|El Pueblo Unido
The historic lesson of the French resistance, faced with
Nazi German occupation and Vichy collaborators, was that "only
violence helps where violence rules." The same was true of Czechoslovakia.
Being too weak to throw the Nazis out of the country on their own, the
Czech resistance needed the offensive of the Red Army. The French needed
the Allied invasion, There was no other way to defeat rule based on brutal
violence by a terrorist state.
If, today, state violence suppresses democratic rights
in towns with a Black American majority, does the old lesson still apply?
And if the majority of the population in the U.S. should
wake up and recognize the extent to which the people is exposed to structural
violence – enforcement of usurous and unjust debt payments, economic
insecurity that forces people to live under tremendous continuous stress,
and militarization of the country, both internally and externally – does
the old lesson apply?
There are many reasons to doubt it. Revolutions certainly
are justified if a situation, that the majority is exposed to, becomes
unbearable and there is no other remedy that promises redress. But the
chance of successfully achieving change by tackling the powers that be
head on has to be taken into consideration.
Revolutions in 1776, in 1789, in 1848 were fought with
rifles. But it was already in 1848 that the use of artillery against encircled
insurgent cities like Milano, Venice, Vienna, Lyon – and even inside
(as in Berlin) – made military victory of insurgent masses very difficult.
The Russian October revolution and the German November
revolution were able to topple repressive regimes because troops switched
sides – in the Russian case, more wholeheartedly and completely than
in the German case.
The Portuguese democratic revolution of 1975 was able
to topple the dictatorship because (a) leaders of NATO countries saw that
the dictatorship would be swept away by discontent masses and wanted a
soft transition, thus encouraging General Spinola to stage a coup d'état,
and because (b) in a second phase, progressive officers in the army, supported
by common soldiers. sided with the well-organized agricultural workers
in the Alentejo region and the workers in Lisboa, above all, the shipyard
In Chile, the democratic attempt to achieve a much more
equitable, freer and fraternal society was squashed, because American corporations
like International Telephone & Telegraph and the U.S. owned Anaconda
Copper Mining Corporation, but above all the Chilean upper class and upper
middle class objected. The generals were sons of the upper middle class,
they were upper middle class. And when they toppled the democratically
elected Allende Government, they had the support of the CIA, and of the
U.S. political establishment, especially Mr. Kissinger. But above all,
the soldiers and the police, for the most part, were loyal, not to the
democratically elected president, but to their officers. Loyal to them,
or too afraid to switch sides, or both.
In Egypt, more recently, we witnessed another attempt
to change things and achieve democracy and social justice, coupled with
economic improvement. Here, too, a revolutionary attempt, that had the
backing of the masses, failed because the masses did not have the
factual support of the army. The generals won, the common soldiers obeyed
them, and the U.S., despite verbal statements of a different sort, propped
up the putschist generals, thereby having replaced a dictator they no longer
trusted (Mr. Mubarak) by a dictator they more or less trust.
Does this confirm the sentence that power comes out of
the muzzle of a gun?
It was never absolutely true. But it was also never absolutely
wrong. The power of a State is tied to what social scientists and professors
of jurisprudence call its "monopoly to use force" [thus, to resort to violence]
But political power that rested merely on support
by a loyal army and police was never solidly entrenched – regardless of
whether it was a liberal democracy under the sway of big business, or a
right-wing military dictatorship, or a so-called 'dictatorship of the proletariate'
(where power was monopolized by the top ranks of the "unitary party," in
the case of the now defunct Soviet Union buttressed by an alliance with
high-ranking member of the bureaucracy, a small number of generals, and
directors of major state-run enterprises).
Social philosophers, from Gramsci to Foucault, to Althusser
have pointed out the importance of cultural hegemony, thus of mainstream
discourses that stabilize a consensus within the ruled population that
lends support to the "power elite." Without ideological cohesion that
underpins the status quo, thus the hold to power of the few, a military
that they can lean on to defend their position of power and the socio-economic
assets and privileges of those whose interests they represent, becomes
more vital. But the stability of the regime will decrease nonetheless.
The political caste that governs will experience instability and will face
the risk of losing power.
The more obviously moral cohesion and support for the
"politicians in Washington" is waning in the population (in fact, almost
across the board), the more important the military apparatus and
the bureaucracy that the "power elite" leans on. And the bigger
their temptation to take precautions, in terms of mass surveillance, rescinding
of democratic rights, intimidation of protests, blacklisting, arrests,
harsh punishments, and covert assassinations.
But as I said, reliance on a security apparatus and fascist
(or Stalinist) repression offer only a brief reprieve; they are short-term
solutions, perhaps not short if we consider the life-span of an individual,
but short in historical perspective. Sooner or later such a repressive
regime must either relax its hold and soften its approach, or it will be
toppled. Historical experience has shown, however, that as soon as a repressive
regime will relax its hold, the chances that it will soon be toppled increase.
The Soviet leadership, resorting to Stalinist repression
in order to deal with difficult internal and external situations, relaxed
its hold ideologically and in terms of economic policies, step by step,
since Stalin's death. The logical outcome was the policy of Gorbachev,
and then Jelzin, with the results we have witnessed. The decisive mistakes
were made, when, in order to cope with deathly external danger and a few
internal remnants of opposition, the regime did not trust the masses but
bossed them, resorting to a combination of "terreur" and simplistic, yet
consumable, and therefore, in the short run, effective ideological consensus
building. Truth, also regarding the failures experienced, free discussion
complete reliance on grass-roots democracy could
have saved the revolution in the long run, but the "realist" leaders like
Lenin and the pragmatists like Stalin considered such a policy as
irresponsibly naive and idealistic. They preferred a strong GPU respectively
Similarly, the rulers in today's plutocratic Unired States,
representatives of the interest of the 0.1 percent, prefer more and more
to rely on Homeland Security, surveillance, drones and tanks deployed at
home, and scientific preparation (carried out by willing helpers within
the scientific community) of a crack-down. The proportions of such a crack-down
would always depend on "necessity," on the respective magnitude of popular
resistance to "elite rule." If the worse would come to the worst, the scope
of repression could be considerable. The number of murdered civilians was
considerable when Soeharto was compelled to "stabilize" Indonesia under
American auspices. Between 650,000 and one million citizens were "liquidated"
in 1965 which was a lot, in relation to the size of the Indonesian population
at the time. In fact, it is possible to speak of Stalinist dimensions of
In Guatemala, a country with a comparatively tiny
population, American advisers, in cooperation with local, US-trained brass
heads, had about 250,000 to 350,000 thousand civilians murdered –
mostly Maya women, children, and men suspected of supporting the guerilla
with food and providing a safe haven for them in their villages. The Chinese
Left had declared during their anti-Japanese and anti-KMT people's war,
that a guerilla movement must be like fish in the sea of the people. U.S.
governments adopted the policy that we must empty the sea to catch the
fish - which was in fact a genocidal policy practiced in Korea, in
Vietnam, in Cambodia, and also in Guatemala. Liberal and formally
democratic at home, they acted like fascists abroad.
In Chile, Argentine, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Brazil, the
extent of repressive measures and the number of victims that US supported
repressive policies produced was also considerable. This shows us what
our rulers, in the self-proclaimed civilized, democratic West are capable
of when some raison d'état, that is to say, the danger to
see the politico-economic interests of the banks and big business imperiled,
"compels them to act." It would be naive to belief that they are incapable
of attempting something of the sort at home, if the economic and political
(in fact "politico-economic") power of the top stratum of the bourgeoisie
seems at risk.
That they are losing the battle for hearts and minds of
the majority, has clear reasons. Messieurs Rumsfeld, Cheney, the Bush clan
etc. have revealed themselves as liars who put their own economic interests
in Iraq, where Halliburton made a lot of money, profits paid for by US
tax payers) above any consideration for the lives of US soldiers,
alone the lives of Iraqis. Mr. Bush came across as the cold-hearted
multi-millionaire he is, when people saw how he reacted to Katrina
as it hit New Orleans and the Louisiana coast. But so did Mr Romney who
loves to fire people, as he freely admitted. And more recently, another
millionaire, Mr. Obama, has revealed himself finally as equally cold-hearted,
in the context of the shooting of a Black unarmed teenager in Ferguson
MO. In other words, a majority of Americans – from left-leaning
trade union activists or liberal champions of civil rights [violated by
warrantless mass surveillance] to Tea Party adherents who have great difficulties
to survive economically (as many of them are just shop-owners, family farmers,
or workers with insecure contracts) – do not trust the "power elite."
And they know why. If they don't know it, in any sense of the word that
implies thorough analysis, they at least feel, almost instinctively, that
"these guys (and wealthy Madams) in power" can't
be trusted. The top office holders, the people we vote into office,
are people we instinctively don't believe and don't trust. And this across
the board, from the so-called left to the right of the electorate. Despite
all apparent ideological differences, within the subaltern classes, they
are united in their suspicion of politicians and the political system,
not like it is in theory, but regarding the way it factually works.
This opens enormous chances of a broad alliance. We have
to ask ourselves whether the ideological squabble about family values,
gay, lesbian and transgender rights, and so on does not amount to a diversion,
and whether that takes our attention away from much more vital issues.
After all, the issues just referred to should be treated as issues of personal,
individual morality, and they should thus be banished from political discourse.
The state has no right to interfere in these fields, nor has my neighbor
a right to interfere in my ethical decision-making process, or I in his.
What is not a private concern is this: According to research
paid for by the Federal Reserve and conducted in 2013, one third of
all inhabitants of the United States are worse of economically [at
the moment the study is conducted] than they were in 2008, when the
financial crisis made headlines. Another third of all inhabitants, badly
hurt by the crisis in 2008, are still in the same doldrums. Listen, that
means that 66 percent of all Americans are in trouble; they have big problems
making ends meet. And this even when they hold two, three, or four jobs
– all of them in such cases paying low wages. In other words, the
market system works against them, whereas the top earners wax richer and
richer, often even in a crisis. And we are dealing with a protracted, very
deep and painful economic crisis that is not over, despite speculative
straw fires at the New York Stock Exchange.
The Federal Reserve report also states that forty-five
percent of all Americans have not a single dollar left over at the end
of each month that they could save, in order to pay for unexpected costs,
like necessary house repairs, a car so old that it must replaced, or an
operation. In other words, nearly one half of the population experiences
the outrageous fact that wages do not cover the minimal cost of living.
The situation experienced by a very considerable part
of the population is described by them generally as perpetual financial
stress. Add to that the hiring and firing practices, job insecurity, a
low level of unionization. The thought that your job is not secure at all
implies tremendous stress, too.
Aggressive behavior, job killings, racist slurs can all
be linked to a climate that puts most people under stress, that makes them
anxious, fearful of the future, pessimistic, and likely to succumb to feelings
of helplessness. Such people do not lead healthy, happy lifes.
Since about 1973, until the early 1990s, the real wages
of ordinary (partially or sectorally qualified) workers, imcluding auto
workers on the assembly line, steel workers, and so on, declined by
about one third. It slashed the power of unions; it put working people
on the defense, and it meant that the improvement of the standard of life
of working class America that we had witnessed in the late 50s and the
60s, was over. The material experience that underpinned a middle class
feeling among well-paid auto workers, construction workers and so on,
became a thing of the past. The meaning of "middle class" – as a
term applicable to well-paid working men (not women) – was hollowed
Since then, the (mainly white) "middle class" that
was "always" (after World War, or since the 1950s, up to the moment of
the structural crisis of capitalism) a better-paid working class
two cars and a house (that was not paid, but required a mortgage)
experienced the fact that it is sliding downwards.
This experience pushed the declining petty-bourgeoisie
in the German "Weimar Republic" overwhelmingly into the arms of Hitler.
The experience of insecurity and loss of financial breathing space has
pushed a considerable portion of "white" American "middle class" males
into the arms of the Republican party, even though workers had previously
tended towards unions and the Democratic Party.
But today, there is only a small difference between the
"centrist" Democratic party leadership and the "moderate" as well as the
"conservative" Republican Party leadership. The relatively new phenomenon
is the Tea Party, financed by very right-wing billionaires like the Koch
brothers: a movement that absorbs the most frustrated and most resentful
segments of the "White" working class (still called "middle class") and
In view of the objective class situation of the mass base
of the Tea Party movement and given their economic distress, it is irresponsible
of the American Left to disregard these people or to treat them as ideological
adversaries. What is necessary is to find common ground around economic
issues and to seek to understand and respect concerns that deserve respect.
Of course, small Tea Party adherents are right to be concerned about crime.
A common perspective is needed that makes clear, crime is to be tackled,
but the small-time thief or small dealer who resorts to crime because his
economic situation is so much worse than that of the small Tea Party supporter,
is not an adversary but also a potential ally. The small "criminal" from
the neighborhood "on the other side of the tracks" resorts to small
crime because this is his strategy of survival. He must get a chance to
survive at least minimally, economically, by integration into the job market
(as a first step).
Those who hold on to power have up to now survived loss
trust in them because we always choose the lesser of two evils, or
believe that this is what we do. They survive in political power, because
they (and the economically powerful they represent) are good at putting
the "right wing" of the masses (mainly, the so-called Christian Right)
against the "liberals" and both against the so-called "nutty" or "extreme
left" that is practically non-existent, numerically, despite its discoursive
interventions that reveal considerable intellectual capacity.
In the mass media, intelligent analysis does not count.
What counts are easy to grasp slogans, no matter how hollow and
detached from reality they may be.
Progressives must seek to link with all the exploited
and disparaged, accentuating common ground and avoiding to raise divisive
issues. The dogmatic left has never been good at this; they would even
produce an ideological split in a group of three leftists. feeling good
that ideological correctness was maintained (or whatever they took for
correctness). If this is so, they have a lot to learn, for instance from
President Ortega, who learned that in a Catholic country it is not very
clever, strategically, to take on the Catholic church. To seek common ground
is much better, and to achieve a compromise where divisive issues tend
to get too much prominence is a good and necessary strategy.
As long as a distrusted power elite can play out one part
of the American masses against the other (and marginalize small third and
forth parts – Black Americans, Native American, so-called illegal
immigrants, and the radical Left), they have not that much too fear, even
though the economic situation of the common people is bad and probably
worsening. Still, those on top prepare for the worst, drawing up lists,
getting ready for a hard response to mass protests.
For this they don't rely on ideological consensus, they
really on security forces, on internal militarization. They forget one
thing: the Roman power elite that relied on the military, even on Blackwater-type
mercenaries, was at the end of the day toppled not by the Roman people,
but by generals of Blackwater-type mercenaries. The repressive power
apparatus of the security forces (today, that would be the army, National
Guard, Police, the secret services, Homeland Security) became autonomous,
run by itself rather than by office holders in government. Could
that happen today? Has it happened already, in part?
What would be our answer?
Insurrection? No - hopeless. But if the people unite
in joined, careful, sensible political action, it invigorates them, it
gives them hope, it makes them less depressed, more healthy, more able
to achieve things. If they unite, in solidarity and for a good purpose,
it will also affect people in the military, in the police, in the secret
services. None of them was born with a golden spoon in his mouth; they
came from the people, and we must integrate them in the people again. We
must pull them to our side.
Democracy, justice, fraternal relations between human
beings are a common concern. And to live decent lives, without luxury,
without back- breaking labor accompanied by malnutrition and starvation
a human right. Let's work for it, everywhere – in white "lower middle
class" neighborhoods in upstate New York or in Minnesota, in the big cities,
and in towns like Ferguson or Salinas. The PEOPLE UNITED WILL NEVER BE
- Juan Mendoza
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in Society # 14, Contents