The rich conservative elite is right – a class war is igniting. The tinder was rising economic inequality caused by a generation of elite piracy undermining the hard-won progress of the whole 20th century, which was a century of war between extremists (fascists, communists, and the somewhat more subtle neo-liberals) and those who cared about society.
The spark was the conservative elite’s rapacity. That is ironic because in the aftermath of the great victory over the fascist and communist extremists, most of the people in the West were quite willing to allow the elite to have its millions in unearned income as long as everyone else could get a few crumbs off the table. But when neo-liberal piracy (from Pinochet to Mozillo) began destroying whole societies one by one, not just limiting the 99% to what trickled down but forcing the 99% into outright impoverishment, sending them back to where they had been before the Great Depression, people began to wake up: the appetites of the super-rich know no limits. This class rejects the historic compromise of the New Deal and is plotting to return the world to the days of upper class rule, even if it takes class war to get there. The global class war that Marxists failed to ignite may in the end be provoked by the super-rich, precisely those people who have the most to lose!
Class war today looks very different than in the past. Protection of rich financial criminals, bailouts of fraudulent corporations, planetary environmental poisoning (e.g., the Gulf of Mexico) with no one found guilty, the intentional promotion of bubbles (housing bubbles, oil price bubbles), and the exploitation of natural disasters (from stealing the valuable beachfront property of Sri Lankan fishermen after the tsuname to running the poor out of New Orleans after Katrina) constitute the 21st century weapons of choice for class warfare.
The double electoral victories of French and Greek socialists suddenly gives hope that Western societies are awakening to the new reality. The stock market, which reflects the opinions of the super-rich, is of course down, and the fawning media are of course filled with foreboding warnings of doom. Watch out! These new regimes may actually support…”change!” Welfare may actually start to be transferred from millionaires to the poor! Who knows? The criminal rich may even start to feel the gentle touch of regulation and to be held responsible for their crimes.
The first challenge of the new socially conscious leaders will be to craft economic policies based on providing for the welfare of the 99% rather than cuddling billionaires at the expense of the 99%. Hollande is referring to shifting from “austerity” (for the poor) to “growth;” what he really needs is to have the courage to shift policy from “austerity” to “egalitarianism:” making the rich (both people and corporations) start paying for their privileges. Given the power of bankers over mere state governments, that will be difficult enough, but as Hollande for one already appears to understand, foreign policy is the other side of the coin.
Implicitly making the connection between a foreign policy based on violence and a domestic policy based on the exploitation of the average person for the benefit of the elite that U.S. neo-cons so carefully avoided admitting, Hollande is already talking about speeding up France’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
After a decade of Western imperial adventure and domestic financial piracy, French and Greek socially conscious leaders will need to find allies rapidly to avoid defeat. May these new leaders remember carefully the real meaning of “socialism:” taking care of society. And may they never forget the difference between handouts and the creation of a society in which those who work hard can do well.