I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the brave and thoughtful Republican souls that recently brought the term “class warfare” back into the vocabulary of political debate¹. It certainly has been sorely missed since the End of History.
Of course, class war itself never went anywhere. On the contrary, what we’ve seen in the recent decades has been an unprecedented concentration of wealth and political power into the hands of a tiny global elite at one pole and a huge influx of new wage slaves at the other pole. We in the west often tend to overlook the latter development since it has mostly happened in the third world, particularly India and East Asia. The apathy of the Western working class has fooled many people to think like Fukuyama that class antagonisms are a thing of the past. At the same time, major new conflicts have been brewing in the newly “freed” markets of the East. The frontlines of the war may have moved, but that doesn’t mean the battles are any less fierce today than they were some decades ago. The fact that we see scarce any mention of these battles in mainstream media tells something about the current condition of our society here in the West.
Totalitarian systems always try to hide any conflicts in the society, or alternatively frame them as the work of a small group of “extremists” who are only trying to bring “instability” to an otherwise harmonious society. The disappearance of the class rhetoric from political debate often brings forth increasing focus on ethnic and cultural conflicts. Class identity gets replaced by national identity, as it was in, dare I say it, Nazi Germany. The clash between the elite and the people has today been replaced with the Clash of Civilizations. This gives the elite a convenient opportunity to claim that their personal interests are in fact also the interests of the people since they now have a “common enemy.” That is, of course, what all tyrants have been saying throughout history. L’État, c’est moi. And if you don’t think we’re living in a totalitarian system, just ask Margaret Thatcher.
Another reason why we’re having difficulties perceiving the class conflict within contemporary Western society is that the class divisions have been blurred. The simple Marxist division into the owning class (the bourgeoisie) and the working class (the proletariat) no longer corresponds to the reality particularly well (if it ever did). Most of the traditional industrial working class has been absorbed into the middle class and the rest has been either sent into the labour reserve or integrated into the establishment by co-opting the unions. However, the ancient antagonism between the ruling elite and the people is still underlying even our post-modern society, I claim. The elite may have been able to silence a majority of the people by buying them off with cheap Chinese goods, but the fact that political power is in the hands of a small minority still stands, and therein lies the fundamental conflict that simply isn’t going away regardless of rising living standards. The class struggle is, after all, a political and not an economic struggle.
This fundamental conflict is something that the 99% movement has managed to articulate, I believe, although it is still unclear whether many people have actually realised what it means (the journalists certainly haven’t). In my view, the “one demand” of the movement cannot be anything like “more jobs” or “more welfare.” There’s also little point in demanding “getting money out of politics” since in a capitalist society money IS politics. Furthermore, there’s no use blaming “greed” since the problem is not the behaviour of individuals but the system itself. If the movement is to have a lasting effect on society, it needs to change the very logic of the society so that guns and money no longer rule the people. We should know by know from history that this can’t be done by taking over the existing institutions, such as states. Genuine change can only be brought about by building new institutions from the ground up, thus making the old institutions redundant. In this way, and only in this way, revolution can occur.
¹ Of course, what they fail to understand is that the Republican and Democrat political elites are fighting on the same side…