16 May 2010

The Middle

Times Square bombing suspect's life had unraveled

Mainstream media dodging the class question again. Oh no, he outspokenly opposed the Iraq war, that means he must have ties to Islamic militancy!

Faisal Shahzad has far more in common with Colleen "JihadJane" LaRose, Joseph Stack and John Patrick Bedell than he does with Osama bin Laden; it's another instance of a middle-class American whose life has fallen apart thanks to the collapsing economy, who has nowhere to turn, who ultimately embarks on individual terrorism.

I remember after the Oklahoma City bombing: that evening on the news, CNN brought on a talking head who was certain, dead certain, that central Oklahoma was a hotbed of radical Islam. Nonsense -- but the media just couldn't wrap its head around the idea that America, indeed the American system, might be responsible for generating its own enemies.

After Joseph Stack flew his airplane into a government building in Texas, and the news media was depicting Stack as a lone nutcase, I said to my friend Jesse, "this is going to happen a lot more". Because while Stack and LaRose and Bedell are lone nutcases, it's naive to say that the things that drive their violent, self-destructive plans simply materialize out of the ether. Rather, we see the unravelling of the American dream.

Society is divided into classes. The upper class — the "grand bourgeoisie" — survive any crisis up to a revolution or war which destroys the state that sustains them, because the state, the entire system, is rigged with the express purpose of sustaining them. The working class, meanwhile, are ever-suffering but too numerous to be smashed; the working class, being international in its fundamental character, survives even the fall of states.

But the middle class: the farmers, the small shop owners, the middle managers; this has nowhere to go. Economic pressures either turn them into the working class or put them out on the street. The middle class dominated the early days of capitalism (the political ideology of classical liberalism emerged as the natural ideology of the middle class), boomed in the 19th century, and now as a class it fades worldwide.

Under stress, the upper class can hire a police force or raise an army in its defense, while the working class can always organise & defend itself, drawing on its own experience of collective production. The middle class has no way out.

A few nights ago I watched Dave Gorman's America Unchained. The whole documentary (an attempt to cross from California to the Atlantic coast without ever once spending money on the grand bourgeoisie) is a paean to the American middle class, but even the power of creative editing couldn't conceal the fact that the celebrated middle America is a shambling corpse. Gorman had to buy gasoline from a chain station less than a third of the way in to the trip, and much attention was called to this. But what passes without comment in the entire hour is how Gorman, whenever he needs help or wants to call ahead to the next town, uses a mobile phone.

How many mom & pop, independently-run mobile telephone providers are there?

I can't provide a happy answer here. The independent coffee shop, the independent farm, the very notion of independence in the classical sense (the ownership of your own means of production, the ability to sustain yourself without relying on someone else for a job, for a home, for food) cannot in the long run be saved.

The middle class has three stark choices.

The middle class can stay independent to the last, be cut adrift, and turn to destitution and, ultimately, terrorism.

The middle class can organise together in its own class interest, and, facing the choice between allying with the workers or with the bosses, can turn to the big bosses, ultimately subordinating itself to them and treating the working person as its enemy. I will not mince words: that is the route of fascism.

Or it can recognize that it cannot stay the middle. It can accept the arc of history, and embrace the fact that economic independence is a bauble. If the real goal is personal independence — and it always was, wasn't it? — the middle class can organise with the working class, and go hand in hand with it as history moves on. The third choice is socialism.

If the first two choices are self-destruction through terrorism or self-destruction through fascism, the decision is easy.

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