Back in the 1990s, when I was part of a union organizing effort at the University of Vermont, one of the assumptions expressed by the school’s administration was the inevitability of the university’s continuing corporatization. This assumption was also shared by many of the workers that we were attempting to organize. Furthermore, the assumption was not one specific to the university. Indeed, it was actually usually expressed as part of a larger reality that assumed that the world was going to continue down a path that would result in the ultimate supremacy of the world’s largest corporations and banks running everything. Most of these businesses were naturally US- owned, even if they had their offices overseas.
Now, the aspect of this whole series of assumptions that irked me the most wasn’t that the corporations (and, locally, the university’s administration and trustees) told us that this was a good thing. Nor was it that they acted like this scenario was a natural thing, because, according to the laws of capitalist accumulation, it was . No, what irked me the most (and still irks me) is the attempt to portray this form of monopoly capitalism and corporate takeover of every part of our lives as something over which no one has any control. This portrayal is so complete that most workers, especially in the US (where capitalism reigns supreme) honestly believe that there is nothing they can do but submit. When your company tells you that they are gutting your pension plan, you submit. When your medical premiums increase three hundred percent, you submit. When your pay is reduced in the name of making a concession, you submit. It’s as if these attacks on your livelihood are not mere attempts by the owners and their executives to maintain their profit levels, but are instead edicts from heaven that no one dare not obey.
This consciousness exists not only in our work lives. It is also omnipresent in our government, where we elect men and women who gut the minimal economic protections that existed for the least among us so that we can provide tax cuts for the wealthiest people in the world. In addition, we ignore the obvious attempts to legalize every form of graft and corruption while we excuse those politicians who happen to be busted committing crimes of corruption that have yet to be legalized. It’s as if we as a people have given up our lives to some omnipotent god and that god not only controls our social beings, he controls our entire selves. The false consciousness of capitalism has so thoroughly taken over our minds that we no longer have anything even approaching souls. Anybody that dares to point this out is immediately branded as someone who is, at best, not a team player and, at worst, an anarchist or a criminal. Or maybe even (god forbid) a terrorist!
In between the latter group of folks who are willing to accept such labels for the sake of honesty (to themselves at least) and those at the top who insist on the eternal truths of their capitalist road are those millions that either know something is wrong but just don’t know what it is or don’t think they can do anything about it. So, they look elsewhere for their solace. Religion and sports. Drugs and music. Sex and TV. It’s like John Lennon sang; we think we’re so clever and classless and free. We drink our water from plastic bottles and love our MP3s. We praise Jesus on Sunday or meditate after work. We grumble about the price of gas while we fill our gas tank and get pissed about the cost of medicine. Women and men kill and die in our name and our children make assumptions about their world that we have taught them. Their entire world may be privatized and their jobs will be more disposable than ours appear to be. Health care will not be assumed by them and social security ancient history. Only one thing will be certain. The mighty temple of mammon will continue to grow ever higher and the humans that think they are gods will be ever closer to the heavens.
France Shows the Way
In a recent Newsweek column economist Robert Samuelson mocked the protests by French workers and youth against the proposed youth employment law known as the CPE or (what the protesters prefer to call) the Kleenex law. Samuelson, who seems to accept the aforementioned supremacy of the neoliberal marketplace (and its inevitable victory over all), wrote: “the student protesters in France think that if they march long enough…they can make the future go away. No such luck.” He continued, enumerating the various global capitalist arguments against the so-called welfare state and its economic inviability in today’s modern world. According to this mindset. the decision by many governments to dismantle their systems of national health care, public education, subsidized housing, and old age security is not a matter of choice, but one of necessity. If such cuts are not made, say the cuts’ proponents, there will be no future.
Of course, this is simply not true. What this mindset’s adherents really mean is that maintaining the current systems of health, education and general welfare for the general population would require bucking the system of international capitalist accumulation and profiteering. It would mean that all of that money being made by so very few corporations and banks would have to be put back into the various national economies from which it has been taken. The entire international economic system of the past sixty years would have to be re-examined and redesigned. In short, new choices would have to be made. Choices that put people, not profit first. Choices that would provide decent work for all of those wishing to work. This is what the French youth and workers are telling their government and the corporations that it kowtows to. This is what the last decade of protests against the WTO and the rest of the international economic system have been about. Poverty and war are not inevitable. Indeed, they are part of the reason why people leave their countries in the southern hemisphere to work in the northern one. On the other side of that coin, they are also underneath the reason nativist elements want to send immigrants back to their home countries and lock down the borders. The economics of neo-imperialism force the logic of the dollar on them all., causing the breakup of families and the growth of unreasonable fears. Fears that serve the interests of the financial masters behind it all. While immigration is certainly part of the natural evolution of human history, the economics of global capital have certainly forced many to leave the places they prefer to live. A system thtat pur people first would either leave those people alone or create good jobs where they live, not where capital goes.
The protests against the job law, the WTO and IMF, and totalitarian immigration laws are the results of conscious choices made by a relatively small number of the earth’s inhabitants. The protests in France are a wake up call to all of us. It’s time we started making our own choices. Because they are bound by their need for profit, the masters of capital have proven that they are incapable of doing so. A French student in Paris stated the situation quite clearly: “You can’t treat people like slaves. Giving all the power to the bosses is going too far.” (Reuters 3/28/06)
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org