Charles Bukowski Wonders Why Americans are Incapable of Rebellion

“People simply empty out.”

And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

Well, we live under a fascist President. We’re watching the earth dying in real time because of pollution and global warming. The corruption is right in our faces. Yet we continue to care about one thing, our jobs and upward mobility for our kids. All we’re really willing to fight for is getting a good deck chair on the Titanic.

Bukowski nailed it back in the 1980s. We’ve just emptied out.

13 thoughts on “Charles Bukowski Wonders Why Americans are Incapable of Rebellion”

  1. I can understand being “emptied out” or “burned out,” when it seems as though all efforts to right the wrongs either fail or boomerang back to hit you instead. Why try?

    The System as it stands is slavery under the pretense of capitalism, with the slaves believing they are free because they get wages and benefits. But as you know, the benefits are tied to Wall Street, which thrives on gambling with other people’s money. “You can’t fight City Hall,” and “The House always wins,” sums it up.

    1. Has there ever been a time when capitalism hasn’t been like that. Lincoln and the “free soil movement” are incredibly complex but in the end they gave us the oppressive system we live under today.. Lincoln accepted a lot of Marxist ideas about labor while at the same time arguing that every worker could become a capitalist. That was probably possible at some time in US history but what Lincoln never considered was that the white working class he hoped would become the capitalist class (those German immigrants who fought in the Union Army so that land wouldn’t be divided up into plantations and worked with slaves) were in effect expropriating the Indians. Free labor transformed into mom and pop capitalism required genocide backed by government intervention. American capitalism has always been about state backed railroads and the Homestead Act was about genocidal expropriation of someone else’s land. When that land ran out you got the crisis (Frederick Jackson Turner’s “closing of the frontier”). Same with the British. Would there have been capitalism in the UK without the Royal Navy and the expropriation of India?

      1. I think we are on the same page, but Marx had his own agenda with a belief in centralized government, progressive income taxes, and a central bank. My answer to your original question of why Americans are incapable of rebellion is that Americans have been seduced into believing they are free. You can apply any “ism” you want, but I suggest neither Americans or anyone in history have ever developed the maturity to accept the responsibility and self-control that allows for freedom.

        1. Marx believed that a “dictatorship of the proletariat” would temporarily replace a “dictatorship of capital” before the state “withered away.” Marx, correctly, argued that without capitalism you didn’t need a state, that the state was there to protect the ruling class against the working class.

          The issue of a “central bank” is largely a red herring. Whether finance capital is centralized by the capitalist state or among a “trust” of oligarchs doesn’t make much difference. It behaves pretty much the same. Andrew Jackson, for example, who abolished the central bank, still used the powers of the state to clear (ethnically cleanse) the native Americans from the Southeast to make way for slavery.

          Marx’s view of the state is really a lot more accurate than the anarchist view. We live under a dictatorship of capital, whichever party is in power. You can have Republicans or Democrats, but you can’t have a party that goes against the wishes of Wall Street and the defense industry. There’s no way you’re going to abolish this system peacefully. It took the world’s first great industrial army and a million dead Americans just to make the transitions from a country governed by the slave power to a country governed by liberal capitalists.

          The transition to socialism (or anarchism) will be just as bloody. Marxists admit it. Anarchists don’t.

          1. “Dictatorship of the proletariat” is still dictatorship. Who speaks for the proletariat?

            I remember your participating in and writing about the Occupy Wall Street movement. I thought the concept was good, but an “Abandon Wall Street” for Main Street might be more effective, even now. If there were a mass movement to withdraw investments from Wall Street, and to invest locally in peoples’ home communities, we might see an entirely different picture.

            1. The dictatorship of the proletariat is the dictatorship BY the proletariat. Marx coined the term in the aftermath of the Paris Commune (where the working class itself seized power). But most of the leaders of the Paris Commune were anarchists, not Marxists, and didn’t quite know how to defend their revolution from the ruling class (who retook the city and massacred 60,000 people). Lenin took the lesson to heart, and pushed the Russian Revolution in an authoritarian direction, but it’s important to remember that in 1871 Marx was willing to follow the lead of the working class, who at the time were anarchists, not socialists. If you have 9 or so hours Peter Watkins examines the issue in vast, vast detail in his film La Commune. (The seem to have taken the version with English subtitles but it’s in the public domain I believe).

              1. I’ll have to take your word for it, because I don’t see a free nine hours in my schedule anytime soon.

                I understand “dictatorship by the proletariat.” Maybe it’s covered in the film, but how might a Marxist defend the revolution differently? I have but haven’t read Marx’ “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” which the introduction says is his explanation of why the Revolution of 1848 failed. Would reading this help?

              2. It’s a debate that hasn’t been resolved. The democratic Paris Commune was drowned in blood. The authoritarian Russian revolution succeeded. Democratic Allende died in a US backed coup. Authoritarian Fidel Castro outlived every President who tried to kill him.

              3. I always liked Fidel, who had my birthday. Even now, I think he did a lot right. If I could walk to Cuba, I would consider starting my travels there. I have many possibly useful skills.

                I like anyone the US doesn’t like.

              4. The US likes Saudi Arabia and hates Iran. Funny how our government can have such a different opinion about two repressive, religious states.

  2. Thanks Stan, the movie clip is astounding – even the crickets add an effect as people are turned to objects of disdain and ridicule – so much of our present dialogue descending into hate speech by the President of a new colonial power ready to push many persons to the bottom. 13 Colonies, rebelling against Empire, become the devil they fought so hard to defeat.

    1. Similarly the very same United States Army that ended slavery committed genocide against the native Americans, under the very same officers (Custer fought at the Battle of Gettysburg and Sherman was the supreme commander of the army). Lincoln’s son became a notorious union buster and railroad executive. Grant to his credit did send troops to suppress the KKK and did sign a civil rights act but his presidency was dominated by rich, corrupt capitalists. He was basically surrounded by a cabinet of Jeffrey Skillings, Ken Lays and Bernie Madoffs.

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