Sacrificial Lambs

It is really not too hard to see how the economic philosophy of Karl Marx caught on here and there in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The idea of worker ownership of the means of production and equitable distribution of wealth appealed to those long held in economic and social bondage by the needs and wants of aristocratic oligarchies.

The recent issue of Robert K. Massie’s masterful book about Catherine the Great caused me to take down from the shelf my much annotated copy of his equally masterful Nicholas and Alexandra, being the chronicle of the fall of the Russian monarchy and the triumph of the revolutionaries of 1917. It was a revolution that could have been avoided, as Czar Nicholas II much too belatedly perceived.

Marvel not that I say unto you that such a revolution is brewing in Europe, and sparks from its kindling have drifted westward to the Occupy Wall Street movement. At the moment it is all words and demonstrations in the street.

Next could be outward rebellion, e.g. angry Greeks’ refusal to pay the property taxes just recently added into their electrical bills, their aggressive push-back against austerity, the alleged need for which was occasioned not by workers and their unions but by the monied class and their fiscal machinations.

A fellow by the name of Warren Browne, vice-president of business development for Automotive Compass LLC, told journalists recently that U.S. automakers are being denied greater profits from their European operations because “social contracts in a lot of these countries are part of the culture.”

In other words, strong and protective workers’ unions in Europe have held the line against wage, benefit and workforce reduction. Browne is worried about “share price” and wants the European operations of domestic automobile manufacturers to have the same “opportunity” that they had in the United States during 2008 and 2009 to “restructure” — a euphemism for shedding workers and lowering wages and benefits for the direct purpose of maximizing profits.

To some of my doctrinaire capitalist friends, Europe is a shambles because of its unions and government employees. These friends appear to prefer widespread unemployment to decreases in dividends and share prices. I do not know what they expect America’s 13.5 million unemployed to do. I do not know what they expect of the Greeks or other Europeans, who did not make the mess in which their countries find themselves.

Should “austerity” become the new world order, you can bet it will fall most heavily on those with least and almost not at all in any practical way upon those who have much. Yes, the shares of the latter will be worth less. Their dividends will be paid less frequently and probably be smaller, but they will not have to sell the condo in Paris or the house in Palm Beach and settle for living simply in Park Avenue. They could fire the chauffeur or the upstairs maid, if push came to shove.

The aforementioned friends are probably at this moment shaking their heads in amazement at the naïve, even traitorous socialism of their now former friend — and maybe even shaking their fists in his general direction.

That’s too bad, because I like every one of them, and some of them I have known for many a year. Our political analyses are now and have been different, yet we have managed to get along. But I can tell you and them this: If and when push comes to shove, I’ll be standing with the revolutionaries.

Why? Because nothing in my upbringing, in my education and in my commitment to economic and social justice can abide the sacrificing of lives of so-called “ordinary people” to keep the now infamous 1% in the chips. I will be told that they are the job creators, and that they must be protected from regulations, that tree-huggers must not be allowed to make them stop putting industrial garbage into the waters and the air — as if they owned either.

Well, you know what? That’s the kind of flummery the press allows to pass as wisdom and a conservative-dominated Congress has adopted as gospel. It sounds eerily like the excuses that were made for Nicholas II and his excesses. They were not excesses to him, but just a way of life to which his nobility entitled him.

Next time you hear some pompous Republican senator or member of Congress or any one of their megaphones on talk radio scorn “entitlements” and advocate their diminishment, think of all that to which Nicholas II — actually a pretty nice guy, as Massie revealed — thought he was entitled. He ended up being entitled not even to a dog’s respect as he and his entire family (and their dog) were shot to death in a basement dungeon near Ekaterinburg, Russia, on July 16, 1918.

Alexandra’s parlor maid perished with the family, two brocade pillows stuffed with the royal jewels sewn into them clutched to her bosom. Much good it did her or the dead monarchs.

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