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moving in the right direction

June 2, 2013

Reading Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, I’m not only impressed by the way it examines US history from the standpoint of the people, emphasizing “the commonality of the 99 percent” and helping keep alive the memory of people’s resistance in a medium (history books) that’s traditional favoured the point of view of governments and political leaders versus people’s movements, but by the way he foresaw the rise of movements like the Tea Party and Occupy.

In the 2003 revised edition, for example, Zinn writes:

There is evidence of growing dissatisfaction among the guards [those helping to keep the system going like soldiers, police, teachers, ministers, administrators, social workers, technicians, production workers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, transportation workers, communication workers, sanitation workers, firefighters, etc.]. We have known for some time that the poor and ignored were the nonvoters, alienated from a political system they felt didn’t care about them, and about which they could do little. Now alienation has spread upward into families above the poverty line. These are white workers [which make up the majority of many Tea Party and Occupy groups], neither rich nor poor, but angry over economic insecurity, unhappy with their work, worried about their neighborhoods, hostile to government—combing elements of racism with elements of class consciousness, contempt for the lower classes along with distrust for the elites, and this open to solutions from any direction, right or left.

In the twenties there was a similar estrangement in the middle classes, which could have gone in various directions—the Ku Klux Klan had millions of members at that time—but in the thirties the work of an organized left wing mobilized much of this feeling into trade unions, farmer’s unions, socialist movements. We may, in the coming years, be in a race for the mobilization of middle-class discontent.

The fact of that discontent is clear. The surveys since the early seventies show 70 to 80 percent of Americans distrustful of government, business, the military. This means the distrust goes beyond blacks, the poor, the radicals. It has spread among skilled workers, white-collar workers, professionals; for the first time in the nation’s history, perhaps, both the lower and the middle classes, the prisoners and the guards, were disillusioned with the system. (636)

And this, I think, not only illustrates the real, underlying discontent felt by a growing number of people — privileged and non-privileged alike — that’s not being given a voice at the political (i.e., electoral) level, but the need for the left to get its shit together and organize people’s energies away from solutions involving elements like austerity, classism, nationalism, racism, etc. (such as in Greece) and towards creating a truly egalitarian, post-capitalist society.

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