Left Educational Tasks in a Capital-Occupied Nation

May 11th, 2012

Published on ZNet, by Paul Street, May 09, 2012.

Eager to find and amplify signs of mass radical potential in a period when the capitalist rich are ever more clearly destroying democracy and the Earth – the chances for a decent future – we on the United States left are understandably prone to underestimate the ideological power of the ruling class. Recently, for example, a comrade sent me a link  and suggested that I look at, and join him in celebrating, a December 2011 Pew Research Center opinion survey showing that nearly two-thirds of the American people think there are “very strong” or “strong” conflicts between the rich and the poor. The percentage of Americans who think this has apparently risen 19 points since 2009.  

Pew attributes part of this public opinion to the success of the Occupy Movement in putting the problem of economic inequality into the political and media culture.[1] So does my correspondent, quite eagerly. I’m pretty sure they are right about that.

Identifying a Phenomenon v. Opposing It:

But so what? Perceiving that strong class conflict exists is simply not the same as thinking that America’s harsh class inequality (see below) is a problem that should be overcome and undone through reform and/or revolution. As Pew noted in the online write-up of its aforementioned survey, rising perceptions of class conflict do not necessarily mean increasing grievances toward the rich or support for measures to reduce inequality. In fact, as Pew staffer Rich Morin added, “a recent Gallup survey found that a smaller share of the public believes that income inequality is a problem ‘that needs to be fixed’ than held this belief in 1998 (45% vs. 52%):”[2] … //

… Educational Tasks Ahead:

I do not go through this unpleasant material to demoralize activists and others who share my faith in the urgent necessity of social and political action to reduce (and ultimately abolish) class inequality within the beyond the U.S. I do it rather to make two positive and hopeful (I think) suggestions on how to make the U.S. the left “organizers paradise” some radical thinkers say it ought to be.

First, in forming messages, strategies, vision, and tactics to push our movements forward in the current heavily business-poisoned political culture, we should always start with the whole truth regarding public opinion (and anything else that matters). The full truth regarding U.S. public opinion on class disparity is mixed from a left standpoint. It is good (from a left perspective) that more Americans think that the rich owe their wealth to luck and connections than think the wealthy earned their opulence through effort and skill. It is good that 72 percent of Americans think it is “important” to reduce the income and wealth gap between the rich and poor (that’s the number you get when you add the “somewhat important” response to the December 2011 Gallup survey) and even that 88 percent think it is important to increase “equality of opportunity.” But it is bad (from a left view) that more Americans buy into the environmentally disastrous growth ideology (the “rising tide” toxin), that less than half and a declining (between 1998 and late 2011) percentage of Americans tell Gallup that inequality is a problem requiring a solution, that (just) more than half say inequality is “an acceptable part of our economic system” (whose system?), and that nearly as many Americans think the parasitic and privileged rich deserve their wealth as think that the rich got their fortunes from luck and privilege.

Second, acknowledging the considerable amount of bourgeois-hegemonic public opinion we still have to contend with in the U.S. helps us understand where we need to focus our energies in coming months and years. The Left has some daunting but basic and do-able educational work ahead on class inequality and its terrible consequences in America. Mass corporate-manufactured popular ignorance – a systematic, elite-imposed lack of information and of the opportunity to access meaningful information about social and political reality – is behind the disagreeable fact that vast swaths of the majority working class U.S. public continue to hold beliefs that undermine their own immediate situation and the broader fate of a livable Earth. I am certain that Gallup and Pew’s numbers would be much more progressive, radical, and environment-friendly if their surveys were given only after respondents were given significant accurate and reasonably framed information on:

  • The real and shocking depth and degree of wealth and income disparity in the U.S. today and as it has deepened over the last four decades and as it has ebbed and flowed over the last 120 years.
  • The deadly impact of the nation’s extreme concentration of wealth and income for functioning democracy.
  • The role of such mechanisms of elite rule as campaign contributions, high-priced lobbyists, corporate media ownership, corporate public relations and advertising and more in turning American democracy into a plutocratic charade and subjecting U.S. politics and policy to “the unelected dictatorship or money” (Edward S. Herman and David Peterson’s excellent phrase).
  • The wide prevalence of a strong work ethic among non-affluent working class majority Americans.
  • The numerous deep institutional and other societal barriers to basic economic security and advancement most Americans face today.
  • The remarkable structural, economic, social and cultural advantages rich people tend to enjoy from birth and to pass on from one generation to the next.
  • The shocking depth and degree of poverty and related ills in the contemporary U.S. and the roles the wealthy Few play in creating that poverty and misery.
  • The remarkable extent of ecological damage and the growing specter of Eco-cide and the rooting of that devastation in the growth- and accumulation-addicted workings of the profits system.

Misinformed: An Example: …

(full text, graphs and Endnotes 1 – 11).


Who rules America? by G. William D, /©2012;

Rising Share of Americans See Conflict Between Rich and Poor, on Pew Research Center, January 11, 2012;

Americans Prioritize Economy Over Reducing Wealth Gap, on Gallup /Economy, December 16, 2011;

Building a Better America – One Wealth Quintile at a Time, by Michael I. Norton and Dan Ariely, February 3, 2011.

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