They hold the scissors, we hold the rock

“They hold the scissors, we hold the rock. General Strike, 15.12.2010. Workers from the book sector.”

Poster from yesterday’s general strike in Greece.

via Jodi Dean


Class War in Congress

“This apparent contradiction makes sense only if you understand what has become so manifestly obvious that writing it out makes me bored and angry: conservatives do not care about deficits or the national debt. Nothing they have done over the past several decades—from the record deficits of the Reagan and Bush/DeLay years to their party-line opposition to nearly every legislative measure (public option healthcare reform, cap and trade) that would reduce the deficit—suggests otherwise. The great spokesman for the so-called fiscal hawks in the GOP caucus, Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan, not only voted against the largely conservative recommendations of the president’s deficit commission but in 2003 cast the deciding vote for Medicare Part D, a corporate giveaway and entitlement expansion that was unfunded and will, according to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, add “$400 billion to the deficit in the first 10 years, and trillions more in the decades after that.”

What Republicans do care about is defending the incomes of the country’s wealthiest, distributing income upward and cutting taxes in order to make progressive governance impossible. Obama was right to say in his press conference that tax cuts for the rich are the Republicans’ Holy Grail.”

So this was Chris Hayes’s post on the tax cut “Compromise” that essentially puts the lie to any and all wankery about “deficits.” And he’s spot on, and the only thing I wish he’d added to it was to call it what it is: class warfare. As Sherrod Brown said the other day on John King: “I work in a place that too often sings with an upper-class accent…I’m not engaging in class warfare, I’m just pointing out what happened.”

See, when people cry “class warfare” in this country, it inevitably means “they’re coming for my money!”  It’s the rich whining about it, and the idea is that people don’t want class warfare because they might someday be part of the class with the cash. But let’s be real, here: if I ever get to a point where I make $250,000 a year, I will gladly pay more in taxes, especially if I’m making that kind of money in an economy where 10% unemployment is becoming normal.

Let’s put some other key votes that happened today into context as well, shall we?  Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was the focus for a lot of people, but Claire McCaskill tweeted about the bill and brought up what else it contained: “Rs just blocked modest pay raises 4 military cuz we haven’t yet given them tax cuts for multi millionaires.”

And if that isn’t disgusting enough, how about this, from the New York Times? “Republican senators blocked Democratic legislation on Thursday that sought to provide medical care to rescue workers and residents of New York City who became ill as a result of breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke from ground zero.”

This is the same party that has used 9/11 as a political football for the last nine years, insisting that we get felt up at airports and invade two countries, that we couldn’t have a community center near the site of the attacks that might have a place for Muslims to pray inside it, but they just voted AGAINST pay raises for the troops they claim to support, AGAINST health care for the rescue workers who rushed in to help the victims that day.

Let’s stop pretending this is anything other than a blatant attack on the working class in the name of further enriching those who are already rich. Let’s call it what it is, already: it’s class warfare.

Jameson on Utopia

The Utopians not only offer to conceive of [. . .] alternate systems; Utopian form is itself a representational meditation on radical difference, radical otherness, and on the systemic nature of the social totality, to the point where one cannot imagine any fundamental change in our social existence which has not first thrown off Utopian visions like so many sparks from a comet.

Fredric Jameson, Archaelogies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions.

The Missing Centre

While we’re plugging Grit-TV, I should also note Thomas Frank’s recent appearance was a really on-point rebuttal of the half-arsed centrism of the media classes.  In this clip, he says:

Right, ok we’re shifting gears here to the political science conversation, which is that the centre is what always prevails in American politics.  Where if a party gets too far to the right or too far to the left, they get smacked back to the middle and the median voter sits in judgment on all things great and small, right?  This is always the logic used to excommunicate the left wing of the Democratic party.  But, a very curious thing has happened in the last couple years.  The Republican party which got smacked around pretty badly in 06 and 08 and instead of scampering back the middle, what did they do?  You had John Boehner, the mastermind of the whole situation, move really sharply to the right.  Instead of embracing the moderates, they excommunicated them, they kicked them out of the party, they primary them, and what happened?  They just won.  They just won, Laura Flanders.  It’s a political philosophy embraced by political science professors and Washington Post columnists and those people, it turns out, don’t win elections for you.

I think this is so key.  The mythical centre (sorry I can’t use the US spelling, it is just wrong) doesn’t have anything at stake, doesn’t need anything but the status quo.  By appealing to the “centre”, you forget that the class interests of the many lie to the Left, that people need better working conditions, better pay.  What they don’t need is to live in the Magic Wish Land of the Right, where the middle-class still exists and a 205k-a-year salary is somehow being oppressed…  and that is where centrism leads us, by legitimising the utter bullshit of the Right and moderating it a tad.  In essence, it accepts the false framing, the false forced choices.  The “there is no alternative” to neo-liberalism line.

As a parallel, the “centrist” positions on abortion takes the impossible position that there is a median between having a choice and not having a choice by accepting that so we should therefore limit some forms of abortion–thus accepting the very presumption that women cannot (always) be relied upon to make their own choices.  This centrist move unwittingly (or wittingly) forms a part of the broader “chip chip chip” anti-choice strategy as Melissa McEwan at Shakesville has called it.

No, Thomas Frank is quite right, centrism is a dead end for the Left as well as the Right.  The very field of struggle needs to be transformed, so that the universal, the equitable, the just, the social, become not just lipservice but actually politically viable options.

Getting Your Class War On: The 99ers

Edrie Irvine: I think the first thing, I don’t know whether it’s unique to the media, but in general, is that there are real people being affected by this. The unemployed have tended to be this sort of silent group of people off to the side, occasionally you see pictures and they’re standing in some long line or applying to jobs, but they’re not thought of as–they’re not thought of, is really what it gets down to. In terms of Congress, idea that they are linking tax cuts for people making millions of dollars a year, which will only deplete the economy, and linking that with emergency benefits for people who are jobless through no fault of their own, and spending the money to give those people these benefits will actually help the economy, is just crazy-making, I think. Congress doesn’t seem to realize that the rich can afford not to have their tax cuts and it won’t change anything for them. It won’t affect their lives. We don’t have that choice.

So here in the good old U.S. of A., we have this new term floating around. We call people “99ers” when they’ve reached 99 weeks of unemployment, and somewhere in our genius, we have decided to CUT OFF benefits for these people. Because they’re just not trying hard enough, right? RIGHT? All those jobs out there…

Sarcasm aside, Congress is too busy blathering on about all sorts of useless crap to vote to extend benefits for the 9.8% of America still unemployed (oh, you know, about 15 MILLION people). Republicans are demanding spending cuts when they’re not also demanding tax cuts and for some reason the only street protests gaining traction in this country are FOR “austerity” as defined as taking it out on poorer, darker-skinned people than those in the protests…

OK, clearly this all makes me pretty angry.

You’d be angry too if you’d spent your workday watching these two lovely women, who’ve worked hard all their bloody lives, discussing calmly and coolly their unemployment benefits running out.

See, the unemployed are getting ORGANIZED. For now it’s not become a “movement” on the scale of the “Tea Party,” probably because the Koch brothers and the Murdoch media don’t actually give a fuck about them. But if you watch these two women talk, maybe you’ll want to get involved…

Connie Kaplan: They’re just in denial, they’re blinded by their greed, they know the reality of their situation. There are 55 people in Congress, I’m not going to name them now, who are millionaires, so there’s sort of a conflict of interest here. They’re fighting for things that affect them personally. They’re not concerned with people like us. I spent–when I used to get unemployment–every single penny was toward paying rent or food. Bills were a luxury. I have to have the internet–can’t get a job without the internet or a cell phone, one of the two.

Laura Flanders: How do you feel being used as a hostage in the party political fighting that’s happening in Washington–we saw a delay in benefits this summer and they eventually came through, people say these will eventually come through, but in the meantime, what happens to somebody whose benefits are in the balance?

Connie Kaplan: To me what happened yesterday with that letter that the Republicans delivered on the floor…

Laura: That they will not even consider it till the tax cuts have been extended…

Connie Kaplan: they’re not going to do anything, they don’t even care about other things, like the START treaty, which is critical for our national safety. These people are using a form of blackmail and I’m a victim.

You can watch the full interview here.

Some links:

Skewed priorities

More on the skewed priorities of the austerity age.  From Ezra Klein at the Washington Post:

The pay freeze for [American] federal workers will raise about $60 billion over 10 years. It’s necessary, the president said, because these are times “where all of us are called on to make some sacrifices.”

Contrast that with the tax cuts for income over $250,000, which benefit workers doing much better than the average federal employee and cost about $700 billion over 10 years.

Yeah, but that’s different.  They’re already loaded.


Student Protests

I was reading Mark Fisher‘s piece on “Kettle Logic” last night, and thinking:

there is surely an unavoidable generational dimension to the current situaiton. Witness Paxman’s patronising treatment of young protesters on Newsnight last week. Transformed from attack dog rentasneer into the kindly, avuncular advocate of capitalist realism, Paxman “explained” to the teenagers that, yes, it’s unfair that he received an education completely gratis and that they will have to pay thirty grand, but sadly, that’s just how things are – there’s no money left. Generational affiliation here is a matter of political decision. I effectively belong to Paxman’s generation in that I too received higher education completely free of charge. But the issue is question is whether one finds it conscionable to stand by while the young systematically denuded of the “privileges” that we took for granted. It’s true that higher education has been massively expanded over the past thirty years, but that isn’t the fault of the young. They are the victims of an ill-thought and poorly planned out experiment in the expansion of the sector which successive governments have pursued on the grounds that the UK would need more graduates in order to be internationally “competitive”. It’s not even as if the young have the alternatives to higher education that once existed. So here they are: the ConDemned, and it’s down to us whether we stand with them or watch them get further sold out and abandoned.

Because student protests seem to have a different tone to them than other forms of “identity”-affiliated protests. As Emily pointed out in chat, people with privilege often construct their identity against the Other in ways that make true solidarity and empathy difficult.

But students? Well, most of us can relate to the young even when we are no longer young. We’ve been kids, idealistic and angry, even when we haven’t been kids in a while. It’s a more porous barrier than race, gender, hell, even class.

So even aside from the visuals like these:

British schoolgirls holding hands around a police van, covered in graffiti. There is resonance to the image of the young people in the streets that transcends the usual lines drawn between the protesters and the rest of us, shrugging “Suck it up” as we walk by. And there’s something about cuts to education–education that used to be free to all, rich or poor–that transcends so many of those lines. It’s a rallying cry. It’s spectacular, and very real.