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August 2005, Volume 12 Nr. 33, Issue 168

Feudalism Then and Now

Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

The business of nation states has too often been war, and, war has always been good business.  "Good" in the sense that war  advances the power positions and wealth of the war makers and their friends.  A "good war" is any war that makes profits regardless whether the war itself is just, legal, or warranted.  War is thrust upon the masses, those who do the killing, bleeding and dying.  Today, in the post-modern United States, war is sold like any other commodity to a populace groomed into believing that patriotism demands that they, as consumers, buy into any war the military industrial complex puts up for sale.  Little has changed over the centuries in the relationship between the rulers and those they rule.  Human history shows a continuum of the rich ruling elite, the privileged haves, shepherding the have-nots into perpetual war for perpetual profit.  The haves have the profits.  The have-nots have their wounds, lost limbs, dead children, misery, grief and poverty.  It is the common people, such as Cindy Sheehan, who mourn the death of their soldier sons and daughters while the children of the rich opt-out from "serving their country" avoiding any possibility of sacrificing their rarified lives for some orchestrated "good cause".  They may be rich, but the children of the wealthy are not stupid.

US greed capitalism has made war for centuries, first on the indigenous Americans, then on Africans (slavery), the French, the Brits, the Spanish, Canada (Hull invasion War of 1812), Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Philippines, Hawaii, Germany, Nicaragua, Panama, Grenada, Haiti, China, Russia, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq.... One can go on and on.  U.S. capitalism, hard pressed to sustain itself during peacetime, favors and glorifies war.  Destroying marketplaces is good for creating the conditions for their profitable rebuilding.  Capital invested in constructive destruction is to capitalism, as destroying a city in order to save it, is to militarism.  Capitalism destroying and then rebuilding is a double-edged sword of immense profit.  

Unleashing the Beast

Unleashing the beast that exploits and devours the resources of others has been the hallmark of capitalism for a long time.  In the recent past, the French, Spanish, German, Japanese, British,  and Soviet empires unleashed their beast.  The empire today is the United States and its beast is unleashed.  The contradictions of capitalism, however, make the sun that never sets on an empire unsustainable, regardless of which empire it shines on.  All empires come and go.  

What capitalism cannot out-compete, it need to overcome through other means, whether by manipulation, coercion, or war.  The ever-increasing resources vital to capitalism's continuation must be acquired one way or another.  If they cannot be purchased, or otherwise negotiated for, they are taken.  Capitalism requires a feudal infrastructure.  The regime (nobles) dictates what the empire must have.  The CEOs, Pentagon brass, etc. (vassals) serve the nobles.  The people (serfs) die in obedience and service to them.  Lest one consider the comparison between feudalism and capitalism farfetched, how many of today's nobles and vassals have family members fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan?  How many sons and daughters of the Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz, Rove, etc., families are in Iraq dodging improvised explosive devices in that country's roadways?   How many of their children find military service of sufficient sane value to sign up?  

Historically, capitalism refers to the established economic processes that allow the employment of so-called free wage laborers.  These workers are supposedly at liberty to sell their labor unrestrained from the constraints of landlords and lords.  The parameters under which labor operates, however, are deliberately and continuously shifting.  The shifts often preclude viable employment choices as unemployment, low wages, and reduced benefits are manipulated for maximum corporate profitability.  Worker status digresses such that workers, in order to survive, must accept something far less than satisfactory employment, i.e., they work for less than a livable wage.  For many young people, this opens up the possibility of being easily recruited by the military through a de facto economic conscription.  This race to the bottom for cheap labor, i.e., the coercion of the worker, contributes to neo-feudalism posing as post-modern capitalism.  Post modern landlords contrive and control most of our lives, including the hourly wage, the rent, the mortgage, the cost of a loaf of bread, a gallon of gasoline, a quart of milk, prescription medication, health insurance, public transportation, what we eat, read, hear on the radio, watch on TV, what we buy, what we think, and who we kill.  The lords restructure workers' pensions, often eliminating them when the corporate times get tough.  What happens to workers should the sovereign entities, the corporations, fail?  While bankruptcy statutes, down-sizing, off-shoring, union busting and federal and state laws protect the corporation and its vassals, the workers, get abused and shafted.  

Equality and Equal Opportunity?

What of the principal of equality and equal opportunity for all in this the 21st century?  This much cherished ideal found in the country's founding documents is made into a mockery as permanent prosperity for the rich is enshrined through congressional legislation, i.e., tax cuts, inheritance tax elimination, bankruptcy laws, so-called energy policy, and the legal recognition of corporations as being de facto persons.  The workers, meanwhile, are subjugated by minimum and low paying service sector employment with decreased rights and benefits, often without health insurance.  Post-modern capitalism has turned life in the United States into neo-feudalism with the token figurehead noble, the president, serving the corporate masters of war.  The monarchy may not look like traditional kings, yet it exists within the community of billionaire and multi-millionaire power brokers that make foreign and domestic policy decisions.  The chains of 16th century feudalism have morphed into a 21st century version where slaves without chains hustle to make ends meet as the nobility dines on the world's carved up resources.  

In the feudal times of the Middle Ages, witches were blamed for many ills within society.  There were the so-called Middles Ages "bitches" and other heretics. There was Christine de Pisan, the abbess and musician Hildegard of Bingen, and the patron of the arts Eleanor of Aquitaine.  There were the scientific thinkers persecuted by those they threatened with their knowledge, Copernicus, Galileo, et al.  The nobles accused these people of treasonous behavior diverting attention away from themselves.  They blamed, stigmatized, and summarily prosecuted anyone opposing them.  Today's nobles blame "feminazis", gays, dissidents, environmentalists, peace and social justice activists, disabilities rights advocates, anti-imperialists, and war protestors, diverting attention away from the regime's heinous failures.  Everyone not in agreement with the US regime is castigated as a "traitor" in the attempts at drawing the spotlight away from its corruption and malfeasance.  

Today's lords, as in feudal times, have co-opted the churches in controlling the masses.  This symbiotic relationship between State and Church is mutually advantageous.  The more things change throughout history, the more they remain the same.  The more knowledge that humanity acquires, the further backward the populace goes.  The poorer people become, the less they know, or care to know.  Caring less makes the prospect of taking control away from the masters less probable.  We, the people, have become, we, the serfs.  We will remain serfs as long as income is taxed instead of wealth, and as long as workers are willing to contribute their sons and daughters to die fighting for the lies and profits of the rich.  The yoke of oppression is alive and well within US capitalism, for it and feudalism, are the same.  

In the book, We Can Change the World, in the chapter "Hope and revolution, Dave Stratman writes, 

Revolution, in my view, does not mean simply a new economic structure, and it does not mean control by a new elite. It means transforming all the relationships in society to accord with the values, goals and idea of human life of ordinary working people.

Being Discredited?

Karl Marx has been and continues to be "discredited" by capitalists who point out that no successful Marxist society exists today.  The extent of the necessity to continue vilifying Marx suggests a recognition otherwise.  If Marx is dead, why is it necessary to continuously bury him?  If capitalism's so-called triumph over socialism is the "end of history" as the fall of the Soviet Union was depicted to be, then why does history continue to repeat itself?  Why does capitalism and neo-liberalism continue to fail the vast majority of the world's population?  Why does the massive poverty of the many exist amidst the massive wealth of the few?

Often, capitalist apologists draw a distinction between capitalism and what they call the free market.  They state that the term capitalism refers to imbalances within the free market and that criticism of capitalism is erroneous as the two terms are nor interchangeable.  Critics of Marx accuse him of skillfully and treacherously chastising capitalism for the temporary setbacks attributed to free market imbalances.  They argue that Marx's dialectic is more successful as a method in maneuvering a pro-capitalist opponent into a losing argument than it is for revealing the failures of capitalism as a system.  Regardless, whether one  embraces Marx's definition of capitalism or not, capitalism is as Marx predicted, in crisis.  Whether participatory economics can or will replace capitalism is questionable.  The world, however, cannot continue the obscene imbalances between the haves and the have-nots to continue.  Whether we call this imbalance capitalism's inherent internal contradictions, or the free market's anomalies is irrelevant, as capitalism once again nears its breaking point and humanity considers moving beyond feudalism, again. 

Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies!
gone down the American river!
Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit!
Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions!
gone down the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years' animal screams and suicides!
Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on the rocks of Time!
Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell!
They jumped off the roof! to solitude! waving!
carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the street!

Howl - Allan Ginsberg

2005 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski, PhD
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