i’ve been meaning to make this post for the last week or so. reflection calls. i hope perhaps not too inwardly. twitter really has me feeling like people in the streets fighting and people sent to the streets, dumped by a system that is through with them in a useful capacity for the masters, is a game, a rhetorical exercise in one upping each other in commodified exchanges of words. pick an issue that’s stuck in your craw that another person who can retain anything close to citizenship in the seat of empire holds, this fleeting designation for capitalist usefulness, and add poor people to it — you have an analysis in 140 characters or less. veganism versus meat eating is always a good one to claim to speak for the disparate on. i digress, somewhat.
my partner and i were getting a bite to eat the other night, at a burger joint. a man approached us, but he could barely get any words out. before we could successfully communicate with him, a manager on duty intercepted him and offered to give him some fries on the house. i had my wallet out but i guess the manager knew him and was perhaps embarrassed (for the business of course). he asked me after the manager had gone if he was bringing him something hot and i said it was on the way. the manager came back and apologized to the side of the man, the houseless man, said he could shoo him off and i said it was fine, he just wanted to sit and talk in the meantime.
he seemed to want to reassure my partner and i that he was asking nothing from us. i told him i hoped he would have no shame in doing so. not sure if that was presumptuous or not, but having had brushes before with losing everything, i was certainly not too proud to beg at those times. he told us about going to high school, his daughter he thought might be around my age, and “fucking everything up”. communication was sometimes difficult for him, and i could sense the repeated “i gotta tell you something”s when a thought was interrupted said a lot more through damage via what seemed like heavy alcohol use and malnutrition. we had to go to make it to a pet shop for something for our little fish buds at home before it closed, and he wondered if i could get his burritos he collected the night before warmed up. i asked the staff and they did so even though they were annoyed. he told us we were nice, i told him the same, said goodbye. nice. nice is pretty easy when you have money to go get something for your reef tank and go home to a warm bed. nice is expected when you don’t have such things.
he is 53, a person with a history, a mother who was a school teacher and a father who was a cop. a rebellious streak that neither of them could bear, he said. perhaps selfishly i couldn’t help but think while talking to him that i hoped my brother wasn’t going to be having the same conversation in 20 years. for all intents and purposes, he has been without a house his entire adult life. crashing on one couch or another when running from the law, to my parents’ or my sister’s when things are fairly on the level. never setting up a residence of his own, he’s relied on the purse strings of trust fund friends or lovers, hawking wares online, or theft including from family members.
i’ve never deliberately written him off and i’ve tried to treat his children to whatever i could materially get to them as long as their mother didn’t think i was encouraging his behavior, somehow, though our contact as we’ve been adults has been sparse. intraclass warfare as reigned on down ultimately through the masters’ requirements has wrecked anything that could have meant a more cohesive unit for us to weather the storm in together. as an individual, i wish he could get it together and quit bringing difficulties into my aging parents’ lives, and if that doesn’t happen somehow, i’m not sure what will become of him and that sickens me. as much as the man in the burger joint seemed to want to chalk up his circumstances to his fucking everything up, and as easy as that is to do with individuals in families or neighborhoods bringing in unwanted attention from authorities for “nuanced” reasons because they are not going along to get along, the fault doesn’t lie with them as individuals. all of these actions are shaped by the ruling class and work in their favor, inhibiting class consciousness and reinforcing repressive societal norms also acted out through the family.
yet i’ve complained about his idiocy. however i’ve complained about the enabling of my parents. it’s more than that of course — one hand washes the other and power is ceded to one institution or another that should make sense of it all for them instead of working through these things productively, in solidarity. my mother, the same woman who made my father burn his air force regalia (as some symbolic gesture i suppose since he had been discharged years before) during the Vietnam occupation (where her brother was during this time), had tried to get my brother into the army at one of the lower points. as if 30 years had just never happened leading up until that time.
it’s these sinking realizations that can make a person who’s faced such expulsion from society imagine the streets are their fate or that it is really a genetic predisposition as the subtext of nearly every bit of media informs us. from a young age i knew that my paternal grandfather had died living on the streets of the south side of Chicago. i knew that my father was forced to do things for unsavory people who ran the streets as a teenager to get by for him and his sisters after my grandmother had died of breast cancer in a time when it was not such a chic disease to have, and that it was this loss that sent her second husband, a man i never knew, into the streets, coming back to the family for booze money if anything was left from the welfare check. i knew it was hard for them, and the arguments that sometimes erupted during Thanksgiving dinners when we traveled back to Chicago about “what kind of person” this man was who left them behind from my dad’s perspective and who couldn’t go on normally from my aunts’, were too much to bear even though i felt proud to even live on after internalizing the stories, to survive.
the time has come in my life to ask my father (my mother has reminded me), for my own sake, to get a simple test to see if there is a definite genetic predisposition i should be concerned about with regard to my grandmother’s fairly youthful passing. this one is fairly easy, especially since i have some material comfort these days. when faced with “fucking it all up”, i was making the most money i have in my life but drowning in debt from a previous relationship that wrecked my only true marker as a worker, my credit score. before i found a roommate who actually had a desirable one at that point in my life, i was evicted and considering a room in a halfway house for $60 a month. this was relief from cramming all my stuff in my car and holing up until something came along. even with the roommate there was stress still. family with very comfortable living arrangements and inheritance money denied me, and when i wrecked said car which i had lapsed in my insurance payments on, my father’s sage advice was that i needed to keep up with my payments. they had cut me off from any assistance when my drafting supplies the university didn’t cover astounded them, so even barely squeaking that i needed help covering registration for a vehicle as recent as three years ago was an embarrassing chore. now they freely send money, when i least need it, and offer to do the work of familial visitation. a request for his blood seems to be a breeze being right respectable these days, when i have the disposition to see what my condition is.
in any case the inhabitants of the streets and those who take them up have informed my actions throughout my life in some way even if it has not always been thoroughly radical. my father’s dealings with them were changed when a mentor from an after school program took him under his wing, a man named Paul. he kept contact with Paul until he died recently; he had made it into his 90s and lived a full life. i worked for the same organization with this never far from my mind. kids, babies, just children, forced into the streets without involved families or anything better to do in that community were mocked as “industrial product”, never to be anything more — as much as my boss pushed for payment from their parents, we took them all in regardless. as for the people who i worked with in other activism at my nearby alma mater, who took to the streets when it was fashionable, this opportunity to work at getting and keeping people off them didn’t warrant much more than how “proud” they were to know someone so committed to such work. there were other commitments, and everyone needs to eat after all.
i want to know how far we have to be pushed, as proletarians, to make the simplest form of solidarity, to make sure people on the streets have something to eat whether it be vegan or not or convenient for twitter showboating simply a common practice to take up in our everyday experiences. people are out in the streets with anger that has built up their whole lives, demanding better. this is being manipulated in numerous ways to fracture what could be built toward a formidable movement. but those left behind in the streets, if anger passes through opportunistic manipulation, still have the struggle onward in this harsh system where privilege and citizenship are meaningless rings to reach for as they are pulled further and further away.
i don’t think the angry people in the streets are looking for a solution from above, i really don’t. but the media inundation shapes our mindsets and what thought even is. solidarity with those discarded by most can strengthen a movement and can pull individuals away from toxic family units where none of the people involved are likely to work toward solutions that bolster power as a class to work toward staving off a more openly fascist, intolerant society. we have talking points and anger, but we don’t need to be limited by the former.
there are some glaring realities with historical precedents that we can see at work presently. increasingly those most affected and marginalized by capitalist society do not have workplaces to organize in. these figures can be difficult to assess because of the very method in which they are collected; long term unemployed are discounted if they give up their searching and eking by on limited part time hours has you out of the lot. shadowstats “reflect[ing] current unemployment reporting methodology adjusted for SGS-estimated long-term discouraged workers, who were defined out of official existence in 1994” gives us an estimate at nearly 25%:
to get a closer, more realistic grasp of this number is more important in practice than merely gaping at capitalist manipulation, although i don’t know that this is stressed enough either, generally. placating the citizenry with ideas of decreases to nearly 5% is a cynical move meant to mollify and quell class anger. it’s not merely a matter of “information not being free”, as if this knowledge itself is an actionable force on people who simply know. this fanciful data is used to inform and shape political intelligence of those with varying social positions within the workforce stratum. Sergio Bologna’s paper, Nazism and The Working Class, works toward demystifying stereotypes around working class acquiescence through careful materialist analysis that explains different threads actually militant communist and socialist groups were influenced by with examination of “hidden” unemployment and statistics that were manipulated toward Nazi control.
A few statistics will suffice to give an idea of the extent of the unemployment, and the dramatic nature of the situation in the years of the Great Depression, when both the Communist Party and the Nazi party were winning their biggest electoral successes.
In the fourth quarter of 1930, the unemployed stood at 3,699,000; in the same period of 1931, the figure was 5,060,000; by one year later it stood at 5,353,000. The peak was reached when Hitler was already in power, in the first quarter of 1933, with 6,100,000 unemployed.
But these are only the “official” unemployed, registered as such at government employment offices. Historians had been working on these figures up to about ten years ago. Then, thanks to work done by a woman researcher, Heidrun Homburg, attention was focused on statistics of the period which suggested the existence of a “hidden” stratum of unemployment. Homburg’s work provided the basis for Winkler’s reconstruction (for the post-1933 period, Rudiger Hachtman embarked on original research which, however, takes as its starting point the same contemporary works that Homburg had examined). The atomised structure of the workforce in the micro-enterprises, and the presence of a wandering mass of precarious workers, meant that there were very large numbers of people who had not worked sufficiently to get the right to unemployment benefit. In addition, as we shall see shortly, there were reasons that served to keep the unemployed away from Employment Offices.
Thus if we also take into account the hidden unemployment, we arrive at the following figures: 4,115,000 unemployed in the fourth quarter of 1930, of which 32.5% were without unemployment benefit; 5,943,000 in 1931 (33.5% without benefit); 6,704,000 in the third quarter of 1932 (37.6% without benefit); and 7,781,000 in the first quarter of 1933 (31.6% without benefit). In short, if we add the “hidden” unemployment to the official statistics, we have to add between a million and a million and a half people to the figures. Unemployment on this scale produced such a strong fracture within technical class composition that it inevitably had consequences at the level of people’s ideas, and thus of their political behaviours.
his further discussion of the protest and agitprop activities of the KPD and the SPD — movements that offered real ideological alternatives surpassing so much of the liberal-left co-option we see today — based on this makeup is illuminating in no small part as to how unemployment drew bargaining power away from industrial workers. some of the most radical industrial workers of our day deemed as the worst nobodies of them all aren’t even recognized as such. their mediation through controlled, authoritarian-bowing and co-opted unions present them to the imagined more sophisticated workers as “mere” service workers while the capitalists represent their true nature outside of that scope for their own bargaining power! that’s maybe another post, but this phenomenon is put into perspective well enough already at the blog A Critique of Crisis Theory.
to conclude i would like to leave this with some sense of urgency that i know i feel on a daily basis, and parallel what was at work leading up to Nazi Germany through the social control of welfare and intel with a quick sketch of my own thoughts in what we face today with our massive security apparatuses and the subsequent manipulation of reactionary thought that could be materially harmful for nascent militant left and socialist movements. again, Bologna:
The relationship with a “social state” had been very important to social democracy and to the trade unions, in giving a sense of citizenship to the working class of the Weimar Republic and in this way inculcating a loyalty to the Republic’s institutions. This bond was now being shattered, and the result was a further sense of alienation among the unemployed working class, in relation to the state and its institutions. Thus, when the working class is accused of not sufficiently defending the democratic Republic, one has to bear in mind that this democracy by now represented very little in the eyes of the central nucleus of the workforce. The result of driving the unemployed onto the system of municipal welfare was to create an army of people obliged to go asking for charity from a bureaucrat, who very often judged their needs solely on the basis of subjective impressions. The unemployed could receive social security only if they succeeded in convincing the benefits officer in a face-to-face interview. This led to the creation of a mass of millions of people who were open to blackmail. Furthermore – a fact which was important for the subsequent Nazi regime – the details of all these people were thoroughly documented.
quoting myself, in relation to the tired “they’re coming for our guns!” distraction that follows from the reactionary, anti-government crowd any time a spectacularized spree/mass shooting occurs:
so the reactionaries are factually wrong, worrying about turning a corner that we have yet to arrive at (with individual states, counties, townships, etc varying on their own stipulations for ownership) but that they have sole, special knowledge of. the liberal middle class with their hand wringing over anything dotted and signed have no incentive to understand this with their allegiances declared. and we have a whole lot of gun owners whose backgrounds are on file with the feds and whose departments have surely become only more connected with numerous agencies after panic over terrorist plots and what they supposedly “failed” at without more integrated communications systems, so they claim.
this manipulation is everywhere and is discernible through material analysis, not ideas of democratic will citizens all expect and that should be strengthened from the farce of a failing republic. information is already free, we are not.