1980s >> 1982 >> no-936-august-1982

American Noahs

For those who keep lists of the terrors the future might bring (as if the suffering of the present were not enough), it seems a new prospect has arisen: nuclear war, followed by the survival only of some vicious Christians.

We live in a time of rapid social change; contradictions inherent in the present form of society make social revolution even more urgent. As in previous such periods of heightened class conflict and questioning of old prejudices, there is a polarisation of ideas. On the one hand, the force for creative production, democracy and the removal of the barrier of private property; and on the other, the desperate and conservative reaction against it. One manifestation of this desperation, the American Survivalists, was the subject of a documentary on BBC 1 on 29 June.

The Survivalist movement consists of some two million Americans who fear some impending disaster and are taking steps to arm themselves against this often vague threat. Generally higher-paid workers or capitalists — white, patriotic and Christian — they speak of the threat of nuclear war, earthquakes, social breakdown, riots, marauders and the “coming hard times”. What unites the Survivalists is the religious idea that the relations formed between humans in society are beyond our control. For them, war and conflict cannot be dealt with by conscious, democratic co-operation, but must be “accepted” and prepared for. Like CND, the Survivalists have not recognised that war and poverty are direct consequences of the capitalist social system, so that they struggle in vain with the effects while leaving the cause intact. Unlike CND, however, some Survivalists have a moral preference for, rather than against, nuclear war.

Kurt Saxon, for example, writer of many “survival” manuals, stated in an interview:

    “We have over eighty million social dependents and if I could press a button and they would all be gone, then everything gets straightened out; but I can’t find the button . . . the culling is coming.”

An army general who runs courses in self-defence and fire-arms use at 3000 dollars per course, spoke of the “have-nots preying on the haves”:

    “Our country depends on individuals, and yet there are a lot of socialists, communists, all which I class as idiots . . . there are more idiots in the world than there are non-idiots.”

How, then, do these people propose to survive the coming “hard times”? By asking why the interests of “haves” and “have-nots” do not harmonise, or considering the possibilities of human co-operation? No, as Christians they stand by the holy writ of Romans, chapter 13, and oppose socialism. One of their bookshops stocks a “source book” called How To Kill, Volumes 1-5. (What would happen of the imaginary assailant had also read this?) One isolated group of armed Christians hiding in the hills pray to “God” to teach them how to hate, and one of the fresh recruits told how his real fear was not so much of nuclear destruction, but of destruction of the nuclear family:

    “When homosexuality is on open view and not hidden anymore, you know it’s getting bad. When witchcraft and communism is everywhere you know it’s getting bad.”

Survivalism has become a market with a turnover of billions of dollars. But this is clearly a reflection of the wider class divide between poverty and property, and of the increasing war and violence arising out of the development of world capitalism generally. One man had gone to live with just his immediate family, in total isolation. He was trying to cut himself off from the complications of life in modern America, and moaned that

    “The situation where people want things is happening now. If they can’t get it one way or another they’ll get it another way.”

But there is no need to try to run way from living together as part of society, to become cut off from all of the potential benefits of modern technology. The power struggle between the two classes is inherent in capitalism, not in human society itself. Future society can function without classes and property. One of the instructors in the secret military training school for “survival” urged his pupils to remember that there had never been peace “since the world began” because people fight, for example, over jobs. But before the advent of private property people did live in peace, and the competitive struggle over jobs is itself an integral feature of the capitalist market system.

These Christians taking up arms against the “threat” of communism and chaos believe that “God” has called them together and that it is their duty to “survive”, however many infidels they may have to kill. Such a philosophy might suit the last ruling class in history, threatened on its last legs by social sanity breaking out across the world. But in reality, as soon as a majority are willing democratically to reject class rule, all the guns and prayers in the world cannot hold them back.

Clifford Slapper

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