[sixties-l] Zinn on class & the 2000 campaign

From: Ted Morgan (epm2@lehigh.edu)
Date: 09/30/00

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    -------- Original Message --------
    Subject: ZNet Commentary / Sept 30 / Howard Zinn / A Campaign Without
    Class
    Date: Fri, 29 Sep 2000 11:39:21 +0100
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    A CAMPAIGN WITHOUT CLASS
    By Howard Zinn
    (This essay will appear in the
    October Issues of The Progressive)
    
    There came a rare amusing moment in this election campaign
    when George Bush (who has $220 million dollars for his
    campaign) accused Al Gore (who has only $170 million
    dollars) of appealing to 'class warfare'. It recalled the
    1988 election campaign when Bush's father (is this a genetic
    disorder?) accused candidate Michael Dukakis of instigating
    class antagonism.
    
    I noticed that neither of the accused responded with a
    defiant "Yes, we have classes in this country." Only Ralph
    Nader has dared to suggest that this country is divided
    among the rich, the poor, and the nervous in between. This
    kind of talk is unpardonably rude, and would be enough to
    bar him from the televised debates.
    
    We have learned that we mustn't talk of class divisions in
    this country. It upsets our political leaders. We must
    believe that we are one family - me and Exxon, you and
    Microsoft, the children of the CEOs and the children of the
    janitors. Our interests are the same - that's why we speak
    of going to war "for the national interest" as if it was in
    all our interest; why we maintain an enormous military
    budget for "national security," as if our nuclear weapons
    strengthen the security of all and not the securities of
    some.
    
    That's why our culture is soaked in the idea of patriotism,
    which is piped into our consciousness from the first grade,
    where we begin every day by reciting the Pledge of
    Allegiance "^one nation, indivisible, with liberty and
    justice for all". I remember stumbling over that big word
    "indivisible" -- with good reason, although I didn't know
    the reason, being quite politically backward at the age of
    six. Only later did I begin to understand that our nation,
    from the start, has been divided by class, race, national
    origin, has been beset by fierce conflicts, yes, class
    conflicts, all through our history.  The culture labors
    strenuously to keep that out of the history books, to
    maintain the idea of a monolithic, noble "us" against a
    shadowy but unmistakably evil "them." It starts with the
    story of the American Revolution, and, as the recent movie
    THE PATRIOT tells us once more, (kindergarten history, put
    on screen for millions of viewers), we were united in
    glorious struggle against British rule. The mythology
    surrounding the Founding Fathers is based on the idea that
    we Americans were indeed one family, and that our founding
    document, the Constitution, represented all our interests,
    as declared proudly by the opening words of its preamble -
    "We, the people of the United States^."  It may therefore
    seem surly for us to report that the American Revolution was
    not a war waged by a united population. The hundred and
    fifty years leading up to the Revolution were filled with
    conflict, yes, class conflict -- servants and slaves against
    their masters, tenants against landlords, poor people in the
    cities rioting for food and flour against profiteering
    merchants, mutinies of sailors against their captains. Thus,
    when the Revolutionary War began, some colonists saw the war
    as one of liberation, but many others saw it as the
    substitution of one set of rulers for another. As for black
    slaves and Indians, there was little to choose between the
    British and the Americans.
    
    This class conflict inside the Revolution came dramatically
    alive with mutinies in George Washington's army. In 1781,
    after enduring five years of war (casualties in the
    Revolution exceeded, in proportion to population, American
    casualties in World War II), over a thousand soldiers in the
    Pennsylvania line at Morristown, New Jersey, mostly
    foreign-born, from Ireland, Scotland, Germany, mutinied.
    They had seen their officers paid handsomely, fed and
    clothed well, while the privates and sergeants were fed
    slop, marched in rags without shoes, paid in virtually
    worthless Continental currency or not paid at all for
    months. They were abused, beaten, whipped by their officers
    for the smallest breach of discipline.
    
    Their deepest grievance was that they wanted out of the war,
    claiming their terms of enlistment had expired, and they
    were kept in the army by force. They were aware that in the
    spring of 1780 eleven deserters of the Connecticut line in
    Morristown were sentenced to death but at the last minute
    the received a reprieve, except for one of them, who had
    forged discharges for a hundred men. He was hanged.
    
    General Washington, facing by this time, 1700 mutineers - a
    substantial part of his army -- assembled at Princeton, New
    Jersey, decided to make concessions. Many of the rebels were
    allowed to leave the army, and Washington asked the
    governors of the various states for money to deal with the
    grievances of the soldiers. The Pennsylvania line quieted
    down.
    
    But when another mutiny broke out in the New Jersey line,
    involving only a few hundred, Washington ordered harsh
    measures. He saw the possibility of "this dangerous spirit"
    spreading. Two of "the most atrocious offenders" were
    court-martialed on the spot, sentenced to be shot, and their
    fellow mutineers, some of them weeping as they did so,
    carried out the executions.
    
    In Howard Fast's novel, THE PROUD AND THE FREE, he tells the
    story of the mutinies, drawing from the classic historical
    account by Carl Van Doren, MUTINY IN JANUARY. Fast
    dramatizes the class conflict inside the Revolutionary Army,
    as one of his characters, the mutinous soldier Jack Maloney,
    recalls the words of Thomas Paine and the promise of freedom
    and says yes, he is willing to die for that freedom, but
    "not for that craven Congress in Philadelphia, not for the
    fine Pennsylvania ladies in their silks and satins, not for
    the property of every dirty lord and fat patroon in New
    Jersey."
    
    When the war for Independence was won, class conflict
    continued in the new nation, as the Founding Fathers
    fashioned a Constitution that would enable a strong federal
    government to suppress any rebellion by their unruly
    children. The new government would serve the interests of
    slaveholders, merchants, manufacturers, land speculators,
    while offering white males with some property a degree of
    influence, but not dominance, in the political process.
    
    The history of the next two hundred years was a history of
    control of the nation by one class, as the government,
    solidly in the hands of the rich, gave huge gifts of the
    nation's resources to the railroad magnates, the
    manufacturers, the shipowners. Charles Beard, in the first
    years of the Great Depression, wrote caustically about "The
    Myth of Rugged Individualism", noting that industrial and
    financial leaders were not rugged enough to make their own
    way in the world, and had to be subsidized, and silver-spoon
    fed, by the government.
    
    When the ruling class (I've tried to avoid that
    old-fashioned radical expression, but it expresses a simple,
    strong truth) faced resistance, as they did all through the
    19th and 20th centuries, by slaves, working people, farmers,
    and especially by the indigenous people of the continent,
    they called upon the government to use its armies and its
    courts to put down the ingrates.
    
    Political leaders, then and now, would become especially
    annoyed when someone dared to suggest that we live in a
    class society, dominated by the moneyed interests. Thus,
    when Eugene Debs, opposing World War I, told an assembly in
    Ohio that "the master class has always brought a war, and
    the subject class has always fought the battle", this could
    not be tolerated. He was sentenced to ten years in prison,
    and Oliver Wendell Holmes, in the spirit of patriotic
    liberalism, affirmed the sentence for a unanimous Supreme
    Court.
    
    Even the slightest suggestion that we are a nation divided
    by class brings angry reactions. All Gore had to do was to
    talk ominously about "big money" (while pocketing huge
    amounts of it for his campaign) for Bush to become
    indignant. Surely he need not worry. Gore and Lieberman
    represent no threat to the rule of the super-rich. The New
    York Times hastened to reassure Bush. A front-page story in
    August was headlined "As a Senator, Lieberman is Proudly
    Pro-Business", and went on to give the comforting details:
    that the Silicon Valley high tech industry loves Lieberman,
    that the military-industrial complex of Connecticut was
    grateful to him for making sure they got $7.5 billions in
    contracts for the Sea Wolf submarine.
    
    The unity of both major parties around class issues (despite
    rhetoric and posturing by the Democrats to win the support
    of organized labor) becomes most clear when you see the
    total disaffection from politics of people at the bottom of
    the economic ladder. A New York Times reporter, in a rare
    excursion into "the other America", spoke to people in Cross
    City, Florida about the election, and concluded: "People
    here look at Al Gore and George W. Bush and see two men born
    to the country club, men whose family histories jingle with
    silver spoons. They appear, to people here, just the same."
    
    Cindy Lamb, cashier at a Chevron filling station, wife of a
    construction worker, told him: "I don't think they think
    about people like us,and if they do care, they're not going
    to do anything for us. Maybe if they had ever lived in a two
    bedroom trailer, it would be different." An African-American
    woman, a manager at McDonald's, who made slightly more than
    the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour, said, about Bush and
    Gore:I don't even pay attention to those two, and all my
    friends say the same. My life won't change."
    
    The election will be over and whether Gore or Bush is in the
    White House, the same class that has always dominated our
    political and economic systems will be in power. Whoever is
    President, we will face the same challenge the day after the
    voting: how to bring together the class of have-nots -- a
    great majority of the country -- into the kind of social
    movement that in the past has made the people in charge
    tremble at the prospect of "class warfare" and has gained
    some measure of justice.
    
    Such a movement, responding to the great challenges of the
    new century, could bring democracy alive.
    



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