Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A new kind of communism

I have come across a lot of sentiments lately from well-meaning peace-loving Nonviolent Communication-oriented folks, in response to the Occupy Wall Street movement, about how they want to overcome the divide between the 99% and the 1%. The idea is that this kind of language is an "us vs. them" language, with the 99% being "us", and the 1% being "them". The implication is that if a series of mediated dialogues could take place between the two "sides", then we can have a new era of peace and harmony as a new unified "100%".

I don't buy into this.

The way that I see things is that we live in a class society, and that capitalism makes this the case. The 1% is another way of saying "the capitalist class". In other words, they have all of the wealth and the power that they have because of their ownership of capital. Their money makes them money, and a lot of it too. The 99% is "the working class", ie, they have to work for their money, and if they don't then they die because of the lack of things that money can buy. The labor of the working class goes to support the capitalist class, for the working class makes it possible for the capitalist class to have all of the wealth and the power that they have. All of this was thought up of and talked about long long before the current Occupy movement got started.

I am going to take a bet here that everybody who will read these words is a working class person, a 99% person, regardless of what your political views may be. In fact, I would go so far as to say that chances are that you have never even met a person who is a part of the capitalist class. These people keep themselves socially and culturally separate from working class people and (with the exception of those who have jobs as butlers, waiters, chauffeurs, security guards, etc. who are directly employed to serve them) we never come into contact with these people. We may see a few of them from time-to-time on TV, but then one can see a lot of different crazy stuff on TV, so it's best to not take that too seriously.

Recently I have seen a few signs of folks in the Occupy movement saying that they have inherited some money, so they are actually a part of the 1%, and yet they still stand in solidarity with the 99%. I don't believe these people. The way I see it is that the working class includes a broad and diverse bunch of people, folks from all kinds of different backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, etc. These people may come from relative privilege, ie, they are more well-off than most people, but as long as they still have to work for a living and they can not totally rely on their money to make money for them so much so that they can comfortably survive, then they are still working class, and hence, they are still "the 99%". A feeling of personal guilt over one's relative privilege does not change one's class status.

A few Nonviolent Communication folks have occasionally mentioned from time-to-time that they would be into having "both sides come together", they they would be into giving empathy to "both sides", that they would like to overcome all of the "us vs. them" language, etc. Here is my take on this. As far as I am concerned, there is only "us" - the working class. The working class makes everything within this society possible. The working class makes everything "work", it runs the gears, operates the computers and harvests the fields of our society. The working class is by and large operating within a frame-work of capitalism, that is, we have capitalist models within our heads and we act accordingly, hence we all live in a capitalist world. If we had a different frame-work that we worked with, a different model in our heads, and different actions as a result, then we would not have capitalism, we'd have something else. The thoughts and actions of the working class determines all of this.

What I would like to see is a complete social revolution that abolishes capitalism. I would like to see spaces and things occupied and used in different ways under different models and paradigms. To the extent that one believes in what is called "property", then what I am talking about here is collective "expropriation", but in a massive revolutionary context. What the "capitalist class" or "the 1%" think or feel about this does not concern me. This is because I see capitalism as such as being a social system that inherently, by it's very nature, utterly disregards and is destructive towards all life. Humans and animals, physically and spiritually, mentally and ecologically, within the U.S. and internationally, capitalism is a negative force that has got to go.

This inevitably will involve a degree of coercion, however this can be worked with in a compassionate way. As I see it, the 1% / capitalist class are like people with a mental illness, completely delusional about these notions of "property" and various things that they supposedly "own". Similar to people with mental illness, we usually are kept apart from them and we do not see them or interact with them. However, unlike with mental illness, we reinforce their condition by saying and doing things that encourage their delusions. By our very thoughts and actions we are encouraging a mad world. If someone were walking around pointing to various different buildings and things saying "that's mine, I own that", we would think that that person is crazy. However, if that person were wearing a suit and had a piece of paper that we call "a deed" or "a title", then we would reinforce these ideas they have. We don't have to do this, these are all choices that we make.

If there were to be a revolution, I would want the health and well-being for what is called "the capitalist class", as well as for everyone else. The capitalist class would probably have experienced coercion, they would probably be going through emotional pain and suffering as a result, however this can be worked through with care and sensitivity. Given my experience working with people with developmental disabilities and mental illness, I know first-hand how people can be completely delusional, how their personal attachment to their delusional ideas can cause emotional suffering for them, and how other people can do things to help them to experience more calm and peace as well as to work towards more social integration and productive harmony within society as well. This is the same process that I'm talking about here, just with different specific details.

Ultimately what I am wanting is communism, but a different kind from all of the stuff that has come before with that name. The old communist dictum is "from each according to their ability, from each according to their need." To have this along with ensuring the presence of the qualities of care, compassion, consideration and participation, I would amend that phrase to be this:

"From each according to their ability and willingness, to each according to their needs and feed-back."

I do find it very inspiring to see that behind this current international Occupy movement there is a living practice of various forms of decentralized, non-hierarchical decision-making. The consensus process, direct democracy, as well as networking and ultimately federations, this is how I would like to see a new kind of communism to be organized - not based on the decisions of elites or top-down models.

Another thing is the idea of needs, as in, "to each according to their needs" - I would like to see the whole conceptualization of needs be changed around. I do appreciate Nonviolent Commmunication in that it brings to the fore an understanding that we all have a variety of different kinds of needs - mental, social, spiritual, intimacy-related, as well as the more traditional physical needs that we usually think of when we use that term. With capitalism, huge swaths of people are starving in a whole wide variety of different ways, it's not just the lack of material food. A new kind of communism would actively address all of the different needs for all of the different people.

I really don't want to gloss over or overlook the vast differences and diversity of people out there. Cultural (and sub-cultural) differences between people can really make the differences seem like we all come from different planets. However when it comes down to it what I think should be actively looked at in terms of implementing the kinds of fundamental social changes that I am talking about here can be broken down to these questions:

1) Where are people spending their time?

2) Who are people spending their time with?

3) What are people talking about?


4) How are people talking with each-other?

A change towards a more directly democratic, non-hierarchical, egalitarian, sharing-based society would address these very questions and try to answer them as objectively as possible. To have power together in our society we would be talking openly about the things that concern all of us together. The general tendency towards individual isolation and the common banter about topics without any real meaning or relevance to us is totally antithetical to this. The idea of the "General Assembly" that is used with the Occupy movement is a step in the right direction for this change that I am wanting.

The way I see it, "we are the 99%" is a mnemonic device to help us to all remember that we all have more in common with the social situation that we are in than we have differences. I do not see this as a divisive thing for in the end "the 1%" is irrelevant. It is us who make this whole social system that we are in possible, and it is us who can make a new one too. The important thing is to continue moving in that direction.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this. I appreciate your perspective though I am attracted to different strategies. I really liked how you expained capitalism, that was helpful & thought provoking. As to the 1% v 99% I like to distinguish protesting against behavior, or systemic injustice rather than towards the "group" of people in the 1%. I don't need to give them empathy and I'm ok if they are uncomfortable. I only want for myself to sure to consider their needs, though not their greed. Thanks!! Carol

Anonymous said...

If you define a the working class as "someone who has to work for money" then we have an issue.

This means that CEOs are part of the working class, since they are elected and are hired and paid by the Corporation. Who is the Corporation? Shareholders. Who are the shareholders? Investors and often, pensions funds. What kind of pension funds? 401k and also union pensions. So, the CEO works for the union pensioners. This does create an interesting paradox where the capitalist class is union retirees and the working class is people like Donald Trump.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter. 20 percent own 85 percent of the wealth compared to 1 percent owning 35 percent of the wealth. The problem with the 20 percent model is that would students at prestigious unis. Namely, many of the protesters.

Susan L said...

"...there is only 'us' - the working class." For me, there is only 'us' - humanity.

If you want an end to capitalism, then the work ethic has to go. Most of what people call work is an expenditure of time, effort, and other resources to no life-serving end that I can see.

I love your new communism. Yes, question the notion of ownership. Yes, redefine wealth and redefine success. Unfortunately, though, it seems to me that capitalism and democracy are each an outgrowth of that win-lose, right-wrong, competitive mindset that most of us have been so carefully taught. They seem inextricably intertwined.

Yes, I've bumped elbows with the 1%. Some of them are called philanthropists; they put old wealth to life-serving purposes. Some of them are called athletes or performing artists - or are these people working class even if they are multi-millionaires as long as they have blue-collar parents? I don't like to be put in a box. What needs are you serving by sorting people into classes?

For me, "the 99%" is just shorthand for "virtually everyone" - nobody left behind.

Ian Mayes said...

Heya Susan,

The value that I find in having a class analysis is that of seeing the world as it is more clearly. Different groups of people interact with each-other in different ways, and the structure is such that some of these groups have more access to power and resources than others do. This is a description of the way things are, and not a prescription for how I would like for thing to be. That's an important distinction.