Interview: The changing consciousness of US workers
Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath violently exposed the pent-up contradictions of decades of poverty, exploitation and racism. In your article, you say that the people are becoming aware of the contradictions between the classes and that this awareness will have a great impact on American society. Has class-consciousness indeed been awoken? How does this manifest itself?
JP: Absolutely. Increasing class-consciousness takes place over a period of time, based on the accumulated experiences of life under capitalism; but there are certain "nodal points" at which it takes leaps forward. Katrina and in particular its aftermath were such a point. In the US there are decades of relative prosperity and conservative inertia to overcome, but it is clear that Katrina shook millions more people out of apathy and indifference. This was not "evil-doers" that could easily be demonised as in 9/11 ‑ this was seen by the vast majority as a direct reflection of the incompetence and blatant disregard for human life of the current leadership. This was a major breakdown not only of the disaster response planning, but also of the political authority of the entire government. It exposed the ugly underbelly of poverty and race, as well as the indifference of the big business government to the plight of poor people. A growing crisis of confidence in the entire system is inherent in the situation. There have even been references to the "ancien regime" of Louis XV and XVI.
For many people, this was the "last straw". And although it won't be the last major shock to shake up the American workers' consciousness, it will go down in history as an extremely important one. The 2000 elections, Enron, September 11, the Afghan and Iraq Wars, the latest series of scandals to hit the White House, all of this is having an effect, and it is really just the beginning. You can hear it in people's conversations, in the growing consensus that both the Republicans and the Democrats need to be replaced, that the media is right-wing, etc. They see their living conditions deteriorate and gasoline prices skyrocket while the oil companies (which are well-known allies of the Bush clique) profited $30 billion between them in the third quarter of this year. All of this is sinking in, and in the future, we will see major explosions of the class struggle here in the "belly of the beast".
The Bush administration spends billions of dollars on the invasion and occupation of Iraq, but they were painfully slow in helping the people of New Orleans. Immediately after the disaster, a majority of the people was against the war. Is this still the case? Do you notice a strengthening of the anti-war movement?
JP: Even more people are now against the war. A majority think the troops should be brought home as quickly as possible and think that Bush should be impeached if it is proved he lied about the reasons for the war. The "hearts and minds" here at home have been lost, and that means that the war is lost ‑ just as the American Marxists predicted. Many former Bush supporters are now turning against him and can see that the war threatens to destabilize the entire system. The anti-war movement is not yet massively visible on the streets, but the mood is very strong and there is a lot of support for anti-war sentiment in general. Sooner or later it will again erupt onto the streets, and it will take on a broader scope ‑ attacking not just the war, but the Bush administration, and ultimately the system itself.
We heard that insurance companies are going out of their way to avoid having to cover the damage. For instance, they want to classify the disaster as a flood instead of a hurricane, so they won't have to pay. Is there any hope that the victims (with insurance-policies) will be reimbursed?
JP: Under capitalism, the capitalists make the rules, so I wouldn't put my bets on the poor people of the Gulf Coast receiving much of anything as long as these gangsters are in charge. This is seen as a bonanza money-making opportunity for hoteliers, casinos, oil companies, etc. Handouts for the rich and eviction notices for the poor ‑ that's the reality of the situation. Only the working class can ensure jobs, health care, education and housing for all ‑ that is the only real hope for the people in the areas affected by the recent hurricanes, and for the whole of the US (and the world!). This is why Americans need a party by and for working people, a mass party of labor to fight for socialist policies.
There is mass unemployment on the Golf Coast. If the population could democratically dispose of the rebuilding-fund, they could create jobs and rebuild their destroyed city themselves. However, the important building contracts are being handed out to Bush' business-relations. The rebuilding will serve their desire for profit instead of serving the general well-being. Are people aware of this and how do they react to it?
JP: Yes, many people are aware of it, and it is a factor in the growing consciousness. The arrogance of Bush and co. is astounding. But as in the ancient Greek tragedies, their hubris will be their downfall. It's not a matter of "if", but "when".
You mention the chaos-theory. One single event can be the instigator of a whole series of events, especially in an unstable system like today's capitalism. These events can have a deep and far-reaching impact. Did the government's failing with Katrina, after Enron, 9/11 and the Iraq war, indeed play a similar instigating role?
JP: Yes ma'am, it did! I hope I answered that one in point 1 above.
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