Monday, January 4, 2016

More rich people challenging democratic sovereignty

The Oregon militia's occupation of an office building in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is just the latest episode of our ongoing plutocratic mobilization of the poor against the sovereignty of the democratic state.

This is an ongoing pattern of class warfare in the United States that the left must learn to recognize and successfully combat. The Hammonds and the Bundys are both wealthy ranching families that have repeatedly and deliberately defied basic exercises of federal governance, such as tax collection and land regulation. This is a fight on their behalf.

And while little is known about the militia involved, what we do know suggests the opposite of a democratic movement. It did not emerge locally; it was evidently raised through a persistent, aggressive recruitment campaign by Bundy and Ryan Payne, a militant from Montana, one that sparked repeated reports of "harassment" by residents of the area, EG:
The sheriff said three militiamen and one woman, one with a gun strapped to his hip, engaged his 74-year-old mother and 78-year-old father at a yard sale being held at the American Legion. When the men criticized the sheriff, his mother bristled, and said she didn't need their protection from the government...
In his creepy "goodbye" video, Jon Ritzheimer alludes to his own months-long recruitment campaign in the area. This does not appear to be a movement that grew organically out of popular concerns of government tyranny, and there is no reason to assume it's anything other than the astroturf campaign it almost certainly is, funded by people like Bundy and promoted by Koch funded propaganda organs like Reason.

The militia occupation continues a tradition of class warfare that stretches from the Tea Party brand all the way back to the Civil War itself, which working-class Southern conscripts called a "rich man's war and a poor man's fight". That fight has important lessons for the modern left. As David Williams documents in Bitterly Divided, the Confederacy was largely undone not just by opposition from the North, but by internal dissent and attrition by working-class Southerners, who had no stake in the battle and no interest in dying for the business interests of wealthy plantation owners. Crucially, hundreds of thousands of those dissidents (along with enslaved black Americans) not only fled the Confederacy but actually joined the US Army in its defense of the federal government. It was that alliance between the North and its allies in the South that guaranteed the Union's victory.

One is tempted, when reflecting on the Oregon occupation, to view it through the purely tribal lens of partisan politics, and to vilify the militia fighters as white trash terrorists who deserve to be treated as such. This doesn't just grossly misunderstand the nature of the conflict - it serves to alienate from the left members of the working-class who are rightly our allies, and threatens us with a weakened coalition against a plutocracy intent on destroying our democracy. Contrary to the what they would have us believe, it is the rich, not the government, that is dividing the working-class against itself. The solutions are the same as they always are: solidarity, and class war.