US sacrifices its poor


When writing about the American pioneers, the French aristocrat Alexis De Tocqueville noticed that they are a "nation of conquerors" who have not the passion for existence, who "shut themselves in the American solitudes with an axe and some newspapers." The axe (or the hand gun) is pertinent. To be secure today (as perhaps for the pioneers) meant to be able to protect yourself from the wilderness around you ­ if not from wild animals any longer, at least from wilder people. Have gun, feel secure.

I live in the Connecticut River Valley, which houses all the legendary US gun companies (Springfield’s Smith & Wesson as well as Hartford’s Colt have revived thanks to the post-911 gun boom, but New Haven’s Winchester just closed its doors). Smith & Wesson, which looked down the well of bankruptcy, found relief in three places. The major guns restriction laws lapsed. They won a $20 million contract with the Afghan police. They might win a $600 million contract to put one of its guns in the hands of every US soldier (they now carry Italian Berettas). As the threats multiply and as it gets easier to get a hold of a gun, these companies will flourish.

But the market is no longer civilian. As Joshua Horwitz of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence told the New York Times, "The government is the only business that is expanding. The civilian market is not, while the government is putting tens of billions of dollars into homeland security." The gun makers join the major defense contractors as part of the parasitical bourgeoisie ­ a class of people whose entire business plan and profits derive from governmental outlays. These deals are often conducted without bids and with guaranteed profits. So much for the free market and for transparent capitalism.

When the USSR bid goodbye, not only did the world’s communists grieve, but more so perhaps did the major arms dealers of the United States. They had come to rely on the exaggerated Soviet threat by the neo-cons and other cons for their own massive public works for private gain: Lockheed, Boeing, Northrup Grumman and others, along with services providers like Bechtel and Halliburton, looked set to wither in the plain light of the Peace Dividend.

But the old doctrine of primacy remained the mantra in Washington, and its elites took the US population down a well-laid trap. During the course of the Cold War, the US government operated as the hub of a well-projected set of allied spokes that put pressure equally on the USSR and on the Third World. With the effective demise of both, and with the maintenance of US military power intact, the US policy makers were drawn into a fallacy: that they should now no longer pull back, but that they should drive a forward policy to reshape the world using US military power in the interests of a transnational turbo-elite.

I’ve developed the reasons for the demise of the Third World agenda in a book that will appear in November from the New Press ("The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World"). When this platform collapsed, the dominant classes in the various Third World countries were freed from the various alliances necessitated by the epoch of national liberation and de-colonization. These classes turned to the US for leadership, and the US, mistaking this for the surrender of the planet, accepted the role. It put its military at the service of the intensification of this turbo-class’ exploitation of the planet’s peoples and resources.

The US government, led by Bush Senior, then Clinton and now (brashly) by Bush Junior, made a fetish of itself as the protector of the planet’s powerful: it defended the interests of the dominant classes by guarding pipelines and threatening those who opposed corporate sovereignty. Davos became the Capital of this New World Order, the WTO became its Parliament, and the US military became its Mercenary force.

In 2005, the ex-Trotskyite militant ("comrade michel") and ex-PM of France, Lionel Jospin, published an insightful analysis of the world (Le Monde Comme Je Le Vois, Editions Gallimard). Jospin identified the growth of a "new dominant caste," a global aristocracy of CEOs, bankers, state, inter-state and NGO bureaucrats, media tycoons and others. These people, this caste, "enjoins other social categories to make sacrifices in the name of global competition or of economic equilibrium, but does not itself consent to any effort of renunciation and doesn’t even conceive that such a thing could be possible."

Jospin has a romantic view that the bourgeoisie in the earlier era had a more patriotic bone: rather, the bourgeoisie had been constrained by the institutional power of other classes (expressed through trade unions, political parties as well as global institutions such as UNCTAD and FAO). Those chains are off; it is now free to exploit and to live it up. But Jospin is right about the creation of this "global class." These chains are not simply off subjectively, but also objectively (for this one would have to scrupulously study the new trans-national production process, and the creation of working-classes far removed from the social setting of those who purchased their labor power).

The "global class" is, however, marooned in its prosperity, surrounded by the angry hordes (including the 1.5 billion who, Mike Davis recounts in his new book, live in slums and are part of the outcast proletariat, the surplus humanity: Planet of Slums, Verso, 2006). Unsustainable capitalism creates a dispirited (if not angry) humanity, and a ravaged environment. Rather than deal substantially with nature and people, the new "global class" relies upon its military to bash the planet and its peoples into submission.

Recall the 2004 Pentagon report on climate change (aka environmental destruction), "Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life. Once again, warfare would define human life." And, as Mike Davis writes, "Night after night, hornetlike helicopter gunships stalk enigmatic enemies in the narrow streets of the slum districts, pouring hellfire into shanties or fleeing cars." The slum could be anywhere: South Central [Los Angeles], Sadr City [Baghdad], Lyari [Karachi] or Clichy-sous-Bois [Paris]. The security of the " global class" and their corporate institutions are far more important than the security of nature and of humanity.

When the mouthpieces of the dominant classes talk of "security" (even "national security") they do not mean what we might imagine: they don’t care about our well-being. When they talk about "national security," they mean corporate security, the security of the "global class." They care about their power, and their glory. Fear is their gift to us, and it draws our tacit consent for their slate of policies that create the conditions to intensify our fear. They have no solutions. They only create problems. The ruin of the "global class" will produce the conditions for us to fashion a secure world, without terrorism.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.