FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

We’re the 99% and We’re Not So United

by

Water boils at 100°C; that’s certain. But there’s little point expecting the behaviour of societies to conform to the laws of physics. That 1% of people command the majority of the world’s wealth does not mean that the 99% are a cohesive social group, still less a political force at boiling point.

The 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement was built around an idea and a slogan: ‘We are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.’ Studies just before it happened showed that almost all of the gains from an economic upturn had gone to the US’s wealthiest 1%. This wasn’t a historical aberration or a national exception. Almost everywhere a similar outcome has consistently been encouraged by government policy. In France, the tax plans of President Macron will largely benefit ‘the richest 280,000 households … whose assets are mainly in the form of financial investments and business shares’ (1).

Does that mean that everyone else has so much in common that they could overthrow the established order by pooling their energies? When you’re privileged, but not a billionaire, it may be consoling to fantasise that you’re part of the same social bloc as the proletariat. But the 99% are a mix of the wretched of the earth and a (fairly thick) stratum of the upper middle class: doctors, university teachers, journalists, senior management, PR and senior civil servants, without whom the 1% couldn’t last for more than 48 hours. Lumping them all together in the 99% is reminiscent of the foundational American myth that claims everyone is middle class, and almost everyone is rich or about to become so (2).

If union brings strength, so too does cohesion; but history has taught us that the great moments of agreement and unanimity do not last long. In February 1848, workers and the middle class manned the barricades side by side in Paris, but by the June Days (3) they were in deadly conflict. It’s hard enough building an alliance, even between progressive movements in the same country. Imagining a common plan, a sustainable political force on such an indiscriminate scale as ‘humanity minus the oligarchs’, smacks at best of utopia, at worst of an unwillingness to choose, to come down on one side. It won’t ultimately achieve much more than a defence of consensual rights or opposition to child abuse and road accidents.

For anything else, the 99% will get us nowhere.

This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.

More articles by:

Serge Halimi is president of Le Monde diplomatique

Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
David Rosen
Donald Trump’s Pathetic Sex Life
Susan Roberts
Are Modern Cities Sustainable?
Joyce Nelson
Canada vs. Venezuela: Have the Koch Brothers Captured Canada’s Left?
Geoff Dutton
America Loves Islamic Terrorists (Abroad): ISIS as Proxy US Mercenaries
Mike Whitney
The Obnoxious Pence Shows Why Korea Must End US Occupation
Joseph Natoli
In the Post-Truth Classroom
John Eskow
One More Slaughter, One More Piece of Evidence: Racism is a Terminal Mental Disease
John W. Whitehead
War Spending Will Bankrupt America
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Latest Insulting Proposal: Converting SNAP into a Canned Goods Distribution Program
Robert Fantina
Guns, Violence and the United States
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Zaps Oxygen
John Laforge
$1.74 Trillion for H-bomb Profiteers and “Fake” Cleanups
CJ Hopkins
The War on Dissent: the Specter of Divisiveness
Peter A. Coclanis
Chipotle Bell
Anders Sandström – Joona-Hermanni Mäkinen
Ways Forward for the Left
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Winning Hearts and Minds
Tommy Raskin
Syrian Quicksand
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Still Tries to Push Dangerous Drug Class
Jill Richardson
The Attorney General Thinks Aspirin Helps Severe Pain – He’s Wrong
Mike Miller
Herb March: a Legend Deserved
Ann Garrison
If the Democrats Were Decent
Renee Parsons
The Times, They are a-Changing
Howard Gregory
The Democrats Must Campaign to End Trickle-Down Economics
Sean Keller
Agriculture and Autonomy in the Middle East
Ron Jacobs
Re-Visiting Gonzo
Eileen Appelbaum
Rapid Job Growth, More Education Fail to Translate into Higher Wages for Health Care Workers
Ralph Nader
Shernoff, Bidart, and Echeverria—Wide-Ranging Lawyers for the People
Chris Zinda
The Meaning of Virginia Park
Robert Koehler
War and Poverty: A Compromise with Hell
Mike Bader – Mike Garrity
Senator Tester Must Stop Playing Politics With Public Lands
Kenneth Culton
No Time for Olympic Inspired Nationalism
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Final Days of the Regime
Irene Tung – Teófilo Reyes
Tips are for Servers Not CEOs
Randy Shields
Yahoomans in Paradise – This is L.A. to Me
Thomas Knapp
No Huawei! US Spy Chiefs Reverse Course on Phone Spying
Mel Gurtov
Was There Really a Breakthrough in US-North Korea Relations?
David Swanson
Witness Out of Palestine
Binoy Kampmark
George Brandis, the Rule of Law and Populism
Dean Baker
The Washington Post’s Long-Running Attack on Unions
Andrew Stewart
Providence Public School Teachers Fight Back at City Hall
Stephen Cooper
Majestic Meditations with Jesse Royal: the Interview
David Yearsley
Olympic Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail