“While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire /
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the mass hardens”
-from Shine, Perishing Republic, by Robinson Jeffers
We live in dangerous (and interesting) times. Yet, not since the 1960s has there been an opportunity to change the direction that the powerful and greedy are leading us like that which exists today. Of course, the converse of this truth is that there hasn’t been this degree of risk to the very existence of the world since the 1960s, either. Massive mobilizations of weaponry and bloody force have been used by the forces of US capital in an attempt to dominate the world and its people. Supplemented by trade agreements that are primarily beneficial to the financial capitals of New York and London, the capital of the world’s richest cartels of finance and industry flows like water without regard to borders to wherever the lowest wages can be found. This race to the bottom precipitates corresponding wage decreases in the powerful nations of the north and massive migrations of people from the south towards the northern jobs that offer better pay than those in the migrants’ home countries. The answer to this migration is racism and xenophobia from northern workers that feel threatened. Of course, these twin phenomenon are encouraged by most elements in the north’s ruling elites since it takes the heat off of their policy of free trade.
That is but one element of the current imperial order. The other, more obvious and explosive aspect are the wars precipitated by Washington, London and Israel, with various supporting casts. In this scenario, Tel Aviv plays the rabid pit bull, Washington the trained-to-kill Doberman, and London the poodle that considers himself vicious, even though the closest the poodle ever gets anymore is maybe a good hump of the US shepherd’s leg. These wars are part and parcel of the neocon-neoliberal plan to dominate the world in the name of US capital. Notice the countries that Washington threatens Iraq, Iran, Northern Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, to name the first that come to mind. All of these countries have (or had, in the case of Iraq and Serbia), one thing in common. They refused to go along with US capitol’s designs for free trade, opting instead to defy the trade agreements that suck the lifeblood out of the majority of the people in the countries that sign them. So they get the sword, instead of the pen.
The latter may certainly be less painful, but the results are the same. After free trade is agreed to by the elites in Washington and your home country, there is certain death for many of those not considered part of the program. For the US workers in the equation, there is a certain change in your material standard of living. If you were already poor, you’re even poorer now.
In countries to the south, the masses rebel at these agreements and take their anger to the streets. Lately, they’ve even changed a few governments so that they work a little more in their favor–Venezuela, Bolivia, even Chile. But here in the US there is no recourse within the political system. Yet, all we ever do is complain. Or get mad.
I just finished re-reading Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible. For those of you unfamiliar with the work, it’s nominally about the Salem witch trials in Salem, Mass. back in the late 17th(?) century. There’s a line in the play that easily applies to any type of fundamentalism–religious or political. That line goes like this: “cleave to no faith when faith brings blood.” Yet, that isn’t what the play is really about. It’s about fear and intolerance. Indeed, Miller wrote the work during the era of McCarthyism and hoped his audience would draw a parallel between the testimony of the girls in Salem that sent several women to their deaths because they were considered to be witches and the testimony of those being called in front of the McCarthy committee investigating communism in the US. Like the reaning that informs today’s fear of terrorism, no woman accused of witchcraft was proven to be a witch–instead, they had to prove that they weren’t witches. Those who lied and said they were witches had to then go along with the charges provided by the prosecutor against other women or they would be sent back to prison. Today, it’s not enough to say you are not a terrorist–you must support the policies and wars of those who say they are fighting terrorism and thereby prove that you aren’t. That is what is meant by the phrase you’re either with them or against them.
I read a few different newspapers every day. Most of them are from the US. One thing I notice about their coverage of certain issues is how incredibly skewed it is. A relevant example (besides the obvious one of Israel and its sanctity) is the way in which most US papers present the immigrant rights question. Despite the incredible numbers of people that turned out demanding legalization of undocumented workers’ status, the continuing coverage of the issue presents the activities of the much smaller (and I mean much smaller) anti-immigrant groups as equal to the popular upsurge for immigrant rights. Now, we all know that the mostly unsaid motivation behind groups like the Minutemen is a fear of a non-white planet. More specifically, it is a fear of a non-white United States. The fact that newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post spotlight the vigilante activities of the Minutemen and its members is one thing. The fact that they present their fears and racist reactions as rational and worthy of front page coverage reveals something more insidious. By doing so, the liberals prove themselves to be the tails to the neocons head on the corporate capitalist coin. The sooner the movement truly understands this, the better off it will be. Everything that George Bush and his cronies have done and are doing was begun or maintained during the Clinton years. There is a cartoon from an old underground newspaper –1969 is when it appeared I think–where LBJ is laying in a hospital bed awaiting surgery. The captions are a paraphrase from the philosopher and writer Herbert Marcuse and read like this:
“(Panel 1) The art of holding on to power is our American system’s know how. Given their constitutional rights, dissenters help maintain the status quo we call repressive tolerance. (Panel 2) It works this way: you let dissidents say whatever they please in a system loaded in favor of the powerful elites. The dissidents let off steam in a controlled way and the controllers keep power. (Panel 3) The trick is to make change look so tantalizingly close that it dulls the edge of militancy and makes revolutionary reform impossible. (Panel 4) Of course, every 4 to 8 years people will start blaming you personally for the lack of change, so you change your face.”
Instead of LBJ’s head being on the body in the hospital bed, the last panel shows Richard Nixon, who, of course, became president in 1969. One wonders whose head will be in the White House in 2008 carrying on the same policies as Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton before him? Does this mean that elections are irrelevant or that Bush and Cheney shouldn’t be impeached? Of course not. What it means is that such efforts are meaningful only when they are carried out with the understanding that they are not cure all remedy, but just an opportunity to educate people to the true nature of the system. Like the elections held every couple of years, all adjustments to the current system of government–a system based on the right of those with the desire and cash to exploit the rest of us–are merely adjustments. They will not solve the fundamental problems. Those problems are more than political and more than economic. Indeed, they are on the broad swath of human endeavor where politics and economics collide and mingle. Political systems are designed to uphold economic systems. The republican system of democracy we live under is not a system where the people rule, but a system where those with money rule the people. So, as long as the system of monopoly capital rules our economy, than the political system will mirror those capitalists’ needs and desires, not ours. That is the risk to the world. Our risk is to be found in attempting to subvert this mechanism.
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