Notes From a Shithole Country

Airport Uprising
Thousands protest Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban at JFK airport in New York City, on Jan. 27, 2017.

One year into Donald Trump’s nightmarish presidency the United States government has shut down. It is, indeed, an ironic — and highly fitting —symbol to mark the one year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration.

Trump, rather than “draining the swamp,” as he childishly promised on the campaign trail, has merely flooded it with even more raw sewage and swamp monsters. For all his disparaging remarks about “shithole countries” (by which he referred to El Salvador, Haiti, and the “country” of Africa), the U.S. is rapidly devolving into such a shithole. Or perhaps it always was one. Take your pick.

At the heart of this latest government shutdown is the fate of Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which offers a “path to citizenship” for young adult immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

I put the phrase, “path to citizenship” in quotes because there is no such thing as an “illegal” human being. Additionally, the entire concept of “legal citizenship” is a relatively recent concept. Up until the 19th century, immigration laws were virtually nonexistent. Though many assume their ancestors came to the country “legally” or utilized the “proper channels,” according to the American Immigration Council, “unauthorized immigration has been a reality for generations.”

DACA currently shields some 800,000 immigrants who live and work in the country from deportation. For many of these young immigrants, America is the only home they have ever known. Trump’s elimination of the program would tear families apart and inflict unnecessary suffering upon thousands of working-class people.

“It’s not just affecting one person in the family,” said Patricia Jaramillo, a 23-year-old DACA recipient from Van Nuys, California of Trump’s efforts to phase out the program. “It’s a ripple effect that affects entire communities, entire families…”

Furthermore, local manufacturing businesses like Cozy Harbor Seafood and Barber Foods rely heavily on these immigrants’ labor power — which is cheaper and easier to exploit than that of “native” U.S. citizens. These processing plant jobs — which take place in cold, pungent conditions — are mundane, repulsive, and often involve long hours of standing and repetitive motions.

Workers in these degrading jobs are routinely denied bathroom breaks — to the point where many poultry workers have resorted to wearing diapers to work, according to a 2016 report by Oxfam America. While denying adult employees basic necessities like bathroom breaks may seem patently illegal, the fact is worker protection laws in this country are weak and rarely enforced. The near disappearance of unions has only further eroded workplace protections.

And, as if to add insult to injury, workers at these processing plants are often carefully monitored by numerous surveillance cameras while they work. (This is the case at Cozy Harbor Seafood, where I once worked as an office temp.)

Trump railed on immigration and America’s supposedly “weak” boarder control laws to stoke working-class fear and resentment of “the Other.” During his now-infamous campaign announcement speech, the xenophobic Trump singled out immigrants from Mexico. “They are bringing drugs,” Trump said of Mexican immigrants. “They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Republicans howl that DACA is an illegal program — that we are a “nation of laws,” and we must “respect the rule of law.” Yet where was this reverence for the “rule of law” last summer when Trump pardoned corrupt, racist Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio? The right was suspiciously silent about the vaunted “rule of law,” then.

Indeed, capitalists engage in illegal behavior every day and justify it as merely the “cost of doing business.” Perhaps we should deport all of them?

While the Democrats should be applauded (for once) for holding the line on preserving DACA in the latest government shutdown squabble, I fear their stance has more to do with electoral maneuvering than any genuine concern for DACA recipients. It is worth recalling that Barack Obama deported more immigrants than any other president in U.S. history — including Trump.

As of this writing, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has already offered Trump funding for his coveted border wall in exchange for maintaining DACA.

(Just to review, we have money for border walls to keep “illegal” immigrants out of the country, but our elected elites insist single-payer health care is “too expensive.”)

This is further evidence that the left cannot rely on the capitalist Democratic Party to save us. Only mass mobilizations — similar to the Muslim ban protests that shut down major airports last year — can protect immigrant families.

But our efforts cannot stop at merely preserving DACA — though that is an important immediate goal. The left must also put forward a real socialist alternative to the failed immigration policies of both capitalist parties.

Socialists ultimately believe in a world without walls and borders. We believe in a world where people are free to live and roam as they please — or, perhaps more accurately for a warming planet increasingly characterized by droughts, floods, famine, and forest fires, wherever is most habitable. Indeed, climate change is already playing a role in mass migration throughout the globe.

Likewise, many of the Sudanese, Syrian, and Iraqi refugees fleeing to America are victims of our imperialist wars and occupations. To bomb these people’s nations and destabilize them through military force, and then cruelly deny them entry to our shores as they attempt to flee the violence we have inflicted is a particularly sinister form of hypocrisy.

The point is that few immigrants truly have a “choice” in migrating to the U.S. or to any other country. And the ruling class’ concept of a “path to citizenship” for immigrants is, as Socialist Worker’s Danny Katch explains, equally misleading.

As Katch writes in a March 15, 2016 article:

The “path to citizenship” is more like a road to nowhere, a long march that forces undocumented immigrants to go “to the back of the line” of a system in which many have to wait up to 24 years to get green cards. Along the way are many roadblocks, from fines that may be unaffordable, to proving they have been steadily employed — in a country where layoffs and temporary work are becoming the norm for all workers …

The fight to preserve DACA and protect immigrant families is a crucial one. And it is a fight that has the potential to mobilize a new generation of radicals to struggle for a world without walls and borders — a world where no human being is illegal.

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Let’s Bury the Myth: Black Voters ARE Feeling the Bern

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It is time to bury the pernicious myth that African Americans do not support Bernie Sanders, and that their lack of support cost him the 2016 presidential primary.

Liberal, Clinton-supporting pundits constantly trotted out this baseless talking point to attack and marginalize the Vermont U.S. senator throughout his campaign. In focusing primarily on class and issues of economic justice, these commentators argued, Sanders downplayed or ignored racial concerns.

A simple Google search of “Bernie Sanders” and “black voters” illustrates the extent of this propaganda campaign.

“Bernie Sanders isn’t winning minority votes — and it’s his own fault,” lectures The Guardian’s Steven W. Thrasher (5/03/2016); “The Far Left is Still Out of Touch With Black Voters,” reads a headline in the appropriately titled, The Establishment (4/27/2017); and Politico purports to explain “Why Black Voters Don’t Feel the Bern,” (3/07/2016) — one of several snarky send-ups of the campaign’s ubiquitous tagline.

All of these articles attempt to portray the senator from lily-white Vermont as thoroughly tone-deaf to the concerns of black voters. They paint Sanders’ supporters as exclusively white and male. Indeed, Hillary Clinton’s campaign attempted — somewhat successfully, I would argue — to mount a similar smear campaign in portraying Sanders’ supporters as sexist, hyper-masculine “Bernie Bros.”

Portland Phoenix columnist and Black Girl in Maine blogger, Shay Stewart-Bouley recently revisited this theme. “During last year’s presidential primaries,” Stewart-Bouley writes in her Dec. 21, 2017 column for the Phoenix, “a lot of Black people quickly soured on Bernie Sanders.”

But this is untrue. You would never know it from liberal identitarians like Stewart-Bouley or Clinton-shills like Paul Krugman, but Sanders actually has strong support among African Americans.

For starters, Sanders is currently the most popular politician in Washington. Fifty-four percent of Americans have a favorable view of the Vermont senator, according to a Harvard-Harris poll released last August.

And that support is not limited to white voters. The poll finds Sanders’ support highest among blacks — at 73 percent. That is compared to 68 percent approval from Latinos, 62 percent among Asian Americans, and 52 percent among whites. And these results were unchanged from a similar poll from spring of 2017, which also found Sanders ranking highest (73 percent) among black voters.

Black voters are overwhelmingly attracted to Sanders’ platform of economic justice. It is no mystery why. According to Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s contribution to the book, The ABCs of Socialism, “By every barometer in American society — health care, education, employment, poverty — African Americans are worse off.”

Thus, 85 percent of black Americans support single-payer health care, one of Sanders’ signature campaign proposals. Same goes for black support of a $15 minimum wage. Indeed, minimum wage workers are disproportionately people of color and women.

In fact, after eight years of the country’s first African American president, blacks have lost ground in every major economic category.

And therein lies the problem in claiming Sanders “ignored race.” The accusation creates a false dichotomy between “race” and “class.”

Liberals, particularly those oriented exclusively around identity politics, are constantly trying to separate “race” and “class” into two disparate categories. According to identitarians like Stewart-Bouley, the left can either champion issues of racism (or sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, xenophobia, etc.), or it can focus on economic inequality. It cannot, however, do both.

Clinton reinforced this false dichotomy on the campaign trail when she asked a crowd, rhetorically, “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow … would that end racism? Would that end sexism?”

Never mind, apparently, that many of the “too big to fail” banks that caused the sub-prime housing crisis that triggered the Great Recession deliberately targeted black homeowners, disingenuously selling them fraudulent refinance loans they knew the owners could not pay back.

As Stewart-Bouley writes in her column:

[Sanders] didn’t really want to talk about race. He wanted to lump it together with class. And while class and race issues have overlap and we need more meetings across those lines, the fact is that racism has its own special considerations and concerns. [Emphasis added.]

It is absolutely correct that racism and other forms of oppression have their own “special considerations.” People of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, and women (black and white) all face greater, more pervasive forms of oppression than straight white men do.

But all workers are ultimately oppressed under capitalism — an acknowledgement that is virtually absent from the reductionist lens of identity politics.

Karl Marx understood race and class to be inextricably intertwined.

“In the United States of America, every independent movement of the workers was paralyzed as long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic,” Marx wrote in 1867 in Volume One of his three-part economic treatise, Capital. “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.”

Famed abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, arrived at similar conclusions.

“The slaveholders, in encouraging the enmity of the poor laboring white man against the blacks,” Douglass wrote, “succeeded in making the said white man almost as much of a slave as the black himself.”

“Both,” he added, “are plundered by the same plunderer.”

Sanders’ presidential campaign was not without its faults, as I have previously enumerated in this space. And it is true that Sanders needed a lot of prodding from Black Lives Matter activists to incorporate their fight against police brutality into his campaign agenda.

But perhaps his greatest contribution to the left was in clearly and unapologetically pointing to where the real levers of power in this country lie: Not with “privileged” working-class white men, but with Wall Street and the monied elites. They — not “white people” or even just “whiteness” — are the real enemies of the working class and those who struggle for racial justice.

University of Pennsylvania professor, Adolph Reed, Jr. — a prominent supporter of Sanders — dismissed criticisms that the candidate failed to connect with black voters as having “no concrete content.”

“How is it ‘economic reductionism’ to campaign on a program that seeks to unite the broad working class around concerns shared throughout the class across race, gender and other lines?” Reed countered in an Aug. 8, 2016 interview with Jacobin magazine. “Ironically, in American politics now we have a Left for which any reference to political economy can be castigated as ‘economic reductionism.’”

None of this is to suggest class is “more important” than race. Nor is it a call against workers organizing around the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, physical ability, or sexual orientation.

But even Sanders himself has acknowledged the limits of identity politics. In a widely mischaracterized, post-election speech in Boston, on Nov. 20, 2016, Sanders stated:

It goes without saying that as we fight to end all forms of discrimination, as we fight to bring more and more women into the political process, Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans — all of that is enormously important, and count me in as somebody who wants to see that happen.

…..

But … It is not good enough for someone to say, “I’m a woman! Vote for me!” No, that is not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.

 

 

Beyond “Toxic Masculinity”

#MeToo Pic

Women’s oppression is inextricably linked to capitalism. 

The widespread allegations of sexual assault leveled at Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein, from an ever growing list of celebrity women and actresses, has pushed the issue of sexism into the forefront of the media like nothing before it. And unlike previous sexual assault cases, the unfolding Weinstein story shows no sign of fading from the headlines, anytime soon.

Yet the discourse surrounding Weinstein and the rampant sexism and misogyny that characterize not just Hollywood, but numerous sectors of life has, unfortunately, lent itself to shallow—and, frankly, predictable—liberal analyses of why sexism continues to pervade society.

I have a liberal friend, for instance, who, commenting on the scandal concludes merely, “Men suck.” Others have similarly chalked it up to “toxic masculinity,” or “male privilege.”

But these pithy buzz-phrases do little to elaborate on the social and economic conditions that create women’s oppression. If we are serious about ridding the world of sexism (as well as homophobia, racism, ableism, etc.), then we need to understand where oppression comes from. Only then will leftists have a political framework for how to dismantle such oppression.

First, let’s be clear: Weinstein’s decades-long history of abusing, humiliating, sexually harassing, and allegedly raping women is nothing less than abhorrent. The only thing more alarming than how long Weinstein was able to get away with his chauvinistic behavior, is how many seemingly progressive male Hollywood actors (including liberal stalwarts like, George Clooney and Matt Damon) turned a blind-eye to Weinstein’s womanizing.

The Weinstein scandal is augmented by the fact that the sitting president has his own long, sordid history of abusing, denigrating, and sexually assaulting women.

A year ago around this time, Trump’s now infamous Access Hollywood, “hot mic” video was leaked to the press, in which Trump bragged to actor, Billy Bush, about his penchant for grabbing women “by the pussy.”

By every conceivable rationale, the tape should have sunk Trump’s presidential campaign. Instead, he won. And while it would be a gross oversimplification to blame sexism (or, for that matter, racism), alone for Trump’s victory, it is undeniable that both forms of discrimination played some role.

“Many of Trump’s voters were not primarily driven by ‘whitelash’ or ‘malelash’ sentiments,” writes Naomi Klein in her latest book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. “Plenty of them said they voted for Trump because they liked what he said about trade and jobs …”

But there’s a problem with these stories. You cannot cast a ballot for a person who is openly riling up hatred based on race, gender or physical ability unless, on some level, you think those issues aren’t important. That the lives of people being put in tangible danger by this rhetoric (and the policies that flow from it) matter less than your life and the lives of people who look more like you. You can’t do it unless you are willing to sacrifice those other categories of people for your (hoped-for) gain.

“To put it bluntly,” Klein adds, “a vote for Trump might not reflect active hatred, but there is still, at best, a troubling indifference behind the act.”

Trump, in typically hypocritical fashion, has condemned Weinstein’s actions, telling the press he is “not at all surprised,” about the revelations. When asked by a reporter how Weinstein’s mistreatment of women differs from his own, Trump just brushed off his Access Hollywood comments as “That’s locker room [talk].”

With repugnant misogynists like Trump and Weinstein (not to mention Bill Cosby, Bill O’ Reilly and Ben Affleck) in power is it any wonder Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale has spent 35 weeks on the New York Times’ bestseller list?

Marxism locates female oppression in women’s historically subordinate role within the family. Marx and Engels referred to the excess amount of housework women have traditionally been responsible for (cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, caretaking, etc.) as “unpaid domestic labor.”

And, while many families have made an effort to more evenly divide the household work in recent years (consider, for instance, one of the most lasting effects of the Great Recession: The rise of the “stay-at-home-dad”), surveys continue to indicate that the majority of domestic chores fall disproportionately on the shoulders of women. This has remained the case even as women entered the workforce after the Second World War.

Capitalism also charges working-class women with the crucial, yet largely unacknowledged role of creating more workers. As author Sharon Smith writes of this role in her book, Women and Socialism: Class, Race, and Capital, “In capitalist societies, women in property-holding families reproduce heirs; women in working-class families reproduce workers for the system.”

Smith continues:

The capitalist class has become dependent on this method of “privatized reproduction” within the working-class family because it lessens capitalists’ own financial responsibility for the reproduction of labor power, which is instead largely supplied by unpaid domestic labor performed primarily by women. The precondition for women’s liberation thus requires an end to their unpaid labor inside the family. This, in turn, necessitates a socialist transformation of society, which cannot be achieved gradually but only through a process of social revolution, in a decisive battle between classes.

In other words, no serious discussion of ending women’s oppression can ignore the system (i.e. capitalism) that creates—and, indeed, relies on–that oppression in the first place.

There is no biological or psychological evidence to suggest that men are naturally sexist. Nor, for that matter, is there anything inherently “toxic” about masculinity—though capitalism and the military certainly have a way of conditioning men to behave in aggressive, combative ways.

While the women’s rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s won significant victories in advancing female equality, the feminist movement has stalled in recent decades, largely due to its co-option with what Socialist Worker‘s Elizabeth Schulte calls “trickle-down feminism.”

This brand of pseudo-feminism suggests that if we simply had more female CEOs, corporate managers, and executive directors, then the work of feminism will be complete. Trickle-down feminism holds up billionaire celebrity figures like Oprah Winfrey (net worth: $3.1 billion), Sheryl Sandberg ($1.57 billion), and Walmart heir, Alice Walton ($33.8 billion) as models working-class women should attempt to emulate.

But there is nothing truly radical about this form of corporate feminism. It is little more than identity-politics. While we absolutely should strive to level the playing-field between men and women, trickle-down feminism is aimed squarely at middle-class women–not the poor, or the struggling single-parents.

The media drumbeat over our supposed “post-feminist” era, Schulte writes, “rarely address[es] the concerns of the vast majority of women who are part of the working class.”

The media, Schulte writes,

measure the success of women at large by the success stories of a few corporate executives or political officials at the top–and argue that these examples of “having it all” will eventually trickle down to all women. The inevitable focus of these [post-feminist] articles and books is what women can do personally to succeed. (Italics hers.)

Should men do more, individually, to combat sexism in the workplace, among friends and in public, as liberal commentator, Alex Steed, suggests? Absolutely.

But we cannot limit our opposition to sexism to these interpersonal exchanges. All of us–women and men–must also “call out” the capitalist system that relies on sexist stereotypes and ideas to function. We must rediscover the language of radical feminists like Helen Keller, Emma Goldman, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

Flynn, a labor activist in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote in her autobiography, Rebel Girl:

A domestic life and possibly a large family had no attraction for me. … I wanted to speak and write, to travel, to meet people, to see places, to organize for the I.W.W. I saw no reason why I, as a woman, should give up my work for this…

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

The Crisis is Capitalism

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Life under the Trump regime is, at times, almost surreal. Every day seems to bring a new Twitter tirade, White House squabble, or scandal. Never in my life can I recall reading in the newspaper that the secretary of state openly referred to the president as a “fucking moron.”

It is almost like something straight out of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Consider this characteristically irrational exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat:

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Many people have remarked that just keeping up with the daily news is both exhausting and depressing. The headline of the lead editorial in the October issue of Socialist Worker seems to sum up Trump’s brand of “shock and awe” politics, best: “Our resistance in the era of political whiplash.”

The SW editors write:

Think about it: In less than a month’s time, we witnessed the far-right carnival of hate in Charlottesville and a murderous attack on anti-racist demonstrators; the unnatural disasters of [hurricanes] Harvey and Irma confirming the destruction that capitalism has caused through climate change and greed; more nuclear saber-rattling by the world’s main super-bully in Washington; and the Trump administration ending DACA protections for undocumented youth now threatened with deportations to places most don’t remember.

This seemingly non-stop “political barrage,” they add, “is a central part of the right’s strategy: to stun opponents into inaction.”

We are, needless to say, living in radical times. And radical times call for radical politics.

Capitalism is currently in deep crisis. The elites no longer have any credibility. Where once the meritocratic Horatio Alger model of improving one’s living standards through hard work and educational achievement at least held some modicum of truth for working-class Americans, this ruling-class principle no longer holds any currency.

For the first time in decades, an entire generation of young adults will be worse off financially than their parents. And this is despite the fact that millennials are the most educated generation in history. (They are also the most debt-burdened from the ever-increasing costs of college education.)

These diminished economic prospects are compounded by a menacing plague of opioid addiction that, in 2016 alone, claimed an estimated 64,000 lives.

As a result, nearly half of millennials believe the so-called “American Dream,” is dead, according to a 2015 Harvard Institute of Politics survey. Where once the bourgeois elite could at least hold out the promise that if you work hard you too can join the middle-class—if not the rich—now the prospects for working-class people have been reduced to merely hoping a climate-change augmented hurricane or forest fire does not destroy your home and all your belongings.

Now, if that ain’t a reason to stand in patriotic reverence for our national anthem during commercialized spectator sports, well, you must just hate The Troops, you son of a bitch!

Wealth inequality is, in fact, far worse than most Americans realize. Of the $30 trillion in wealth the U.S. has gained since the end of the Great Recession of 2008, the 400 richest individuals received an average of $2,500,000,000 each. Those in the bottom 80 percent, meanwhile, got roughly $13,000 each.

And working-class wages remain stagnant. “Income for the working-age bottom 50%,” writes economist, Paul Buchheit, “has not improved since the late 1970s. The share of all income going to the poorest 50% has dropped from 20 to 12 percent. The share going to the richest 1% has risen from 12 to 20 percent.”

While it is not unusual for capitalism to periodically go into crisis (indeed, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels understood that the unplanned, unmanaged nature of capitalism makes it inherently prone to crisis), the scale of this particular economic crisis has not been seen since the Gilded Age of the 1920s.

Marxist economist, Richard Wolff suggests labeling this “new period” of capitalism “post-neoliberal,” “post-globalized,” or “neo-nationalist.” Whichever term one prefers, Wolff describes this era as one in which,

[T]he major corporations, the top 1% they enrich, and the top 10% of managers and professionals they employ will no longer provide the rest of us anywhere near the number of well-paid jobs and generous government policies of the post-1945 period. Given this reality for them, they could hypothetically reduce, more or less equally across the board, the jobs, incomes, and public services available to the bottom 90% of the US population. But at least in the short run, this is politically too dangerous.

Wolff continues:

The only other option they see is to divide the bottom 90% into two groups. For the favored one, jobs, incomes, and standards of living will be only marginally reduced or perhaps, if possible, marginally improved. For the other group, their economic situation will be savaged, reduced to conditions formerly associated with seriously underdeveloped parts of the planet. The time has thus arrived in the US for a major struggle—economically, politically, and ideologically—over just who will be in those two groups. The violence lurking in this struggle has surfaced so far most starkly and provocatively in the murder of [Heather Heyer] at Charlottesville. It reflects the stakes in the proliferating struggles.

And the crisis of capitalism is not relegated to the United States. Britain’s unexpected vote to leave the European Union (EU) last year (“Brexit”), along with the recent uprising in Catalonia for independence from Spain represent, for the power elite, dramatic threats to the neoliberal status quo. That neoliberal order is crumbling—and the bourgeois ruling class is scared to death.

Their fear is compounded here at home with the expectation-shattering election of Donald Trump.

Hillary Clinton was the ruling class’ preferred candidate. Her political experience and proven loyalty to corporate capitalism made her the logical successor to Barack Obama’s Wall Street-friendly policies. For the ruling class, Clinton represented not so much the “lesser evil” as liberals frequently describe the Democratic candidate, but, to use Black Agenda Report executive editor, Glen Ford’s phrase, the “more effective evil.”

But Trump is a wild card.

His erratic and unpredictable behavior makes him difficult for the bourgeois—as well as the elements of the so-called “Deep State” (the FBI, CIA, military-industrial complex, etc.)—to control. And much of Trump’s agenda concerning immigration and nationalism flies in the face of a global capitalist order that, for decades, has relied on cheap, under-paid and easily exploited immigrant labor.

Yet, Trump is merely a symptom of the larger disease of capitalism. While I am all for removing Trump from office (with the understanding that the homophobic, Christian evangelical, Mike Pence would take his place), the fact is life in pre-Trump America was hardly a paradise for working-class people.

Thus, the left’s goal cannot be to merely vote for Democrats in 2018, and Kamala Harris or Cory Booker in 2020–though this is precisely what many liberals advocate. The inconvenient truth is that the corporatist, neoliberal policies of Bill Clinton and Obama paved the way for President Trump. We cannot simply return to business as usual.

Instead, we must build on the renewed interest in socialism, particularly among young people, that Bernie Sanders helped spark. The International Socialist Organization (ISO), which I am a dues-paying member of, has seen record turnout at its weekly public meetings in branches throughout the country. And interest has only increased since the start of the fall 2017 college semester.

People are clearly hungry for a radical politics that both speaks to their lived conditions, and can help them fight back against the proto-fascist far-right. Now is the time to tap into that hunger, and build a viable working-class movement that can agitate for tangible reforms in the here in now, as well as point the way forward to a more just, egalitarian, and sustainable socialist future.

“[H]ere it becomes evident that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an overriding law,” Marx and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto in 1848.

… The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the laborers, due to competition, by their revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of modern industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

The Re-Branding of the Alt-Right

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Libertarianism: Because that is exactly what America needs–another capitalist party.

AUGUSTA, MAINE- The alt-right’s pathetic efforts to re-brand itself in the wake of the events in Charlottesville, and its overwhelming defeats in Boston and Berkeley, California, last month, were on full display in Maine, this past weekend. A right-wing “free speech” rally in Augusta on September 30 was little more than a thinly-veiled attempt to disguise the demonstrators’ racist, white nationalist views.

Fortunately, nearly 100 protesters—including many from local socialist organizations—turned out to oppose them.

The coalition of left groups included the Portland, Maine branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), along with the John Brown Gun Club, The Socialist Party of Maine, the NAACP of Bangor, the Southern Maine IWW, and the Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), among others. The groups gathered across from the Capitol Building, where the right-wing rally was taking place.

The organizers of the alt-right demonstration, bearing the generic name, “Rally to Denounce Political Violence,” seemed, at first glance, to represent an odd combination of libertarians, right-wingers, out-of-state political candidates (most of them running as Libertarians), and even a few Occupy Wall Street activists.

But closer inspection of the rally’s principal organizers reveals many familiar faces and themes of the so-called “alt-right.”

For starters, John Rasmussen, a Portland native and organizer of the rally, also helped assemble the original Boston “Free Speech” rally, back in May. Boston NPR-affiliate, WBUR, described the rally, at the time, as a coalition of “veterans, ex-police, Tea Party Republicans and young people affiliated with the self-described ‘alt-right’—a conservative faction that mixes racism, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and populism…”

Other rally organizers, including an individual who goes only by the name Jarody, have a clear online history of expressing or demonstrating support for white nationalist and far-right views. The cartoon character, Pepe the Frog, widely viewed as the alt-right’s mascot, features prominently on the organizers’ social media pages. One woman showed up to the Augusta rally wearing a hat featuring the character.

A social media page for the “Rally to Denounce Political Violence” described the event as a “day to denounce the violence that has arisen recently due to political fearmongering. We advocate for peaceful discussion and the spread of ideas from all points of view.”

The rally organizers even had the gall to conclude the event summary with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yet as Portland ISO member, Erica Hall observed, the free-market, austerity-pushing, privatization policies libertarians advocate are, themselves, a form of violence.

“Libertarians are capitalists, and capitalism is inherently violent,” Hall said. “They make these forms of oppression make sense to people, as if they are natural. But of course, they are not.”

Indeed, ripping apart the already frayed social safety net, abolishing public programs and social services, replacing public schools with private or charter schools, and valuing private property over human lives, are all forms of political violence against poor and working-class people.

Of course, the “Rally to Denounce Political Violence” conveniently overlooked all of these forms of violence. Its focus was, instead, exclusively on the purported violence of the left—particularly anti-fascist groups like Antifa and the Black Bloc anarchists.

——————

THE RIGHT in Maine is clearly taking a page out of Donald Trump’s book—condemning violence on “both sides,” even though it is really only their side that is actively seeking to perpetuate violent acts and intimidation. Its members seek to draw a moral equivalency between the Ku Klux Klan and Antifa, suggesting that both are equally responsible for promoting violence.

Jarody pushed this false equivalency in an interview with the Portland Phoenix’s Nick Schroeder, prior to the rally.

“We’ve got groups like Antifa and the John Brown Gun Club coming to oppose us,” said Jarody. “I’d like to see the organizers of the counter-rally make sure to rein in those on their side who might show up to incite violence.”

This is, of course, a baseless comparison.

The efforts of anti-fascists to defend themselves and marginalized people—violently, if necessary—is in no way comparable to the racism and hate-mongering incited by the KKK and neo-Nazi groups. While those of us in the ISO often disagree with Antifa and Black Bloc’s confrontational tactics, we fully reject the alt-right’s attempts to conflate the two.

As a joint press release issued by the left-wing coalitions stated, “This event, the ‘Rally to Denounce Political Violence,’ … is an attempt to provide shelter for alt-right ideologies under the guise of free speech.”

Perhaps most tellingly, Jarody refused to concede to the Phoenix’s Schroeder that the murder of 32-year-old activist, Heather Heyer, is a form of political violence.

“Nobody knows what [was] going on in that guy’s head,” Jarody told Schroeder, referring to assailant, James Alex Fields, who drove his car into a group of ISO activists, killing Heyer. “Nobody knows what his intentions were. Even though we have footage of it, that’s basically the work of lawyers [sic]. I’d have to listen to what [Fields] says up on the stand.”

Rasmussen, in an interview on a local right-wing radio station a few days prior to the rally, was similarly evasive in his description of Fields’ murder of Heyer.

“Everybody is attacking everybody right now,” Rasmussen said when asked about the events in Charlottesville, on August 12. This cop-out of a reply prompted the conservative interviewer to respond merely, “Okay,” and move on to another topic.

Rasmussen then launched into a rambling, mostly incoherent tirade about how the alleged violence of the left is “going to cycle incredibly fast,” and conservatives are in danger of “walking right into their [the left’s] trap.”

Still, the right’s newfound strategy is clear. They want to paint leftists and anti-racists as unhinged, violent instigators, deeply intolerant of the right’s freedom of speech. Consider this the alt-right’s attempt to re-brand itself as the “alt-light.” They are desperately trying to bury their overt appeals to white nationalism and anti-Semitism, while casting themselves as victims of an antagonistic extreme left that is out for blood.

But counter-protesters were not buying any of it. They understood all too well that this poorly disguised, “free speech” rally was the same vile, rotten right-wing product in a slightly different package.

Indeed, the left easily outnumbered the 20 or so right-wingers who ultimately showed up the Augusta rally. The Portland ISO raised chants and sold copies of the ISO’s monthly newspaper, Socialist Worker. Our group conveyed the strongest political orientation among a friendly, but politically mixed crowd.

A version of this essay also appeared on Socialist Worker.org.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

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Confessions of a Bourgeois Drama Queen

*** BESTPIX *** Hillary Clinton Makes A Statement After Loss In Presidential Election

Inside Hillary Clinton’s new book, “What Happened”.

As the title suggests, Hillary Clinton’s new memoir/post-election autopsy purports to tell, What Happened, i.e. how she lost the 2016 presidential election to a sexist, racist, xenophobic, thoroughly unqualified ignoramus, despite having outspent him two-to-one.

But, as Counterpunch’s Jeffrey St. Clair observes, one need not read any more than the book cover to “answer the question posed by the title: What Happened: Hillary Clinton.”

“Glutton for punishment,” St. Clair writes, “I took a masochistic dive into its dark pages, anyway.”

Indeed, throughout Clinton’s recent spate of interviews and promotional appearances, a frustrating contradiction has emerged. On the one hand, Clinton accepts “full responsibility” for her stunning, highly improbable loss last November. Yet, at the same time, Clinton continues to point to other figures—Bernie Sanders, James Comey, and the Russians, among them—that truly tipped the election to the Cheetos-skinned groper.

In other words, anybody looking for a genuine mea culpa or any sort of serious critical reflection from What Happened will be sorely disappointed. Clinton’s book is basically a 500 page version of the narrative the Democratic Party has been peddling since November. This narrative basically blames anyone and everyone for their loss–everyone, that is, except for, you know … the party itself.

The Democrats’ ever expanding rogue’s gallery of electoral “spoilers” includes the aforementioned Sanders and Comey, along with Jill Stein, Susan Sarandon, Vladimir Putin, WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, Sanders’ recalcitrant supporters (a.k.a. “Bernie Bros”), Facebook, “fake news,” Russian hackers, the media, and something called the “white working-class.”

(Suspiciously absent from this list is, arguably, the real culprit: The slave-owning Founding Fathers’ Electoral College. Only in the self-appointed, “world’s greatest democracy,” can a presidential candidate win the popular vote–in Clinton’s case, by some 3 million votes–and still lose the election.)

As I have previously pointed out in this blog, there is to date zero concrete evidence that Russian meddling influenced the 2016 election in Donald Trump’s favor.

Additionally, Clinton’s bogus smears of Sanders for “staying in the race too long,” are equally hypocritical. During the 2008 Democratic primary—the first time Clinton sought the presidency—she remained in the race long after Barack Obama had all but sewn-up the nomination.

Sanders, on the other hand, proved a far more dutiful soldier for the Democratic Party—a party which he is, ostensibly, not even a member of. Not only did he promptly endorse Clinton prior to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and went on to participate in 37 campaign events for her–Sanders even dismissively shut down his more committed supporters, who booed him during his DNC endorsement of Clinton.

Of course, Sanders’ supporters should not have been surprised by his apparent about-face. He made clear, from the beginning of his campaign, his commitment to supporting his “friend” Clinton, should she emerge as the nominee. Some “political revolution.” Indeed, Sanders’ should serve as Exhibit A for why the left cannot “take over” the Democratic Party.

Yet, it seems the joke may be on Clinton, given that Sen. Sanders is currently the most popular politician in the country. Clinton, on the other hand, is viewed less favorably than Trump. Indeed, to garner lower approval ratings than arguably the least qualified, least professional, most outwardly misogynistic, racist, xenophobic president in modern history is really an accomplishment!

Throughout the book, Clinton proves herself to be utterly clueless as to why, precisely, she lost what should have been an imminently winnable election. She remains completely out-of-touch not just with working-class Americans and their daily lived struggles, but with the general political zeitgeist in the country.

It would probably be naïve to hope Clinton might—just might—engage in any sort of critical reflection on the policies Bill Clinton pursued while in the White House—policies which she has continued to champion in her own political career.

Hillary Clinton offers no accounting for the much discussed North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which became a key rallying point for Trump on the campaign trail.

Nor does she offer any regrets over her husband’s 1996 welfare reform bill which fulfilled his promise to “end welfare as we know it.” There was also the 1994 Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act—the largest crime bill in history. During the bill’s promotion, Hillary Clinton infamously referred to black youth as “super predators.” And she has little to say about the repeal of Glass-Steagall which directly paved the way for the 2008 economic crash.

All of these corporatist concessions undoubtedly played a role in the working-class backlash that contributed (at least in part; the true significance of the so-called “Rust Belt Revolution” has been largely overstated) to Clinton’s loss.

As Thomas Frank observes in his 2016 book, Listen, Liberal, Bill Clinton’s true presidential legacy may be that he—a Democrat—was more successful in passing some of the most egregious conservative legislation in decades, and rolling back the working-class gains of the New Deal, than any Republican president since Ronald Reagan.

“That a Democrat might be the one to pick apart the safety net is a violation of [the Democrats’] basic brand identity,” writes Frank, “but by the very structure of the [two-party] system it is extremely difficult to hold the party accountable for such a deed.

This, in turn, is why only a Democrat was able to do that job and get away with it. Only a Democrat was capable of getting bank deregulation passed; only a Democrat could have rammed NAFTA through Congress; and only a Democrat would be capable of privatizing Social Security, as George W. Bush found out in 2005. (Emphasis his.)

Frank continues:

… To judge by what he actually accomplished, Bill Clinton was not the lesser of two evils, as people on the left always say about Democrats at election time; he was the greater of the two. What he did as president was beyond the reach of even the most diabolical Republican. Only smiling Bill Clinton, well-known friend of working families, could commit such betrayals.

And this is to say nothing of Clinton’s hawkish approach to foreign policy, which she honed as secretary of state. This tenure included Clinton’s overseeing of the 2009 coup in Honduras, which deposed democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya. Clinton also helped orchestrate the violent overthrow and assassination of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, in 2011. She later boasted of Gaddafi’s death, “We came. We saw. He died.”

Again, Clinton offers no accounting for these acts or the fact that she and Obama expanded George W. Bush’s bogus “war on terror” tenfold.

But Clinton’s faults run deeper than her and husband’s legislative track-record. Her entire approach to politics—with her emphasis on policy specifics, bipartisan compromise, technocratic expertise and “triangulation”—are thoroughly out of sync with the current political moment. This is a moment in which voters are beginning to radicalize. They are demanding bold, radical changes to the very structures of American society–the sort of radical changes Sanders campaigned on. The fact that Sanders, a self-described socialist, received 13 million votes last year, speaks volumes to the growing opening for left politics.

The fact that Clinton’s brand of cautious, “centrist” governing is precisely what brought us to this point of extreme wealth inequality and social unrest seems entirely lost on her.

Clinton has always positioned herself as the adult in the room—the one with a “real plan” to Get Stuff Done. She has always been far more interested in the minutia of process, policy and the nitty-gritty details than the big picture, everyday concerns that ultimately drive voters to the polls. And this myopia, combined with Clinton’s own bourgeois lifestyle, prevented her from understanding the economic concerns that Sanders so successfully tapped into. Clinton frequently complained to staffers during the campaign that she did not understand “why voters are so angry.”

Throughout What Happened that populist anger continues to perplex her. She makes her outright disdain for Sanders and his socialist platform clear in her claim the Vermont senator was promising supporters free college, health care, “and a pony.”

“Bernie routinely portrayed me as a corrupt corporatist who couldn’t be trusted,” writes Clinton. “His clear implication was that because I accepted campaign donations from people on Wall Street—just as President Obama had done—I was ‘bought and paid for.’”

Clinton goes on to attack Sanders’ progressive proposals as “unrealistic” and lacking “political viability.”

She writes:

Bernie and I had a spirited contest of ideas, which was invigorating, but I nonetheless found campaigning against him to be profoundly frustrating. He didn’t seem to mind if his math didn’t add up or if his plans had no prayer of passing Congress and becoming law… No matter how bold and progressive my policy proposals were [sic] … Bernie would come out with something even bigger, loftier, and leftier, regardless of whether it was realistic or not. That left me to play the unenviable role of spoilsport schoolmarm, pointing out that there was no way Bernie could keep his promises or deliver real results.

“Was I doomed from the start?” Clinton wonders toward the end of her book.

Washington beltway reporters, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes seem to think so. Their behind-the-scenes expose, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign reveals a campaign team rife with constant in-fighting and staffers jockeying for positions.

The authors reveal how even in the early days of Clinton’s 2016 campaign, aides lamented that she could not articulate a compelling reason for launching a second bid for the White House. The team even toyed with openly admitting–and running on–what many Democratic Party officials accepted as obvious: It was “her turn” to be president.

But, during a real “change” election, in which voters were desperately looking for tangible improvements to their increasingly precarious living conditions, the rationale that it was simply Clinton’s “turn” hung hollow.

The real tragedy of the Democratic Party is not, as Frank contends, that it ceased being the “party of the people,” and shifted its focus to courting Wall Street donors and Silicon Valley. It is debatable whether the Democrats have ever truly been a party of the working class. No, the real tragedy is that the neoliberal policies of the Clintons and Obama paved the way for Trump and his noxious brand of pseudo-populism, in the first place.

Sadly, this lesson is nowhere to be found in Clinton’s book. She would rather blame the Russians.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

The Perils of Left-Wing Dystopia

Climate change future

As the massive devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have frighteningly illustrated, climate change is no longer some abstract, distant threat. The effects are unfolding now, right in front of us. Climate change, more than any other urgent social issue, represents perhaps the gravest, most dire threat to humankind’s continued existence.

Capitalism—a system that eschews planning and concern for future generations in the interest of short-term profit—is killing the planet. While liberals point to capitalism’s excesses and individual consumer choices as the main drivers of global warming, this narrow perspective fails to understand the precise nature of capitalism. It is, in the end, an inherently exploitative system that reduces everything—including the ecosystem that supports all life on the planet—to a commodity.

There is little doubt the climate crisis is quite dire. Climate scientists warn we must make dramatic reductions in CO2 emissions if we are to avoid a four-six degree Celsius rise in global temperature. (Scientists and world leaders view anything less than two degrees as the “safe zone.”)

As Naomi Klein writes in her latest book, No Is Not Enough, “We are almost at midnight on the climate clock.”

At the same time, however, the left gains nothing by drowning in pessimism and despair–if not outright fatalism–in discussing global warming. So many leftists are downright bleak when it comes to assessing mankind’s ability to adequately confront the climate crisis.

Chris Hedges’ Sept. 10 column, titled “The Great Flood,” is characteristically dour.

“Droughts, floods, famines and disease will eventually see the collapse of social cohesion in large parts of the globe, including U.S. coastal areas,” Hedges writes. “The insecurity, hunger and desperation among the dispossessed of the earth will give rise to ad hoc militias, crime and increased acts of terrorism.”

This is, no doubt, an enitrely plausible future scenario—unless, of course, we act now to topple capitalism and overthrow the ruling elites that have poisoned our planet. But Hedges does not even entertain the latter prospect. Indeed, his piece offers no blueprint for actions readers might take or environmental groups they could join.

He instead continues to outline his dystopian, climate-ravaged society:

We will react [to climate change] like most patients with a terminal disease as they struggle to confront their imminent mortality. The gradual diminishing of space, perception and strength will weaken our capacity to absorb reality. The end will be too horrible to contemplate. The tangible signs of our demise will be obvious, but this will only accelerate our retreat into delusional thinking. We will believe ever more fervently that the secular gods of science and technology will save us.

But this ignores the vast numbers of people throughout the globe who are taking action to halt—at least as much as is now possible—the effects of climate change.

The environmental movement has undergone something of a radicalization in the last decade or so. Many of the leading environmental groups, including Greenpeace and 350.org, understand that it is capitalism–or, at the very least, the extractive oil industry– that is the cause of the climate crisis. These groups have, in recent years, engaged in targeted campaigns singling out top corporate polluters like ExxonMobil and the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines.

Much of this radicalization has been driven by the college students and young people who make up a significant part of the environmental left. These young people understand fully well the grave threat global warming poses to their future, and the future of all life on Earth.

Anjali Appadurai, then a student at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, seemed to speak for young activists throughout the world when she addressed the U.N. Climate Summit in Durban, Africa, on Dec. 9, 2011.

“I speak for more than half the world’s population,” said Appadurai, then-21-years-old. “We are the silent majority.”

She went on:

You have given us a seat in this hall, but our interests are not on the table. What does it take to get a seat in this game? Lobbyists? Corporate influence? Money? You’ve been negotiating all my life. In that time you have failed to meet pledges, you’ve missed targets, and you’ve broken promises.

… There is real ambition in this room, but it’s been dismissed as radical, deemed not politically possible. Stand with Africa. Long-term thinking is not radical. What’s radical is to completely alter the planet’s climate, to betray the future of my generation, and to condemn millions to death by climate change. What is radical is to write off the fact that change is within our reach.

Hedges is difficult to peg, politically. He describes himself as a socialist, but his writing typically has more of an anarchist-bent. (Perhaps Hedges is best characterized as what Jacobin editor, Bhaskar Sunkara calls an “anarcho-liberal.”)

While Hedges correctly points to the fossil fuel and animal agriculture industries as the driving forces behind the decades-long corporate campaign to cast doubt on the overwhelming scientific consensus of climate change (“They fear that a rational, effective response to climate change will impede profits,” he writes), he stops short of singling out the system of capitalism.

In the absence of any course of action one might take, readers are left feeling depressed, demoralized, and politically disengaged. “The damage suffered by Houston, Tampa and Miami is not an anomaly,” Hedges concludes. “It is the beginning of the end. Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”

Shit… I guess it is a good thing I do not have any kids, in that case…

When Hedges, in some of his books and other columns, does offer suggestions for how readers might fight back, they tend to be vague and unspecified. He often calls for leftists to retreat into “self-sustained communities”—a tactic that reeks of petit bourgeois, “buy local” campaigns.

But we cannot simply disengage from capitalism while the rest of the world around us literally burns. Our goal must be to smash the system and create a new one.

None of this is to suggest we should be pollyannaish about climate change. Indeed, the inverse of pessimism devoid of hope is perennial—and often delusional—positive thinking, a phenomenon Barbara Ehrenreich explores in her 2009 book, Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America.

That said I fully disagree that “hope is a bourgeois construction,” as an ultra-left commenter said last year at a public talk I attended at the University of Southern Maine. (Most people present at the talk, including the speaker, disagreed with this statement.)

Whether we deem the proverbial glass “half-empty,” or “half-full,” our job as socialists is not merely to interpret the world, as the philosophers of our time have. Rather, the goal, as Marx once wrote, is to change it.

We owe it to ourselves and, especially, to future generations, to do everything within our power to prevent the worst impacts of climate change—no matter how bleak the situation may be. Succumbing to despair and pessimism does nothing to fulfill that obligation.

In the words of the Swedish punk-rock band, The Refused, “I’d rather be forgotten/Then remembered for giving in.”

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!