The u.$. economy has succeeded in stabilizing itself, at least for the near future. As reported previously (1,2), the majority of amerikans are prospering; their pockets lined with the bribes of imperialism, the labor aristocrats of the united $nakes are unlikely to support genuine
socialism any time soon.
In 2007, amerika faced an economic downturn. Excessive lending allowing amerikans to buy overvalued houses, which led banks to the point of collapse when debts could not be repaid. As the effects of the crisis spread, stocks fell, jobs were lost and the economy began to contract. The financial crisis has been rightly recognized as the worst to affect the First World since the Great Depression. However, it has also been rightly recognized as being of lesser severity, earning it the moniker the Great Recession.
And since then? The state of the amerikan economy has been not that of crisis but of recovery. Unemployment peaked in October 2009 at 10.0%. After that, it steadily declined. In early 2019, almost a decade later, unemployment now sits at 4.0%. In fact, by this measure the u.$. economy is doing better than ever. Monthly unemployment figures in 2006, before the crisis, were around 4.5%, 4.4% at the lowest. In 2018, they were around 4.0%, with the highest being 4.1% in the beginning of the year.(3) Labor force participation has decreased 2% since October 2009, but is at an average value over the last 65 years.(4) Another indicator of economic prosperity, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, has grown over the past five years, surpassing 25,000 points and setting 15 all-time record highs in 2018.(5) The bull market does not just enrich a few bourgeoisie: with 55% of amerikans owning stocks, the majority of the u.$. population is petty-bourgeois and benefits from rising stock market. (6)
In 2017, Amerikans spent, on average, more than five hours a day pursuing leisure, a number essentially constant over the preceding decade.(7) Between 2009 and 2018, average wages increased by 23%, faster than the rate of inflation.(8,9) As 2018 drew to a close, the average hourly wage in amerika was $27.53 (median hourly wages have seen similar steady increases to just over $23).
Contrast this state of affairs with China, where the hourly wage in 2016, adjusted for purchasing power parity, was $6.39. Or India where it is $3.10.(10) In China, hourly pay is less than a quarter of that in the u.$. In India, it is less than an eighth. It is clear that this wage disparity can only exist because amerikans benefit from the exploited surplus value of Third World labor.(11) So-called socialist groups in amerika "fight for 15," ignoring both the low wages paid in other parts of the world and the fact that many workers inside u.$. borders are, by virtue of nationalist immigration policies designed to preserve amerikkkan wealth, considered "illegal" and unable to benefit from a higher minimum wage.
Despite the fact that the numbers above have been adjusted for inflation and geographical differences in purchasing power let's entertain the supposition that some aspect of the cost of living has not been accounted for and that amerikan workers are still being exploited. If amerikans were truly being exploited, then they would have little to no property or wealth of their own. However, 64% of amerikans own a home, about the same as in the mid 1990s.(12) This number is fairly stable; since the 1960s, homeownership rates have fluctuated in a fairly narrow range, peaking close to 70% in 2004 and never falling below 62.9% since 1964.(13) In 2018, the average u.$. home had an asking price of over $200,000.(14) Many amerikans own their homes outright, while others may have a mortgage and look forward to outright ownership in the
future. An amerikan with a 30-year mortgage, for example, expects that they will pay off their home in 30 years and enjoy a comfortable retirement in it. Ignoring issues of credit, interest and down payment that would automatically exclude Third World workers, a Chinese worker attempting to buy the same house with a quarter of the income would need to spread out payments over 120 years, while an Indian worker would need to labor for literal centuries. The average amerikan dwelling, leaving out furniture, cars and other luxuries, already represents a greater accumulation of wealth than the typical Third World worker could make in eir lifetime.
And it is not a question of a vast economic divide within the U.$. Even among amerikans with an income below the national median, over half owned a home in 2018.(15) The majority of amerikans are therefore in possession of considerable wealth, which they invest in assets and spend on plush accommodations. The typical amerikan acts more like a member of the bourgeoisie than of the proletariat.
There remain significant economic differences between the wealth of whites and the wealth of New Afrikans and Chican@s within U.$. borders. But even with that disparity, the vast majority of U.$. citizens are profiting from the exploitation of the Third World, giving them a solid economic interest in imperialism. In a future article we will provide an update on the economic status of oppressed nations within U.$. borders.
A Boom in False Consciousness
In the bourgeois media we've seen a recent uptick in pieces examining the growing generational divide. Older commentators bemoan the laziness and entitlement of millennial (born in 1981-1996), while younger commentators decry the indulgence and thoughtlessness of baby boomers (born 1946-1964) who have depleted the Earth's resources and left no economic opportunities for future generations. The former is the typical "kids these days" grousing. Disproving the latter: homeownership among people aged 35 and under has gone from 64.0% in 1994 to 64.4% in 2018.(16) In other words, economic opportunity has actually increased for younger amerikans. Millennial wealth has more than doubled since 2007, with the other generations seeing either a net increase in wealth or a partial recovery in the value of their sizable assets since the
Any discussion of a generational gap in economic opportunity is false consciousness. Nothing could underscore this point further than the fact that any generational disparity in wealth will be rendered moot when the millennial children of bourgeois boomers receive their inheritances. In fact, it will not even take that long. Just as aristocratic scions of yore could remain resident in the family manor, or plantation, and not have to worry about actually working for a living, young "professionals" (i.e. those tasked with administrating the parasitic U.$. economy) can buy large homes in expensive metropolitan areas because they receive financial assistance from their parents.(18)
Amerikans, as a whole, enjoy high wages and a comfortable lifestyle not available in the Third World. The majority of amerikans possess considerable wealth in the form of houses and are closer to the petty-bourgeois than the proletariat in their economic position. Because of this economic interest, the Amerikan populace is unlikely to support a genuine communist revolution. Without a solid internationalist perspective, any talk of socialism within amerika will be a phony national "socialism," at best redistributing from one tier of the labor aristocracy to another and at worst heightening the violence inherent to international superexploitation.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation depicts the struggles
(if they can be called that) of Clark Griswold. It is Clark's quest to
have the perfect Christmas for eir family: spouse Ellen and children
Audrey and Rusty. Most of the first act of the film is dedicated to
comedically exaggerated petty-bourgeois scenarios in this vein: getting
the right tree, putting up the Christmas lights, shopping for gifts, and
trying to keep the peace among family members (much extended family
arrives in the form of both sets of grandparents, Ellen's cigar-smoking
uncle Lewis and senile aunt Bethany, and Clark's redneck cousin Eddie,
accompanied by eir spouse, children and dog). Christmas books and movies
have long been vessels for anti-capitalist messages, even if they are
tainted by idealism and economism: from Ebenezer Scrooge being
frightened into giving concessions to the proletariat in A Christmas
Carol(1), to the anti-imperialist solidarity of Whoville in How
the Grinch Stole Christmas(2), to the anti-militarism parable of
A Christmas Story(3). And a superficial "reading" of Christmas
Vacation suggests that it may not only follow the same paradigm but
even exceed these works and act as an inspiration for communist
revolution (spoiler alert: the climax of the movie involves the forceful
kidnapping of a member of the bourgeoisie). However, a deeper analysis
reveals that, despite occasional flashes of progressiveness and a candid depiction of the labor aristocracy, the film
does not provide useful guidance for revolution.
Throughout the movie, some potshots are taken at the bourgeoisie, but
nothing too substantial. Clark's next-door yuppie neighbors are depicted
as pretentious snobs, while eir boss is gruff and impersonal. But these
attacks on the bourgeoisie are based on persynal mannerisms, not
economic grounds. Clark is clearly a privileged member of the labor
aristocracy. Ellen doesn't seem to work, and Clark makes enough to
afford a couple of cars and a nice house, which ey bedecks with an
over-the-top lighting display. Clark does not even seem to work hard to
enjoy these things. In the whole movie, ey is shown at work in only
three brief scenes. And in none of those scenes is ey actually engaged
in labor. In the first, ey is chatting at the watercooler. In the
second, ey drops off a gift and unsuccessfully attempts to ingratiate
emself with eir boss. In the third, ey is sitting in eir office, looking
over some plans for a persynal swimming pool. So Clark does not appear
to work that hard, but ey does mention several innovations ey has made
for eir company, which seems to be a manufacturer of chemical food
additives although no manufacturing is ever shown onscreen.
Could Clark's mental labor as a chemist still be exploited by the
bourgeoisie proper? The answer appears to be no: Clark is planning to
pay for eir swimming pool with eir end-of-year bonus. Said bonus
represents compensation for the value ey has produced in excess of eir
salary and thus precludes em from being truly proletarian. Indeed, eir
entire compensation is likely funded by the manufacture of chemicals ey
has designed, presumably by Third World workers. Thus, Clark occupies
the classic position of a labor aristocrat: someone who may be slightly
exploited by the bourgeoisie, but who ultimately receives compensation
in excess of the value of eir labor, as a beneficiary of imperialist
superexploitation of the Third World proletariat.
As the film progresses, the minor and mainly apolitical subplots fade to
the periphery (after some technical difficulties, Clark's light show
wows the family and is never mentioned again), and a political thread
assumes prominence. As it turns out, Clark is really counting on eir
Christmas bonus. In order to expedite the construction of eir pool,
Clark has put down a deposit and written a check that eir bank account
can't cover. Clark is confident that eir performance will earn em a
sizable bonus, but that confidence begins to wane as the days go by
without word from the company. Finally, a messenger arrives on Christmas
Eve with an envelope. Before opening it, Clark, apparently on the knife
edge between luxury and financial ruin, expresses both eir anxiety
regarding eir solvency and eir hope that the check will be large enough
to not only cover the cost of the pool but also airfare to fly over all
the extended family present (ten people!) to enjoy it when it is built.
To much fanfare, Clark opens the envelope and finds that, to eir dismay,
it only contains a subscription to the Jelly-of-the-Month club, a gift
of nugatory value. Enraged, Clark launches into a tirade denouncing eir
boss's perfidy and angrily expresses eir desire to see eir boss tied up.
Taking Clark's words literally, Eddie slips out, locates Clark's boss
(conveniently, Clark mentioned the neighborhood ey lives in during eir
lengthy monologue), and kidnaps em. Bound, gagged, and festooned with a
large ribbon, ey is Eddie's last-minute Christmas gift to Clark.
There are several issues with this scenario.
First, the stakes are very low. The only thing really at risk is Clark's
bonus. Perhaps ey will have to live without the pool for another year.
Perhaps ey will be charged by the bank for a bounced check. Perhaps ey
will even have to forfeit the deposit ey made. But if Clark is low on
cash, that is a problem of eir own making. We are talking about a persyn
who probably spent over three grand just on the electricity for eir
250,000-bulb Christmas light display.(4) If Clark misses out on eir
bonus, what is the big deal? Ey might have to pawn eir lights and forgo
the spectacular light show next year. Eir family might even have to take
fewer of their legendary vacations. But it seems unlikely that they are
in danger of going hungry or having to sell the house or even the car.
Perhaps the aspect of Clark's misfortune which ey most keenly feels —
and which is most relevant to Amerikan audiences — is what it
represents. Denied an explicit share in eir surplus value (ignoring, of
course, that ey still receives a salary of international superprofits),
Clark is confronted by the prospect of eir potential proletarianization.
Scarier than any Ghost of Christmas, the spectre of economic forces
strikes fear into eir heart. Rather than act constructively, however,
Clark, true to eir petty-bourgeois nature, reacts by pointlessly venting
eir rage at eir family. Ey also attempts to ignore the problem by
frantically following family Christmas rituals (providing time in the
narrative for Eddie to complete eir mission with eir absence unnoticed).
The proletariat of the 19th Century may have had to turn to the hard
drug of religion — "the opiate of the masses" (5) — to cope with its
actual oppression, but in Clark's case, nothing so strong is required,
just what might be called the eggnog of the masses: a reading of "The
Night Before Christmas" and also a Tylenol, washed down by a few cups of
So, the stakes are low, but this movie is a comedy. Perhaps the events
depicted can be seen as a microcosm of the proletarian struggle. Would a
mere amplification of things produce a progressive view of international
economic exploitation? Sadly, no. Clark is a member of the labor
aristocracy, with an imperialist, petty-bourgeois, even bourgeois
mindset. Even eir most innocuous actions are tainted with oppression.
Eir actions throughout the film appear to be a re-enactment of
Amerikkkan history and atrocities, down to a roughly chronological
progression from European colonization to Amerikkkan imperialism in the
Pacific. The movie opens with Clark driving eir family to the woods to
chop down a Christmas tree instead of buying one, a handy metaphor for
Amerikkkan theft of the land from Indigenous peoples and destruction of
the environment, as well as a reminder that it was the timber of North
America that originally drew the English colonizers. Next, Clark moves
on to gender oppression. In "The Communist Manifesto", Marx and Engels
wrote that the "bourgeois, not content with having the wives and
daughters of their proletarians at their disposal... take the greatest
pleasure in seducing each other's wives."(6) In multiple ways, Clark
displays these bourgeois ambitions, although ey may be considered only
petty-bourgeois due to eir lack of success. First, while shopping for
Christmas gifts, ey flirts and leers at the female salesclerk. Later, ey
has a daydream about eir pool in which the the vision of eir family
playing is replaced by a fantasy of seduction by a womyn who the
soundtrack implies to be an Indigenous Hawaii'an, thus tying together
the gender and national strands of oppression.
Finally, there is Eddie. Despite eir simple appearance, Eddie is the
fulcrum of one of the biggest paradoxes in the film: is ey a force for
revolution or reaction? An uninvited guest, ey seems to be nothing but a
source of problems, but ey ultimately saves the day with eir actions
against the bourgeoisie. Is ey proletarian? Hardly. It is revealed that
ey has been out of work for seven years. Aha! Perhaps ey is part of the
lumpenproletariat. Even if that were true, ey would be part of the First World lumpen and receive a significant benefit from eir position as a resident of the imperialist u.$. Regardless, the facts reveal that Eddie is no
lumpenproletariat hero. First, the reason for eir protracted
unemployment is that ey is holding out for a management position — a
classic petty-bourgeois aspiration. Furthermore, ey mentions that,
despite having had to trade the home for an RV, ey still retains
ownership in a plot of land, a farm and some livestock. Ey is still petty boourgeois, then; one who, despite reduced circumstances, holds on
to a vestige of the family estate. In addition, another troubling aspect
of Eddie's past is offhandedly revealed. Ey mentions that ey has a plate
in eir head, provided by the VA. Therefore, ey is not just a passive
recipient but an active participant in imperialism: one who enjoys the
privilege of free healthcare in exchange for eir role in aiding Amerikan
war crimes. Despite this, ey does fleetingly provide the film with its
only sliver of appreciation for the destruction wrought by capitalism
and u.$. imperialism. While shopping, Eddie asks Clark "Your company
kill off all them people in India not long ago?", referring to the
Bhopal chemical disaster that killed an estimated 16,000 people and
injured as many as half a million more (7,8). "No, we missed out on that
one," Clark dryly responds, and the conversation moves on, presumably
because Eddie doesn't care. Meanwhile, Eddie causes a chemical disaster
of eir own; after emptying the septic tank of eir RV into the sewer,
subsequent scenes feature interstitial shots of a menacing green smoke
rising from the storm drain.
But let's get back to the action. When we left the
Griswolds, Eddie had just marched Clark's boss into the living room.
Ungagged, eir first instinct is to fire Clark and call the cops. But
after all of 30 seconds, ey has a change of heart. Apparently, all that
was needed was a brief speech by Clark with an addendum by Rusty that
withholding bonuses "sucks" to convince Clark's boss to drop all
charges, reinstate the bonuses, and add another 20% to Clark's bonus.
Clark is so overwhelmed that ey faints.
OK, seriously? If a 20% raise was all that was needed to address the
iniquities of capitalism, MIM(Prisons) would disband and recommend you
vote for Sanders instead. Actually, even that would be too radical.
Fight for 15? More like fight for $8.70. Also, some aspects of Clark's
boss's repentance ring false: ey calls Clark "Carl" and refers to em as
the "little people". Has Clark received a permanent gain or is eir
victory a tenuous and insecure one? We bring this up not to suggest
that Amerikan labor aristocrats are truly oppressed, just to point out
the vanity and futility of imperialism: despite afflicting so much
suffering across the Third World, it has failed to completely resolve
the contradiction between workers and bourgeoisie in Amerika.
Basking in their newfound affluence, however petty it may be, the
Griswolds are rudely interrupted by the arrival of the pigs. Usually not
motivated to do much work, the kidnapping of a member of the bourgeoisie
has kicked the pig machine into high gear, and SWAT teams storm the
Griswold home from every conceivable entrance, including several pigs
rappelling through the windows. (Some pigs even kick down the door of
the neighboring house; although this scene was probably meant to provide
some comic relief and comeuppance to the yuppies, it also wouldn't be
the first or the last time that property and lives were endangered by
pigs getting the address wrong). The deference of the pigs to the
bourgeoisie is further underscored by the arrival of the wife of Clark's
boss in a car driven by a persyn whose heavily decorated dress uniform
marks em as the chief of police. This persyn would also be identified by
most viewers, on the basis of eir skin color, as "black". In fact, ey is
the only non-white character with a speaking role in the entire movie.
This detail is significant on several levels. First, the fact that the
Griswolds live in Chicago, a city with substantial New Afrikan and
Chican@ populations, but appear to interact exclusively with white
Amerikkkans represents an likely-inadvertent, but nonetheless true-to-life, depiction of
the highly segregated nature of housing and employment in Chicago.
Second, we must wonder: what was the motivation of the moviemakers in
casting a New Afrikan in this role? It could be mere tokenism, giving
the sole New Afrikan actor a role that is effectively a chauffeur. Or
perhaps they were being ironic, casting a New Afrikan as the head of the
pigs, the institution that has perhaps committed the most violence
against New Afrikans in recent decades. One shudders to think that
perhaps they thought they were being progressive by casting a New
Afrikan in a strategically Euro-Amerikan role and creating the illusion
of an egalitarian, racially-integrated police force. The true
contradiction in Amerikkka is that of nation, not race. Hence, a persyn
who might be labeled as non-white can still, in some cases, manage to
join the Amerikkkan nation and rise to the role of head pig (or even, as
in the case of Barack Obama, war-criminal-in-chief); the situation in
this film, then, seems prescient of the modern-day prominence of sheriff
Clarke of Milwaukee, another midwestern town. Perhaps a Christmas comedy
is the wrong place to look for an inspiring depiction of New Afrikan
revolutionaries, but it is still unfortunate that all we have been given
is a bootlicker to the bourgeoisie.
Many people have been killed by trigger-happy pigs, and a kidnapping on
Christmas Eve seems like the kind of high-stakes situation that would
bring in the pigs with guns blazing, but the predicament faced by the
Griswolds is resolved with miraculous ease. After Clark's boss explains
the situation, everybody relaxes, although Clark's boss is still
admonished all-around for his idea of cutting Christmas bonuses (the
head pig even says that ey'd like to beat em with a rubber hose — a
seemingly progressive action that, due to its focus on individual
retribution, is actually little more than adventurism; and even that
idea comes across as an outburst that is never fulfilled). What about
Eddie's toxic waste spill? An errant match tossed by Uncle Lewis ignites
it, but the resulting explosion only serves to launch a plastic Santa
and reindeer into the air, creating the perfect Christmas tableau in the
sky and prompting a confused Aunt Bethany to spontaneously break into a
rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner". As the Griswolds and the pigs
dance to Christmas songs in the house, Clark stands on the lawn and
basks in eir achievement. "I did it," ey says. The perfect family
But for us communists, things are far from perfect. Any
potentially lumpen characters in the movie, who may have been teetering
between revolution and reaction, have, by the film's end, fallen firmly
on the side of reaction. Everyone else — the labor aristocrats, the
bourgeoisie, pigs — was already there. This movie is best enjoyed not as a blueprint for revolution but as a satire of the Amerikan way of life. It offers hints of Amerikan brutality both domestically and abroad, as well as a depiction of the manner by which government institutions become tools of the bourgeoisie. But most of all, it exposes the reactionary nature of the labor aristocracy: the decadence of its "workers", the hypocrisy of its "morals" and the futility of any "revolutionary" action among the beneficiaries of imperialism.
The brief flicker of revolutionary action that does occur is quickly
extinguished due to its limited scope and unsystematic nature. As Lenin
once said, "When the workers of a single factory or of a single branch
of industry engage in struggle against their employer or employers, is
this class struggle? No, this is only a weak embryo of it" (9). How
ironic then, that on the (probably mythical) day of Jesus' birth, the
embryo of revolution was delivered as a stillbirth. Let us look forward,
then, to December 26: the (real) day of Mao's birth. Beyond eir persynal
achievements, ey stands as a symbol of real revolution. A genuine
proletarian revolution, not a phony one led by Amerikkkan "workers",
promises real solutions to the real problems facing the world: an end to
the insatiable exploitation by capitalists, an end to the callous
destruction of the environment, an end to the violence perpetrated every
day by pigs. When that day comes, the workers of the world will unite
and we can sing the "Internationale" together.