Gradations, Marx, and Class Warfare

This is actually a post from my old blogsite, but I thought it appropriate to re-post given the recent Occupy Wall Street protests.  What we are actually seeing here is the proletariat, or working class, basically saying “fuck you” to the bourgeoisie, i.e. the corporations, CEO’s, and bankers that ruined our economy and actually benefited from doing so. 

The Republicans are right, for once, in saying that the Occupy movement is class warfare.  It is.  However, in truth, this protesters represent a defensive reaction to the offensive blitzkrieg of attacks made by the bourgeoisie (people like the Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch, Grover Norquist, and the Republican Party) against the working class.  Unions are under attack, along with education, voting rights, Social Security, Medicare, and other basic social safety nets provided by our governments, such as unemployment insurance, food stamps, heating assistance for the poor, etc. 

All of these things allow our society to have “gradations” as Marx called them, that act as barriers to open revolution.  In other words, you give people jobs, a chance to better themselves, and the assurance that they’ll be taken care of when they get sick or become old, and generally, people are pretty happy.  It seems to me that at least one of the things that these protests symbolize, is the tacit, if unspoken, realization by 99% of our society that the things I just mentioned are either gone or going away….anyway, I digress, here’s the post (it was published on June 3rd, 2011 so forgive my references to the current events of that time):

First, let me say this: get out of the stock market. Now, I am not a financial analyst, nor am I licensed to hand out financial advice, but I’d get out if I had a choice. The market is going to tank because the Republicans aren’t going to agree to raise the debt ceiling. Or, if they do, it will be because president Obama will have once again completely capitulated to their demands (as he is wont to do) to cut social programs so deeply that the U.S. economy will be crippled going forward. Either way, I don’t see how this is going to end well for financial markets. Add to that, the fact that there is basically no oversight of the same banks that failed in 2008 because the Republicans refuse to allow the creation of the consumer financial protection bureau, to be headed by consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren, and you might start to realize what really deep shit we’re in. Get out. Sell your possessions. Run for the hills.

I had intended to write today to prove that the Republican party was fascist. Indeed, they do carry some of the same characteristics, such as a belief in corporate power, a belief that government should protect industry at all costs, and a belief that government should create and maintain a military industrial complex (in which the function of the military is combined with the corporate interests of industry). However, to suggest that Republicans are fascist wouldn’t be quite correct. The fact is they are manifesting themselves defenders and protectors of the bourgeoisie, as described by Karl Marx: the owners of the means of production. Now don’t all the sudden be afraid because I mentioned Marx—Americans have a way of being ignorant morons when it comes to this subject because we’re so brainwashed to believe that anything involving Marx, socialism, communism, etc. is automatically an attack on our way of life.

What is unfortunately lost when we relinquish ourselves to such cowardly childishness is that we lose Marx’s tremendously valuable historical perspective. In the beginning of his most famous work, The Communist Manifesto, Marx makes this statement:

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and surf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended either in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes (473, 474).”

In other words, what Marx is saying is that society tends to form itself into two different classes—one class that owns, another that serves—and that because of this dynamic, these classes naturally stand in opposition to one another; an opposition that ultimately results in the destruction of that social structure, for better or worse. The key is what follows: “In ancient Rome have patricians, knights, plebians, slaves; in the Middle Ages feudal lords, vassals, guild-masters, journeymen, apprentices, serfs; in almost all of these classes, again, subordinate gradations (474).” Thus, Marx argues that each society had “gradations” that stood between the two ultimate class divisions—essentially, that each society had a middle class, and that this prevented, or mitigated, the antagonisms that existed between the two polar classes.

The next leap Marx made is where he miscalculated, though what he said is no less true, especially in regard to modern society: “the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinctive feature: it has simplified the class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into the two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat (474).”

Marx, writing in 1870’s, had not anticipated the fact that capitalist society would, and did, break itself into precisely the “gradations” that had preserved the order of earlier societies. Between the base proletariat laborer and his industry-owning, bourgeoisie master were doctors, teachers, lawyers, journalists, engineers, and other educated gradations that served, in a way, the needs of both classes. Later, there would be unions, as well, that buoyed the wages and prospects for many laborers, and in conjunction, programs such as Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, food stamps, etc., that all served to create further gradations, blurring the line between the proletariat worker and his bourgeois employer.

Still, in the end, it cannot be denied that the two classes exist, and they exist in opposition—their interests are completely divergent. Whereas the bourgeoisie, the owners of the means of production, want to pay as little for wages as possible, the proletariat, the laborer, wants wages to be as high as possible. It is only the existence of the middle class, the various gradations between that make a peaceful and stable society possible: with no middle class, the dynamic between the bourgeoisie and proletariat necessarily dictates both covert and open class warfare. This struggle between classes has only one ultimate end, as Marx correctly observes: “in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”

Thus, the Republicans represent not fascism, but the bourgeois class; the bizarre twist is that they seek in rhetoric, policy, and action, to de-cleat the gradations so necessary to prevent open class warfare. They propose to privatize institutions like Social Security (Bush after ’04 victory) and Medicare (current Republican budget plan), in essence taking programs created to insure the working class a decent life in old age when they can no longer work, and gifting them back to the owners of the means of production, in this case, banks. They continue to attack and destroy unions, especially teacher’s unions, which are institutions that provide wage earners with some power based on their collective labor, allowing them to earn a decent living. And on the other hand, they use all of their political power to protect ownership: lower taxes for business and the very rich, subsidies for industries as prosperous as Big Oil, tax shelters for businesses that move their jobs overseas, all the while fighting tooth and nail against consumer protections, business watchdog agencies, and benefits for the very poor and unemployed.

When taking this view, the Republicans very nakedly stand against just about every single institution of government or society that has acted to defuse class tensions between worker and owner, poor and rich, proletariat and bourgeois.

This is precisely why I believe Republicans won’t raise the debt ceiling, and it is also why they don’t care whether the U.S. or world economy goes in the tank as a result: it may hurt business some, but in the end, the owners of the means of production will still maintain ownership—they’ll be OK—they’re rich, and to boot, they’re captains of industry. Meanwhile, everyone else will be knocked down, desperate, fragile, and vulnerable. What better way to destroy political organization by the working class? What better way to drive down wages? Worse, they know that the only chance they have to beat Obama in 2012, and thereby maintain power for the bourgeoisie, is if the economy is in horrible shape.

So, as I said, if I had any money in the stock market, I’d get out now. The Republicans are going to try to destroy our economy, and they may well succeed.


About The Author: Jay Scott


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