By ANDY BARNS
Lies and illusions
It is impossible for a minority of only a few thousand ultra-rich to make 330 million people cooperate by brute force alone. Thus the American capitalist class can only rule by giving American workers many varied illusions. In a speech to the U.S. Socialist Workers Party in May 1969, Peter Camejo put the issue like this:
“How does the ruling class do it? Here, you’ve got some 30,000 people running a society of 200 million and most of the people in the society don’t even know it. […] When did you hear anyone say: ‘Just think what our 30,000 ruling class has done for us. We should give them our full support.’ They [the capitalist class] never say that. They don’t try to build up an ideological support for capitalism in the sense of telling you the full truth.”
Instead, working people are told lies, like any poor man can become a billionaire with “hard work” (we are not taught that billionaires use the hard work of millions of workers). Another lie is that our country’s electoral process is the apex of democracy. (We are not educated to recognize the many small ways that poor people are kept out of politics, nor are we taught to question the tyranny of the boss.)
Camejo continues: “Today the smallness of the ruling class means that other classes have more power in comparison [as opposed to past eras such as feudalism]. […] Take the basic production of all goods and services. Have you ever thought what a general strike would be like in New York City? Workers can take over this city in a matter of hours. Because workers run everything—the subways, the trucks that bring food, gas, light, heat—everything.
“So you have to ask yourself, why is this power never realised politically? Why don’t they just kick the 30,000 out? The reason is simple. The mass of people are under illusions.”
These illusions include nationalist and racist beliefs (divide and conquer), conspiracy theories, savior figures, apocalyptic religiosity, and quack remedies. They also include illusions pertaining to the permanence of nature, the lack of human ecological responsibility, and illusions about the “natural order” of gender norms (subservient home-care women and “bread-winner” men), etc. These notions are broadcast in the mass media and designed to divide the working class and misdirect attention away from the owners of industry.
Perhaps the chief illusion facing workers in the United States is that of a genuine conflict between the Democratic and Republican parties, when in reality the differences amount to easily exploitable wedge issues rather than competing class interests. The ruling class wants Americans to think in terms of “liberal versus conservative,” “good versus evil”—rather than “rich versus poor” or “exploiter versus exploited.”
Workers’ struggle begins, by necessity, with a minority who overcomes these illusions. But the end of capitalism can be achieved only when the majority of workers also sees through these illusions. Most workers will then have taken a major step toward understanding the necessity to take state power firmly into their own hands through socialist revolution. This would mean the ability to manage production and to carry on civil society without meddling by the old ruling class and its quest for private profits.
Repression and the state machine
Of course, illusions are a kind of “soft power” that the system employs while, at the same time, capitalism requires, in Frederick Engels words, “armed bodies of men” (“The Origin of the Family,” 1884) to keep the lower classes under control. While the institutions of state power promote illusions to insure capitalism’s viability, they still need things such as prisons, police forces, the military, and the surveillance apparatus to make certain that mass explosions of anger don’t topple the system.
Naturally, Trump and Republicans were no opponents of the security state, as we saw during the BLM protests of 2020, when the Trump administration used the tyrannical tactic of making activists “disappear” in unmarked vans. But the powers of the police state have been enhanced by both Democratic and Republican administrations, and it should be easy to see why. Both parties, as parties of capitalism, need the powers of control and manipulation to rule over the majority. The events of Jan. 6 will likely be used as pretext for a Democratic-controlled government to pass and enforce stricter “security.” These “anti-terrorism” laws will not be used strictly against white supremacist terrorism, but also against independent movements of working people and oppressed minorities. In essence, Jan. 6 will be an excuse to expand the powers of the state.
Thus, while the storming of the Capitol and the expansion of the security state by the Biden administration may be contextualized as a conflict between different political factions, the result is a further entrenchment of the dictatorial powers of the capitalist state, and a loss of freedom for the rest of us.
Socialists roundly fight against these measures of state surveillance and repression. The real methods to fight extremism and government tyranny are mass action and working-class solidarity.
Collusion between state and corporations
The state machine also involves a great deal of collusion between the government and the employer (it’s not possible to get a job without a background check, social security number, documented address, etc.), the corporations, (corporate lobbyists writing legislation, credit to big business, buying of politicians, etc.) and of course, the defense of private property in industry (the state keeps track of deeds to property, taxable assets, number of employees, etc.). This is all in service of the exploitation of wage labor to increase capital, and maintain class society.
Additionally, the state machine includes the Democratic and Republican parties. They dominate the bounds of public discourse and channel working-class energy into performing the political work of competing factions of capitalists, while squeezing out third parties. Thus, working people are tricked by the two-party duopoly to never fight in their own interests as a class.
Lenin explained in “State and Revolution” (1917): “According to Marx, the state is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another; it is the creation of ‘order,’ which legalizes and perpetuates this oppression by moderating the conflict between classes.”
A socialist revolution (a revolution of the vast majority), according to Lenin, explicitly smashes the state machine, i.e., the entire edifice of the government down to the very pores. For the majority to free itself, it cannot simply take over the machine as it exists. The very structure of the state has evolved over the past three centuries to accommodate private property and the accumulation of wealth to the rich, and the economic exploitation of the worker.
In past revolutions—such as in 1848—as Engels explained (and Lenin later elaborated), a minority would take over the state machine, riding on majority discontent and anger to change a few lofty positions of political power and a few laws. The capitalist class would be left to pull the strings, while the state machine would often be strengthened by the victors, protecting themselves and further strangling the ruled classes. It is in the very nature of the capitalist state to suppress and control the majority of people in the interests of the ruling class.
Therefore, if the working class is to free itself, it must first sweep away this state, not simply change politicians or pass nice reforms. The majority of people, the working class, needs to establish a counter-power to the capitalist state to free itself, and the majority of humanity, from exploitation and to reach a higher plane of cultural, economic, and indeed, personal development.
Photo from Twitter screenshot of Los Angeles cops attacking peaceful protesters on May 30, 2020. Via Deadline.