Corporate Media: The Real Enemy of the People

simpsons-newspaper

On Aug. 16, 350 daily newspapers banded together to denounce Donald Trump’s ongoing war on the press, which he has derided as perpetuating “fake news,” and as the “enemy of the people.”

In a coordinated series of editorials, newspapers throughout the country defended the role of a “free and independent” press in a “democratic” society, and repudiated Trump’s McCarthy-esque attacks on the media.

“[I]t’s important for journalists to continue to report on the business of the government,” wrote the editors of the Bangor Daily News on Aug. 16, “and for editorial boards, like this one, to condemn attacks by the president and others in positions of power. News organizations don’t serve governments. They serve you, the public.”

The BDN editorial continues:

They are the only way you know when your government isn’t working as it should. They are the only independent way to know what elected officials are doing. Often, if the government doesn’t like journalists, it’s probably because they’re doing their job right.

The Boston Globe, which put out the initial call for a coordinated defense of the media, similarly wrote of Trump’s attacks on press freedom:

The press is necessary to a free society because it does not implicitly trust leaders — from the local planning board to the White House. And it’s not a coincidence that this president — whose financial affairs are murky and whose suspicious pattern of behavior triggered his own Justice Department to appoint an independent counsel to investigate him — has tried so hard to intimidate journalists who provide independent scrutiny.

Collectively, these incisive editorials make a powerful case for the role of the vaunted fourth estate and the First Amendment. If only the media actually carried out any of these watchdog functions.

There is a reason I put the words “free and independent press” in quotation marks. That is because, sadly, the United States does not actually possess any such thing. We have a corporate-owned and controlled news media.

Incredibly awkward as it is to find myself agreeing with the racist, misogynistic, white supremacist apologist Trump, his accusations that the mainstream news media are the “enemy of the people” are not all that far from the truth. The unfortunate reality is the corporate media are the enemy of working-class people.

At the very least, the U.S. press has a troubling yet consistent history of echoing and prioritizing the views and stories of the wealthy business elite over those of working-class Americans. Consider for instance: Compare the size of the “Labor” section in your average daily newspaper to that of the “Business” section. It’s a pretty short experiment. Newspapers do not have a “Labor” section. (But remember: “The media are liberal.”)

Despite its lofty rhetoric, the corporate media do not serve “the public.” They serve their shareholders.

Six multinational corporations own 90 percent of the print, television, and digital news Americans consume: Comcast, Disney, 21st Century Fox, Time Warner, CBS, and Viacom. In June, Time Warner merged with mobile phone service giant, AT&T in an unprecedented $85 billion consolidation deal approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The right-wing, Sinclair Broadcast Group owns or operates 193 television stations throughout the country, making it one of the largest telecommunication companies in the nation. (Sinclair is the parent company of local CBS affiliate, WGME 13.)

A handful of billionaires, meanwhile, own most of the United States’ daily newspapers. This list includes Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos (the Washington Post); News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch (The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and British tabloid, The Sun); former New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg (Bloomberg Media); the billionaire Cox Family (Atlanta Journal-Constitution); John Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox (the Boston Globe); Patrick Soon-Shiong (Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune); and Mexican billionaire, Carlos Slim Helu, owns a 17 percent share in the New York Times.

The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal, and the Waterville-based, Morning Sentinel are collectively owned by Maine Today Media. Rockland businessman, Reade Brower purchased MTM from hedge-fund manager, S. Donald Sussman, in 2015. Brower currently owns six of Maine’s seven daily papers along with several weeklies.

Given the media’s labyrinthine model of overlapping and ever shifting corporate ownership, it stands to reason media outlets will generally promote center-right, pro-business viewpoints. Despite the right’s longstanding tirades against a mythical “liberal media,” the mainstream press typically does more to echo government talking points rather than challenge them. It is more lapdog than watchdog.

As a result of this uncritical coverage, the major media outlets passively accepted the Bush administration’s lies justifying the Iraq War in 2003. They failed to foresee the 2008 housing crisis and the subsequent Great Recession, despite warnings from prominent economists. They unanimously championed the $700 billion taxpayer bailout of the “too big to fail” Wall Street banks that recklessly gambled with customers’ money and sent the global economy into a tailspin. And they are virtually silent on the single greatest existential threat facing the human race: Climate change.

Now these same media outlets are dutifully echoing the CIA’s completely unverified claims that Russia “stole” the 2016 presidential election, thus raising the specter of a new Cold War between the world’s largest nuclear powers.

Given this recent track record, is it any wonder a majority of Americans — on both the right and the left — distrust the media?

“What is typically presented as news analysis,” writes Amy Goodman in the introduction to her 2009 essay compilation, Breaking the Sound Barrier, “is, for the most part, a small circle of pundits who know so little about so much, explaining the world to us and getting it so wrong. While they may appear to differ, they are quibbling over how quickly the bombs should be dropped, not asking whether they should be dropped at all.”

And the problem is not limited to the patently ridiculous right-wing cranks on Fox News.

Numerous studies by the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) find that National “Public” Radio (NPR) relies on the same narrow, elite circle of white, wealthy, male news analysts as the cable news networks it is supposed to serve as an alternative to. In fact, libertarian billionaire, David Koch, sits on the board of NPR, perhaps in a classic example of keeping one’s “friends close and your enemies closer.”

This is not to suggest the left should abandon corporate media, entirely. This is simply not realistic under capitalism. Nor, for that matter, should we substitute popular conspiracy theories for the fact-based world as the right has opted to do. Indeed, there is a great danger in “Russiagate” becoming the left’s version of “Benghazi.”

But socialists need their own media outlets to promote and advance our view of the world — and, more importantly, how we believe we can change it.

Newspapers like Socialist Worker are part of a long tradition of socialists writing, printing, and circulating their own papers produced by and for working-class readers. These papers aim to both spread socialist ideas and empower readers with local and national news of the latest strikes, protests, walk-outs, and antiwar rallies.

To be clear, Trump’s attacks on the media are concerning. Historically, the first task of any would-be dictator has been to undermine and later forcefully shutdown the free and open press. The fact that the U.S. news media can in no way be described as “free” or “independent” does not make Trump’s anti-journalism rhetoric any less disconcerting. And this is to say nothing of the chilling, misogynistic death threats cable TV anchors like MSNBC’s Katy Tur have received from Trump supporters.

Yet there is a bitter irony — if not hypocrisy — to the press’ sudden condemnation of Trump.

Many of the same corporate media outlets that now blast the president and the “constitutional crisis” he has brought about are the same ones that offered free, uncritical coverage of his campaign, snobbishly dismissing the possibility of a candidate so obviously inept, shallow, and ignorant ever actually getting elected president. In many respects, the media created Trump. He is their Frankenstein’s monster. And now, just as in Shelley’s classic novel, he has violently turned against his creator.

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed,” George Orwell wrote. “Everything else is public relations.”

 

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!

 

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How Not to Talk About Climate Change

System Change, Not Climate Change Pic

Two recent letters to the editor in the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram illustrate the limits of the conventional thinking on climate change and how we can most effectively fight it. Both are worth examining if the left is to move beyond this myopic — and, frankly, erroneous — understanding of the climate crisis.

Len Frenkel of South Portland, echoes the environmental movement’s longstanding concept of employing individual acts to mitigate climate change. (“As warming threatens planet, humans will have to make sacrifices,” 07/31/2018.)

“There are many actions that we, as individuals, can take without our government’s involvement,” Frenkel writes. “But they will be severe and very unpopular. We need to drastically reduce our carbon footprints.”

He continues:

… We can choose to fly for vacations and trips, or not. We can choose to buy unnecessary stuff, or not. We can choose to have second homes, or not. We can choose to eat animal foods, or not. We can choose to have another consumer child, or not. We can choose to travel to entertainment centers, or not. All of these human activities, which are so popular in industrialized nations, are very serious contributors to the greenhouse gases that cause runaway climate change.

This individualist orientation to combating climate change has long been the main focus of the environmental movement — however, that has changed considerably in recent years as the environmental left has undergone something of a radicalization.

It was, nonetheless, the main argument in Al Gore’s 2006 documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth. After expertly and candidly explaining the science of climate change, and highlighting the dangers of rising sea levels, increased “superstorm” hurricanes, and melting ice caps, Gore’s proposed solution is merely for viewers to change their light bulbs, recycle more, drive less, and purchase carbon offsets.

These are all fine, altruistic actions, no doubt. I would certainly never discourage anyone from undertaking any of them. But given the global scale of the climate crisis, the unfortunate reality is individual actions, while no doubt well intended, are essentially worthless in reducing the threat of climate change.

As Martin Lukacs writes of the obvious limits of these small-scale solutions in a 2017 op-ed for The Guardian, “Would you advise someone to flap towels in a burning house? To bring a flyswatter to a gun fight? Yet the counsel we hear on climate change could scarcely be more out of sync with the nature of the crisis.”

Furthermore, the individualist approach to climate change assumes that all Americans share the same carbon footprint — and, as a result, we are all equally to blame for the climate crisis. But that is simply not the case. One hundred corporations — most of them fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and Shell — are responsible for 71 percent of global CO2 emissions, since 1988, according the Carbon Majors Report.

This handful of greedy corporations — and, more specifically, the system of capitalism which places short-term profit above the ecosystem that supports all life on the planet — bears most of the responsibility for despoiling the Earth, and threatening the continued existence of the human race — not working-class people like you and me.

(And while we are holding the guilty parties responsible, the anti-science/anti-intellectual Republican Party, and its decades-long propaganda project of denying the very existence of anthropogenic, or human-induced global warming, also shares a great portion of the blame. We have lost precious decades of proactive environmental action due to the Republicans’ deliberate misinformation campaign.)

Thus, Frenkel’s blanket austerity prescription is misguided. It is the rich, the corporate CEOs, and the fossil fuel companies that should curb their unnecessary consumption — not working-class citizens. Bourgeois elites like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates, who criss-cross the planet on a near hourly basis in their fleet of private jets, are the ones who can most afford to do without. Working-class people, on the other hand, must commute to work in order to just survive.

The subtitle of Naomi Klein’s landmark 2014 book, This Changes Everything, puts it best: Capitalism vs. The Climate.

While this understanding that capitalism, not humanity at large, caused the climate crisis may have once seemed radical, it has become much more prevalent on the left in recent years, particularly among young climate activists. This trend is highly encouraging and should be built upon.

However, as Frenkel’s editorial demonstrates, there is still much work to be done to build an eco-socialist left capable of both understanding the roots of climate change, and how to best halt the trend of a rapidly warming planet.

But if Frenkel places misguided faith in small-scale solutions to save the planet, William Vaughan, Jr.’s response letter, also published in the PPH (“Our behavior won’t change, so let’s not pretend it will,” 08/06/2018) dismisses any prospects of hope, entirely.

“Mr. Frenkel writes as if there is some chance we will stop flying, stop buying unnecessary things, and so on,” Vaughan writes. “But there is no evidence any of that is happening, or will happen.”

“… And since we will do nothing,” he continues in his pessimistic letter, “children and grandchildren around the world, as well as many other species, will pay the price for our inactions.”

Vaughan concludes:

“Better to face the music than to hope or pretend there is some chance our behavior will significantly change before it is too late. It never has and it never will.”

Well, shit… I guess it is a good thing I do not have any kids of my own… Perhaps we should all just shoot ourselves, now and get it over with?

While Frenkel and Vaughan are both correct to be alarmed about — even, in fact, to despair over — climate change and the fate of the human species, outright fatalism such as Vaughan’s contributes nothing to the environmental conversation. The left gains nothing by drowning in pessimism — if not, indeed, nihilism.

This does not mean we should be pollyannish about the environmental crisis unfolding in front of our eyes. We should be frank about how dire the situation is. Klein is correct: “We are almost at midnight on the climate clock.”

But Vaughan is flat out wrong that “we will do nothing,” to change “our” behavior. Hundreds of people throughout the globe are currently engaged in environmental activism, protests, collective projects, and lectures aimed at halting the continued warming of the planet. Millennials, in particular, are deeply concerned about climate change and routinely rank it as one of their most pressing issues.

Likewise, there is nothing inherently static, greedy, self-centered or risk adverse about human nature, as Vaughan suggests. And, for that matter, it is not “human nature” that is to blame for climate change. It is capitalism — a system that runs quite counter to humans’ natural inclination for sociability, cooperation, and collective action.

If Frenkel’s letter is frustrating in its myopic approach to mitigating global warming, Vaughan’s leaves readers downright enraged over its flippant, pessimistic tone.

But Frenkel is right in one respect: We do have a choice. We can ditch capitalism as an economic system and save the planet, or we can ditch the planet and save capitalism. The wealthy elite have already made it painfully clear which option they prefer. Now it is up to us to ensure they do not get their way.

 

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 Socialist Insurgent

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Upsets  Rep. Joseph Crowley In NY Primary
Campaign posters for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who defeated ten-term Rep. Joseph Crowley in the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th district, on June 26.

Three Takeaways from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Primary Victory.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s recent defeat of ten-term Democratic Party establishment insider, Joseph Crowley in the New York Democratic primary for the 14th district is a welcome sliver of good news in these otherwise trying Trumpian times. Ocasio-Cortez’s June 26 win is a stunning victory against a seemingly invulnerable Democratic apparatchik who has long been eyed as a potential speaker of the house.

The 28-year-old Latina, a self-described democratic socialist and member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), sailed to victory on a Bernie Sanders-inspired platform of free college tuition, universal health care, and, perhaps most boldly, calling for the abolition of the renegade police agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Much has already been written about Ocasio-Cortez since her primary win. (She is all but assured victory in the general election this November.)

Here are three key takeaways:

Socialism is Back, Baby!

For the first time in my life we are witnessing the emergence of a potential socialist movement. Sen. Sanders deserves credit for solidifying it, but the early incubations were apparent during Occupy Wall Street in 2011, which was primarily driven by a nascent anti-capitalist sentiment.

Young Americans, in particular, are more open to socialism and socialist ideas than at any other time since the early part of the 20th century. A recent poll finds a majority of Americans under the age of 30 reject capitalism. A YouGov poll from November 2017 found 44 percent of millennials would prefer living in a socialist country over a capitalist one. Since Trump’s election, socialist groups like the DSA have seen an immense surge in membership and meeting attendance.

And it does not take an advanced degree in sociology to understand why working-class people are turning to socialism and the ideas of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels to better understand the world. As Paul D’Amato writes in the introduction to his 2014 socialism primer, The Meaning of Marxism:

[N]eoliberalism has lost its luster. Nobody believes anymore that a rising tide of corporate profits lifts all boats. More and more people are acutely aware of the fact that the wealth at the top comes at the expense of the labor and health of the vast majority. In spite of decades of media pundits and politicians telling us that we are to blame for our poverty, low wages, and lack of social opportunities, more and more people understand that the system is set up deliberately to benefit a tiny minority.

How these newly radicalized young people define “socialism” is another matter. Ocasio-Cortez’s own admittedly bland and generic conception of socialism is a little too vague and moralistic for my taste. (Then again, Ocasio-Cortez is a politician, and her wide-net definition of socialism may well be intentional.)

Some have argued, likewise, that Sanders is really more of a New Deal Democrat than a socialist. Indeed, Sanders’ hawkish foreign policy positions are quite at odds with those of his avowed hero, Eugene Debs — who famously went to prison in 1918 for speaking out against the first world war.

Still, a political tradition as old as socialism is bound to have developed a variety of strains, divisions, and sub-genres throughout its existence. Even within a room of 100 DSA members, one is unlikely to find a common understanding of the term “socialism.” While socialists of all stripes should definitely engage in comradely yet forthright debates over what sort of world we are fighting for, we must not become too sectarian or even “ultra-leftist” over who can and cannot call herself a “socialist.”

For the time being, I would propose that if you believe in workers’ rights, universal health care, ending poverty and you oppose the oppression of women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, and other marginalized groups, then we are on the same side and you are welcome among socialists.

Class Struggle Still Gets the Goods.

While the out of touch, know-nothing punditocracy puzzles cluelessly over Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise upset, her win is no mystery to the working-class voters of New York’s racially diverse 14th district. Like Sanders in 2016, Ocasio-Cortez spoke to working-class voters’ actual lived experiences. Unlike Crowley and the rest of the Democratic elite, Ocasio-Cortez understands working people’s struggles with unaffordable health care, skyrocketing rents, and jobs that do not pay a living wage or offer paid sick days.

As Ocasio-Cortez states flat-out in her authentic campaign advertisement, “Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office. I wasn’t born to a wealthy or powerful family.”

Perhaps most refreshing is Ocasio-Cortez’s refusal to play into the prevailing concept of so-called “identity politics,” in which race and class are constantly pitted against one another. “I can’t name a single issue with roots in race that doesn’t have economic implications,” she said in an interview with The Nation magazine, “and I cannot think of a single economic issue that doesn’t have racial implications. The idea that we have to separate them out and choose one is a con.”

But we are not dealing with rocket science, here. Ocasio-Cortez won because she spoke directly yet eloquently to working-class voters about the issues that affect them. In contrast to Crowley who, like Hillary Clinton two years ago, merely ran on his tenure and supposed “expertise,” — his pragmatic ability to “get stuff done” — Ocasio-Cortez had a clear, tangible message that resonated with voters. As one Sanders campaign sign aptly put it: “Finally, a reason to vote.”

But the Democratic Party still refuses to learn this rather elementary lesson (i.e. that class struggle gets the goods). This brings us to my third and final observation:

“Taking Over” the Democratic Party is a Pipe Dream.

The question over the left’s relationship to the capitalist, Wall Street-captive Democratic Party will become a central one as the working class continues to organize. Activists are already feeling intense pressure to muzzle their “radical” calls for abolishing ICE and instituting Medicare for all and obsequiously fall in line and vote for local Democrats in this fall’s midterm elections. That pressure is only going to increase as the 2020 presidential election looms closer and the left’s primary impetus becomes defeating Trump — even if that means electing a pro-business, corporate shill like Joe Biden, Kamala Harris or, yes, Hillary Clinton.

The fact is, the left has been attempting to “take over” or “take back” the Democratic Party for decades. Progressive candidates like Jesse Jackson, George McGovern, Dennis Kucinich and, more recently, Bernie Sanders, have waged spirited, inspiring campaigns to try to “push” the party into a more radical direction.

But not only has the Democratic Party apparatus swiftly shut down all of those campaigns — it has succeeded each time in absorbing the campaigns back into the “proper channels,” of Establishment politics. This is precisely what happened to Sanders’ campaign in 2016. The Vermont senator set out to spark a “political revolution,” only to end up endorsing and campaigning for — and rigorously shutting down left-wing opposition to — Clinton.

And this is the role of the Democratic Party. As Lance Selfa makes clear in his book, The Democrats: A Critical History, the Democratic Party has long been used by the ruling class to undermine, re-direct, and at times simply crush genuine working-class movements. Little wonder the Democratic Party is often referred to as the “graveyard of social movements.”

Therein lies Ocasio-Cortez’s dilemma. She has signed on with a party that is fundamentally opposed to everything she stands for. Indeed, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is already hard at work re-writing the party’s national campaign platform in order to make it harder for self-identified “democratic socialists” like Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders to run for office on the Democratic ticket.

As the saying goes, “with friends like these…”

The working class needs its own political party — one completely independent of the two capitalist parties. There was a time when I believed the Green Party could serve this role. But the Green Party in Portland has all but imploded, due to its lack of party discipline and chaotic, anarcho-liberal orientation. Thus, a viable working-class party does not yet exist. It is up to us to create one.

None of this is meant to detract from Ocasio-Cortez’s inspiring primary win. Going forward, she and her supporters should use their influence to steer debates and legislation within the halls of power. But we must understand that Ocasio-Cortez’s victory within a party completely hostile to her entire progressive platform comes with certain built-in limitations.

As Selfa writes:

The many efforts of the inside-outside strategy [as it is known] … have not pushed the Democratic Party in a liberal direction. All liberal intra-party challenges, from Jackson’s to Kucinich’s, ended with their leaders delivering their supporters over to the more conservative Democrats against whom they had mounted their challenges in the first place.

… The real impact of these inside-outside challenges is, to paraphrase Jackson, to “keep hope alive” in the Democratic Party. These campaigns help to extinguish third-party movements. For those who want to build a genuine and credible left in the United States, there is no substitute for the slow and painstaking work of building movements on the ground, and of building a political alternative to the Democrats.

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!

 

It IS Happening Here: Reunite Families, Deport Trump

Rogers-Immigrant-Children-Featured
An editorial cartoon by Rob Rogers, formerly of the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette. Rogers, a long time editorial cartoonist for the paper, was fired recently for his work criticizing President Donald Trump.

My mother developed polio as a child. It left her paralyzed from the waist down. She is one of the few remaining polio survivors still alive.

She often reflects on how much more difficult it was to be a person with a disability in the 1950s, prior to any disability rights laws. Indeed, growing up with a physical handicap was like being a non-person.

Teachers were openly cruel and belittling to her. One teacher once chastised her, in front of her classmates, for being a “burden” on taxpayers, who would, she assured my mother, end up having to pay for her living expenses. As a result, the teacher continued her berating lecture, my mom needn’t worry about studying hard and applying herself, academically, since “nobody would hire” her, anyway.

(I suspect many people, including employers, still harbor such views toward the disabled. They merely keep them to themselves. Unless, that is, they are Donald Trump or his ableist supporters.)

After contracting polio, my mother was taken to a rehab facility, where she lived for several months. She was only about 4-years-old, and the experience of being taken away from her parents and home was extremely traumatizing for her. The nurses were wicked to her and the other patients, openly mocking their disabilities. The facility was cold, dark, and antiseptic. My mom cried every night for her salad — a staple of her dinner routine back home.

My mom’s parents, based on the advice of the hospital staff, never called or visited her during her lengthy stay. My mother, for all she knew, had been abandoned — given up as so much defective trash. Indeed, my grandparents, in keeping with the discriminatory attitudes of the time, viewed their daughter’s disability as a source of family shame. My grandfather, in particular, never truly came to terms with it.

I relate my mother’s story because it is the only comparable one I know of to what immigrant families, torn apart by the Trump administration’s egregious, “zero tolerance” crackdown on border crossings, are currently experiencing.

Last week, ProPublica released audio of immigrant children and infants held in a detention center at the border, crying for their parents. As the children scream, “Mami! Papa!” a border patrol agent can be heard, sarcastically replying, in Spanish, “Well, we have an orchestra here. What’s missing is a conductor.”

According to a story by The Intercept’s Ryan Devereaux, the Trump administration has taken more than 3,700 children from their parents, thus far. And, as the headline states, the government has “no plan for returning them.”

A June 19 editorial in Socialist Worker calls the makeshift “desert tent cities,” and “Walmart concentration camps for children,” a “deliberate spectacle of sadism — a moral and humanitarian crisis knowingly orchestrated by Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to inflict suffering on migrant parents and children…”

Earlier this week, it seemed activists had scored something of a minor victory, with Trump’s abrupt issuing of an executive order mandating immigrant families remain together throughout the detention process. Trump clearly caved to the mounting pressure coming not just from immigrant rights’ activists, but also a newly-emboldened media, and, according to some sources, members of his own family.

However, even this symbolic victory was short-lived. In a pattern that has become all too familiar in this disorganized administration, Trump’s hastily signed executive order was met with confusion on the part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, as well as members of the president’s own cabinet who, apparently, had not been briefed about the order.

Many of these immigrants are asylum-seekers fleeing violence and civil unrest in war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia. These families are desperate victims of U.S. imperialism — which, contrary to liberal opinion, increased under President Barack Obama. To bomb these people’s neighborhoods, and destabilize their countries through military force, and then sanctimoniously lecture them about their disregard for “the law,” as they attempt to flee the criminal violence we have inflicted upon them is a particularly pernicious form of hypocrisy.

In fact, to deny asylum-seekers entrance into the country is a violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Furthermore, capitalists, corporate CEOs, Wall Street traders, and small business owners routinely engage in criminal behavior and justify it as merely the “cost of doing business.” They violate labor and regulatory laws, environmental protections, and commit tax evasion. Based on the right’s apparent reverence for The Law, these criminal capitalists should all be thrown out of the country. Let’s start with Trump.

“The goal of the Trump administration’s state-sponsored kidnapping is to scare potential future migrants and refugees from making the journey,” the Socialist Worker editors write, “as well as to create leverage on congressional Democrats to concede to White House demands for draconian policies against future immigration, legal and illegal.

But the cruelty of the family separation policy isn’t just as a means to these ends. Cruelty itself is the goal — another lurch in the Trumpist project of shifting the mainstream political spectrum so far to the right, that fascism, or something close to it, defines one end, while the other is the tepid liberalism put forward by the Democratic Party and MSNBC.

Yet, as the editorial argues, we cannot wait until the November midterm elections to take action against Trump’s family separations and deportations. Immigrant families certainly cannot wait. The left must mobilize against Trump now.

And, while Trump and his cabinet of swamp monsters certainly make for easy targets, it is important to understand that the United States’ anti-immigrant laws and history of scapegoating “The Other,” have been a bipartisan project for decades. As xenophobic as Trump has been toward immigrants, Obama still holds the dubious distinction of having deported more immigrants than any other president in history.

Thus, when it comes to challenging Trump’s xenophobia, the left’s goal cannot be to simply return to the “status quo,” or the way things were under the previous administration. The entire capitalist system — not just the policies of one or two particular presidents — is to blame. It must be smashed and replaced with one that recognizes the intrinsic value of all people — regardless of their nationality, gender, race, or physical ability.

Socialists ultimately believe in a world without borders, walls, and barriers. We believe no human being is “illegal.” People should be free to live and roam where they please — or perhaps more accurately for a warming planet increasingly characterized by droughts, floods, famines, and forest fires, wherever is most habitable. Indeed, climate change is already playing a role in mass migration throughout the globe, as island and coastal nations find themselves at risk to rising sea levels.

Ripping mothers apart from their children and throwing them in concentration camp surroundings is a cruel, heartless, and inhumane form of punishment. Our short-term goal must be the immediate reunification of families. The longer term project, however, is to create a world without borders — a world where no human being is illegal.

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!

A Win for Labor in “Trump Country”

WV Victory

The successful teachers strike in West Virginia that resulted in a five percent pay increase for all of the state’s public workers is a major victory for the labor movement — the first such victory in a long time. Strikes like this one can give confidence to workers in other states and in other industries.

After years of inactivity and workers feeling demoralized, could we be witnessing the rebirth of the U.S. labor movement?

The strike was a decade in the making. For years teachers in West Virginia public schools have been grappling with overcrowded classrooms and underfunded budgets — largely the result of then-Gov. Joe Manchin’s 2008 corporate tax giveaways, which left little money for education.

The nine-day wildcat strike was the longest strike in West Virginia history. (A “wildcat” strike is one undertaken without the official support or approval of the union leadership. West Virginia is one of 28 “right-to-work” states throughout the country.)

Teachers in West Virginia are among the lowest paid in the country.

One of the most notable aspects of the strike is the teachers’ ironclad discipline. Numerous times throughout the strike, Republican-turned-Democrat-turned-back-to-Republican Gov. Jim Justice offered the teachers minor concessions or halfhearted promises. Yet each time the teachers rejected nothing less than their initial demand of a five percent raise — which benefits all state workers.

“We were not ready to return to the classroom just on a promise,” said Katie Endicott, a high school English teacher in Central Mingo High School, during a recent interview on Democracy Now!

Endicott spoke about the importance of the strike:

We saw democracy in action. We saw the power of unity. People from all across the state were coming together, unified with one goal, with one mindset. And we achieved it against all odds. There were so many people who said that we would never get what we wanted. There were so many people who said they would laugh us out of the Capitol. They did not laugh us out of the Capitol, because we did not leave the Capitol.

The significance of the teacher strike cannot be underestimated. Though West Virginia has long been the site of major labor struggles, as Eric Blanc writes in a story published in both Socialist Worker and Jacobin magazine, there is something different about this most recent strike.

“This strike was statewide, it was illegal, it went wildcat, and it seems to be spreading,” Blanc writes.

West Virginia’s upsurge shares many similarities with the rank-and-file militancy of the late 1960s and early 1970s. But there are some critical differences. Whereas labor struggles four decades ago came in the wake of a postwar economic boom and the inspiring successes of the civil rights movement, this labor upheaval erupted in a period of virtually uninterrupted working-class defeats and economic austerity.

Readers would be excused for knowing little about the strike. The corporate media — including “liberal” outlets like the New York Times, NPR, and MSNBC — all but ignored the massive strike. This is, perhaps, further proof that it is not the media’s lies of commission (or “fake news”) that has left working-class citizens ignorant and disempowered. Rather, it is their lies of omission.

Indeed, the victorious teachers strike and the strict discipline with which it was carried out seem quite at odds with the picture the capitalist media frequently paints of “red state” West Virginia. During the 2016 presidential campaign reporters seemed to hold up West Virginia as the poster child for the so-called “white working class”: Ignorant, reactionary, racist, and full of rage at Washington elites like Hillary Clinton that had thrown them under the bus. Donald Trump received more support from West Virginia voters than from any other state.

While that working-class rage is certainly real (and, I would argue, justified), striking teachers like Endicott are about as far from your average Trump supporter as you can get.

Furthermore, the media’s one-sided portrayal of West Virginia (“Coal Country”) as the heart of backward, white working class despair ignores the state’s volatile history as the focal point of decisive — and often violent — labor clashes. Those clashes include the Battle of Blair Mountain in Logan County, in 1921, which was the largest, most violent labor uprising in United States history.

The Battle of Blair Mountain was the culmination of a years-long struggle between the coal companies and miners — most of whom lived in company towns and were paid in company scrip rather than actual U.S. currency. The coal companies had carried out a series of assassinations of union activists, hiring the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency and other citizen-led militias to do their dirty work. When 13,000 armed miners seized Blair Mountain, the coal company called in the National Guard to crush the uprising. Over 100 miners were killed, while nearly 1,000 were later indicted for murder and treason.

Like so much of this country’s bloody labor history — easily the most violent in the industrial world — the Battle of Blair Mountain has been conveniently scrubbed from high school history textbooks and popular culture.

Could the teachers’ strike be the beginning of a return to West Virginia’s radical labor roots? Already, teachers are poised to go on strike in Oklahoma, Arizona, and New Jersey. And they are no doubt taking cues and gaining confidence from West Virginia.

Yet, just as labor seems on the verge of a long overdue comeback, the state is prepared to deliver what could be the final blow to union organizing. The right-wing Supreme Court is currently debating the constitutionality of mandatory union dues in the case, Janus v. AFSCME Council 13. Should the court declare such dues unconstitutional, unions will be virtually destroyed. The entire United States would effectively become a “right-to-work” country. Such a ruling would constitute the culmination of the capitalist state’s decades-long assault on labor and the working class.

So what lessons can the left draw from West Virginia’s victory? Blanc outlines a few in his article. Chief among them is that “class struggle gets the goods.”

In stark contrast to labor management’s decades of cooperation with employers, which has only led to concession after concession for workers, Blanc writes, “… the bottom-up militancy and strike action of West Virginia’s teachers and school employees has reinvigorated working-class organization…”

From day one, the active participation of rank-and-filers — and their remarkable ability at critical junctures to overcome the inertia or compromises of the top union leadership — has been the central motor driving West Virginia’s strike forward. Through the empowering dynamics of mass struggle, many individuals who only two weeks ago were politically inexperienced and unorganized have become respected leaders among their co-workers.

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!

Should the Left Care About “Russiagate”?

Trump-Russia-Cast-Characters

If the left is serious about resisting not just Donald Trump, but the entire racist, misogynist, nativist, capitalist system that spawned him in the first place, then we must move beyond the narrow, unsubstantiated, and increasingly hysterical confines of “Russiagate.”

I am referring here, of course, to the corporate media’s ceaseless (and highly dubious) allegations that the Russian government covertly meddled in the 2016 presidential election in a coordinated effort to sway the election to Trump.

The “Russiagate” drama continued to unfold over the weekend, when special prosecutor and former FBI director, Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian officials on charges of “interfering” with the presidential election — with, like, Facebook ads, or something …

Meanwhile, the U.S. intelligence agencies primarily responsible for perpetuating the “Russiagate” claims — the CIA, FBI, and NSA — are warning that Russia is already targeting state races in November’s midterm elections.

What should socialists make of “Russiagate”? Could the scandal be the key to removing Trump from office? Or is it merely the left’s version of “Benghazi”?

For the record, there is still no substantive, compelling evidence that Russia “stole” the election for Trump. Nor, for that matter, has it been determined that the Russian government or an agent acting within Russia is responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) private email account (the so-called “Podesta emails”), and passing the contents on to WikiLeaks, which made the emails public.

Those emails contained incriminating accounts of the behind-the-scenes dealings between the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. They outlined plans to undermine Clinton’s primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, by painting him as sexist (“Bernie Bros”), unrealistic, and even proposed using anti-Semitic attacks against him. The DNC emails provide further evidence that the Democratic primary campaign was rigged against Sanders.

The U.S. intelligence community’s Russia allegations consist entirely of speculation, suspicion, and classified information from anonymous sources — a practice journalist, Glenn Greenwald, considers “shoddy” and “unreliable.”

It is worth taking a closer look at the “deep state” sources behind these accusations.

The CIA, in particular, is the same institution that used lies and fabricated intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s non-existent stockpile of “weapons of mass destruction” to sell us the Iraq war, in 2003. The National Security Agency (NSA), likewise, continues its widespread, “Big Brother”-style surveillance of American citizens. Readers may recall then-NSA director, James Clapper, blatantly lied to a Senate intelligence committee about the program’s existence, shortly after Edward Snowden exposed the warrantless surveillance program, in 2013.

And the FBI has a long, sordid history of spying on, infiltrating, harassing, beating, and blackmailing anti-war protesters, socialists, anti-racists, and other left-wing activists. The organization kept extensive files on leaders of the Black Panther Party, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Howard Zinn. The FBI even went so far as to attempt to blackmail King into committing suicide.

Indeed, given the FBI’s history of antagonism toward the left, liberals’ newfound support for the organization according to recent polls, is not only bizarre, but unnerving. Liberals and conservatives have basically swapped places in their views on the FBI, CIA, and other intelligence agencies, with a majority of liberals, for the first time in decades, viewing them more favorably than conservatives.

These state institutions are comprised of “professional, systematic liars,” as Greenwald wrote in The Intercept, shortly after the CIA released its initial claims of Russian hacking. “[T]hey lie constantly, by design, and with great skill, and have for many decades …”

But the lack of evidence aside, the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking are also deeply hypocritical. The United States, which has done more to undermine, subvert, sabotage, ignore or violently overturn the election results of democratic nations throughout the world when their citizens voted the “wrong way,” is shocked — shocked! — at the remote possibility that another country may have undermined the “sanctity” of our own vaunted “democracy.”

Noam Chomsky calls this double-standard approach to international law the reigning “single standard,” which views international law and treatises as “private contractual rules,” which the U.S. is “free to apply or disregard as it sees fit.”

Karma, as my brother likes to say, is a bitch.

Perhaps most importantly, “Russiagate” obscures the fact that the presidential election was stolen — not by the Russians, but by the slave-owning Founding Fathers’ archaic Electoral College.

Hillary Clinton received three million more votes than Trump. Yet, for the second time in the last 16 years, the democracy-blunting Electoral College allowed the loser to serve as president. This tangible, objective fact of Trump’s illegitimacy — not some farfetched notion of Trump as a real-life “Manchurian Candidate” — should be our starting point when debating with leftists who fully buy into the Russia narrative.

In the absence of convincing evidence, “Russiagate” comes off as yet another desperate, pathetic attempt by the Democratic Party to blame anyone and everyone for its electoral loss. Anyone that is except for, you know … themselves.

To wit, the Democrats’ rogue’s gallery of “People Responsible for Hillary Clinton’s Loss” includes Jill Stein, James Comey, Susan Sarandon, Facebook, WikiLeaks, “fake news,” Bernie Sanders, “Bernie Bros,” Julian Assange, sexism, the media, and the racist, ignorant, “deplorable” voters themselves. Now we can add Russian hackers to the list.

The truth is the Democratic Party will never be a vehicle for working-class struggle. Leftists’ attempts to “take over” or “take back” the Democratic Party are, as history has demonstrated time and again, a doomed endeavor. Workers need their own party independent of the Wall Street-captured Democrats.

Don’t get me wrong: I want to see the Cheetos-skinned, Tweeter-in-Chief defenestrated from office just as much as anyone. (Though I am frankly unsure how the appointment of Mike Pence to the presidency would necessarily constitute an improvement…)

It is quite likely Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have shady business deals with the Russians which they simply do not want to come to light. And it is clear Trump’s sons attempted to meet with Russian officials during the campaign in an effort to dig up dirt on Clinton.

But it seems unlikely the “scandal” extends much beyond that. Even Fire and Fury author, Michael Wolff, calls the notion of the tragically inept Trump campaign colluding with Russia (or really, anybody, for that matter) “implausible if not farcical.”

In sum, “Russiagate” is not a viable path to defeating both Trump and Trumpism. Indeed, the longer the left remains myopically mired in this 21st century Red Scare, the greater the danger that it further emboldens Trump’s elite minority of supporters, thus ensuring he is re-elected in 2020.

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 Ultra-Leftism

Women's March 2018

Last weekend’s Women’s Marches, while nowhere near the size and magnitude of last year’s historic Women’s March on Washington which drew four million people, were nonetheless inspirational.

Indeed, the various women-themed marches that took place Jan. 20 throughout the country were far larger than many anticipated. To be honest, I expected the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March — the single largest day of protest in U.S. history — to pass mostly without incident given the general fatigue and demoralization among the left after a year of Donald Trump’s train wreck of a presidency.

Fortunately, I was wrong.

The latest women’s marches brought out over 120,000 protesters in New York City. Over 300,000 people demonstrated in Chicago and Los Angeles, according to official accounts. (And LA Mayor Eric Garcetti estimates double that number.) The number of protesters in Washington, D.C., “swelled to the thousands,” according to the New York Times.

And, here in Maine, a rally in Augusta drew about 2,500 people.

Much of this momentum and renewed commitment to feminism is, no doubt, due to the #MeToo movement, which has brought down powerful and seemingly unassailable sexual predators in Hollywood, Congress, and corporate newsrooms. (However, one particularly vile serial sexual abuser continues to occupy the halls of government…)

All of these displays of resistance are extremely encouraging as we head into “Year 2” of the Trump presidency.

Yet there remain many on the left who do not seem to share my enthusiasm for the women’s protests. Quite the reverse in fact, these dismissive “ultra-leftists” would much rather ridicule, disparage, and denounce the Women’s Marches from afar, than participate in them.

The women’s marches, these detractors claim, are “too white,” “too middle-class,” “too liberal,” and “too ‘cisgender,’” a word nobody outside of academia or activist circles actually uses in everyday conversation.

Members of the left made these same criticisms of the original Women’s March a year ago. Some of them, like Black Girl in Maine blogger, Shay Stewart-Bouley, made them without even attending the march. Her entire assessment of the Women’s March (“too white”) is based on a handful of online videos she watched from the comfort of her home.

These holier-than-thou dismissals are just as juvenile today as they were then. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor called such ultra-leftism of the original Women’s March, “a sign of political immaturity that continues to stunt the growth of the American left.”

“This isn’t leadership, it’s infantile,” Taylor wrote in a Jan. 24, 2017 article for The Guardian. “It’s also a recipe for how to keep a movement tiny and irrelevant. If you want a movement of the politically pure and already committed, then you and your select friends should go right ahead and be the resistance to Trump.”

The fact is most activists start out as liberals. (I know I did.) It is only through class struggle and constant debate that liberal-leaning activists begin to become more radical. Our job as socialists is to show up to these protests (regardless of how politically tepid or even confused they may be) with our own signs, banners, and messages, and engage with others there. We must try to meet liberal activists where they are at, while still patiently and confidently arguing our own politics. And we must do this with the clear understanding that we will not win over everyone at once — or at all.

This is, no doubt, often slow and frustrating work. But sitting on the sidelines and arrogantly condemning protesters for not being as “woke” as you are does absolutely nothing to build a movement.

“Ultra-leftism,” a term coined by Vladimir Lenin in his classic Marxist essay, “Left-Wing” Communism, an Infantile Disorder published in 1920, refers to an elite tendency among certain hardened sections of the left to reject strategies aimed at involving the largest, broadest number of the working class.

Lenin, for instance, criticizes the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (KAPD) for its staunch refusal to work with trade unions or run candidates for Parliament, believing those institutions to be insufficiently radical. While Lenin agreed that the rank and file in the German trade unions were mostly liberal-leaning, he argued the way to change that was to work with the unions and run openly communist candidates for Parliament. Only by engaging with these admittedly weak political organs, Lenin argued, could the left spread its politics to a broader mass of the working class.

“It is far more difficult — and far more useful — to be a revolutionary,” Lenin writes, “when the conditions for direct, open, really mass and really revolutionary struggle do not yet exist.” [Emphasis his.]

This is not to suggest the women’s marches (or the nascent #MeToo campaign, for that matter) are perfect. They are far from it. Nor does it mean we cannot offer legitimate, thoughtful criticism of the march organizers’ aims, tactics or overall goals.

Could the marches be more diverse? Absolutely. Are the protesters’ goals radical? Not really (though here it is worth noting that the women’s marches represent a broad swath of liberal, left, and radical groups, organizations, and politics).

And I think we can all agree the silly pink pussy hats need to be retired, ASAP.

The biggest problem with this second round of women’s marches is how they have been co-opted by the Democratic Party. The Democrats are hoping to funnel all of the genuine anger and outrage at Trump’s swamp monster administration into the “proper channels” of the November 2018 midterm elections. Thus, the slogans, “March to the Polls,” and “#Power to the Polls” were ubiquitous during the recent women’s marches.

And this is, historically, the role the Democratic Party — history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party — has always played. Little wonder the Democrats are known as the “graveyard of social movements.”

The Democrats will not save us. Leftists’ illusions of “taking over” or “taking back” the Democratic Party (and the latter phrase suggests it was ever really our party to begin with) are just that. Electing more Democrats to Congress or the White House is simply not a viable route to working class revolution.

But we cannot make these arguments with progressive activists if we take a holier-than-thou position and refuse to participate in these demonstrations.

As Elizabeth Schulte writes in a recent piece for Socialist Worker, titled “In Defense of the Women’s Marches,”

When leftists insist that only protests and action organized around a radical, working-class agenda are worth taking seriously, they risk missing the audience for socialist politics among attendees of a protest that actually happened. They also miss out on the impact that large demonstrations, even ones dominated by liberal politics from the front, can have.

“… Creating a space, during and after the march, to have discussions about what it will take to build the resistance requires that socialists have patience, but also a clear set of arguments to make,” writes Schulte. “Whether we passed those tests this time around is an open question, but those whose cynicism kept them from even engaging with the Women’s Marches definitely didn’t.”

 

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!