Sunday, December 11, 2011

Class warfare: the world's longest running conflict

There's nothing new when it comes to class warfare. It's been going on a long time, long before the Occupy groups took to the streets, formed tent cities, and had the audacity to challenge the status quo of the financial institutions of the wealthiest Americans.

In 1935 cartoonist Redfield of The Daily Worker* drew some cartoons that were published in a book called The Ruling Clawss. Examples I've chosen remind me of what's being said by some of the Republican candidates, whose unhidden agenda appears to be protecting the fortunes of the richest 1% of our population. They also perpetuate stereotypes and promote disdain toward the poor.

Michele Bachmann said if a person doesn't work he shouldn't eat; Herman Cain (now thankfully gone from the pack) said if a person isn't rich it's his own fault.

But of course the class warfare against the poor by the wealthy has been going on since time immemorial. I was struck by some passages in the 2001 book, In the Wake Of the Plague by Norman F. Cantor, which goes back to the 14th Century at the time of the Black Death to echo what we've been hearing these past few months from the mouths of politicians and radio hacks who are henchmen for billionaires.

From the book: "In 1340, 60 percent of Western Europe's wealth and nearly all its political power were in the hands of some three hundred families of the higher nobility, of which there were about four dozen in England. Their wealth was literally incalculable, since it was never assessed or audited. But the income of each family was at least a billion dollars a year in today's money."

Well! That gave the peasants some sort of goal, at least, to try to better themselves. Those that were able, that is, because repressive laws of the time kept the peasants in their place. Cantor speaks of the less wealthy as the ". . . less affluent nobility and the upper stratum of the middle-class," who were attempting to imitate the wealthiest families, "as far as more constrained resources allowed. Living on credit became as common among the landed classes as it is in American society today." Over 750 years ago keeping up with the Joneses was just as tough as it is now.

There has always been a clear division between rich and poor, and it has always been troublesome. Back to Cantor: "The loosening of the bonds and bounds of rural society caused by the Black Death and resulting in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 could have led to a working-class takeover of the government and a socialist state." There's that dirty "S" word again. Whenever someone asks for a share they are branded a socialist. Cantor: "The peasants in 1381, building on the rumbles spreading through all of rural society . . . had that possibility within their grasp. The royal government cowered fearfully in the Tower of London while a crowd of many thousands of militant peasants from eastern England gathered in a field in the London suburbs. But the peasants were naïve and the disgruntled graduate students from Oxford who had helped to articulate the peasants' grievances and demands into a vision of a Christian commonwealth were too bookish and inexperienced to be capable of directing the rebellion toward a Leninist or Maoist denouement." The mind boggles. Think of how today's society would have changed had the pinkos won out 720 years ago. We'd all be comrades marching in the May Day parade.

"The young King Richard II came riding out to meet the peasants. He assured them that he loved them and if they would go home their demands would be met and justice fulfilled. . . . The peasants dispersed and the power of he government, using the instrument of class-biased common law, came down on them hard and hung most of those identified as proletarian leaders."

From an oppressor's point of view it makes sense to commit terrorism against people who are looking to redress grievances. If you kill all the leaders you pretty much discourage a movement. There's strength in numbers, but followers get skittish if they think their protests will get them hung. I'm sure there are those amongst our modern over-privileged class and their political lap dogs who would love to see some mass hangings. But nowadays there are cell phone cameras by the millions and YouTube for a public forum. We can watch when peaceful protesters get treated rough by law's enforcement. No public hangings so far, so tear gas, pepper spray and batons for thumping protesters will have to do for now.

*Yes, I'm aware The Daily Worker was the news organ of the Communist Party, USA. It doesn't mean these cartoons don't have truth in them.

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