Saturday, May 30, 2009

They Destroy Our Society to Make it Unequal

Worse than the well-known and extreme economic inequality in the United States (which I describe below in some detail), is the anti-democratic, anti-solidarity and anti-human nature of our society that results from it being dominated by a corporate and government elite (with family names like Rockefeller, Gates, Buffett, Soros, Walton, Bloomberg, Bush and Kennedy) who want it to be very unequal. Most ordinary people want society to be more equal and democratic and try to make it so in lots of different ways, which is precisely why the elite do the following socially destructive and despicable things to control the American public and prevent them from succeeding:
  • They wage Orwellian wars of social control based on lies, for two horrible purposes: 1) to pit Americans against foreign people by making Americans think it is their patriotic duty to support their government as it commits war crimes murdering innocent civilians in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and to support the Israeli government's ethnic cleansing and war crimes; 2) to make Americans consent to a military-industrial complex funneling billions of dollars of taxpayer money into the pockets of people like Dick Cheney.****
  • They tell the majority of Americans who want a single-payer universal health care system, that would make good health care a right for all, to forget about it, because they know that keeping Americans insecure about important things like health care makes them easier to control.
  • They pit young and old workers against each other with "two tier" wage scales that prevent younger workers from ever earning as much as older ones and thereby foment resentment; and they are abolishing pensions for older retired workers, thus destroying the bond between generations and making all workers insecure.
  • Despite the objections of parents and teachers and students, they use high-stakes standardized testing in public elementary and secondary schools to make children feel insecure about their worthiness to deserve a decent job and life when they leave school.
  • They pit white and black Americans against each other, in the name of "Affirmative Action," by labeling people as "racist" if they think that the qualifying score on an exam to get a firefighter job or admission to a school should be the same for everybody regardless of their race; the elite do this to destroy the solidarity between blacks and whites that had developed in the earlier 1960's Civil Rights movement when the focus was ending racial discrimination and achieving equality--a value working class people of all races hold.
  • They promote landlessness and unemployment, in countries like Mexico and Guatemala, that forces poor people to migrate to the United States to find employment to survive; but they deny these immigrants legal entry in an effort to make them so fearful of deportation that they will not demand decent pay and working conditions on the job, and they pit Americans against "illegal immigrants" to destroy working class solidarity.
  • They conduct a deliberately divisive debate about same-sex marriage: they label as "bigots" those who object to same-sex marriage even though their objection is not bigotry but concern for children who suffer emotional pain from not knowing and being raised by both of their biological parents, as is always the unfortunate case when same-sex couples produce a child "of their own" (which is precisely what a marriage license gives couples formal social approval to do) with donated sperm or egg. The elite-controlled mass media use this issue to pit middle class and college-educated people who predominantly support same-sex marriage against working class people who predominantly oppose it, by making each view the other as having contemptible values.
  • They use technology and automation, not to enable people to enjoy more leisure time, but to make people insecure about losing their job and hence more controllable.
  • They make virtually everybody, even those who are relatively well-off, serve an economy that is driven by profit--not the needs and desires of human beings. They make people view each other not as fellow human beings with whom to work for shared and genuine goals, but rather as customers whose value is determined only by how much money they have and how easily they can be made to part with it in exchange for something produced for no other reason than to get somebody to buy it, no matter how worthless, inane or even harmful it may actually be.
This is the kind of society in which all Americans live. In countless ways beyond the few listed above, it is an inhuman society shaped by the few at the top who fear the loss of their immense wealth, privilege and power that would occur if ordinary people, left to themselves, created bonds of friendship, cooperation and equality to make life better for everybody.

A society based on equality would be fundamentally different from our present one. It would be a society in which people help one another instead of being pitted against each other, in which people are free from elite domination and control and thus able to create real democracy, in which everybody has economic security and technology is used to make life better for all instead of increasing unemployment and insecurity, and in which people have an opportunity to do something with their lives that they feel proud of. To make such a society we need a revolution.

But what would equality look like, in terms of dollars and cents, for an American family? How different would things be economically? Let us see.

The Material Effect of Inequality

The material effect of inequality can be seen by comparing two imaginary families, the Smiths and the Joneses, in terms of their wealth and income. The Smiths represent what the middle half of all Americans actually experienced economically, on average, in 2004*, while the Joneses represent what all Americans could have experienced that same year if we had enjoyed full equality. Each family consists of two parents and their two children.

The Smiths have a total family income** of $76,600 per year, and they own a net wealth (all assets minus all debts, including mortgage) of $180,000.

The Joneses, in contrast, have a total family income** of $103,000 per year, and they own a net wealth of $695,000.

The numbers for the Smiths come from taking the arithmetic mean of income and wealth of the middle 50% of Americans in 2004, in other words Americans who owned more wealth than the poorest 25% but less wealth than the wealthiest 25%.***

The numbers for the Joneses come from taking the arithmetic mean of income and wealth of all Americans in 2004; in other words if complete economic equality in wealth and income had prevailed among all people in the United States in 2004, then all American families of four that year would have looked, economically, like the Joneses.

The median price of a home in 2004 was $221,000, so the Smiths, with a net wealth of $180,000 clearly cannot own their median-priced home free and clear. Their state and federal taxes come to about $6,900 per year leaving them a take-home annual income of $69,700, which is exactly what it takes to live the very modest lifestyle the budget for which is described in detail here. This budget, unfortunately for the Smiths, does not allow for paying off their large student loans or saving money for their children's college tuition. A major medical expense if uncovered by their insurance company would bankrupt the family, and if for any reason they failed to make some mortgage payments and the bank foreclosed on their house, it would be a financial disaster.

The Smiths are not living in abject poverty by any means, but neither are they enjoying anything like real economic security. The Joneses, however, own their home free and clear, have plenty of money for things like paying off their own student loans and college tuition for their children, have a substantial reserve fund for emergencies, and feel quite economically secure and optimistic about life.

Comparing the Smiths and the Joneses is one way to grasp just how great is the material effect of inequality on middle-Americans, never mind the poorest 25% of Americans whose average family of four (let's call them the Browns) in 2004 has a net wealth of zero and an income of $34,000 per year.

Many people believe that there are so few people who are extremely rich that distributing their wealth equally would make little difference, it would be like pouring a bucket of water into the ocean: it wouldn't raise the sea level at all. Not so! The Smiths and the Joneses are hardly at the same level of economic security and comfort, and the difference between the Browns and the Joneses is like night and day.

Some people would say that there needs to be at least some economic inequality or else people wouldn't have any incentive to work. While I disagree with this view, I think that most people who hold it would nonetheless agree that inequality so extreme that it drives half of all Americans as far below the Joneses as the Smiths, and a quarter of Americans as far below the Joneses as the Browns is wrong, especially when one keeps in mind that the Joneses have no more than what all Americans could have if there were full equality. The price we all pay for this inequality is the destruction of our society.

* The most recent year for which the data required for this article are all available

** pre-tax

*** Sources include:

**** The combined profits of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics in 2006 were $8 billion and the combined salary of their CEOs in 2007 was $139 million.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"Peace isn't Arab Goal"

Dear Jeff Jacoby,

Your column in today's Boston Globe defending Israel and titled, "Peace isn't Arab goal" is a perfect demonstration of the unselfconscious racism of those who defend Israel.

You argue that "Arabs" have rejected historic opportunities for a two-state solution because what they really want is not peace but "Israel's liquidation."

The racist premise of your whole column is that there is something wrong and shameful about wanting "Israel's liquidation." You use the word "liquidation" because it has a negative connotation. You could have used the word "abolition," which means the same thing but has a positive connotation. American Abolitionists fought to abolish (or liquidate) the slave-based Confederacy. Many Americans fought to abolish (or liquidate) the Nazi's Master Race-based Third Reich. Even you, Jeff Jacoby, may have participated in the world-wide effort to abolish (or liquidate) the apartheid South African state.

Mr. Jacoby, here is why the state of Israel should indeed be abolished. If anybody declared 78% of Massachusetts to be a White state, that state would be a racist state that should be abolished. Ditto if it were a Black state or a Muslim state or a Christian state or a Native American state or a Blue-eyed peoples state or a Brown-haired peoples state. Do you not agree Mr. Jacoby? Do you not agree that a state should never be for just one kind of people, but for all of its citizens regardless of their race or religion or ethnicity? Well then, Mr. Jacoby, what's wrong with "Arabs" thinking that it is wrong to declare 78% of Palestine to be a Jewish state? Nothing! That's what's wrong with it.

But you are so racist when it comes to this issue, so incapable of seeing that there is nothing less racist about a Jewish state than a White state, that you actually have no clue why your readers won't agree with you in thinking there is something shameful about wanting to abolish--excuse me, liquidate--a Jewish state.

Mr. Jacoby, Palestinians are the victims of ethnic cleansing carried out in the name of making Israel a Jewish state. Seventy-five or more percent of the non-Jews living in what is now Israel were driven out of their homes and villages in 1947-9 by Zionist military forces whose leader, David Ben Gurion, declared that they had to make the population of the new Jewish state be at least 80% Jewish. These Palestinians want the right to return to their country, a basic human right (article #13 in the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights.) Yes, if they returned, the population of Israel would not remain a majority Jewish and it would no longer be a Jewish state. So what! Ordinary Jews can live perfectly well as the equals of non-Jews in a state of all its citizens. If you disagree, I suggest you get help for your racism.

John Spritzler

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

What Does the Revolution Look Like?

A while back I wrote "After the Revolution, What?" outlining how a post revolutionary society could move towards one based on equality and solidarity without capitalism or a Soviet-style dictatorship, a long term process of revolutionary transformation. I premised everything in that article on the presumption that a successful revolution had already occurred. Here I want to discuss what, exactly, such a revolution would look like United States.

What Exactly Does a Revolution Do?

By "revolution" here I don't mean the long term process of reshaping society. I mean the relatively quick act of disarming those people (the plutocracy and its allies) who use violence against people trying to make society more equal and democratic. Such violence is a fundamental part of society today, even if it is usually invisible as a behind-the-scenes threat. The reason, for example, that people do as their boss tells them, instead of quitting their jobs and working together for shared goals using land and other material wealth that does not "belong" to them to make a much more enjoyable and satisfying life for themselves, is violence. When people attempt to use the productive wealth of society in this proper and revolutionary manner, the upper class and the politicians loyal to them call it theft, and they use police, and, when necessary, the national guard and even military soldiers to squash people who try to make such a revolutionary change. The plutocracy, by controlling the major parties and the mass media, control the election system and hence the government, and, when necessary, they use the government to direct overwhelming violence against people pushing for revolutionary change. That is the problem that a revolution must solve.

What Does a Revolution Look Like?

How can people strip the plutocracy of its power to use violence when it has, as they say, the 101st Airborne Division?"

The answer to this question hinges on the fact that the 101st Airborne division is not an inanimate object that anybody can "have" or possess, the way one possesses a gun. The only thing the plutocracy has at the moment is a fairly high level of confidence that the members of the 101st Airborne division will obey orders issued by a chain of command at the top of which is the president (or a state's governor) who is the democratically elected representative of We the People.

If, however, soldiers no longer believe that the president is the representative of We the People, then they will not view presidential orders as legitimate, and they may very well refuse to obey them. This would mean the plutocracy had been stripped of its power to use violence. What will it take to make this happen?

It will take a mass, popular movement with openly revolutionary goals. Such a movement can make the enormity of the conflict--between We the People versus the president acting on behalf of the plutocracy--crystal clear to everybody, including soldiers. On one side will be seen millions of people saying society should be shaped by the values of equality and concern for each other and democracy. On the other side will be a president attacking those values violently, to make society unequal, with people pitted against one another and controlled from above. This can only happen when We the People in huge numbers rise up and challenge corporate and government authority, with shared revolutionary goals articulated loudly and clearly. This is not a violent act. Breaking the law in order to work together for shared goals by using land and other things that "belong to capitalists" for this purpose is not a violent act. Defending the right to do this, however, may require violence.

When people rise up this way, the plutocracy will probably try to use persuasion and bribery to stop it. But if this doesn't work they will have to either let people keep making revolutionary changes or fight back. If the plutocracy allows the people to make sweeping changes forever then that is the same thing as giving up its power, in which case a peaceful revolution has occurred. Great!

In the more likely event that the plutocracy eventually resorts to violence, then the president (having obtained the presidency only by demonstrating his loyalty to the plutocracy) will order soldiers to attack the people. When this happens there is a very good chance that many soldiers, seeing that the president does not in fact represent We the People, will view that order as illegitimate and refuse to obey it, especially if soldiers perceive the Americans against whom they are ordered to attack as people just like themselves or their families, as would be the case if the uprising is a massive and popular one.

Of course even if most soldiers sided with We the People, some soldiers would probably remain loyal to the president. The military would then be divided against itself. For a revolution to succeed, the American people, allied with the soldiers who support them, would have to disarm the remaining soldiers, forcibly. This is essentially how revolutions have happened in the past: it is how France's King Louis XVI was overthrown, why the Tsar of Russia and the German Kaiser abdicated after World War I, why Communism in Poland and Russia collapsed, and why the Shah of Iran had to flee. Without wishing to suggest that a revolution would be easy, or involve no sacrifice and bloodshed, it is nonetheless not unreasonable to believe that it is possible even in the United States, because the plutocracy does not really "have" the 101st Airborne Division.

Some might object that the above revolutionary scenario overlooks an important difference between military force today compared to when past revolutions succeeded in earlier centuries: atomic weapons. It takes, they would say, only one finger on the button to launch a nuclear attack on the American people, so it matters little that most soldiers would side with the people.

I think this nuclear Armageddon scenario is implausible, but not on the grounds that the plutocracy is not savage and willing to commit mass murder. In the situation that we are considering, when most of the military has gone over to the side of a mass, popular uprising, dropping nuclear bombs on Americans would only be counterproductive for the plutocracy. The plutocracy's best strategy would be to regain power in a counter-revolution. But to do this requires maintaining as much public legitimacy as possible, and dropping nuclear bombs on Americans would destroy any remaining legitimacy the plutocracy may have. If they did resort to using nuclear bombs it would only drive yet more of their few remaining loyal soldiers into the camp of the people. Even the most selfish soldiers would be left with no reason to remain loyal to the plutocracy because, after such an Armageddon, what was left of society would be unable to produce the wealth that the plutocracy once used to bribe such soldiers. The plutocracy would be left even more powerless. The plutocracy may be vicious, but they are not stupid.

What Distinguishes a Revolutionary from a Reform Movement?

What all of this means is that the key to a successful revolution is building a movement that mobilizes huge numbers of Americans to challenge official authority with revolutionary aims. Moreover, the movement must be one that unifies the people against the plutocracy, so that a soldier will perceive an order to attack any particular part of the movement as equivalent to an order to attack the other parts of the movement as well, including the part that consists of the soldier's own family members, relatives and neighbors.

For such a movement to develop, it must be based on the widely shared values and aspirations of Americans that the plutocracy opposes. It must therefore be based on the core values of equality, solidarity (concern for one another), and democracy. This is what distinguishes a revolutionary movement from a mere multitude (no matter how large) of single-issue reform movements. Narrowly framed single-issue reform movements are not unifying because inevitably the plutocracy frames these issues in a way that pits the people who want one reform against people who want a different reform. The plutocracy's politicians are thereby able to pose as the only ones who have risen above the "special interests" and are therefore the legitimate representatives of We the People whom soldiers must obey.

This does not mean, however, that single-issue reform efforts must stop fighting for their just causes. But it does mean that they must frame their fight for their just cause as an occasion for fighting for the revolutionary aim of making society more equal, democratic and mutually supportive in all walks of life--the opposite of how the plutocracy wants society to be. They must make this framework explicit, and within this framework connect with other people fighting for other just causes within the same revolutionary framework, so that a multitude of unconnected reform struggles becomes a single revolutionary movement.

The First 100 Days of the Revolution

Earlier I mentioned the need for people to "rise up and challenge corporate and government authority, with shared revolutionary goals articulated loudly and clearly." Obviously, I cannot predict exactly what people would do. But a proposal by David Stratman--Agenda for a New Society-- is probably in the same ballpark as what people would likely do. I invite you to read it (the link is forthcoming.)