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 cities (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 workers. 

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] legally. 

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 and
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 NKWD.

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 terror.
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 (say 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, let 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 out. 

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 owning two cars and a house (that was not paid, but required a mortgage) has 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 small owners.

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 of 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 is 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 DEFEATED.
 
 

- Juan Mendoza
 
 

go to Art in Society # 14, Contents
 


 
 
 
 
 
 

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