Class War: Countering Misinformation Among the Working Class

Noam Chomsky notes, “We don’t use the term ‘working class’ because it is a taboo term. You’re supposed to say ‘middle class’ because it helps diminish the understanding that there is a class war going on.” In a regime faithful to neoliberal tenets, governance must be carried out within the constraints of the doctrines of limited government and self-regulating markets. This type of management shifts the locus of power away from citizens and their representatives towards those with capital. Defending individual freedom is used as a rallying cry by neoliberals to legitimatize emasculating governing agencies. But this choice gives rise to an apparent dilemma, namely in the absence of a robust civil government, who exercises power and how is it exercised? How do they respond to the call to deal with the fact wages of working class Americans have been stagnant or falling? The answer is neoliberals shrilly accuse Obama of initiating a class war when he prepares to unveil plans for increased taxes on those earning more than one million dollars a year.

Consequences of the Black Death included a series of cultural, religious and economic influences culminating in the end of the Middle Ages and the emergence of the Renaissance. The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1347 and 1350 with 30% to 60% of the population killed. As the Black Death swung the balance in the peasant’s favor, the literate elite bemoaned a disintegrating social and economic order. The rural worker bargained for less onerous responsibilities and better conditions, and received higher payments in cash in the plague’s aftermath. The Black Death led to a great questioning of the old certainties. Many increasingly turned to the classics to find answers to the problems of life. In mid-15th century refugees from Constantinople brought Roman and Greek manuscripts, which became available for many through the newly invented printing press. The Renaissance ideas introduced humanist principles that included human rights like freedom and dignity.

Economically and politically, the plague caused an upward distribution of wealth in the long run, as the nobility and the church took over the land of plague victims. This great wealth in the nobility and the church started off a patronage war between the nobility (the old money), the church, and the new money traders who were reaping the benefits of newfound commercialism in Italy. Their way of fighting for power/respect often took the form of seeing who could pay artists and intellectuals the most as a part of patronage. This made artistry a lucrative profession, and sparked one of the greatest art movements in European history, the Renaissance. Education was central to the humanist movement since humanists believed that education could change immensely human beings. Humanists wrote books on education and developed secondary schools based on their ideas. All of the achievements and discoveries of the Renaissance became the building blocks of the Enlightenment progress.

The upper class in the German regions of the Holy Roman Empire began clawing back many of the freedoms the peasants had achieved following the Black Death. This led to the peasants’ revolt of 1524. The Twelve Articles outlined the peasant’s demands for social, economic and religious reforms. These included mitigation on rate of interest, compulsory service to the lords and princes, and legal penalties, for restoration of former economic conditions, and the free rights to land use, hunting and fishing – the return of the commons. The upper classes survived by exploiting the peasant and plebeian classes and saw the danger in offering them equality. It triggered a class war. About one hundred thousand combatants and civilians were killed before the fighting died down in late 1525. The defeat of the peasants and the poorer classes in the towns brought a complete repudiation of their demands for a more just economic system.

John Locke (1632-1704), one of the British Empiricists, argued that all of our ideas are ultimately derived from experience, and the knowledge of which we are capable is therefore severely limited in its scope and certainty. Locke was one of the originators of the social contract theory – a persons’ moral and/or political obligations are dependent upon a contract or agreement among them to form the society in which they live. Locke’s father was a captain of cavalry for the Parliamentarian forces during the English Civil War. Locke was in fact most concerned with defending the gentry, the property-owning élite who desired to be protected from the potential tyranny of a powerful monarch who could seize property. In 17th century England, the franchise and the right to sit as a Member of Parliament were strictly limited to the property-owning class. Thus only a small percentage of the population had access to the English Parliament that vaunted its supremacy with regard to the Monarchy.

During the Enlightenment, as during the Renaissance, private secondary schools were mostly dominated by religious orders, especially by the Jesuits. However, a great difference with the Renaissance was the development of new schools designed to provide a broader education, which offered modern languages, geography and bookkeeping, preparing students for careers in business. Among the most important technological innovations of the Renaissance was the printing press. This process was vital for the diffusion of knowledge and humanist ideas. The expansion of both, publishing and the reading public, became particularly visible during the Enlightenment. Even though, as during the Renaissance, most of the published works were aimed at small groups of educated elite, there appeared more publications for the new reading public. This new reading public consisted mainly of the middle classes and included women and urban artisans. While it is common to conceive of the Enlightenment as supplanting the authority of tradition and religious dogma with the authority of reason, in fact the Enlightenment is characterized by a crisis of authority regarding any belief.

The trick neoliberals employ is to maintain the myth of democracy through regular elections, but to separate any real power from the hands of those elected. Because they theorize a regime of self-regulating markets without the need of government, elected officials become simply the agents who ensure the preservation of the rule of law, and the establishment of an environment in which negotiations can take place between competing agents. The question of power is abandoned completely and thrown behind the veil of the neutral market. And it is not likely that proponents would see the neoliberal regime as representing a new form of tyranny, being convinced, in the tradition of Adam Smith, that the system harnesses the selfishness of the people and directs it to public good, thus freeing itself from the need to depend unrealistically on the uncertain moral virtues of its participants.

The question posed is who exercises power in a neoliberal regime, that is to say, in a regime which designates individual freedom as the cardinal value to be preserved, and which, as a result, functions by putting its faith in self-regulating markets. We see that this type of governance gives no specific role to government to represent the common interest; instead a variety of stakeholders bargain settlements. For neoliberals, governance is thus reduced to the role of managing conflict and organizing negotiations between stakeholders in a free market environment. In this type of regime characterized by self-regulating markets, participation in decision-making requires the person to be an economic actor. Governments become one actor among many, thereby abandoning their reformist liberal role of imposing limits on the capital-holding class, and of representing the general interest, notably as the advocate of equal opportunity.  In other words, without capital there is no access to the locus of power.1

While corporate profits and executive pay have soared during the past decade, corporate boards and CEOs have crushed unions, demanded tax cuts, and lobbied for roll backs of government policies that help the working class and protect the environment. This is a class war the haves have declared on the have-nots to maximize profits by depressing wages.  Because of media bias low income voters tend to evaluate the state of the economy in accordance with income going to the most wealthy. This level of misinformation makes possible the adoption of policies that benefit the wealthiest citizens at the expense of the great majority of the American people. The economic elite funnel money to Washington to influence government policies in their favour. At the same time the working class has steadily lost influence on Capitol Hill, most notably because of the decline of unions. Unions played an important role in countering the political misinformation among the working class.

A small group of America’s business leaders have declared war against Main Street. How can the class war that the economic elite have declared on the working class be won, when the current political system is so utterly unresponsive to the will and the needs of the majority? Participation in public opinion polls and voting will not be enough to reinstate an accountable democratic government that will reverse the disturbing trend of growing economic inequality. Humanists (of the Renaissance) believed that human beings could be dramatically changed by education. Education of the Enlightenment sought to liberate the human mind from dogma and encourage questioning and skepticism to seek knowledge and truth. We now understand the etiology of the increasing economic inequality. An effort must be made to counter the misinformation among the working class and educate the 99% that neoliberalism is class war waged by economic elite against the working class.

1 Ives, Andrew. (26 Aug 2015) Neoliberalism and the concept of governance: Renewing with an older liberal tradition to legitimate the power of capital DOI :10.4000/mimmoc.2263

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