Joe Stalin and Vladimir Lenin face off in Times Square

Occupy Wall St: Naomi Wolf condemns ‘Stalinist’ erosion of protest rights

Author Naomi Wolf is arrested in New York at an Occupy Wall Street protest

Author Naomi Wolf and her partner Avram Ludwig are arrested in New York at an Occupy Wall Street protest. Photograph: Mike Shane

Last week I listened to a rather disturbing radio program on National Public Radio – the discussion dealt with “class warfare.”  In typical NPR fashion they had a few guests and a few callers all weighing in on the “deep divisions in American society caused by greedy and wealth capitalists and bankers” – those very same people that the protestors in Time Square want to stop, change, curtail and displace with a better class of people.  Class warfare has not been as a contemporary term in common usage since the Great Depression in this country.  However, the term resurfaced sometime this year in the debates over the budgets and jobs bills and the subsequent  demonizing, name-calling and general political demagoguery.  Do politicians ever think through anything they say or do – do they ever study history?  Class warfare as a term has a history, it brings with it some significant and dangerous connotations and implications – none of which we want to wear around our necks, in my opinion.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has given the usage of the term an added boast; the foreign press rather likes the term – and for example, appeared today in an article from the Chinese People’s Daily titled “What is wrong with the US.”  It is not a well-understood term here, but most countries understand it and many of the foreign commentators would relish a class war in the United States.  Class warfare, is used to describe a country divided into two camps, defined by the possession of money, privilege and power.  The term gained prominence when used by the class of people who did not posses money – most significantly by Lenin and the Bolsheviks – the leaders of moneyless class called for a war against the possessors of money, privilege and power.  The conclusion of the war came when the moneyed class was disposed (and very often killed), stripped of their possessions and a new world order came into being – ala Lenin’s Russia. Once you accept a term and begin to use it in common discourse its connotations – not what it means according to the dictionary – but what it means without any thought – a kind of subconscious thought manipulator takes over.

We haven’t reached the stage of the term’s imbedded meaning, the “kill’em” stage,  yet because we are in the initial phase; we are still choosing sides and identifying the enemy.  Once that is done the rhetoric will begin to heat up and the call to action will become more demanding.   Today, the Wall Street bankers and financiers are just greedy and unregulated villains; but as the campaigning continues they will become criminal, then very bad human beings and finally as evil demons, the targets of an armed revolt. Of course I am exaggerating – but only because this is just starting to warm up.  Here are two example to illustrate how the process works.

Today the Wall Street Journal published an article written by someone, Douglas Shoen, who had conducted a poll of the protestors and found them to have “a deep commitment to left-wing politics” – you know the commies from the past  – they approve of violence and civil disobedience.  Clearly they are the enemies of society and must be stopped.

Our research shows clearly that the movement doesn’t represent unemployed America and is not ideologically diverse. Rather, it comprises an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence. Half (52%) have participated in a political movement before, virtually all (98%) say they would support civil disobedience to achieve their goals, and nearly one-third (31%) would support violence to advance their agenda. Douglas Shoen, Wall Street Journal, 10-19-11

Across the pound, the Guardian had an article written about Naomi Wolf, a writer for the Huffington Post, who was arrested in New York City for an act of civil disobedience. The headline of that article cast the police in the same 1930s drama that Douglas Shoen’s article cast the protestors, but on the opposite side.

Occupy Wall St: Naomi Wolf condemns ‘Stalinist’ erosion of protest rights.

Wolf said she “calmly” disputed the order with one of the officers in white shirts, who are more senior than those in blue shirts. “By this time I was surrounded by them. One of them asked me if I was going to get out of his way. I didn’t think consciously that I couldn’t step away, but I froze. My conscience froze me.” Officers then detained Wolf, and took her to a precinct where she said she spent about half an hour in a cell. Guardian, 10-19-11

Ms Wolf did not say the police were Stalinist, the newspaper said it, just the way the American newspaper said the protestors were radical left-wingers.  But that is how the sides are being chosen, over time this kind of rhetoric leads people to choose sides and to begin to hate the opposite side.  That is the first step – choosing sides and identifying the opposition, the enemy of your class; the second step is to demonize and to hate them, both as individuals and as members of that class; the third step is the call to arms and violence – now that we hate them enough, we must kill and destroy them and their kind so that we, the righteous of the world, can rule in peace and prosperity – because of course we will have all of the ill-begotten wealth of the enemy.   Only that part rarely works out according to the proclamations of the leasers, just ask the average Russian or Chinese peasant how much of the wealth came their way after the revolution. Oh, paring Joe and Vladimir on opposite sides may seem strange, but it is not really, Vladimir was the agent of social change and Joe became the symbol of forceful maintenance of social order.

We need to beware, the people inciting discontent and class divisions are just trying to sell newspapers, get elected, keep someone else from being elected or get higher ratings.  But if history can be used as a lesson, leaders will come along who indeed do want class warfare and not higher ratings.   I, like many others, want to see some changes in our political system, but I do not want war.



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