Mitt Romney uttered the above three words at the recent Republican Convention in the USA. The race for the Presidency is now officially on and every negative tactic that billions of dollars can buy will be used by both sides to promote their particular interests. However, in referencing the ‘magical’ American Dream, which he advocated should be ‘protected at all costs’, Romney unwittingly highlighted an essential feature of capitalist and pro-capitalist politicians on all sides of the political spectrum. The promotion of ‘Over the Rainbow‘ ‘dreams‘, or a particular American version of such ‘dream’s’ in the case of the US, is necessary under capitalism. This is because, for the vast majority of people, their reality has been and is increasingly becoming a nightmare.
Dreams encountered naturally whilst sleeping, whether good or bad, are soon over, but the type of dreams peddled by politicians such as Romney, need to be continuous. Such dreams are maintained by constantly promoted and skilfully manipulated illusions. Like their professional stage-illusionist counterparts, politicians learn the art of manufacturing deception by elaborate rituals and distracting attention away from what they are really doing, particularly while the spotlight is upon them. The congressional and parliamentary ‘stages‘, and other such electioneering platforms on which they collectively practice their well rehearsed rhetoric and histrionic posturing, are there for fooling people into believing they are trying to help those who vote for them.
Like anyone else faced with even a slightly convincing performance, we can if we choose, suspend our disbelief and enjoy the show as do the highly selected and willing audiences at the Republican and Democratic Conventions. It also helps of course, if enough people outside of such cabaret style entertainment ‘experiences’ can be rendered gullible or sufficiently self-deluded, that they too will promote the necessary political illusions. It is the illusions which become in turn a self-delusion that formal politics is the solution to life’s problems and not part of its many problems. Illusions, delusions, and dreams are as much essential products of the bourgeois mode of production as ‘smart-phones, smart-bombs, baton’s and killer drones.
a) Illusions in politics.
So one of the first illusions the political class and its supporters, sows amongst its electorate is that they are in politics for the general good. In fact they are all, without exception, in it for their own self-advancement. Even those who consistently try to do good things for others – a very, very small minority – are simultaneously in it for their own prestige and betterment. The vast majority, on the other hand, are cynical manipulators and greedy appropriators of any money, perks or privileges, they can vacuum into their bank accounts. This illusion of ‘general good’ should have been shattered as the lived reality of the past fifty years in every country of the world, has been revealed so starkly. In not one country, have politicians improved things for their citizens. Any improvements achieved, have invariably been initiated, struggled for and sustained by the citizens themselves – often forced upon reluctant politicians. And in many aspects of life, things have got a great deal worse.
The third illusion emanating from the political class and their paid sycophants is the illusion that they can have an independent effect upon the economic activity of the country they appear to administer. This is a most successful past illusion and has entered the consciousness of most non-sceptical people. This illusion is most strongly held by the older generation, the younger generations being increasingly sceptical – all to the good!. The fact is that under the capitalist mode of production, economic activity, is under the direct control of the owners and controllers of financial and productive capital and the respective means of production. The politicians themselves are at best under the indirect (at worst the direct) control of the economic and financial elite, rather than the opposite.
This much has also been made clear again in recent years and months by how governments (and their politicians) have to toe the lines drawn up by the bond-markets, rating agencies and by the numerous un-punished frauds and thefts by big business and big finance. It is a fact – again exposed in the 21st century – that an ordinary citizen stealing something petty such as a bottle of water (firewood in the 19th) will result in a fine and even a prison sentence, yet whilst stealing billions by the economic and financial elite, will be overlooked or nullified by a measly out of court settlement, before business is allowed to continue as before.
b) Illusions in Capitalism.
The current crisis of capitalism, with its multiple aspects, economic, financial, social, political and ecological, has not yet entirely removed the illusions promoted by those who gain from the present system. [see the ‘Five-fold crisis of capitalism’] In defence against the rising criticism of the obscene levels of wealth accumulated by the 1% along with their tax avoidance, a particularly virulent illusion is currently being sustained. It usually takes the form of we need the rich (so don’t tax them highly or scare them away) for they are the ‘wealth creators’. This is utter self-interested and self-deluded nonsense. The rich don’t create any wealth, they, like their politician friends, just use their elite and privileged positions to vacuum up the wealth created by others.
It may ‘appear’ that wealth is created by investments, but it is not. In many cases monetary wealth is obtained by dodgy speculation, in such forms as futures, derivatives and hedge funds. The Wall Street and City of London, promoters of this form of speculation do not create any wealth. All they produce is pieces of paper, which entitle them to cash-in for any accrued benefits, when they choose to. Their monetary gains are not creations of new wealth, but derive from someone else’s losses. Real wealth is created by people working on materials, using tools and other means of production to produce articles which are necessary and/or satisfying. The factories, workshops, machines and raw materials which produce essential and luxury items are created by working people and are staffed by working people who daily create new wealth. Without this continuous activity everything would just grind to a halt – including the usefulness of pieces of paper, bearing a government stamp – ie fiat currency.
If we delve further into the reality of the capitalist system, even the vast sums of money used to purchase those factories, machines and raw materials was accumulated out of the surplus products and value, produced by present and previous generations of working people. Pieces of paper and entries in legers do not produce anything except dust and (prior to computers), mental fatigue. The swollen bank accounts of the rich would be useless if there were not things to buy and things to eat – produced by whom? The answer is glaringly obvious if you stop to think about it. The factories, shops and offices, would not have even been built if there were not workers constructing them. When built these premises and mechanised contents would be life-less, useless, piles of glass and concrete containing equally life-less unproductive machinery, without working people operating and maintaining them to produce what we need and what we would like.
Another illusion spun out of the flimsiest intellectual sycophantic fantasies is that capitalist wealth trickles down so that everyone gets a share. This illusion should now be in the process of being cast aside, because it is obvious that wealth actually defies the analogy of gravity in this upside down capitalist world and gushes up to the rich, from the ranks of those who create it in the bottom sections of society. Wealth is clearly not created from the top down, but from the bottom up. Over the last fifty years, this fact should have become abundantly clear. The rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer. How could it be anything other than this in a system in which real wealth is created by those who produce actual tangible products, yet the vast amounts of vouchers of entitlement (paper money or digitised bank accounts) to these products are deviously amassed by the 1%?
A number of other illusions promoted by the supporters of the capitalist system are now being progressively exploded. The illusion that justice under capitalism is neutral and freely open to all. It would be an amazing contradiction if a system based upon economic exploitation could spawn anything but a legal system in which wealth and privilege did not distort any sense of fair play and recompense for wrong doing. The legal system and the justice based upon it mirrors in many ways the economic system; it is corrupt, self-serving and elitist. Whoever, pays most to its legal advocates, ensures the best possible outcome for themselves, and it is the rich who can pay the most. The poor are increasingly barred from seeking a remedy against injustice, by lack of funds.
The same goes for equal rights. A system in which there is no economic equality, could hardly evolve equality with regard to gender, race, class, sexual orientation or disability. The two centuries old struggle for equal human rights, under the capitalist system has consequently hardly dented the white-male privileges which dominated its metamorphosis, from the pre-capitalist feudal period. It continues to maintain its current strangle-hold. An occasional black or female politician or capitalist entering the ranks of the elite, does not create equality, but it does serve to create an illusion of its possibility. Yet the reality is, despite heroic efforts by generations of dedicated activists, the systems fundamental inequality still permeates all aspects of capitalist economic, social, religious and political life.
One further capitalist promoted illusion is about to be shattered as the crisis deepens. It is the illusion, based upon a short post-second-world-war reality of an entitlement to welfare provision. Capitalism, it was then suggested, had learnt its lessons from the savage treatment of 1920’s and 1930’s working people. Threatened by the example of attempted anti-capitalist revolutions, the political elite of the time decided it would institute universal forms of welfare provision. Full employment, free education, health, social services, pensions and unemployment benefit, would be pitched at such levels that would allow a dignified existence for all. The scourge of unemployment, poverty, and the stain of ill-health and ignorance would be removed from the fabric of capitalist social life.
Well guess what? Unemployment, poverty and ill-health is back with a vengeance. The capitalists and pro-capitalists, having amassed obscene levels of wealth have also discovered it is too expensive under their system to continue to deliver such promised entitlements to those who managed to attain them. Instead of improved welfare provision re-directed from the hugely increased accumulation of general wealth they have decided enough is enough, or rather what they previously thought was enough they now think is too much. Austerity is now the new nightmare facing the working class and the poor – the short-lived post-war reality is over. The bourgeois dream is dead! However, the dream – now projected into an imagined future – as Mitt Romney so clearly acknowledged, needs to be protected – and protected – at all costs! The system as it starts to implode – needs it!
So forget the past, forget the present and look into the future through the jaundiced eyes of the pro-capitalist elite is the newly emerging political mantra. We are invited to suspend our critical faculties and enter the virtual reality of an imaginary post-crisis capitalism which – predicated on economic growth – will once more deliver our dreams. Forget that it was the previous capitalist growth that created the present economic and financial crisis. Forget, that the past and present economic growth under the capitalist mode of production is already damaging the planet and that any future growth will make this damage permanent. Forget everything and just sleepwalk into the impending collapse, valiantly ’protecting the dream’ – at all costs.
‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ or ‘Follow the Yellow brick road’ may be a bit too obvious for Mitt Romney and Ryan, Obama, or Clegg, Cameron and Miliband, or even Hollande, Monti, Merkel and others in the political elite. However, rest assured, these aspiring political Wizards of Oz, have all prepared a selection of ‘pre-election lullabies for soothing us to sleep – perchance to dream. Not to mention having prepared an army of robo-cops for those of us who refuse to accept their practiced sincere insincerity or follow them to the ends of the capitalist rainbow – in search of our individual fantasy pot of gold.
Alternatively, we can wake up to reality, cast off the spell, refuse to simply ‘wish upon a star’, and reject the illusory castles in the air. We can exit the hall of mirrors, and continue to create our own grass roots reality. Another world is possible, but only if we disown the capitalist dream, see through the bourgeois illusions and work together in anti-capitalist solidarity movements of all kinds. Yet it is even here that sadly we may encounter others who wish to ‘protect a past dream’ and its associated illusions. Sectarian anti-capitalism is based upon a different set of wishful thinking and the promotion of various illusions necessary for its acceptance. These too need to be duly jettisoned. In some places, anti-capitalist sectarian dogma continues to be used to divide us and to attempt to implant other forms of mirrored, virtual-realities which allegedly – also for our own good – recreates reliance on yet another set of political elites. This is yet another fantasy game of shadows which should not be protected, but rejected and replaced by collective, self-organised, sombre reality.
Roy Ratcliffe. (September 2012.)