Some say class warfare began when Karl Marx (1818–1883) (often with Richard Engels) published his economic works, and when the communist party became a reality. Wrong!
Class warfare has been going on for as long as there has been an elite that possesses power through the accumulation of wealth and position. Whenever the elite recognize that chaos or envy could work against them in the form of a rebellious under-class, they become very possessive and obsessive about their assets. Some of the elite recognize that they must give back to those who helped to put them where they are, while too many believe that it is incumbent upon them to keep the “others” in their place lest the “others” demand and take back what is needed to fill their own desires.
So before we go any further, let me be clear in my opinion that “class warfare” is not the battle that the poor and the working class -- the proletariat according to Marx -- foment against the powers that be in the elite class. Class warfare -- or the maintenance of privilege through the utilization of power -- is the instrument of the rich and powerful used to keep “lesser beings” in their place in society, and to maintain a status quo favorable to themselves.
This classic warfare has evolved through the centuries, especially noted in that European country that bequeathed so much of itself to America. England was a bastion of an aristocracy that took every advantage of its standing and position in relation to the lesser classes. Just one example of their rapaciousness was the enclosure of in-common lands so that they could expand ownership of such lands for themselves. That led to peasant revolts and even some riots by returning soldiers and sailors who found it difficult to make a living.
The class warfare of rich upon the poor and “middling” folk pushed the latter into periodic rebellious actions throughout the long history of humankind. In fact, downward pressure on the poor by the nobility, and the suppression of their yearnings for greater prosperity, resulted in popular uprisings across Europe as early as the 14th and 15th centuries. However, to characterize such historic rebellions, revolutions and riots of the poor as “class warfare” is a misnomer; they are simply the reactions of those without power to those in power who suppressed, repressed, coerced, manipulated, and ridiculed the “others” who the elite claimed fed off of their riches, the largesse of their charity, and the “welfare” of governments and organizations.
When modern-day politicians charge President Obama with class warfare because his administration wishes to allow tax cuts for the rich to expire, or tries to establish improved programs for the poor and broad middle class that require some re-distribution of wealth by taxing the rich their fair share; this is not class warfare. It is a social contract in action whereby all who can afford to be are taxed fairly, and all who cannot contribute monetarily are helped, aided, lifted up, provided with supplements they might not otherwise have.
The social contract is a fundamental agreement that says that to lift up all in a society is the wise and prudent thing to do because it strengthens the whole society and provides for that society to utilize the talent, wisdom, innovation and entrepreneurship of all, not just of a privileged class. How does this differ from Communism or socialism? It differs fundamentally in that the state is not the controller of all life and work, nor are workers at war with the rich. The State -- democratic government in our case -- is seen rather as the primary means by which fair, equitable and just solutions are legislated and arbitrated so that all may prosper, all may achieve, all may give back, all may rise to a level to which they aspire.
So, I would argue that every “battle” fought by the lower or “middling” classes to counter the oppression of a ruling class, is not class warfare, but simply an attempt to stop oppression or repression; to gain greater rights; to awaken both rich and poor to injustice; or, to gain a foothold on another rung of the ladder toward freedom, prosperity, and even ownership. Rarely do the poorer classes initiate a rebellion or riot out of thin air. It always has a context and that context is the overt and covert attempts of the oligarchs, the plutocrats, the aristocrats, the barons of industry, the rich and powerful, to be taxed less, to gain special privileges at someone else’s expense, to be free from regulation or restrictions on their enterprises, to protect their property and assets by any means, to gain more wealth by quasi-legal and even illegal means, to gain more power by controlling the mechanisms of government and free enterprise.
Right now the cry of the “shills” for the rich -- mostly conservative Republican politicians -- is that all social programs that aid the poor (food stamps being the latest straw man) and entitlements (social security, Medicare and Medicaid) are socialistic attempts to control where the wealth goes in this country. Even Universal health care (known by the derisive term, “ObamaCare”), controlled by for-profit private companies, is decried as socialism, as government controlled, as re-distribution of wealth. It’s all a smokescreen for the age-old complaint of the rich and powerful that “their money” is being unfairly given to the lower classes which contain unproductive and irresponsible people. They are doing everything they can to protect their assets and property and to deny their riches being bestowed on unworthy people, and their shills in the political world are assisting them in this enterprise, attempting to undo their contractual obligation to the whole of our democratic society. The following are a few of their machinations:
**They have so taken over the institutions of governing that the ability to do what is best for most people at any point of need is rejected out-of-hand (the Jobs bill; infrastructure improvement; public option in universal health care; extension of the payroll tax cut, protection of the environment, etc.).
**They are so influential within the court system that the Supreme Court has taken their side (Citizens United decision) allowing corporations to become the voice, not of ordinary people, but of the moneyed interests so that their allies can be elected by the infusion of 3rd party cash and negative advertising.
**They so control the institutions of government that labor unions are in jeopardy along with their bargaining rights; that school curricula based on facts and science are threatened; that environmental improvements and alternatives to oil are not even considered.
**Elections are currently being rigged to support their supporters, first, through re-districting and second, by the passage of laws that restrict the registration of the poor, the elderly, and the disabled, along with minorities.
**When a consumer protection agency is proposed, and legislated, all kinds of restrictions are imposed upon it (by the very people who decry restrictions and regulations on business enterprises), and its director’s appointment is delayed endlessly until a recess appointment is the only alternative (which, of course, is time-limited and can be overturned). Recognizing that the original Constitution and subsequent Bill of Rights omitted any protection for common people against corporations or capitalist profiteers, modern-day elite intend to keep it that way.
**The tax code is so shot through with their exemptions, incentives, loopholes, special privileges and deductions that some billionaires like Warren Buffet (and multi-millionaires like Mitt Romney) get to pay a lower rate than their secretaries. At the same time, their cronies in Congress seek to reduce their taxes even further (helping themselves as well, since almost half the members of Congress are millionaires): lowering the regular tax rate, the corporate tax rate, the capital gains tax, the inheritance tax and who knows what-all.
**And now, that structure of communication for all people, but especially for the broad middle class, the internet (which has been successfully utilized against dictators to bring down oligarchic regimes, and to fight by petition against unjust actions by banks and others) is under an attack to gain control of its uses. Bills in the House and Senate (lately put on hold) masquerading under the guise of controlling pirating of intellectual and artistic property, are nothing more than an attempt to gain control over advocacy by the “others” in their quest to gain some justice, equality, and advantage for the 99% of the population whose voices are being drowned out by the 1% in power. (Does it seem a bit ironic that the Party that insists on free markets and lack of restriction or regulation from government, is using government to control a particular market when it should instead be encouraging the manufacturers affected to find their own ways to stop the pirating?).
In light of all of these examples, is it any wonder that the “Occupy Wall Street” movement has materialized? This is the same grassroots type of movement that has arisen throughout our history (e.g. the Patriotic Society of Philadelphia, Shay’s Rebellion, the Dorr movement, the labor movement, etc.), and the history of other countries. Unfortunately, without the wealth of the rich, or the advocacy of lobbyists and lawyers, or the backing of a Super-PAC, or the organization of a political party, this movement is probably headed to the trash-heap of history wherein lie the hopes and dreams of so many movements that could not flourish in the midst of the class warfare being waged against them by the rich and powerful.
It is a very sad commentary that the poor, the downtrodden and the needy of most societies have failed in their attempts to achieve substantial victory against the class warfare perpetrated by the rich and powerful. Although the rich have been able to use the power of government to quell most demonstrations of discontent, our American enterprise is one ray of light in an otherwise defeated enterprise. We have seen victory over an oppressive king; the emancipation of slaves; the legitimization of labor unions and their bargaining rights; the triumph of women’s suffrage; the acquisition of civil rights for African-Americans and other minority groups; the rise of a broad middle class; the vote for 18-year olds; the acquisition of universal health care, old-age insurance, and medical care for the poor and disabled.
But we now face the annihilation of so many of the gains we have made, all because the rich and powerful - “Greedy Bastards” as Dylan Ratigan calls them -- want to control, and direct the government to their ends and not to the ends that we have long proclaimed as our credo: “liberty and justice for all”; “government of the people, by the people and for the people”; “that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, … life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness;” “to promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”
Can we reclaim the social contract that expresses the common welfare of all? It is an open question. Part of the answer will occur in the elections of November 2012. But the other parts of the answer will only come as we try to prevent, by all necessary means -- including an amended Constitution and nation-wide demonstrations -- the complete takeover of our governmental institutions and economic system by a small 1% of our population.
Voting for shills for the rich is the greatest single failing of our electorate. Putting more control in the hands of radical Republicans will continue to put more money and power in the hands of the 1% of elite power-brokers who are reaping all the rewards, while the middle class keeps struggling to maintain what little they have.
Don’t continue to be bamboozled by politicians acting as shills for the rich proclaiming “class warfare.” Class warfare is overwhelmingly initiated by those in control, not by those who are being controlled.