The early Marx and the existentialists emphasized the alienation of human beings from their fabricated world. In particular, Marx explored how capitalism, in stealing the fruits of our work, alienates us from our labor. Our communion with our work is one of the core elements of our humanity, essential to our happiness, dignity, and wholeness. This emotional, psychological, and spiritual robbery practiced by economic elites is perhaps a far worse crime than the material deprivation and monetary “value” stolen.
A similar alienation is the result of the same crime in the political realm. Our humanity craves democratic participation. But representative pseudo-democracy, blaspheming the name and the ideal, robs us of our participation and our sense of real political control. This participation and control is part of the definition of true democracy. On a practical level, it achieves the most wise and socially productive outcomes. Far beyond this, it’s a core human value in itself, essential to our felicity, self-respect, and sense of being whole. This emotional, psychological, and spiritual robbery practiced by political elites is perhaps a worse crime than the destructive and evil outcomes their hijacked political system produces.
The result is humanity’s complete alienation from the economy, polity, society only we create at all. This generates a huge amount of potential energy in the mass. Millions of people not only have no constructive vehicle for their most elemental energies, but feel the added stress and tension of the economic and political instability and fear the kleptocracy engenders. Therefore, as Eric Hoffer says, the alienation from the self proceeds amid intense passion. The refugee energy and socioeconomic tension, arising out of our alienation from ourselves, further intensifies this alienation, which in turn generates further tension. Usually, at least at first, this is an inchoate passion. Then it’s often misdirected, hijacked/astroturfed by the very system which produces the psychological crisis. Fascism and innumerable quasi-fascist an co-optation phenomena comprise this category.
The kleptocracy will try to organize all the alienated passion it causes to its own benefit and the further detriment of those confused enough to conform to this plan. What are the chances that it will be unable to do this? One of the things we have going for us is how this system is liquidating its own base, and how it propagates an ideology of atomization, selfishness, and such a totally mercenary way of thinking and being that it will be difficult for it to ever muster real idealism on its behalf. Sure, it can astroturf a surface idealism on the part of pseudo-fascist scum. But these will never be anything more than a rabble. As for the system’s police and soldiers, they’ll never think in terms other than their paychecks and their material stuff at home (maybe their personal families as well). Historically, fascism was strong as it piled up victories, but started collapsing immediately as soon as it sustained losses and faced adversity. A fascist (including the kind of neoliberal pseudo-democracy we have today), individually and systemically, is typically a bully who feels strong as long as he’s winning but runs away as soon as the going gets tough. Mussolini was like that, and that’s why his system (and himself on a personal level) collapsed as soon as the war reached home. That was real fascism which had enlisted a high level of non-mercenary idealism on its behalf. It’s likely today’s purely mercenary kleptocracy will collapse even more completely as soon as it begins sustaining losses and enduring hardship. Mussolini wasn’t very tough, but I bet he was far tougher than today’s bloated, childish, infinitely “entitled” elites.
So who are the groups, naturally the base for political and economic elitism, who are under assault by very kleptocracy which depends upon them for its political sustenance? Who’s the newest and most critical alienation base?
1. Pensions are a linchpin of the liberal welfare state and a core part of the Ownership Society propaganda (“We are ExxonMobil”). For both the liberal and conservative ideologies they’re a key co-optation ploy. But the kleptocracy is now liquidating them. First they came for the manufacturing unions’ pensions, then for the public sector union pensions, and now for Social Security… Anyone who thinks the day of the 401(k)s of white collar workers won’t come soon is delusional.
2. “Home ownership” is a similar joint liberal-conservative ploy. Commentators have often been frank about how the goal is to give a large middle class a stake in the stable propagation of capitalism. So you’d think that after the blowup of the housing bubble and consequent deflation, the system would want to temporarily hit the reset button and retrench. But instead the banksters launched a veritable foreclosure war, enlisting the federal government as collaborator with such frauds as the HAMP. Meanwhile even the most modest prophylactic measures like principal mods and bankruptcy court cramdowns have been fiercely resisted by banks and government. Here too, although it still spews the propaganda, the kleptocracy has clearly renounced even the pretense of its own ownership society co-optation plan.
3. Public sector unions are a major part of the base for government as such, and the Democratic party in particular. But the kleptocracy, including the Democrats, is liquidating them as fast as it can.
4. College grads, if there are system jobs available for them, are always a major part of any status quo base. Instead, today’s grads find that there are no jobs for them, and that instead they were made the victims of a joint bank-government-university debt indenture scam. Historically, this has been a major revolutionary indicator. (The results were mixed. In 19th century Russia, unemployable students and graduates became revolutionaries. In Weimar Germany they became Nazis. Since as a group students are a nihilist rabble at heart, it’s probably just a matter of seizing upon the most radical idea lying around.) I previously devoted a post
to this factor.
5. Professionals are also a key system base element, as long as their jobs are protected. This is why even as globalization ruthlessly drove a race to the bottom for all other forms of labor, for a long time it protected doctors, lawyers, journalists, IT professionals, and most others. But today these too are starting to be liquidated. A computer programmer’s already in the same boat as a manufacturing worker. Everyone else will soon be joining us. Again we see the “First they came for the factory workers…” dynamic.
6. The federal government depends upon the states for a vast amount of administration and supplementary enforcement. It has bought this compliance with gravy train of biblical flood size. But now the federal largesse is being rolled back furiously. The states are being cut off. Under these harsh new conditions, will state governments continue to comprise such a compliant power base for Washington?
7. The assault on civil liberties is the kind of petty harassment more likely to drum up resistance than is systematic repression.
8. Economically, here’s the biggest one, the classical contradiction of capitalism which is even more unsolvable today than it was a hundred years ago. Capitalism depends on infinitely growing consumption while it grinds the worker down to nothing. But this worker is also the consumer. Once capitalism liquidates its own consumers, who’s gonna buy? The answer nowadays is corporatism. The federal government buys and tries to force individuals to buy (Obama’s health racket Stamp mandate is the ultimate example so far). In these ways the government coerces markets. By now we have a command economy, corporatist version.
But this is only kicking the can down the road. Forcing the consumer to buy won’t increase the amount of blood you can squeeze out of him. In the end, capitalism will endure for as long as the federal government can run its debt Ponzi scheme. Deficit terrorism is a lie where it claims that deficit spending as such, and deficit spending toward socially productive goals based on real production, is inherently unsustainable. But it will be true in the end that deficit spending toward no goal whatsoever but enabling corporate looting, and based upon no productive base whatsoever but just the lies and vapors of financialization, is unsustainable. In the end this capitalist fraud will collapse of its own rancid yet hollow bloat.
9. I described the psychological contradiction of capitalism above. It alienates us from our work, our thoughts, our friends, our families, our communities, our democracy, and ourselves. Our alienation accumulates as a tremendous force, and no matter how that force is eventually unleashed, it will place the status quo in peril.
10. Part of this alienation, a strategic blunder on the part of corporatist ideology (if we could impute any long-term strategy, as opposed to short-run greed, to them at all), is how this ideology and kleptocratic practice seek to radically atomize the individual instead of trying to provide even a sham sense of belonging. By contrast, classical fascism worked hard at this, and with considerable success.
This has left a void and an opportunity for any movement which wants to fight the kleptocracy.
11. Based on the system’s record so far, we can expect a continuing escalation in the assault which will be malevolent in principle but haphazard in the execution. This is exactly the kind of oppression most likely to generate resistance. The alienations, contradictions, and self-injuring liquidations I just described are both part of this haphazardness and will contribute to it. See also my post, The Limits to Racketeering
So we see how there’s a big opportunity for anyone who wants to fight and defeat the kleptocracy.
But the existence of the opportunity doesn’t guarantee it will be seized. We have to meet it halfway. We have to work hard to build the democratic movement which can transform all the alienation and disintegration into a coherent vector, which can gather all the festering potential energy and render it kinetic in one direction.
The negative element of this vector is to destroy the kleptocracy. The affirmative element is to build and practice positive democracy.
So part of this necessary work shall be to account for all the factors I described above (and probably others I missed) and learn to speak to them, and then do so relentlessly.