. Austerity is demanded by international banks and corporate regimes. This is the strong medicine the doctors order for malingering patients in Greece, Spain, Italy and, soon enough, most of Europe. Just as several officially “socialist” parties joined in the enforcement of austerity in Europe, Democratic politicians are willing partners in the enforcement of an austerity regime in the United States.
Make no mistake: The corporate state is still strong. That’s why Ray Lewis, the retired Philadelphia police captain who went to New York City to protest police abuse of Occupy Wall Street protesters (and was arrested), is more than welcome in our ranks.
No class-conscious worker or socialist will be surprised that many members of the police are also questioning the “excesses” of capitalism. But such excesses are not mere statistical blips; these excesses are predictable though they do not run on strict timetables. The boom and bust cycles of the “free market” are structural elements of the profit system much in the way steel and glass are structural elements of the corporate mausoleums of Manhattan. These excesses are necessary consequences of the whole structure of waged and unwaged exploitation. But police officers willing to risk their own jobs to join insurgent political protests still remain a small minority. Yes, police are members of the 99 percent, just as the Occupy movement has always claimed. Especially in times of open class struggle, however, the police are also paid to defend the power and profits of the 1 percent. If we ever forget this fact then we may be sentimentalists, but we are not giving our ideals a fair chance in the real world.
Do you happen to be solidly comfortable? Good for you! No harm in comfort. But do you really want to be a rich person in a poor country? The real problem is not that you might own an Aston Martin or a nearly Olympic-size swimming pool. That merely makes you a lover of luxury, or a dweller in the hills of Malibu. After all, a fraction of filthy rich aristocrats took up the republican cause in revolutionary France, and in 2006 nothing kept Daryl Hannah from occupying a walnut tree during the defense of a community farm in Los Angeles. If a bad conscience, or a good friend, or simply a deeply rooted aesthetic aversion to the brutal built environment of big American cities moves you to cross over the lines of class and join the Occupy movement, then please feel right at home. You may not be a working-class hero but you are an evolving human being. That is good enough.
Like the Catholic Church, the Occupy movement also welcomes late vocations. We are all pickled alive in the rancid vinegar of class culture, and as the Gospel of St. John declares, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Most comfortable people have our own dear reasons for enjoying luxuries whose cost might feed a hungry family for a week in Appalachia or in North Philly. We may not be called to be St. Francis, much less professional revolutionaries, but we are called to be citizens so long as we pretend to defend this republic.
So if you really must vote by rote, at least take a public risk once in a while in some other realm. Or if your conscience has truly atrophied into a mental appendix, maybe you should have it surgically removed before it causes any future headaches.
Socialists, however, do not advise you to vote by rote. In every big election, the Democratic Party threatens apocalypse if the Republican Party wins. 2012 is no different. No sane person argues that “worse is better.” No. Worse is worse. And worse is what we are getting as the two big corporate parties are polarized in Congress and yet keep each other in business. Is there not a dime’s worth of difference between the Democratic and Republican parties? Sure. But that question long ago became a partisan weapon, blunt as a caveman’s club. That question does not demand an answer, it only demands us to stop thinking we have the right to rebel against “our two-party system.” The two party system is not an act of God, and in fact has no foundation in our Constitution. That system of politics, much like the economic system of capitalism, is a human creation. What we create we can also change.
The Democratic and Republican parties rig the rules of the electoral game to shut out and shut down anti-capitalist and socialist campaigns for public office. The professional pols in both corporate parties have as much shame as the UC Davis cop who held up his red can of pepper spray like a prize toy. And then strolled at leisure down a line of students sitting with arms linked, spraying them in full view of cameras. Gosh, that guy may not get rich, but he earns a living keeping the corporate state safe from college students. The same students scared of being buried alive by debt upon graduation.
The open criminality of the corporate state is founded upon such a cunningly complex system of dodges, tricks, traps, loopholes and tax shelters that any good corporate lawyer can be hired to convince us that this system is not criminal at all. No, the financial system is a marvelous Gothic cathedral of legalism, complete with gargoyles gazing down on the peasants. Even the Genius of the Market may be found ensconced in a sunlit rose window.
Many loyal Democrats barely register the brute fact that Bill Clinton and Tony Blair just teamed up to take positions in a new “would be” hedge fund corporation. The morals of Bill Clinton are too well known to be belabored, though Bill belabors his morals anyway through the Clinton Foundation, established to “strengthen the capacity of people throughout the world to meet the challenges of global interdependence.” Yes, global interdependence! As my mom used to say, “You can’t keep that dog on the porch,” but the man who pointed his finger in our collective faces and swore, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” has now gone bounding off after a scent resembling myrrh and frankincense. Bill is now hunting for humanitarian awards the way a hound hunts for hamburger on a kitchen counter. Tomorrow to fresh fields and pastures new!
Then there is Tony Blair, who graduated from the New Labour Party of Britain to shed light upon the dark places and faces of the world. There is no point preaching the Sermon on the Mount to such a moral paragon as Tony Blair, who also heads the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Yes, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation! Because, when all is said and done, the Jesus Christ Faith Foundation, or the Maimonides Faith Foundation, or the Prophet Muhammad Faith Foundation would be too vulgar and sectarian. If you are going to worship a golden calf, you might as well drive money-changers into as many temples, synagogues, mosques and churches as possible. The mission, after all, is ecumenical.
And if you believe that pitch, you’ll believe damn near anything at all. You’ll believe campus cops armed with pepper spray and truncheons were just defending themselves from menacing hordes of unarmed college students planted on the campus quad. You’ll believe philanthropy pops from the womb of hedge funds the way saviors appear after virgin births. You’ll believe I’m Greta Garbo. But seriously, you must not ever believe that billionaires who pretend to be concerned about hygiene in encampments of public protest are public servants. They serve themselves richly and the public poorly. Sooner or later we, the people, will wage an open political struggle not merely against the “excesses” of capitalism, but against the whole system of war and empire. Better sooner.