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“Hell, there could be even riots”

March 3, 2009


Yesterday, American International Group (AIG) registered the largest corporate loss in US  history: $61.7 billion in the 4th quarter of 2008.  As one article put it, “AIG’s fourth-quarter loss means it haemorrhaged $678m per day in the final three months of 2008, amounting to a loss of $28m per hour.”

Perhaps, as a result of the AIG news, the US Dow Jones Industrial Average lost around 300 points and fell below 7000 for the first time since 1997.

All of this economic turmoil brings up an interesting prediction of sorts recently made by Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor under Jimmy Carter and a current behind-the-scenes handler of Barack Obama.

Brzezinksi warned that the US may start to see riots as the economy continues to deteriorate. Speaking on NBC television, Brzezinski said:

Where is the monied class today? Why aren’t they doing something: the people who made billions, millions. I’m sort of thinking of Paulson, of Rubin. Why don’t they get together, and why don’t they organize a National Solidarity Fund in which they call on all of those who made these extraordinary amounts of money to kick some back in to [a] National Solidarity Fund?… And if we don’t get some sort of voluntary National Solidarity Fund, at some point there’ll be such political pressure that Congress will start getting in the act, there’s going to be growing conflict between the classes and if people are unemployed and really hurting, hell, there could be even riots.

Brzezinski’s somewhat dire proclamation raises an important question: Why has there been relatively little political upheaval in the USA from the current economic crisis, as compared to the rest of the world?

John Bellamy Foster, editor of the Monthly Reviewremarks on this conspicuous political quietism:

The sudden fall of the governments in Iceland and Latvia as a result of protests against financial theft is remarkable, as are the widespread revolts in Greece and throughout the EU, with millions in the streets. The general strikes in Guadeloupe and Martinique, the French Antilles, and the support given to these movements by the French New Anti-Capitalist Party is a breakthrough. In fact much of the world is in ferment. Latin Americans are engaged in a full-scale revolt against neoliberalism, led by Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, and the aspiration of a new socialism for the 21st century (as envisioned also in Bolivia, Ecuador and Cuba). The Nepalese revolution has offered new hope in Asia. Social struggles on a major scale are occurring in emerging economies such as Brazil, Mexico, and India. China itself is experiencing unrest.

The one place in the world where this world historical ferment appears to not be having telling effect at present is the United States….

Foster goes on to assert that there are two primary reasons for this situation: 

First, the United States as the center of a world empire is a fortress of conservatism. Second, the election of the Obama administration has confused progressive forces, leading to absurd notions that the Democrats under Obama are going to create a New New Deal without renewed pressure arising from a revolt from below.

Indeed, as suggested by more prescient analysts, Barack Obama’s rise to power represents a political strategy by the American ruling class to coopt and prevent the aformentioned type of political insurrection from happening in the USA by packaging Obama as a figure of hope and change that people can support.

Barack Obama, it has been suggested, “is an act of system-legitimizing brilliance.”

The only question is: how long can this strategy last?

Perhaps, this quote from James Baldwin’s famous work The Fire Next Time provides a hint:

Time catches up with kingdoms and crushes them, gets its teeth into doctrines and rends them; time reveals the foundations on which any kingdom rests, and it destroys doctrines by proving them to be untrue.

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