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Privilege: Its Role in Oppression

By Punkerslut

Image from Anarchist Black Cross
Image: From Anarchist Black Cross

Start Date: October 13, 2005
Finish Date: October 30, 2005

     The Capitalist system produces two classes: the Proletariat class and the Capitalist class. The first class produces all of the wealth of society, according to the instructions of the Capitalist class. The Capitalist class is composed of investors, businessmen, entrepreneurs, all persons who are in possession of the means of production. We are all aware of the variation of this class. There is the small business owner, who might make anywhere in between $50,000 and $250,000 in a year. There are business chain owners who probably make up to four times as much. Then there is the corporation: a single business that is owned unevenly by many investors. Those who are asked to lead the corporation, the corporate executive officers, are taking the traditional role of the business owner; they become responsible for sales, salaries, advertising, everything that a business functions on. Those who own the stock make millions a year, due to the CEO's organizing and the workers laboring. The variety of the Capitalist class is clear -- it provides different degrees of affluence. Variation of income is not limited to the Capitalist class. In America, for instance, a minimum wage worker might make only $10,000 a year, while a physician or engineer might make $80,000 a year, while other careers can make up to $100,000 or $150,000 per year. Those who work hard and can impress supervisors by the quality of their labor may be promoted and given wage increases. Laborers who enter vocational schools or universities improve their productive capabilities, increasing their wages. Likewise, artists and musicians in this society are paid according to how many people enjoy their creativity -- theoretically. These are generalizations, but they are the primary defense of the system of Free Trade: people who work hard can advance and gain more privilege.

     Privilege. If a person has social privilege, that means that they enjoy a greater part of the fruit of society's production, what our economists call the gross national product. The use of privilege in a Capitalist system is obvious: it provides an incentive to the laboring class to increase their productive capabilities. If someone can create more wealth with their labor, then they will be given a larger quantity of the social wealth, that is to say, the total wealth produced by all society. The first rule of granting privilege, of course, is that the new amount of wealth assigned to the individual is smaller than what their productive capabilities can do. For example, if an assembly line worker gives more effort and energy in his labor, he might produce any extra $5 of profit for his employer per hour. In response, the employer might decide to award him a pay raise. But, the wage increase would not be higher than $5, since that wouldn't make sense to the employer's interests. Instead, it's typical that such a raise might be $.50 to $1.00, if one were awarded at all. Here is the first trend of privilege: by improving your productive capabilities, where the present social order is maintained, you are rewarded by the system accordingly. By creating more social wealth, you are awarded a slightly larger piece of the whole of society's productions.

     Among the members of the privileged class, there is the police and the military -- coercion used for attack and defense. This is the protective, security class. In order to induce members of society to join the ranks of the coercive class, the masters of the state have offered them one thing: privilege. It is common in every effective military or protective force that those who serve are rewarded with some kind of privilege -- honors alone have never been enough. We often hear of the massive armies that ancient emperors could muster just by arming all of the males, however, they still received some payment. One author in 1683 tells us: "But just as soldiers fight under authority of the state, so what they take from the enemy, as properly acquired for the state, not for the soldiers. Yet it is everywhere customary to leave movable property, especially of small value, to the soldiers who have taken it; and this is connived at, or it takes the place of a reward, or sometimes of pay; or it is to tempt such as may be willing to sell their blood when there is no compulsion." ["On the Duty of Man and Citizen According to the Natural Law," by Samuel von Pufendorf, book 2, chapter 16, published in 1683.] In the United States today, we find that soldiers are still considered invaluable to the state. Their privilege includes a paycheck higher than your average minimum wage worker, plus benefits of health and financial aid for education. There are other techniques to gain compliance in mustering a military force. A ruler could use his present military strength to enslave others to the task of security. However, to do this, the ruler must already have a military strength with which to threaten the general population to do his will. One early example of this we discover in the pages of Aristotle, when we read of Pisistratus, who enslaved the public once they allotted him a tax fund to hire soldiers. ["The Athenian Constitution," by Aristotle, translated by Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, section 14.]

     The initial use of privilege as a means of controlling society was by the early despots and tyrants. The only privilege they granted to any member of society was freedom in exchange for their service as soldiers in keeping the majority enslaved. It has been several thousand years since the Spartan soldiers would enslave foreign villages, only so that they can live off of the labors of others. Though the origin of privilege is a part of the history of soldiers, modernized society has allowed this concept to have much more far-reaching effects. In today's world, privilege is awarded to a class based on how much productive capability it possesses, or how much more the class adds to the social wealth based on their abilities, which make them unique, compared to the other classes. Factory workers, for example, have a higher income than other blue-collar workers, because they are a skilled class needed for their abilities. Physicians help create more productivity by maintaining the health of society and fending off illness, hence, doctors are paid more. Judges, legislators, and other politicians are paid extremely well. Naturally, any group that has authoritative and coercive control of the majority will reward itself the greatest when distributing privilege. The inclusive ruling class will always defend itself. The use of privilege and its role in modern society is very apparent.

     What is the alternative to privilege? If a citizen in this society does not wish to obey the orders of the masters of the system, they will lose their privilege. They would still enjoy some of the fruits of society, but they would be among the class of the majority with little privilege. That is the only punishment given to those who do not accept the offers of the system to become more productive members. The offer of privilege reads as follows: "Adhere to these special orders and you will be rewarded." On the other end, there is a threat: "Violate our laws, or the orders to the many, and you will be punished with imprisonment -- the complete inability to gain or enjoy any privilege." The use of privilege is two-fold, in that it is used as a method of reward as well as a method of punishment. The social system in place then has interests, desires, wants, goals. Its natural role is to force people to comply with orders. The privileged classes enjoy a higher quality of living, because the framers of the social system gave them more consideration. By having these privileged classes, the ruling class gains a tighter and firmer control of the majority. For instance, kings in Europe would assign nobles who in turn controlled knights, the class honored with the duty of force. Today, privilege is granted to all members of society that produce more, because the fruit of their produce is taxed to feed runaway military and police budgets. By granting a small amount of privilege to doctors, the whole of society can produce more wealth to feed more troops. In that respect, the system gains more protective strength, in order to maintain the present order.

     The citizen possesses the option to reject the offers of privilege for special duties, such as enrolling in the military or becoming a more productive member of society. One might even theoretically say that he possesses the option to reject even the law, only if they are willing to accept the penalty of losing all privilege. And though it is not difficult for us to use the phrase "losing all privilege," we cannot forget that waking everyday in a prison cell is a very stark and brutal reality for many. The ruling party of the state has one interest in mind: to maintain its present regime and its ability to use coercive force on the majority. Those who aid the state, the privileged classes, are rewarded for their duty. If the state were to lose its privileged classes, if the people were to reject all programs of privilege, then the ruling class would lose its power and authority. The benefits that the rulers enjoy as the leaders of people would disintegrate. It is the nature of government to be corrupt, manipulative, and exploitive, the first enemy of the people. The French Revolution was a response to the endless reach of poverty due to the ruling class. The Cuban Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, and many others were all started by citizens that were discontent with their government. If, in these cases, the government was wise enough to distribute more privilege instead of hording wealth, they might have survived. The nations of the world today have learned some lessons from history. They are willing to grant small concessions to the people, in order to maintain their power and oppress their citizens in other ways.

     The use of privilege in modern society is simple. By many people accepting the offer of special tasks in order to accumulate wealth, the government's coercion of the majority becomes stronger and stronger. The use of privilege is to fuel the system's strength and ability to punish those who violate the law, the orders to the many. Those that accept this privilege are essentially the reason why the present system can be maintained. To describe this, our political theorists use the term oppression. A higher class is rewarded for its ability to maintain the present regime's policies and laws. Though propaganda is always used to convince the privileged class that they are doing what is right, they are also rewarded a greater part of wealth, the key determining factor in their obedience. Aside from the privileged class of society, there is also the ruling class -- this is the class that asserts coercive authority over the majority. The ruling class has provided the majority with every reason for revolt and resistance, from organizing massacres, to slavery, to torture and vindictive judicial processes, to violating civil liberties, and wrongfully imprisoning its citizens. Organized coercive authorities, or governments, are the instigators to the dark side of human nature. Their only goal is to maintain their control on the majority through oppression, aided by the use of privilege. If the people were able to reorganize the social structure on mutual and non-exploiting agreements, then poverty would cease to infect their nations; the people would be able to work and live in humane conditions.

     The ruling class must oppose a fair and just society. If every person were fairly awarded wealth based on how important they are to society, then everyone would have much higher incomes. In a society where the majority is enslaved to the rule of one despot, those who are given privilege to be soldiers make less than they would if everyone was free. The reason that citizens give in to the offers that the ruling party makes is because there are enough others doing the same thing to the point where it is a protected status. A government with a small military or police force would be ineffective; it would instantly crumble the moment the people demanded freedom. Citizens join the privileged ranks because they are already swollen. They enter in for their mutual defense. In a free society, they would enjoy even more privilege. They do not seek a free society for two reasons. First, if they sought out a revolutionary change in the social structure, they would lose their present privilege unless every other member of the privileged class did the same thing. Second, they are convinced by the arguments of the ruling class that a truly free society could not exist. Their claim is that it is unnatural to humans to be free.

     While the use of privilege has become a great deal diversified, the essential ethic of the state remains the same: the use of privilege to get a part of society to quell the majority is essential. Its role of privilege is natural. It exists to induce compliance with a social situation that would otherwise be unacceptable. Every piece of privilege is established on the same firm ground. It is established on the slavery and submission of the majority. Those who enjoy privilege hold it solely due to this slavery. When a citizen decides to reach up and grab a larger slice of the pie, they can only do this by stepping on the skulls of their so-called fellow citizens. To grant one person larger privilege is, in effect, to deny the majority a part of their wealth. Revolutionaries throughout history have denied all privilege for these reasons. Leo Tolstoy sent all the royalties of his books to charity, living as a father and a peasant. Che Guevara refused special treatment, eating side-by-side with ordinary soldiers in their Marxist militias. Peter Kropotkin, the revered philosopher of Anarchism, was born a prince, but he abandoned his privilege because it was built on slavery. George Orwell, author of 1984, served in the Spanish revolutionary forces as they battled the Fascist invasion. Siddartha Gautama, also known as "Buddha," was born in to wealth, but he also abandoned everything that he had just so that he could understand truth. All of these great people give us an important truth that we must understand. In order to overthrow oppressive situations, in order to achieve a state of true freedom and equality, we must reject all privileges that are built upon slavery -- we must have unity and solidarity. The revolution needs bold individuals who are willing to make sacrifices in order that the majority can understand and live in freedom.


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