Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

2,500 Years of Class Hatred

Class struggle never existed without hatred of the poor. And neither has racism.

Boots Riley’s recent article, posted in The Guardian, systematically dispels the myth of black-on-black crime advocated by Bill Clinton. Rather than pointing the image of failure at black people in the US, Riley insists, the mirror should be redirected to class war and the failure of liberal democracy. The condition of black people will advance with economic prosperity, not punitive drug laws.

The attempts to demean black people in the US, while specific to modern racism, has its roots in old fashioned class hatred interwoven within the fabric of western civilization.

Let’s wind back the clock a bit. Black-on-black crime is one of the establishing myths of racialized class oppression, dating to notions of the “white man’s burden.” However, before Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, when black and white bonded laborers and slaves rose up together, Irish workers in particular were similarly debased and derided by the master class.

Returning back to pre-colonial days, generally speaking, we can pick up on the same narratives that currently keep black people in chains directed against poor whites in Europe. Marx and Engels’s Communist Manifesto compares the contemporary struggle between the proletarian and bourgeois to the plebeians and patricians of Rome, as well as the serfs and lords of the Middle Ages.

Historian Titus Livius tells us of the patricians’ hatred of plebs that prefigured the “struggle of the orders”:

“Appius Claudius, harsh by nature, and now maddened by the hatred of the plebs on the one hand and the praises of the senate on the other, asserted that these riotous gatherings were not the result of misery but of license, the plebeians were actuated by wantonness more than by anger. This was the mischief which had sprung from the right of appeal, for the consuls could only threaten without the power to execute their threats as long as a criminal was allowed to appeal to his fellow-criminals.”

It was not the plebeians’ poverty that drove them to insurgency, but democracy and a sense of entitlement, says Claudius. How could a system function when greedy and licentious plebs had no accountability except to each other? Not far off from today’s discussions of Black Lives Matter that one sees on conservative blogs and comment threads.

Moving ahead to the Middle Ages, the same beliefs found their way to the upper class. The seething hatred of “villeins” (peasants) held  by the nobility comes through in the 13th Century story Le Despit au Vilain:

“Tell me, Lord, if you please, by what right or title does a villein eat beef?… And goose, of which they have plenty? And this troubles God. God suffers from it and I too. For they are a sorry lot, these villeins who eat fat goose! Should they eat fish? Rather let them eat thistles and briars, thorns and straw and hay on Sunday and peapods on weekdays. They should keep watch without sleep and have trouble always; that is how villeins should live. Yet each day they are full and drunk on the best wines, and in fine clothes. The great expenditures of villeins comes at a high cost, for it is this that destroys and ruins the world. It is they who spoil the common welfare. From the villein comes all unhappiness. Should they eat meat? Rather they chew grass on the heath with the horned cattle and go naked on all fours.”

There they are. The 13th Century “welfare queens” buying smoked salmon with food stamps and sleeping through their job interviews. The rich hate the poor for presumed easy lifestyles cheating the system. Instead of working hard and advancing themselves, the modern “villeins” try to get-rich-quick, spending their money on alcohol and pipe dreams, killing one another rather than saving up for sensible living. It follows, says the modern liberal, that the poor get what they deserve while the bourgeois receive fair earnings.

With analyses like these, it’s no wonder that like the plebeians of Ancient Rome the peasants of Europe rose up in brutal, bloody class struggle in the 13th and 14th Centuries.

And if we fast forward to the 19th Century, we can find similar analyses of the proletariat made by the recently-established bourgeois aristocracy. The classic example is Guizot, the famous historian and economic minister of France’s Bourbon restoration and bourgeois monarch Louis-Philippe.

Guizot is mentioned by name in Communist Manifesto, as he was next to Metternich arguably the most detested man of the 19th Century. Yet his History of Civilization was broadly acclaimed by the bourgeois, because it was in fact a history of their class. The burghers emerged in the 13th Century to secure the peasant commons, Guizot states. Through private property, they provided a counter-power to the nobility and Church. In his Histoire, Guizot describes the ideal of the bourgeois: a strong, forceful man both independent and on guard to defend family and fortune from the nobles. A real “boot-strapper”:

“[T]he burghers of this period always had a coat of mail upon their breast, a pike in their hand; their life was as tempestuous, as warlike and as hardy as that of the lords with whom they fought. It was in these continual perils in struggling against all the difficulties of practical life, that they acquired that manly character and that obstinate energy which is, in a measure, lost in the soft activity of modern times.”

Genteel but strong and violent, the burghers won their property through force of arms, not effeminate daydreaming. They would continue to wage war in order to secure further fortunes and eventually overthrow their own masters. As for the “peuple,” Guizot’s classic motto was “Enrichissez vous!” “Get rich!” The aristocracy insisted, “we cannot hear you unless you speak with the money you’ve earned through bloodshed and war.”

When the workshop-socialist Louis Blanc attempted to host peasants’ banquets in rural areas to feed the famine-beset poor and organize a socialist base, Guizot shut them down. An outcry emerged throughout France leading to the tumultuous events of 1848. The chant rose up in Paris: “Down with Guizot!” Guizot indeed went down, but that did not stop the mob from going further, expelling Louis-Philippe, and re-establishing the Republic with Louis Blanc as the symbolic leader and radicals like Proudhon serving as deputies.

Unfortunately, it would appear that Clinton did not learn the lesson of Guizot—nor it seems has the European Central Bank. With slight quantitative adjustments, neoliberals have preserved the myth of poverty’s pathological self-sabotage as though a sacred relic plopped in the formaldehyde of racism and placed at the alter of austerity where it stands today for the unhappy plebs to worship or be damned.

The message of #nuitdebout today: To better the class position of the poor of all colors, shapes, and sizes, the cathedral of reaction must be torn to pieces, cobblestone by cobblestone, and our modern Guizots overthrown from their economic bully pulpits. The message of Black Lives Matter remains the same: We will not be able to unite as a truly democratic people until the rights of all people are realized through direct action. Where these two movements converge, hatred, fear, and jealousy are cast out like the monarchs of old, leaving open the space of praxis, ever-new but more ancient than history.

More articles by:

Alexander Reid Ross is a contributing moderator of the Earth First! Newswire. He is the editor of Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press 2014) and a contributor to Life During Wartime (AK Press 2013). His most recent book Against the Fascist Creep is forthcoming through AK Press.

October 22, 2018
Henry Giroux
Neoliberalism in the Age of Pedagogical Terrorism
Melvin Goodman
Washington’s Latest Cold War Maneuver: Pulling Out of the INF
David Mattson
Basket of Deplorables Revisited: Grizzly Bears at the Mercy of Wyoming
Michelle Renee Matisons
Hurricane War Zone Further Immiserates Florida Panhandle, Panama City
Tom Gill
A Storm is Brewing in Europe: Italy and Its Public Finances Are at the Center of It
Suyapa Portillo Villeda
An Illegitimate, US-Backed Regime is Fueling the Honduran Refugee Crisis
Christopher Brauchli
The Liars’ Bench
Gary Leupp
Will Trump Split the World by Endorsing a Bold-Faced Lie?
Michael Howard
The New York Times’ Animal Cruelty Fetish
Alice Slater
Time Out for Nukes!
Geoff Dutton
Yes, Virginia, There are Conspiracies—I Think
Daniel Warner
Davos in the Desert: To Attend or Not, That is Not the Question
Priti Gulati Cox – Stan Cox
Mothers of Exiles: For Many, the Child-Separation Ordeal May Never End
Manuel E. Yepe
Pence v. China: Cold War 2.0 May Have Just Begun
Raouf Halaby
Of Pith Helmets and Sartorial Colonialism
Dan Carey
Aspirational Goals  
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail