In Defense of the Guillotine

American People’s Exit Strategy

I don’t know if you have seen Bernardo Bertolucci’s movie The Last Emperor. I saw it a long time ago and, by now have forgotten most details of the story, but there is one scene that never leaves my mind. I think the scene has stayed with me because politics in the United States quite often remind me of that scene which continues to spook me out to this day.

Pu Yi, the last Emperor of China is being held prisoner as a traitor and a war criminal in the People’s Republic of China. While in detention, he encounters a peasant one day who recognizes him. Instead of assailing the Emperor, which would have been the natural reaction of an oppressed subject to the encounter with the parasitic dictator-turned-Japanese- collaborator, the peasant kneels down to tie the Emperor’s shoes.

How many times have we seen this scene repeated in American politics? Didn’t we vote for Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats to deliver our antiwar message to Congress only to be stabbed in the back by them? And what about when we told Congressman John Conyers and others that the impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney should be on the table? Do we have any idea why, despite our protests and manifestations, both the Democrats and Republicans plan to continue squandering our much needed tax dollars by dragging on the Iraq War and perhaps even expanding it to Iran, Syria, or Lebanon? Why don’t we, the informed citizens hold our “representatives” accountable for their actions?

Would this be the residue of a culture of slavery which continues to linger on in America? After all, of the tens of thousands of southerners who fought with the Confederate army and gave their lives to preserve slavery, only a small handful was actual slave-owners. The majority were poor, ordinary citizens conscripted or brainwashed to consider it an honor and a duty to fight for and sustain the southern plantation way of life.

I think, however, the problem goes beyond that. The tragedy of many American liberals and some in the left, in my opinion, is their persistent denial of the existence of classes in the society and the role of class war which continues to dominate and shape the American politics as in any other society.

A natural outcome of such a denial is that the crimes and acts of hostility of the owning classes towards the people are then often taken as “misinformed”, “misguided”, or “mistaken”. That’s when you hear silly comments such as: “I can’t understand why despite our economic woes, President Bush insists on tax breaks for the rich” or “I am so shocked to find out that Nancy Pelosi had been aware of the practice of torture against Guantanamo detainees.”

“We just don’t understand why Democrats don’t stop the government’s spying on US citizens”, and a million dead Iraqis later, Bush is still not a mass murderer who is acting on behalf of America’s corporate interests but a confused and incompetent president who “mistakenly” believes that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, and of course, Adolf Hitler was just some mad man …

Today, America is left with an economy in shambles. The neoconservatives (who by the way, did not just fall from the sky) have greatly eroded our personal liberties and made a mockery of the Constitution and the concept of separation of the branches of the government. Our educational infrastructure is in dire condition. The country’s healthcare system is near collapse and quite unaffordable to millions of Americans. Thanks to the neoconservatives, America is now viewed and hated as a symbol of torture, arrogance, and thievery around the world, and on and on, and yet there are those in our progressive midst who naively believe that Hillary or Obama are going to bring about significant changes. Imagine President Obama or Clinton carrying on the legacy of the Bush signing statements or initiating the bombing of Iran to appease Israel.

Can a system that does not even allow a presidential candidate to say that the people are “frustrated and bitter”, which is quite an understatement, in any way reflect the aspirations of the majority of the American people?

Don’t get me wrong. I myself have often voted for many of these Democrats, in hopes of creating some breathing space for the common people and as a tactic for bringing about divisions among the owning classes, and I do believe that there are genuine differences between the Democrats and the Republicans, but looking at the picture from the perspective of “us versus them”, I view the Democrats, just like the Republicans, as true representatives of the corporate and the owning minority and therefore not friends of the American people. They might utilize different methods than the Republicans, but when it comes down to class interests, they sell us out without hesitation as they always have in the past. To paraphrase this, in a good cop, bad cop performance, the Democrats have generally played the role of the good COP.

How meager are our aspirations for the future of our country! Would we be content with someone who can perhaps close down one or two of the many torture chambers for which the US is now infamous, bring back a portion of our troops from Iraq, or maybe sink us even deeper in the Middle East, and continue snooping through our phone calls and email messages while increasing the dictatorial powers of the government in the name of “war on terror” and “national security”?

Today’s world is facing some unprecedented and life-threatening challenges: the crisis with fossil fuels, the global warming disaster, the resulting poverty, disease epidemics, and the imminent decline of an empire. The Republican and Democratic response to these challenges is international belligerence theorized under the so-called “War on Terror” and tightening the screws inside the United States: increased spying activities against US citizens, eroding personal liberties, internment camps, and drastic cuts in public spending. Needless to say, such policies can only increase the gap between the rich and the poor, augment social tensions, and bring about further worldwide insecurity. The only ones benefiting from such policies are a handful of corporations that control the media and other pillars of power, the likes of Halliburtons, KBR, Blackwater . . . . The people in their millions, on the other hand, will be condemned to a life of increasing austerity and misery.

When the citizens of France sent Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to the guillotine in 1793, theirs was not an act of savagery but one of culture and resistance, for you either witness the majority of the masses at the bottom get crushed while the society sinks into a culture of corruption and despair, or you help crush the few at the top and hand power to the people. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the French were able to rise up to the occasion.

More than two centuries later, here in America, the people are in the grips of yet another despot, much more brutal, corrupt, and destructive than King Louis XVI: American corporatism. This one is bent on destroying, not only America but the environment and the world with it. Just like King Louis, the corporate rule has to be dealt with to save the humanity.

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in November 1787. Six years later, the rising masses in France took up similar slogans when they rebelled against the tyranny of the King.

This is by no means an invitation to violence of any kind, for I am a man of peace, but it is the people’s inalienable right to decide the type of society they would like to live in, its economic infrastructure, and the culture and democratic institutions that go with it. I realize this is easier said than done, especially since the “when” and the “how” is not so clear and still needs to be worked out, but as long as our focus is the farcical electoral process, we will never be able to strategize any meaningful and far-reaching changes.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with going to the polls and voting for your favorite candidate – the one that you think can do the least amount of harm, but as Noam Chomsky put it in one of his interviews, “the election is a marginal affair, it should not distract us from the serious work of changing the society and the culture and the institutions, creating a democratic culture.”

Unfortunately, America has sustained enormous damage during the years of the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush administrations. With the merger of corporatism and the government, we are well on our way down the slippery slope of dictatorship and fascism, American-style, as much as many of us hate to admit. It is only in this light that the actions of the US intelligence agencies in spying on Americans, the suspension of personal liberties, and the establishment of internment camps (under the pretense of apprehending “illegal aliens”) can be viewed and understood. We should not accept such a dismal future for our children. We cannot swallow the big lie and remain silent. With every passing day we are losing our ability to reverse the mishap more and more.

Andres Kargar is an independent political Lefty.who has made occasional submissions to Dissident Voice in the past. Andres can be reached at: Read other articles by Andres.

16 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Edwin Pell said on May 21st, 2008 at 9:46am #

    I used to work for IBM for 15 years. Along the way IBM stole (in the biblical sense, not the legal sense) the pension and retirement medical from all IBM US employees. This was a lose of $100,000 to $600,000 per employee. Only about 150 people out of 150,000 employees spoke up. So do not expect the revolution any time soon.

    I would say the governments 13 year indoctrination program is working 100%. That is the public schools. The message is sit down and shut-up. After 13 years of that there is not much fight left.

  2. HR said on May 21st, 2008 at 10:49am #

    I’m sick of so-called lefties who continue to parrot the nonsense about how there are real differences between repugnantcans and democraps. Dems have been moving to the right for over three decades and are as sold out to corporate interests as their “opposition”. They have done nothing for working people … witness their failure to repeal Taft-Hartley during the 60s as one particularly glaring example.

    Having spent about three years reading articles from sites like DV, I have found myself becoming as sickened by the pseudoleft as by the corporate right. Both are perfectly willing to ram their agenda down my throat in their real quest, which is POWER. Both are despicable beyond belief.

  3. Michael Kenny said on May 21st, 2008 at 11:18am #

    Oddly, the French parallel is quite appropriate. Louis XVI bankrupted France by financing the American Revolution, perceived by him as a means of weakening his enemy of the moment: Britain. And of course, it was the doctrine which Louis allowed to take root in North America which was his own undoing. Bush has bankrupted America fighting Israel’s dirty wars and the confidence his defeat has engendered in the Muslim world will ultimately overwhelm Israel.

  4. Arch Stanton said on May 21st, 2008 at 12:01pm #

    Not to worry people. Another few years of inexorable destruction and disintegration will get people back on the streets. Maybe it won’t be too late by then.

  5. Lloyd Rowsey said on May 21st, 2008 at 3:48pm #

    Department of Straws in the Wind, New Yorker Magazine division. The May 26, 2008, issue of the New Yorker contains an article titled “The Fall of Conservatism” by George Packer, asking the question, “Have the Republicans run out of ideas?”

  6. hp said on May 21st, 2008 at 3:53pm #

    “If my thought dreams could be seen, they’d probably put my head in a guillotine.”

  7. john a said on May 21st, 2008 at 11:30pm #

    This is the solution: Direct Democracy.
    Only when ordinary people, PROPERLY INFORMED, are fully empowered to make all political decisions will the sham ‘democracies’ of the western world be consigned to the history books along with earlier tyrannies.
    We should simply not vote in elections at all unless there is a candidate committed to changing the constitution to one that delivers direct democracy to the people.

  8. evie said on May 22nd, 2008 at 5:19am #

    Peeeeuuuu. I held my nose and voted for the sighing eye rolling bored Gore. I held my nose and ears and voted for that horseface and prissy skull and boner John Kerry. Never again.

    I turn my back on the ballot until the day voting actually makes a difference.

  9. Rich Griffin said on May 22nd, 2008 at 5:57am #

    The class issue is enormous in my life. I’ve noticed that wealther people, esp. if they have lots of college degrees, can’t comprehend poor people AT ALL, not even a little bit, and this divide causes them to behave stupidly, vote for people like Barack Obama, and ruin the lives of others. The solution? To deprogram yourselves & act counter-intuitively in your decision making until your delusions are gone!

  10. D.R. Munro said on May 22nd, 2008 at 7:14am #

    To be quite honest, I’m sick of the “truth” babbling.

    Truth is a philsophical construct that in all likely does not exist. For example, if one out of a hundred says 2+2 is 4, and the other ninety-nine declare that it is 5 – guess what? For all practical purposes it is 5.

    My truth is someone’s lie, and my lie their truth.

  11. Edwin Pell said on May 22nd, 2008 at 8:14am #

    D.R. If 99 out of a 100 people say falling from the top of a 20 story building is safe and fun will you let me drop you?

  12. hp said on May 22nd, 2008 at 9:30am #

    ‘The truth would cease to be stranger than fiction, if we were as used to it as lies.’

  13. John Wilkinson said on May 22nd, 2008 at 2:25pm #

    “For example, if one out of a hundred says 2+2 is 4, and the other ninety-nine declare that it is 5 – guess what? For all practical purposes it is 5.

    My truth is someone’s lie, and my lie their truth.”

    That’s exactly how the americans act. the problem is, reality doesn’t give a shit what you think. if you think you can jump off the empire state bldg and float on your own reality, go ahead. if you think you can conduct your life in the 2+2=5 paradigm, go ahead, i’ll applaud you. the reality will smash you to pieces. and it’s a good way to get rid of the stupid and stupidly arrogant, and the ones who get in the way of the rest of us, the natural selection process (i.e., the reality) is good at weeding out the reality challenged.

    yes, it’s true, airplanes will fly without wings. for a while. and then they’ll crash and burn even worse than otherwise.

  14. John Wilkinson said on May 22nd, 2008 at 3:04pm #

    “How meager are our aspirations for the future of our country!”

    Well, that is the crux of the problem. imho and from my experience this country is not even a shadow of itself from, say, 30 years ago. and it’s evident in all walks of life, everywhere. the economy has become one big fraud; just look at the quality of what you get, just look at customer service, just look at various scams to separate you from your money and from your life savings. just look at the lack of any laws, regulations, etc. the widespread fraud and mismanagement in everything. the elections, likewise. the lockhold israel has on us wasn’t there to such an extent several decades ago.

    remember how during the cold war we used to laugh at the soviet union and their security, their police on the streets stopping people and asking them where they are going, the total militarization of their society? (and, having grown up in a socialist country which was much better than USSR in that regard, but still much worse than it was here, I could relate to that). But now, we say we’ve won the cold war. But we have become the soviet union. we are emulating them in each and every way. so, come again, who has won the cold war? the soviet system has won, we have it right here in america, something which was unthinkable.

    you can’t complain about anything and get it resolved. a long time ago, in good old days, when i first got here, i got a huge refund on my state taxes, simply because i included a letter in my return pointing out some unfairness. today, i went with my wife to a doctor’s office to ask for a mere printout of test results for her, which tests have been paid for OUT OF MY OWN pocket, and they tell me it’s against office policy to give me that!!!!yes i made myself a pain in the neck and eventually a half-ass compromise was reached, i’ll get them after the dr. “reviews” them, or so they say, but i had to jump thru hoops for something that’s mine and they didn’t have the basic decency after I paid them for their “services”.

    it’s the vicious circle of diminishing expectations. people don’t complain vigorously when something’s wrong, because they get too much on their plate. and then those in power say, OK, nothing happened, so let’s reduce the quality of life here one more notch, it will make life easier for us. let’s raise prices, reduce quality, provide less for the taxes while raising the taxes and giving it to our friends in the military-industrial complex. and the people again say, it’s not a big deal, it’s only a small degradation and i don’t have time to fight the city hall. and on it goes, the downward spiral of everything to where we are now. and without brakes on it, it will continue to degrade and get much worse over time, to the point where the present will be “the good old days”.

  15. D.R. Munro said on May 22nd, 2008 at 7:46pm #

    Prove to me that an objective “reality” (as you put it) exists, John Wilkinson, and I’ll concede. Also, you’ll be a very rich man.

    You are viewing your “reality” through YOUR eyes. Not objective: you are mistaking your subjective experience for an objective world that is experienced unchanged by all. This is a logical fallacy on your part.

    Also, I personally never said 2 + 2 = 5. If the mass of people say it does, and you go on raving that the answer is 4 . . . they will lock you up.

    Problem solved.

    Reality does not matter. Perception is reality.

  16. D.R. Munro said on May 22nd, 2008 at 7:55pm #

    “D.R. If 99 out of a 100 people say falling from the top of a 20 story building is safe and fun will you let me drop you?”

    Edwin Pell, nice attempt at a slight reductio ad absurdum argument. Please, step out of freshman philosophy and present a valid argument when you try and refute one of my contentions.

    Apagogical arguments are logical fallacies (much like John’s, stated above) used in an attempt to ridicule an argument you cannot refute with sound logic. I have called you on it, you have failed.

    Would either of you care to try again? Please, if your responses are as poorly thought-out the second time as they were the first time, I won’t bother responding again.