How the Elite Deal With Sparks of Revolt
How the Elite Deal With Sparks of Revolt
By Bill Blunden / counterpunch.org

“I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half”

—Jay Gould

Metanoia Films has released a new documentary, Plutocracy: Divide et Impera (Divide and Rule). It’s the first entry of a multi-part series directed by filmmaker Scott Noble. The movie assembles a rich historical mosaic which examines the constitutional roots of democratic elitism in the United States, the subsequent emergence of the labor movement during industrialization, and the various schemes employed by private capital to sabotage popular mobilization.Plutocracy is available online and can be viewed free of charge. Your author, who helped to edit the script, would deem the film time well spent.

To grasp the movie’s salience viewers need look no further than a trial currently unfolding in West Virginia where federal prosecutors have indicted coal entrepreneur Don Blankenship of both violating numerous safety regulations and conspiring to hide said violations. Back in 2010 an underground explosion killed twenty nine miners working for Blankenship. It’s the worst mining disaster in more than four decades.

Those familiar with the history of the American labor movement will tell you that this sort of tragedy is hardly an isolated incident. For example in December of 1907 an explosion in a West Virginia coal mine owned by the Fairmount Corporation killed over 360 workers. Indeed, during the first fifty years of the coal industry accident rates in the United States were so high that more workers were crippled and killed than in any battle of the American Civil War.

Such hazards weren’t restricted to coal mines either. Across the expanding industrial landscape American workers faced potentially fatal threats on a daily basis, toiling long hours for low wages. Records archived by the Interstate Commerce Commission show that in the year 1899 approximately 22,000 railroad workers were killed or seriously injured. At the Homestead Steel works factory in Pittsburgh roughly 1 out of every 11 steel workers died while on the job, frequently due to lack of sleep.

During this period business interests leveraged their financial resources to purchase influence with the corrupt political machines that thrived in large urban centers. Payoffs became so routine that financiers like Cornelius Vanderbilt and Jay Gould were obliged to meet in secret to negotiate bribe caps. And when ordinary people finally began to push for better working conditions the political machines deployed their police forces on behalf of their corporate paymasters to crack down on public dissent and violently discipline protesters.

The collective experience of workers in the late 1800s with business leaders, politicians, and police gave rise to some of the first attempts to organize. Yet events portrayed in Plutocracy highlight that business leaders and their institutions were already organized. The powers that be implemented a whole series of strategies to undermine the nascent efforts of labor.

For instance, they wielded divide and conquer tactics to pit workers against each other based on race, ethnicity, and skill level. Industrialists understood all too well the threat posed by unified multi-racial groups like “the Triple Alliance”. Hence executives strove to kindle racial tension and fragment unions whenever possible, using their contacts in the press to disparage strikers and publish outright racist fabrications about “mobs of brutal Negro strikers… beating up all who attempted to interfere with them.” In fact, it can be argued that the fear of class solidarity served as impetus for racial segregation in the South.

The success of this technique has serious implications for modern society. Identity politics have largely supplanted class analysis, often increasing divisions. Journalist Matt Taibbi astutely captures this dynamic: “cultural civil war, you can have that no matter how broke you are.” Plutocracy distinguishes itself by projecting American history through the prism of class consciousness, and in doing so achieves remarkable clarity.

Then there’s the matter of mercenaries. When push came to shove and protests broke out the captains of industry invariably fell back on brute force. Which is to say that they recruited private security forces to step in and play dirty: infiltrate unions as spies, stage false flag operations to justify harassment, and assault striking workers. These agents were enlisted from outfits like the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, the Pinkerton Detective Agency, and the Thiel Detective Service.

If workers somehow succeeded in overpowering the hired armies of capital, as workers did during the Homestead Strike of 1892 or the Battle of Blair Mountain (the single largest armed uprising in the United States since the Civil War), business leaders would pull out their trump card and request the assistance of government troops. Though this didn’t always guarantee victory. In certain cases, like during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, there were isolated instances where state militias refused to fire on strikers.

Director Scott Noble has channeled his passion and energy into what’s basically a public service. Noble applies his trademark unorthodox style which blends rare antique media together with contemporary film footage to create a powerful experience that conveys vital information in a compelling format. Enlightening yet also easy to digest, particularly for a mobile device generation that’s accustomed to streaming online videos.

The news stories of people dropping from heat exhaustion and heart attacks in dot-com warehouses are a sign of things to come. In the absence of an ideological alternative to market fundamentalism society is left with a myopic worldview that demands infinite growth from a finite planet. In other words, expect the remnants of the New Deal era to be eliminated by self-valorizing executives and their quest for economic efficiencies. Their policy initiatives will be augmented by a phalanx of media outlets geared towards manufacturing consent, a global surveillance apparatus, and militarized police.

If Plutocracy offers a lesson it’s this: history reveals that the business elite and their political intermediaries in government only made genuine concessions when labor forced them to. As Franklin Roosevelt allegedly told activists during his tenure as President “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.” Witness the decade-spanning trend of growing inequality and the gradual demise of unions. A dysfunctional political system where billionaires conduct shadow primaries. These developments do not bode well for the average worker. Hence it’s likely that the harrowing clashes of the labor movement will eventually be fought all over again. Plutocracy distills the nature of past struggles and provides counsel on routes that can lead to progress.

Watch the film here. 

Bill Blunden is a journalist whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis. He is the author of several books, including “The Rootkit Arsenal” andBehold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex.” Bill is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs and a member of the California State University Employees Union, Chapter 305.

3.9 ·
3
What's Next
Trending Today
Rap News Special Edition: Hillary Clinton Vs Donald Trump
7 min · 15,665 views today · Hello world. RAP NEWS is back for a special episode on the 2016 USA Election mayhem, feat. Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump + a touch of Jill Stein & Gary Johnson. This one's...
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 14,501 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
Who Are You? Watching This Breathtaking Video Could Be the Moment You Change Your Life
2 min · 8,089 views today · "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can...
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 7,031 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 6,713 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
The Culture of Maximum Harm
Daniel Quinn · 6,160 views today · People have lived many different ways on this planet, but about ten thousand years ago there appeared one people who believed everyone in the world should live a single...
Humanity's Greatest Challenges Aren't Technical, They're Human
8 min · 4,235 views today · Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is incomplete as we commonly know it. Later in his life, Maslow wrote about a stage beyond self-actualization. Nichol Brandford explains how to...
The International Criminal Court May Start Prosecuting People Who Commit Crimes Against the Environment
Tara Smith · 4,192 views today · The International Criminal Court is not known for prosecuting people responsible for huge oil slicks, chopping down protected rainforests or contaminating pristine land. But...
Caitlin Moran's Posthumous Advice for Her Daughter
Caitlin Moran · 3,784 views today · My daughter is about to turn 13 and I’ve been smoking a lot recently, and so – in the wee small hours, when my lungs feel like there’s a small mouse inside them, scratching to...
The Journey From Syria (2016)
71 min · 2,955 views today · Reporter Matthew Cassel spent a year documenting the journey of Syrian jeweler Aboud Shalhoub as he travels from Turkey to Greece, and through Eastern Europe to the Netherlands...
10 Shocking Facts About Society That We Absurdly Accept As Normal
Joe Martino · 2,915 views today · When you take a moment and look around at the world, things can appear pretty messed up. Take 5 or 10 minutes and watch the 6 o’clock news. Chances are, the entire time, all...
The Left Deserves Better Than Jill Stein
Kate Aronoff · 2,399 views today · Stein’s Green Party run doesn’t offer a plan to win, or to build power. The Left is capable of so much more.
Prince Ea Just Put The School System on Trial and Found it Guilty of Killing Free Thought
6 min · 2,193 views today · Albert Einstien once said "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid". Today Prince...
The Little Engine That Couldn't: How We're Preparing Ourselves and Our Children for Extinction
Daniel Quinn · 2,082 views today · In a recent semi-documentary film called Garbage, a toxic waste disposal engineer was asked how we can stop engulfing the world in our poisons. His answer was, "We'd have to...
How to Criticize with Kindness: Philosopher Daniel Dennett on the Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently
Maria Popova · 1,917 views today · “Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”
This Satirical Trump Vs. Bernie Debate Is Both Hilarious and Highly Disturbing
44 min · 1,684 views today · Comedians James Adomian (Bernie Sanders) and Anthony Atamanuik (Donald Trump) bring two of the most controversial candidates in history, head-to-head, or rather bald-to-toupee...
10 Photos That Show the Magnificent Light Shining on Standing Rock
Josue Rivas · 1,673 views today · Despite all the news of pipeline regulation, court appeals, and activist arrests, Native photographer Josue Rivas reminds us that it is actually a peaceful place.
Debt, Inequality and the Logic of Financial Violence
David Graeber · 1,515 views today · Five years after Occupy, organizer and anthropologist David Graeber speaks to ROAR about the power of finance, the history of inequality and the legacy of the movement.
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 1,239 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 1,082 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
How the Elite Deal With Sparks of Revolt