OF THE MANY, tedious American delusions, perhaps the most insistent and counter-factual materialist superstition is the daft creed that America is a classless society. How useful then for so many citizens to chuck this nonsense and have at it in the open October air, and in the precise manner that Karl Marx identified as the very engine of historical development: the struggle between the haves and the have-nots. Or, as the Wall Street Occupation puts it, the struggle of the ninety-nine have-not percent against the has-it one.
Some of us were writing twenty and even thirty and forty years ago about the dangers established by America’s permanent war economy and the expanding wealth gap. Even now I expect that the resilience of the American economy (which is really the resilience of capitalism) will prevent the collapse which, for so many on the left, could not come quickly enough. But let us agree, as some critics do and for the mere purpose of argument, that the demands of the protestors are too vague, or too large, or too several and impractical to be acted upon by a nonetheless dysfunctional and co-opted political establishment. There is still value to the occupations of America’s streets. The value inheres in the following: the current agitations inject real-life substance into the political dialectic, and they remind us that when the politicians and the political system can no longer respond effectively to the public needs and will, the people will in the fullness of time act accordingly.
This is not only a reminder, it is a warning. Only a fool with no historical awareness and no imagination looks forward to the revolution. The depressing lesson of history is that the solution to the problem inevitably arrives, and that it is almost always brutal and bloody. The Prague and Arab Springs are the modern exceptions, and even this short list requires qualification. Marx correctly saw history as a materialist-dialectical struggle, and although the Communist solutions to the facts of human deprivation and misery were (and still are) pernicious and intolerable, no one has surpassed Marx as a critic and analyst of Capitalism.
Here we return to the two points above, which is to say the business of real-life substance and the ineffectual political class. An illustration of both is rendered in the Republican House Majority leader Eric Cantor, whose statements concerning the Wall Street protests nicely conflate Washington oblivion and flatulent hypocrisy. Quoted in situ at something called the Value Voters Summit (hosted by the special-interest Family Research Council, and how fitting is that), Cantor — even the man’s name!— dismissed the Wall Street protestors as a mob threatening to divide the country. A US congressman waving his finger and pontificating before the public on the matter of divisiveness quite challenges one’s patience. Doubtless while others were taking to the streets, Cantor was ensconced in a Religious Right bubble world of intelligent design and cultural warfare, which I concede are bulleted points near the top of the list of real life concerns for a relative few. It is precisely for that reason today’s congressperson will typically be found at such oddball events.
As bad as Cantor’s cant is, less inspired and less original instances of bilious condensation may by harvested. An oil industry accountant, whose scorn of the protestors fails to rise above Get-A-Haircut cliché, is quoted saying, “I came to mock them. They need to get a job. These are rich, white college students whose professors don’t like the Tea Party.” From among the Tea Party membership itself, the reception is equally dismissive. Amy Kremer, Chair of the Tea Party Express, cast her cold eye over a vast, uniform crop of spoiled children and struck the metaphor of “a kid having a temper tantrum because their parents won’t buy them the whole ice-cream store.”
Well, maybe. But do count me among those pricked-up by the politics of matters over which it is worth fighting, in the Marxist sense. On the one had, those at present lining up for jobs at Fox and Sun News and the US Congress, whose principal objective is to defend and extend as far as humanly possible the rights of capital. On the other, those who, having asserted the dignity and rights of their brothers and sisters around the world, are now inspired by their example and ready to apply it at home.