Definitions: The Proletariat (Part II)
It’s true that every event that happens leaves traces. It is something like mirrors and their reflections. Except that in the mirror’s reflections, the left is right, and the right is left. Illusions all! Illusions are like words unspoken that are no longer words at all. Sometimes we have to banish all possibilities of illusion. Sometimes we have to stop, close our eyes, and allow ourselves to see real reality, not illusion where right is left, and left right. Reality free of brainwash. Free of all those words and euphemisms we hear on TV and read in the establishment press. We can trust none of it.
One problem facing the wage earner-proletariat is the lack of a suitable program. I can’t see an acceptable program for changing the world. The “Another World Is Possible” movement is at best a loose agreement around the planet that change would be a good thing. One answer to those who wonder what the new resistance wants is simple: they want a just society.
Sometimes it is comforting—but not much more than that—to recall that though protest movements of the past have been broken and scattered by Power, many of those people and like-minded others are still out there in society. They could rejoin the growing number of mature people with eyes to see and ears to hear.
But what are they to do? one wonders.
That has always been the question.
Studies show that the class of Power in the USA is surprisingly small, numbering in the tens of thousands. The potential opposition on the other hand is enormous, including all those Che Guevara had in mind when he quipped, “If you tremble in indignation at injustice then you are my comrade.” El Che had in mind the proletariat of the world.
Though much of the ruling class is stashed away in corner offices on top floors behind batteries of secretaries, apparently in hiding, out of its vanity it still wants to be seen. For what is Power if no one knows YOU hold it? Members of the Power class are visible on stage each day, in TV, in Congress, in the military hierarchy, in diplomacy, multinationals, religions and the universities. The higher they ascend the ladder of Power, the more entrenched in the Power system they become. However, those at the very summit are in hiding, the rulers who really rule. The most dangerous are those who meet in secret societies like the Bilderbergers. We can suspect who they are.
Since it seems that the people sitting in the top tiers of our political-social theater have abdicated from the struggle, we tend to underestimate their power. For they too have a stake in the land. One forgets the potential force of those textile strikes of the 1930s. One forgets that organized workers can bring a small city like Asheville in North Carolina or a metropolis like New York or a company like General Motors to a standstill in a matter of hours. The reason that seldom happens is because the people have forgotten their own strength.
People don’t think about their strength because of Power’s astute use of myth and illusion: the myth of freedom and the illusion of happiness made of comfort and ease. And today, above all, more and more out of fear!
Though most people seem to prefer ignorance, some people are learning to distinguish between myth and reality. For many issues are glaringly real and evident: the Iraq War, globalization, US imperialism, legalized torture and genocide, the new American police state, and the degradation of social life in the West in general.
Solidarity too is growing. Resistance spreads. The superiority of “the American way of life” has revealed itself to be a great lie. The result of extended and prolonged resistance is inevitably state violence against dissent. State violence in turn has a multiplier effect: when Power steps in to taser dissenters, it intensifies resistance. An explosion becomes inevitable. First collective action, then civil disobedience, then state violence, then the explosion. For police-state laws change our thinking about legitimacy. This time around the explosion can become something much different than Power imagines. An organized people can shut down the nation without firing a shot.
The people! Today the American people are broken, fragmented and bewildered, devoid of unity of purpose, as existed briefly, let’s say, during the Vietnam War. According to recent studies the vast majority of American people are still unaffected by America’s ongoing permanent war. The discussion about whether 70,000 or over one million Iraqis have been massacred has a certain theoretical-academic air about it. Not even the mothers of the American dead in Iraq can get organized.
At the same time more and more people have lost faith in the electoral system. Some of them have taken on the job of breaking down the natural passivity of the dissatisfied and fragmented people who, though in potential agreement with revolutionary analyses, are unused to resistance because of the illusionist spin conducted by Power. Therefore the suggested antidote of not voting for any of them.
Then there are the wars to be ended. If the people can’t share the government’s war effort, it can share in anti-war objectives. There is vast and growing poverty and social injustice to be resolved. There is a dramatic need for universal health care. There is a corrupt and mean political class to be removed. All of it. Both parties. There is every need to give power back to the people.
Grassroots organizer Abigail Singer, co-founder of Rising Tide North America and of a recent Southeast Climate Convergence conference in Asheville, North Carolina, said in an interview that voting is not enough because the electoral process has been sold to the highest bidder and that people who get into positions of power have to sacrifice whatever principles they started out with to the point that systemic change is impossible. Real change can come only from the grassroots.
At the same time a growing number of people are losing faith in nonviolence. Singer points out that capitalism itself is extremely violent. “If you’re not nice and polite, some people consider that violence. But most violence is in business as usual and capitalism grinding on, killing workers, forests and oceans. We’re surrounded by normalized violence and don’t recognize it for what it is. Confronting this normalized violence in a direct way is not violent; it’s necessary.”
While liberals and progressives argue that you have to work within the system, the modern activist is mutating because the political climate has changed. The violence of government repression creates violent reaction in the same way war against Iraq creates new shahids.
Violent resistance is nothing new: Black Power backed up the Civil Rights movement.
Historically the US government didn’t grant more workers rights because it became good but because people rose up and demanded their rights. People organizing to defend themselves reaches back through the history of man. Today in America some few people are coming together and developing new ideas of resistance. Their number is destined to grow to the degree that government repression grows.
After my youth in America I have lived my adult abroad. Traveling to the USA today is to go abroad. Therefore I have acquired a double sensibility about my homeland. When I arrive there, abroad, but also at home, I feel double tensions in the air: the tension connected with the widespread fear of losing “the American way of life” and the tension of a minority of dissatisfied people also fearful because it knows it is living an illusion, and that mutiny—still so nebulous as to appear a chimera—will be necessary to change things. In America I sense both a fear of action and a fear of non-action. Perhaps also a fear of change, fear that things can only get worse. The fear, as one friend wrote me today, that something very bad is about to happen to America. A fear like that of a people inhabiting the wrong house, or the haunting fear that the real house it once inhabited is today occupied by usurpers and has lost its soul.
One senses also a disturbing atmosphere of sick pragmatism and a depoliticalization coupled with widespread contentment with just analyzing the current situation rather than challenging it.
It is a good sign that across the land some grassroots activists are working to break down indifference. Radical change presupposes an end to blind acceptance of Power’s fictionalized version of reality. Activists no longer need feel alone. Each person arrested in anti-war demonstrations acquires new faith in resistance and each of them creates new converts.
Acceptance of the legitimacy of Power, indifference to Power’s deviations and passivity in the face of Power’s threats against external enemies seem to have peaked. More and more people believe that Power gone mad has to be put aside. The eventual end of acceptance and passivity could result in a kind of explosion the world has never seen.
Today however that clash is still more hope than reality. Hope that a new strategy of liberation from the oppression of illegal American Fascism will mushroom. In other times, in an older language, that strategy would be called revolutionary theory. The old Leninist concept is apt here: there can be no revolutionary movement without a revolutionary theory. The theory here, the strategy, must explain that it is not just George W. Bush, the system’s current representative, or his replacement, who must go, but the system itself run by that tiny minority at the top.
But people don’t rebel easily. People prefer reforms. People do everything possible to avoid social convulsion and upheaval, even compromising with a Fascist police state, precisely as happened in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
On the other hand, today’s US government is aware that the spirit of mutiny/revolution is brewing. That is why it has armed itself with a set of illegal and anti-constitutional laws to crush it. At this juncture the alternative to ousting today’s corrupt American system is a permanent police state, which if it becomes any more fixed than it is now just might last a thousand years.
The American people will have to decide what to do and how to act. Meanwhile many non-Americans agree that the most extreme problem of this century for mankind is the confused, powerful and violent United States of America.
Finally, as an epilogue, see what Henry David Thoreau (1817-78), great American author and philosopher, wrote in his “On the Duty of Civil Obedience”:
“All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable. Those who, while they disapprove of the character and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and support, are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform.
“If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go…. if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong, which I condemn.
"But what shall I do? You ask. My answer is, If you really wish to do anything, resign your office. When the subject has refused allegiance, and the officer has resigned from office, then the revolution is accomplished.”
Gaither Stewart,Senior Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal/tantmieux, is a novelist and journalist based in Italy. His stories, essays and dispatches are read widely throughout the Internet on many leading venues. His recent novel, Asheville, is published by Wastelandrunes, (www.wastelandrunes.com) .