Posted by C
It is conventional wisdom that Democrats should not use the language of class struggle. Because it's divisive.
Well, I can't help but think that that little piece of conventional wisdom was thought up in a Republican think tank. Because Democrats not using the language of class struggle is unilateral disarmament on their part.
Workers and the poor made extraordinary gains in the early and middle parts of the last century. We went from the Gilded Age to the age of Social Security, unemployment insurance, food stamps, Medicaire, the forty hour week, rising wages, health benefits, etc. How can one even talk about that without the language of class struggle? It didn't happen magically. For a while, workers and the poor were getting a bigger slice of the pie. And they got it by struggling, and with the help of Democratic lawmakers.
And the rich didn't like it. They opposed it all. And they opposed the taxes on the rich that made much of it possible.
Make no mistake: the rich and their powerful corporations want there to be no language of class struggle in the public dialogue because it's in their own best interest, not because it's in then interest of unity or civility or for any other reason that serves everyone.
Without the language of class struggle the Democrats can be for things like fairness, inclusivity, responsibility-- all good things that everybody's for. But it doesn't distinguish their side from the other side. Republicans can say they are for those things, too, but just disagree on the means of achieving them.
Let's get down to specifics:
There's national health insurance. In the language of class struggle one can say: "We are a rich nation. Like any other civilized nation we should have national health insurance. The poor and workers need it, and the rich and powerful should be taxed to pay for it." That's the truth of the matter, but it requires the langauge of class struggle to say it.
"Everyone should have affordable health coverage," on the other hand, is something that Republicans can agree with, and then deny the need to act in the current crisis, saying that the free market will magically make it all better some day.
There's the Bush tax cuts. In the language of class struggle one can say: The reason to oppose Bush's tax cuts (and Reagan's tax cuts, for that matter) is because they have been and will be a boon to the rich, while shafting workers and the poor.
Arguing vaguely about fairness is insufficiently compelling; the Republicans, too, are claiming fairness. Getting too arcane by pointing out how the top x% get y% of the benefit is not meaningful; people know when they are workers or poor, they don't know anything about income distributions.
There's the recent bancruptcy legislation. In the language of class struggle one can say: it was good for banks and credit card companies, already doing quite well, and an outrageous betrayal of every struggling poor or working person who uses them.
There's the so-called "free trade" agreements. The reason to be against them the way they were drafted was that it was another way of further enriching the already rich and sticking it to the poor and workers.
The rich and powerful can pontificate that our society can't afford this or that social program or regulation that benefits some specific group, when the fact is that they just want an even bigger slice of the pie than they have now, and they mean to get it by taking something away from somebody else. Without the language of class struggle, this falsehood can't be exposed.
What the rich and powerful have been doing these last 25 years or so is rolling back the gains made last century by workers and the poor. But we can't call them out on what they're doing as long as we prohibit ourselves from using the language of class struggle.
We have to say, "Tax the rich. Feed the poor." And, "No to the New Gilded Age!" It's exactly and only those sorts of sentiments that can be set against the rich and their Republican party chants of "No new taxes" and "Too much government."
Why aren't we doing this? Perhaps we are afraid of sounding like communists. As if the only alternative to letting the capitalists run rough shod over the rest of us is to string them up, take their stuff, and form workers' soviets.
In fact, I think that most Democrats agree that it's okay for there to be capitalists and rich people. (We'd like to be them!) But only within bounds. Here's the bargain we want: the rich and powerful can skim off the top of the economy, drive fancy cars, live in mansions, and all that. But they have to leave enough so that the rest of us can go to school, work 30 or 40 years, and then retire modestly with some security and healthcare. That's the deal we were moving toward before we quit using the language of class struggle.
But the rich won't go for that bargain unless we force it on them. And to do that, we need to rally our forces. And to do that we need the language of class struggle.
The rich would have us believe that freeing them from regulation and taxation will be better for all of us in the long run. Of course they need to have room to maneuver, freedom to make money. But if we don't regulate and tax them, they will cheat consumers, abuse workers and screw the poor, and eventually ruin everything. It's the truth, and there's no other way to say it.
Labels: class struggle, framing