We are in the midst of class war. You may not have noticed; one side isn't fighting. It's the side that isn't even aware that classes exist. The other side are keenly aware.
For the docile side to fight the fight, they first must be aware that they are on a side, are being fought against, and that they are being attacked by the enemy. Class war isn't new and neither is ubiquitous oblivion to it. It has just become and will continue to become considerably hotter and wider. It's about time that we take notice that we are under attack.
Racism, sexism, nationalism are a few of the -isms that have been written about, debated, and discussed in popular leftist publications and in schools of social work over the past several decades. Classism has been relatively taboo however. It has been regulated to red publications and venues that sport stacks of large red lettered newspapers sold by religious Marxists that are generally treated like pariahs. These Marxists use a lot of words like bourgeoisie, proletariat, and dialectical materialism. They may be strong in debate and are well armed with economic, social, and historical analysis but nobody listens to them.
Oddly enough, they might be onto something. Class oppression is real and so is class war.
War on the poor has been continuing unabated over the years and their deprivation has been increasing since at least the 1980s. You may not have noticed because you were not one of them. But the security that the working class has enjoyed over the past half a century is on very shaky ground. Maybe we should have listened to some of that religious 'whatever you do to the least of my brethren...' because now we will be joining the ranks of 'the least of you brethren' in greater numbers. Many have. Unemployment is a threat to most and many have already been cast to the lower castes.
The war on the poor that you may have not been noticing has been persistent and relentless.
Not so long ago, for instance, various jurisdictions in Canada passed laws to forbid poor people from panhandling. In B.C. and in other jurisdictions such as Toronto, the 'Beautiful People' are armed with safe streets acts or similar legislation aimed at removing unsightly poor people from their beautiful streets. The legislation sports names like 'The Safe Streets Act' to indicate to noble taxpayers that these people are a danger to us.
In the mid 80’s governments everywhere threw people out of mental hospitals with the promise that they would supply money for less intrusive measures such as community care. That was a promise that was, predictably, broken. And now that they have done this, they are worried that those who are panhandling are neglected mentally ill people and present a danger to pedestrians. That’s how karma works. If you kill and hurt little animals, little animals will give you the creeps. If you kill and hurt poor people, poor people will give you the creeps.
But poor people are simply that – poor people. Panhandlers are youth fleeing abuse, people that cannot find work, people with addiction problems, people with neglected mental health problems and people that have been thrown out of work due to the instability of capitalism. Increasingly, poor people are victims of neo-liberal globalization, people that have been thrown out of work because auto manufacturing plants are shutting down even though people still need cars. People are going homeless even though many houses are emptied each day. But the absurdities and contradictions of capitalism remain unnoticed for the most part.
Anti-poor people laws were passed prohibiting people from employing themselves with squeegees and laws have been passed prohibiting poor people from sleeping in this or under that. This war, the war on the poor, has been in full swing for a long long time. It is about to ratchet up considerably. Many of us were/are just a firing, a redundancy, or an accident away from inhabiting the forgotten ignored class. A reality few of us want to accept.
When we think of violence, we generally think of war, or revolution, or shooting or some sort of physical brutality. But now, children, women and men all over the world are dying because they can’t access or are not free to get what they need to survive. In the capitalist world freedom and money are synonymous. They are dying because they don’t have the money to get the food or the medicine or medical attention they need.
When we ignore the plight of people in need we are committing an act of silent violence. There are people in our communities that are unemployed, under-employed, elderly, and disabled that live and die in unbearable misery because they can’t access what they need. It is held back from them because they can’t pay for it. This situation is cruel and barbaric. And it is a sin inherent to but not exclusive to capitalism.
Human needs and especially vital human needs should never be at the mercy of the instability of capitalism or the whims of philanthropists. The needs of Torontonians are different in many respects to the needs of hunter gatherers in the Amazon. As societies change and evolve, so do needs. In Toronto you can freeze to death and you can have your power cut or face eviction. What statistics don't measure is the fear and subjective reality that people in these conditions must live with.
At this point one billion people on the planet face daily starvation. This brutality isn't considered a crisis. But when billionaires profits are in jeopardy it is portrayed in mainstream media with hysteria and panic. To calm the privileged class many billions of tax dollars are granted to them to pay for their crimes.
In modern, complex societies human needs grow. The structural backdrop of capitalism appears to be unable to meet the most basic needs of substantial segments of the population. At what point will the plight of the poor be considered a crisis? The unsettling fact of the matter is, humanity has been in crisis all along.
The Current Crisis
We have with us now what is generally thought of as an economic crisis. And it is certainly a crisis. Our economic worlds are in the midst of massive upheaval. Even the ultra wealthy are in danger of being affected.
This crisis will find its bottom at some point and when that happens, unlike typical recessions, the jobs that have been lost won't be coming back. The crisis will be deemed to be over because the ultra wealthy will find a measure of stability for their massive plunder. The reality of increased and permanent homelessness and joblessness will remain. It will become a new status quo. There will remain a constituency of the working class that will still be okay, a large part of that population will have fallen to poverty, and those that have been poor all along will be worse off. But then and now, the stock market numbers will be percolating and the collective response from mainstream media will be: Crisis, what crisis?
The economic crisis has been handled by the wealthy classes and their political gophers by landing the heaviest blows on the chin of the working class. Workers were forced to accept massive job and wage cuts. The working class across the board has had to accept very tough measures and a tax bill (especially in the USA) that is inconceivable.
What is happening and will continue to happen is further reductions to social programs and to programs reliant on public spending such as health care and education. Where private sector employees have taken it on the chin thus far, the public sector will be next. Government spending is bound to be slashed to the bone.
Politicians and pundits talk of green shoots in the economy. The fact is, we are still haemorrhaging jobs and they shout for glee when the flow of blood is less than the month before. Just this week economists in the USA anticipated such a decrease but the numbers have shown far more first time benefits applications than they thought. Initial jobless claims rose by 15,000 to 627,000. And in the USA, the number of people receiving unemployment benefits rose from 3 million to 9 million since the beginning of the year. In time, those people will run out of unemployment benefits and when that happens, if you squint your eyes just right, you'll be able to look at statistics and say; hey, there's a green shoot.
Social safety nets are in bad shape all over but the broken, tattered, and completely inadequate social safety nets in the USA were that way before this crisis occurred. Things are bound to get much worse for the increasing ranks of the unemployed.
The Unseen Battles of the 1990s
In the 1990s the war on the poor was in full swing. In Canada, the Canada Assistance Act was thrown out by Prime Minister Paul Martin. The Act had provided a measure of social security for all Canadians. It was unceremoniously thrown out to unbearable silence on the part of opposition parties, welfare rights groups, and the media. 'Work for your welfare' attitudes were the latest fad. In that period funding to health care and other social programs was slashed to the bone. Politicians were quick to blame bond rating agencies for the need to slash and burn. The Fraser Institute and other right wing lobby groups were shrill and panicked by national and local deficits. These bond rating agencies and think tanks never harass people about funding used to kill foreigners or to prop up the wealthy class. They spout hysterical when a dime is spent to feed somebody but say nothing about funding for war and profits to ammunition makers. They attack expenditures to the poor but never lay a glove on servicing the debt.
At the same time in the USA, Slick Willy brought forward some of the most vile and mean spirited welfare legislation that country has seen. Clintons TANF (Temporary assistance for Needy Families) placed the problem of poverty squarely on the laps of the victims. Aside from the notion that in an area where x% are unemployed because that's how many jobs actually exist, the implicit assumption has always been that the unemployed are so because they choose it that way. As it is, one in seven Michigan residents are on food stamp assistance but individuals are required to show they are looking for work when there is none. As irrational as this seems, it isn't. It is about fixing blame on the victim.
The Working Class
The old alliance and silent deal between large scale capitalists and the middle classes has been scrapped. This is not a recession. This is a matter of large scale capitalists behaving like pigeons in a skinner box. They are simply programmed to maximize profits and if that means shipping manufacturing plants to places where they can pay for assemblage with pennies, that's what they will do. Expecting anything else is folly and it is stupid. This is not a recession if recession implies 'temporary'. This is a full scale shift in fortunes and in manufacturing.
The middle classes have been asleep for the most part while the poor have been under heavy artillery fire. The life of comforts that comes with nesting under American and British hegemony tended to encourage political apathy. Why upset the apple cart when me and mine are doing okay?
The middle/working classes have been living off not only capitalist exploitation of foreign resources. They have also been living off the demands for goods and services that are drying up domestically. And for people in that situation; people that have been oblivious to class consciousness and oblivious to the starvation and oppression of our brothers and sisters at home and abroad, you have been sold out by your masters. They have no loyalty to nations, religions, or to anything except to their own class. Where 'they' (the poor) have been you are. In fact, you have always been there. As much as it hurts to say this; you/we are not one of them. You/we are not in that class no matter how many status symbols you can/we afford. They (the owners of the politicians) simply don't care what happens to us.
The banks and the large corporations have created the present crisis. And it is they that are reaping a financial harvest at the moment courtesy of the taxpayers. They don't need to worry. Their employees, the Federal Reserve's Bernanke and President Obama will ensure that they are unharmed. They will collude and are colluding with the operators/gamblers and ensure that the games that have brought the economy to this crisis continues. The Federal Reserve has underwritten and guaranteed about $13 trillion to keep their gambling addiction alive. And at the same time, the lower classes are in full crisis. Sinister and foggy financial credit default swaps and other mechanisms to keep the game alive are still in the cards. They fooled us once, they fooled us twice and they will fool us again. The shell games should be outlawed and the fraudsters that have reaped from the games should be jailed - but they are rewarded and the shell games continue. They are rewarded because it is they that pay and control the Bernankes and the Obamas.
We are living in a world where the instruments needed to produce for everybody are available. They are shut down. We live in a world where the numbers of homeless are increasing at an alarming rate and homes sit empty, while the homeless sleep in cars, under bridges, or anywhere that seems safe.
And on it goes. And on it goes because we believe we live in a classless society. And if you really believe that, ask one of them out for a beer. In reality, they don't associate with the likes of you/me.