‘Now, We Are Engaged in A Great Civil War’
By Earl Silbar
Q: What’s wrong with this statement? A: A civil war means two sides engaged in battle.
So, we’re not engaged in any civil war. So far, it’s more like a slaughter. It’s like the South attacks and the North has no army. The South continues, but the North has no forces in the field, so it’s a one-sided war (a class war too), and we’re getting our asses beat. Before fixing my car’s oil leak, it helps if I know what’s causing the leak and what I can do about it. (The other question is: can I afford it?)
Why now? Two things come to mind—one, the recent causes and second, the deeper causes. Hopefully, an accurate awareness can help me/us “fix” our problem, now and longer term.
“Recent,” for this 63-year-old, means the recession/crisis of 1973. For you young’uns out there, there was an actual drop in the rate of profit for corporate America/capitalist America. There was an actual contraction in world trade. It was the biggest world recession since the early ’30s. What’s more, there were radical/revolutionary mostly young and disproportionately Black workers in rebellion from the battlefields of Vietnam to the auto plants. That was on top of the massive student, women’s, gay and Black liberation movements that challenged so much of “business as usual.”
The business class/ruling class responded with a counter-attack on the ideas, the values, the goals, the gains, and the power of our side. Having defeated us on most fronts, they’ve gained momentum with no end in sight. Militancy, solidarity, class consciousness and revolutionary ideas have been largely smashed, coopted, and/or confused. Rebellions like Los Angeles, P-9, PATCO, Staley, Detroit News and more have been isolated and sometimes destroyed.
The Unions’ collaboration as union partners of Corporate America was re-established with the defeat of the left—meaning principled fighters not limited to reds—back around 1949-52 via red-baiting, the Cold War mentality, and consummated with the marriage of the old collaborator AFL with the newly-tamed CIO in 1955. Together, we’ve had 50 years of unionism aimed at disempowering workers for the master and the handmaiden. After all, to mix my metaphors again, the house slave doesn’t want no uppity field slaves making the master mad, does s/he? And some of us in the working class have had enough pay and benefits to stay on the sidelines. Now, we’re getting ours ripped off too.
The deeper drive for these cuts? It comes from the inherent need of capital/corporations to lower their costs of production, to constantly fight to maintain and increase their rates of profit, to further their accumulation. For me, Marx gives the deepest explanation of why this drive is built into their system across the globe. Many of us think of it as corporate greed, while I see it as capitalist need. It’s like asking why the sunshine hurts our skin or why scorpions bite—it’s their nature; it’s hard-wired.
Of course, that’s a longer discussion, but I’m convinced that asking why we’re having such problems is key. Of course, many will disagree and that cannot nor should not stop us from working closely in this and every fight!
The announced closings at Ford are the latest in this one-sided class slaughter. All those are part of the pattern many workers wonder about. But there were others that many dismissed. For example:
Cuts in public housing and welfare were a little-noticed earlier chapter in the capitalist attacks. Most of “those people” weren’t union. Many were Black. And almost all were working class. Point being? That we need a wider class consciousness of what our common enemy is up to and who “we are’—here and worldwide.
It’s not a luxury. We need and must have, organizations of like-minded people where we can discuss and evaluate. Because then we have the possibility of working together, of developing strategy and tactics. To grow the conscious, committed and newly developing activists into a force, to strengthen our side’s power in these day-to-day, critical attacks. Until we do, it’s not even a civil war; it’s a slaughter.
Most getting this post want to work with the Delphi and other auto workers and retirees and families coming forward to take up their fight. No other agreements are needed. When we’ve fought here in City Colleges, we’ve united folks with many different views. That also means that everyone has to be free to explain what they think and how it relates to our struggle.
Solidarity is not charity, after all. We give it because we all need it. It’s not just a good idea that feels good; it flows from us facing powerful enemies and having common needs that we can’t fulfill alone.