The rule of centralized state and bureaucratic machines is one of those things that the cultural reproduction apparatus teaches people to accept as “natural” or “inevitable” (“it must be more efficient, or it wouldn’t be this way;” “the people in charge make these rules for a reason”).
But in fact it is very much the result of human agency. In the U.S., it was deliberate collusion between the state and big business, especially in the 1850s and the Gilded Age, to set up a centralized corporate economy. There simply wouldn’t have been an economy dominated by large manufacturers and wholesalers serving a single national market, were it not for things like railroad land grants and other subsidies to make long-distance distribution artificially cheap, and the pooling or exchange of industrial patents to cartelize markets. Not to mention gunboat diplomacy to make sure overbuilt U.S. industry could operate at capacity.
This was a top-down revolution, in which the state was very much involved. The groundwork for intensifying the process was laid by the “Great Betrayal” of the Hayes election, in which the landed aristocracy of the South acquiesced in Republican corporatism on a national level in return for a free hand to reinstitute Apartheid in their own region.
According to John Curl, in “For All the People,” the Great Betrayal turned into a civil war when labor and farm populist movements — what he calls the “Great Uprising” — tried to reverse the corporate coup. The climax of this civil war came with the Knights of Labor’s nationwide general strike for an eight-hour day (the original, 100% American origin of May Day as a workers’ holiday) and the ensuing post-Haymarket repression.
Grover Cleveland’s military intervention to suppress the Pullman Strike was one of the last big battles in defeating the counter-revolution, after which the alliance between big business and big government was able to fully reshape the country in its own image. The Left attempted rearguard actions on the eve of World War One — most notably the Wobblies’ Lawrence strike — but was liquidated during the War Hysteria and Red Scare.
The managerial/professional New Class of corporate managers was first recruited from industrial engineers after the Civil War, and around the turn of the 20th century the new corporate-state alliance gave rise to other centralized institutions (bureaucratic charitable foundations, universities, large urban public school systems) that served as auxiliaries to the corporate state either by processing human resources for it, or by mitigating the human casualties of corporate rule (e.g., managing the underclass through the welfare and prison systems).
And now, after 150 years of this, people see the administration of every aspect of life by centralized bureaucratic machines as natural and inevitable, the only conceivable way of doing things. But it’s not. It’s not only the creature of deliberate human design; it requires deliberate, ongoing intervention by the state for its very survival.
More importantly, it’s in the process of being dismantled by human action. Despite the system’s attempts to indoctrinate us to the contrary, we are not powerless. We’re in the midst of another Great Uprising — fought by The Pirate Bay, Wikileaks, Anonymous, and a thousand other networked insurrections around the world as in the Arab Spring and Occupy movements. And unlike the last time, this time the technological revolution has put the advantage on the side of the Uprising. This time it’s us building the revolution, and the corporate state finds itself fighting a desperate rearguard action to stop us.
“Other worlds are possible.”
Citations to this article:
- Kevin Carson, Romney’s “Free Enterprise System”: As Statist as Stalin’s Five-Year Plan, Pensacola, Florida Voice, 03/02/12