Class: The Little Word The Elites Want You To Forget
Above Photo: Mr. Fish / Truthdig
Aristotle, Niccolò Machiavelli, Alexis de Tocqueville, Adam Smith and Karl Marx grounded their philosophies in the understanding that there is a natural antagonism between the rich and the rest of us. The interests of the rich are not our interests. The truths of the rich are not our truths. The lives of the rich are not our lives. Great wealth not only breeds contempt for those who do not have it but it empowers oligarchs to pay armies of lawyers, publicists, politicians, judges, academics and journalists to censure and control public debate and stifle dissent. Neoliberalism, deindustrialization, the destruction of labor unions, slashing and even eliminating the taxes of the rich and corporations, free trade, globalization, the surveillance state, endless war and austerity — the ideologies or tools used by the oligarchs to further their own interests — are presented to the public as natural law, the mechanisms for social and economic progress, even as the oligarchs dynamite the foundations of a liberal democracy and exacerbate a climate crisis that threatens to extinguish human life.
The oligarchs are happy to talk about race. They are happy to talk about sexual identity and gender. They are happy to talk about patriotism. They are happy to talk about religion. They are happy to talk about immigration. They are happy to talk about abortion. They are happy to talk about gun control. They are happy to talk about cultural degeneracy or cultural freedom. They are not happy to talk about class. Race, gender, religion, abortion, immigration, gun control, culture and patriotism are issues used to divide the public, to turn neighbor against neighbor, to fuel virulent hatreds and antagonisms. The culture wars give the oligarchs, both Democrats and Republicans, the cover to continue the pillage. There are few substantial differences between the two ruling political parties in the United States. This is why oligarchs like Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg can switch effortlessly from one party to the other. Once oligarchs seize power, Aristotle wrote, a society must either accept tyranny or choose revolution.
The United States stood on the cusp of revolution — a fact President Franklin Roosevelt acknowledged in his private correspondence — amid the breakdown of capitalism in the 1930s. Roosevelt responded by aggressively curbing the power of the oligarchs. The federal government dealt with massive unemployment by creating 12 million jobs through the Works Progress Administration (WPA), making the government the largest employer in the country. It legalized unions, many of which had been outlawed, and through the National Labor Relations Act empowered organizing. It approved banking regulations, including the Emergency Banking Act, the Banking Act and the Securities Act, all in 1933, to prevent another stock market crash. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration provided the equivalent in today’s money of $9.88 billion for relief operations in cities and states. The Democratic president heavily taxed the rich and corporations. (The Republican administration of Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s was still taxing the highest earners at 91%.) Roosevelt’s administration instituted programs such as Social Security and a public pension program. It provided financial assistance to tenant farmers and migrant workers. It funded arts and culture. It created the United States Housing Authority and instituted the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which established the minimum wage and set a limit on mandatory work hours. This heavy government intervention lifted the country out of the Great Depression. It also made Roosevelt, who was elected to an unprecedented fourth term, and the Democratic Party wildly popular among working and middle-class families. The Democratic Party, should it resurrect such policies, would win every election in a landslide.