Revolution in America
Working families across this country are deeply frustrated about an economy and a government that doesn’t work for them. ~ US Senator Elizabeth Warren in 2016
Into the 21st century, economic inequality in the United States left an increasing number of Americans struggling to make ends meet, even those who had full-time employment. It became increasingly more obvious to the average Joe that the “American Dream” had evaporated into a mirage; that the economic game was rigged to subsidize the wealthy. Yet Americans did not rise up.
Failure to rebel is not a historical anomaly. Suffering serfs went centuries with only sporadic uprisings, typically triggered by additional oppression heaped upon their already dire circumstances.
African American slaves were not nearly as patient, but their liberation from being owned outright did not occur until the white man found their freedom a moral imperative. In other words, insurrections were suppressed until the ruling elite decided they were justified. In the case of slavery in the United States, the bloodiest war in that country’s history was required to render that decision.
A few factors account for the quiescence of the relatively penurious proletariat in post-modern America. First and foremost is mistaken belief. The predominant paradigm of the American way is an individualism that leaves people to fend for themselves.
Individualization has long been the mantra of those who at the top of the economic ladder: mythically attributing their own success to individual initiative and hard work. It is seldom true. Most successful entrepreneurs have come from privileged backgrounds. Bill Gates is exemplary.
American individualism is the banner under which the ruling class pretend to march and expect others to do so as well. Working-class Americans, especially young ones and minorities, are gulled into believing that socioeconomic mobility exists when it does not.
Americans overestimate the levels of actual class mobility in society. Belief in the American dream is woefully misguided when compared with objective reality. ~ American sociologist Michael Kraus et al
Americans grossly underestimate the degree of economic inequality in the country. They both think the poor have more economic resources than they do, and that the wealthy are not as rich or powerful as they are.
Something essential has been lacking for those who struggle mightily and might otherwise coalesce to rebel against the rigged economic game: leadership and vision. A credible socialist regime simply has not been proposed. Lacking an alternate vision of the future, collective social consciousness has been largely smothered by the fiction of “free enterprise” which the ruling elite promote.
People often view their sociopolitical systems as fair and natural despite indisputable biases in their structure. ~ American psychologists Larisa Hussak & Andrei Cimpian
The problem begins with an innate belief in free will coupled to individualist misattribution. From an early age, people generally empower themselves with the fantasy that success lies with the individual, not the environment.
Casting capitalism as “free enterprise” is brilliant propaganda, in that it plays perfectly to what people want to belief. Further, this illusion fortifies the status quo.
Feeling trapped by an oppressive system is debilitating. Having a sense of undeserved success is a milder disappointment, but still deflating.
The higher up people said they were, the more they overestimated the likelihood of upward mobility. Being aware of your position at the top of a low-mobility hierarchy can be uncomfortable, because without mobility, sitting at the top is the result of luck, rather than merit. ~ Michael Kraus et al
Unsurprisingly, liberals are more realistic about economic inequality than conservatives, who see society as far more merit-based than it is.
Another obstacle to revolution lies in societal logistics. Shared backgrounds still exist among the working classes, but sense of solidarity has been eroded through job competition, and by the spatial diaspora of American society. The wholesale suburbanization of the US following the 2nd World War weakened class-based bonds of community.
Solidarity runs strongest in the urban ghettos and peripheral areas where many in the underclass are still confined; but even they are more dispersed than ever before.
The social movements in United States that gained traction in the late 20th century were issue-specific associations related to individualization: the feminist movement, homosexual rights, and the disability rights campaign
Agitation for equity was largely in the legal sphere. Whatever progress women made in succoring social status, they went next to nowhere in equalizing wages on a gender basis. The reason: lack of political solidarity.
Women in democratic nations would run the countries they live in if only they could agree on an agenda, but gender is not how society is segregated. The root remains, as Marx mused, material life conditioning sociopolitical consciousness. Then again, as Lenin noted, “not every revolutionary situation leads to revolution.”
We are the 99%. ~ Occupy slogan (August 2011)
The Occupy movement that began with Occupy Wall Street in the United States on 17 September 2011 was aimed directly at the egregious socioeconomic inequity that exists in all advanced capitalist societies.
Justice does not require that men must stand idly by while others destroy the basis of their existence. ~ John Rawls
Occupy’s primary tactic was to physically occupy public spaces. Within a month, Occupy protests had occurred in over 951 cities across 82 countries, and in over 600 communities in the US.
Initial tolerance by governmental authorities quickly turned to police action to roust the protesters, frequently with excessive force. Besides beatings and spraying protesters with noxious chemicals, thousands of spurious arrests were made to intimidate and dispirit activists.
Though moral outrage perpetually prevails in a ponderous percentage of the 99%, Occupy petered out. Despite fortification via righteous indignation, being pummeled by police has its endurance limit.
As a belittlement, the mainstream news media in the US blithely claimed that Occupy had no clearly defined goals. More telling was that Occupy lacked leadership that could command meaningful media coverage. Therein lay the heart of the problem.
Socioeconomic inequity is nothing more than a staple journalistic genre. For the mainstream corporate media, with its vested interest in the status quo, Occupy was never anything more than a cult fad story. Nor could it have been.
The levers of power went untouched by Occupy. It elected no officials, garnered no political coalition, nor even sympathetic response, at the state or national level.
Peaceful protest is invariably fruitless in a plutocratic polity. Where power listens only when money talks, ranting against wealth is nothing more than impotent venting.
The reason why there has been so little action against entrenched socioeconomic injustice is because those bearing most of the costs have no voice in the political agenda at the national level. Instead, they are pushed to the periphery, except in that brief interlude of political campaigning when one party courts their votes, while the other party caters to those hewing to the creed of individualism.
The ultimate failure, as Occupy illustrated, is lack of vision. Tinkering at the edges of a corrupt regime by demanding more crumbs from a trickle-down system leaves the gyre of money-grubbing intact, and puts those promoting equity looking like beggars, which is how opponents to equity cast moral decency.
The solution is to escape the problem, not merely fiddle with the parameters of the equation. One clear lesson of history is that political activity reflects the economic engine that powers the polity.
An equitable political system cannot be fashioned from an economy driven by competitive capitalism, as the 2 are dynamically diametric. As long as wealth controls political power, socioeconomic stratification, with an exploited underclass, is guaranteed.
To be radical is to grasp things by the root. ~ Karl Marx
Society exists for the benefit of its members, not the members for the benefit of society. ~ Herbert Spencer
Individualism is a political philosophy that emphasizes the moral value of individuals, advocating that their interests take precedence over the state, or the well-being of society as a whole. Individualism is antithetical to Hegel’s statism, and antipodal to collectivism, which highlights the interdependence of people.
The spirit of individualism imbues several related streams of political theory: liberalism, libertarianism, laissez-faire economics, and utilitarianism, which is ultimately individualistic, albeit from a collective perspective.
Locke’s classical liberalism stressed individual liberty (libertarianism), while later social liberalism sought a balance between liberty and social justice.
Neoliberalism is a term applied to a strain of laissez-faire economic liberalism that arose in Europe in the 1930s, in an attempt to find a middle ground between classical liberalism and collectivist central planning. A recasting of neoliberalism appeared in the 1970s, its prime thrust an advocacy of a reduced role for government in political economy. This neoliberalism is associated with the regimes of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1975–1990), American President Ronald Reagan (1981–1989), and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (1973–1990).
Neoliberalism is the defining political-economic paradigm of our time. It refers to the policies and processes whereby a relative handful of private interests are permitted to control as much as possible of social life in order to maximize their personal profit. ~ Noam Chomsky
The spectral extreme of individualism is exemplified by English political theorist Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), who took a Darwinist view of society.
In days when the people were without any political power, their subjection was rarely complained of; but after free institutions had so far advanced in England that our political arrangements were envied by Continental peoples, the denunciations of aristocratic rule grew gradually stronger, until there came a great widening of the franchise, soon followed by complaints that things were going wrong for want of still further widening. ~ Herbert Spencer
Though essentially agreeing with Marx about class struggles propelling human societies, Spencer was antithetical to Marx about their amelioration.
All socialism involves slavery. That which fundamentally distinguishes the slave is that he labours under coercion to satisfy anothers’ desires. ~ Herbert Spencer
To Spencer, social Darwinism justified the ruling class as having won their position via societal “survival of the fittest,” a phrase coined by Spencer in 1864 after reading Darwin’s 1859 book about biological speciation.
Government is essentially immoral. ~ Herbert Spencer
Spencer was more concerned with what the state should not do than what it should. The state had no business regulating trade and commerce, enforcing sanitation, promoting morality, aiding the needy, or providing education.
That popular education results in an extensive reading of publications which foster pleasant illusions rather than of those which insist on hard realities, is beyond question. ~ Herbert Spencer
Spencer saw government granting social welfare as a slippery slope that ultimately led to a degenerate society with an entitlement mind-set.
The more numerous governmental interventions become, the more confirmed does this habit of thought grow, and the more loud and perpetual the demands for intervention. Every additional State-interference strengthens the tacit assumption that it is the duty of the State to deal with all evils and secure all benefits.
Each generation is made less familiar with the attainment of desired ends by individual actions or private combinations, and more familiar with the attainment of them by governmental agencies; until, eventually, governmental agencies come to be thought of as the only available agencies. ~ Herbert Spencer
For Spencer, the only proper purpose of the state is “simply to defend the natural rights of man – to protect person and property.”
Spencer’s advocacy of unfettered competition was warmly received by capitalists. In linking laissez-faire with progress, Spencer assured the upper crust that capitalism was not only harmonious with natural law, it was also in the interest of societal welfare.
Let no one suppose that I wish to make light of the sufferings which most men have to bear. The fates of the great majority have ever been, and doubtless still are, so sad that it is painful to think of them. ~ Herbert Spencer
Spencer was not blind to the ruthless exploitation of 19th-century capitalism. He simply saw it fitting that most people suffered.
The belief of the socialists and so-called liberals is that by due skill an ill-working humanity may be framed into well-working institutions. It is a delusion.
The defective natures of citizens will show themselves in the bad acting of whatever social structure they are arranged into. There is no political alchemy by which you can get golden conduct out of leaden instincts. ~ Herbert Spencer
Spencerism as a vitalizing philosophy died in the US at the turn of the 20th century, as it had in England a generation earlier. As the economic brutality of robber-baron capitalism seeped into public consciousness, naïve faith in free enterprise wilted.
In his later years, Spencer mellowed, with misgivings about industrialism given its human cost. Even to Spencer, “survival of the fittest” seemed ill fitting for societal well-being.