The Tenfold Path to Guts, Solidarity and the Defeat of the Corporate Elite

Many Americans know that the United States is not a democracy but a “corporatocracy,” in which we are ruled by a partnership of giant corporations, the extremely wealthy elite and corporate-collaborator government officials. However, the truth of such tyranny is not enough to set most of us free to take action. Too many of us have become pacified by corporatocracy-created institutions and culture.

Some activists insist that this political passivity problem is caused by Americans’ ignorance due to corporate media propaganda, and others claim that political passivity is caused by the inability to organize due to a lack of money. However, polls show that on the important issues of our day – from senseless wars, to Wall Street bailouts, to corporate tax-dodging, to health insurance rip-offs – the majority of Americans are not ignorant to the reality that they are being screwed. And American history is replete with organizational examples – from the Underground Railroad, to the Great Populist Revolt, to the Flint sit-down strike, to large wildcat strikes a generation ago – of successful rebels who had little money but lots of guts and solidarity.

The elite spend their lives stockpiling money and have the financial clout to bribe, divide and conquer the rest of us. The only way to overcome the power of money is with the power of courage and solidarity. When we regain our guts and solidarity, we can then more wisely select from – and implement – time-honored strategies and tactics that oppressed peoples have long used to defeat the elite. So, how do we regain our guts and solidarity?

1. Create the Cultural and Psychological “Building Blocks” for Democratic Movements

Historian Lawrence Goodwyn has studied democratic movements such as Solidarity in Poland, and he has written extensively about the populist movement in the United States that occurred during the end of the 19th century (what he calls “the largest democratic mass movement in American history”). Goodwyn concludes that democratic movements are initiated by people who are neither resigned to the status quo nor intimidated by established powers. For Goodwyn, the cultural and psychological building blocks of democratic movements are individual self-respect and collective self-confidence. Without individual self-respect, we do not believe that we are worthy of power or capable of utilizing power wisely, and we accept as our role being a subject of power. Without collective self-confidence, we do not believe that we can succeed in wresting away power from our rulers.

Thus, it is the job of all of us – from parents, to students, to teachers, to journalists, to clergy, to psychologists, to artists and EVERYBODY who gives a damn about genuine democracy – to create individual self-respect and collective self-confidence.

2. Confront and Transform ALL Institutions that Have Destroyed Individual Self-Respect and Collective Self-Confidence

In “Get Up, Stand Up, ” I detail 12 major institutional and cultural areas that have broken people’s sprit of resistance, and all are “battlefields for democracy” in which we can fight to regain our individual self-respect and collective self confidence:

Television
Isolation and bureaucratization
“Fundamentalist consumerism” and advertising/propaganda
Student loan debt and indentured servitude
Surveillance
The decline of unions/solidarity among working people
Greed and a “money-centric” culture
Fear-based schools that teach obedience
Psychopathologizing noncompliance
Elitism via professional training
The corporate media
The US electoral system

As Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “All our things are right and wrong together. The wave of evil washes all our institutions alike.”

3. Side Each Day in Every Way With Anti-Authoritarians

We can recover our self-respect and strength by regaining our integrity. This process requires a personal transformation to overcome our sense of powerlessness and fight for what we believe in. Integrity includes acts of courage resisting all illegitimate authorities. We must recognize that in virtually every aspect of our life in every day, we can either be on the side of authoritarianism and the corporatocracy or on the side of anti-authoritarianism and democracy. Specifically, we can question the legitimacy of government, media, religious, educational and other authorities in our lives, and if we establish that an authority is not legitimate, we can resist it. And we can support others who are resisting illegitimate authorities. A huge part of solidarity comes from supporting others who are resisting the illegitimate authorities in their lives. Walt Whitman had it right: “Resist much, obey little. Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved.”

4. Regain Morale by Thinking More Critically About Our Critical Thinking

While we need critical thinking to effectively question and challenge illegitimate authority – and to wisely select the best strategies and tactics to defeat the elite – critical thinking can reveal some ugly truths about reality, which can result in defeatism. Thus, critical thinkers must also think critically about their defeatism, and realize that it can cripple the will and destroy motivation, thus perpetuating the status quo. William James (1842–1910), the psychologist, philosopher, and occasional political activist (member of the Anti-Imperialist League who, during the Spanish-American War, said, “God damn the US for its vile conduct in the Philippine Isles!”) had a history of pessimism and severe depression, which helped fuel some of his greatest wisdom on how to overcome immobilization. James, a critical thinker, had little stomach for what we now call “positive thinking,” but he also came to understand how losing belief in a possible outcome can guarantee its defeat. Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937), an Italian political theorist and Marxist activist who was imprisoned by Mussolini, came to the same conclusions. Gramsci’s phrase “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will” has inspired many critical thinkers, including Noam Chomsky, to maintain their efforts in the face of difficult challenges.

5. Restore Courage in Young People

The corporatocracy has not only decimated America’s labor union movement, it has almost totally broken the spirit of resistance among young Americans – an even more frightening achievement. Historically, young people without family responsibilities have felt most freed up to challenge illegitimate authority. But America’s education system creates fear, shame and debt – all killers of the spirit of resistance. No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and standardized testing tyranny results in the kind of fear that crushes curiosity, critical thinking and the capacity to constructively resist illegitimate authority. Rebel teachers, parents, and students – in a variety of overt and covert ways – have already stopped complying with corporatocracy schooling. We must also stop shaming intelligent young people who reject college, and we must instead recreate an economy that respects all kinds of intelligence and education. While the corporatocracy exploits student loan debt to both rake in easy money and break young people’s spirit of resistance, the rest of us need to rebel against student loan debt and indentured servitude. And parents and mental health professionals need to stop behavior-modifying and medicating young people who are resisting illegitimate authority.

6. Focus on Democracy Battlefields Where the Corporate Elite Don’t Have Such a Large Financial Advantage

The emphasis of many activists is on electoral politics, but the elite have a huge advantage in this battlefield, where money controls the US electoral process. By focusing exclusively on electoral politics at the expense of everything else, we: (1) give away power when we focus only on getting leaders elected and become dependent on them; (2) buy into the elite notion that democracy is all about elections; (3) lose sight of the fact that democracy means having influence over all aspects of our lives; and (4) forget that if we have no power in our workplace, in our education and in all our institutions, then there will never be democracy worthy of the name. Thus, we should focus our fight more on the daily institutions we experience. As Wendell Berry said, “If you can control a people’s economy, you don’t need to worry about its politics; its politics have become irrelevant.”

7. Heal from “Corporatocracy Abuse” and “Battered People’s Syndrome” to Gain Strength

Activists routinely become frustrated when truths about lies, victimization and oppression don’t set people free to take action. But when we human beings eat crap for too long, we gradually lose our self-respect to the point that we become psychologically too weak to take action. Many Americans are embarrassed to accept that, after years of corporatocracy subjugation, we have developed “battered people’s syndrome” and what Bob Marley called “mental slavery.” To emancipate ourselves and others, we must:

Move out of denial and accept that we are a subjugated people.
Admit that we have bought into many lies. There is a dignity, humility, and strength in facing the fact that, while we may have once bought into some lies, we no longer do so.
Forgive ourselves and others for accepting the abuser’s lies. Remember the liars we face are often quite good at lying.
Maintain a sense of humor. Victims of horrific abuse, including those in concentration camps and slave plantations, have discovered that pain can either immobilize us or be transformed by humor into energy.
Stop beating ourselves up for having been in an abusive relationship. The energy we have is better spent on healing and then working to change the abusive system; this provides more energy, and when we use this energy to provide respect and confidence for others, everybody gets energized.

8. Unite Populists by Rejecting Corporate Media’s Political Divisions

The corporate media routinely divides Americans as “liberals,” “conservatives” and “moderates,” a useful division for the corporatocracy, because no matter which of these groups is the current electoral winner, the corporatocracy retains power. In order to defeat the corporatocracy, it’s more useful to divide people in terms of authoritarians versus anti-authoritarians, elitists versus populists and corporatists versus anticorporatists. Both left anti-authoritarians and libertarian anti-authoritarians passionately oppose current US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Wall Street bailout, the PATRIOT Act, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the so-called “war on drugs” and several other corporatocracy policies. There are differences between anti-authoritarians but, as Ralph Nader and Ron Paul have together recently publicly discussed, we can form coalitions and alliances on these important power-money issues. One example of an anti-authoritarian democratic movement (which I am involved in) is the mental health treatment reform movement, comprised of left anti-authoritarians and libertarians. We all share distrust of Big Pharma and contempt for pseudoscience, and we believe that people deserve truly informed choice regarding treatment. We respect Erich Fromm, the democratic-socialist psychoanalyst, along with Thomas Szasz, the libertarian psychiatrist, both passionate anti-authoritarians who have confronted mental health professionals for using dogma to coerce people.

9. Unite “Comfortable Anti-Authoritarians” and “Afflicted Anti-Authoritarians

This “comfortable-afflicted” continuum is based on the magnitude of pain that one has simply getting through the day. The term comfortable anti-authoritarian is not a pejorative one, but refers to those anti-authoritarians lucky enough to have decent paying and maybe even meaningful jobs, or platforms through which their voices are heard or social supports in their lives. Many of these comfortable anti-authoritarians may know that there are millions of Americans working mindless jobs in order to hold on to their health insurance, or hustling two low-wage jobs to pay college loans, rent and a car payment, or who may be unable to find even a poorly paying, mindless job and are instead helplessly watching eviction or foreclosure and bankruptcy close in on them. However, unless these comfortable anti-authoritarians have once been part of that afflicted class – and remember what it feels like – they may not be able to fully respect the afflicted’s emotional state. The afflicted need to recognize that human beings often become passive because they are overwhelmed by pain (not because they are ignorant, stupid, or lazy), and in order to function at all, they often shut down or distract themselves from this pain. Some comfortable anti-authoritarians assume that people’s inactions are caused by ignorance. This not only sounds and smells like elitism, it creates resentment for many in the afflicted class who lack the energy to be engaged in any activism. Respect, resources and anything that concretely reduces their level of pain is likely to be far more energizing than a scolding lecture. That’s the lesson of many democratic movements, including the Great Populist Revolt.

10. Do Not Let Debate Divide Anti-Authoritarians

Spirited debate is what democracy is all about, but when debate turns to mutual antipathy and divides anti-authoritarians, it plays into the hands of the elite. One such divide among anti-elitists is over the magnitude of change that should be worked for and celebrated. On one extreme are people who think that anything is better than nothing at all. At the other extreme are people who reject any incremental change and hold out for total transformation. We can better unite by asking these questions: Does the change increase individual self-respect and collective self-confidence, and increase one’s energy level to pursue even greater democracy? Or does it feel like a sellout that decreases individual self-respect and collective self-confidence, and de-energizes us? Utilizing the criteria of increased self-respect and collective self-confidence, those of us who believe in genuine democracy can more constructively debate whether the change is going to increase strength to gain democracy or is going to take the steam out of a democratic movement. Respecting both sides of this debate makes for greater solidarity and better decisions.

To summarize, democracy will not be won without guts and solidarity. Risk-free green actions – such as shopping from independents, buying local, recycling, composting, consuming less, not watching television and so on – can certainly help counter a dehumanizing world. However, revolutions that truly transform fundamental power inequities and enable us to feel like men and women rather than children and slaves require risk, guts and solidarity.

16 Responses

  1. Ronnie Cummins
    Ronnie Cummins May 12, 2011 at 4:26 pm | | Reply

    Great article, as is your book. Keep up the good work!

  2. Raymond J. Rednour
    Raymond J. Rednour May 13, 2011 at 7:12 pm | | Reply

    Hello Bruce, I have only recently become aware of you and your steadfast form of social activism. As many Americans realize the gravity of our collective situation, it is true that many are still trying to “hold on” to that comfortable “position” that in years past has enabled them to overlook the problems of the poor and middle class. Those days are pretty much done, over, history, past tense . . . shot in the ass !!!!

    Now, as we clearly see the lies and corruption for what it truly is ( and it’s NOT FRIENDLY to anyone that is not apart of it ) . . . the m-asses of disenfranchised that were holding out for the continuation of our corporate manufactured ILL-us-ion are finally “forced to respond” !!! This includes people from all walks of life . People who relate full-well with what you’ve been teaching . I can only say that I’m very thankful that I have found you now AND CAN WITNESS what it will be like when others like you and myself “who are finally Awakened” ; join together at THE MOST CRITICAL TIME IN HUMAN HISTORY ! As you have been attempting to reach others through the years, NOW ; others of like mind will be reaching forth to you and those that you have inspired.

    From here forward . . . it’s been worth the wait AND there is no time like the PRESENT !! Stand tall like you are, my friend . Respctfully, Raymond

  3. Tom
    Tom May 13, 2011 at 11:27 pm | | Reply

    I don’t like this article at all. When you write something like this you have to speak to the dumbest person who might be reading it. You have not done that . It’s a stupid read and I suggest you write something practical that people can put to work. The work here comes in trying to understand what the writer is trying to say.

  4. Gizmo
    Gizmo May 14, 2011 at 1:48 pm | | Reply

    Amen, Thanks, Bruce

  5. Joyce Sooy
    Joyce Sooy May 14, 2011 at 3:43 pm | | Reply

    I just came across your article on Alternet:”Get Up – Stand Up” and am inspired to send copies to all my grandchildren, eight boys( two are working in their Dad’s business, one receives his college diploma on Monday, another is in college in WV) and one girl, (recent HS grad) up and down the East coast from Vermont to West Virginia! You lay out our current situation so clearly and brilliantly that I feel compelled to share it with them and hopefully inspire and motivate them.

  6. Cat
    Cat May 14, 2011 at 9:24 pm | | Reply

    I agree. Nice to know there are others ‘awake’. Sometimes I wonder among the din of ‘baah-ahhh’-ing going on.

  7. Terry Bearden
    Terry Bearden May 15, 2011 at 5:11 am | | Reply

    Absolutely agree with every word. I describe myself as an anti-corporatist Liberaltarian because I also believe that the labels we use are inadequate and stifling. My husband and I are activists who have worked hard to create the “middle-class” life we have, coming from low-income, disengaged families. We are rabble-rousers who often feel so frustrated by what we assumed was apathy and/or stupidity. Now, I have a more positive way to look at their attitudes and encourage them. Will pick up “Get Up, Stand Up” tomorrow to add to our “Levine Collection!”

  8. James W. Ruhnke
    James W. Ruhnke May 20, 2011 at 8:14 am | | Reply

    I agree with everything you suggest in your article. I have one more suggestion as to an action. Seeing as most of Americans are completely aware of and detest that corporations and elites actually run this “democracy”, why not use an election to register that annoyance? In that way the corporations themselves will be paying for the means of our transmitting our unhappiness. All we have to do is go to a polling booth and write in, say, “Ron Paul” or “Ralph Nader” or “Dennis Kucinich” for EVERY national, state and local office.

    In one election we could inspire the voting majority to completely turn things around come next election. The numbers alone would encourage the right kind of people to run for office. Heck, I’d sooner vote for an honest truck driver before I will ever again vote for a professional politician.

    I know this idea isn’t completely thought thru but it could be food for thought for someone more qualified. Thank you.

  9. Ronald Mercer
    Ronald Mercer May 21, 2011 at 6:53 am | | Reply

    Thank you for helping reform in America.
    Is there a twitter account to follow?
    @_MARP

  10. Camille Matthews
    Camille Matthews May 25, 2011 at 7:22 am | | Reply

    You understand the problems but more important the need for action. We need more articles like this one which is a call and guide to the steps we all need to take.
    Thanks!

  11. Tom Kowitz
    Tom Kowitz May 25, 2011 at 1:04 pm | | Reply

    “Tenfold Path” is a brilliant essay by a brilliant man. I had invited Dr. Levine to be a guest on the Baldy and The Blonde radio show to discuss another topic, but once I read “Tenfold Path,” I immediately recognized that this was of much greater importance. Bruce Levine rocks! Hear the interview at http://www.baldyandtheblonde.com.

  12. Kiara Dale
    Kiara Dale May 25, 2011 at 5:20 pm | | Reply

    Thanks for creating The Tenfold Path to Guts, Solidarity and the Defeat of the Corporate Elite I’m enjoying your posts. Would you do a guest article on a website I assist run? Do you feel that you simply could contribute? You can look at our post styles at http://www.timetoshine.com.au and surely we would be interested in having you post an article or two on our blog, what do you feel? If you are interested let me know through the contacts page on our website.The Tenfold Path to Guts, Solidarity and the Defeat of the Corporate Elite is an intriguing name for a blog, keep up the top effort, thanks, from Kiara Dale

  13. Rob
    Rob June 20, 2011 at 5:48 pm | | Reply

    I found you via your recent alternet article. You have articulated beautifully so many issues that have been floating around in my mind for years. Thank you!

    Tom: I agree that this article is not an easy read, but I disagree with your harsh criticism. Rather than asking the author to “write something practical that people can put to work,” I think that is our job. If we each spread the message in our own words, it will spread faster. Please reread Point 10 at the conclusion of the article.

  14. Brian Beecher
    Brian Beecher June 23, 2011 at 6:12 pm | | Reply

    I just finished reading the book “Get Up, Stand Up'” and once mentioned to the author that the song “Stand Up” by Sugarland should be the theme song for this venture. It is true that most common people today have much difficulty in standing up for their rights. Is it any wonder, however, when more than a million women strong were shot down in their efforts to file a class action gender pay discrimination suit against Wal-Mart. In my opinion this was the last part of a triple crown of unfortunate rulings. First there was the one in 2006 which stated that a governing body can indeed use eminent domain to seize private property from the less fortunate to give to those more so for private gain; then there was Citizens United, the ruling which stated that there shall be no limits placed on the amount that a corporation can donate to a political campaign, and now this one. Doesn’t it all make you wonder if it’s worth the bother to stand up for yourself and others? But if we don’t do it nothing will ever improve.

    Perhaps the supreme irony is that during the years of the Progressive movement around the 1890’s workers were very vocal in crusading for what they believed in, and obviously did not have the morbid fear which plagues workers today even though there were no safety nets such as unemployment insurance in those days. Is it any wonder that there are so many who would just as soon vote for “none of the above” toward election time, figuring that their vote doesn’t really count and that we are left with the “same old, same old” with the corporatocracy firmly in control even when a new face enters the White House. We had such high hopes that when Obama was elected in 2008 that he would shepherd us into a new era of Progressivism. This obviously has not happened even though I believe he did try but was shot down on nearly every point. And we have a political football game where neither side ever crosses the goal line in the public’s mind.

    If things have deteriorated to such an extent that you feel the urge to seek answers, perhaps you should take the initiative now. But the saying “it takes a village” isn’t too far off. I don’t even think the likes of Rosa Parks would be as successful today in starting a mass movement all by herself. Let’s hope that the modern-day equivalent of her or a labor zealot such as Eugene Debs is out there somewhere. If not we are doomed. And as we sink into Great Depression II, which may already be upon us even though no one dares call it that, an age-old line is for sure appropos, and that is that we have met the enemy and it is us.

  15. MBL
    MBL June 25, 2011 at 5:59 pm | | Reply

    Really enjoyed this article. Didn’t find it to be a “stupid read”(?!) at all–quite the opposite. It’s very refreshing. I especially like the “Battered People’s Syndrome” reference as what is happening to Americans is very similar to what happens to “battered women” who refuse to leave the abuser, will even defend the abuser and sometimes attack anyone who tries to harm the abuser. Oppressed people typically participate in their own oppression, a fact I’ve always found fascinating. Thanks for writing about this and for helping bring Americans together. Our country is headed toward fascism, and I’m not sure whether we still have time to save it…but maybe. Anyway, your article has restored some hope in me and I really appreciate that!

  16. Sue Brantley
    Sue Brantley July 2, 2011 at 9:32 am | | Reply

    There is no conspiracy. We have met the enemy and it is us. People love conspiracy theories because they can blame someone besides themselves. This is lock, stock and barrel part of a democratic culture that has brought us to where we are. Take a pill, take the path of least resistance, be a victim of creeping nannyism. Do anything but take responsibility for yourself.
    If you want to change anything you have to tell the truth. Tell the shipping clerk at work what a fool he is for spending all his money on lottery tickets. When it comes to lottery tickets HE CAN ADD! Ideas like battered people syndrome just give people excuses. I’m all for changing the culture, but using the APA’s encyclopedia of excuses is just more of the same thing that took us where we are. Please don’t help to expand the encyclopedia!

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