To Those Wondering, "What's Wrong With the F*%$#@! American People?"
If you are angry at what the rulers of the United States are doing, and if you want a more equal and democratic society instead of the increasingly unequal one our rulers are foisting on us, then I am addressing this article to you. Many of you are extremely frustrated with the American people because they are not rising up against the plutocracy that runs our country. They don't wage general strikes, or do the kinds of things one would expect people to do when their rulers attack them and unjustifiably attack foreign people in their name as well. "What's wrong with the f*%$#@! American people?" is what some of you are wondering.
You may be so disgusted with the American people's failure to fight back against those who oppress them that you have given up all hope that any kind of political work or activism is worth the effort. You may even have concluded that the American people are, perversely, happy with what's going on, and that this is why they remain so passive. Or maybe you've decided that the American public just doesn't care one way or another, that they're hopelessly apathetic. Though different from each other, all of these conclusions agree that ordinary Americans are not the solution, and instead are part of the problem. All of them imply that resistance is futile. They all imply that we should certainly abandon all hope of building a revolutionary movement to create an egalitarian society far better than the one based on inequality and pitting people against each other that we have today.
And yet, I devote time and energy to building just such a revolutionary movement. Am I crazy? Well, maybe I am crazy, but does my effort to build a revolutionary movement in the United States provide the evidence for it? I intend to persuade you that it does not. So bear with me.
While it is undeniably true that Americans today are not rising up the way one might hope for, the key question is, "Why not?" Based on talking to a lot of people over the years, I am pretty sure the reason is not that ordinary Americans are happy about the growing inequality or the perpetual warmongering or the dictatorship of the rich. And I am pretty sure that the reason is not that they have great respect for our politicians and corporate elite. Strike up a conversation with almost any working class American and you'll discover quickly that there is enormous discontent with the status quo and tremendous disrespect for the politicians and "the people at the top." There is lots of anger at what's wrong in our society; it is not at all true that people just don't care, and they are certainly not happy campers.
Ordinary Americans are not apathetic (meaning just not giving a damn); rather they feel hopeless about their ability to do anything that will make any difference except on a very personal and small scale. Keep in mind that the behavior of an apathetic person and the behavior of someone who is not apathetic but who feels hopeless about being able to make a difference will be almost indistinguishable behaviors as far as what we see from a distance (we don't see what people do in their personal corner of the world, only what they do that is on a large enough scale to get reported in the media.) We should not make the mistake of inferring apathy from this behavior when it is very likely hopelessness that causes it.
When one tries to look really closely at what people do in their personal lives, one discovers that there is an invisible resistance to capitalism going on all the time. Here is just one little tiny example I stumbled upon recently. I get my prescription drugs and stuff at my local CVS drug store. A couple of years ago CVS introduced do-it-yourself check out machines as a way to use automation to eliminate some jobs of people who make sales at the cash register. Because of the ugly purpose of these machines I always made a point to never use them. And, to be honest, I always thought that I was probably the only customer who did refuse to use them. CVS has some of its employees work full time just encouraging customers to use the do-it-yourself machines. One day I was approached by such an employee as I stood in line waiting to check out with a human being; she asked me if I wanted to use the machine and check out faster, and I explained to her why I did not. She smiled a big grin and told me she agreed. But that wasn't really the surprising thing, since, afterall, the machine was being used to one day eliminate her own job. What did surprise me (pleasantly, of course) was that she also told me that lots of customers told her the same thing I had. Lots of customers! I learned something. I wasn't the only one choosing to wait longer in order to act in solidarity with the CVS employees whose jobs were at risk of being automated out of existence.
The class war is apparently being fought--invisibly--daily inside the CVS store, by individuals who, like I had myself, may very well think they are alone in waging this war. But how would they know otherwise? Most people are not in the habit of talking to strangers about such things as explicitly as I do. Most customers would not have found out about the other like-minded customers the way I had. Certainly the Boston Globe is not going to print a story about "Class War Inside the CVS". There are no T.V. shows that feature such things. Talk radio doesn't talk about it. Democracy Now doesn't either. Nor does NPR. Don't hold your breath waiting for Ira Glass to do a This American Life episode about the class war in everyday life. Not his thing.
Here's something else I know about CVS employees. They like Thinking about Revolution. I know this because I have been giving copies to them and they have been telling me how much they like it. So not only is there class war going on inside the CVS, there is also a desire to read about and talk about revolution. Again, how would anybody know this if they hadn't done the kinds of things I do? If one's information comes from the media (left, right or in between) or if it just comes from looking at people without interacting with them as I have, it is hard to know about the really important things that are going on inside of people's heads. It is easy to think, "My God, look how apathetic they are."
Of course it would be much better if the class war were being waged on a larger, more open and visible scale. My point here is that instead of lamenting the fact that this isn't happening, and inventing explanations for it (like "apathy") that merely serve as excuses for not figuring out how to make it happen, we should figure out how to make it happen. The first step would be to identify why it isn't happening.
Based on my experience talking with people, I think the main obstacle that prevents people from waging the class struggle on a larger scale is that people feel that in having aspirations for a more equal and democratic world they are all alone--in other words that they are too few in number to have any basis for hoping they could ever make a large scale difference against the enormous power of the "people at the top." They also know that there are no organizations presently that enable people like them to act in a large scale, collective manner. They are wrong about feeling alone, but they are most certainly correct in thinking there are no organizations that make it possible for people like them to act collectively. If people knew they were in fact a large majority in opposing capitalist values, then they would have the confidence required to create appropriate (i.e. revolutionary) organizations so they could act collectively. And these organizations would in turn inform more people that they were not alone, and a revolutionary movement would grow. But people don't know they are not alone, and there are no organizations telling them the truth. This is why we don't see the large scale kind of class struggle that we wish we were seeing.
The point is that ordinary Americans are the solution; they are not part of the problem. Think about it: were it not for the millions of little things that people do in their everyday lives to help each other and treat each other kindly and respectfully as equals, then the capitalists' efforts to shape society by their values of inequality and competition and self-interest would have long ago made our world a nightmarish jungle of people stabbing each other in the back and nothing else; and yet it hasn't happened. People don't let it happen.The immediate task for revolutionaries in the United States is to help their fellow Americans see that they are not alone in wanting a more equal and democratic society, in having revolutionary aspirations for a better world than capitalism. To do this requires thought, creativity, trial and error, but most of all the intention to succeed at it, rather than finding some excuse to not even try.
But, some of you object, the American public opposes revolution. They vote for pro-capitalist candidates for President. They work for capitalists. They pay taxes to the capitalist government. They enlist to fight in the capitalist military. They watch the capitalist mass media. They hate "socialism".
To which I reply, "Get real!" We live in a capitalist society. That doesn't mean people support capitalism any more than slaves, who lived in a slave society, supported slavery because they picked the master's cotton and ate the food the master provided and accepted the religion the master believed in. People who are presented with the electoral system that the ruling class presents them with simply try to make the best of it, voting for the "lesser evil," etc. So what? People have no way to make a living other than by working for some employer. So what? People try to survive as best they can in a capitalist system; that doesn't say anything about whether they love capitalism or not. Some people believe the lies they read in the mass media and hear from other capitalist institutions, lies defending unjust wars, lies about undocumented immigrants and blacks and hispanics (and whites, for that matter), lies about revolutionaries like us (that our aims are the same as the ugly ones of Communists). So what? It doesn't mean anything except that some people believe some lies. A revolutionary movement can expose these lies, once the movement is built. That people believe some lies is no reason not to build a revolutionary movement, or to assume that people love capitalism and inequality and a dictatorship of the rich.
I urge you to stop venting frustration at the American people. It accomplishes nothing and merely distracts from the task at hand. We have work to do and every reason to believe that we can succeed if we make the effort. We may not make a revolution in our lifetimes, but we can let some people know they are not alone in wanting one, and we can enlist some people to join with us in building a revolutionary movement that will continue to grow even after we die. This is a project worth devoting one's life to. It is not a sign of craziness to do so.
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