The Pedagogy of Hip Hop: Underground Soundtracks for Dissecting and Confronting the Power Structure

Colin Jenkins

Disclaimer: The language expressed in this article is an uncensored reflection of the views of the artists as they so chose to speak and express themselves. Censoring their words would do injustice to the freedom of expression and political content this article intends to explore. Therefore, some of the language appearing below may be offensive to personal, cultural, or political sensibilities.

On the 16th track of Immortal Technique’s Revolutionary, Volume 2, Mumia Abu-Jamal theorizes on the inherent contradictions between the lived reality of many Americans and the notion of homeland [in]security. In doing so, he explains how the musical phenomenon of hip hop captures these contradictions by displaying “gritty roots” that are bound up in systemic injustice and deep feelings of fear and hatred. These feelings, according to Mumia, engulf entire generations of children who have been betrayed by systems of capitalism and white supremacy, and their intricately constructed school-to-prison pipeline:

“To think about the origins of hip hop in this culture, and also about homeland security, is to see that there are at the very least two worlds in America. One of the well-to-do and another of the struggling. For if ever there was the absence of homeland security, it is seen in the gritty roots of hip hop. For the music arises from a generation that feels, with some justice, that they have been betrayed by those who came before them. That they are at best tolerated in schools, feared on the streets, and almost inevitably destined for the hell holes of prison. They grew up hungry, hated, and unloved. And this is the psychic fuel that generates the anger that seems endemic in much of the music and poetry. One senses very little hope above the personal goals of wealth to climb above the pit of poverty. In the broader society, the opposite is true. For here, more than any other place on earth, wealth is more widespread and so bountiful, that what passes for the middle class in America could pass for the upper class in most of the rest of the world. Their very opulent and relative wealth makes them insecure. And homeland security is a governmental phrase that is as oxymoronic, as crazy as saying military intelligence, or the U.S Department of Justice. They’re just words that have very little relationship to reality. And do you feel safer now? Do you think you will anytime soon? Do you think duct tape and Kleenex and color codes will make you safe?”

In his short commentary, Mumia refers specifically to the Black community in the US – a community that has been ravaged from every angle through America’s relatively short history: two and a half centuries of chattel slavery followed by various forms of legalized systems of servitude and second-class citizenship, including sharecropping , convict leasing , Jim Crow, and mass incarceration. A history consumed with betrayal after betrayal, complex layers of institutional racism carried out under the guise of legality, and a systematic ghettoization supported by both ” white flight” and widespread discriminatory housing and employment practices. Mumia juxtaposes this unique experience to the “broader society,” one that is riddled with insecurities stemming from “opulent and relative” wealth, to expose the irony of “homeland security,” a term that he views as oxymoronic.

Mumia is correct in characterizing the reactionary temperament of both the American middle and upper classes – sects that both determine and maintain dominant culture. Broader society is molded by this temperament, which is buoyed by small pockets of socioeconomic comfort floating in a vast sea of instability that not only plagues the Black community in its never-ending struggle against both white supremacy and capitalism, but also poor and working-class white communities that have been similarly doomed by their forced reliance on wage labor. Despite what he describes as “bountiful wealth,” American society has always been propped up on this hidden base of despair, felt by a majority of the population that exists below the façade. Since the 1980s, this façade has been slowly chiseled away as neoliberalism has successfully funneled wealth to the few at the top while creating a race to the bottom for everyone else, including those once deemed “middle class.”

This race to the bottom has exposed the underbelly of instability through its attack on a fast-eroding, mostly-white middle class that now finds itself desperately seeking reasons for its newfound despair. While those of us at the bottom may welcome the company, in hopes that it will bring the critical mass needed to finally confront and bring down the capitalist system, it also signals trying times ahead. In being consistent with similar erosions of “relative and bountiful wealth” throughout history, the American demise brings with it a fairly high probability of a fascist tide. In fact, this tide has already begun to form, largely through millions of white tears dropping from the Tea Party, its Reaganite forerunners, the “alt-right,” a surge of neo-Nazism and white nationalism, and Donald Trump’s pied piper-like rhetoric that has pooled it all together.

While middle-class America comes crashing down along with the empire, the Black community remains steadfast in its centuries-long defensive posture. Despite facing an acute, structural oppression that is unparalleled in any other modern “industrialized” setting, and in spite of Mumia’s sobering analysis, the Black community has in many ways survived and thrived like no other. This survival in the face of intense hatred has been expressed through many musical forms , from the early roots of rock n roll, Blues, and American Jazz to the hip-hop phenomenon that Mumia speaks of. This collective survival is perfectly captured in Tupac’s poem,The Rose that Grew from Concrete, which tells the story of

…the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete
Proving nature’s laws wrong, it learned how to walk without havin feet
Funny it seems but by keepin its dreams
It learned to breathe fresh air
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
When no one else even cared.

In explaining the meaning of the poem, Pac summed up much of the African-American experience, as well as the reactionary temperament often directed at it from those in more privileged positions:

“You try to plant somethin in the concrete. If it grows, and the rose petal got all kind of scratches and marks, you not gonna say, “Damn, look at all the scratches and marks on the rose that grew from concrete.” You gonna be like, “Damn! A rose grew from the concrete?!” Same thing with me… I grew out of all of this. Instead of sayin, “Damn, he did this, he did this,” just be like, “Damn! He grew out of that? He came out of that?” That’s what they should say… All the trouble to survive and make good out of the dirty, nasty, unbelievable lifestyle they gave me. I’m just tryin to make somethin.”

Pac’s story also describes that of the entire American working class, as a collection of former slaves, indentured servants, peasants, and poor immigrants set up for failure by a capitalist system designed to exploit us all, collectively. The working-class struggle is tightly intertwined with the Black struggle. The Communist Party knew this long ago. The Industrial Workers of the World did as well. The original Black Panther Party also knew this, as did all those coming from the Black Radical Tradition in America: W.E.B. DuBois, the African Blood Brotherhood, Harry Haywood, the Revolutionary Action Movement, Frances M. Beal, Angela Davis, C.L.R. James, the Combahee River Collective, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, the Congress of African People, and so many others.

As this struggle commences and intensifies during what appear to be the end days of American Empire, underground hip hop provides us with a soundtrack that is laced with historical context, deep analysis, and valuable knowledge – all of which should be applied while moving forward. The “psychic fuel” that Mumia points to in his brief commentary, which “generates the anger that seems endemic in much of the music and poetry” is far from misguided, and extends far beyond cathartic release. While in the mainstream, the Black Radical Tradition continues to be tragically mocked by identity politics , activist-celebrity tweeters pimping corporate brands , black liberation-themed credit cards , high-dollar-plate events, non-profit organizations, and the Democratic Party, its torch remains lit through the lyrics burning on underground hip-hop tracks. And this underground reflects the pulse of the streets, where tens of millions experience daily life in the underbelly of instability – not on Twitter, Facebook, or fundraising dinners at the Marriott.

 

Structural Oppression Under Capitalism

As resistance movements gain momentum in the days of Trump, an understanding of the disastrous effects of capitalism is necessary. Party politics are, as John Dewey once explained, the “shadow cast on society by big business (capitalism).” Politicians from both parties work within this shadow, delivering rhetoric to the masses before and after taking orders from their donors, sponsors, and corporate overlords. Regardless of who is in the highest office, whether it’s an eloquent black President or a blustering billionaire, “the attenuation does not change the substance.” As a popular Internet meme recently noted, the ‘hood under Trump is the same as the ‘hood under Obama, which was the same as the ‘hood under Bush, which was the same as the ‘hood under Clinton. Sadly, this sentiment could go on for as long as Presidents have occupied the white house. Politicians and presidents come and go, and nothing changes for most of us; because, quite frankly, it is not supposed to. Politics serve capitalism; and capitalism does not serve us.


“It’s like an open-air prison and it remained packed”

Hip hop serves as historiography in this sense, documenting the conditions of neighborhoods throughout the US for the past four decades, examining the histories behind multi-generational poverty, and seeking ways to address the dire situations many find themselves in. Ironically, the rise of hip hop paralleled the rise of the neoliberal era, a period that has been marked by an intensification of the capitalist system. During this time, things for most have at best remained stagnant, and at worst become increasingly disastrous. The hook in Erykah Badu’s The Cell (2008) captures this lived experience in sobering fashion:

We’re not well
We’re not well
We can’t tell

Brenda done died with no name
Nickel bag coke to the brain
Will they ever find the vaccine?
Shitty-damn-damn-baby-bang
Rich man got the double barrel
Po’ man got his back to the door
Code white stands for trouble
Shots from the po-po (blah blah)

Jean Grae’s Block Party , the 4th track on her 2002 album Attack of the Attacking Things, provides an intimate glimpse into the state of Black communities during this time:

I don’t wanna preach or come off bitter, this is a commentary auditory
Editorial, about the state of things, state of mind and state of being
What the fuck is goin on? How the fuck we gonna make it out?
It’s hectic, from asbestos filled classrooms
To the stench of death that’s still in New York
The air is thick with it, but it reaches further
Like the world murder rate

While illustrating the chronic conditions found in many communities, Grae immediately offers insight into possible solutions rooted in consciousness. Without actually saying it, her lyrics brilliantly dip into a structural analysis that calls for abandoning capitalist culture and realizing the tragic ironies in seeking individual materialistic goals. In doing so, there is an underlying theme to escape values that have been implanted into not only predominantly Black communities, but also working-class communities as a whole:

We need to globalize, further spread on this earth
To appreciate the full value of individual worth
To realize how ridiculous the thought of ownership is
And protectin your turf – that’s bullshit man
That’s how we got colonized
Missionaries create foreign schools and change the native way & thinkin
So in ten years, we can have a foreign Columbine
In some small village in the Amazon, c’mon man

Grae’s second verse masterfully ties together a narrative based in seeking a collective consciousness while avoiding a house-slave mentality that aims to, as she puts it, “chill with rich white folks.” Again, while directed toward members of the Black community, Grae’s commentary is undeniably relative to the working-class struggle in its entirety, especially in terms of how the “rags-to-riches,” so-called “American Dream” is framed strictly within individual pursuits of wealth and hyper-consumerism. Ultimately, as Grae suggests, this mentality must be shed through deeper calls for knowledge, community, and shared struggle:

It’s every man for himself
That’s why the black community is lackin in wealth, there’s no unity
We soon to be chillin with rich white folk
And that means that we made it
Let our kids go hungry before our wardrobe is outdated

…If the system’s corrupt, then change it
Fought for the right to vote, don’t even use it
Forget electoral winnin
The way the world’s goin, we in the ninth inning
Heh, and we still aren’t up to bat
Niggas is happy just to have the rights to sit on the bench
Like floor seats is alright, and that’s as far as we reach
Materialistic values, not morals, that’s what we teach
I see it in the youth, hungry for fame and money
Not for knowledge and pursuit of the truth
Pick up a book or a newspaper
Take a free class in politics or human behavior

Talib Kweli and Rapsody’s Every Ghetto , the 2nd track on Kweli’s 2015 album Indie 500, echoes Grae’s track in addressing the systematic ghettoization of the Black community under the intertwined tandem of capitalism and white supremacy. Crucially, the track challenges the often-mistaken attempt to characterize ghetto life as a monolithic existence, seemingly warning against the fetishization of the black struggle while reflecting Pac’s poem of the concrete rose and highlighting the unique struggle and persistence of the Black working class. Kweli’s bridge builds on Grae’s Block Party narrative, celebrating the communal potential of struggling communities:

I’m good walkin’ in every ghetto around the world
The hood often embrace ya when you profound with words
I say the shit they relate to, I keep it down to Earth
Other rappers sound like they hate you, them niggas sound absurd
So when they walk through the ghetto they get their chain snatched
They gotta talk to the ghetto to get their chain back
It’s like an open-air prison and it remain packed
Nothin’ but straight facts

Kweli’s initial verse jumps directly into a layered analysis, with the first bar alone touching on chronic malnourishment, poor education, smothering crime, gentrification, and a culture of anti-consciousness:

Every ghetto, every city, like Ms. Hill
They way too used to the missed meals
Hard to concentrate, hard to sit still
Murder rate permanent place in the top 10
We live here, these hipsters drop in
You hear them barrels cockin’
They say consciousness mean a nigga ain’t rugged
Until they get beat within an inch of it

Rapsody closes the track with a powerful verse, filled with structural and cultural critiques all tied to capitalism and white supremacy. Her verse is laced with innuendo in a masterful play on words as she illustrates the lived reality of generations of Black Americans who have been systematically targeted by America’s settler-colonial project, pointing to everything from police terror and the destruction of the Black family unit to the false promises of individualized pursuits of wealth.

Indie 5, for the people by the people
Ya-ya, giddy up, who got the juice now?
Snatch it out your kiddies cups
The shit you gave us watered down
This one’s for Basquiat
They be brushin’ with death, uh
Is this The Art Of War for cops?
We double-dutchin’ duckin’ shots
Every home ain’t got a Pops
Every man ain’t sellin’ rocks
A different will to win here
Different from switchin’ cars
They pray that we switch our bars
To a fiend from a metaphor
Worldstar, Worldstar
Lotta love and this life hard
Keep us prayin’ like “oh God”
Illegally thievery think us peelin’ off easily
Frustrated we hate it
That’s why we scream out “nigga we made it”
It’s an odd future they ain’t know we was all some creators
Somethin’ from nothin’ was told Kings walk and man you frontin’
For the people and by the people but them over money
I’m on my Viola Davis here, workin’ for justice
How you get away with murder? Be a cop and just kill us
How we supposed to not catch feelings?
Innocent lives, boy we got kids in these buildings
I’m on my Viola Davis, it’s what you call a defense
For all the drama they gave us I’m spittin’ Shonda Rhimes wit
Too high for you like ganja, that’s what Shonda rhyme with
I holla back in the Hamptons, you still black if you rich
Spread love ain’t just the Brooklyn way, it’s universal
360 and the nine lives, whoa, what a circle

 

“Keep it movin’ on”

While systemic oppression has plagued many generations of working-class Americans, especially non-white (as noted by Grae, Kweli and Rapsody), the middle class has only begun to feel the pressure of the capitalist system. The American middle class is an anomaly in history. Its formation defied the internal mechanics of capitalism, a system that is designed to favor the privileged few who have access to enough capital to own the means of production. This anomaly was beneficial for America’s capitalist class, in that it allowed for a slick rebranding of capitalism as a system of “freedom” and “liberty.” For decades, the American middle class was held up as the ultimate advertisement for a system that we were told allowed for social mobility through “hard work.” These fables became so strong that an entire century was spent trying to shape a benevolent form of capitalism through government intervention (Keynesianism) and a robust Welfare State. Because of its relative success, mainly due to US imperial endeavors abroad, the capitalist system was not only propped up, but it was even sold to the masses as “the only alternative.” The era of neoliberalism ended all of that. As capitalism’s internal mechanics were unleashed during this period, so too were its natural consequences – capital accumulation for the elites, and mass dispossession for the people.

While mainstream media outlets continue to push a tired narrative, hip hop has shed some light on the real effects of capitalism. Vinnie Paz’s 2010 track Keep Movin’ On provides insight into these effects, and especially how they relate to the American worker. The first verse informs us in two ways. First, Paz illustrates the workers’ role in the capitalist system, which is merely to serve as a tool to be used and exploited until no longer needed. In this role, we are not considered as human beings with families, needs, and inherent rights; we are only valuable as long as we provide owners with an avenue of extracting surplus labor from us for their profit. Second, the verse specifically describes the plight of the American manufacturing worker and the demise of middle-class jobs over the past 40 years due to globalization, corporate offshoring, and free trade agreements – all elements of the proliferation of capitalism in the neoliberal era:

I lost my job at the factory and that’s disastrous
They said it’s due to regulation and higher taxes
They ain’t give me no notice. They knocked me off my axis
I can’t pay the electric bill. It’s total blackness
I suggested some incentives for innovation
But that was met with resistance like it’s a sin of Satan
I’m losing my patience over here. I’m sick of waiting
And I ain’t never expect to be in this situation
And the manufacturing jobs are fading fast (Damn)
Can’t do nothing else. I should’ve stayed in class
I have to wait till summertime to cut the blades of grass
I have this little bit of money. Have to make it last
I have children to feed. I have a loving wife
I had a hard time coming that was nothing nice
I keep asking myself what am I doing wrong
And they just look at me and tell me “Keep it movin’ on”

 

“Kill my landlord”

Along with massive unemployment and underemployment, the working class is also constantly faced with insecure housing situations. Landlordism is a natural byproduct of a capitalist system which seeks to commodify basic human needs such as food, clothing, housing, and healthcare for profit. Under this system, the few who can afford to own multiple properties are allowed to exploit the many who can barely afford basic shelter for themselves and their families. Because of this, many of us go our entire lives without ever establishing a stable home environment.

As of 2017, this natural housing crisis has reached a point where it’s being labeled an epidemic even by mainstream sources. As rent continues to soar , so do evictions. ” As of 2015 , more than 20 million renters-more than half of all renters in the U.S.-were cost burdened, meaning they spent at least at least 30 percent of their income on rent. That’s up from almost 15 million in 2001. And while rents have risen 66 percent since 2000, household incomes have only risen 35 percent.” In 2015, an estimated 2.7 million Americans faced eviction. Median rent has increased by more than 70% since 1995, while wages have stagnated for almost 30 years, and jobs that pay a living wage have disappeared during this same period. Landlords will go to great lengths to throw families and children out in the streets, sometimes even for falling behind one month on rent. “A landlord can evict tenants through a formal court process,” explains Matthew Desmond , “or they can choose cheaper and quicker ways” to boot the families, such as “paying them a couple of hundred dollars to vacate by the end of the week” or even by removing the front door of the home. In order to protect this for-profit housing system from total collapse, the federal government uses numerous programs to assist people, including public housing, rental assistance, and even massive tax subsidies for homeowners. Despite this, many families are cold-heartedly exploited and discarded by landlords who want nothing more than to profit off this forced, human desperation. After living such an existence, The Coup’s 1993 track Kill My Landlord , which featured the less-known rap duo Elements of Change, is surely to serve as a long-standing anthem for many:

Overlord of the concrete jungle but I’m humble
As I witness my opponent crumble
Like the shack that I live in the house that I rent from him
Roach infested I’m sure that the rats are nesting
The heat doesn’t work he still hasn’t checked it
Disrespected me for the last time
I loaded up the nine stepping double time
Bullseye, Another point scored
Right between the eyes of my landlord

All who have relied on rental property to live can certainly relate to the undignified relationship between landlord and tenant. Like bosses, landlords exploit us as resources. And the capitalist system not only allows them the power to do this on mass scale, it actually supports their rights with force if necessary. Our collective desperation is their individual gain. And our forced dependency on them leaves us with no leverage against their power. The second verse of The Coup’s classic track reflects on this slave-like existence brought on by capitalism and landlordism:

So me I’m chilling at the table with my family
Hypothetically trying hard to keep my mind off the economy
Yeah I know the reason I find it hard to pass the test
Call me a victim cause I’m another brother jobless
Every day it seems like I’m moving closer to the streets
PG&E repo’ed the lights and my fucking heat
The situation’s getting hard for me to handle
Had to trade my Nike’s to the store to buy some candles
Last to first and I’m a-hunted and a ho I know
The man is going to come and throw me in the cold
Tears in my eye as I’m thinking of place to stay
While I’m staring at the freebie cheese up in my plate
I heard a bang bang bang knocking at my door
I looked up it was my motherfucking landlord, let him in quick
Followed by the sheriff deputy trying to come in
Every po on my property, staring me down
Mugging hard up in my family’s face
While they’re sitting at the table trying to say grace
But before I make this one my last meal
Any moves, yeah I’m looking for the damn kill
I said it twice in case he didn’t hear me though
Sucker made a move evidently when he hit the floor
So now I’m in cuffs for the crimes I’ve committed
Maybe I’ll go to jail, heh, or maybe I’ll get acquitted
But the fact still stands I killed my landlord dead
Now I’ve got three meals and a roof over my head

In the third verse, Boots Riley connects the inherent injustices of landlordism to not only capitalism, but also to European conquest and the process of primitive accumulation that allowed settler-colonists to create wealth from the Atlantic Slave Trade and Indigenous holocaust. There is an overt racial component to this process, as descendants of former slaves are still forced to depend on descendants of former slave-owners for basic needs. Recognizing the injustices and illegitimacy of this system, and seeking revolutionary change, is crucial. Boots delivers knowledge:

Cash is made in lump sums as street bums eat crumbs
So I defeat scum as I beat drums
Rum-tiddy-tum like the little drummer boy song
Here comes the landlord at the door, ding dong
Is it wrong that my momma sticks a fat-ass thong
Up his anal cavity cause he causes gravity to my family
Says we gotta pay a fee so we can stay and eat
In a house with light and heat
The bastard could get beat, stole the land from Chief Littlefeet
House is built on deceit, got no rent receipt
So I’m living in the street and I’m down now
Don’t you know to not fuck with the Mau Mau?
Notice of eviction, four knuckle dental affliction
Friction, oh did I mention
You’ll be finger licking as I handicap your diction
And you say you’re not a criminal like Tricky Dick Nixon?
While we’re fixing to impose rent control
We didn’t vote on it, this land wasn’t bought or sold
It was stole by your great granddaddy’s ganking
Osagyefo said they call it primitive accumulation
Plantations, TV stations wealth is very stationary
I learned the game and I became a revolutionary
Scaring the corporate asses cause the masses are a loaded gun
Killing the world banking and international monetary fund
I’m done, we’re done with what you’ve done
For twenty-five score we’ve got a battle cry
Kill my, kill my, kill my, kill my
Kill my, kill my, kill my, kill my landlord

While representing a main staple of capitalism, landlordism also mimics the dynamics of settler societies in that settlers gain a disproportionate amount of land ownership at the expense of the mass dispossession of native populations. In many ways, modern landlords in the US represent the traditional colonizer, often buying up property in “foreign” communities for the sole purpose of exploiting masses of renters through dispossession and forced reliance. As in the process of gentrification, landlords dispossess thousands of poor and working-class people in their never-ending pursuit for more and more property to commodify. E-Roc finishes the track strong, calling on a figurative Mau Mau rebellion to “kill” the modern version of colonizers.

I need six hundred dollars by the end of the week
My body is cold, dirty socks on my feet
Not a black sheep, but who’s the creep
Trying to put me on the street while I’m trying to sleep?
I wanna kill my landlord, murder in the first degree
If there’s something wrong he wants to blame me
Wants to be a threat so he carries a gun
Well I pack a 9 cause I can’t trust 911
Son of a gun, I’m the one who cuts the grass
Wash the windows and he still wants me to kiss his ass
But I laugh cause America’s not my home
My landlord took me away from where I belong
But it’s a sad song so I face reality now
Pick up the phone and now here comes the Mau Mau
To the rescue, down with The Coup
Yo landlord, I’ve got a little message for you
I’m going cuckoo, fuck a machete or sword
E-Roc is on a mission to kill my landlord

 

How the Capitalist/Imperialist War Machine Works Against Us

On Track 7 of Immortal Technique’s 2005 Bin Laden remix album, Mumia Abu-Jamal once again spits knowledge, this time providing brilliantly poetic commentary framing capitalism and imperialism as ” a war versus us all “:

“The war against us all
This war in Iraq isn’t the end; it’s the beginning of Wars to come
All around the world at the whim of the Neo-Cons in the White House
This is the Bush Doctrine come to life; War, war and more war!
War brought to you by the big corporate-masters who run the show
This isn’t just a War on Iraqis or Afghanis or Arabs, or even Muslims
It is ultimately a War on us all.
That’s because the billions and billions that are being spent on this War
The cost of tanks, rocketry, bullets and yes even salaries
For the 125, 000 plus troops, is money that will never be spent on;
Education, on healthcare, on the reconstruction of crumbling public housing
Or to train and place the millions of workers
Who have lost manufacturing jobs in the past three years alone
The War in Iraq is in reality; a war against the nations’ workers and the poor
Who are getting less and less
While the big Defense industries and making a killing, literally.
What’s next Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela?
We’ve already seen the corporate media
Play megaphone to the White House, to build and promote a War based on lies
War is utilized by the imperialists first and foremost, to crush internal enemies
We’re seeing the truth of its insight
When we see the sad state of American education
The rush of seniors to buy affordable medications from the Canadians
Because American drugs are just too expensive
The threat of privatization of Social Security
And the wave of repression that comes with an increasing Militarized Police;
This is a War on all of us
And the struggle against War is really a struggle for a better life
For the millions of folks who are in need here in this country!
The fight against the War is really to fight for your own interest
Not the false interests of the Defense Industry
Or the corporate media or the White House
Down with the Wars for empire.”

Immortal Technique’s subsequent track, Bin Laden , is a masterful critique of US imperialism and the corollary effects of government control on American citizens. Written during the W. Bush administration and the Iraq War, the track touches on the fear-mongering that led to the Patriot Act, the hypocrisy of American politicians, and the CIA’s dealings in the Middle East during the 1980s, which created and strengthened groups like the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Tech begins by contrasting the lived realities of most American citizens with the artificial realities disseminated from the power structure and its calls for blind patriotic loyalty:

I pledge no allegiance, fuck the President’s speeches!
I’m baptized by America and covered in leeches.
The dirty water that bleaches your soul, and your facial features.
Drowning you in propaganda that they spit through the speakers.
And if you speak about the evil that the government does.
The Patriot Act will track you to the type of your blood.
They try to frame you and say you was trying sell drugs.
And throw a federal indictment on niggas to show you love.
This shit is run by fake Christians, fake politicians.
Look at they mansions, then look at the conditions you live in.

He wraps up the first verse by summarizing US foreign policy during the 1980s, specifically referring to the substantial financial and military aid provided to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan during their prolonged war against the Soviet Union. During this time, Osama Bin Laden was a US ally who was a beneficiary of much of this aid, as was Saddam.

All they talk about is terrorism on television.
They tell you to listen.
But they don’t really tell you they mission.
They funded al-Qaeda.
And now they blame the Muslim religion.
Even though Bin Laden was a CIA tactician.
They gave him billions of dollars and they funded his purpose.
Fahrenheit 9/11? That’s just scratching the surface!

…And of course Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons.
We sold him that shit after Ronald Reagan’s election.
Mercenary contractors fighting in a new era
Corporate military banking off the war on terror.

The fact that the US government once supported and funded Bin Laden, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein is not the main point in Tech’s lyrical thesis, but rather the context that leads us into deeper analysis on US foreign policy, the military industrial complex, and the rise of Islamophobia and the War on Terror. By showing how loyalties easily sway, Tech is showing us how the purpose of US interventions abroad are not really about “protecting freedom” or “defending us.” Rather, US foreign policy is a chess game played by the capitalist ruling class for the purpose of engineering and maintaining the US Empire , which in essence is serving as the forerunner and protector of the global capitalist system. So-called terrorism and “Muslim extremism” are nothing more than a manufactured fears designed to scare a sizable portion of the American public into supporting these destructive efforts abroad. Samuel Huntington’s 1996 book Clash of Civilizations is often looked to as the main driver in this farce of a cultural/religious global war. In supporting Tech’s message, Noam Chomsky talks about the obvious contradictions of Huntington’s thesis here , as Edward Said further discredits ithere . A simple search of stock reports for major weapons manufacturers over the past decade shows how profitable the “war on terror” has been. Understanding geopolitics is often as easy as following the money.

Part of Tech’s second verse includes a brilliant critique of state nationalism and patriotism, illustrating how and why government and capitalist interests are not the same as the peoples’ interests, despite being advertised as such. While these wars spread and intensify, most of us continue to struggle.

They say the rebels in Iraq still fight for Saddam
But that’s bullshit, I’ll show you why it’s totally wrong
‘Cause if another country invaded the hood tonight
It’d be warfare through Harlem and Washington Heights
I wouldn’t be fighting for Bush or White America’s dream
I’d be fighting for my people’s survival and self-esteem
I wouldn’t fight for racist churches from the South, my nigga
I’d be fighting to keep the occupation out, my nigga

…. ‘Cause innocent people get murdered in the struggle daily
And poor people never get shit and struggle daily

In a remixed version of this track that includes hip-hop vets Chuck D and KRS-One, Tech tweaks the lyrics to this verse in order to show how the “clash of religions” narrative, as highlighted by Chomsky and Said, is falsely perpetrated:

They say that terrorism revolves around the Qur’an
But that’s stupid, I’ll show you why it’s totally wrong
Cause if this country was invaded and crumbled
I’d turn Harlem into a Columbian jungle
And I wouldn’t be fighting for a Christian nation
I’d be fighting for survival from extermination
I wouldn’t fight for Fox News, them racist niggas
I’d be fighting for the hood, for the faceless niggas

Tech also addresses the hypocrisy of America’s fundamentalist Christian sect, which strongly supports the Republican Party, the clash of civilizations/religion narrative, the Israeli Apartheid state, and military interventions abroad. Christian fundamentalism in the US plays an important role as a conduit to white supremacy and class warfare, as seen in its common stance against the interests of both the Black community and the immigrant community, as well as the poor and working-class communities altogether. This conduit has shown itself in the Republican Party’s four-decade-long Southern Strategyand the rise of Donald Trump’s presidency, which has brought with it overt elements of white supremacy, or as Tech puts it, “devils that run America like ‘Birth of a Nation,’ a popular white-supremacist propaganda film from 1915:

Government front religious, but their heart is empty
Like a televangelist preaching out of his Bentley
Calling abortion murder in a medical building
But don’t give a fuck about bombing Iraqi children
Talking like units in the fucking libretto
Look at their mansions and look at your suburban ghetto
The gulag, the new hood where they send us to live
Cause they don’t give a fuck about none of our kids
That’s why Blacks and Latinos get the worst education
While devils run America like “Birth of a Nation”
Affirmative action ain’t reverse discrimination
That shit is a pathetic excuse for reparations

 

Fake News, Structural Misinformation, and How the Ruling Class Control Politics

The notion of “fake news” has become a prominent theme in American politics due to Donald Trump’s constant use of the term to explain what he views as his unfair treatment and misinterpretation by some media outlets. Ironically, the term is also being used by liberal opponents of Trump to claim that Russia had influenced the Presidential election in Trump’s favor. The Washington Post even went as far as publishing a report citing “anonymous groups” to list dozens of online news sources that allegedly served as “instruments of Russian propaganda” during the 2016 Presidential race. Despite some backpedaling on the initial article (to include an editor’s note and the removal of some websites from the list), liberal-leaning media outlets like the Washington Post and MSNBC have persisted with this seemingly hysterical and bizarre Russophobic angle to attempt to discredit Trump’s presidency. As if Trump’s personal history, business dealings, fascist rhetoric, narcissism, constant lies, and hyper-capitalist policy platform are not bad enough.

There are some very interesting points to take from this liberal narrative. One is regarding the corporate media itself, which has both perpetuated the allegations of “fake news” and been accused of delivering it. Ironically, Trump is correct in referring to these news sources as fake. But they are not fake for the reasons he claims they are fake – which is only regarding how they portray things related to him. They are fake because they ceased being news agencies decades ago. They are now part of the entertainment industry. They are concerned with ratings and advertising profit, not with delivering information to the public. Information does not sell, sensationalism does. Fox News knows this just as much as MSNBC and CNN know this. To earn profit, you need ratings. To get ratings, you need people to tune into your channel. To get people to tune into your channel, you need drama, controversy, fear, sex, shock, sensationalism; in other words, entertainment.

Another point is regarding corporate news as a de facto fourth branch of government. Often referred to throughout history as the fourth estate, media and press journalism have long been relied on to provide a valuable fourth branch of checks and balances in the US. However, as time has gone on, rather than uncovering conflicts of interest, exposing backroom deals, and delivering investigative journalism, the media in the US has become both complicit and indifferent in and to government corruption. This was never more evident than in the months leading up to the Iraq War, which according to Australian journalist John Pilger , may have never happened if journalists had done their job of uncovering truths in the face of, and in spite of, power:

“…had journalists done their job, had they questioned and investigated the propaganda instead of amplifying it, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children might be alive today; and millions might not have fled their homes; the sectarian war between Sunni and Shia might not have ignited, and the infamous Islamic State might not now exist.”

Media collusion with the power structure has been a central theme to the work of Pilger, who has consistently tied the media’s full institutional compliance to what is properly referred to as “the deep state” or “invisible government” through the proliferation of propaganda . This was also the main theme of Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman’s 1988 book, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, as well as the subsequent 1992 documentary by the same name. According to Chomsky and Herman, mass media in the US “are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function, by reliance on market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship , and without overt coercion.” Which is to say that profit-driven news not only seeks to appease popular narratives, but also will toe the government line in return for continued access or exclusive scoops, all of which are determined by government officials.

Immortal Technique’s 2003 track, The 4th Branch , fortifies the work of Pilger, Chomsky, and Herman by illustrating how the media and its propaganda serve the ruling-class narrative. Released in the aftermath of 9-11 and during the beginnings of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tech weaves multiple theses into a central theme of propaganda versus reality. The hook sums up the track:

It’s like MK-ULTRA, controllin’ your brain
Suggestive thinking, causing your perspective to change
They wanna rearrange the whole point of view of the ghetto
The fourth branch of the government, want us to settle
A bandanna full of glittering, generality
Fightin’ for freedom and fightin’ terror, but what’s reality
Read about the history of the place that we live in
And stop letting corporate news tell lies to your children

The opening verse introduces us once again to Huntington’s clash-of-civilizations narrative and the role of Evangelical Christians in pushing forth this narrative. Tech focuses on the moral bankruptcy of Christian fundamentalism in the US and how US foreign policy is continuously designed on a base of hypocrisy and misinformation, carried out by agents of the capitalist class:

The voice of racism preachin’ the gospel is devilish
A fake church called the prophet Muhammad a terrorist
Forgetting God is not a religion, but a spiritual bond
And Jesus is the most quoted prophet in the Qu’ran
They bombed innocent people, tryin’ to murder Saddam
When you gave him those chemical weapons to go to war with Iran
This is the information that they hold back from Peter Jennings
Cause Condoleezza Rice is just a new age Sally Hemings

The remainder of the first verse continues the critique on conservative ideology and Christian fundamentalism, tying them into the ultimate hypocrisies perpetrated in the founding of the United States. The miseducation that most of us are subjected to through years of formal education interplay with Tech’s exposure of the public misinformation that disseminates from media sources, all of which combine to produce a hidden history of the US that is a perfectly pliable tool firmly in the hands of the ruling class:

I break it down with critical language and spiritual anguish
The Judas I hang with, the guilt of betraying Christ
You murdered and stole his religion, and painting him white
Translated in psychologically tainted philosophy
Conservative political right wing, ideology
Glued together sloppily, the blasphemy of a nation
Got my back to the wall, cause I’m facin’ assassination
Guantanamo Bay, federal incarceration
How could this be, the land of the free, home of the brave
Indigenous holocaust and the home of the slaves
Corporate America, dancin’ offbeat to the rhythm
You really think this country, never sponsored terrorism
Human rights violations, we continue the saga
El Savador and the contras in Nicaragua
And on top of that, you still wanna take me to prison
Just cause I won’t trade humanity for patriotism

Returning to Vinnie Paz’s track, Keep Movin’ On, we see the experiences and views of an American soldier, handpicked from the working class to serve in illegal and immoral wars and occupations abroad. The verse touches on everything from the recruitment process and the brainwashing effects of patriotism to the gruesome effects of serving as tools of war for the capitalist ruling class :

I signed up cause they promised me some college money
I ain’t the smartest motherfucker but I’m not a dummy
They told me I would be stationed in places hot and sunny
I had a lot of pride. Motherfuckers got it from me
These people over here innocent. They never harmed me
My sergeant tried to convince me that they would try to bomb me
I feel like an outsider stuck inside this army
Everybody brainwashed. American zombies
I ain’t realized how much it set me back
Until I lost my leg and then they sent me back
I don’t have anything now. I’m left with scraps
From a government who created AIDS, invented crack
People told me not to join. I tried to prove ’em wrong
Now I’m homeless and I’m cold without no food thas’ warm
I keep asking myself, “What did I do that’s wrong?”
And the government telling me, “Keep it movin’ on”

Tech’s closing comments on the 4th Branch summarizes the class-component that shapes the military industrial complex, a system designed to create, maintain, and protect private profit. Echoing Paz’s verse on the experience of soldiers, Tech illustrates our role in this system while touching on the constant propaganda we are bombarded with, which pushes this narrative of “we,” as if “we” have anything in common with the American ruling/capitalist class and their servants in mass media.

The fourth branch of the government AKA the media
Seems to now have a retirement plan for ex-military officials
As if their opinion was at all unbiased
A machine shouldn’t speak for men
So shut the fuck up you mindless drone
And you know it’s serious
When these same media outfits are spending millions of dollars on a PR campaign
To try to convince you they’re fair and balanced
When they’re some of the most ignorant, and racist people
Giving that type of mentality a safe haven
We act like we share in the spoils of war that they do
We die in wars, we don’t get the contracts to make money off ’em afterwards
We don’t get weapons contracts, nigga
We don’t get cheap labor for our companies, nigga
We are cheap labor, nigga
Turn off the news and read, nigga
Read… read… read

Tech’s final verse is powerfully connected to liberation movements of the past, echoing among other the great Irish socialist, James Connolly, and his call for international, working-class solidarity during the beginnings of World War I. In his A Continental Revolution (1914) , Connolly sums up the profit motive and class-basis of war:

“… [in war] the working class are to be sacrificed that a small clique of rulers and armament makers may sate their lust for power and their greed for wealth. Nations are to be obliterated, progress stopped, and international hatreds erected into deities to be worshipped.

… against the patriotism of capitalism – the patriotism which makes the interest of the capitalist class the supreme test of duty and right – I place the patriotism of the working class, the patriotism which judges every public act by its effect upon the fortunes of those who toil.

To me, therefore, the socialist of another country is a fellow-patriot, as the capitalist of my own country is a natural enemy.”

“Fake news” is simply propaganda constructed through ruling-class channels to boost systems and cultures that support the power structure. In other words, it is the status quo. It is nothing new. It happens rather naturally, flowing from concentrations of money and power. Regarding the newfound liberal version of “fake news,” the final point to consider relates to the idea of an outside influence on American politics. Long before the Russia hysteria surfaced, the American political system had been bought and sold numerous times over. To suggest that politicians from either major party ever represented the interests of American people is incredibly naïve. Campaign financing and corporate lobbying determine who wins political races and which legislation is introduced and passed in Congress. Long before Russia was accused of influencing elections, Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms were proven to influence elections. Long before Trump supposedly got a boost from Putin, official US policy had been directly shaped by Israeli interests in the Middle East.

Access to oil has always determined foreign policy, access to capital for big business has always determined economic policy, and the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision has ensured that the Kochs’, Soros’, Gates’, and Buffetts’ of the world will always hold more political weight within the electoral system than 100 million voters combined, if they so choose. Whether it’s Goldman Sachs, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Koch brothers, George Soros, or Putin, the American people have never had a say in what the political machine does or doesn’t do. This fact renders the Trump-Russia hysteria as moot. Any real sense of US national interests has long been replaced by the global capitalist order, if they ever truly existed at all. In terms of political empowerment and self-determination for the working-class majority within the US, a foreign president is no different than any number of nameless American millionaire hedge-fund donors.

 

The Seamless Political Machine and the Failures of Identity Politics: From Reagan to Trump

Within electoral politics, lesser-evilism has become the dominant stance for at least half of the American population. For individual voters, the 2-party duopoly has been mostly abandoned as identifications with either party have reached near-historic lows . As of 2015, nearly half of registered voters identify as something other than Republican or Democrat. However, despite this overwhelming rejection of the 2-party system, many of these voters continue to choose what they view as the “lesser evil” in voting for candidates from one of the two major parties.

Since the Reagan administration and introduction of a seamless political machine based in neoliberalism (an intensification of capitalism), presidential administrations regardless of party have been almost indistinguishable. Despite this seamless identity that’s emerged, many voters still insist on claiming differences between the two corporate parties, even if it means choosing what they view as the lesser-evil. The fact that some public radical intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Angela Davis have proposed lesser-evilism lends this direction some undue credence. However, when we step back and analyze the big picture, away from the emotions that often emerge in the heat of electoral moments, it is easy to see that lesser-evilism, as an electoral tactic embraced by the Left, has pushed the entire political system to the right over the past 40 years. Clear evidence of this shift can be seen in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, which carried forth Reagan-esque economic policy, while also gutting welfare (Clinton), facilitating mass incarceration of the Black community (Clinton), escalating US bombing campaigns (Obama), pushing historical levels of deportation of immigrants (Obama), and maintaining the attack on civil liberties that began under W. Bush (Obama). Even more evidence is the emergence of Bernie Sanders as a candidate who is viewed as being an outlier of the Democratic Party, despite an ideological identity that is consistent with run-of-the-mill liberalism of old. Yet, when compared to a Democratic Party that has clearly shifted rightward, toward more hard-line capitalist-friendly policies that have characterized the neoliberal era started by Reagan, as well as highly-destructive imperialist missions abroad, Sanders looks like a radical.

Killer Mike’s 2012 track, Reagan, brings us to the start of the neoliberal era. In a social context, specifically regarding the treatment of Black communities throughout the country, the Reagan era merely picked up on hundreds of years of oppression. By implementing an official “war on drugs,” this era provided the basis for what Michelle Alexander termed The New Jim Crow , in her book with the same title. It also created a new wing of the military industrial complex through the construction of an extensive for-profit prison system and widespread militarization of domestic police forces. Mike’s second verse introduces us to the Reagan environment, as experienced by the Black community:

The end of the Reagan Era, I’m like ‘leven, twelve, or
Old enough to understand the shit’ll change forever
They declared the war on drugs like a war on terror
But what it really did was let the police terrorize whoever
But mostly black boys, but they would call us “niggers”
And lay us on our belly, while they fingers on they triggers
They boots was on our head, they dogs was on our crotches
And they would beat us up if we had diamonds on our watches
And they would take our drugs and money, as they pick our pockets
I guess that that’s the privilege of policing for some profit

The intensification of American policing in poor communities of color served a bigger purpose. As Mike explains in the same verse, it bolstered the cornerstone of US economics and capitalism: free labor. As per the 13th amendment of the US Constitution , “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” In other words, the forced free labor of convicts in the US prison system is still legal. And the “war on drugs” helped to create nearly 1.3 million free laborers for mainstream corporations , as the prison population in the US grew from roughly 300,000 in 1980 to over 1.5 million in 2015 . Killer Mike touches on this:

But thanks to Reaganomics, prisons turned to profits
Cause free labor is the cornerstone of US economics
Cause slavery was abolished, unless you are in prison
You think I am bullshitting, then read the 13th Amendment
Involuntary servitude and slavery it prohibits
That’s why they giving drug offenders time in double digits

Mike closes the track by moving the focus from Reagan to the system, telling us that Presidents (and most politicians, for that matter) are nothing more than “employees of the country’s real masters,” serving capitalist interests rather than the masses of people:

Ronald Reagan was an actor, not at all a factor
Just an employee of the country’s real masters
Just like the Bushes, Clinton and Obama
Just another talking head telling lies on teleprompters
If you don’t believe the theory, then argue with this logic
Why did Reagan and Obama both go after Gaddafi
We invaded sovereign soil, going after oil
Taking countries is a hobby paid for by the oil lobby
Same as in Iraq, and Afghanistan
And Ahmadinejad say they coming for Iran
They only love the rich, and how they loathe the poor
If I say any more they might be at my door
(Shh..) Who the fuck is that staring in my window
Doing that surveillance on Mr. Michael Render
I’m dropping off the grid before they pump the lead
I leave you with four words: I’m glad Reagan dead

Reagan the man may be dead, but his spirit has survived in symbolic terms through the perpetuation of neoliberalism’s capitalist/imperialist order. The actions of our last President, Obama, who may appear to be the polar opposite of Reagan in any superficial analysis, confirms this perpetuation. The 2015 remix, Obamanation 4 , hammers this truth home in magnificent fashion. Opening with excerpts of speeches from Malcolm X, the track sets up a premise of systemic analysis as Malcolm rails against the “international Western power structure (capitalism),” calling upon “anyone, I don’t care what color you are, as long as you want to change the miserable conditions on this earth.”

Echoing Killer Mike’s track, M-1 (from Dead Prez) uses his verse in Obamanation 4 to expose the systemic nature of our political system, illustrating how not only the Democratic Party, but also the first Black President, equal nothing more than cogs in an imperialist machine. His analysis begins by disregarding the propaganda stemming from right-wing sources like Fox News and syndicated radio, all of which claimed Obama represented a diversion from politics-as-usual by having some mythological “radical-left-wing agenda.” In reality, Obama’s administration continued, and even escalated in some cases, America’s imperialist endeavors abroad. M-1 flips this “right-wing propaganda” and puts it back on progressives, rhetorically asking “who you gonna blame” now that the man in charge is no longer a white Republican named Bush:

After you divorce yourself from the right wing propaganda campaign, it’s all simple and plain.
America customed the game.
Your President got an African name, now who you gonna blame?
When they drop them bombs out of them planes.
Using depleted uranium, babies looking like two-headed aliens.
Follow the money trail, it leads to the criminal.
Ain’t nothing subliminal to it, that’s how they do it.

Continuing on this theme, M-1 pinpoints Obama as the new head of the US’ global imperialist agenda, even touching on the irony of a Black man carrying out neo-colonialism with white-supremacist underpinnings. M-1’s verse is not only insightful in its blanket condemnation of the 2-party machine, but also in its inherent warning about the dangers of a brand of identity politics that seeks to plug folks from historically marginalized groups into the power structure. Ultimately, to M-1, as to all radicals and revolutionaries, it’s the system that drives our injustices, not the figureheads chosen to facilitate the system:

See they game they run.
Give a fuck if he’s cunning, articulate, and handsome.
Afghanistan held for ransom.
By the hand of this black man, neo-colonial puppet.
White power with a black face, he said fuck it I’ll do it.
…. Last stage of imperialism, I ain’t kiddin.
In the immortal words of Marvin Gaye ‘This ain’t living.’

On the same track, Black the Ripper picks up on M-1’s analysis, keeping the focus on Obama as nothing more than a figurehead of a system that must be opposed. This particular verse includes a harsh critique, deploying the house-slave mentality in describing Black figures in power, as well as their accomplices:

See it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.
He’s sitting in the White House, so who cares if he’s black?
And why’s there still soldiers out there in Iraq?
Natural resources ain’t yours, it’s theirs, give it back!
You’re just another puppet, but I’m not surprised
Look at Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.
They didn’t change shit, house nigga’s fresh off the slave ship.

The Obamanation remix includes a verse from Lupe Fiasco’s track, Words I Never Said. The verse fits the overall narrative perfectly, keeping focus on systemic operations. Lupe takes the analysis even further, touching on various social aspects stemming from capitalism and imperialism, most notably those which keep the American public in line, agreeable, and ignorant through a process of devalued education, fear-mongering, and mind-numbing celebrity gossip. All of this, Lupe suggests, leads to what Chomsky has referred to as “manufactured consent,” which he strongly rejects:

I really think the war on terror is a bunch of bullshit.
Just a poor excuse for you to use up all your bullets.
How much money does it take to really make a full clip?
9/11, building 7, did they really pull it?
Uh, and a bunch of other coverups.
Your child’s future was the first to go with budget cuts.
If you think that hurts, then wait, here comes the uppercut.
The school was garbage in the first place, that’s on the up and up.
Keep you at the bottom but tease you with the upper crust.
You get it, then they move it, so you never keeping up enough.
If you turn on TV, all you see’s a bunch of “what the fucks.”
Dude is dating so and so, blabbering ’bout such and such.
And that ain’t Jersey Shore, homey, that’s the news.
And these the same people supposedly telling us the truth.
Limbaugh is a racist, Glenn Beck is a racist.
Gaza strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say shit.
That’s why I ain’t vote for him, next one either.
I’m a part of the problem, my problem is I’m peaceful.
And I believe in the people.

Lowkey concludes the remix with a strong verse on American imperialism, an agenda that has become indistinguishable between various Presidents and both corporate parties. He points to specific missions carried out under the Obama administration, seemingly calling to attention those who continue to portray Obama as a separation from the Bush administration. The verse serves as a prophetic warning about Syria, and nails home M-1’s earlier reduction of Obama as just another “neo-colonial puppet” doing the job that every American President is called upon to do, including bombing an African country (Libya) and disposing of a leader (Gaddafi) known for promoting pan-Africanism throughout the continent:

Was the bigger threat from Osama or from Obama?
Military bases from Chagos to Okinawa.
I say things that other rappers won’t say.
Cause my mind never closed like Guantanamo Bay.
Hope you didn’t build a statue or tattoo your arm.
Cause the drones are still flying over Pashtunistan.
Did he defend the war? No! He extended more.
He even had the time to attempt a coup in Ecuador.
Morales and Chavez, the state’s are on a hunt for ya.
Military now stationed on bases in Columbia.
Take a trip to the past and tell em I was right.
Ask Ali Abunimah or Jeremiah Wright.
Drones over Pakistan, Yemen, and Libya.
Is Obama the bomber getting ready for Syria?
First black president, the masses were hungry.
But the same president just bombed an African country.

The false hopes placed in the first Black President highlight the failures and pitfalls of identity politics, a political approach that is grounded in assimilation. This approach to social justice attempts to mold a multicultural, multi-sex, non-gender-descript power elite by simply placing individuals who identify with these hyper-marginalized groups into the existing power structure. Thus, the ultimate goal is more Black bankers, more gay landlords, more transgender politicians, more women Senators, and so on. This approach has led to the creation of what the left-wing publication Black Agenda Report (BAR) has deemed the black misleadership class in the US. Obama was the ultimate product of this class, but not the totality of it. For as long as identity politics seek to assimilate into the power structure, this class will persist, as will the formation of other such classes: the gay misleadership class, the transgender misleadership class, the women’s misleadership class (Hillary), etc…, because, ultimately, the power structure does not exist to serve the people, no matter how diverse it is. Nas touches on this in his 1999 track, I Want to Talk to You , which addresses the frustrations of living under a government that does not represent:

Step up to the White House, let me in
What’s my reason for being, I’m ya next of kin
And we built this motherfucker
You wanna kill me because my hunger?
Mr. America, young black niggas want ya
I wanna talk to the man, understand?
Understand this motherfuckin G-pack in my hand
Look what happened to San Fran
Young girl hit by policeman
Twelve shots up in her dome, damn
….Dissin us, discrimination different races
Tax payers pay for more jail for Black Latin faces

Coming full circle, Nas closes the track by delivering a prophetic warning against identity politics, characterizing BAR’s “black misleadership class” as nothing more than “fake black leaders [who] are puppets, always talking ’bout the city budget (rather than addressing problems that plague their communities).”

What y’all waitin for the world to blow up
Before you hear this rewind this 4 minutes before we timeless
Let y’all niggas bang my shit before Saddam hits
Let Nastradamus tell us what time it is
They try to buy us with doe
Fake black leaders are puppets, always talking ’bout the city budget
The news got it all confused lyin to the public
They eyes watchin stay wise move above it
Water floods predicted, hurricanes, twisters
Its all signs of the Armageddon, three sixes
People reverse the system, politics vs. religion
Holy war, Muslim vs. Christians
Niggas in high places, they don’t got the balls for this
People in power sit back and watch them slaughter us
Mr. President I assume it was negligence
The streets upside down, I’m here to represent this

 

Confronting the Power Structure

Modern working-class resistance is still rooted in Marx’s class war analysis, whereas the proletariat (those of us who are forced to depend on our labor to survive) finds itself fighting for its collective life against the bourgeoisie (the owners of the means of production) and the layered power structure created by this economic realtionship. It is also crucially intertwined in the fights against other forms of structural oppression, including white supremacy, patriarchy, and misogyny; because, quite frankly, all forms of oppression that splinter the working class must be effectively destroyed if the working class has any hopes of overcoming the capitalist system.

In echoing Malcolm X’s famous “the ballot or the bullet” speech from 1964, working-class resistance must include “action on all fronts by whatever means necessary.” Since the police represent the front lines of a criminal justice system inherently designed to enforce class oppression, as well as structural white supremacy, working-class resistance must include a firm stance against not only police brutality and mass incarceration, but also against the very foundation of modern policing, which is rooted in “slave-catching” and strike-breaking. This means standing in blanket opposition to policing as an institution designed to “serve and protect” capitalist property and enforce laws created by a capitalist ruling class with capitalist interests in mind. Reflecting on the Black community’s especially intense history of oppression at the hands of police, hip hop has delivered a proper analysis and call to action. From NWA’s seminal track Fuck tha Police (1988) to David Banner and Tito Lo’s Black Fist (2016), the armed extension of the capitalist state is consistently exposed, as it has left countless Black lives lying in its tracks with no signs of slowing. Banner and Lo’s track captures the sheer anger and frustration stemming from this reality:

[Banner]

These crackers got drones. They are flying their saucers
Keep your white jesus, don’t pray to your crosses
They are burning our churches, K.R.I.T. pass me the UZI
I know how to work it; I know how to Squirt it
No Martin, No Luther, No King, No Marching No choirs don’t sing
The same christian lovers that raped our GrandMothers and hung our GrandFathers from trees
They are enemies!
Blood on the leaves, blood on the streets, blood on our feet
I’m sick of walking, I’m sick of dogs getting sicced on us, I’m sick of barking
I’m sick of spitting written sentences listeners don’t get
Don’t get, don’t get, don’t get!
Because they got Chains on their brains and that is not a diss

[Lo]

… I’m staying religious, cause we stay in the trenches
And gotta play where they lynch us, done came to my senses
I bet them crackas never came through my fences
Ya burn up ya cross, and I’ll burn up ya corpse
Then I turn and bang and do the same to the witness
Hang ’em and dangle ’em in the street looking up at his feet
So you never forget this we did this for Martin and Malcolm, even Mandela
Jimmie Lee Jackson and then Medgar Evers
For Clyde Kennard, hard labor slaving in the yard
For Huey, for Hampton, for Bobby we GODLY
For Jordan Davis we gon’ play this, for Sandra Bland we gon’ stand
I’m still out here stomping, for Janaya Thompson, from the Coast to Compton

The video for Black Fist shows a series of events that encapsulate what working-class justice would look like outside the parameters of capitalism and white supremacy. This includes a people’s arrest, people’s trial, and subsequent execution of a police officer who was acquitted of murdering a Black teenager. The fact that this hypothetical scenario could be remotely controversial illustrates how strong we’ve been conditioned to equate our current system with any real sense of justice, of which there is very little if any. The environment of injustice that is bred under so-called legalities is masterfully summed up in Lauryn Hill’s Mystery of Iniquity (2002):

Ya’ll can’t handle the truth in a courtroom of lies
Perjures the jurors
Witness despised
Crooked lawyers
False Indictments publicized
Its entertainment the arraignments
The subpoenas
High profile gladiators in bloodthirsty arenas
Enter the Dragon
Black-robe crooked-balance
Souls bought and sold and paroled for thirty talents
Court reporter catch the surface on the paper
File it in the system not acknowledged by the Maker
Swearing by the bible blatantly blasphemous
Publicly perpetrating that “In God We Trust”
Cross-examined by a master manipulator
The faster intimidator
Receiving the judge’s favor
Deceiving sabers doing injury to they neighbors
For status, gratis, apparatus and legal waivers
See the bailiff
Representing security
Holding the word of God soliciting perjury
The prosecution
Political prostitution
The more money you pay.. the further away solution

…Blind leading the blind
Guilty never defined
Filthy as swine
A generation purin it’s own mind
Legal extortion
Blown out of proportion
In vein deceit
The truth is obsolete
Only two positions:
Victimizer or Victim
Both end up in destruction trusting this crooked system

Running hand in hand with capitalism’s version of “justice” is the underlying dominance of white supremacy. In the formation of the United States as a nation, as well as the customs, cultures, and systems we’ve become accustomed to during this process, white supremacy has played a formidable role. It has created an all-powerful wedge among the working class, rendering its potential limited. Its divisive message is often hidden in powerfully emotional rhetoric regarding “American values” and patriotism, all of which secretly (or not so secretly in the era of Trump) call for protecting the Eurocentrism that has systematically devalued black skin in dominant American culture. In an old-school track from 1991, Ice Cube uses brilliant analogy and powerful lyrics while condemning America’s history of white supremacy and challenging the toxicity of patriotic rhetoric, concluding with the need to ” kill Sam“:

I wanna kill him, cause he tried to play me like the trick
But you see, I’m the wrong nigga to fuck with
I got the A to the motherfuckin K, and it’s ready to rip
Slapped in my banana clip
And I’m lookin.. (lookin..)
Is he in watts, oakland, philly or brooklyn?
It seems like he got the whole country behind him
So it’s sort of hard to find him
But when I do, gotta put my gat in his mouth
Pump seventeen rounds make his brains hang out
Cause the shit he did was uncalled for
Tried to fuck a brother up the ass like a small whore
And that shit ain’t fly
So now I’m settin up, the ultimate drive-by
And when you hear this shit
It make the world say “damn! I wanna kill sam”

…Here’s why I wanna kill the punk
Cause he tried to take a motherfuckin chunk of the funk
He came to my house, I let ’em bail in
Cause he said he was down with the l.m
He gave up a little dap
Then turned around, and pulled out a gat
I knew it was a caper
I said, “please don’t kill my mother, ” so he raped her
Tied me up, took me outside
And I was thrown in a big truck
And it was packed like sardines
Full of niggas, who fell for the same scheme
Took us to a place and made us work
All day and we couldn’t have shit to say
Broke up the families forever
And to this day black folks can’t stick together
And it’s odd..
Broke us down, made us pray – to his god
And when I think about it
It make me say “damn! I wanna kill sam”

…Now in ninety-one, he wanna tax me
I remember, the son of a bitch used to axe me
And hang me by a rope til my neck snapped
Now the sneaky motherfucker wanna ban rap
And put me under dirt or concrete
But god, can see through a white sheet
Cause you the devil in drag
You can burn your cross well I’ll burn your flag
Try to give me the h-I-v
So I can stop makin babies like me
And you’re givin dope to my people chump
Just wait til we get over that hump
Cause yo’ ass is grass cause I’mma blast
Can’t bury rap, like you buried jazz
Cause we stopped bein whores, stop doin floors
So bitch you can fight your own wars
So if you see a man in red white and blue
Gettin chased by the lench mob crew
It’s a man who deserves to buckle
I wanna kill sam cause he ain’t my motherfuckin uncle!

Ultimately, resistance in the 21st century must focus on the inherent inequities created by the capitalist system and the corrollary social hierarchies that support these inequities. There simply is no choice but to destroy and replace this system. Gang Starr’s 1998 track Robbin’ Hood Theory hammers this home, urging us to “squeeze the juice out of all the suckers with power, and pour some back out so as to water the flowers.” Just as reparations are needed to begin to address the history of Black enslavement in America, so too is mass working-class expropriation of the capitalist class. In realizingthe illegitimacies of the wealth accumulated under this system , we must formulate bold moves toward recuperating it for all of society. Guru preaches, leaving us with our battle cry:

Now that we’re getting somewhere, you know we got to give back
For the youth is the future no doubt that’s right and exact
Squeeze the juice out, of all the suckers with power
And pour some back out, so as to water the flowers
This world is ours, that’s why the demons are leery
It’s our inheritance; this is my Robin Hood Theory… Robin Hood Theory

They innocent, they know not what they face
While politicians save face genius minds lay to waste
If I wasn’t kickin rhymes I’d be kickin down doors
Creatin social change and defendin the poor
The God’s always been militant, and ready for war
We’re gonna snatch up the ringleaders send em home in they drawers
But first where’s the safe at? Let’s make em show us
And tell em hurry up, give up the loot that they owe us
We bringin it back, around the way to our peeps
Cause times are way too deep, we know the
Code of the Streets
Meet your defeat; this is my Robin Hood Theory… my Robin Hood Theory

…Necessary by all means, sort of like Malcolm
Before it’s too late; I create, the best outcome
So I take this opportunity, yes to ruin the
Devilish forces fucking up my black community
And we ain’t doing no more interviews
Til we get paid out the frame, like motherfucking Donahue
We’re taking over radio, and wack media
Cause systematically they getting greedier and greedier
Conquering turfs with my ill organization
Takin out the man while we scan the information
You wanna rhyme you best await son
You can’t even come near, if you ain’t got our share
You front on us this year, consider yourself blown out of here
Yeah… by my Robin Hood Theory

 

Colin Kaepernick, Patriotism, and the Owning Class

Colin Jenkins

colin-kaepernick-110315-getty-ftrjpg_s4n6247965w81ekojhcpvhlab

Colin Kaepernick took a courageous and principled stand this past season by kneeling during the national anthem before NFL games. This was done in response to a society that continues to systematically, culturally, and institutionally devalue non-white lives. This devaluation is played out in many areas, including politics, economics, housing, employment, and perhaps most notably, within the criminal justice system. Non-white lives are routinely extinguished by police in the streets without recourse, in the courts without pause, and in the prisons without hesitation. Entire generations of non-white Americans have essentially been destroyed through the “school-to-prison pipeline” and a system of mass incarceration.

Kaepernick recognized this and felt compelled to bring attention to it. He openly protested the national anthem, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to community agencies, and started a national youth camp program to teach children from marginalized communities about self-empowerment.

He is now a free agent, in the prime of his career, and without a job. By all “measurables” (and the NFL is big on “measurables”), Kaepernick should have a starting job somewhere. Despite playing for one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2016, he still managed to put up impressive numbers in only 12 games: 2,241 passing yard, 468 rushing yards on a 6.8 yards-per-carry average, a 16/4 TD/INT ratio, and a passer rating of 90.7. His passer rating was higher than that of 13 other starting QBs, including Eli Manning, Cam Newton, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, and Joe Flacco.

The only reasonable explanation for Kaepernick’s newfound unemployment status is that he’s being blackballed by billionaire NFL owners. We’ve seen this before. Muhammad Ali, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Craig Hodges, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos all faced similar treatment after using their platforms to take principled stands. Kaepernick has made millions of dollars in the NFL, so he will be fine either way. But there are many lessons to be learned from this situation.

One important lesson is how the capitalist class relies on patriotism to help protect and secure its position in society. The notion of patriotism is one that tells the working class within any given country that they have a deep, common bond with the owning class. This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, the owning-class minority drives the working-class majority into widespread deprivation in order to secure more and more wealth for itself. One way to hide this reality is to create an artificial bond based in geographic nationalism — patriotism.

While globalizing its capital, the owning class calls for “national unity.” While laying off American workers in mass, it airs multi-million dollar ad campaigns celebrating patriotic loyalty. While employing foreign workers for slave wages, it parades its brand name during celebrations of national independence. While driving wages down and forcing American workers into welfare programs, it asks that you celebrate “American values.” While systematically exploiting the majority, it demands that this majority remain loyal to its nationalistic ties.

Patriotism is a crucial tool for the owning class. To them, Kaepernick’s refusal to submit to this nationalistic ritual was not merely “disrespect”; it was a potentially damaging challenge to this incredibly important tool that is wielded in their quest to extract all of society’s wealth. For this reason, it is vitally important that Kaepernick be taught a lesson. The NFL’s billionaire class is in the process of carrying out this lesson.

In solidarity.

 

Violence, Counter-Violence, and the Question of the Gun

Colin Jenkins & Devon Douglas-Bowers

 

In June 2016, the Democrats had a sit-in on the House floor to push for gun legislation that had been blocked. It has been noted by numerous writers the myriad of problems with this bill[1][2] [3] as well as the hypocrisy of the sit-in itself.[4] However, this article is to talk about something deeper: the question of violence, so-called “gun control,” and how these issues relate to politics and the working-class majority in its place within the socio-capitalist hierarchy.

There are arguably three main types of violence which will be premised in this analysis: state violence, group violence, and revolutionary violence. The first two forms of violence, coming from the state and groups empowered by the status quo, are designed to oppress. The third form, coming from revolutionaries and the systematically oppressed, is designed to strike back at this oppression for the purpose of liberation. The first two types (state and group) are violent, or offensive, by nature. The last type (revolutionary) is counter-violent, or defensive, by nature.
State Violence

Violence and politics are historically intertwined, so much so that the definition of the state is “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” [5] Due to this monopoly of violence, the state is able to put restrictions on what kinds of weapons people can have, and if they can have any at all. Because of the state’s monopoly on the use of violence, which is directed at citizens of that state whenever deemed necessary, the issue of “gun control” is rather peculiar. It is also fairly unique to the United States, a country that was born at the hands of the gun, and a country that has been largely shaped by the degrees of “liberty” reflected in gun ownership among the populace. In modern society, gun control seems like a common-sense measure as it is quite obvious to many that people shouldn’t have the right to possess tanks, Javelins, Scuds, nuclear weapons, and other military-grade weaponry. However, as technology in weaponry increases, so too does the power of the state in its monopoly of violence. Because of this natural progression of state power based solely in military hardware, a side effect of gun control is that it creates a polarization of power between the state and its citizenry. In other words, the state continues to build its arsenal with more powerful and effective weaponry, while the citizenry continues to face restrictions on access to weaponry. While this scenario may seem reserved for the Alex-Jones-watching, prepper-obsessed fringes, the reality is that, within an economic system (capitalism) that naturally creates extreme hierarchies and masses of dispossessed people, it is (and has been) a serious problem in the context of domestic political and social movements.

In the U.S. (as with many countries), there are underlying class and racial issues related to the state’s monopoly of violence and its restriction of access to guns for its citizens. Looking from a historical perspective, when it comes to violence at the hands of the state, it is regularly used on the side of capital. One only need look at the history of the American labor movement during the first half of the twentieth century, which was an extremely violent time. Within the context of class relations under capitalism, whereas the state represents moneyed interests and a powerful minority, the working-class majority has faced an uphill battle not only in its struggle to gain basic necessities, but also in its residual struggle against an increasingly-armed state apparatus that is inherently designed to maintain high levels of dispossession, poverty, and income inequality. A primary example of the state using violence to aid capital is the Ludlow Massacre.

In the year 1913, in the southern Colorado counties of Las Animas and Huerfano, miners (with the help of the United Mine Workers of America) decided to strike. They argued for union recognition by the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, an increase in wages, and an eight-hour work day, among other things. In response, the company kicked a number of miners off of the company land, and brought in the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency which specialized in breaking coal strikes. The Agency initiated a campaign of harassment against the strikers, which “took the form of high-powered searchlights playing over the colonies at night, murders, beatings, and the use of the ‘death special,’ an improvised armored car that would periodically spray selected colonies with machine-gun fire.” The purpose of this harassment “was to goad the strikers”[6] into violent action so the National Guard could be called out to suppress the labor strike. It worked.

In October 1913, Governor Elias A. Ammos summoned the National Guard, under the command of General John Chase, who declared martial law in the striking area. Under control of the National Guard, a state-controlled militia, a number of atrocities took place against the striking workers, such as the “mass jailing of strikers, a cavalry charge on a demonstration by miners’ wives and children, the torture and beating of ‘prisoners,’ and the demolition of one of the [workers’] tent colonies.”[7]

The situation came to a gruesome ending when on April 20, 1914 gunfire broke out between the striking miners and National Guard troops. When miners who had taken up arms to protect themselves and their families went to a railroad cut and prepared foxholes in an attempt to draw the National Guard away from the colony, Guard troops sprayed the colony with machine gun and rifle fire and eventually burned the tent colony to the ground. An estimated 25 people died that day, “including three militiamen, one uninvolved passerby, and 12 children.”[8] Unfortunately, this example of the state using its monopoly of violence to represent the minority interests of capital against the majority interests of workers. The state had previously come down hard on the side of union-busting with violence in the 1892 Homestead Massacre in Pennsylvania, and in 1894 when President Cleveland sent out over 16,000 U.S. Army soldiers to handle the railroad strikers in Pullman, Chicago.[9]

In 1932, state violence targeted a large group of war veterans who had assembled in Washington, D.C. demanding payment from the federal government for their service in World War I. The Bonus Army, an assemblage of roughly 43,000 people consisting primarily of veterans, their families, and affiliated activists, marched on D.C. to demand payment of previously received service certificates only to be met with violent repression. First, two veterans were shot and killed by Washington, D.C. police, and then, after orders from Herbert Hoover, Douglas Macarthur moved in on the veterans with infantry, cavalry, and six tanks, forcing the Bonus Army, their wives, and children out of their makeshift encampment and burning all of their belongings and shelter. “Although no weapons were fired, cavalry advanced with swords drawn, and some blood was shed. By nightfall, hundreds had been injured by gas (including a baby who died), bricks, clubs, bayonets, and sabers.”[10]

Later in the 20th century, state violence continued, yet it had switched targets from union members and striking workers to political activists. An example is the Kent State shootings, where on May 4, 1970 “members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State University [antiwar] demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine.”[11] Kent Mayor Leroy Satrom had requested Ohio Governor James Rhodes to summon the Guard due to “threats had been made to downtown businesses and city officials as well as rumors that radical revolutionaries were in Kent to destroy the city and the university.”[12]

The rhetoric of Governor Rhodes escalated the situation as he called the protesters “the worst type of people in America and [stated] that every force of law would be used to deal with them,” which created a perception among both soldiers and university officials that “a state of martial law was being declared in which control of the campus resided with the Guard rather than University leaders,”[13] and on top of this, all rallies were banned. This helped to foster an increase of tension in an atmosphere that was already extremely tense.

On the day of May 4th, around 3,000 students gathered to protest the Guard’s presence on the campus. At noon, it was announced the General Robert Cantbury, the leader of the Ohio National Guard, had made the decision that the rally was to disperse; this message was delivered to the students via the police. When this was met with shouting and some rock throwing, the Guard was sent in to break up the protest and, due to the students retreating up a hill and on to a portion of the football field, the soldiers who followed them ended up somewhat trapped between the football field’s fence and the protesters. The shouting and rock throwing continued as the soldiers began to extract themselves from the football field and up a hill, and when they reached the top, the soldiers fired their weapons back toward the crowd, with a small amount firing directly into the crowd.

No matter how one looks at it, the entire point of the National Guard being deployed to Kent State University was to squash the protesters who had gathered under their perceived constitutional rights to express their collective displeasure with the Vietnam War. The state chose to deploy its monopoly of violence as a tool to end these public protests.

Assassination campaigns by the state, directed by the FBI or CIA, and often times carried out by local police departments, have also been deployed under this monopoly of violence. There is the notably disturbing case of Chicago Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton, who was assassinated by Chicago police due to his political views and membership in the Black Panther organization.[14] There is also speculation and credible evidence that the U.S. government was involved in both the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. [15] and Malcolm X.[16]

Today, state violence has manifested itself in daily public displays of police brutality and violence against citizens. This endemic use of state force has become so bad that a recent report from the UN Human Rights Council noted concerns “for police violence and racial discrimination” in the U.S. [17]Yet, despite this widespread recognition of state terror being directed at citizens, we see that the federal government (the highest level of state) is protecting its enforcers, with President Obama signing into law what is effectively an Amber Alert for the police[18], and states such as Louisiana passing ‘Blue Lives Matter’ bills which designates “public safety workers” (a clever euphemism for police) as a specially protected class of citizens, opening the door for possible “hate crime” legislation that further protects those who carry out state repression.[19]

This rampant use of state violence against U.S. citizens has also gone international. In the age of the Global War on Terror, the U.S. government has gone so far as to decide it has the power to use its monopoly of violence on its citizens abroad. The case of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who was killed via drone strike in Yemen in 2011, provides a notable example of this.[20] The significance of this extension to the parameters of “international warfare” or the often vague “fight against terror” is that any U.S. citizen deemed to be under suspicion of associating with “terrorists” may be immediately executed without due process. Since al-Awlaki, the U.S. government has officially acknowledged that it has killed four American citizens abroad, while claiming that three of those deaths were by accident.[21]

In looking at the state’s (in this case, the U.S. state at multiple levels) monopoly of violence and its continued use against its own citizens, we see that this deployment of violence is always done in the favor of capital (a small minority) in order to expand and strengthen capital’s influence, through its state surrogate, over the working-class majority with no regard for life.
Group Violence and Its Enablers

Group violence manifests itself in numerous citizens joining together in a common cause to perpetrate violence against other citizens who in some way fit the intended target of that cause. When discussing group violence, it should be noted that the subjects are non-state actors. While these groups may be directly or indirectly supported by the state, they essentially carry out their acts of violence as groups autonomous from the state apparatus.

The Ku Klux Klan (which is currently attempting to make a comeback[22]) has for decades engaged in numerous acts of group violence, from public lynchings to terrorism and coercion to bombing churches.[23] The purpose of this group violence has been to maintain a social order in which Anglo-Saxon, Protestant white men are able to keep their hands on the reins of power in the U.S., if not systematically, then culturally and socially.

In many cases, because they may share interests, group violence intertwines with and complements state violence. During Reconstruction following the U.S. Civil War, the KKK had well-known ties to the more official southern state apparatus of power. In the modern era, white supremacists who adhere to notions of group violence have purposely and strategically infiltrated formal arms of state violence, including both the U.S. military and many local police departments around the country.[24][25] A similar group that is making major headway today is the Neo-Fascists, who can be seen in Europe being legitimized and assimilating into mainstream political parties such as Greece’s Golden Dawn, the UK’s UK Independence Party, Austria’s Freedom Party, and France’s National Front. Like the Klan, these groups seek to maintain a race-based, social status quo that benefits their own group. In the polls, they seek to gain some influence on the use of state violence, whereas on the streets they adhere to group violence and domestic terrorism.

A difference worth noting between the old-school group violence of the Klan and the new-school group violence (or at least contributing to an atmosphere of violence) that neo-fascists encourage and enact is that the new-school violence has been legitimized in many ways by both the media and the public at-large. In other words, we now have large segments of the population who are openly defending the neo-fascists through legitimizing means.

Back in the heyday of the Klan, there was violence, yet no one defended it under the banner of free speech or attempted to legitimize it through mainstream channels. It was certainly supported by mainstream power structures, and even gained steam through the insidious white supremacy which characterized American culture, but it wasn’t openly defended. The KKK often carried out its operations in a clandestine manner, attacking and terrorizing at night, and wearing hoods to maintain anonymity. And many black people actively took up arms to defend themselves against it. [26][27] Today, the situation has been turned on its head, with many people arguing that fascists have the right to free speech and that they should be protected.

An example of this changing paradigm regarding right-wing extremism and group violence could be seen after a recent fight between Neo-Nazis and antifascists in Sacramento, California in late June 2016.[28] The incident brought out many defenders. Sacramento police chief Sam Somers stated that “Regardless of the message, it’s the skinheads’ First Amendment right to free speech.” [29] Debra J. Saunders, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote in an article that “the bullies who were protesting against fascists seemed to have a lot in common with fascists – they’re also thuggish and simpleminded” and that “An informal army of anarchists uses violence to muzzle unwanted speech.”[30] The Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote that they agreed with Antifa Sacramento that racism shouldn’t be tolerated, but “What we disagree with is the idea that skinheads and neo-Nazis, or anyone else with a wrongheaded view, shouldn’t have a 1st Amendment right to free speech.” [31]

There are a number of problems with these statements. First, by defending fascists through arguments couched in free speech, such commentators are not only ignoring the underlying group-violence historically perpetrated by these groups, but also misusing the First Amendment itself. The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” [32]Note, the Amendment says nothing about how other citizens may respond to free speech, nor does it say that groups of citizens can’t abridge free speech; rather, it specifically applies to Congress and its prospective legislation. In other words, the Constitution of the United States applies strictly to thegovernment and how it relates to its citizens, whereas the laws created by the government apply to the individuals and how they relate to the government.

Then there is the matter of ignoring power dynamics and creating a false equivalence. These responses create the illusion that each side is doing something negative and so neither side should be supported. This ignores the fact that one side (the neo-nazis and fascists) are assembling with the purpose of oppressing others, while the other side (the anti-fa and anarchists) are assembling to stop (violently, if necessary) the one side from oppressing. While the former adheres to violent means to oppress people based on the color of their skin, or their sexuality, or their Jewish heritage, the latter adheres to violent means to resist this oppression, or essentially oppress the oppressor. To equate their motivations is irresponsible and dangerous. This false equivalence that has been deployed by much of the media, both liberal and conservative, amounts to placing a murderous and whip-lashing slave owner in the same light as a rebelling slave who murders the slave owner to gain freedom. By using this hypothetical, it is easy to see that there is a fundamental difference between violence and counter-violence.

Another side effect of this public defense of the oppressor, and subsequent legitimization of group violence, is that it is used to increase state violence. Marcos Brenton, a writer at The Sacramento Bee, argued that “I would bet that future demonstrations will see a shared command center between the CHP and Sac PD instead of what we saw Sunday: CHP officers overwhelmed by warring factions. […]Law enforcement wasn’t ready this time, but they have to be next time. In a climate where life isn’t valued, life will be lost.”[33] This is an argument that is implicitly in favor of an increase in state violence from an already hyper-militarized police force. And, when used in this context, the deployment of state violence will almost always be directed at those who assemble to stop oppressive group violence, because arguments housed in free speech and false equivalencies erase any and all distinctions between violence and counter-violence.

This is where the connection between state and group violence often manifests itself. As mentioned before, there is a rather long history of the police and the KKK being connected: On April 2, 1947, seven black people in Hooker, GA were turned over “to a Klan flogging party for a proper sobering up” by Dade County Sheriff John M. Lynch. In Soperton, GA in 1948, “the sheriff did not bother to investigate when four men where flogged, while the sheriff of nearby Dodge County couldn’t look into the incident”[34] due to his being busy baby-sitting.

There is also the famous case of the Freedom Riders, three Civil Rights activists who were killed by the Klan, which amounted to three individuals being “arrested by a deputy sheriff and then released into the hands of Klansmen who had plotted their murders.” [35]

This connection has yet to end. In 2014, in Florida, two police officers in the town of Fruitland Park were linked to the Klan [36] and in 2015 in Lake Arthur, LA, a detective was a found to be a Klan member and even attended one of the group’s rallies.[37]

These connections allow for the state, and all the power and resources it wields, to be used directly to further the ends of white supremacy and empower fascistic, racist group violence in the streets. It also puts racial minorities from within the working class at greater risks since many of these bigoted individuals who carry out group violence on their own time are also allowed to carry out state violence while on the job. As agents of the state, they can kill, terrorize, harass, and imprison racial minorities with impunity vis-à-vis their roles as state enforcers and are further empowered by the public’s and media’s reverence of oppressive forms of assembly and “free speech,” as well as the police officers who defend this.
Revolutionary Violence

Revolutionary violence is realized in two distinct forms: self-defense and/or counter-violence. It is a type of violence in which the goal is either self-defense for an oppressed people and/or full liberation for a people, whether that liberation take the form of autonomous communities, a nation state, or something else. It is also resistance to encroachment on the land by oppressive forces, such as in the case of indigenous resistance to expansionist Americans. Revolutionary violence may come in different forms and be carried out through various means. It includes everything from individual acts of “propaganda by the deed” to large-scale revolutions against a state.

Examples of revolutionary violence are abound throughout history, and include the slave revolts of Spartacus and Nat Turner, the Reign of Terror against the French monarchy, the Spanish revolt against the fascist Franco regime, Alexander Berkman’s attempted murder of Carnegie Steel manager Henry Clay Frick, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Reconstruction-era blacks taking up arms against the KKK, the Mau Maus in Kenya [38], the Cuban revolution[39], and a number of national liberation movements in the mid-twentieth century that occurred around the world.

Revolutionary violence is different from state and group violence in that it manifests itself as a response to violence often stemming from one of these two opposing sources. For this reason, it is strictly counter-violent (or defensive) in nature, designed to break the violent oppression that its adherents find themselves under. The benefit of being able to deploy revolutionary violence is obvious in that it allows the oppressed to strike back at their oppressors. It is in this beneficial scenario where the question of guns and “gun control” come back into the mix. How are people supposed to free themselves, or even defend themselves from state and group violence, if they are unable to have guns? How are people able to protect themselves from oppressive violence if they do not have access to the same weaponry used by their oppressor?

When faced with systemic violence that is rooted in either a direct extension of the state (police, military) or an indirect extension of the power structure (the KKK, the Oath Keepers, neo-Nazis, neo-fascists), written laws constructed by the same state and power structure aren’t typically useful. And when doubled-down on by media and liberal establishment cries of free speech and false equivalencies, oppressed sectors of the population become even more vulnerable to state and group violence. Often times, armed self-defense becomes the only option to protect oneself, one’s family, and one’s community from these deeply embedded, existential threats.

Formulating revolutionary counter-violence and self-defense measures became a staple of the American Civil Rights movement. From Malcolm X’s calls to defend the black community “by any means necessary” to the original Black Panther Party’s organizational emphasis on armed self-defense, the Civil Rights movement as a whole gained strength due to these more militant strains centered around revolutionary violence. In 1956, after a “relentless backlash from the Ku Klux Klan,” Robert F. Williams, a Marine Corps vet, took over the Monroe, North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and strengthened it with militancy by “filing for a charter with the National Rifle Association (NRA),” forming the Black Guard, “an armed group committed to the protection of Monroe’s black population,” and delivering weapons and physical training to its members.[40] In 1959, following the acquittal of a white man who was accused of attempting to rape a black woman, Williams summed up the need for oppressed people to take up arms in their own self-defense. “If the United States Constitution cannot be enforced in this social jungle called Dixie, it is time that Negroes must defend themselves even if it is necessary to resort to violence,” responded Williams. “That there is no law here, there is no need to take the white attackers to the courts because they will go free and that the federal government is not coming to the aid of people who are oppressed, and it is time for Negro men to stand up and be men and if it is necessary for us to die we must be willing to die. If it is necessary for us to kill we must be willing to kill.” [41]

Revolutionary violence often finds itself up against difficult odds, being deployed by marginalized peoples with limited resources against powerful state and group entities with seemingly unlimited resources, professional military training, and advantageous positioning within the given power structure. The 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising reflected this exact scenario, as a Jewish resistance in the hundreds, armed with handguns, grenades, and Molotov cocktails faced off against the powerful Nazi paramilitary Schutzstaffel (SS). When reflecting on the uprising over two decades later, one of the Jewish survivors, Yitzhak Zuckerman, encapsulated the need for an oppressed and degraded people to strike back:

“I don’t think there’s any real need to analyze the Uprising in military terms. This was a war of less than a thousand people against a mighty army and no one doubted how it was likely to turn out. This isn’t a subject for study in military school. (…) If there’s a school to study the human spirit, there it should be a major subject. The important things were inherent in the force shown by Jewish youth after years of degradation, to rise up against their destroyers, and determine what death they would choose: Treblinka or Uprising.”[42]

This human spirit referred to by Zuckerman is the same that compelled Nat Turner to take up arms against slave-owning whites, the same that led to the formation of the original Black Panther Party, and the same that motivated Robert F. Williams in 1950s North Carolina. Without access to weapons, this human spirit would result in nothing more than gruesome massacres at the hands of state and group violence. With weapons in hand, this spirit is presented with a chance to stunt pending attacks of physical oppression and terrorism, if not repel them.
Conclusion

The modern gun control debate has taken on two, stereotypical, opposing sides. The first side is representative in the Congressional sit-ins on the House floor this past June. They represent a common liberal viewpoint that gun-control measures should be taken to restrict or, at the very least, delay the acquisition of guns by citizens. Popular demands coming from this side include the banning of all automatic or semi-automatic weapons, the blacklisting of certain people (including those suspected of “associating with terrorists,” the mentally ill, and felons), and the implementation of more stringent forms of clearances. The other side is represented by a reactionary right, mostly white, that is backed by both the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its surrogate, the Republican Party. These who oppose the liberal attempt to stifle the Second Amendment historically come from privileged strata of the status quo, including whites of all classes and those occupying advantageous positions in the socioeconomic hierarchy.

Both sides of the modern gun-control debate cling to very problematic positions and ideologies that are tantamount to their respective arguments. Both sides, in their own ways, reinforce the embedded racial and class privileges that repress much of the working class, the poor, and people of color – in other words, those sectors of the population that are most likely faced with extremely dire economic situations, occupying police forces that resemble foreign armies, and (literally) daily, life-or-death interactions with both police (state violence) and vigilantes (group violence). The liberal or Democrat argument for gun control, like those represented by the Congressional sit-in, almost always target extremely marginalized groups, like felons who have been victimized by the draconian “drug wars” of the ’80s and ’90s, as well as those who have been victimized by the “war on terror” and find themselves on terrorist watch lists for little more than their chosen religion or Islamic-sounding name. The reactionary opposition to gun control, represented by the NRA and Republicans, remains embedded in white supremacy, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and classism, and thus also ends up targeting these same marginalized populations. This latter group’s motivation is evident in the overlap between fringe groups that historically adhere to group violence, like the KKK and Oath Keepers, and the more “mainstream” operations of the NRA.

Both sides of the gun-control debate, whether consciously or subconsciously, are motivated by what Noam Chomsky (paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson) recently referred to as a fear of “the liberation of slaves, who have ‘ten thousand recollections’ of the crimes to which they were subjected.” These “fears that the victims might rise up and take revenge are deeply rooted in American culture” (in racialized institutions of slavery and white supremacy) with reverberations to the present.”[43] The liberal insistence on preaching strictly non-violent and pacifist tactics to poor, working-class, people of color exposes their privileged, white-supremacist leanings. The fact that they do this while also passing draconian legislation that has led to the virtual genocide of an entire generation of blacks (through drug laws and mass incarceration), and in the face of brutal, daily murders of black citizens by police, further exposes them. The recent silence from the NRA regarding the police killing of Philando Castile[44], who was licensed to carry a gun in Minnesota and properly identified his status to officers before being shot for no reason, has exposed the NRA’s white supremacist leanings. Also, the split that occurred within the Oath Keepers when one of their members in the St. Louis chapter, Sam Andrews, encouraged black residents in Ferguson and Black Lives Matters protestors to practice their Second-Amendment rights [45] has exposed their own white supremacist leanings which they regularly disguise as “constitutionalism.”

While white supremacy has an intense and insidious hold on every aspect of American culture – social, economic, political, etc. – it is especially strong within the gun-control debate. So much so that it drove then-California governor, Ronald Reagan, in 1967, to sign extensive gun control legislation under the Mulford Act[46] in response to armed patrols by members of the Black Panther Party. The classist nature of gun control can be found in the targeting of the most marginalized of the working class, along with the historically brutal state repression against workers collectively striking or standing up for their rights against bosses. The most common argument from the authentic, anti-capitalist left (not liberals or Democrats) against the idea of workers collectively exercising their constitutional right to bear arms has been housed in the insurmountable strength and technology owned by the government’s military. Left-wing skeptics claim that an armed working-class will simply have no chance against an overpowering military. The problem with this is that it is preoccupied with a large-scale, pie-in-the-sky revolutionary situation. It ignores the reality faced by many working-class people who find themselves in small-scale, daily interactions with police and vigilantes, both of whom are heavily armed and not afraid to use their weapons to kill. It is in these very interactions, whether it’s a black citizen being racially profiled and harassed by police or an activist being terrorized by reactionary groups, where the access to a gun may become vitally important and life-saving.

Advocating for disarming those who need protection the most simply doesn’t make sense, especially in an environment such as the modern U.S. – a heavily racialized, classist landscape with over 300 million guns in circulation. Nobody wants to be drawn into a violent situation that may result in the loss of life, but our current reality does not allow us that choice. Unfortunately, we live a society where police oppress rather than protect; where violent reactionary groups are allowed freedom to carry out their terrorizing of marginalized people; and where politicians readily use their monopoly of violence to enforce capital’s minority interests against masses of workers. Because of this, modern gun control can only be viewed as anti-black, anti-woman, anti-immigrant, anti-poor, and anti-working class because it leaves these most marginalized and vulnerable of groups powerless in the face of a violent, patriarchal, white-supremacist power structure that continues to thrive off of mass working-class dispossession. The conclusion is simple: If the oppressor cannot be disarmed, the only sane option is to arm the oppressed. In the U.S., the Constitution makes this a practical and legal option.
“Sometimes, if you want to get rid of the gun, you have to pick the gun up.”

-Huey P. Newton

Notes

[1] Philip Bump, “The Problem With Banning Guns For People On The No-Fly List,” Washington Post, June 13, 2016 ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/12/07/the-no-fly-list-is-a-terrible-tool-for-gun-control-in-part-because-it-is-a-terrible-tool/ )

[2] Alex Pareene, The Democrats Are Boldly Fighting For A Bad, Stupid Bill, Gawker,http://gawker.com/the-democrats-are-boldly-fighting-for-a-bad-stupid-bil-1782449026 (June 22, 2016)

[3] Zaid Jilani, “Dramatic House Sit-In on Guns Is Undercut by Focus on Secret, Racist Watchlist,” The Intercept, June 22, 2016 ( https://theintercept.com/2016/06/22/dramatic-house-sit-in-on-guns-is-undercut-by-focus-on-secret-racist-watchlist/ )

[4] Tom Hall, “Congressional Democrats stage ‘sit-in’ stunt on gun control,” World Socialist Website, June 25, 2016 ( https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/06/25/dems-j25.html)

[5] Fact Index, Monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force, http://www.fact-index.com/m/mo/monopoly_on_the_legitimate_use_of_physical_force.html

[6] Mark Walker, “The Ludlow Massacre: Class Warfare and Historical Memory in Southern Colorado,”Historical Archaeology 37:3 (2003), pg 68

[7] Walker, pgs 68-69

[8] Walker, pg 69

[9] Ronald J. Barr, The Progressive Army: U.S. Army Command and Administration, 1870-1914 (New York, N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), pg 7

[11] Thomas R. Hensley, Jerry M, Lewis, “The May 4 Shootings at Kent State University: The search for historical accuracy,” The Ohio Council of Social Studies Review 34″1 (1998), pg 9

[12] Hensley, Lewis, pg 11

[13] Ibid

[14] Ted Gregory, “The Black Panther Raid and the death of Fred Hampton,” Chicago Tribune, July 3, 2016 ( http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/chi-chicagodays-pantherraid-story-story.html )

[15] The King Center, Assassination Conspiracy Trial, http://www.thekingcenter.org/assassination-conspiracy-trial

[16] Garrett Felber, “Malcolm X Assassination: 50 years on, mystery still clouds details of the case,”The Guardian, February 21, 2015 ( https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/feb/21/malcolm-x-assassination-records-nypd-investigation )

[17] Natasja Sheriff, “US cited for police violence, racism in scathing UN review on human rights,” Al Jazeera, May 11, 2015 ( http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/5/11/us-faces-scathing-un-review-on-human-rights-record.html )

[18] Gregory Korte, “Obama signs ‘Blue Alert’ law to protect police,” USA Today, May 19, 2016 (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2015/05/19/obama-blue-alert-law-bill-signing/27578911/ )

[19] Elahe Izadi, “Louisiana’s ‘Blue Lives Matter’ bill just became law,” Washington Post, May 26, 2016 ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/05/26/louisianas-blue-lives-matter-bill-just-became-law/?tid=sm_tw&utm_term=.6d262fdb3218 )

[20] Joshua Keating, “Was Anwar Al-Awlaki Still A US Citizen?” Foreign Policy, September 30, 2011 (http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/09/30/was_anwar_al_awlaki_still_a_us_citizen )

[21] Adam Taylor, “The U.S. keeps killing Americans in drone strikes, mostly by accident,” Washington Post, April 23, 2015 ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/04/23/the-u-s-keeps-killing-americans-in-drone-strikes-mostly-by-accident/ )

[22] John Bazemore, “Ku Klux Klan dreams of making a comeback,” The Columbus Dispatch, June 30, 2016 ( http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/national_world/2016/06/30/0630-is-klan-making-a-comeback.html )

[24] Hampton Institute, Rising Nazism and Racial Intolerance in the US. A report gathered and submitted to the United Nations, http://www.hamptoninstitution.org/Rising-Nazism-and-Racial-Intolerance-in-the-US.pdf (April 30, 2015)

[25] FBI report on white supremacists infiltrating law enforcement agencies in the US.http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/402521/doc-26-white-supremacist-infiltration.pdf

[27] Akinyele K. Umoja, “1964: The Beginning of the End of Nonviolence in the Mississippi Freedom Movement,” Radical History Review 85:1 (2003)

[28] Ellen Garrison, Stephen Magagnini, Sam Stanton, “At least 10 hurt at chaotic, bloody neo-Nazi rally at Capitol,” The Sacramento Bee, June 26, 2016 (http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/crime/article86099332.html)

[29] Ibid

[30] Debra J. Saunders, “Saunders: Freedom of speech stifled by Capitol rally fracas,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 2, 2016 ( http://www.recordnet.com/article/20160702/OPINION/160709984)

[31] Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, “How anti-racists play into the skinheads’ hands,” Los Angeles Times, June 28, 2016 ( http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-neo-nazi-rally-20160627-snap-story.html )

[32] Legal Information Institute, First Amendment,https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment

[33] Marcos Brenton, “Madness came to Sacramento, and the cops weren’t ready,” The Sacramento Bee, June 29, 2016 ( http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/marcos-breton/article86556112.html )

[34] David M. Chalmers, Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan, 3rd ed. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1987), pg 336

[35] Civil Rights Movement Veterans, Mississippi Civil Rights Martyrs,http://www.crmvet.org/mem/msmartyr.htm

[36] Michael Winter, “KKK membership sinks 2 Florida cops,” USA Today, July 14, 2014 (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/07/14/florid-police-kkk/12645555/ )

[37] Bill Morlin, Police Chief Demands Resignation of KKK Cop,https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2015/09/01/police-chief-demands-resignation-kkk-cop (September 1, 2015)

[38] “Mau Mau Uprising: Bloody history of Kenyan conflict,” BBC, April 7, 2011 (http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-12997138)

[39] Andres Suarez, “The Cuban Revolution: The Road to Power,” Latin American Research Review 7:3 (1972)

[40] PBS Independent Lens, A synopsis on the film, “Negroes with Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power,” http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/negroeswithguns/rob.html

[41] Ibid

[42] A. Polonsky, (2012), The Jews in Poland and Russia, Volume III, 1914 to 2008, p.537

[43] Hampton Institute, On the Roots of American Racism: An Interview with Noam Chomsky,http://www.hamptoninstitution.org/chomsky-on-racism.html (April 22, 2015)

[44] Brian Fung, “The NRA’s internal split over Philando Castile,” Washington Post, July 9, 2016 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/07/09/the-nras-internal-revolt-over-philando-castile/?utm_term=.b0f673e3221c )

[45] Alan Feur, “The Oath Keeper Who Wants To Arm Black Lives Matter,” Rolling Stone, January 3, 2016 ( http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-oath-keeper-who-wants-to-arm-black-lives-matter-20160103 )

Expropriation or Bust: On the Illegitimacy of Wealth and Why It Must Be Recuperated

Colin Jenkins

 

This is dedicated to Kwame Somburu, scientific socialist, William F. Buckley-slayer, thorn in the side of “mental midgets,” lifelong advocate of “herstory,” mentor, and friend.

“Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.”

– Karl Marx (Capital: Volume One)

Election seasons bring with them a renewed interest in politics. For most that couldn’t care less about such concerns, election season becomes, for at least a moment, a time to reflect on deeper issues. For those of us who spend a large portion of our lives thinking, writing, acting, and engaging in these larger-than-life matters, election seasons bring other questions: can we affect change through the electoral system, how effective is voting, and how can we overcome the corporate stranglehold over politics, to name a few.

However, beneath all of the political discussions lies an uncomfortable and overwhelming truth: Nearly all of our problems are rooted in the massively unequal ownership of land, wealth, and power that exists among the over-7 billion human beings on earth. More specifically, these problems are rooted in the majority of the planet’s population being stripped of its ability to satisfy the most basic of human needs. This predicament did not happen overnight, and it is far from natural. Rather, it is the product of centuries of immoral, illegitimate, and unwarranted human activity carried out by a miniscule section of the world’s people.

This realization leads to an even more unsettling and uncomfortable truth: If we are to ever establish a free and just society, mass expropriation of personal wealth and property will be a necessity. In other words, the few dozens of families who have amassed personal riches equal to half the world must be forced to surrender this wealth. And furthermore, those next 5% of the global population who have acquired equally obscene amounts of wealth, relatively speaking, must also be liquidated. And, in heeding Lucy Parson’s warning that “we can never be deceived that the rich will allow us to vote their wealth away,” we can presume that this inevitable process of mass expropriation will not be pretty. This is a harsh and discomforting truth, indeed. But it is an undeniable truth. It is a truth that we must recognize. It is a truth that, despite being conditioned to resist, we must embrace if we are to have a shot at constructing a just world for all.

We have reached a breaking point in the human experiment. After centuries upon centuries of being subjected to extreme hierarchical systems – from monarchies to feudalism to capitalism – we are on the precipice of making a final choice: economic justice through the mass expropriation of personal wealth or infinite slavery covered by illusionary spectacles of consumer joy and bourgeois political systems. Make no mistake, expropriation is not theft. It is not the confiscation of “hard-earned” money. It is not the stealing of private property. It is, rather, the recuperation of massive amounts of land and wealth that have been built on the back of stolen natural resources, human enslavement, and coerced labor, and amassed over a number of centuries by a small minority. This wealth, that has been falsely justified by “a vast array of courts, judges, executioners, policemen, and gaolers,” all of whom have been created “to uphold these privileges” and “give rise to a whole system of espionage, of false witness, of spies, of threats and corruption” [1], is illegitimate, both in moral principle and in the exploitative mechanisms in which it has used to create itself.

It is in this fundamental illegitimacy where we must take the reins and move forward in a truly liberatory and revolutionary fashion. However, before we can take collective action, we must free our mental bondage (believing wealth and private property have been earned by those who monopolize it; and, thus, should be respected, revered, and even sought after), open our minds, study and understand history, and recognize this illegitimacy together. This understanding must be reached through a careful study of the various socioeconomic systems that have ruled the human race, how the accumulation of wealth, land, and power has been extended and maintained through these systems, and how such accumulation has been illegitimate in both the ways in which it is (and has been) acquired and the ways in which it has displaced, disenfranchised, and impoverished the large majority of human beings on earth in its process. With this understanding, we can move beyond the futile process of trying to reform systems that are rotted from the core, and move forward on deconstructing these formidable social hierarchies that have been built through illegitimate, immoral, and illegal means.
“Other People’s Money”: On Recycled, Cold-War Propaganda

“The few own the many because they possess the means of livelihood of all … The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters of labor. The majority of mankind are working people. So long as their fair demands – the ownership and control of their livelihoods – are set at naught, we can have neither men’s rights nor women’s rights. The majority of mankind is ground down by industrial oppression in order that the small remnant may live in ease.”

– Helen Keller

For those who remain ignorant to history – and, more specifically, to understanding how capitalism has shaped the present – ideals rooted in socialism represent a fairy-tale bogeyman. As historical understanding gives way to corporate media and standardized education schemes, fewer and fewer seem to grasp not only the basic theories of each system (capitalism and socialism) but also the ways in which they relate to us. Reactionary talking points are built on this hollow foundation. Arguments against socialist ideas and principles, whether taught in American classrooms or disseminated on cable news, remain nothing more than conditioned and packaged responses that have been recycled from Cold War propaganda. This is evident in the mythological construction of, and obsession with, equating socialism to government authority. There simply is no substance because there has been literally no scholarship on these topics in compulsory U.S. educational settings. Instead, we continue to falsely associate capitalism with freedom, private property with liberty, and socialism with theft. This is done without any learning, any thought, any investigation, or any historical analysis. It is, by nature, the epitome of propaganda, designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to justify and maintain systems of hierarchy, oppression, and mass inequality. For as long as the victims of these systems are made to believe our victimization is not only justifiable but necessary, the longer such systems can operate with little scrutiny and minimal opposition.

One of the most common parroting routines regarding the demonization of socialism is taken from neoliberal champion Margaret Thatcher, who famously remarked, “The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” This one line has been used ad nauseam by proponents of capitalism. It is, after all, a perfect sound bite for those who do not want to take the time to read and learn, critically think, or chip away at their hardened cognitive dissonance. It also perfectly sums up the thoughtlessness of anti-socialist propaganda, which can be characterized by four basic presuppositions: (1) that capitalism equals freedom; or, at the very least, is the only alternative, (2) that capitalism naturally produces “winners” and “losers,” (3) that capitalism is as meritocratic as possible, and thus everyone has an equal opportunity to become a “winner” or “loser,” and your individual outcome is based solely on your “hard work” or lack thereof, and (4) that “winners” have earned their wealth through their own exceptionalism, and thus deserve it; while, in contrast, “losers” have earnedtheir impoverishment through their own shortcomings, and thus deserve it.

These four ideas expose a problematic contradiction within anti-socialist propaganda: on one hand, they are ahistorical – in other words, they do not consider historical developments regarding the accumulation of wealth, property, and power, and therefore are unable to understand how these developments have shaped our modern existence. On the other hand, because they are ahistorical, they rely on a peculiar blank-slate theory – that human beings, as we exist today, have just appeared in our current state, and that this state (which is rife with inequality, impoverishment, hunger, homelessness, joblessness, etc.) is justified merely by its being, because it was not shaped by history, as history does not exist. With this blank-slate approach, investigation is not necessary. Inquiry is not necessary. Because finding the roots of these ills is a painstaking and overwhelming process that would rather be deemed unnecessary. For the world is as it is, the systems we live in are the best we can do, and emotion and instinct are all we need when reacting to the problems placed before us.

In reality, there are historical causes and effects that have created modern conditions. When we realize this, and take the time and effort to learn these layered epochs of wealth accumulation, we ultimately learn that “other people’s money” is really not justifiably theirs to begin with. [2] Instead, things like personal wealth, land, and power are accumulated in only one fundamental way: through the murdering, maiming, coercing, stealing, robbing, or exploiting of others. This is not only a historically-backed truism (of which I will illustrate below), but it is also a fundamental truth rooted in human relations. There simply is no other way to amass the obscene amounts of personal wealth as have been amassed on earth.
Primitive Accumulation, Slavery, and “Old Wealth”

“In actual history, it is notorious that conquest, enslavement, robbery, murder, and force, play the great part.”

– Karl Marx

Deconstructing Thatcher’s statement is not especially difficult. Even on face value, most of us can recognize that wealth is hardly earned on one’s perceived exceptionalism. The contrasting (and correct) retort to Thatcher’s is that “the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.” This has been the case throughout history, and is a constant trend within all socioeconomic systems that have been implemented. In Monarchial Europe, wealth was determined and sustained by bloodlines and nobility. In feudal times, this transformed into divisions between lords and peasants. With capitalism, this transitioned into owners and workers. In each case, the respective governmental systems that have complimented these economic bases have always used their power to keep these divisions intact, literally for the sake of keeping wealth with wealth, and thus, power with the powerful. The founding fathers of the United States, as wealthy landowners and aristocrats, had no intentions of swaying from this model. When constructing a unique federal system in the colonies, John Jay captured the consensus thought at the Constitutional convention in Philadelphia, proclaiming that “those who own the country ought to govern it.” And, in the influential Federalist Papers, James Madison echoed this sentiment, urging that a priority for any governmental system should be to “protect the minority of the opulent (the wealthy, land-owning slave-owners) against the majority (the workers, servants, and slaves).”

For instance, take the case of Donald J. Trump. Like most wealthy individuals, Trump experienced an uber-privileged upbringing, worry-free and filled with private schools and immense economic and physical security. As a young man – during a time when most people are indebting themselves for life through college, juggling multiple, minimum-wage jobs with hopes of affording basic needs, or relegated to military duty – Trump was handed his father’s real-estate empire and eventually inherited between $40 and $200 million in addition. [3] Trump wealth can be traced back to a family-owned vineyard in Bavaria. [4] Trump’s grandfather (Frederich Trumpf) utilized the family’s wealth to move to the United States, where he opened a bar in Seattle’s Red Light District and relied on prostitution as a source of revenue. This continuous line of wealth allowed Donald’s father, Fred, to start a real estate business with his mother, Elizabeth Christ Trump. [5] On the verge of collapse during the Great Depression, the government (Federal Housing Administration) stepped in and saved Trump’s business by funding him to build a multitude of homes in Brooklyn. Continuing his relationship with the FHA, Trump was awarded contracts to build homes for US Navy personnel throughout the east coast. [6]

Through centuries of privilege, and crucial assistance from the federal government in times of near-collapse, Trump family wealth has been allowed to flourish. Donald himself, after being handed this empire, declared bankruptcy four times, was allowed to write off over a billion dollars of debt, and was rescued by the banking industry on at least two occasions. There’s nothing remotely exceptional or innovative in any of this Trump wealth. It was built on the exploitation of land, labor, and (literally) prostitution; and was boosted, and even saved, on numerous occasions by the government. While the case of Trump is admittedly anecdotal, it does represent a very common trend in regards to how personal wealth is accumulated, maintained, and extended throughout history. Contrary to those favorite anti-socialist talking points, it is almost never meritocratic. It almost always relies on external protectors and facilitators. And it always feeds on the exploitation or displacement of the majority.

But in order to truly understand how things like wealth and land, and consequently power, have been accumulated by so few, there must be basic systemic understandings of historical processes, how old epochs have transitioned into new epochs, and most importantly, how capitalism operates. In most cases, personal wealth and power is nothing more than an extension from previous generations; inheritance after inheritance stemming from primitive forms of accumulation dating back many centuries. Old wealth is intimately tied to systems that may sound like ancient history – monarchies, feudalism, indentured servitude, chattel slavery – but are, in reality, only a handful of generations removed. By merely tracing wealth back a few generations, one can see how major companies that exist today used something like the Atlantic Slave Trade to emerge as viable businesses 150 years ago. It is well-documented that companies and financial institutions like Lehman Brothers, Aetna, JP Morgan Chase, New York Life, Wachovia Corporation, Brooks Brothers, Barclays, and AIG, among many others, directly profited from the enslavement of African people in the Americas and built their financial empires from this illegitimate process. Regardless of public apologies and recognition of these past transgressions (if these things ever materialize), these powerful institutions remain intact, hoping to gain and maintain a general appearance of legitimacy as their illegal foundations become further removed from time.

Whether speaking of caste systems, nobility, aristocracy, feudalism, indentured servitude, chattel slavery, or capitalism, all modern socioeconomic systems have carried one common trait: they all amount to a minority using the majority (through exploitation or displacement) as a source of wealth, and thus have enforced and maintained this causal relationship by the threat and use of physical force and coercion in order to protect their minority interests. In the European empires, the concentration of wealth gained by this privileged minority was done so through vicious colonial expeditions where millions were murdered or enslaved and multitudes of land and natural resources were claimed by force. In North America, a wealthy minority established their own colonial experiment that was “a carbon copy of the old English aristocracies,” eventually leading to the birth of the United States, “a country that was not born free, but born slave and free, servant and master, tenant and landlord, poor and rich.” [7] The foundation of the US was constructed in two distinct regions, both shaped significantly by transplanted ‘old wealth’ and towering hierarchies: the North, where a “commercial and religious oligarchy” sought to preserve in America “the social arrangements of the mother country” by exploiting the wage-dependent and landless masses through “control of trade and commerce, establishing political domination of the inhabitants through church and town meetings, and by careful marriage alliances among themselves” [8]; and the South, where a landed aristocracy used their inherited wealth to purchase large parcels of land and thousands of slaves from the Atlantic Slave Trade. Through the early colonial years, this exclusive landed-aristocracy “held control of government, including the elected assemblies, by wielding power over tenants and slaves, by disenfranchising most citizens, and by under-representing the back-country areas.” [9]

The problem of slavery in the American colonies is well documented; but what is not often understood is that chattel slavery was the foundation of the country’s modern economic system. This cannot be overstated enough – the practice of chattel slavery in the South was quite literally the lifeblood of the modern United States, in terms of finance, capital, infrastructure, and even global power. Or, as Public Seminar’s Julia Ott succinctly put it, “racialized chattel slaves were the capital that made capitalism.” [10] According to Sven Beckert, it was the “cotton empire” that transformed the United States into a global power:

“As this cotton boom violently transformed huge swaths of the North American countryside, it catapulted the US to a pivotal role in the empire of cotton. In 1791, capital invested in cotton production in Brazil, as estimated by the US Treasury, was still more than ten times greater than in the US. In 1801, only ten years later, 60 percent more capital was invested in the cotton industry of the US than that of Brazil. Cotton, even more so than in the Caribbean and Brazil, infused land and slaves alike with unprecedented value, and promised slaveholders spectacular opportunities for profits and power. Already by 1820, cotton constituted 32 percent of all US exports, compared to a miniscule 2.2 percent in 1796. Indeed, more than half of all American exports between 1815 and 1860 consisted of cotton. Cotton so dominated the US economy that cotton production statistics ‘became an increasingly vital unit in assessing the American economy.’ It was on the back of cotton, and thus on the back of slaves, that the US economy ascended in the world.” [11]

A 2013 paper released by economists Thomas Piketty and Gabriel Zucman illustrated not only the profound wealth generated by American slavery, but how it was significant in setting the United States apart from other industrialized nations. In contrast to its European counterparts, whose elites relied on land-wealth as their primary source of power, American elites were initially faced with a peculiar situation in regards to colonial land. Ironically, since land in the “new world” came so cheap (because it could simply be stolen from Native tribes), the true value of land became the mass agricultural production generated through slave labor. So, for American elites, wealth was not merely created by their violent land grabs, but more so by their access to free labor. Picketty and Zucman conclude,

“The lower land values prevailing in America during the 1770-1860 period were to some extent compensated by the slavery system. Land was so abundant that it was almost worthless, implying that it was difficult to be really rich by owning land. However, the landed elite could be rich and control a large share of national income by owning the labor force… In the case of antebellum U.S., the value of the slave stock was still highly significant. By putting together the best available estimates of slave prices and the number of slaves, we have come to the conclusion that the market value of slaves was between 1 and 2 years of national income for the entire U.S., and up to 3 years of income in Southern states. When we add up the value of slaves and the value of land, we obtain wealth-income ratios in the U.S. South which are relatively close to those of the Old World. Slaves approximately compensate the lower land values.” [12]

The significance of slavery to the Southern economy is as obvious now as it was then. In an 1883 address to the Louisville Convention, Frederick Douglass observed this fact,

“The colored people of the South are the laboring people of the South. The labor of a country is the source of its wealth; without the colored laborer today the South would be a howling wilderness, given up to bats, owls, wolves, and bears. He was the source of its wealth before the war, and has been the source of its prosperity since the war. He almost alone is visible in her fields, with implements of toil in his hands, and laboriously using them today.” [13]

But it was not just the South that thrived off the institution of slavery. It was the entire country. And it was the newly found institution of capitalism. This primitive form of accumulation amounted to an immense pool of capital which has since been utilized in layered schemes of exploitation, throughout generations, as the primary source of cyclical wealth development. Those who created it were never given access to even an ounce. Those who essentially stole it (through violent land grabs and human enslavement) have since built financial, retail, industrial, and real estate empires from it. Empires that have one common trait: they are completely illegitimate. And their connections run deep, transcending region. The tracing of this history has already been done. Take the case of 19th-century New York City banker James Brown and his family’s investment bank, Browns Brothers & Co., which served as a substantial source of finance capital for over two centuries (and still exists today as Brown Brothers Harriman & Co). Upon tallying his wealth in 1842, Brown found that “his investments in the South exceeded $1.5 million, a quarter of which was directly bound up in the ownership of slave plantations.” [14]

Northern bankers made fortunes from slavery. And Northern industries relied heavily on the cotton production to jump-start their own fortunes. Beckert and Seth Rockman describe these historical connections,

“Brown was hardly unusual among the capitalists of the North. Nicholas Biddle’s United States Bank of Philadelphia funded banks in Mississippi to promote the expansion of plantation lands. Biddle recognized that slave-grown cotton was the only thing made in the U.S. that had the capacity to bring gold and silver into the vaults of the nation’s banks. Likewise, the architects of New England’s industrial revolution watched the price of cotton with rapt attention, for their textile mills would have been silent without the labor of slaves on distant plantations…

…to understand slavery’s centrality to the rise of American capitalism, just consider the history of an antebellum Alabama dry-goods outfit called Lehman Brothers or a Rhode Island textile manufacturer that would become the antecedent firm of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Reparations lawsuits (since dismissed) generated evidence of slave insurance policies by Aetna and put Brown University and other elite educational institutions on notice that the slave-trade enterprises of their early benefactors were potential legal liabilities. Recent state and municipal disclosure ordinances have forced firms such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wachovia Corp. to confront unsettling ancestors on their corporate family trees.

Such revelations are hardly surprising in light of slavery’s role in spurring the nation’s economic development. America’s “take-off” in the 19th century wasn’t in spite of slavery; it was largely thanks to it. And recent research in economic history goes further: It highlights the role that commodified human beings played in the emergence of modern capitalism itself.” [15]

The United States, while advertised as the “new world” or the “free world,” was nothing more than a breeding ground for age-old social hierarchies. “No new social class came to power through the door of the American Revolution. The men who engineered the revolt were largely members of the colonial ruling class.” [16] There was nothing egalitarian about this experiment. “Roughly 10 percent of the American settlers, consisting of large landholders (the landed aristocracy) and merchants (the commercial aristocracy), owned nearly half the wealth of the entire country, and held as slaves one-seventh of the country’s people.” [17] The founding fathers and settlers sought to create a political and governmental system that avoided handing any meaningful sense of power or influence to the people, while also establishing a rule of law capable of protecting the extremely unequal distribution of land and wealth. As Cornel West explains, “American democracy emerged as a republic (representative government) rather than an Athenian-like direct democracy primarily owing to the same elite fear of the passions and ignorance of the demos (the masses). For the founding fathers – just as for Plato – too much Socratic questioning from the demos and too much power sharing of elites with the demos were expected to lead to anarchy, instability, or perpetual rebellion.” [18] A general insecurity and fear of the masses, or “the mob,” was a primary motivation in this birth. And this motivation was rooted solely in the material interests of a transplanted colonial ruling and owning class. Charles Beard’s invaluable contribution, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1935), hammered this thesis home. In reflecting on this work, Howard Zinn tell us that,

“Beard found that most of the makers of the constitution had direct economic interests in establishing a strong federal government: The manufacturers needed protective tariffs; the money lenders wanted to stop the use of paper money to pay off debts; the land speculators wanted protection as they invaded Indian lands; slave owners needed federal security against slave revolts and runaways; bondholders wanted a government able to raise money by nationwide taxation, to pay off those bonds.” [19]

These motivations have dominated the political, social, and economic landscape of the United States throughout its existence. As we can see, 150 years removed from the nation’s founding, not much had changed. In 1937, investigative journalist Ferdinand Lundberg obtained tax records and other historical documents in order to expose this perpetual chain of concentrated wealth. His findings, duly titled “America’s 60 Families,” concluded that,

“The United States is owned and dominated today by a hierarchy of its sixty richest families, buttressed by no more than ninety families of lesser wealth. These families are the living center of the modern industrial oligarchy which dominates the United States, functioning discreetly under a de jure democratic form of government behind which a de facto government, absolutist and plutocratic in its lineaments, has gradually taken form. This de facto government is actually the government of the United States – informal, invisible, shadowy. It is the government of money in a dollar democracy.” [20]

And today, two-and-a-half centuries later, still nothing has changed. As of 2010, ” the top 1% of US households (the upper class) owned 35.4% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 53.5%, which means that just 20% of the people owned a remarkable 89%, leaving only 11% of the wealth for the bottom 80% (wage and salary workers). In terms of financial wealth (total net worth minus the value of one’s home), the top 1% of households had an even greater share: 42.1%.” [21]

These unequal beginnings have remained consistent through history, and have been maintained through a governmental system designed to protect them. From slavery and the industrial robber-baron era to the modern forms of monopoly and neoliberal capitalism, each epoch has continued seamlessly by constantly replacing and rebranding forms of human exploitation – peasant, servant, slave, tenant, laborer – as sources of concentrated wealth.
Human Resources: Capitalism, Enclosure, and the Exploitation of Labor

“In virtue of this monstrous system, the children of the worker, on entering life, find no fields which they may till, no machine which they may tend, no mine in which they may dig, without accepting to leave a great part of what they will produce to a master. They must sell their labour for a scant and uncertain wage.”

– Peter Kropotkin (The Conquest of Bread)

One of the basic mechanisms of capitalism is the relationship between capital and labor. No matter what argument one may make in support of capitalism, this fundamental relationship can never be denied. Everything from entrepreneurships to small, family-owned businesses to corporate conglomerates must rely on this foundational interaction inherent to this economic system. Whether branded as “crony-capitalism,” “corporate-capitalism,” “unfettered-capitalism” or any one of the many monikers used to distract from its inherent flaws and contradictions, proponents can’t deny its lifeblood – its need to exploit labor. And they can’t deny the fundamental way in which it exploits labor – by utilizing property as a social relationship. It is in this relationship where masses of human beings are commodified, essentially transformed into machines, and forced to work so they may create wealth for those who employ them. This fundamental aspect of capitalism is not debatable.

The epoch of capitalism and its reliance on mass exploitation of labor was described by Marx throughout his work. A most fitting summary is found in its transition from feudalism, which is explained by Marx in Capital, Volume One,

“As soon as this process of transformation has sufficiently decomposed the old society from top to bottom, as soon as the labourers are turned into proletarians, their means of labour into capital, as soon as the capitalist mode of production stands on its own feet, then the further socialisation of labour and further transformation of the land and other means of production into socially exploited and, therefore, common means of production, as well as the further expropriation of private proprietors, takes a new form. That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the labourer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many labourers. This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralisation of capital.” [22]

In the US, the exploitation of labor – whether free (chattel slavery) or surplus (wage slavery) – has been the primary source of wealth-building for centuries. When chattel slavery was officially brought to an end after the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation, a transition to establish and protect new forms of exploitation began. During Reconstruction in the South, the newly freed slaves were immediately betrayed by the post-war government. This betrayal came in three basic components: “(1) the freedmen did not get ‘the 40 acres and a mule’ they were promised; (2) the old slave owners got back their plantations and thus the power to institute a mode of production to suit cotton culture; and (3) the crop lien system was introduced with ‘new’ form of labor: sharecropping.” [23] This transition, hence, created a new form of slavery in the South; one where,

“…the cropper (former slave) had neither control of the nature of his crop nor the marketing of it. The cropper owned nothing but his labor power, and was thus forced to part with half of the crop for ‘furnishings.’ The rest of the crop was to go to the merchant upon whom he depends for his every purchase of clothing, food, implements and fertilizer. The cropper was charged exorbitant prices but could not question the word of the boss who keeps the books and makes the ‘settlement,’ at which time the cropper found himself in perpetual debt and thus unable to leave the land.” [24]

As this rebranding of human exploitation was sweeping the South, federal soldiers directed their attention north, where wage laborers were engulfed in a battle to break their own form of slavery. This concerted effort on the part of the owning class (in both north and south) to suppress their exploited laborers showed how blurred the lines between chattel slavery and wage slavery really were. In her crucial essay, American Civilization on Trial, Raya Dunayevskaya explains,

“In 1877, the year the Federal troops were removed from the South, was the year they were used to crush the railroad strikes stretching from Pennsylvania to Texas. The Pennsylvania Governor not only threatened labor with “a sharp use of bayonet and musket,” but the Federal Government did exactly that at the behest of the captains of industry. The peace pact with the Southern bourbons meant unrestrained violence on the part of the rulers, both North and South, against labor.” [25]

The attack on Northern laborers intensified and was supported by a continuation of white supremacist tactics that divided the white and black labor force, mostly by keeping newly freedmen indebted and stuck in their new sharecropping roles on southern plantations:

“The ruthlessness with which capital asserted its rule over labor that worked long hours for little pay, which was further cut at the will of the factory owners every time a financial crisis hit the country, drove labor underground. The first National Labor Union had a very short span of life. The Knights of Labor that replaced it organized white and black alike, with the result that, at its height (1886) out of a total membership of one million no less than 90,000 were Negroes. Nevertheless, no Northern organization could possibly get to the mass base of Negroes who remained overwhelmingly, preponderantly in the South. For, along with being freed from slavery, the Negroes were freed also from a way to make a living. Landless were the new freedmen, and penniless.” [26]

The transition from feudalism to capitalism, or from peasant to wage laborer, was facilitated through similar means. As European nations – and the American colonies – had built up primitive forms of capital through stolen resources and the enslavement of Africans, industrialization was coming into its own. The feudal systems of old were no longer sufficient for the owning classes, not because they weren’t advantageous, but because the peasantry, despite its subordinate and often times subhuman existence, was relatively self-sustaining. Peasants had access to land and resources – access that allowed them sustenance and the means to produce basic necessities for themselves and their families during their free time. To them, industrial wage labor was nothing more than slavery – being stripped of access to land and resources, becoming completely reliant on labor power and the meager wages it brought (of lucky) as a source of income, and being doubly reliant on those wages to not only purchase goods, but to merely sustain. In other words, to the feudal peasant living under a lordship, the prospect of becoming a wage laborer in a “more free” capitalist society was viewed as a downgrade.

This transition was a futile sell for lords-turned-capitalists; the peasantry knew better than to accept these conditions. So, the “industrious men” of the time duplicated history and proceeded in the only way they could – by stripping the peasantry of their “common” land rights and corralling them into the factories and mills. This was accomplished through the construction of bankrupt philosophies, false justifications, new laws, and armed police forces to enforce these laws. In his book, Stop Thief!: The Commons, Enclosures, and Resistance, historian Peter Linebaugh identifies the brain trust behind this transition:

“Arthur Young was the advocate of land privatization; the earth became a capitalist asset. Thomas Malthus sought to show that famine, war, and pestilence balanced a fecund population. Patrick Colquhoun was the magistrate and government intelligence agent who organized the criminalization of London custom. Jeremy Bentham contrived the architectural enclosure of the urban populations with his ‘panopticon.'” [27]

Their experiment was human engineering at its finest – a literal example of a capitalist conspiracy, if there ever was one, designed for the purpose of transforming masses of people into commodities without their consent. With a contrived philosophical approach in hand, the creation of artificial laws provided the mechanism to accomplish this,

“They present their policies as ‘law.’ The law of property with Bentham, the law of police with Colquhoun, the laws of political economy with Young, the laws of nature in Malthus. Bentham will have institutions for orphans and ‘wayward’ women. Malthus will recommend the postponement of marriage. Colquhoun inveighed against brothel and ale-house. Arthur Young takes the ground from under the feet of the women whose pig-keeping, chicken minding, and vegetable patch depended on common right. They are concerned with the reproduction of the working class.” [28]

The ‘legal’ destruction of the common land and its subsequent privatization was a fundamental prerequisite for capitalist production. It amounted to land theft on a grand scale, falsely justified by laws passed by the very men who stood to gain from it. However, this legal transformation was not complete without the forced enclosure of the peasantry. It was in this development where masses of people, formerly allowed access to common lands, were stripped of whatever meager degrees of self-determination they once had under feudalism:

“By enclosure, we include the complete separation of the worker from the means of production – this was most obvious in the case of land (the commons) – it also obtained in the many trades and crafts of London, indeed it was prerequisite to mechanization. The shoemaker kept some of the leather he worked with (“clicking”). The tailor kept cloth remnants he called ‘cabbage.’ The weavers kept their ‘fents’ and ‘thrums’ after the cloth was cut from the loom. Servants expected ‘vails’ and would strike if they were not forthcoming. Sailors treasured their ‘adventures.’ Wet coopers felt entitled to ‘waxers.’ The ship-builders and sawyers took their ‘chips.’ The dockers (or longshoremen) were called ‘lumpers,’ and worked with sailors, watermen, lightermen, coopers, warehousemen, porters, and when the containers of the cargo spilled they took as custom their ‘spillings,’ ‘ sweepings,’ or ‘scrapings.’ The cook licked his own fingers.” [29]

The invention of capitalism and wage labor changed all of this. And, in this day and time, wage labor was widely recognized by former slaves and peasants as being not very different from that of chattel slavery. “Experience demonstrates that there may be a slavery of wages only a little less galling and crushing in its effects than chattel slavery,” warned former slave, Frederick Douglass, “and this slavery of wages must go down with the other.” [30] To ruling and owning elites, the invention of wage labor was intimately tied to that of chattel slavery, systemically. “While most theories of capitalism set slavery apart, as something utterly distinct, because under slavery, workers do not labor for a wage,” Ott tells us, “new historical research reveals that for centuries, a single economic system encompassed both the plantation and the factory.” [31]

Even in the field of “business organization” and “management,” the southern slave plantation was viewed as an influential and beneficial model to be transplanted and deployed in northern factories and mills:

“The plantation didn’t just produce the commodities that fueled the broader economy; it also generated innovative business practices that would come to typify modern management. As some of the most heavily capitalized enterprises in antebellum America, plantations offered early examples of time-motion studies and regimentation through clocks and bells. Seeking ever-greater efficiencies in cotton picking, slaveholders reorganized their fields, regimented the workday, and implemented a system of vertical reporting that made overseers into managers answerable to those above for the labor of those below.” [32]

And because of this inherently exploitative and dehumanizing labor process found under capitalism, the state has been needed to act on behalf of those who accumulate the illegitimate wealth from this process. Without the state, this unequal social arrangement – where the majority is essentially born into bondage – would not survive. An especially useful anarchist analysis regarding the relationship between wage slavery and state force tells us,

“In every system of class exploitation, a ruling class controls access to the means of production in order to extract tribute from labor. Capitalism is no exception. In this system the state maintains various kinds of ‘class monopolies’ (to use Benjamin Tucker’s phrase) to ensure that workers do not receive their ‘natural wage,’ the full product of their labor. While some of these monopolies are obvious (such as tariffs, state granted market monopolies and so on), most are ‘behind the scenes’ and work to ensure that capitalist domination does not need extensive force to maintain.” [33]

Hence, the illegitimacy of primitive accumulation provided the foundation for the illegitimacy of the wage-labor system central to capitalism, whose exploitative arrangement is protected by the illegitimacy of the capitalist state.
“Property is Theft”: On Private Property and Landlordism

“If I were asked to answer the following question: What is slavery? and I should answer in one word, It is murder!, my meaning would be understood at once. No extended argument would be required to show that the power to remove a man’s mind, will, and personality, is the power of life and death, and that it makes a man a slave. It is murder. Why, then, to this other question: What is property? may I not likewise answer, It is robbery!, without the certainty of being misunderstood; the second proposition being no other than a transformation of the first?”

– Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (What is Property?)

The prevailing mindset within capitalist society has been to place property above all else. Those of us who have grown up in the US have had this idea drilled into our heads at every turn. The materialistic nature of consumerism, which equates self-worth with the accumulation of wealth, land, and other material goods, has conditioned us to view our lives and the lives as others as being secondary, or at best equal, to the value of property. Our property becomes our identity, and for this reason, it becomes as sacred and revered as human life itself.

When American “pioneers,” accompanied by federal soldiers, stole Native American land, forced Native American people out of those lands, corralled them into open-air prisons, and used that newly-claimed land to enrich themselves, this established a path of illegitimacy. It doesn’t matter that – after multiple generations have partaken in the buying and selling of this same land – those who profit from said land today did not take part in the actual killing, maiming, and robbing of Native American peoples. Time and separation are irrelevant factors. Being distanced from the illegitimate roots of multi-generational theft for the sake of profit-making doesn’t make one innocent in the process. The entire cycle has been built on a foundation of illegitimacy. This stolen land was never intended to be a source of wealth for European colonizers and their future bloodlines, or for anyone else for that matter. In using this modern scenario, this process of wealth accumulation can be applied to all such accumulation since the beginning of time.

That being said, condemning and exposing the forcible extraction of land, in itself, does not begin to address the philosophical illegitimacy of private property. In order to correctly point out this illegitimacy, we must dig deeper. We must understand the meaning of private property, how it came about, and what its sole purpose is. To being this inquiry, let’s consider what Emma Goldman had to say about private property in her 1908 pamphlet, “What I Believe”:

“‘Property’ means dominion over things and the denial to others of the use of those things. So long as production was not equal to the normal demand, institutional property may have had some raison d’être.One has only to consult economics, however, to know that the productivity of labor within the last few decades has increased so tremendously as to exceed normal demand a hundred-fold, and to make property not only a hindrance to human well-being, but an obstacle, a deadly barrier, to all progress. It is the private dominion over things that condemns millions of people to be mere nonentities, living corpses without originality or power of initiative, human machines of flesh and blood, who pile up mountains of wealth for others and pay for it with a gray, dull and wretched existence for themselves. I believe that there can be no real wealth, social wealth, so long as it rests on human lives – young lives, old lives and lives in the making.” [34]

When one person, any person, acts on their individual power to acquire property that is to be used beyond their own means, they are doing so for the purpose of direct exploitation or residual dispossession. If it is not to be used as a means to live and sustain, it can either be (1) abandoned and restricted from those who have none, (2) used to extract natural resources for individual use beyond necessity, or (3) utilized as a social relationship to employ other human beings as a source of wealth-building (through the exploitation of labor). When one exercises this undue power (whether through force or unseen privilege), “It is conceded that the fundamental cause of this terrible state of affairs is: that man must sell his labor; and that his inclination and judgment are subordinated to the will of a master (the one who owns the land).” [35]

When considering this analysis, one that surely sounds alien to most living in the 21st century, it is important to understand basic notions of property, and most importantly, the difference between “personal property” and “private property.”

The use of private property as a way to exploit others is unique to capitalism. For example, in contrast to feudalism, capitalists only allow workers access to their property during times when said workers are laboring to create wealth for said owners. In feudal times, as mentioned before, peasants were allowed to live on this land, and even use it as a means to sustain for themselves and their families, as long as this personal activity was done after the lord’s work had been completed. Now, with capitalism, workers “punch in,” proceed to labor for a specified amount of time in exchange for a fraction of the wealth they create, “punch out,” and then are left to find their own means of housing, food, clothing, and basic sustenance with only the wage they receive. This latter task has proven to be difficult for a majority of the world’s population for the past number of centuries, even in so-called industrialized nations, which is why welfare states have become prominent as a means to facilitate the mass exploitation of the working class. Capitalists, and their governments, learned long ago that workers must be able to survive, if only barely, so that they may continue to labor and consume.

In 1918, on the heels of Russian Revolution and subsequent birth of the Soviet Union, German socialist Rosa Luxemburg illustrated the glaring contrast between a society that allows for the concentration of property as a means to exploit a displaced and landless majority (capitalism) versus one that utilizes property as a communal, life-sustaining resource (socialism) for all of its members. In analyzing capitalist property relations and its consequences on society, she tells us,

“To-day all wealth, the largest and most fruitful tracts of land, the mines, the mills and the factories belong to a small group of Junkers and private capitalists. From them the great masses of the laboring class receive a scanty wage in return for long hours of arduous toil, hardly enough for a decent livelihood. The enrichment of a small class of idlers is the purpose and end of present-day society…

… To-day production in every manufacturing unit is conducted by the individual capitalist independently of all others. What and where commodities are to be produced, where, when and how the finished product is to be sold, is decided by the individual capitalist owner. Nowhere does labor have the slightest influence upon these questions. It is simply the living machine that has its work to do.” [36]

In contrasting this with a socialist solution, she illustrates the alternative:

“To give to modern society and to modern production a new impulse and a new purpose – that is the foremost duty of the revolutionary working class…. To this end all social wealth the land and all that it produces, the factories and the mills must be taken from their exploiting owners to become the common property of the entire people. It thus becomes the foremost duty of a revolutionary government of the working class to issue a series of decrees making all important instruments of production national property and placing them under social control.

…Private ownership of the means of production and subsistence must disappear. Production will be carried on not for the enrichment of the individual but solely for the creation of a supply of commodities sufficient to supply the wants and needs of the working class. Accordingly factories, mills and farms must be operated upon an entirely new basis, from a wholly different point of view.

…production is to be carried on for the sole purpose of securing to all a more humane existence, of providing for all plentiful food, clothing and other cultural means of subsistence.” [37]

While the ways in which such economic justice can and should be obtained, and how new systems should be arranged as an alternative, are debatable topics, Luxemburg’s description of and contrast to capitalist property relations still remain the same. And it serves as an instructive analysis to why such property relations are fundamentally illegitimate. In Marx’s explanation of potential transitions from the capitalist mode of property to the socialist, we see the same contrast. In Capital, he tells us,

“The capitalist mode of appropriation, the result of the capitalist mode of production, produces capitalist private property. This is the first negation of individual private property, as founded on the labour of the proprietor. But capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a law of Nature, its own negation. It is the negation of negation. This does not re-establish private property for the producer, but gives him individual property based on the acquisition of the capitalist era: i.e., on cooperation and the possession in common of the land and of the means of production.

The transformation of scattered private property, arising from individual labour, into capitalist private property is, naturally, a process, incomparably more protracted, violent, and difficult, than the transformation of capitalistic private property, already practically resting on socialised production, into socialised property. In the former case, we had the expropriation of the mass of the people by a few usurpers; in the latter, we have the expropriation of a few usurpers by the mass of the people.” [38]

To complement the materialist analysis presented by an array of Marxist thinkers, anarchists have added equally-useful, philosophically-based arguments against the ownership of private property. Simply stated, to anarchists, private property must be opposed because it is “a source of coercive, hierarchical authority as well as exploitation and, consequently, elite privilege and inequality. It is based on and produces inequality, in terms of both wealth and power.” [39] The unnatural and unequal distribution of power among human populations due to private property is a common-sense analysis that can be understood by simply imagining the start of any such society, where all would have equal footing, equal rights, equitable futures, and the basic will to satisfy needs (without taking that will away from others). However, if and when a member of that community decides to take more than they need, they immediately create a scenario where others will inevitably go without, be subjected to an exploitative social relationship, and/or rely on the illegitimate landowner for basic needs (in the form of some sort of exchange). As anarchist philosophy tells us, “those who own property exploit those who do not. This is because those who do not own have to pay or sell their labor to those who do own in order to get access to the resources they need to live and work (such as workplaces, machinery, land, credit, housing, and products under patents). [40]

Proudhon’s assertion that “property is theft” was not hyperbolic. He elaborates,

“The proprietor, the robber, the hero, the sovereign — for all these titles are synonymous — imposes his will as law, and suffers neither contradiction nor control; that is, he pretends to be the legislative and the executive power at once . . . [and so] property engenders despotism . . . That is so clearly the essence of property that, to be convinced of it, one need but remember what it is, and observe what happens around him. Property is the right to use and abuse . . . if goods are property, why should not the proprietors be kings, and despotic kings — kings in proportion to their facultes bonitaires? And if each proprietor is sovereign lord within the sphere of his property, absolute king throughout his own domain, how could a government of proprietors be anything but chaos and confusion?” [41]

Even bourgeois philosophers like Jean-Jacque Rousseau, someone whose ideas would now be relegated to the radical fringe, warned against the notion of private property, albeit from a moral viewpoint. In his 1755 “Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men,” he touched on its consequences for humanity, writing,

“The first man who, having fenced off a plot of land, thought of saying, ‘This is mine’ and found people simple enough to believe him was the real founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders, how many miseries and horrors might the human race had been spared by the one who, upon pulling up the stakes or filling in the ditch, had shouted to his fellow men: ‘Beware of listening to this impostor; you are lost if you forget the fruits of the earth belong to all and that the earth belongs to no one.'” [42]

Ironically, the notion of private property is lauded by right-wing theories of “libertarianism” as the basis of liberty and freedom. In reality, private property accomplishes the opposite, and makes any semblance of human liberty obsolete and impossible. Legalistically, under capitalism and the state’s enforcement of property law, the illegitimate ownership of land creates a scenario where land is monopolized by an extremely small and privileged group of people for the sole purpose of extracting wealth (essentially through force and coercion) from both natural and human resources. The anarchist analysis tells us,

“The land monopoly consists of enforcement by government of land titles which do not rest upon personal occupancy and use. It also includes making the squatting of abandoned housing and other forms of property illegal. This leads to ground-rent, by which landlords get payment for letting others use the land they own but do not actually cultivate or use. It also allows the ownership and control of natural resources like oil, gas, coal and timber. This monopoly is particularly exploitative as the owner cannot claim to have created the land or its resources. It was available to all until the landlord claimed it by fencing it off and barring others from using it.” [43]

The natural consequence of this process is landlordism, “an economic system under which a few private individuals (landlords) own property, and rent it to tenants.” This system, despite being a major affront to liberty, has become the norm. And, like the system of wage labor, it coerces the majority into an extremely subservient and dependent role by forcing them to rely on, and submit themselves to, a privileged minority which has gained control of the land. Returning to our anarchist analysis, we can see that,

“At a minimum, every home and workplace needs land on which to be built. Thus while cultivation of land has become less important, the use of land remains crucial. The land monopoly, therefore, ensures that working people find no land to cultivate, no space to set up shop and no place to sleep without first having to pay a landlord a sum for the privilege of setting foot on the land they own but neither created nor use. At best, the worker has mortgaged their life for decades to get their wee bit of soil or, at worse, paid their rent and remained as property-less as before. Either way, the landlords are richer for the exchange.” [44]

The illegitimacy of this form of land ownership is found not only in its reliance on mass exploitation and dispossession, but also in the means in which it has been allowed to develop. This process of landlordism has complemented the development of the capitalist system, mimicking the social relationship between labor and capital, and consequently doubling down on exploitation through the creation of yet another relationship between tenant and landlord. Along with primitive forms of accumulation, like chattel slavery, which allowed for the influx of the raw capital needed to launch the capitalist system, the forceful acquisition and expansion of privately-owned land has been facilitated by the state. This facilitation has been delivered through both military force and legislative (legal) support:

“… The land monopoly did play an important role in creating capitalism. This took two main forms. Firstly, the state enforced the ownership of large estates in the hands of a single family. Taking the best land by force, these landlords turned vast tracks of land into parks and hunting grounds so forcing the peasants little option but to huddle together on what remained. Access to superior land was therefore only possible by paying a rent for the privilege, if at all. Thus an elite claimed ownership of vacant lands, and by controlling access to it (without themselves ever directly occupying or working it) they controlled the laboring classes of the time. Secondly, the ruling elite also simply stole land which had traditionally been owned by the community. This was called enclosure, the process by which common land was turned into private property.” [45]

Much like the advent of wage labor, the notion of private property has undergone a complete transformation in the psychological imagination over the past few centuries. Both serve one purpose – to act as social relationships which allow for the accumulation and concentration of wealth via the exploitation of the majority. This understanding was once common sense, even among bourgeois philosophies that dominated the Enlightenment. Now, after generations of conditioning, this basic realization is alien to most. Not only are notions of wage labor and private property viewed as the natural order of things, but private property itself has become infused with the much different idea of personal property. This has led to the development of an exploited working-class majority which reveres such property, respects its existence without question, and even fights to protect it at all costs despite its sole purpose to exploit said majority. Thus, in the psychological imagination, the illegitimate has become legitimate. While, in reality, it remains as illegitimate as ever.
Natural Resources: On Colonialism and Global Looting

“The essence of capitalism is to turn nature into commodities and commodities into capital. The live green earth is transformed into dead gold bricks, with luxury items for the few and toxic slag heaps for the many. The glittering mansion overlooks a vast sprawl of shanty towns, wherein a desperate, demoralized humanity is kept in line with drugs, television, and armed force.” –

Michael Parenti

In order for capitalists to utilize private property as a social relationship in their mass exploitation of the working class, they must have access to the natural resources – timber, gold, minerals, diamonds, shale, oil, etc… – that are necessary to fuel production and create commodities and goods to be bought and sold in a market. Since nations are, in theory, constricted to geographic boundaries, they often do not have access to all of the natural resources they need or desire. Throughout history, the remedy for this was the notion of trading – whereas one nation would trade their surplus resources to another nation in return for needed resources, and vice versa. However, as industrial capitalism began to grow exponentially, so did the need to transform agrarian land to industrial zones, as well as farmers to industrial laborers. As Karl Kautsky explained in his 1914 essay on “ultra-imperialism,” the arrival of colonialism and, more specifically, imperialism, was an inevitable stage of global capitalist production. As capitalist governments, in representing their profit sectors, were forced to seek out new industrial zones, “the sweet dream of international harmony (free trade) quickly came to an end.” Because, “as a rule, industrial zones overmaster and dominate agrarian zones.” [46]

Modern European imperialism can be traced as far back as the 15th century, at the height of its trade with Asian territories. During this time, because of a lack of marketable goods, European nations turned to naval dominance as a means to an end. The Portuguese provided an example of this militaristic transition:

“…since Roman times, Europe had been exporting gold and silver to the East: the problem was that Europe had never produced much of anything that Asians wanted to buy, so it was forced to pay in specie for silks, spices, steel, and other imports. The early years of European expansion were largely attempts to gain access either to Eastern luxuries or to new sources of gold and silver with which to pay for them. In those early days, Atlantic Europe really had only one substantial advantage over its Muslim rivals: an active and advanced tradition of naval warfare, honed by centuries of conflict in the Mediterranean. The moment when Vasco da Gama entered the Indian Ocean in 1498, the principle that the seas should be a zone of peaceful trade came to an immediate end. Portuguese flotillas began bombarding and sacking every port city they came across, then seizing control of strategic points and extorting protection money from unarmed Indian Ocean merchants for the right to carry on their business unmolested.” [47]

Around the same time, in perhaps the most influential development in the shaping of the modern world, European powers discovered the western hemisphere. The mass looting of the Americas, as they would come to be called, more than satisfied the Asian demand for precious metals via trade:

“At almost exactly the same time (as the Portuguese assault), Christopher Columbus – a Genoese mapmaker seeking a short-cut to China-touched land in the New World, and the Spanish and Portuguese empires stumbled into the greatest economic windfall in human history: entire continents full of unfathomable wealth, whose inhabitants, armed only with Stone Age weapons, began conveniently dying almost as soon as they arrived. The conquest of Mexico and Peru led to the discovery of enormous new sources of precious metal, and these were exploited ruthlessly and systematically, even to the point of largely exterminating the surrounding populations to extract as much precious metal as quickly as possible.” [48]

For European powers during the 19th century, militarism also became the primary means of resource extraction from the continent of Africa. While Africa had faced problems with colonial settlers as far back as 550 BC (Greeks), the late-19th century pillaging of the continent was especially important to the modern system of global capitalism. As consistent with capital accumulation, Africa’s natural resources proved to be a major source of wealth production for a tiny sector of Europe’s capitalist class, while simultaneously leaving African peoples in dire circumstances. Britain’s role in this process is especially notable. Claude Kabemba, of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, tells us,

“British capital played a key role in extraction of resources during the colonial period, especially in southern and central Africa. The competition to find and control sources of raw materials, including minerals, was one of the main drivers of European penetration and eventual colonial partition of Africa in the last quarter of the 19th century. Africa’s vast resources were plundered to support the development of Britain – and other European powers – while contributing minimally to the development of the continent. Indeed, Africans have little to show for centuries of exploitation of their mineral resources. Poverty on the continent is as bad as ever. Inequality is also just as severe, if not worse, and there are increasing conflicts between extractive companies and communities.” [49]

Colonialism is inseparable from Capitalism. As the capitalist system became globalized over the course of a few centuries, in its constant search for new markets, the need to dominate unoccupied lands and “uncooperative” peoples became a necessity. Thus, “new markets” were established through occupation directed by capitalist militaries, the forcible removal of millions of human beings from their native lands, and the forcible extraction of natural resources. US Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler’s account of his experiences in South and Central America at the turn of the 20th century gives invaluable insight on this process. Said Butler,

“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.” [50]

Butler’s honesty, while representing a rare act of integrity for a high-ranking US military officer, did little to help the millions of people who had been ransacked, looted, and displaced by the US military and subsequent corporate takeovers of land. Such occupations would reverberate for decades, if not centuries. For example, in Haiti, although the official military occupation ended in 1934, “the corporations that were given lands failed miserably, with the lone exception of the Haitian-American Sugar Company, which endured for over five decades until it closed its doors in 1989.” With unfathomable amounts of resources and wealth being stolen and regenerated by the US capitalist class, “the people of Haiti were left landless and jobless,” making mass migration through the western hemisphere a necessity. And these complicit actors (like Butler) who had long passed, and these dead entities, “live on as one collective in this ghost that continues to mold Haiti’s policy” and modern reality. [51]

In expanding on, or correcting (in his view), Kautsky’s analysis, Vladimir Lenin illustrated how it was not only the parasitic nature of industrial capitalism that led to imperialism, but more so the constant need of finance capital to regenerate itself through exposure to new markets. In this sense, explains Lenin, the illegitimacy of capitalist accumulation on a national level became at odds with itself, with various “core” nations attempting to outdo one another in their pillaging of “periphery” nations. Lenin tells us,

“Imperialism is a striving for annexations-this is what the political part of Kautsky’s definition amounts to. It is correct, but very incomplete, for politically, imperialism is, in general, a striving towards violence and reaction. For the moment, however, we are interested in the economic aspect of the question, which Kautsky himself introduced into his definition. The inaccuracies in Kautsky’s definition are glaring. The characteristic feature of imperialism is not industrial but finance capital. It is not an accident that in France it was precisely the extraordinarily rapid development of finance capital, and the weakening of industrial capital, that from the eighties onwards gave rise to the extreme intensification of annexationist (colonial) policy. The characteristic feature of imperialism is precisely that it strives to annex not only agrarian territories, but even most highly industrialised regions (German appetite for Belgium; French appetite for Lorraine), because (1) the fact that the world is already partitioned obliges those contemplating a redivision to reach out for every kind of territory, and (2) an essential feature of imperialism is the rivalry between several great powers in the striving for hegemony, i.e., for the conquest of territory, not so much directly for themselves as to weaken the adversary and underminehis hegemony. (Belgium is particularly important for Germany as a base for operations against Britain; Britain needs Baghdad as a base for operations against Germany, etc.)” [52]

The profit-making potential of war has become even more obvious in recent decades, exposing the intimate ties between capitalism, imperialism, finance, and the military industrial complex. False and contrived “calls to action,” like the United States’ so-called “War on Terror,” provide the perfect justification for the endless production, use, and reproduction of immensely destructive weapons and munitions. A simple search on stock trends for the top weapons’ manufacturers illustrates this. Lockheed Martin stock, which was worth $38.49 per share on 9/7/01 (4 days prior to the 9/11 attack), is now worth $238.01 (6/17/16). Raytheon went from $24.85 per share to $134.49. Northrup Grumman has increased from $40.95 per share pre-9/11 to $213.87. Halliburton ($16.08 per share in 2001 to $73.41 in 2014), Boeing ($68.35 to $129.60), General Dynamics (from $41.50 $138.94), Honeywell (from $35.75 to $115.93), and BAE Systems ($330.00 to $477.30) have all experienced similar profit gains during this period of massive bombing campaigns across the world. A 2016 report by the Netherlands-based peace organization, PAX, also found that 150 financial institutions, including JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America, have invested roughly $28 billion dollars in companies manufacturing internationally-banned cluster bombs. And, when considering that major US politicians, including John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, have owned stock in these companies, this quite literally represents a form of human sacrifice for monetary gain. Every dead body in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, Pakistan, etc… equals more money in their personal bank accounts.

Immanuel Wallerstein’s World-Systems Theory (WST) is especially helpful in terms of macro-analyzing global relations based in the expansion of the capitalist system over the past few centuries. This approach “traces the rise of the capitalist world-economy from the ‘long’ 16th century (c. 1450-1640), which, according to Wallertsein, “was an accidental outcome of the protracted crisis of feudalism (c. 1290-1450).” In formulating this capitalist world order, “Europe (the West) used its advantages and gained control over most of the world economy and presided over the development and spread ofindustrialization andcapitalist economy, indirectly resulting in unequal development.” [53]

Because of its Eurocentric organization, the global capitalist onslaught that has dominated the modern world has blatantly racial underpinnings. The “core nations” that make up WST’s dominant group (US, England, France, Germany) tends to be “lighter” on the color scale, while the “periphery nations” that make up its dominated group (nations primarily in the global south) tend to be “darker.” If anything, this oppression based in colorism makes it easier for core-nation ruling classes to justify their actions to their own subjects (the core-nation working classes). Despite a white supremacist agenda (see “Manifest Destiny,” the “White Man’s Burden,” and the Roosevelt Corollary of the Monroe Doctrine) that has undoubtedly influenced this global looting on a mass scale, the primary development of modern capitalist imperialism remains economic. As world-systems theorist Samir Amin tells us, for the peoples who live within periphery nations, “colonization was (and is) atrocious. Like slavery, it was (and is) an attack on fundamental rights.” However, its perpetuation is motivated by material gain. “If you want to understand why these rights were trampled on and why they still are being trodden on in the world today,” explains Amin, “you have to get rid of the idea that colonialism was the result of some sort of conspiracy. What was at stake was the economic and social logic that must be called by its real name: capitalism.” [54]

In echoing earlier assessments of colonialism and imperialism (from the likes of Kautsky and Lenin) as inherent capitalist mechanisms, Amin insists that,

“They are inseparable. Capitalism has been colonial, more precisely imperialist, during all the most notable periods of its development. The conquest of the Americas by the Spaniards and Portuguese in the 16th century, then by the French and the British, was the first modern form of imperialism and colonization: an extremely brutal form which resulted in the genocide of the Indians of North America, Indian societies in Latin America thrown into slavery and black slavery through the whole continent, north and south. Beyond this example, by following a logic of precise deployment through the different stages of its history, we can see that capitalism has constructed a consistent dichotomy of relations between a centre (the heart of the system of capitalist exploitation) and the periphery (made up of dominated countries and peoples).” [55]

In describing the real-life effects on populations of people, Amin tells us that this global order,

“…has been based on unequal exchange, that is, the exchange of manufactured products, sold very expensively in the colonies by commercial monopolies supported by the State, for the purchase of products or primary products at very low prices, since they were based on labour that was almost without cost – provided by the peasants and workers located at the periphery. During all the stages of capitalism, the plunder of the resources of the peripheries, the oppression of colonized peoples, their direct or indirect exploitation by capital, remain the common characteristics of the phenomenon of colonialism.”[56]

In other words, “the plunder and hyper-exploitation of the global South,” a region spanning dozens of countries and billions of people, has directly led to the enrichment of the west (European powers). And this enrichment, which expands well into the tens of trillions of dollars, has been claimed by a very small sector of the western capitalist and ruling classes. Much like how labor and private property are used as the primary means for the few to extract wealth from the many, colonialism and imperialism have represented more blatant and violent forms of robbing global wealth. Through the forced occupation of “unused” land (property not being utilized as a means to exploit), displacement of millions of communities, killing of masses of indigenous peoples, and utter destruction of more than half of the earth’s infrastructure, “62 individuals have been allowed to amass the same amount of wealth as 3.6 billion people combined.” [57]

Beyond the mass displacement and impoverished of billions of people, this process has also equaled a social cost that simply cannot be explained in numbers. It is the cost associated with the ravaging and utilization of earth’s finite resources. In a modern inquiry into the concept and history of land ownership, Jeriah Bowser sums up the environmental consequences of the European colonization of North America:

“The cost of the North American land enclosure has been heavy. In less than 500 years, over four million square miles of land have been colonized, privatized, and commodified. Over 95% of the standing forests in the US are gone, the soils of the once-fertile breadbasket of the Midwest are extremely depleted, over 37% of the rivers in the US are declared ‘unusable’ due to pollution and contamination, over 1,000 species of plants and animals have become extinct, and the largest genocide in history took the lives of over 50 million indigenous people. The rich and promising ‘land of opportunity’ was apparently only an opportunity for a few, at the expense of many.” [58]

These numbers apply to North America alone, which amounts to 9.5 million square miles. Multiply this by 54 to get a sense of the global consequences (over 510 million square miles).
The Trickery Behind “New Wealth”

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.”

– Eugene V. Debs

Most “new wealth” has been accumulated through financialization, a massive scheme of manipulating, speculating, and gambling on money and commodities. The modern form of speculation that has dominated financial markets is a brand of trickery on a scale like none before. While it represents a complete separation from traditional capitalist production schemes, it remains tied to capitalist wealth production in that it owns and controls the bloodline of this system: currency. And it uses this concentration of money to manage all aspects of the economic system that control us. In a damning summary of modern financialization, Chris Hedges explains,

“Once speculators are able to concentrate wealth into their hands they have, throughout history, emasculated government, turned the press into lap dogs and courtiers, corrupted the courts and hollowed out public institutions, including universities, to justify their looting and greed. Today’s speculators have created grotesque financial mechanisms, from usurious interest rates on loans to legalized accounting fraud, to plunge the masses into crippling forms of debt peonage…

…They steal staggering sums of public funds, such as the $85 billion of mortgage-backed securities and bonds, many of them toxic, that they unload each month on the Federal Reserve in return for cash. And when the public attempts to finance public-works projects they extract billions of dollars through wildly inflated interest rates.

Speculators at megabanks or investment firms such as Goldman Sachs are not, in a strict sense, capitalists. They do not make money from the means of production. Rather, they ignore or rewrite the law -ostensibly put in place to protect the vulnerable from the powerful-to steal from everyone, including their shareholders. They are parasites. They feed off the carcass of industrial capitalism. They produce nothing. They make nothing. They just manipulate money. Speculation in the 17th century was a crime. Speculators were hanged.” [59]

The 2008 global financial crisis was caused by these very practices which became commonplace on Wall Street – practices that were purposely deceitful, vague, and built for a short-term and surefire way to funnel massive amounts of wealth into the hands of very few. As has become clear in the aftermath, those who were in on this “scam of epic proportions” understood exactly what they were doing. Essentially, the massive amount of private wealth that was created during this first decade of the 21stcentury was completely reliant on one, gigantic, legalized Ponzi scheme. And this scheme had millions of victims – people who lost pensions, lost homes, were driven out of the workforce, driven off public protections through austerity, starved, and impoverished on mass scale. As David Graeber explains,

“…when the rubble had stopped bouncing, it turned out that many if not most of them had been nothing more than very elaborate scams. They consisted of operations like selling poor families mortgages crafted in such a way as to make eventual default inevitable; taking bets on how long it would take the holders to default; packaging mortgage and bet together and selling them to institutional investors (representing, perhaps, the mortgage-holders’ retirement accounts) claiming that it would make money no matter what happened, and allow said investors to pass such packages around as if they were money; turning over responsibility for paying off the bet to a giant insurance conglomerate that, were it to sink beneath the weight of its resultant debt (which certainly would happen), would then have to be bailed out by taxpayers (as such conglomerates were indeed bailed out). In other words, it looks very much like an unusually elaborate version of what banks were doing when they lent money to dictators in Bolivia and Gabon in the late ’70s: make utterly irresponsible loans with the full knowledge that, once it became known they had done so, politicians and bureaucrats would scramble to ensure that they’d still be reimbursed anyway, no matter how many human lives had to be devastated and destroyed in order to do it.” [60]

The mortgage-backed securities scheme was not an outlier on Wall Street; it was its backbone for nearly a decade. It was as elaborate as it was enormous. And, as I wrote in a 2013 piece for the Hampton Institute, it was made possible through decades of deregulation during the first half of the neoliberal era:

“… [This trend] began during the 1980s and beyond, when widespread deregulation of the financial sector led to a new trend regarding home loans. Notable legislation was the 1982 Alternative Mortgage Transactions Parity Act (AMTPA), the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which essentially opened the door to free-game derivatives and the questionable use of credit default swaps. Ultimately, deregulation led to a virtual disappearance of accountability, and this disappearing act was made possible by a newly developed loan process that was characterized by a seemingly perpetual delegation of responsibility. Rather than hold a loan through its lifespan (common practice until this point), commercial banks began selling mortgages to investment banks, which in turn began pooling together hundreds and thousands of mortgages as mortgaged-backed securities. The investment banks then sold these mortgage-backed securities to hedge funds, pension funds, foreign investors, etc.., essentially ‘passing the buck’ of what were known by many to be toxic. Therefore, the ‘originators’ of mortgages (commercial banks and mortgage companies) no longer had a financial incentive to make sure the homebuyers were ‘credit-worthy.’ Instead, they issued the mortgages and sold them off through securitization.” [61]

The scheme also involved bond rating agencies like Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s, which were complicit in awarding AAA ratings to these toxic securities in order to get in on the action themselves. The exact amount of wealth generated by this decade-long scheme is difficult to determine, but certain figures provide a glimpse of its magnitude. The most telling figure is the cumulative debt that derived from it, which “was larger than the combined Gross Domestic Products of every country in the world.” [62] The initial bailout, approved by the W. Bush administration, provided over $204 billion in immediate relief to dozens of banks and financial institutions between October of 2008 and November of 2009 (See the full list here). Through several rounds of quantitative easing – a process where central banks create money by buying securities from banks using “electronic cash” that did not exist before – the “US Federal Reserve’s balance sheet (the value of the assets it holds) increased from less than $1 trillion in 2007 to more than $4 trillion in 2015.” [63]

In layman’s terms, this means that over $3 trillion was created and given to the private banking industry by the US government (via the Fed) between 2008 and 2015. Quasi-government agencies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were also given nearly $200 billion, and General Motors was awarded $50 billion. [64]

In an admission of guilt, at least five “big banks” – Goldman Sachs, Bank of American, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley – have agreed to settlements with the US Justice Department. The five settlements are for a combined $41.7 billion; however, after considering various factors, the actual payouts for all five institutions combined will be reduced to $11.5 billion. [65]

When considering that trillions of dollars were essentially ciphered from the American public (first through the banking schemes, then through government bailouts), this penalty amounts to virtually nothing. And, additionally, none of the people involved in this massive scheme have been sent to prison. Rather, they rode off into the sunset with unfathomable amounts of personal wealth, all of which remains completely illegitimate.

The elaborate and sometimes illegal schemes constructed by Wall Street, while detestable, are really only part of the story of financialization and investment banking. The most glaring illegitimacies regarding finance-generated wealth are speculation and common activities among shareholders and investors who buy and sell stocks. A prime example of exclusive shareholder schemes that allow wealthy investors guaranteed returns on their wealth is Apple’s “Capital Return” program, which operates under the guise of attracting investors to provide “capital” in the form of stocks, and then issuing returns that are commiserate with profit growth. However, as in the case of billionaire investor Carl Icahn, we see that such schemes are hardly investments at all, but rather sure-fire ways for the wealthy few to regenerate their wealth without providing any form of capital or risk. In a June 2016 report for the Institute for New Economic Thinking, we’re told that Icahn “purchased 27,125,441 shares of the publicly traded stock of Apple Inc. in August of 2013.” And, “by the end of January 2014, Icahn had increased his stake in Apple to 52,760,848 shares, equal to 0.9% of the company’s outstanding shares, at a total cost to Icahn of $3.6 billion.” [66] When all was said and done, Icahn, “with ostensibly little mental effort,” reaped a gain of some $2 billion in 32 months. He did this without providing any “capital” to Apple’s supposed “capital return” program. Instead, he accomplished this simply because he was extremely wealthy and had the money to do so; or, as the report concludes, because he was “wealthy, visible, hyped, and influential.” [67]

As these examples illustrate, the mortgage -backed securities scheme, along with other methods of financial trickery, have allowed the wealthy class to create massive gains on their already-illegitimate wealth. Even so-called “legitimate” investment activity, like Apple’s “capital returns program,” isn’t much different in that they’re essentially artificial systems of wealth enhancement that provide nothing of value, include no risk, and utilize phantom capital to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Not to mention, as with the case of Apple, these return on profits are also directly tied to the massive exploitation of modern slave labor abroad.
Currency and Debt as Means to Maintain Hierarchy

“In Heaven, there are no debts – all have been paid, one way or another – but in Hell there’s nothing but debts, and a great deal of payment is exacted, though you can’t ever get all paid up. You have to pay, and pay, and keep on paying. So, Hell is like an infernal maxed-out credit card that multiplies the charges endlessly.”

– Margaret Atwood

In addition to the artificial social relationships formed through wage labor and private property, currency and debt have long been utilized as means of control, mostly to maintain systems of hierarchy, keeping wealth with the wealthy, and keeping the masses trapped in the proverbial rat race, on that never-ending chase for coin and paper. The metaphorical “hell” that Margaret Atwood describes above is, in all actuality, our collective reality. The history of currency and control-through-debt is a long and protracted one. David Graeber’s “Debt: The First 5,000 Years” (2011) details this history in a way that questions and exposes fundamental relationships between ruling classes and their nationalized and colonial subjects throughout history. This history exposes our “living hells” as nothing more than artificial creations, designed by the few to fleece and control the many.

Like other forms of exploitation, currency and debt have an inherent connection with the state, in that the state facilitates and determines the value of currency and enforces debt collections through laws and the use of force and coercion. The Hegelian dialectic that Marx relied on in his analysis of capitalist relations (i.e. capital vs. labor) is also relevant to this broader struggle between rich and poor, which has historically been represented by a fundamental struggle between creditors and debtors. Graeber explains,

“For thousands of years, the struggle between rich and poor has largely taken the form of conflicts between creditors and debtors – of arguments about the rights and wrongs of interest payments, debt peonage, amnesty, repossession, restitution, the sequestering of sheep, the seizing of vineyards, and the selling of debtors’ children into slavery. By the same token, for the last five thousand years, with remarkable regularity, popular insurrections have begun the same way: with the ritual destruction of the debt records – tablets, papyri, ledgers, whatever form they might have taken in any particular time and place. (After that, rebels usually go after the records of landholding and tax assessments). As the great classicist Moses Finley often liked to say, in the ancient world, all revolutionary movements had a single program: ‘Cancel the debts and redistribute the land.'” [68]

States have been intimately involved in the coining, distribution, and facilitation of currency and debt as far back as the early Roman Empire. As time has transpired, this has become an undeniable fact, even more so during the past century where “metallism” – currency value based on precious metals – has been replaced by “chartalism” – currency whose value is created purely by law (or the state). For the United States, this system based solely in fiat currency became concretized when President Richard Nixon officially abandoned the gold standard in 1971. However, as economist John Maynard Keynes had suggested four decades prior in his “Treatise on Money,” chartalism was already the international norm:

“The State, therefore, comes in first of all as the authority of law which enforces the payment of the thing which corresponds to the name or description in the contract. But it comes doubly when, in addition, it claims the right to determine and declare what thing corresponds to the name, and to vary its declaration from time to time-when, that is to say it claims the right to re-edit the dictionary. This right is claimed by all modern States and has been so claimed for some four thousand years at least. It is when this stage in the evolution of Money has been reached that Knapp’s Chartalism – the doctrine that money is peculiarly a creation of the State – is fully realized . . . Today, all civilized money is, beyond the possibility of dispute, chartalist.” [69]

While representing crucial subjects in regards to economic theory, these ideas go beyond their intended field of study to illustrate how power relations have been established and maintained in our world. The key concept in this understanding is not currency, but debt. Among many things, currency is nothing more than a convenient way to calculate and enforce debt onto people. And this enforcement, always directed by the owning and ruling classes throughout history, is primarily used to maintain hierarchies and wealth inequities. In fact, debt, as a societal ledger and form of control, has existed long before formal markets and states. Graeber tells us,

“The core argument [of primordial-debt theory] is that any attempt to separate monetary policy from social policy is ultimately wrong. Primordial-debt theorists insist that these have always been the same thing. Governments use taxes to create money, and they are able to do so because they have become the guardians of the debt that all citizens have to one another. This debt is the essence of society itself. It exists long before money and markets, and money and markets themselves are simply ways of chopping pieces of it up.” [70]

Furthermore, as anthropologists like Graeber have discovered, primitive forms of currency were primarily used as a means to facilitate social relations, and not merely to buy and sell goods:

“Anthropologists do have a great deal of knowledge of how economies within stateless societies actually worked-how they still work in places where states and markets have been unable to completely break up existing ways of doing things. There are innumerable studies of, say, the use of cattle as money in eastern or southern Africa, of shell money in the Americas (wampum being the most famous example) or Papua New Guinea, bead money, feather money, the use of iron rings, cowries, spondylus shells, brass rods, or woodpecker scalps. The reason that this literature tends to be ignored by economists is simple: “primitive currencies” of this sort is only rarely used to buy and sell things, and even when they are, never primarily everyday items such as chickens or eggs or shoes or potatoes. Rather than being employed to acquire things, they are mainly used to rearrange relations between people. Above all, to arrange marriages and to settle disputes, particularly those arising from murders or personal injury.” [71]

As with other forms of illegitimate accumulation and wealth-building, debt is exposed as not just a tangible facilitator of buying, selling, and owing, but rather as an intimately humanized system designed solely to act as a social relationship. It is in this relationship where personal wealth continues its illegitimate path through human history, and where the wealthy gain an even tighter grip on their subject masses, virtually guaranteeing the continuation of massive inequities. Under capitalism, the capitalist state has supplemented its chartalism by creating a “credit monopoly” that serves multiple purposes, both facilitating the inherent contradictions of capitalism and restricting alternative systems from forming in response to these contradictions. A modern anarchist analysis on capitalist credit explains its purpose in preventing alternatives to the capital-labor business model,

“The credit monopoly, by which the state controls who can and cannot issue or loan money, reduces the ability of working-class people to create their own alternatives to capitalism. By charging high amounts of interest on loans (which is only possible because competition is restricted naturally through accumulation and the inevitable facilitation of the state) few people can afford to create co-operatives or one-person firms. In addition, having to repay loans at high interest to capitalist banks ensures that co-operatives often have to undermine their own principles by having to employ wage laborr to make ends meet.” [72]

Anarchists like Proudhon emphasized the importance of addressing the credit problem alongside the labor problem,

“Just as increasing wages is an important struggle within capitalism, so is the question of credit. Proudhon and his followers supported the idea of a People’s Bank. If the working class could take over and control increasing amounts of money it could undercut capitalist power while building its own alternative social order (for money is ultimately the means of buying labour power, and so authority over the labourer – which is the key to surplus value production). Proudhon hoped that by credit being reduced to cost (namely administration charges) workers would be able to buy the means of production they needed.” [73]

In modern times, with the arrival of globalized, neoliberal, and monopoly capitalism, the advent of consumer credit has become a crucial component in keeping this system afloat amidst extreme and widespread inequality and dispossession. Using Doug Henwood’s analysis in his 1998 book, “Wall Street: How it Works and for Whom,” we can see how consumer credit is being used (in very real ways) to maintain control of the exploited majority, thus solidifying systems of illegitimate wealth and power while also providing stabilizers to avoid total collapse:

“The 1980s were marked by a rising debt burden on households as well as the increased concentration of wealth in the US. The two are linked. Due to ‘the decline in real hourly wages, and the stagnation in household incomes, the middle and lower classes have borrowed more to stay in place’ and they have ‘borrowed from the very rich who have [become] richer.’ By 1997, US households spent $1 trillion (or 17% of the after-tax incomes) on debt service. ‘This represents a massive upward redistribution of income.’ And why did they borrow? The bottom 40% of the income distribution ‘borrowed to compensate for stagnant or falling incomes’ while the upper 20% borrowed ‘mainly to invest.’ Thus ‘consumer credit can be thought of as a way to sustain mass consumption in the face of stagnant or falling wages. But there’s an additional social and political bonus, from the point of view of the creditor class: it reduces pressure for higher wages by allowing people to buy goods they couldn’t otherwise afford. It helps to nourish both the appearance and reality of a middle-class standard of living in a time of polarization. And debt can be a great conservatizing force; with a large monthly mortgage and/or MasterCard bill, strikes and other forms of troublemaking look less appealing than they would otherwise.” [74]

Long before capitalist notions of private property and wage labor materialized, debt provided a fundamental way to maintain and facilitate power over large numbers of people. Since the advent of the capitalist system, debt, and its intimate relationship with the capitalist state, has proven to be the thread that holds this layered exploitation together. It safeguards illegitimate wealth accumulation by constructing a tangible mechanism to enforce the inherent indebtedness that comes with being born in systems of extreme hierarchy. In this way, it serves capitalism, and its illegitimate foundation, well.
Expropriation is not Theft; It’s Justice

“The rich are only defeated when running for their lives.”

– C.L.R. James

It’s no secret that capitalism has run amok over the past three decades. This is not to say that it has been derailed or mutated in some way. In reality, it is acting as it should; creating massive amounts of wealth for a minority through the systematic dispossession and exploitation of the majority. The era of neoliberalism – where capitalist governments have been formerly acquired by private wealth – was inevitable in the natural progression of things. An economic arrangement that relies on structural unemployment (a “reserve army of labor”), mass labor exploitation, the concentration of private property via the displacement of the majority, the forced extraction of natural resources, and constant production for the sake of conspicuous consumption needs a coercive, powerful, and forceful apparatus to protect and maintain it. The capitalist state serves this need, simply because the blatant theft of over 7 billion human beings by mere hundreds cannot continue without a massive militarization of that global minority.

Global wealth inequality has reached unfathomable heights. And wealth inequality in the United States has surpassed that of the Gilded Age. This is not due to mythological or abused forms of capitalism, so-called “cronyism” or “corporatism,” “unbridled” and “unfettered” forms, or any of the adjectives that mainstream analysts insist on using to describe this system. Yes, capitalism has invariably reached certain stages in its development – neoliberalism brought the inevitable fusion of public and private power, while monopoly capitalism has reached its pinnacle – but all of these modern epochs are rooted in the most fundamental mechanisms of the system, most notably its reliance on using private property as a social relationship to exploit labor. These mechanisms have always tended toward capital accumulation and concentrated wealth for a privileged minority; and, consequently, mass displacement, alienation, and disenfranchisement for the unfortunate majority. The world’s problems are the result of capitalism, in its orthodox state. It is working exactly as it is supposed to work, intensifying as time goes on.

Despite the extremes we’ve experienced, wealth and greed continue to rule the day; and the wealthy are not only unapologetic, they’re also incredibly bold. There is an entire financial “asset protection” industry built with the sole purpose of instructing wealthy individuals on how to hide their money and avoid paying taxes. And this is done in plain sight, for all to see. A simple online search brings up dozens of companies offering these services, and “experts” offering their advice. From tutorials onhow to repatriate your Offshore Funds without paying taxes to “everything you need to know about bringing your money back to the United States,” the wealthy are not shy about their illegal activities. Business executives have become so bold that they’ve publicly admitted to stashing “hundreds of billions of dollars” in foreign banks to avoid paying taxes in the United States. And rather than prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law for tax evasion, the US government continues to “negotiate” with them to bring their money back to the US. For example, on December 15, 2010, a group of business executives met with President Obama at the White House to ask for “a tax holiday” that would allow them to “tap into over $1 trillion of offshore earnings, much of which was sitting in island tax havens.” [75]

Hiding money to avoid taxation has become an elaborate and extremely lucrative business. And everyone, including the President, the IRS, Senators and members of Congress, are fully aware. According to Edward D. Kleinbard, a law professor at USC, “U.S. companies overall use various repatriation strategies to avoid about $25 billion a year in federal income taxes.” [76] Despite these negotiations with the government, corporations have already figured out “legal” ways to bring the hidden money back. For example, in 2009, Merck & Co Inc., the second largest drug-maker in the U.S., “brought more than $9 billion from abroad without paying any U.S. tax to help finance its acquisition of Schering-Plough Corp., securities filings show.” [77] That same year, “Pfizer Inc. imported more than $30 billion from offshore in connection with its acquisition of Wyeth, while taking steps to minimize the tax hit on its publicly reported profit.” [78] Between 2009-2010, “Cisco reported $31.6 billion of undistributed foreign earnings, on which it had paid no U.S. taxes” and Merck “tapped its offshore cash, tax-free, to pay for just over half the cash portion of its $51 billion merger with Schering-Plough” and then “lent $9.4 billion to a pair of Schering-Plough Dutch units” without paying any US taxes. [79] These examples are endless. And they are, essentially, unethical, if not illegal. Negotiating with the government to bring back money (over a trillion dollars by conservative estimates) that was intentionally hidden to avoid paying taxes is the equivalent of someone stealing $200 from you, admitting they did it, and then offering to give you $20 back to let bygones be bygones.

Of course, even if these businesses paid their taxes under a stringent tax system, capitalism would still exist, and with it all of its illegitimacies. During the so-called “golden age” of the United States, where effective tax rates for the higher-income brackets were consistently in the 90th percentile (they were cut in half in the ’80s and are now in the 30th percentile), mass exploitation and dispossession still remained. Globally – through traditional colonialism, military force, and the construction of modern international finance systems – the United States and other industrialized nations supplemented their higher standards of living by ravaging foreign lands, peoples, and resources. Domestically, despite the emergence of an exclusively white middle-class, masses of citizens consisting of ethnic minorities, the rural and urban poor, and women remained disenfranchised both socially and economically. In other words, the golden age was nothing more than a mass sacrifice of hundreds of millions of people abroad and at home, carried out in order to supplement a burgeoning (and relatively small) sector of the white working class in U.S.. Taxation was the compromise the owning class once agreed upon in an attempt to legitimize their illegitimate wealth. In a capitalist system built on immoral foundations, taxation isn’t theft – it’s a plea bargain. And, even when this deal is adhered to and effectively processed, it is not enough to undo the massive injustice that it seeks to appease. Just as reforms are not enough; and government regulations are not enough.

The leak of the Panama Papers in early 2016 showed what many of us have known all along – that wealthy individuals have not only built massive personal fortunes through illegitimate means, but that they have also constructed elaborate “asset management” schemes which allow them to hide their money, avoid paying taxes, and hoard what amounts to be trillions of dollars from the public. [80] Thoughtless, ahistoric, and emotional responses to this (like those coming from USAmerican “libertarians”) may include a disdain for taxation – something that, to them, represents a form of theft, whereas the government embezzles money from individuals through the threat of force or coercion (tax laws, the IRS, law enforcement). This would be a plausible argument if the wealth and land being taxed wasn’t already created through widespread embezzlement of the majority. The fact of the matter is that all personal wealth in the world has been built on a foundation of murder, extortion, exploitation, theft, illegal banking and debt schemes, colonialism, racism, slavery, and various artificial systems of hierarchy.

Just as taxation, reforms, and regulations are not enough, reparations would also fall short. For example, reparations for the descendants of American slavery, while warranted and certainly needed, would not adequately address the power dynamics created by centuries of accumulation. Giving 40 acres and a mule to one of George Washington’s slaves would do nothing to address the illegitimate and residual wealth and power owned by George Washington and his family, especially when society (via the government) is the payer of such monetary justice. Rather, true justice would amount to cutting Washington’s land and wealth into parcels, divvying it up amongst his slaves, and removing Washington from society (as with all criminals). These three steps are the only way to effectively expropriate illegitimate wealth: (1) liquidate the benefactor(s) of such wealth, (2) place it in a societal pool to be used for a common good, (3) and remove those who took part in the stealing of such wealth from society. This same logic and approach applies today. This is the only way to recuperate our stolen collective-wealth, while also addressing the inequities of power rooted in this theft.

The wealthy few have stolen from the world; and have enslaved, impoverished, and indebted the rest of us (over 7 billion people) in the process. They have no right to their wealth. It belongs to us – it belongs to global society. Not so we can all live extravagant lifestyles, but rather so we can satisfy the most basic of human rights and needs – food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, education – and thus carry on our lives as productive and creative human beings. Taxation is a pathetic compromise to thousands of years of mass extortion. Reforms and regulations have tried and failed. Reparations even fall short of justice. And voting for representatives from the ruling class (who are directly employed and controlled by the owning class) with hopes of them voting away their own wealth has been proven to be a perpetual act in futility. The only just solution is to recuperate this stolen wealth; to destroy these extreme systems of hierarchy and control; to allow human beings the dignity and self-determination they deserve; and to expropriate the expropriators once and for all. Righting centuries of wrongs is not “theft,” it’s justice.

Notes

[1] Peter Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 1 (1892)

[2] “Justifiable” defined as “being able to be shown to be right or reasonable; defensible.”

[3] Gwenda Blair (2000). The Trumps: Three Generations That Built an Empire. Simon and Schuster.

[4] Brian Miller and Mike Lapham (2012) The Self-Made Myth: The Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

[5] Blair (2000)

[6] Miller and Lapham (2012)

[7] Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, p. 50.

[8] Carl Bridenbaugh, Cities in the Wilderness: The First Century of Urban Life in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971)

[9] Daniel Vickers, A Companion to Colonial America (Blackwell Publishing, 2003, p. 289)

[10] Julia Ott, Slaves: the capital that made capitalism, 4/9/14http://www.publicseminar.org/2014/04/slavery-the-capital-that-made-capitalism/

[11] Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A Global History, p. 119

[12] Thomas Piketty and Gabriel Zucman, Capital is Back: Wealth-Income Ratios in Rich Countries 1700-2010, Paris School of Economics: July 26, 2013http://www.parisschoolofeconomics.com/zucman-gabriel/capitalisback/PikettyZucman2013WP.pdf

[13] Fredrick Douglass address to the Louisville Convention, 1883,http://people.ucls.uchicago.edu/~cjuriss/US/Documents/US-Jurisson-Unit-2-Douglass-Address-to-Louisville-Convention-1883.pdf

[14] Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman, How Slavery Led to Modern Capitalism, 1/24/12https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2012-01-24/how-slavery-led-to-modern-capitalism-echoes

[15] Ibid

[16] Zinn, p. 65.

[17] Jackson Main, The Social Structure of Revolutionary America.

[18] Cornel West, Democracy Matters, pp. 210-211

[19] Zinn, p. 90.

[20] Ferdinand Lundberg, America’s 60 Families.http://www.pdfarchive.info/pdf/L/Lu/Lundberg_Ferdinand_-_America_s_60_Families.pdf

[21] G. William Domhoff, Who Rules America? On Wealth, Income, and Power. University of California at Santa Cruz. http://www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html

[22] Karl Marx, Capital: Volume One. Chapter 32, Accessed athttps://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch32.htm

[23] Raya Dunayevskaya, American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard.

[24] Ibid

[25] Ibid

[26] Ibid

[27] Peter Linebaugh, Stop, Thief!

[28] Ibid

[29] Ibid

[30] August Meier and Elliott Rudwick, Along the Color Lines: Explorations in the Black Experience, p. 18

[31] Julia Ott, Slaves: the capital that made capitalism, 4/9/14http://www.publicseminar.org/2014/04/slavery-the-capital-that-made-capitalism/

[32] Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman, How Slavery Led to Modern Capitalism, 1/24/12https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2012-01-24/how-slavery-led-to-modern-capitalism-echoes

[33] An Anarchist FAQ: Why are anarchists against private property? Infoshop.org. Accessed athttp://www.infoshop.org/AnarchistFAQSectionB3

[34] Emma Goldman, What I Believe (1908) Accessed at https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/emma-goldman-what-i-believe

[35] Ibid

[36] Rosa Luxemburg, What is Bolshevism? (1918) Accessed athttps://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1918/12/20-alt.htm

[37] Ibid

[38] Karl Marx, Capital: Volume One (1867) Chapter Thirty-Two: Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation. Accessed at https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch32.htm

[39] An Anarchist FAQ: Why are anarchists against private property? Infoshop.org. Accessed athttp://www.infoshop.org/AnarchistFAQSectionB3

[40] Ibid

[41] Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, What is Property? (1840) Accessed athttps://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/pierre-joseph-proudhon-what-is-property-an-inquiry-into-the-principle-of-right-and-of-governmen

[42] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Discourse on Inequality,” The Social Contract and Discourses. Everyman Paperback (1993), p. 84.

[43] An Anarchist FAQ: Why are anarchists against private property? Infoshop.org. Accessed athttp://www.infoshop.org/AnarchistFAQSectionB3

[44] Ibid

[45] Ibid

[46] Karl Kautsky, Ultra-imperialism (1914) Accessed athttps://www.marxists.org/archive/kautsky/1914/09/ultra-imp.htm

[47] David Graeber (2011) Debt: The First 5,000 Years, Melville House: NY, p. 311.

[48] Ibid, p. 311

[49] Claude Kabemba, Undermining Africa’s Wealth, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, 3/2/14, http://www.osisa.org/economic-justice/blog/undermining-africas-wealth

[50] Smedley Butler, War is a Racket (1935) Accessed athttp://www.ratical.org/ratville/CAH/warisaracket.html

[51] Alain Martin, Haiti and the Ghost of a hundred years, 7/30/15,http://www.hamptoninstitution.org/haiti-and-the-ghost.html

[52] VI Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1917), Chapter 7, Accessed athttps://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/imp-hsc/ch07.htm#fwV22P268F01 )

[53] Frank Lechner, Globalization theories: World-System Theory, 2001

[54] Lucien Degoy, Samir Amin: Colonialism is Inseparable from Capitalism, IHumanite, 1/28/06,http://www.humaniteinenglish.com/spip.php?article70)

[55] Ibid

[56] Ibid

[57] Andrew Soergel, 5 Takeaways from the world’s widening wealth gap, US News, 1/19/16,http://www.usnews.com/news/slideshows/top-1-percent-get-richer-as-world-wealth-gap-widens-says-oxfam

[58] Jeriah Bowser, An Inquiry into the Origins and Implications of Land Ownership, 12/27/13. Accessed at http://www.hamptoninstitution.org/implications-of-land-ownership.html

[59] Chris Hedges, Overthrow the Speculators. Common Dreams, December 30, 2013. Accessed athttp://www.commondreams.org/views/2013/12/30/overthrow-speculators

[60] Graeber, Debt, pp. 15-16

[61] Colin Jenkins, A Predictable Disaster: Exposing the Roots of the 2008 Financial Crisis, 6/7/13. Accessed at http://www.hamptoninstitution.org/preddisaster.html

[62] Graeber, Debt, p. 16

[63] What is Quantitative Easing, The Economist, 3/9/15 http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2015/03/economist-explains-5

[64] Bailout List, Propublica.org https://projects.propublica.org/bailout/list

[65] David Dayen, Why the Goldman Sachs Settlement is a $5 Billion Sham, New Republic, 4/13/16,https://newrepublic.com/article/132628/goldman-sachs-settlement-5-billion-sham

[66] Lazonick, Hopkins, Jacobson, Institute for New Economic Thinking, 6/6/16http://ineteconomics.org/ideas-papers/blog/what-we-learn-about-inequality-from-carl-icahns-2-billion-apple-no-brainer

[67] Ibid

[68] Graeber, Debt, p. 8

[69] John Maynard Keynes (1930) A Treatise on Money. Republished by AMS PR, Inc, 1976.

[70] Graeber, Debt, p. 56

[71] Graeber, Debt, p. 60

[72] An Anarchist FAQ: Why are anarchists against private property? Infoshop.org. Accessed athttp://www.infoshop.org/AnarchistFAQSectionB3

[73] Ibid

[74] Ibid, referencing Doug Henwood, Wall Street: How it Works and for Whom (1998), Verso, p.64-66

[75] Jesse Drucker, Dodging Repatriation Tax Lets U.S. Companies Bring Home Cash, Bloomberg Technology, 12/29/10 http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2010-12-29/dodging-repatriation-tax-lets-u-s-companies-bring-home-cash

[76] Ibid

[77] Ibid

[78] Ibid

[79] Ibid

[79] Eric Lipton and Julie Creswell, Panama Papers Show How Wealthy Americans Made Millions. NY Times, 6/5/16, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/06/us/panama-papers.html?_r=0

The Hampton Institute, Jill Stein, Jacobin Magazine, and the ISO Come Together at the James Connolly Forum

Hampton’s Josh Hatala and Colin Jenkins with Jill Stein, Bhaskar Sunkara, and Ashley Smith at the James Connolly Forum in Troy, NY.

Friday, June 10, 2016.

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A Bayonet is a Weapon with a Worker at Each End: Rethinking Memorial Day

Colin Jenkins

 

In 1885, the Knights of Labor organized a successful strike against Jay Gould’s Missouri Pacific Railroad. In response to the strike, Gould famously growled, “I can hire half the working class to kill the other half.”

Gould was right. In any hierarchical arrangement, where power and wealth become concentrated in the hands of a few, this tactic becomes available to those wielding this power over a vast majority. Among the masses of workers, slaves, and impoverished, there will inevitably be many willing to “police their own” in order to be in the masters’ good graces. History is rife with these examples.

In ancient Greece, the “most prized” slaves were awarded authority positions over their fellow slaves, sometimes given special status as overseers. Masses of slaves captured or bought from nearby Scythia were transformed into an official police force, known as the Scythian Archers, and were “brought back to Athens to carry out the laws of the state,” which basically amounted to controlling and strong-arming the slave population in the city. Naturally, their willingness to brutalize their fellow slaves was rewarded with special privileges.

On the colonial American slave plantation there were those who became actively complicit in the subjugation of their fellow slaves. In return for special privileges, these particular slaves agreed to stay close to the master, live among the master and his family, and report to the master any wrongdoings or subversive actions on the part of the masses of field slaves. William Wells Brown, a slave from Kentucky, later described the privileged status he was awarded for his “service”: “I was a house servant – a situation preferable to that of a field hand, as I was better fed, better clothed, and not obliged to rise at the ringing of the bell, but about half an hour after.”

In Gould’s time, referred to by Mark Twain as “the Gilded Age” due to its insidious corruption and wealth inequality, social unrest among the masses of workers became commonplace. “New York City had 5,090 strikes, involving almost a million workers from 1880 to 1900; Chicago had 1,737 strikes, involving over a half a million workers in the same period.” The economic elites of the time, like Gould, had two choices in addressing this unrest: (1) share a bigger piece of the pie with their workers, or (2) use force to beat workers into obedience. They chose the latter, taking Gould’s words to heart, and proceeded to hire much of the working class to beat and kill the remainder into submission. Police forces and Pinkertons were amassed by the thousands to break strikes throughout the country. As consistent with history, Gould and his counterparts found plenty of workers willing to “serve” them in this role.

On a global scale, international warfare reflects this same dynamic. Throughout history, the ruling classes of each nation have utilized their working-class masses as tools of war, sending them off to fight and kill other members of the working class in remote parts of the world. The willingness of workers to follow these orders is preconditioned through various means, all of which stem from the need to maintain systems of hierarchy. The desperation that comes with being a worker in a coercive system creates immense pressure to merely survive. Today, those who find themselves choosing between minimum-wage jobs or unfathomable student loan debt are left with very little options in supporting themselves and their families. Material conditions force many into increasingly subservient positions. The mythological construction of boogeymen – savages, radicals, extremists, and terrorists – is all that is needed to create the illusion of an imminent threat. And grand tales of patriotism and “freedom” are all that is needed to persuade many to “volunteer” as tools of war.

So, we volunteer en masse. We literally hand over our bodies to powerful people whom we’ve never met, whose intentions and interests are not to be questioned, and whose authority over us is to be accepted as the natural order of things. We travel across the world, put our bodies in big metal machines, and take the lives of masses of working-class and impoverished people whom we’ve never met, whose intentions and interests are not to be questioned, and whose perceived threat to us is to be accepted as the natural order of things.

Much like the Scythian archer in ancient Athens, the house slave on a colonial Kentucky plantation, and the worker-turned-Pinkerton in Jay Gould’s private army, we become willing tools of powerful interests. We choose to “serve” our masters. Many of us do this because we have no other options. Many of us do this because we are promised glory. Many of us do this because we hear the boogeyman coming. And many of us do this to simply “get in the masters’ good graces.” Whatever the reason, our unquestioned participation makes us complicit in maintaining the coercive systems of hierarchy that continue to dominate our world. And, despite the pats on our backs and choruses of “thank you” directed at us a few days a year, we remain collectively buried in this system, no different than our working-class counterparts throughout the world who we’ve been ordered to extinguish for the past two centuries.

The best way to honor Veterans is to question the system that creates us, uses us, and discards us. And the best way to honor our service is to ask ourselves who we really served and for what purpose.

Debt, Underemployment, and Capitalism: The Rise of Twenty-First-Century Serfdom

Cherise Charleswell & Colin Jenkins

 

Systemic contradictions of capitalism have only intensified in the neoliberal era. Structural unemployment, a phenomenon directly related to capitalist modes of production, has continued unabated, creating a massive and ever-growing “reserve army of labor” that has been disenfranchised on an unprecedented scale.

Working classes, en masse, have been corralled into legalized systems of education debt with false promises of “middle-class” lifestyles, only to be tossed into a job market that can no longer keep up with the system’s inherent deficits and inability to provide a living wage to the masses. Massive inequality and unprecedented wealth accumulation and concentration have paralleled uncontrollable costs of living and widespread housing insecurity for the working-class majority.

The twentieth-century liberal experiment has failed, bringing down with it the delusional hopes of constructing a manageable and benevolent form of capitalism. The ripple effects of capitalism’s structural failures, intensified by modern forms of government-facilitated debt slavery, job markets that can no longer keep pace with wage demands, and interrelated housing insecurity and displacement, have pushed us into a twenty-first-century serfdom. We are left wondering how long this balancing act can last.
Capitalism and Underemployment

Unemployment is not a natural occurrence within society. It is a purely capitalist problem that arises from artificial economic arrangements, most notably the advent of wage labor, which forces people to serve as commodities. This is an important point that is often missed, especially in regards to modern assessments of the labor market and popular reports that focus on the fiction of an unemployment rate. In the United States, since the 1950s, the official unemployment rate has fluctuated between 4.4 percent and 10 percent.1 Full employment in a capitalist system is neither possible (without government intervention) nor desirable to capitalists or those who benefit from the system. Rather, substantial and perpetual unemployment is both a byproduct of the system’s relational mechanisms and a necessity that serves a systemic purpose in regards to profitability and wage reduction (or stagnation). The never-ending search for profit by those who have access to capital, and the means to reproduce it, places those who must sell their labor power to survive in a perpetual state of insecurity. Other than the fundamental extraction of profit through the labor process (surplus value), the most basic method in regenerating profit comes from replacing variable capital (living labor) with fixed capital (machines), a relationship that Marx referred to as the “organic composition of capital.”2 While the process of creating surplus labor value consists of paying wages that equal a fraction of the value created, the process of increasing productive capacities through the implementation of machinery leaves living labor in an even more precarious situation. This process leads to the creation of what Marx referred to as the “Industrial Reserve Army” (the unemployed)-a phenomenon that becomes both a byproduct and a leveraging tool within the capitalist system.

Attempts to circumvent capitalism’s tendency to create and maintain high amounts of unemployment and underemployment have been carried out by industrialized capitalist societies utilizing Keynesian economic programs. By calling on a high degree of governmental involvement in the economic system vis-à-vis taxation and supplementation, John Maynard Keynes believed that structural problems like “involuntary unemployment” could be remedied. 3 When coupled with the post-World War II economic boom in the United States, Keynesian techniques appeared to make positive steps towards remedying structural unemployment. Between 1948 and 1970, the official unemployment rate in the United States was relatively low by historic measures, typically fluctuating between 3 and 5 percent, and falling below 3 percent on a few occasions during the 1950s.4 The marginal tax rate during this time-also a byproduct of Keynesian thought-was a major factor in the economic success experienced by much of the U.S. population, including the white working class in its ascent to “middle class” status, and also helped create historically low unemployment rates. From 1948 to 1963, the top marginal tax rate remained at 91 percent, with the exception of 1952 and 1953 when it was raised to 92 percent.5 In 1964, this top rate was lowered to 77 percent, and from 1965 into the 1970s, it was set at 70 percent.6

The Keynesian experiment came to an end in the 1980s, when neoliberalism took form as a class project. Coupled with the phenomenon of globalization, which fused formerly industrialized labor markets (unionized with living wages) in the global core with formerly colonized labor markets in the global periphery, underemployment has become an epidemic with disastrous effects. Marx warned of such developments when writing, “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. … It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, and establish connections everywhere.”7 The global consequence of this constant pursuit of profit is not only the establishment of new markets of consumers and laborers, but also the proliferation of imperialism. For the former industrialized working classes, such as in the United States, it means an intensification of capitalist mechanisms that create unemployment and underemployment. Because of this, the replacement of manufacturing jobs by low-wage service sector jobs has become a distinguishing characteristic of American capitalism since the 1980s. Government involvement in this system has become a necessity, not for the purpose of obstructing it (as many right-wing critics claim), but for the purpose of supplementing it and propping it up via infusions of money and for maintaining the minimum of social welfare programs. The former can be seen in the increased importance of the Federal Reserve and monetarism (including the practice of quantitative easing), while the latter can be seen in the working class’s increased reliance on things like food stamps-a direct result of the disappearance of living wages.

The type of government involvement that became common in the 1980s was nothing like its Keynesian predecessor. Rather than seeking public programs and fiscal policies that created jobs, neoliberal intervention seeks to supplement profit accumulation for those at the top of the socio-economic ladder. This is carried out with mantras like “getting government off our backs,” lowering taxes for so-called “job creators,” and even blatantly allowing for massive profits to be justified under a promise of such money “trickling down” to the masses. As neoliberalism represents an intensification of capitalism, not only through the dismantling of Keynesian-style interventions but also through a 180-degree reversal in using government to supplement the capitalists rather than the workers, the neoliberal era has brought on a uniquely precarious existence for the working class in the United States. Thomas Palley explains:

Before 1980, economic policy was designed to achieve full employment, and the economy was characterized by a system in which wages grew with productivity. This configuration created a virtuous circle of growth. Rising wages meant robust aggregate demand, which contributed to full employment. Full employment in turn provided an incentive to invest, which raised productivity, thereby supporting higher wages.

After 1980, with the advent of the neoliberal growth model, the commitment to full employment was abandoned as inflationary, with the result that the link between productivity growth and wages was severed. In place of wage growth as the engine of demand growth, the new model substituted borrowing and asset price inflation. Adherents of the neoliberal orthodoxy made controlling inflation their primary policy concern, and set about attacking unions, the minimum wage, and other worker protections.8

The culmination of the disastrous neoliberal measures that began in the 1980s was realized with what has been labeled the Great Recession of 2008, whose effects are only starting to be fully understood nearly seven years later. Some alarming statistics should be emphasized: Between 2008 and 2014, the U.S. labor market lost a total of 1.4 million full-time jobs; more than 20 percent of workers who were laid off as a result of the Great Recession still have not found a new job; when considering those workers who have given up looking for employment, the unemployment rate is closer to 12 percent; of all “prime-age workers” (ages 25 to 54) in the United States, 23.3 percent were “not employed” as of November of 2014.9

A January 2014 study conducted by Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute, entitled, “Is There Really a Shortage of Skilled Workers?” countered a popular argument presented by the mainstream analysis, which claimed there was a shortage of qualified workers to fill so-called “skilled” positions. 10Fred Goldstein, writing on Shierholz’ research, said,

The study found that no matter what the skill level of workers, their unemployment rate went up by 150 percent to 190 percent from 2007 to 2013. The unemployment rate for workers with less than high school education was 10.3 percent in 2007 and 15.9 percent in 2013. For high school graduates, the unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in 2007 and 9.6 percent in 2013. For workers with some college, the unemployment figures jumped dramatically from 4.0 percent in 2007 to 7.3 percent in 2013; for college graduates, it went up from 2.4 percent to 4.5 percent and for those with advanced degrees, it went from 1.7 percent to 3.2 percent, that is, almost double.11

This highlights perhaps the most alarming effect of the recession, which has been a mass replacement of living-wage jobs with low-wage jobs in the service sector. In sectors that experienced severe job losses during the Great Recession, workers were earning 23 percent less in 2014. In manufacturing and construction, the average salary fell from $61,637 in 2008 to $41,171 in 2014. The jobs that have been added during the “recovery” (2009-2014) have been largely low wage, confirmed by the fact that $93 billion in “lower wage income” has been created during this time period.12
Toward Twenty-First-Century Serfdom: Debt, Student Loans, and Rising Costs of Living

The net result of prolonged and skyrocketing unemployment and underemployment and the increasing stagnation of wages is the mounting epidemic of debt. Debt, in the form of medical bills, housing costs, and ballooning mortgage payments, has contributed to people having to file for bankruptcy as well as finding themselves homeless.13 This new-age form of debt has effectively divided the United States into an income-bound set of castes, the “Haves” and “Have Nots.” The awakening to this unequal balance of wealth and debt set the stage for the Occupy Movement uprisings, which spread globally and advocated on behalf of the 99 percent, the workers who collectively hold much less economic wealth than the richest 1 percent. In real terms, according to the IRS, those who belong to the lower 99 percent of U.S. income distribution are those with a household adjusted gross income of less than $343,927. This valuation not only illustrates how wealthy the 1 percent must be, but it also speaks to the fact that there is still much socio-economic stratification within the 99 percent, including differences in the likelihood of financial hardship and debt.14 While the outsourcing of jobs has greatly contributed to unemployment, those who are lucky enough to still have a job are finding themselves working long hours or having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Despite the noted rise in hours worked, which should logically translate into higher annual incomes, Americans are finding themselves falling into debt at unprecedented rates.15

All of this has helped to give rise to what can only be referred to as a twenty-first-century serfdom. An example of the indebted economy is the fact that mergers, monopolies, and concentrations of influence have created the present reality of workers finding themselves employed by, and simultaneously indebted to, the same corporate entities. The “pay” that is earned is immediately shuffled back to these corporations in the form of student loan payments, mortgage payments, cable payments, health insurance premiums, and so on. The feasibility of paying off these employer/debt-holding entities in a timely matter, or at all, is difficult or nearly impossible, especially when considering that they are the very ones who set and keep wages low and transfer the profit from workers’ increased productivity to the pockets of CEOs, investors, shareholders, bankers, and so on.
Debt is a Byproduct of Capitalism

Within this current era of unchecked capitalism, where citizens must take to the streets in protest to persuade the government to intervene and create policies that will support a living wage or protect workers’ rights, debt and inequality are the most recognizable and predictable byproducts. The process of financialization, which began in the 1970s, depends on widespread loosening of banking regulations, environmental laws, and labor laws. Inequality is inherent in capitalism due to its concentrating of wealth in the hands of the few, in the form of monopolies and by the exploitation and maximizing of profits at the expense of, or through the labor of, the masses-the twenty-first-century serfs. Neoliberal capitalism has allowed for unprecedented concentrations of not only wealth, but power, creating a landscape where the wealthy are modern representations of feudal lords. As in feudal societies, it is the pauper (serf) who pays the biggest percentage of taxes (or dues for land usage in the case of serfs), and this is even true under Democrat-led administrations in the United States. Just consider the fact that corporate taxes decreased from 25 percent during the Bush Administration to 12 percent under Obama, while workers’ tax rates remained the same or increased.16
The Student-Loan Debt Crisis

The biggest driver for debt in the past twenty-five years has been the rising cost of tuition and student-loan debt. This debt crisis may eventually represent the proverbial “final straw that breaks the camel’s back,” as there do not seem to be any plans for immediate relief. Instead, politicians spend election seasons making false promises and arguments in favor of student debt relief, but do not offer any concrete measures to bring this into fruition. Further, those outside of socialist and progressive movements remain ignorant of, or will not be honest about, the fact that capitalism is structured to produce exploitation, concentrated wealth and profitability, and debt. Capitalism’s constant pursuit of profit has led to the transformation of higher education into a no-holds-barred profit-seeking venture. This process can be summed up as follows: Colleges and universities are using decades of cutbacks in state and federal funding for higher education to justify massive increases in tuition, the proliferation of adjunct professor positions, and budget cuts to educational and other services upon which students depend. A 2008 study published by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities made headlines when it shared that on average states are spending $1,805, or 20 percent, less per student than before the recession; some states, such as Alabama, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, which are for the most part states where there is a Republican stronghold, have slashed their higher education funding by more than 35 percent since 2008, and they are topped by Arizona with a decrease of 47 percent.17 Back in 1988, in the not so long ago past, public colleges and universities received 3.2 times as much revenue from state and local governments as they did from students.18 This simply means that the student did not carry the bulk of the burden to finance higher education, which was instead paid for by public dollars, collectively sharing these costs.

As wages go down, the cost of tuition continues to climb, leaving behind an educated populace that is saddled with debt. Tuition jumped 28 percent between the 2008-2009 and the 2013-2014 school years, while real median income fell by approximately 8 percent over this period. To understand the bigger picture, consider that since 1973 average inflation-adjusted college tuition cost has more than tripled-an increase of 270 percent-but median household income has barely changed and is up by only 5 percent;19 this represents the core of the crisis. What are graduates to do? How are they to survive and afford their most basic needs while working low-paying jobs and still being forced to pay back a student loan that they cannot even write off in bankruptcy, like the corporations and banks do with their debts?

There is no greater evidence of the burden of student-loan debt than the accounting of loans that have fallen into delinquency. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York released a 2015 report that shared that delinquent student loans (those whose payments are 90 days or more past due) increased to 11.5 percent of the $1.9 trillion (yes trillion!) in education loans.

Essentially, the burden of financing the exorbitant costs of education has been passed on to the students, and the high cost with dwindling returns (where are the higher-paying jobs?) has begun to discourage would-be college-goers, a process that is equally by design. Higher education was once looked on as a means to develop a cultured, well-rounded, and informed citizenry. However, this is no longer the case, since cultivation of thinkers would only lead to questioning of the prevailing system of inequality. The Great Society programs that gained steam in the 1960s set out to make sure that students who could not otherwise attend college could do so, without the burden of having to work excessive hours to help cover the cost of education. In fact, at one time students could actually use their summer vacations to “work their way through college,” something that is now impossible. In the current landscape, students are forced to take out mortgage-sized loans from financial lenders who are profit-driven corporations and who inevitably put their bottom lines before the needs and best interests of students.

This student-loan crisis has ensured that the last two generations are worse off than were their parents, ending the historical progression of improvements in the quality of life with each subsequent generation. Over a lifetime of employment and saving, someone with $53,000 in education debt can expect nearly $208,000 less wealth than a similarly educated person without debt.20 Crippled by this debt and entering a job market with lower and stagnant wages, graduates, who were sold the falsehood of the American Dream, are unable to afford the lifestyles that their parents and grandparents once enjoyed. Dispensable income is becoming a scarcity, while more money is being spent to cover the rising costs of food, health care, transportation, clothing, and housing. With this reality the feudal lords, the wealthy 1 percent, are gaining exponential profits through this multi-dimensional exploitation of the working class.
Conclusion

The proliferation of the capitalist system through the neoliberal era has resulted in a modern form of feudal society where there is great inequality and wealth is concentrated among the few. Policy changes, and perhaps a restructuring or change in the current systems of governance, are needed, but this will largely depend on the actions of the working-class majority: the growing number of impoverished, overworked, unemployed, or underemployed serfs whose labor and bodies are being exploited and who have been left wholly disenfranchised.

Despite the need for mass action, it has yet to materialize. Despite dire circumstances, there remains a great reluctance to challenge the status quo of inequality. This stems from the fact that far too many are still hopelessly reliant on the illusion of the American Dream, believe in the falsehood of rugged individualism, or merely fear the prospects of instability and the unknown. The motivation for revolutionary change exists throughout, yet many fundamental questions remain unanswered. Some may not have an answer until steps are taken. For instance, if the current system of government-which has become no more than a “dollarocracy”21 that does not represent or even consider the views or needs of the working-class majority-is overthrown, what would happen next? Fears of the unknown persist and are perpetuated by corporate-sponsored media, which thrives on the sensationalism of doomsday reporting, ignoring the fact that fluctuations in the stock market and other macroeconomic indicators are far removed from the daily lives of many who actually work for a living.

Despite this widespread reluctance and fear that has been peddled to the majority, action is needed. Addressing debt is an immediate concern. Action does not need to be instantly revolutionary, but may be accomplished through gradual steps and reformist means. Some steps include:

• Continue building movements around issues of debt, unemployment, and inequality-movements that are multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-generational. An intersectional approach to such movements will effectively attack the divisions that have been artificially created to ensure that the status quo continues. Examples of this division are most visible throughout the impoverished states of the U.S. South, which despite having vast income inequality and being susceptible to corporate exploitation, also happen to possess high rates of historical, intra-working-class, racial animosity. Hate, fear, and ignorance cause many to vote and act against their own interest.

• Get behind efforts that are working to remove moneyed influence over the U.S. political system; some of that influence comes through the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that has the audacity to state that corporations are people. Be ready to accept that the entire system itself may need to be dismantled.

• Demand that the federal government gives us a New Deal that can address the problems of unemployment and the crumbling infrastructure. Bridges and highways need to be repaired, and high-speed rail needs to be laid out.

• Join and support unions, which are under assault, because they are the only stakeholder who truly bargains and fights for the working-class majority. Expanding the number of active unions will only benefit the workforce-those who are union and non-union alike.

For short-term and immediate relief of student-loan debt, which has become a critical issue:

• Shift direct-lending administration to the federal government and regulate and reduce interest rates on loans. Work toward de-profitizing higher education, making higher education a civic value.

• Reduce the military budget and replenish the diminished funding to schools, colleges, and universities that once helped to keep tuition costs down or made possible free tuition to public schools.

• Allow for student-loan debt to be included in bankruptcy claims, allowing for full or partial forgiveness of the debt to those who are without the means to pay.

The brief period of Keynesian consensus that ruled from the 1940s to the 1970s is over. The neoliberal imperative that has ruled since is currently subjecting an ever-larger share of the population to brutal austerity measures. Skyrocketing levels of debt and structural unemployment are the most visible manifestations of how far neoliberalism has penetrated into the structures of American society. However, in the years ahead, it will prove increasingly difficult to disguise the full nature of the crisis, and new opportunities to advance programs of systemic change can and will present themselves. If the left does not find a way to rise to the occasion, then it is unclear which track the country will take as it makes its way toward collapse.
This essay was published in the Winter 2016 edition of New Politics.

Notes

1. U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.

2. Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 3: Part II, Chapter 8.

3. John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment Interest and Money (London: Macmillan and Co., 1936), 15.

4. U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.

5. U.S. Federal Individual Income Tax Rates History (Nominal Dollars).

6. U.S. Federal Individual Income Tax Rates History (Nominal Dollars).

7. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848). Chapter 1.

8. Thomas I. Palley, “America’s Exhausted Paradigm.”

9. Colin Jenkins, ” The Great Recession, Six Years Later: Uneven Recovery, Flawed Indicators, and a Struggling Working Class ,” The Hampton Institute, November 5, 2014.

10. Heidi Shierholz, “Is There Really a Shortage of Skilled Workers?” January 23, 2014.

11. Fred Goldstein, “Marxism and Long-term Unemployment.”

12. Jenkins, “The Great Recession.”

13. O. Khazan, ” Why Americans Are Drowning in Medical Debt ,” The Atlantic, Oct. 10, 2014.

14. R. Wile, ” Student Debt Has Turned Millennials into Carless, Homeless, Basement Dwellers Who Can’t Borrow ,” Fusion, Feb 2, 2015.

15. D.S. Logan, ” Fiscal Fact: Summary of the Latest Federal Individual Tax Data.” Tax Foundation, 2011: No.285.

16. D. Gilson, ” Overworked America: 12 Charts That Will Make Your Blood Boil ,” Mother Jones, July/Aug 2011.

17. J. Geler, “Capitalism’s Long Crisis,”International Socialist Review (No. 8, 2010).

18. E. Blake, ” State funding for higher education in US slashed by 20 percent since 2008,” World Socialist Web Site.

19. M.D. Weiss, ” Student Loan Debt: America’s Next Big Crisis ,” USA Today, Aug 23, 2015.

20. R. Hiltonsmith, “At What Cost? How Student Debt Reduces Lifetime Wealth,” Demos.

21. J.Nichols, Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex Is Destroying America(Nation Books, 2014).