A History of Class War; Or, Why the Police will beat the shout out of protesters to protect the rich
By Michael McGehee at Oct 17, 2011
While the top 1% in this country account for a third of the nations wealth—and the bottom 50% accounting for just 2%—it should come as no surprise that the "99 percent" see this kind of allocation of wealth as related to our current woes.
The police are not in the top 1%. So why aren't we getting any love? But before we get to that, and considering that wealth is power in this country, you got to ask: why and how wealth and power has been distributed so unequally?
The "why" is easy: because the wealthy and powerful designed not only the economy but the political system as well. This is the fulcrum of Charles Beard's—the famous American historian—work An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.
For the people of my generation (I'm 31) we've all seen the stoner classic Dazed and Confused, but who remembers this line from a teacher as school is let out?
Hey guys, one more thing. This summer when you're being inundated by all the American bicentennial fourth of July brouhaha. Don't forget what you're celebrating and that's the fact that a bunch of slave owning aristocratic white males didn't want to pay their taxes.Spot on.
As for the "how," we should look no further than the prevailing economic and political systems: capitalism and representative "democracy." The economic system of profit-seeking private enterprises utilizing market allocation, coupled with a hierarchical political system whose elected leaders are among the top 1% bears out the comment Adam Smith made in Wealth of Nations, "the interest of our manufacturers has been most peculiarly attended to; and the interest, not so much of the consumers, as that of some other sets of producers, has been sacrificed to it." When you have an economy whose sole purpose is for owners to make as much money as possible by fleecing workers and consumers and a government whose function is to attent to the interests of the propertarians then a maldistribution of wealth is entirely predictable.
Furthermore, when we recognize this relationship between the economy and our political system it helps us understand why Tom Ferguson's investment theory of party competition is so effective at explaining why the interests of the top 1% are so "peculiarly attended to."
Political organizations are (sometimes very complex) investments; that while they need small amounts of aid and commitment from many people, most of their major endorsements, money, and media attention typically come as direct or indirect results of their ability to attract heavyweight investors. As a consequence not even former presidents with enormous personal popularity like Theodore Roosevelt could run insurgent campaigns without support from investors like U.S. Steel or investment banker George Perkins. (Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems; 1995; pages 35-36)Ferguson continues.
If all major investors oppose discussing a particular issue, then neither party is likely to pick the issue up—no matter how many little investors or noninvestors might benefit—not because of any active collusion between parties but because no effective constituency exists to force the issue on the public agenda. (pg. 37)In other words, politicians do the bidding of those who finance their political careers. They adopt policies not because of how voters are affected, but rather how their investors are affected. For four decades now the government has adopted tax policies that redistribute wealth to the super rich, and we are now seeing the effects not only crash the economy but a government looking to the working poor and unemployed take a hit in social benefits to account for it. Ending the wars, scaling back our super-sized imperial police state, and undoing the tax cuts for the rich is not on the chopping block.
One of the most important figures in shaping the Constitution was James Madison. Like Adam Smith, Madison understood that wealth is power, and that it is the job of the government to protect power from those who are exploited and disenfranchised—that is, the working poor. In fact, Madison was so strongly opposed to the working class that he once said, "If elections were open to all classes of people, the property of the landed proprietors would be insecure." This fear of seeing the rich be "insecure" led him to say that:
Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The senate, therefore, ought to be this body . . .There is no place for "the majority" to "have a share in the government" or "to balance and check the other." For Madison the only one who "ought to have a share" in making decisions were "the minority of the opulent." Madison prevailed and the "senate" was created to be the political "body" to see this through. Is it any wonder that the vast majority of US Senators are millionaires (and thus members of the top 1%)?
Back to Adam Smith and his insights on property and the role of the police. This is important to understand if you want to know why the police are attacking protesters and not banksters. The following comes from The Wealth of Nations (B.V, Ch.1, Of the Expences of the Sovereign or Commonwealth) by Adam Smith, the so-called father of modern economics. And while it is true, as Noam Chomsky likes to point out, that Smith said, "All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind," what you will read below will have you wondering if he was okay with it.
Wherever there is great property there is great inequality . . .Thomas Jefferson also realized that property and inequality are related. In a letter to Madison he wrote that, "Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions or property in geometrical progression as they rise."
Progressive taxation has always been a commonsense approach. In fact, the first three items numerically listed in The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederich Engels to be implemented upon the success of a working class revolution were: (1) abolish private property; (2) institute a heavy and progressive tax; and (3) abolish the right of inheritance.
Smith goes on to write that,
For one very rich man there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many . . .Amen! It reminds me of President Eisenhower's remark that, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." And this is something the "occupy" movement understands. There is a direct link to the top 1% having a third of wealth and the bottom 50% only having two percent.
The affluence of the rich excites the indignation of the poor, who are often both driven by want, and prompted by envy, to invade his possessions . . .Hmm. Instead of "want" a more appropriate word would have been "need" since as Smith knew, the poor are . . . well, "poor." Envy? How about "prompted to right an injustice"? We are getting to the root of exploitation and why the police do what they do, but let's keep going . . .
It is only under the shelter of the civil magistrate that the owner of that valuable property, which is acquired by the labour of many years, or perhaps of many successive generations, can sleep a single night in security . . .There you go. Exploiters need force to protect them from the exploited. "Valuable property" is "acquired by the labour," but not that of the owners, but of the workers. And what right does someone have to inherit "valuable property"? Why should someone like Paris Hilton potentially stand to inherit the hotel empire (an empire built with the exploitation of workers and consumers)?
By allowing anyone to have private ownership of productive assets we give them a bargaining power to exploit others in terms of compensation and decision-making. This is what led Proudhon to remark that, "Property is theft!" People should only be rewarded for what is within their power to control and that is how hard and long they work at socially valued labor. And everyone should be entitled to a fair say in decisions in they are affected by. These two principles, fair say and fair pay, are not compatible with private property.
Smith goes on to write:
He is at all times surrounded by unknown enemies, whom, though he never provoked, he can never appease, and from whose injustice he can be protected only by the powerful arm of the civil magistrate continually held up to chastise it . . .Unknown? Never provoked? Can't appease? The "injustice" is the permitting of property to be used to create inequalities, not those who seek to remedy it. It's not the indigent who need to be "chastised," but the affluent! It's like what Gustav Flaubert said in a letter to a friend, "I have always tried to live in an ivory tower, but a tide of shit is beating at its walls, threatening to undermine it."
The acquisition of valuable and extensive property, therefore, necessarily requires the establishment of civil government . . .No disagreements. If we acknowledge that private property produces inequality and we know that these inequalities produce the "indignation of the poor," and the potential for uprisings to follow, and if we side with the propertied then, yeah, we will need some muscle to keep the rabble in line with their heads down.
Where there is no property, or at least none that exceeds the value of two or three days labour, civil government is not so necessary.The cat is out of the bag. The function of police is to protect "property" from those it robs and exploits. The working poor and unemployed are the latter and when they begin organizing to challenge power . . . out comes the police in riot gear to put them in their place.
It's amazing how Smith can see the relations between property and social inequalities but draw the opposite conclusion: defend the ivory tower. I can see Smith being one of those Marx and Engels have in mind when they said,
You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, the necessary condition for whose existence is the non-existence of any property for the immense majority of society.Hear, hear!
In one word, you reproach us with intending to do away with your property. Precisely so; that is just what we intend.
Though I think it's important to stress that we should go a bit further, since property itself is not the height of the problem (hierarchy and domination is). With a simple modification we could be a bit clearer:
You are horrified at our intending to do away with authority. But in your existing society, authority is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of authority, the necessary condition for whose existence is the non-existence of any authority for the immense majority of society.If these "occupy" events are going to be effective it will be necessary to have the unemployed and working poor control and lead the movements. It will take organizing not just spectacles in city parks and financial districts, but organizing our schools, work places and communities as well. It will also take massive amounts of civil disobedience. And we shouldn't expect the police to help out.
In one word, you reproach us with intending to do away with your authority. Precisely so; that is just what we intend.
Bobby Whittenberg, an acquaintance of mine, recently noted that,
What is all this rhetoric coming out of the left and right wings of the '#Occupy' movement about the police being there to 'protect' the protestors? Since when does 'protect' mean 'terrorize and beat the shit out of? Wake up, amerikkkans. The slave catchers are not your friends, they are armed thugs for the government and the businessmen. They are the domestic army, the domestic occupying force. As a former Marine, I can tell you the parallels between what I did in Iraq and what the Cops do here are endless. Same job, different title. If the police were here to protect you, they'd be beating the shit out of the CEO's, bankers, politicians, and themselves, not you.Like Bobby, Adam Smith was telling the truth about "civil government." They are not here to protect and serve us or uphold our supposed First Amendment right—"the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." They are here to protect those living "in an ivory tower" from the "tide of shit is beating at its walls, threatening to undermine it."
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