Big Brother Doesn’t Practice Fraternal Love
By Jason Miller
“Non-violence is a weapon of the strong.”
It is with regret that I pronounce the fatal truth: Louis ought to perish rather than a hundred thousand virtuous citizens; Louis must die that the country may live.”
October 17, 2006 is a watershed date in the epic struggle between oppressors and oppressed. Events of that day undoubtedly prompted Marx and Engels to awaken from their eternal slumber and spin violently in their graves. A mere swish of the pen by a conscienceless swine effectively transferred absolute power into the hands of a relative handful of rich and powerful individuals and corporations.
Happy birthday, Big Brother!
Over two centuries ago, 25,000 intrepid souls sacrificed their lives to free the American Colonies from the clutches of a ruthless empire and to found a nation based on democratic principles. Tragically, on 10/17 the tattered remains of freedom for which American Revolutionary soldiers spilled crimson rivers were reduced to mere abstractions by a miniscule volume of ink.
How ironic that in a nation obsessed with beating ploughshares into swords, a pen was the weapon used to finalize the subjugation of the masses.
Lamentably, the American Revolution was not a final triumph for human rights and democracy. Gaining independence from Great Britain was merely one victory in the perpetual war between humanity’s “haves” and “have-nots”.
While many of America’s revolutionaries believed they were fighting for their natural rights, there were moneyed men amongst them who simply wanted to reap the material bounty of the Colonies without paying tribute to the British Empire.
Contrary to the great American myths, all of the founding fathers were not created equal. Men like Thomas Paine, the intellectual catalyst of the American Revolution, argued for the abolition of slavery, social justice, democratic principles, and human rights. Others, such as John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, harbored contempt for populist notions and pressed for a government dominated by pecunious individuals.
Intense debate coupled with significant compromise eventually resulted in the ratification of the US Constitution. To minimize the diminution of their affluence and dominance, America’s aristocracy insisted on the Electoral College, the recognition of the legality of chattel slavery, and the limitation of suffrage to white propertied males, who comprised a mere 10% of the population. As a means to appease the masses, they reluctantly agreed to include the Bill of Rights.
Faced with annoying constraints like the separation of powers, an independent judiciary, and the Bill of Rights, and bearing the burden of preserving the illusions of liberty and equality that kept the “mob” at bay, the ruling elite struggled to find ways to consolidate and enhance their power.
As the mercantilism that had made the American Colonies so indispensable to Britain slowly developed into Capitalism, the plutocracy rushed to embrace and nurture a system that afforded them the means to manipulate and exploit their “subjects”.
Propitiously, Capitalism thrived and enabled the elite to leverage their power. Throughout the history of the United States, a seemingly perpetual torrent of fortuitousness has rained down upon the monetarily well-endowed.
Treated as animals, Black American slaves provided the labor that contributed mightily to the exponential growth of a rapidly emerging economic juggernaut. Yet even when the abolition of slavery deprived the blue bloods of four million unpaid laborers, the pecuniary gods continued to smile upon them.
The advent of the Industrial Revolution spawned large scale mechanization, the urbanization of a once largely agrarian society, the rise of the corporation to the status of legal personhood, and a serious decline in the number of skilled artisans and self-sufficient farmers. Rife with opportunities to exploit the working class, the United States continued its ascent to economic supremacy.
Rewarding the pathologically greedy and selfish, Capitalism in the United States thrived like a tape worm in glutton’s intestines as it morphed into a bloated and grotesque perversion.
Mirthless human beings living on slave wages toiled in filthy, perilous environments until their health was wrecked and ruined. Robber barons amassed outrageous fortunes on the backs of dehumanized and broken men, women and children. Transcending the political freedoms they had begrudgingly given “We the People” in the Constitution, the power elite imposed a post-Feudal form of economic serfdom.
Bleak visages of children whose impoverishment forced them to abandon school and seek employment in textile mills and coal mines revealed the truly merciless and despotic nature of Capitalism in the United States. Morally bankrupt men had raised Adam Smith’s brainchild to be a merciless and brutish soul crusher.
Consider this excerpt from progressive reformer John Spargo’s The Bitter Cry of the Children he wrote in 1906:
The coal is hard, and accidents to the hands, such as cut, broken, or crushed fingers, are common among the boys. Sometimes there is a worse accident: a terrified shriek is heard, and a boy is mangled and torn in the machinery, or disappears in the chute to be picked out later smothered and dead. Clouds of dust fill the breakers and are inhaled by the boys, laying the foundations for asthma and miners’ consumption.
I once stood in a breaker for half an hour and tried to do the work a twelve-year-old boy was doing day after day, for ten hours at a stretch, for sixty cents a day. The gloom of the breaker appalled me. Outside the sun shone brightly, the air was pellucid [clear], and the birds sang in chorus with the trees and the rivers. Within the breaker there was blackness, clouds of deadly dust enfolded everything, the harsh, grinding roar of the machinery and the ceaseless rushing of coal through the chutes filled the ears. I tried to pick out the pieces of slate from the hurrying stream of coal, often missing them; my hands were bruised and cut in a few minutes; I was covered from head to foot with coal dust, and for many hours afterwards I was expectorating some of the small particles of anthracite I had swallowed.
Even as early as 1795, Thomas Paine witnessed economic forces of inequality and oppression savaging the humanitarian principles woven into the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution. Principles for which so many had sacrificed so much.
Paine wrote of the abuse of economic power prior to the maturation of rapacious Capitalism. “Agrarian Justice”, his final pamphlet of wide acclaim, included his observations on the gross injustice of people suffering the affliction of poverty in a society with ample resources to provide for all of its members:
…On one side, the spectator is dazzled by splendid appearances; on the other, he is shocked by extremes of wretchedness; both of which it has erected. The most affluent and the most miserable of the human race are to be found in the countries that are called civilized.
Paine decried the brutality of governments that caused or allowed its citizens to experience indigence:
Despotic government supports itself by abject civilization, in which debasement of the human mind, and wretchedness in the mass of the people, are the chief criterions. Such governments consider man merely as an animal; that the exercise of intellectual faculty is not his privilege; that he has nothing to do with the laws but to obey them; and they politically depend more upon breaking the spirit of the people by poverty, than they fear enraging it by desperation.
Exposing the sophistry that persists to this day, Paine advanced a convincing argument against the contention by predacious capitalists that those possessing wealth are somehow exempt from the interdependence to which “ordinary” mortals owe their very survival:
Personal property is the effect of society; and it is as impossible for an individual to acquire personal property without the aid of society, as it is for him to make land originally.
Separate an individual from society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property. He cannot be rich. So inseparably are the means connected with the end, in all cases, that where the former do not exist the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man’s own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came.
Asserting a just society’s obligation to lift (or to provide the means to lift themselves) the less fortunate from their wretched conditions, Paine wrote:
It is not charity but a right, not bounty but justice, that I am pleading for. The present state of civilization is as odious as it is unjust. It is absolutely the opposite of what it should be, and it is necessary that a revolution should be made in it. The contrast of affluence and wretchedness continually meeting and offending the eye, is like dead and living bodies chained together.
Paine may have been offended by the “contrast of affluence and wretchedness”. But gross inequalities obviously didn’t bother the wealthy elites, in Paine’s time or as Capitalism eclipsed Mercantilism. Federal laws eventually eradicated many severe abuses like the child labor Spargo described. And publicly funded programs like Social Security have helped to alleviate destitution. Yet were it not for wars, powerful social movements, economic depressions, fears of widespread social unrest, and the vexing Constitutional rights afforded to “We the People”, those wielding the punishing cudgel of economic domination would have maintained the status quo.
Each time the opulent surrendered a degree of power or afforded additional rights to the underclass, they became increasingly restless and insecure. They realized that exploitative Capitalism, their principal mechanism for exerting and maintaining their dominance, was under siege.
Marx and Engel’s Manifesto calling for the abolition of private property and a revolution of the working class scared the hell out of the Bourgeoisie. To counter the “Red Menace” in the United States, they waged war on organized labor, initiated the Palmer Raids, so demonized Socialists that their political influence was virtually extinguished, and imprisoned or ruined thousands of suspected Communists during the McCarthy Era.
Reactionary forces wielding powerful tools of psychological manipulation have trained most US Americans to reflexively reject virtually any publicly funded programs that would be socially beneficial, idealize material success, and embrace grossly exorbitant military spending as “necessary”.
Endless rhetoric and propaganda, the Cold War, free trade, and a multitude of murderous military interventions resulting in the deaths of millions of innocent human beings have kept the world safe for the “democracy” that serves as cover for remorseless seekers of profit at the expense of others.
Having suffered years of pained silence under the yoke of neoliberal economic policies emanating from the United States, the presence or action of the US military, and ruthless dictators supported by the “leader of the free world”, individuals and factions in the Developing World are finally resisting.
Some are employing asymmetric warfare to counter the overwhelming military power of a bellicose nation that invades nations preemptively and dismissively refers to murdered civilians as “collateral damage”. Others, like Hugo Chavez, are empowering and uplifting their poor, terminating the exploitation of their resources by multinational corporations, and forging alliances with other nations to challenge the regime in Washington.
Not surprisingly, those who rule by virtue of the size of their bank accounts have reacted to the latest threat to their stranglehold on power in a manner reminiscent of their attacks on Communism. The “War on Terror” has already claimed hundreds of thousands of victims and billions of dollars worth of civilian infrastructure. And on 10/17, the Bush Regime celebrated its crowning victory.
Mass hysteria generated by an Orwellian onslaught of propaganda paved the way for the passage of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. When Bush signed the Torture Bill into law, America’s de facto noblesse realized their dream. They finally attained the means to eliminate the perpetual tension between a political system “marred” by democratic components and the tyrannic natures of their brand of Capitalism.
It took 230 years, but an authoritarian regime predominated by the patrician class and corporations has finally seized the means to exercise absolute political power. Their “War on Terror” enabled them to slay their most persistent adversary. The Constitutional Rights of their own people.
The Bush Regime can now truthfully crow about a “mission accomplished”.
Yet like the victors in the American Revolution, they may have won the battle, but the war is far from over. Men like Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin are long deceased, but the immortal words born of their dedication to freedom from oppression are trumpeting a clarion call to the world:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Whether the People follow the example of Gandhi or Robespierre, a revolution is imperative and inevitable.
Liberté, égalité, fraternité, ou la mort!
Jason Miller is a wage slave of the American Empire who has freed himself intellectually and spiritually. He writes prolifically, his essays have appeared widely on the Internet, and he volunteers at a homeless shelter. He welcomes constructive correspondence at firstname.lastname@example.org or via his blog, Thomas Paine’s Corner, at http://civillibertarian.blogspot.com/.