By Saswat Pattanayak
(Written for publication in Radical Notes)
Relevance of this day never was greater than it is today – as a celebration of collective human progress, as a reminder of historic labour struggles, as an occasion to reaffirm class allegiance with the working poor, and the majority strugglers.
Not an allegiance to exploitative ruling class demarcations of geographical boundaries drawn and redrawn through manipulative gestures of status-quo diplomacy. Not an allegiance to standards of academic, material, knowledge society thus distinguished and rewarded by the handful corporate czars to effectively facilitate their spheres of influence. Not an allegiance to normative philosophies of spiritual and religious practices aimed at bringing calm and internal peace through aggrandizing state of ignorance, indifference and ineptitude.
An allegiance to organized human labour necessarily requires obliterations of several convenient divisions mapped thus by the ruling class combines, while recreating new necessary ones.
Class allegiance in action must uproot the notions of purity attached with the cultural high-handedness in the form of canonic texts, classical arts and holy scriptures. Owing to lack of time from life’s labour, indulging in critical reflections on societal upbringings often becomes impossible or inadequate. As a result, the majority’s thought processes of any time are mostly conditioned by the simplistically offered explanations of recognized experts, not reshaped through rigorous testing by the self of acquired knowledge and incidental experiences. Such a propensity towards contentment by not subjecting oneself to question the foundations of belief systems helps maintain the glorification of cultural produces that puts the peoples in their oppressed places: that is, at the level of passive observers.
Authoritative texts irrespective of how patriarchal, discriminative and violent they are – all religious scriptures fall into this category – are passively consumed as holy and irrefutable. Ongoing texts of necessary collective resistance do not find a publishing house or a review on the mainstream liberal media. Classical as well as postmodern arts depicting both the royal past and confused future are heralded as containing “high” artistic value, while realist arts depicting peoples revolutions in the past or existing organized working class movements are discarded as socialist propaganda. Labour union songs, films portraying human labour as protagonist, and books about organized revolutionary history are forced out of circulation. If elite culture is limited to incomprehensible museums, popular culture is defined in terms of vulgar exhibits of indiscriminate media consumption. After dumbing down people through trivia overloads, they are praised for being free to choose what works best for their lives. After conditioning popular thoughts through uncritical materials, subjects are offered options to choose – between Coke and Pepsi, Disney and James Bond, McCain and Obama, Drama and Romance, Oprah Winfrey and Ellen Degeneres, Rock and Pop. Choices vary only by degrees, because they simply cannot vary by kind. Such wide array of similar choices offered by corporate greed must necessarily be a substitute for the limited options necessary for establishment of a classless society. They cannot be supplements.
Classical/postmodern and socialist/realist choices cannot co-exist harmoniously. In their realized state, the monumental and fundamental conflicts must surface. Just as haves and the have-nots cannot co-exist peacefully. In their emancipated states, revolutionary struggles must take over. Political systems that claim otherwise and preach possibility of peaceful coexistence between economically disparate classes merely work overtime to deceive their subjects through propagandist media which conveniently redefine economic classes (hence, a creation of “Middle Class”) and reposition boundaries of dissent by forming among themselves mutually respecting groups of liberals and conservatives – as a result, annihilating the possibility of communistic discourse around property relations.
Political systems such as these – the wide array of “Democracies” rule over a comfortably numb, blissfully ignorant, uncritically religious, and eternally grateful mass of people who are preached the merits of self-centric career growth, domestic peace and personal saving accounts over the high costs they cause – endless cycles of poverty, unemployment, lack of healthcare, absence of socially relevant education, continuation of escalated wars, and unquestioned acceptance of accumulation of private wealth as a necessary virtue. This hegemonist worldview not only widens its own sphere but in the process closes the alternatives. As a result, individual comforts take precedence over collective good and external aggression is justified in the name of internal peace. The wealthy section is heralded as deserving, the poor as resulting high-crime neighborhoods. The rich are rewarded with tax-breaks and bank loans while the poor are condemned to be credit-unworthy and liabilities. The true majority comprising the working class is treated as a minority when it comes to effecting administrative changes, policies governing education, house ownerships, business labour practices and environmental concerns. The true minority consisting of the historically privileged and their recent elite cronies express and install the legislations that suit their interest while masquerading them as national interests. Hence the president of a given country declares wars in these times under the advice of the friendly military-industrial lobby without taking into account the interest of majority of people in the world. What is worse, the majority of people are in fact attributed as the ones who wanted to go to war in the first place. After all, in the democracies – the system where the leaders are elected by virtue of how much money they have gathered – people deserve the kind of government they elect. Since people have exercised their voting options – no matter how uninformed they were kept in their choices not just to vote one leader or the other but about their stance on the process of farcical elections themselves – the leaders carry out most heinous of acts relegating the consequences of responsibilities to the masses.
Under the conditioned pretense of being active deciders of their destinies, people support their elected heads in all unfortunate decisions – just as inside houses the children do not question their reactionary parents, students do not confront their ignorant teachers, followers do not challenge their religious preachers. In effect, narratives of socioeconomic history are authoritative when they speak through the ruling class lenses. Students grow curiosity about the hairstyles and handbags of the First Ladies of White House, than pose critical questions concerning the reason why their own working mothers toil so hard and yet feel they do not deserve the similar treatments as the rich presidential wives or their corporate guests at grand banquets. A “free” society based on rhetoric of individual liberty suffers from being inherently an unfree, ignorant, selfishly passive one. Women are defined by gender roles prescribed to them by men. Their loyalty is defined in terms of how much of the body they cover, and their freedom is defined in terms of how much of the body they expose. From their menstrual cycles to pregnancy months, their status as workers is defined as a liability by norm and disability by law. When the entire workforce strives to accentuate the greedy private capitalist bank accounts, the sense of contribution to societal developments is felt through the merciful charities – disguised as tax evasions – of rich individuals, and through painfully slow legislations of judicial systems that offer drops of justice from time to time. Legal amendments to grant freedoms to minorities – that conveniently divided group of oppressed world majority – offer quotas in lowly paid jobs in form of so-called affirmative actions and reservations. Not as reparations to the historic damages.
Demands for reparations lead to revolutions. Revolutions are prevented by means of granting of charities. Status quo of the privileged is maintained through shedding of material grants, and guilt, from their surplus. World Bank loans and grants to the landless in the world is an act of charity on behalf of the greedy bankers, financiers who put their poster-boys at the helm of political power just to prevent any step toward reparations. In these days as always in the past, private bankers help their political weapons to rule over the people. They do so by granting credits and loans to people for essential needs that otherwise should be taken care of by the governments. Instead, availing of housing, healthcare and education facilities are privatized in order to keep people debt-ridden throughout their lives. Debts and interests accrued on them create a majority population that is unable to conceptualize the demands of reparations. On a May Day today it is only important to note that Bank of America which has received billions of taxpayers money not only spends them for its own profit motives by pursuing a credit war on the hapless consumers; it also lets the CEO Ken Lewis receive $35 million salary in the past two years; and what is worse, it fires thousands of employees who cannot avail of the so-called Employees Free Choice Act – yet another false promise from the American President Obama, known better as the lasting friend of the corrupt banks.
It is not enough to say the economic class war on majority of world’s peoples is an indictment for the freedom and equality envisaged for our world. Indeed, it is only natural that in order to keep the world unfree and unequal, it is important that the economic class war waged by the rich upon the poor continues in this manner. For the ruling class of individualistic corporate, political, judicial, academic, religious profiteers who assume the world does not need revolutionary replacements whereby they must be prepared to give up their private houses, businesses and mansions, it is necessary for them to continue exploiting people – directly and indirectly- by preaching peace while waging war, teaching lies while educating the youths, celebrating private properties while pretending to be moral and religious.
Those of us who must realign or strengthen our class allegiances with the oppressed and the exploited, must sympathetically understand why the ruling class does what it is doing. Only then can we unite together to transcend barriers and divisions instilled among us by the exploiters and empathetically revolt for the classless society that we strive for. May Day is an occasion to stop wondering in surprise. Only yet another day we need to rise above and beyond the divisions. And working class must still continue to unite even more and reach out to those workers who have doubts choosing which side they must be on.