The Last Days of the Lilliputians by William T. Hathaway

by William T. Hathaway
Guest Writer
Dandelion Salad
April 21, 2012

Too Big to Fail

Image by notetoanon via Flickr

In Gulliver’s Travels the tiny Lilliputians attacked the much larger Gulliver while he was sleeping and tied him to the ground with thousands of threads. In a similar way the ruling elite have tied the working class in bondage. Small in number but great in power, the elite have designed myriad mechanisms of control to hold the much larger working class down and force it to work for them. These include institutions such as mainstream politics, media, schools, labor unions, police, courts, military, and patriarchal gender roles. They also include emotionally laden concepts such as rugged individualism, a false image of socialism, and the very way we conceive of social class.

This last, the encultured view of ourselves, robs us of our class identity. Very few of us consider ourselves working class. The term has been made to seem a musty relic of the nineteenth century, synonymous with lower class, a disreputable band of losers who are to be feared and perhaps pitied, but certainly not to be identified with. Instead we are offered a hierarchy of many classes: upper, upper middle, middle, lower middle, and last and certainly least, the lumpen lower. Within these we are fragmented further by conflicting differences: ethnic, religious, gender, life style. We’re supposed to identify with our niche and our job and to strive to move up or at least not slip down in the hierarchy. But more and more of us are slipping down, losing the few securities we had. In our bewildered anger we find allies only within our isolated niche, so our struggles are ineffective.

Almost all of us are in fact working class. Everyone in the world who has to work for someone else for the essentials of living is working class. Only when we join together in solidarity will we succeed.

The elite have also fragmented us geographically. The most exploited are far away from the centers of power and thus invisible to us except for media images of illegal aliens storming our borders or insurgents attacking our soldiers. They live under the heel of authoritarian governments held in power by the rich nations and are forced to work under deplorable conditions. The wealth extracted from their labor has enabled the corporations to pay their employees in the home country better wages, thus minimizing discontent here and stimulating consumption of their products.

That economic arrangement is changing, however, as global competition intensifies. Selling in the world market has become more important than selling in the home country. Competing globally requires low prices, so corporations are slashing wages and benefits. The international working class is being leveled. Our task now is to unite and overthrow the elite that rules us all.

This elite is composed of many nationalities and has many internal conflicts. They even make war on each other when economics demands it. But they always recognize their overriding interests as a class, and they will do everything in their considerable power to defend those interests. We, the workers of the world, need to recognize and defend our own class interests with as much determination as our rulers.

They have designed a political system in the USA that ensures their power monopoly. The candidates of both major parties represent their interests. Through corporate financing, winner-take-all elections, ballot-access laws, and slanted media coverage, they effectively exclude alternatives.

To break free of their political control and build genuine democracy, we must delegitimize in particular the Democratic Party, which exists to channel potentially radical discontent into dead-end streets. The Democratic Party is the graveyard of social movements, capturing people’s hopes for fundamental changes, then burying them. It produces only superficial reforms that strengthen capitalism.

Each of us should examine the parties and organizations on the left, find one that matches our orientation, and actively support it. Just being angry at the system isn’t enough. Unless we are organized and militant, a viable alternative to the capitalist parties won’t emerge. The best program I’ve found is the Socialist Equality Party’s:

Labor unions, like the Democratic Party, have become merely reformist. They have been purged of any anti-capitalist leadership and now serve the same function on the economic front that the Democrats serve on the political front: to convince the working class to accept the dictates of capital. Union leadership collaborates with employers to worsen the conditions of their members. They have become functionaries of capitalism and are richly rewarded for it. Workers are going to have to build an independent base of power that will throw out this bureaucracy and militantly confront bosses worldwide.

The reformism pushed by the Democratic Party and the labor unions is reinforced by the liberal media. They foster the idea that the system is basically good but just has some problems that need to be fixed. This is appealing because it’s easy. Instead of revolution to replace the system, we just need to repair it.

Reforms have in the past improved a few conditions. Social Security helped stave off abject poverty in old age, and Medicare helped protect a family’s savings from catastrophic health costs. From the 1950s to the ’70s unions were able to force through higher wages and better working conditions in many industries. But these hard-fought reforms are being reversed now because of capitalism’s need to reduce prices to compete with emerging industrial powers such as China and India. The pressure of international competition is being shifted onto us, the workers, and the Democrats and unions are implementing that. In this new economic reality, reformism has become a coward’s dream, a way of avoiding the unpleasantness of protracted struggle. We need to abandon its delusion and prepare to fight for fundamental changes that will replace oligarchic capitalism with democratic socialism.

Another thread that binds us is the image of socialism that has been burned into our brains. We are continually persuaded that it means brutal dictatorship, concentration camps, no freedom, a slave state. To counter this, we need to criticize the regimes of the Soviet Union and China and point out that they weren’t socialist. The totalitarian tradition in their cultures and constant attack by the capitalist nations kept them from achieving anything close to real socialism. In many cases the government took over as the exploitative boss, and the workers had little power. Real socialism means economic democracy, where we decide together how our economic life will be organized. It puts the resources and productive capacity of the world in the hands of its people, who use them to meet human needs rather than to generate private profits for a few owners.

We are educated to serve the system: to be obedient, to respect authority, to fit into a hierarchy. We are channeled into learning skills the corporations need, and our labor has become just another commodity. Our deepest interests and talents often remain undeveloped, unrecognized even by ourselves. This won’t change until students, parents, teachers, and other workers come together and educate one another to take power.

The mass media exist to control the masses by shaping our perceptions of reality. The pap they feed us switches off our brains, so we can’t analyze society as a system. Instead of thought, we are offered a dazzling array of personal emotions and sensory stimulation to distract us from the bleak reality of our lives.

Through entertainment and news the media fixate us on physical violence, so we don’t perceive the structural violence that causes it. We get lurid, fear-arousing accounts of violence committed by ghetto youths and Muslim guerrillas accompanied with commentaries calling for tough measures to combat these vicious berserkers. We get no accounts of the structural violence of poverty and oppression that capitalism and imperialism have created there. It’s this built-in structural violence that generates the physical violence.

The corporate media exist also to stimulate greed and consumption. Capitalism divides us from one another, and the isolation imposed by this false separation generates insecurity and a sense of incompleteness. It creates hollow personalities craving to fill an inner emptiness, then it comes to the rescue by promising satisfaction through consumption. First it causes the void, then convinces us to fill it with things — beautiful, fascinating, stimulating, extraordinary, sexy things. Lots of them. And so much the better that they never really fill our needs, because then we need more of them.

Dandelion Salad and other alternative publications are awaking people from the stupor induced by this mainstream propaganda. They deserve our support.

valpo 5

Image by { d } via Flickr

To escape from the mental manipulation, we must strive for inner self sufficiency so we won’t need all that garbage the media is selling us. This self sufficiency has its basis in our shared humanity, and if we tune in to that, the superficial substitutes of commercial products and entertainment will lose their appeal. A good way to combat such conditioning is a consumer strike. Buy as little as possible. Turn off the television. By overcoming our need for entertainment, we can develop our own authentic creativity. When we’re not consuming as much, the planet will breathe a sigh of relief. Instead of hiding behind fashion, jewelry, and cosmetics, let’s face the world as we are and let the beauty of our defiance show.

The media create images and myths that reinforce the existing ideologies. Rugged individualism, for example, validates the “every man for himself” ethos of capitalism. The belief that we are isolated beings striving for our own gratification is an axiom of our society. Men are particularly enamored of it, taught to identify with the mountain man, the lone wolf, the entrepreneur.

The separations between people are easy to see: each of us inhabit a different body. Our connections are much more fundamental, but they are invisible, so a shallow culture like ours doesn’t perceive them. We can overcome this by centered ourselves in our connectedness and acting from it. In our lives and in our art we can demonstrate the deeper commonality that underlies our surface separations. Our genuine individuality can be best developed within this context.

Reinforcing traditional masculinity is one of the chief ways in which the elite seek to keep the working class on its side. They exploit the fact that many men cling to maleness as the last power left to them. Working-class men have almost no say over their work lives; machismo has become their only realm of agency. This is exploited by elements of the media, who portray leftists as intent on rendering traditional males extinct. Admittedly, there’s a grain of truth in this. Traditions of dominance and aggression, whether practiced by men or women, need to be resisted. The real attack on working class men, though, is coming not from leftists but from economic forces that are increasingly constricting their lives and limiting their possibilities down to low paying, exhausting jobs. The rage this generates in them is deflected by the media towards leftists, feminists, and minorities, who are actually the core opposition to those economic forces.

We need to show traditional men that socialism will give them economic security and power in the work place. When they have that, they won’t need to dominate their wives and children. If they persist in doing so, society has to prevent them from that. The dominator mentality is a pathology we must overcome.

Gender politics by itself won’t build socialism. In fact in many cases it ends up serving capitalism. But gender studies can help break the patriarchal mold that keeps producing the same authoritarian personality type. It opens up new possibilities and fosters psychological diversity. By showing that our categories of feminine and masculine aren’t natural but cultural, it calls into question the naturalness of other institutions. It helps us see that capitalism also is not an inherent necessity but rather a product of social forces open to change. Gender subversion can lead to political subversion.

The enforcement mechanisms of society — military, police, and courts — are the bottom line of oppression. All three are licensed to kill and do so regularly. The military are the spear carriers of capitalism. Their job is to defend and expand the empire, and they slaughter millions for that goal. The police live up to their motto, To Protect and To Serve, but they are primarily protecting and serving an oppressive social structure, defending property and its owners against attacks by the deprived. The courts are run by judges who are for the most part members of the elite. They are the final arbiters of punishment, locking up anyone who threatens the system, primarily poor minorities. They have created an American gulag, an egregious, ever-growing prison-industrial complex that crushes those who dare defy its rules.

We need to show the soldiers and police they are workers too. We all have the same basic interests and the same common enemy: their employer. If we win enough of them to our side, they will stand with us rather than against us when a revolutionary situation develops. Winning the judges to our side is unlikely. Most of them are ruling class. We’ll probably just have to find some socially useful work for them, like sweeping the sidewalks.

Our rulers (yes, we really do have rulers) try to convince us that there’s no solution to humanity’s problems, no alternative to the way things are now. This is human nature. Get used to it.

Fortunately the international working class is refusing to get used to it. It is resisting this new wave of impoverishment the corporations and their governments are trying to force onto it. Our bound Gulliver is starting to awaken. It knows now it is fettered and is testing its strength against these bonds. In some places it has already broken a few. The rule of the Lilliputians is coming to an end. This won’t happen quickly, though. A long struggle lies ahead of us. But the tide has changed and is now running in our favor.

The uprising began in the Muslim world because they are under the most direct imperialist attack. It has spread to the NATO countries, the chief instigators of the attacks, because their populations are having to pay the bills for this war through social cutbacks and lower wages. As the uprising spreads globally, the elite will do everything they can to crush it. They will try to divide us and make us fight one another. They will offer tempting reforms and compromises that will allow them to maintain ownership. They will bribe some of our opportunistic leaders with promises of token power if they cooperate. They will jail us. They will even kill some of us. But if we persist, holding to a militant rather than a reformist course, we will eventually free ourselves of them and build a system that emphasizes the humane in humanity. This is our time, an historic battle for liberation.

William T. Hathaway is an adjunct professor of American studies at the University of Oldenburg in Germany. His latest book, Radical Peace: People Refusing War, presents the experiences of war resisters, deserters, and peace activists in the USA, Europe, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Chapters are posted on a page of the publisher’s website at He is also the author of Summer Snow, the story of an American warrior in Central Asia who falls in love with a Sufi Muslim and learns from her an alternative to the military mentality. Chapters are available at


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19 thoughts on “The Last Days of the Lilliputians by William T. Hathaway

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  5. Might is right is the war cry of ruling governments.
    While might is right the innocent will continue to be sacrificed.
    Challenging on any physical level creates a spiral of violence.
    Media challenge to cronyism, nepotism and corruption is absent .
    Without a Fourth Estate political corruption and abuse of power will continue.
    How to energise and motivate a pro active media challenge may be discovered on this Internet with sites like Dandelion Salad and the excellent writers and posts.

  6. I’m glad my article has provoked such a range of perspectives and insights. Your response lets me know we really are a community and as we grow, we may really be able to change this ghastly system that grips our world. But that of course requires inner change too.

    • Thank you William for this acknowledgement. I agree with you about inner change. We hear a lot about this from many different quarters, particular from natural scientists who subscribe to a view of life that is holistic, synergistic and interconnected. It implies a real sea change in perception and a genuine cultural shift. Donal Peter Buckley is to be commended for his advocacy of strong, independent media, but what if these messages simply fall on deaf ears or are misinterpreted, distorted and trivialised by reactionary interests who deploy vast resources of material power and wealth? How do we succeed in opening the hearts and minds of those who vote with their feet and their pocket books? Unless people who are the recipients of market “goods” boycott the destructive “services” of the corporations, they will never reform themselves and desist from greedy, irresponsible practices. My own instinct tells me that the only voice that will effect real change is the Voice of Nature (Herself,) the planetary forces that shape continents never mind opinions. I believe these forces actually live through us, so on an optimistic note, perhaps positive changes will occur whether we will them or not.

      • Change will not happen by wishful thinking or philosophising ( angels on top of needle or needles in Hay stacks).

        Broad strokes luxuriatings on evolutionary prospects asks the obvious questions… Are such writings subversive to definitions of reality.

        Are the writers, undermining a serious attempt to challenge the established war mongrels.

        The spiritual/philosophical approach hardly impacts on the immediate reality of torture and death dealt by the might is right brigades.

        • Points taken Donal. Each of us can only do that of which we are capable. No man can know another’s Mystery. Lions roar and rattlers rattle. The system is vulnerable, because it is hollow, soulless. Life without spirit is decadence Your idea of spirit will not be mine, nor does anyone have the right to tell another what they can or cannot be, believe in or achieve, contrary to the habit of many religionists and “educators” who deem it their responsibility to organise other people’s morality and restrict their minds. I agree with you, but how do you propose to challenge the de facto powers? We need organised, political demands and coherent agendas, not just protest. Don’t forget, the monster behind the mask may be more scared than you…

        • “With all of our languages we can’t communicate’
          (Christy Moore,singer)

          End of communications on this thread

  7. I think I get your drift. The art of war was codified by Sun Zi. The old biblical saw says people without a vision shall perish, as vision needs to be at the heart of any worthwhile philosophy according to William James. Do we challenge “might is right” with even more “might?” Doesn’t that just mean my might is better than your might? Isn’t it wiser to step aside and let the more aggressive adversary topple over from unbalanced force or are you advocating summary execution and the guillotine? Is this blood lust or justice you want? Without art it is endless perpetual war, the US speciality, the weapons-r-us boys ‘n girls. Let us not forget to distinguish raw violence from artful warfare. How mighty are the might-is-right lot anyway? Pretty fekking dumb, only they’re clever enough to get other idiots to do the dirty work. Exposure is a powerful weapon against cowards.

  8. William T Hathaway writes on a very grand canvas.His ambition is to be admired but the vastness of his proposals are almost utopian in concept.In just one short post William presents work and struggle for improvement which might take generations to develop.
    The fight for peace is worthwhile but peace comes dropping slowly from a World of warring nations.
    David Llewellyn Foster aspires to a rare space indeed for humans who lack basic human rights and are subjugated by military or economic forces.Basic human survival tactics for many will prevent any such philosophical luxuries even in their dreams.
    The challenge to such establishments and rulers must be direct.
    Where is the Fourth Estate in any country. That mythical Fourth Estate challenging all forms of power and abuses of power in societies?
    Without a strong ethical media Might will be Right and the innocent will continue to be sacraficed.

    • Greetings from rare space Donal. You may be right, but it doesn’t take great genius to hate oppressive bastards. There is little I desire more than to see the overthrow of tyranny. First of all identify your enemy. Then, examine your own predilections and tendencies. Desire can be a vice. We must be wary of substitute dictatorships. Zimbabwe is a case in point. I admire your passion for ethical media, but too many journalists are being persecuted and killed. We don’t need martyrs we need change, and change will only come when we recognise the need for a shift in public perception, a cultural change that acknowledges the energies of living systems and other species. Clearly, media are a force to facilitate this revolution, but evolutionary development sets its own agenda and demands the patience of saints. Desperate circumstances demand extreme measures, and if I was in a situation where I had to submit to perpetrators of atrocity or pick up a gun, it is clear to me what choice I should make. This said, the art of war is not an easy philosophy to master.

      • Just one more important consideration, if x% of the problems globally are due to US intransigence, manipulative stealth, elitist controls, interference and coercion, then it is up to Americans to bring their own bastards to book! Don’t expect miracles from people who are being taken advantage of by corporate criminals, how can they change the status quo if the real power of exploitation and oppression does not reside in their own territory? Americans need to change the way other Americans do business, and quit “exporting security.” Call the bluff, kill the scam.

      • David Llewellyn …please accept this as constructive.
        Self defence is survival and how does the art of war as a philosophy relate to challenging the might is right brigades?
        Correspondence may be at odds with the Internet and excludes/ reduces to the status of a phone conversation between two people?

  9. The reverse analogy is also inviting, the image of the ogre tied up by the little folk. The real issue we have to face is twofold. On the one hand we have the cynical opportunism that corporate privilege endorses; on the other the challenge of virtuous governance. Revolution is a tired irony, it always produces a dilemma, how to replace what has been removed. Change means adapting to new circumstance but it also means evolution. Enlightened and enlightening leadership is essential at every level. Socialism, capitalism, who would ever dream of talking about philosophism? religionism? biologism? It is our words and concepts that bind us and limit our options. A free mind can envisage intelligent change because it is free and open to fresh ideas and experience, to innovate, encourage originality and support ethical choices. The chains we must break are those that impose mental slavery to false ideals, derivative ideas, received notions and cultural assumptions. Better thinking will lead to clearer vision, to the exercise of practical imagination. As the great William James noted, a philosophy without vision is mere logic chopping.

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