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                                                          ANYTHING BUT CLASS: AVOIDING THE C-WORD

From Michael Parenti, Black shirts and Reds (1996), Endnotes are included

"Class" is a concept that is strenuously avoided by both main­stream writers and many on the Left. When certain words are elimi­nated from public discourse, so are certain thoughts. Dissident ideas become all the more difficult to express when there are no words to express them. "Class" is usually dismissed as an outworn Marxist notion with no relevance to contemporary society. It is a five-letter word that is treated like a dirty four-letter one.

With the C-word out of the way, it is then easy to dispose of other politically unacceptable concepts such as class privilege, class power, class exploitation, class interest, and class struggle. These too are judged no longer relevant, if ever they were, in a society that sup­posedly consists of the fluid pluralistic interplay of diverse groups.

The Class Denial of Class

Those who occupy the higher circles of wealth and power are keenly aware of their own interests. While they sometimes seriously differ among themselves on specific issues, they exhibit an impressive cohesion when it comes to protecting the existing class system of corporate power, property, privilege, and profit.

At the same time, they are careful to discourage public awareness of the class power they wield. They avoid the C-word, especially when used in reference to themselves as in "owning class," "upper class," or "moneyed class." And they like it least when the politically active elements of the owning class are called the "ruling class."

The ruling class in this country has labored long to leave the impression that it does not exist, does not own the lion's share of just about everything, and does not exercise a vastly disproportionate influence over the affairs of the nation. Such precautions are them­selves symptomatic of an acute awareness of class interests.

Yet ruling class members are far from invisible. Their command positions in the corporate world, their control of international finance and industry, their ownership of the major media, and their influence over state power and the political process are all matters of public record—to some limited degree.1 While it would seem a simple matter to apply the C-word to those who occupy the highest reaches of the C-world, the dominant class ideology dismisses any such application as a lapse into "conspiracy theory."

The C-word is also taboo when applied to the millions who do the work of society for what are usually niggardly wages, the "working class," a term that is dismissed as Marxist jargon. And it is verboten to refer to the "exploiting and exploited classes," for then one is talk­ing about the very essence of the capitalist system, the accumulation of corporate wealth at the expense of labor.

The C-word is an acceptable term when prefaced with the soothing adjective "middle." Every politician, publicist, and pundit will rhapsodize about the middle class, the object of their heartfelt concern. The much admired and much pitied middle class is supposedly inhabited by self-sufficient people, free from presumed profligacy of those who inhabit the lower rungs of society. By including almost everyone, "middle class" serves as a conve­niently amorphous concept that masks the exploitation and inequality of social relations. It is a class label that denies the actuality of class power.

The C-word is allowable when applied to one other group, the desperate lot who live on the lowest rung of society, who get the least of everything while being regularly blamed for their own victimization: the "underclass." References to the presumed deficiencies of underclass people are acceptable because they reinforce the existing social hierarchy and justify the unjust treatment accorded society's most vulnerable elements.

Class reality is obscured by an ideology whose tenets might be summarized and rebutted as follows:

Credo: There are no real class divisions in this society. Save for some rich and poor, almost all of us are middle class.

Response: Wealth is enormously concentrated in the hands of rel­atively few in this country, while tens of millions work for poverty-level wages, when work is to be had. The gap between rich and poor has always been great and has been growing since the late 1970s. Those in the middle also have been enduring increasing economic injustice and insecurity.

Credo: Our social institutions and culture are autonomous entities in a pluralistic society, largely free of the influences of wealth and class power. To think otherwise is to entertain conspiracy theories.

Response: Great concentrations of wealth exercise an influence in all aspects of life, often a dominating one. Our social and cultural institutions are run by boards of directors (or trustees or regents) drawn largely from interlocking, non-elective, self-selecting corporate elites. They and their faithful hirelings occupy most of the com­mand positions of the executive state and other policymaking bodies, and manifest a keen awareness of their class interests when shaping domestic and international policies. This includes such policies as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), designed to circumvent whatever democratic sovereignty exists within nations.2

Credo: The differences between rich and poor are a natural given, not causally linked. Individual human behavior, not class, determines human performance and life chances. Existing social arrangements are a natural reflection of largely innate human proclivities.

Response: All conservative ideologies justify existing inequities as the natural order of things, inevitable outcomes of human nature. If the very rich are naturally so much more capable than the rest of us, why must they be provided with so many artificial privileges under the law, so many bailouts, subsidies, and other special considerations—at our expense? Their "naturally superior talents" include unprincipled and illegal subterfuges such as price-fixing, stock manipulation, insider trading, fraud, tax evasion, the legal enforce­ment of unfair competition, ecological spoliation, harmful prod­ucts, and unsafe work conditions. One might expect naturally superior people not to act in such rapacious and venal ways. Differences in talent and capacity as might exist between individuals do not excuse the crimes and injustices that are endemic to the corporate business system.

The ABC Theorists

Even among persons normally identified as progressive, one finds a reluctance to deal with the reality of capitalist class power. Sometimes the dismissal of the C-word is quite categorical. At a meeting in New York in 1986 I heard the sociologist Stanley Aronowitz comment, "When I hear the word 'class' I just yawn." For Aronowitz, class is a concept of diminishing importance used by those he repeatedly referred to as "orthodox Marxists."3

Another left academic, Ronald Aronson, in a book entitled After Marxism, claims—in the face of all recent evidence—that classes in capitalist society have become "less polarized" and class exploitation is not an urgent issue nowadays because labor unions "have achieved power to protect their members and affect social policy." This occurs at a time when many unions are being destroyed, workers are being downgraded to the status of contract laborers, and the income gap is wider than in decades.

Many who pretend to be on the Left are so rabidly anti-Marxist as to seize upon any conceivable notion except class power to explain what is happening in the world. They are the Anything-But-Class (ABC) theorists who, while not allied with conservatives on most political issues, do their part in stunting class consciousness.4

The "left" ABC theorists say we are giving too much attention to class. Who exactly is doing that? Surveying the mainstream academic publications, radical journals, and socialist scholars conferences, one is hard put to find much class analysis of any kind. Far from giving too much attention to class power, most U.S. writers and commen­tators have yet to discover the subject. While pummeling a rather minuscule Marxist Left, the ABC theorists would have us think they are doing courageous battle against hordes of Marxists who domi­nate intellectual discourse in this country—yet another hallucination they hold in common with conservatives.5

In their endless search for conceptual schema that might mute Marxism's class analysis, "left" ABC theorists have twaddled for years over a false dichotomization between early Marx (culturalistic, humanistic, good) and later Marx (dogmatic, economistic, bad).6 As Marxist scholar Bertell Oilman notes, this artificial counterpoising transforms a relatively minor development in Marx's work into a chasm between two ways of thinking that have little in common.7

Some ABC theorists labored hard to promote the writings of the late Italian Communist party leader Antonio Gramsci as a source of cultural theory to counteract a Marxist class analysis. (See, for instance, publications like Paul Piccone's Telos during the 1970s and early 1980s.) Gramsci, they said, rejected the "economistic" views of Marx and Lenin and did not treat class conflict as a central concept, preferring to develop a more "nuanced analysis" based on cultural hegemony. So Gramsci was made into "the Marxist who's safe to bring home to Mother," as the historian T.J. Jackson put it. And as Christopher Phelps added:

Gramsci has become safe, tame, denatured—a wisp of his revolutionary self. Academics seeking to justify their retreat into highly abstruse theories have created fanciful illusions about their 'counter-hegemonic' activity. They have created a mythical Gramsci who holds views he never did, including an opposition to revolutionary socialist organization of the sort that he, following upon Lenin, held indispensable" (Monthly Review, 11/95).

Gramsci himself would have considered the representations made about him by ABC theorists as oddly misplaced. He never treated culture and class as mutually exclusive terms but saw cultural hege­mony as a vital instrument of the ruling class. Furthermore, he occupied a prominent position of responsibility in the Italian Communist party and considered himself firmly within the Marxist-Leninist camp.

To the extent that class is accorded any attention in academic social science, pop sociology, and media commentary, it is as a kind of demographic trait or occupational status. So sociologists refer to "upper-middle," "lower-middle," and the like. Reduced to a demographic trait, one's class affiliation certainly can seem to have relatively low political salience. Society itself becomes little more than a pluralistic configuration of status groups. Class is not a taboo subject if divorced from capitalism's exploitative accumulation process.

Both mainstream social scientists and "left" ABC theorists fail to consider the dynamic interrelationship that gives classes their signif­icance. In contrast, Marxists treat class as the key concept in an entire social order known as capitalism (or feudalism or slavery), centering around the ownership of the means of production (factories, mines, oil wells, agribusinesses, media conglomerates, and the like) and the need—if one lacks ownership—to sell one's labor on terms that are highly favorable to the employer.

Class gets its significance from the process of surplus extraction. The relationship between worker and owner is essentially an exploita­tive one, involving the constant transfer of wealth from those who labor (but do not own) to those who own (but do not labor). This is how some people get richer and richer without working, or with doing only a fraction of the work that enriches them, while others toil hard for an entire lifetime only to end up with little or nothing.

Both orthodox social scientists and "left" ABC theorists treat the diverse social factions within the non-capitalist class as classes unto themselves; so they speak of a "blue-collar class," a "professional class," and the like. In doing so, they claim to be moving beyond a "reductionist," Marxist dualistic model of classes. But what is more reductionist than to ignore the underlying dynamics of economic power and the conflict between capital and labor? What is more misleading than to treat occupational groups as autonomous classes, giving attention to every social group in capitalist society except the capitalist class itself, to every social conflict except class conflict?

Both conventional and "left" ABC theorists have difficulty understanding that the creation of a managerial or technocratic social for­mation constitutes no basic change in the property relations of capitalism, no creation of new classes. Professionals and managers are not an autonomous class as such. Rather they are mental workers who live much better than most other employees but who still serve the accumulation process on behalf of corporate owners.

Everyday Class Struggle

To support their view that class (in the Marxist sense) is passe, the ABC theorists repeatedly assert that there is not going to be a work­ers' revolution in the United States in the foreseeable future (I heard this sentiment expressed at three different panels during a "Gramsci conference" at Amherst, Massachusetts, in April 1987.) Even if we agree with this prophecy, we might still wonder how it becomes grounds for rejecting class analysis and for concluding that there is no such thing as exploitation of labor by capital and no opposition from people who work for a living.

The feminist revolution that was going to transform our entire patriarchal society has thus far not materialized, yet no progressive person takes this to mean that sexism is a chimera or that gender-related struggles are of no great moment. That workers in the United States are not throwing up barricades does not mean class struggle is a myth. In present-day society, such struggle permeates almost all workplace activities. Employers are relentlessly grinding away at workers and workers are constantly fighting back against employers.

Capital's class war is waged with court injunctions, anti-labor laws, police repression, union busting, contract violations, sweatshops, dishonest clocking of time, safety violations, harassment and firing of resistant workers, cutbacks in wages and benefits, raids of pension funds, layoffs, and plant closings. Labor fights back with union organizing, strikes, slowdowns, boycotts, public demonstrations, job actions, coordinated absenteeism, and workplace sabotage.

Class has a dynamic that goes beyond its immediate visibility. Whether we are aware of it or not, class realities permeate our society, determining much about our capacity to pursue our own interests. Class power is a factor in setting the political agenda, selecting leaders, reporting the news, funding science and education, distributing health care, mistreating the environment, depressing wages, resisting racial and gender equality, marketing entertainment and the arts, propagating religious messages, suppressing dissidence, and defining social reality itself.

ABC theorists see the working class as not only incapable of revo­lution but as on the way out, declining in significance as a social for­mation.8 Anyone who still thinks that class is of primary importance is labeled a diehard Marxist, guilty of "economism" and "reduction-ism" and unable to keep up with the "post-Marxist," "post-structuralist," "post-industrialist," "post-capitalist," "post-modernist," and "post-deconstructionist" times.

It is ironic that some left intellectuals should deem class struggle to be largely irrelevant at the very time class power is becoming increasingly transparent, at the very time corporate concentration and profit accumulation is more rapacious than ever, and the tax system has become more regressive and oppressive, the upward transfer of income and wealth has accelerated, public sector assets are being privatized, corporate money exercises an increasing control over the political process, people at home and abroad are working harder for less, and throughout the world poverty is growing at a faster rate than overall population.

There are neo-conservatives and mainstream centrists who manifest a better awareness of class struggle than the "left" ABC theo­rists. Thus former managing editor of the New York Times A. M. Rosenthal sees the Republican party's "slash and burn" offensive against social programs as "not only a prescription for class struggle but the beginning of its reality" (New York Times, 3/21/95). Rosenthal goes on to quote Wall Street financier Felix Rohatyn who notes that "the big beneficiaries of our economic expansion have been the owners of financial assets" in what amounts to "a huge transfer of wealth from lower-skilled middle-class American workers to the owners of capital assets and to the new technological aristocracy." Increasingly, "working people see themselves as simply temporary assets to be hired or fired to protect the bottom line and create 'shareholder value.'"

It says little for "left" ABC intellectuals when they can be out­classed by establishment people like Rosenthal and Rohatyn.

Seizing upon anything but class, U.S. leftists today have developed an array of identity groups centering around ethnic, gender, cultural, and lifestyle issues. These groups treat their respective grievances as something apart from class struggle, and have almost nothing to say about the increasingly harsh politico-economic class injustices perpe­trated against us all. Identity groups tend to emphasize their distinctiveness and their separateness from each other, thus fractionalizing the protest movement. To be sure, they have important contributions to make around issues that are particularly salient to them, issues often overlooked by others. But they also should not downplay their common interests, nor overlook the common class enemy they face. The forces that impose class injustice and economic exploitation are the same ones that propagate racism, sexism, militarism, ecological devastation, homophobia, xenophobia, and the like.

People may not develop a class consciousness but they still are affected by the power, privileges, and handicaps related to the distri­bution of wealth and want. These realities are not canceled out by race, gender, or culture. The latter factors operate within an overall class society. The exigencies of class power and exploitation shape the social reality we all live in. Racism and sexism help to create super exploited categories of workers (minorities and women) and reinforce the notions of inequality that are so functional for a capitalist system.

To embrace a class analysis is not to deny the significance of identity issues but to see how these are linked both to each other and to the overall structure of politico-economic power. An awareness of class relations deepens our understanding of culture, race, gender, and other such things.

Wealth and Power

In order that a select few might live in great opulence, millions of people work hard for an entire lifetime, never free from financial insecurity, and at great cost to the quality of their lives. The com­plaint is not that the very rich have so much more than everyone else but that their superabundance and endless accumulation comes at the expense of everyone and everything else, including our commu­nities and our environment.

Great concentrations of wealth give the owning class control not only over the livelihoods of millions but over civic life itself. Money is the necessary ingredient that gives the rich their immense political influence, their monopoly ownership of mass media, their access to skilled lobbyists and high public office. To those who possess it, great wealth also brings social prestige and cultural dominance, including membership on the governing boards of foundations, universities, museums, research institutions, and professional schools.

Likewise, the absence of money is what makes the have-nots and have-littles relatively powerless, depriving them of access to national media and severely limiting their influence over political decision makers. As the gap between the corporate rich and the rest of us grows, the opportunities for popular rule diminish.

There is much discourse on "how to balance freedom with security." History offers numerous examples of leaders who in the name of national security have been ready to extinguish what precious few liberties people might have won after generations of struggle. Challenges to the privileged social order are treated as attacks upon all social order, a plunge into chaos and anarchy. Repressive measures are declared necessary to safeguard people from the dangers of ter­rorists, subversives, Reds, and other supposed enemies, both foreign and domestic.

Again and again we are asked to choose between freedom and security when in truth there is no security without freedom. In both dictatorships and democracies, the agencies of "national security," acting secretively and unaccountably, have regularly violated both our freedom and our security, practicing every known form of repression, corruption, and deceit.

Once in control of the state, plutocratic interests can use a regressive taxation system to make the public pay for the agencies of repression that are essential to elite domination. Still, democratic governance can prove troublesome, inciting all sorts of popular demands and imposing restraints on Big Business's enjoyment of a freewheeling market. For this reason the captains of capitalism and their conservative publicists support both a strong state armed with every intrusive power and a weak government unable to stop corporate abuse or serve the needs of the ordinary populace.

Aside from the systemic imperatives that cause capitalism to accumulate without end, we must also reckon with the driving force of class greed. Wealth is an addiction. There is no end to the amount of money one might desire to accumulate. The best security to being rich is to get still richer, piling possession upon possession, giving oneself over to the ami sacra fames, the cursed greed for gold, the desire for more money than can be consumed in a thousand lifetimes of limitless indulgence, wanting in nothing but still more and more money.

Wealth buys every comfort and privilege in life, the fame of for­tune, elevating the possessor to the highest social stratosphere, an expression of the aggrandizing self, an expansion of the ego's boundary, an extension of one's existence beyond the grave, leaving one feeling almost invulnerable to time and mortality.

Wealth is pursued without moral restraint. The very rich try to crush anyone who resists their endless, heartless, unprincipled accumulation. Like any addiction, money is pursued in that obsessive, amoral, single-minded way, revealing a total disregard for what is right or wrong, just or unjust, an indifference to other considerations and other people's interests—and even one's own interests should they go beyond feeding the addiction.9

Capitalism is a rational system, the well-calculated systematic maximization of power and profits, a process of accumulation anchored in material obsession that has the ultimately irrational con­sequence of devouring the system itself—and everything else with it.

Eco-Apocalypse, a Class Act

In 1876, Marx's collaborator, Frederich Engels, offered a prophetic caveat: "Let us not. .. flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human conquest over nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on us     At every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside of nature—but that we, with flesh, blood, and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst.. .."

With its never-ending emphasis on exploitation and expansion, and its indifference to environmental costs, capitalism appears determined to stand outside nature. The essence of capitalism, its raison d'etre, is to convert nature into commodities and commodities into capital, transforming the living earth into inanimate wealth. This capital accumulation process wreaks havoc upon the global ecologi­cal system. It treats the planet's life-sustaining resources (arable land, groundwater, wetlands, forests, fisheries, ocean beds, rivers, air quality) as dispensable ingredients of limitless supply, to be consumed or toxified at will. Consequently, the support systems of the entire ecos-phere—the planet's thin skin of fresh air, water, and top soil—are at risk, threatened by such things as global warming, massive erosion, and ozone depletion.

Global warming is caused by tropical deforestation, motor vehicle exhaust, and other fossil fuel emissions that create a "greenhouse effect," trapping heat close to the earth's surface. This massed heat is altering the atmospheric chemistry and climatic patterns across the planet, causing record droughts, floods, tidal waves, snow storms, hurricanes, heat waves, and great losses in soil moisture. We now know that the planet does not have a limitless ability to absorb heat caused by energy consumption.

Another potential catastrophe is the shrinkage of the ozone layer that shields us from the sun's deadliest rays. Over 2.5 billion pounds of ozone-depleting chemicals are emitted into the earth's atmosphere every year, resulting in excessive ultraviolet radiation that is causing an alarming rise in skin cancer and other diseases. Increased radiation is damaging trees, crops, and coral reefs, and destroying the ocean's phytoplankton — source of about half of the planet's oxygen. If the oceans die, so do we.

At the same time, the rise in pollution and population has given us acid rain, soil erosion, silting of waterways, shrinking grasslands, disappearing water supplies and wetlands, and the obliteration of thousands of species, with hundreds more on the endangered list.10

In 1970, on what was called "Environment Day," President Richard Nixon intoned: "What a strange creature is man that he fouls his own nest." With that utterance, Nixon was helping to propagate the myth that the ecological crisis we face is a matter of irrational individual behavior rather than being of a social magnitude. In truth, the problem is not individual choice but the system that imposes itself on individuals and prefigures their choice. Behind the ecological crisis is the reality of class interest and power.

An ever-expanding capitalism and a fragile, finite ecology are on a calamitous collision course. It is not true that the ruling politico-economic interests are in a state of denial about this. Far worse than denial, they are in a state of utter antagonism toward those who think the planet is more important than corporate profits. So they defame environmentalists as "eco-terrorists," "EPA gestapo," "Earth Day alarmists," "tree huggers," and purveyors of "Green hysteria" and "liberal claptrap."

Some environmental activists in this country have been the object of terrorist assaults conducted by unknown assailants, with the implicit tolerance of law enforcement authorities.11 Autocrats in countries like Nigeria, in bed with the polluting oil companies, have waged brutal war upon environmentalists, going so far as to hang popular leader Ken Saro Wiwa.

In recent years, conservatives within and without Congress, fueled by corporate lobbyists, have supported measures that would (1) prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from keeping toxic fill out of lakes and harbors, (2) eliminate most of the wetland acreage that was to be set aside for a reserve, (3) completely deregulate the production of chlorofluorocarbons that deplete the ozone layer (4) virtually eliminate clean water and clean air standards, (5) open the unspoiled Arctic wildlife refuge in Alaska to oil and gas drilling, (6) de-fund efforts to keep raw sewage out of rivers and away from beaches, (7) privatize and open national parks to commercial development, (8) give the few remaining ancient forests over to unrestrained logging, and (9) repeal the Endangered Species Act. In sum, their openly professed intent has been to eviscerate all our environmental protections, however inadequate these are.

Conservatives maintain that there is no environmental crisis. Technological advances will continue to make life better for more and more people.12 One might wonder why rich and powerful interests take this seemingly suicidal anti-environmental route. They can destroy welfare, public housing, public education, public transportation, social security, Medicare, and Medicaid with impunity, for they and their children will not thereby be deprived, having more than sufficient means to procure private services for themselves. But the environment is a different story. Wealthy conservatives and their cor­porate lobbyists inhabit the same polluted planet as everyone else, eat the same chemicalized food, and breathe the same toxified air.

In fact, they do not live exactly as everyone else. They experience a different class reality, residing in places where the air is somewhat better than in low and middle income areas. They have access to food that is organically raised and specially prepared. The nation's toxic dumps and freeways usually are not situated in or near their swanky neigh­borhoods. The pesticide sprays are not poured over their trees and gardens. Clear cutting does not desolate their ranches, estates, and vacation spots. Even when they or their children succumb to a dread disease like cancer, they do not link the tragedy to environmental fac­tors—though scientists now believe that most cancers stem from human-made causes. They deny there is a larger problem because they themselves create that problem and owe much of their wealth to it.

But how can they deny the threat of an ecological apocalypse brought on by ozone depletion, global warming, disappearing top soil, and dying oceans? Do the dominant elites want to see life on earth, including their own, destroyed? In the long run they indeed will be victims of their own policies, along with everyone else. However, like us all, they live not in the long run but in the here and now. For the ruling interests, what is at stake is something of more immediate and greater concern than global ecology: It is global cap­ital accumulation. The fate of the biosphere is an abstraction com­pared to the fate of one's own investments.

Furthermore, pollution pays, while ecology costs. Every dollar a company must spend on environmental protections is one less dollar in earnings. It is more profitable to treat the environment like a septic tank, pouring thousands of new harmful chemicals into the atmosphere each year, dumping raw industrial effluent into the river or bay, turning waterways into open sewers. The long term benefit of preserving a river that runs alongside a community (where the corporate pol­luters do not live anyway) does not weigh as heavily as the immediate gain that comes from ecologically costly modes of production.

Solar, wind, and tidal energy systems could help avert ecological disaster, but they would bring disaster to the rich oil cartels. Six of the world's ten top industrial corporations are involved primarily in the production of oil, gasoline, and motor vehicles. Fossil fuel pollu­tion means billions in profits. Ecologically sustainable forms of pro­duction threaten those profits.

Immense and imminent gain for oneself is a far more compelling consideration than a diffuse loss shared by the general public. The cost of turning a forest into a wasteland weighs little against the profit that come from harvesting the timber.

This conflict between immediate private gain on the one hand and remote public benefit on the other operates even at the individual consumer level. Thus, it is in one's long term interest not to operate a motor vehicle, which contributes more to environmental devastation than any other single consumer item. But we have an immediate need for transportation in order to get to work, or do whatever else needs doing, so most of us have no choice except to own and use automobiles.

The "car culture" demonstrates how the ecological crisis is not primarily an individual matter of man soiling his own nest. In most instances, the "choice" of using a car is no choice at all. Ecologically efficient and less costly electric-car mass transportation has been deliberately destroyed since the 1930s in campaigns waged across the country by the automotive, oil, and tire industries. Corporations involved in transportation put "America on wheels," in order to max­imize consumption costs for the public and profits for themselves, and to hell with the environment or anything else.

The enormous interests of giant multinational corporations outweigh doomsayer predictions about an ecological crisis. Sober business heads refuse to get caught up in the "hysteria" about the environment, preferring to quietly augment their fortunes. Besides there can always be found a few experts who will argue against all the evidence and say that the jury is still out, that there is no conclusive proof to support the alarmists. Conclusive proof in this case would come only when we reach the point of no return. Recently t has been revealed that big corporations have paid scientists handsomely to write papers arguing against global warming for example.

Ecology is profoundly subversive of capitalism. It needs planned, environmentally sustainable production rather than the rapacious unregulated kind. It requires economical consumption rather than an artificially stimulated, ever-expanding consumerism. It calls for natural, low-cost energy systems rather than profitable, high-cost, polluting ones. Ecology's implications for capitalism are too horrendous for the capitalist to contemplate.

Those in the higher circles, who once hired Blackshirts to destroy  democracy out of fear that their class interests were threatened, have no trouble doing the same against "eco-terrorists." Those who have waged merciless war against the Reds have no trouble making war against the Greens. Those who have brought us poverty wages, exploitation, unemployment, homelessness, urban decay, and other oppressive economic conditions are not too troubled about bringing us ecological crisis. The plutocrats are more wedded to their wealth than to the Earth upon which they live, more concerned with the fate of their fortunes than with the fate of the planet.13

The struggle over environmentalism is part of the class struggle itself, a fact that seems to have escaped many environmentalists. The impending eco-apocalypse is a class act. It has been created by and for the benefit of the few, at the expense of the many. The trouble is, this time the class act may take all of us down, once and forever.

In the relationship between wealth and power, what is at stake is not only economic justice, but democracy itself and the survival of the biosphere. Unfortunately, the struggle for democracy and ecological sanity is not likely to be advanced by trendy, jargonized, ABC theorists who treat class as an outmoded concept and who seem ready to consider anything but the realities of capitalist power. In this they are little different from the dominant ideology they profess to oppose. They are the ones who need to get back on this planet.

The only countervailing force that might eventually turn things in a better direction is an informed and mobilized citizenry. Whatever their shortcomings, the people are our best hope. Indeed, we are they. Whether or not the ruling circles still wear blackshirts, and whether or not their opponents are Reds, la lutta continua, the strug­gle continues, today, tomorrow, and through all history.



1 For a more detailed treatment of ruling-class resources and influences, see my Democracy for the Few, 6th edition (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995).

2For a discussion of GATT see my Against Empire (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1995)

3 Aronowitz and some other "left" academics do battle against Marxism by producing hyper-theorized exegeses in a field called "cultural studies." That their often impenetrable writings seldom connect to the real world was demonstrated in 1996 by physicist Alan Sokal, himself a leftist, who wrote a cultural studies parody and submitted it to Aronowitz's Social Text, a journal devoted to articles that specialize in bloated verbiage, pedantic pretensions, and academic one-upmanship. Sokal's piece was laden with obscure but trendy jargon and footnoted references to the likes of Jacques Derrida and Aronowitz himself. It purported to be an "epistemic exposition" of "recent developments in quantum gravity" and "the space-time manifold" and "foundational conceptual categories of prior science" that have "become problematized and relativized" with "profound implications for the content of a future post-modern and liberatory science." Various Social Text editors read and accepted the piece as a serious contribution. After they published it, Sokal revealed that it was little more than fabricated gibberish that "wasn't obliged to respect any standards of evidence or logic." In effect, he demonstrated that the journal's editors were themselves so profoundly immersed in pretentiously inflated discourse as to be unable to distinguish between a genuine intellectual effort and a silly parody. Aronowitz responded by calling Sokal "ill-read and half-educated" (New York Times, 5/18/96).

One is reminded of Robert McChesney's comment: "At some universities the very term cultural studies has become an ongoing punch line to a bad joke. It signifies half-assed research, self-congratulation, and farcical pretension. At its worst, the proponents of this newfangled cultural studies are unable to defend their work, so they no longer try, merely claiming that their critics are hung up on outmoded notions like evidence, logic, science and rationality. (Monthly Review, 3/96). In my opinion, one of the main effects of cultural studies is to draw attention away from the vital realities of class power, the “outmoded” things that cause Aronowitz and his associates to yawn.

4For prime examples, try the bloated, pretentious prose of such left anticommunist theorists as Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, both of whom are treated reverently by their counterparts in this country. One recent fad of the "left" ABC intellectuals is "post-modernism," which argues that the principles of rationality and evidence of modern times no longer apply; longstanding ideologies have lost their relevance as has most of political economy and history; and one cannot hope to develop a reliable critique of class and institutional forces. While claiming to search for new "meanings," post-modernism resembles the same old anti-class theories, both right and left. For a discussion and critique, see Ellen Meiksins Wood and John Bellamy Foster (eds.), In Defense of History (New York: Monthly
Review Press, 1977).

5Some publications that claim to be on the Left, such as Dissent, New Republic, New Politics, Telos, In These Times, and Democratic Left can often be as unyielding as any conservative rag in their anticommunism, anti-Marxism, and of course anti-Sovietism.

6One of those who pretends to be on the Left is John Judis, whose impressive illiteracy in regard to Marxism does not prevent him from distinguishing between "humanistic" Marxists and Marxists who are "simple-minded economic determinists" {In These Times, 9/23/81). According to Judis, the latter fail to ascribe any importance to cultural conditions and political structures. I know of no Marxists who fit that description. I, for one, treat cultural and political institutions in much detail in various books of mine—but culture as anchored in an overall system of corporate ownership and control; see my Power and the Powerless (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1978); Make-Believe Media: The Politics of Entertainment
(New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992); Inventing Reality: The Politics of News Media,
2nd edition (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993); Land of Idols: Political Mythology in America (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994 and Dirty Truths (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1996). 7 Oilman points out that Marx's analytic framework did not emerge from his head full blown. In the earlier works, such as the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts and The German Ideology, Marx is in the process of becoming a Marxist and is piecing together his understanding of capitalism in history, leaning more heavily on his philosophical training and his criticisms of the neo-Hegelians. Though more prevalent in the earlier writings, concepts such as alienation and the language of dialectics appear throughout his work, including Capital; see Bertell Oilman's forthcoming article, "The Myth of the Two Marxs"; also David McLellan, The Young Hegelians and Karl Marx (London: McMillan: 1969).

8 Most ABC theorists have very limited day-to-day experience with actual working people, a fact that may contribute to their impression that the working class is of marginal import.

 9Thus it is necessary and desirable to have laws to protect the environment, workers' lives, and consumer health because big business has a total indifference to such things, and—to the extent that they cut into profits—an outright hostility toward regulations on behalf of the public interest. We sometimes forget how profoundly immoral is corporate power.

10 Putting an end to the population explosion will not of itself save the ecosphere but not ending it will add greatly to the dangers the planet faces. The environ­ment can sustain a quality life for just so many people.

11 To offer one example: the FBI was quick to make arrests when environmentalists Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney were seriously injured by a car bomb in 1990. They arrested Bari and Cherney, calling them "radical activists," charging that the bomb must have belonged to them. Both have long been outspoken advocates of nonviolence. The charges were eventually dropped for lack of evidence. (The bomb had been planted under the driver s seat.) The FBI named no other suspects and did no real investigation of the attack.

12 A cover story in Forbes (8/14/95) derides the "health scare industry" and reassures readers that highly chemicalized and fat-ridden junk foods are perfectly safe for one's health. The magazines owners and corporate advertisers are aware that if people begin to question the products offered by the corporate system, they may end up questioning the system itself. Not without good cause does Forbes describe itself as "a capitalist tool"

13 In June 1996, speaking at a U.N. conference in Istanbul, Turkey, Fidel Castro noted: "Those who have almost destroyed the planet and poisoned the air, the seas, the rivers and the earth are those who are least interested in saving humanity."


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