Note: Portions of this post appeared just a year ago. The message seems timelier than ever, so I have adapted it for the current moment.
Class War, it’s nothing new. In fact part of the power of the phrase comes because it conjures up images of bloody revolution. Depending on which side you are on, you envision the Paris Mob dragging their betters to the guillotine and grim Bolshevik hoards or American militia attacking a camp of sleeping striking miners with machine guns. My old outfit, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a product of those times, put it unflinchingly in their famous Preamble, “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common…”
But we haven’t heard much about Class War in America for the last several decades until fairly recently. That’s because the Depression era reforms of the New Deal effectively called a truce. American workers were granted certain protections—child labor laws, the 40 hour work week, the right to unionize, unemployment insurance, Social Security—in exchange for refraining from trying to carry the heads of Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, and assorted other malefactors of great wealth around the streets on pikes.
The bargain seemed to work out well for just about everyone concerned. The reforms, combined with the industrial explosion fueled by World War II production, post-war technological innovation, and the unchallenged dominance of the American economy in the world lifted millions out of what Jack London had called The Abyss into the comfortable middle class. The bosses made out pretty well, too. Not only did they find an enormous new markets for their consumer goods and millions of new investors—via pension plans and individual enthusiasm—in their companies, but they could sleep soundly at night without a pistol under the pillow.
In the last decade or so the phrase has been making a comeback, however. Not on the lips of the working class, mind you, but in the fevered visions of a resurgent right wing. You started to hear it in Congress every time a Democrat stood up to propose a new program for the poor, or more recently, whenever one would challenge the latest attempts to repeal the New Deal. Every time any hapless mope would suggest not dropping trousers on command for a good fucking by the rich, wails of “Class War! Class War!” would erupt.
When the faux populists of the Tea Party, obediently carrying out the orders of the ultra-rich ideologues that funded them, arrived in Congress not only did they capture the Republican Party, but they ratchet up talk of Class War.
And not only in Congress. A wave of Tea Party governors and state legislatures unencumbered with effective Democratic opposition, enacted wave upon wave of draconian assaults on working people in the name of budgetary responsibility and “getting government off our backs.” When the people of Wisconsin rose up en-mass for a sustained series of demonstrations, occupation of the state capital, and recall elections, panic on the right rose to new levels. Class War! Class War! Class!
But it has become more and more apparent that Class War is what is being waged by a class of plutocrats and oligarchs and their petty hirelings, the alternately snarling and simpering talking heads of a bought and paid for media, and the barely disguised puppets of their own private political party.
With Mitt Romney, despite the fact that he was never trusted by Tea Party mob it created, the oligarchy finally had one of their very own poised to usurp the last tattered shreds of liberal power. The utter destruction of Barack Obama all he stood for seemed at hand.
But Romney and his cronies were too smug. A secret tape from a deep pocket Florida fundraiser surfaced with Romney’s forthright admission that he was fighting an intransigent “47% of voters” who allegedly “paid no taxes” and were so dependent on government handouts that they would never vote for him. Virtuous producers and wealth makers were not enough to win the election, so Romney begged his donors for money to swamp the undecided 10% into voting for him.
The uproar upon release was predictable. The language used insulted half of America, including many folks who traditionally vote Republican—older voters, veterans, the remnants of the blue collar white working class resentful of completion from minorities. With his campaign in chaos and Republicans and conservative pundits turning on him, not for his meanings, but for being foolish enough to be caught stating plainly what is usually coached in code, Romney said only that he had spoken “inelegantly” but refused to back down on the sentiments. He, in the popular political buzz phrase of the day, “doubled down” and reiterated his position in an op-ed piece and today in a public appearance in Florida.
Predictably, faced with this open declaration of Class War, Romney’s poll numbers, already sinking after the parade of snarlers, bigots, and zealots the Republican Nation Convention have began a free fall.
For his part, as is his want, the President took the reasonable high ground declaring simply that it was his job to be President of “100% of America” and to chat pleasantly with David Letterman.
Yet while contrasting himself to Romney, he did not reject all his opponent has come to mean. He still spoke of reasonable compromise. And he did not even plead for the election of a friendly Democratic Party majority in both houses of Congress in order to enact a “progressive” agenda now blocked.
Last year after cries of Class War erupted over his jobs bill and plans to modestly raise taxes on the wealthy Obama said, “It’s not Class War, it’s math.” Clever line, but wrong. There is a Class War. It is being wage ruthlessly and effectively—by the wealthy and the new class of their ideological political servants.
Just how far this vision of Class War has come from political maneuvering and posturing was pointed up in a speech to acolytes at that time by right wing Blogger and hero Andrew Breitbard with the bloody scalp of Rep. Andrew Weiner dangling from his belt. He called for real war—with guns blazing—on Liberals, the enemy in the Class War. And he made it abundantly clear that he was not speaking metaphorically or in jest. He meant every word of it, to wit:
I always think to myself, “Fire the first shot.” Bring it on. Because I know who’s on our side. They can only win a rhetorical and propaganda war. They cannot win. We outnumber them in this country, and we have the guns. [audience laughter] I’m not kidding. They talk a mean game, but they will not cross that line because they know what they’re dealing with. And I have people who come up to me in the military, major named people in the military, who grab me and they go, “Thank you for what you’re doing, we’ve got your back.”
Now this kind of rhetoric has not been uncommon on the fringe of the fringe, those web sites where Tea Party crazies fade seamlessly into neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, skin heads, Klansmen, and militia types. Michelle Bachmann made hints in this direction by referring to possible “Second Amendment options” if electoral politics are not sufficient to create a revolution. But that was the first time a big name on the right, one who is taken with deadly seriousness by the national media, has come out in advocacy of such violence.
It would not be the last. Similar language is popping up from Virginia Republican newsletters to off the cuff speeches by lawmakers and officials in Texas, Arizona, Florida and elsewhere. None of which is slapped down or denounced by the supposedly respectable elements of the GOP and conservative movement.
The background chatter for class war and revolution is ratcheting up across the cesspool that is the right wing blog-o-sphere.
This rhetoric just plays to the rich fantasy lives of many of followers who cast themselves as the heroes of the epic movies in their heads, dealing death and vengeance with righteousness. These folks sometimes do not take a lot of prodding, or wink-and-nod approval to cross the line from fantasy to the headlines of the next “crazed lone gunman” story.
In the face off all of this rising spleen, working people, whose lives and incomes have come under tireless assault, have been strangely, until Wisconsin, silent. But a year of the Occupy Movement has opened up new possibilities of resistance—even of boldly taking an offensive position in a new acknowledged class war. The mass take-it-to-the-streets energy of the Chicago Teachers’ Strike astounded the pundits who routinely vilify teacher and their unions when parents and the general public flocked to the support of the teachers.
As for me, I am glad for signs that our side of the Class War—here-to-fore the losing side—is beginning to fight back. Yes, we will fight back in the voting booth. That is our first defense against a total takeover by the ruthless oligarchy. But it is in the streets, in the neighborhood, on the job that we will go on the offensive. We won’t slack our thirst for justice on what trickles down or be grateful for the crumbs brushed for our betters’ tables. We will demand and take what is by rights our own.
Class war? Count me as one geezer ready to re-enlist. Who’s with me?