Say Yes to Socialism

Klein in Conversation
Authors Michelle Alexander, Naomi Klein, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (left to right) in conversation at Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, on May 9, 2017. Photo from Haymarket Books.

One of the lessons that has become increasingly clear for those of us on the left since Donald Trump’s election is that it is not enough to simply be against Trump. We must also stand for something. We must put forward a radical yet convincing alternative for how society could be organized—an alternative rooted in Marxism that speaks to working-class Americans’ economic grievances as well as their aspirations for equality and social justice.

In other words, we should not merely settle for impeaching Trump (though I am completely down with that goal). We must dismantle the entire racist, sexist, xenophobic capitalist system that gave rise to Trump and his swamp monster administration of billionaires and bigots.

Liberals and leftists have largely neglected this second part of the equation—articulating what we are for—in recent decades.  And, in many respects, the Democrats’ 2016 election loss was a reflection of that neglect. Bernie Sanders received some 13 million votes in the Democratic primary not only because his democratic-socialist ideas are extremely popular among voters. But his success is also due to the fact that he actively campaigned for something—a vision of a better, more equitable and sustainable future for working-class people.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, campaigned on the vapid, decidedly uninspiring idea that America is “already great.” Her electoral platform was essentially a continuation of Barack Obama’s neoliberal, warmongering agenda. And as dire as things are now with the Predator-in-Chief in the White House, we cannot delude ourselves about the shortcomings and missed opportunities of the last eight years under Obama.

“The alternative is socialism,” writes Paul D’Amato in his socialism-primer, The Meaning of Marxism. “Shorn of the baggage that socialism never asked to carry, it is an attractive idea. It is not a dream concocted in the head of a utopian thinker: It was born in the collective action of workers themselves…”

This is the central argument of Naomi Klein’s latest book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need.

The book is, as Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s blurb on the back states, “an urgent intervention” by one of the most prominent and intellectually sophisticated voices on the left. And it is an argument that is clearly resonating with readers: No Is Not Enough is a New York Times bestseller, and the first book by Chicago-based publisher, Haymarket Books, to achieve such status.

Klein’s latest book—which she admits to urgently banging out in a few months as opposed to the five years she typically spends researching and writing—is in many ways a synthesis of her previous material—No Logo (1999), The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007), and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014).

Klein views Trump as the inevitable outcome of all the late-stage capitalist trends she documents in those previous works. In fact, Trump is, Klein argues, a monstrous amalgamation of those capitalist developments, “sewn together out of the body parts of all of these and many other dangerous trends.”

“… Trump, extreme as he is, is less an aberration than a logical conclusion—a pastiche of pretty much all the worst trends of the past half century,” she writes.

Trump is the product of powerful systems of thought that rank human life based on race, religion, gender, sexuality, physical appearance, and physical ability—and that have systematically used race as a weapon to advance brutal economic policies since the earliest days of North American colonization and the trans-atlantic slave trade. … Most of all, he is the incarnation of a still-powerful free-market ideological project … that wages war on everything public and commonly held, and imagines corporate CEOs as superheroes who will save humanity.

Klein’s central premise, however, draws heavily from The Shock Doctrine. In that book, Klein traces the history of the right’s frequent exploitation of national “shocks,” whether they come in the form of a natural disaster, an economic crisis, or a terrorist attack.

While citizens are still reeling from the shock or tragedy, right-wing elites seize the opportunity to ram through extreme, free-market policies—measures they never would be able to pass under normal conditions. Under the cover of darkness, when the “normal rules of democracy” do not apply, the right can remake the world per their Chicago School-style, free-market utopian dreams. Schools become privatized, public services are decimated or abolished, entirely, and democracy is traded for a police state.

Klein points to the U.S.-backed 1973 coup in Chile, the fall of the Soviet Union, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the neoliberal gentrifying of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, as prime examples of this “shock doctrine.”

Trump’s election, Klein argues, was the ultimate shock—one which we are still recovering from. His whirlwind barrage of executive statements signed within the first few weeks of his presidency, was the ultimate “shock tactic.” It was designed to keep progressives so overwhelmed as to leave them disoriented and demobilized—if not, indeed, demoralized.

And, Klein warns, the worst shocks are likely yet to come.

Indeed, the first half of the book–in which Klein soberly assesses the rapidly narrowing time-frame remaining to avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change–is quite dire. Klein recalls a recent visit to the Great Barrier Reef, which has been besieged by a record-breaking global bleaching event, due to rising ocean temperatures. Large sections of the Reef are now dead, according to scientists.

“It’s worth underlining how little warming it took to bring about such a radical change,” writes Klein. “Ocean temperatures went up just one degree Celsius higher than the levels to which these incredible species are adapted, and that was enough for a massive die-off. Unlike many other climate change-related events, this wasn’t some dramatic storm or wildfire–just silent, watery death.”

But, as Klein’s own reporting in disaster-affected areas attests, the shock doctrine “can be resisted.” (Emphasis hers.)

Indeed, we have already seen an incredible initial surge of resistance to Trump’s presidency. There was the Women’s March on Washington–the largest single day of protest in U.S. history; the airport strikes against Trump’s Muslim travel ban; and the marches to address climate change and in defense of science, respectively.

And hundreds of activists have been arrested picketing outside their senators’ offices in opposition to the GOP’s barbaric health care replacement bill. (As of this writing, that bill seems to be D.O.A.)

But resistance alone is not enough. As Klein argues, this resistance must be combined with the left’s ability to tell “a different story from the one the shock doctors are peddling, a vision of the world compelling enough to compete head-to-head with theirs.”

“This values-based vision must offer a different path,” she writes, “away from serial shocks—one based on coming together across racial, ethnic, religious, and gender divides, rather than being wrenched further apart, and one based on healing the planet rather than unleashing further destabilizing wars and pollution.”

Klein later writes:

“No—to Trump, to France’s Marine Le Pen, to any number of xenophobic and hypernationalist parties on the rise the world over—may be what initially brings millions into the streets. But it is yes that will keep us in that fight.” (Emphasis hers.)

Throughout the book, Klein stresses the “intersectionality” of both class and identity-based forms of oppression–a point I, too, have tried to highlight on this blog. She chastises Clinton’s reliance on empty, “trickle-down feminism,” which, in the words of Sanders, amounted to little more than a rallying cry of, “I’m a woman! Vote for me!”

No Is Not Enough is an excellent addition to the growing cannon of “anti-Trump resistance” literature. At a time when much of the initial opposition to Trump has subsided, and many progressives have seemingly resigned themselves to voting for Democrats in 2018 (or, perhaps worse, pinning their hopes on the overblown, unverified allegations of “Russiagate” leading to Trump’s impeachment), Klein offers us a road-map for how to resist both Trump and the capitalist system that spawned him.

This will require, she argues, the left reclaiming its tradition of “dream[ing] big, out loud, in public–explosions of utopian imagination.”

Klein writes:

With unleashed white supremacy and misogyny, with the world teetering on the edge of ecological collapse, with the very last vestiges of the public sphere set to be devoured by capital, it’s clear that we need to do more than draw a line in the sand and say “no more.” Yes, we need to do that and we need to chart a credible and inspiring path to a different future. And that future cannot simply be where we were before Trump came along … It has to be somewhere we have never been before.

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!

 

 

Tilting at Russian Windmills

US_of_Russia_6-3-2017
A protester at the “March for Truth” rally on June 3, in Washington, D.C. Many of the marchers’ posters featured the Communist insignia.

Over four months into Donald Trump’s presidency, the anti-Trump resistance is in danger of becoming completely sidelined by “Russiagate,” James Comey’s rock star Senate Intelligence hearing, and anything else related to this 21st century resurgence of the Cold War. Russiagate, the (fake) news story that just won’t die, has sucked up all the oxygen in the room.

Yet, liberals have made the unsubstantiated claims—being promoted by the same “deep state” intelligence agencies that brought us the lies that launched the Iraq War—a centerpiece of the anti-Trump resistance.

Close to 1,000 protesters converged on Washington, D.C. and other major cities throughout the country on June 3 in the “March for Truth” rally—an event that, at times, appeared more like a left-wing version of a Tea Party demonstration. Many of the protesters’ signs featured the Communist hammer-and-sickle insignia with pictures of Trump. (These folks are apparently unaware that Russia joined the capitalist “free-market” decades ago.)

“Are you a Communist?” reporter, Max Blumenthal asks a smug-looking young man holding one such Communist-mocking sign, in a sardonic segment for The Real News Network.

“No!” the protester answers emphatically. “I’m not!”

“You’re not for full Communism?” Blumenthal asks.

“No, not at all. This [the poster] is more ironic than anything.”

… “So, Trump is a Communist then, is what you are saying?” Blumenthal deadpans.

“Yes,” the protester answers. “Exactly.”

As an actual Communist I must say I take great offense to the notion that Trump is anything remotely resembling a Communist—even if it the assertion is meant as an “ironic” joke.

Beyond the Red Scare redux, the clip highlights the fact that it is not just conservatives that fall for so-called “fake news.” Liberals and progressives are just as susceptible to state propaganda when it reaffirms what they already believe. The right has its “Benghazi,” and unceasing doubts as to Barack Obama’s citizenship; the left now has its “Russiagate.”

Blumenthal, speaking to Real News’s Arron Matte in a follow-up interview, said of the rally:

It was made up of mostly older liberals, the kind of people who watch ‘Rachel Maddow.’ … Most of her [show’s] content is dedicated to Russia and her ratings are through the roof. And these are the same kind of people that I would meet at anti-war rallies over ten years ago. The same kind of people that would go out and protest climate change and the denial of it. The same kind of people who would show up at Black Lives Matter rallies. And their energy is being channeled into a militaristic, neoconservative narrative…

Of course, it is not just Rachel Maddow and her MSNBC co-anchors that have stoked the flames of the Russiagate conspiracy theory. The Democratic Party has likewise embraced the narrative, seemingly all too happy to find someone—anyone!—to blame for Hillary Clinton’s stunning electoral loss last November other than herself.

Indeed, to date the Democrats’ rogues gallery of scapegoats includes Comey, Jill Stein, Bernie Sanders, Sanders’ supporters (a.k.a. “Bernie Bros”), sexism, internalized misogyny, Vladimir Putin, WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, Susan Sarandon, millennials, “fake news,” Facebook, the media (despite the fact that the majority of corporate newspapers endorsed Clinton), and of course, the ignorant, racist, sexist, “deplorable” American voters, themselves. Now we can add Russian hackers to that list, as well.

Clinton herself has singled out Russia as the reason for her loss.

“I take responsibility for every decision I made,” the former secretary of state said during an interview at this year’s Code Conference, on May 31, “but that’s not why I lost. So I think it’s important that we learn the real lessons from this last campaign…”

But it is not at all clear that Clinton, the DNC, and the Democratic Party have learned anything—never mind the “real lessons”—from the 2016 election. In fact they seem either completely unwilling or incapable—take your pick—of engaging in the critical self-reflection necessary to avoid being relegated to the dustbin of political history.

No doubt Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and every last member of his swamp monster administration should be impeached. While the allegations that Russian hackers covertly influenced the outcome of the 2016 presidential election remain quite dubious, there is little doubt Trump is guilty of obstructing justice in his firing of Comey as director of the FBI.

But, barring some major revelation in the Russigate investigation, I fear pinning our hopes on shaky state propaganda is a fatal mistake for the left. Indeed, it is a surefire way to ensure Trump is re-elected in 2020.

And, even if the Democrats do regain control of Congress in the 2018 midterm election, it is not at all clear, based on the party’s track record, that they actually would take steps to impeach Trump. Leftists need only recall that Democrats ran on similar empty promises back in 2006. Then, like today, a thoroughly unpopular and discredited president—George W. Bush—occupied the White House, along with a Republican-majority in Congress.

But, no sooner did the Democrats re-take control of Congress in the sweeping 2006 midterm election—based on campaign promises to impeach Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for numerous impeachable offenses, and to end the unpopular and illegal Iraq War—than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promptly declared impeachment “off the table,” calling it a “distraction.”

And on the Iraq War, the Dems did a complete 180, voting for additional war-funding bills (‘cause “The Troops!”), rather than just cutting off the war’s funding in Congress, and bringing American service members home.

In other words, we have seen this movie before.

The Democrats’ entire “opposition” strategy against Trump is, as Socialist Worker’s Lance Selfa puts it in this month’s issue, “Keep Calm and Prepare Campaign Attack Ads.” It is for good reason that the Democrats were once referred to as “history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party.” The left cannot afford to simply subsume itself into the graveyard of grassroots movements that is the Democratic Party.

Moreover, it is not enough for the left to merely be anti-Trump. We must dismantle the entire racist, misogynist, Islamophobic capitalist system that spawned Trump in the first place. In doing so, we must also put forth a compelling socialist alternative for organizing society—one rooted in Marxism that can speak to working-class Americans’ economic grievances, as well as their aspirations for social justice and equality.

This includes reaching out to working-class Trump supporters, as well. I still believe it is possible to win many of them over to socialist ideas, though it will take time, patience, and lengthy, comradely debates. We cannot simply write them all off as irredeemable racists, sexists, and “deplorables,” as so many liberals seem all too willing to do.

And lecturing members of the working class about their “white privilege” is unlikely to alter their already negative opinions of elite, college-educated, liberal know-it-alls. This is especially true when these folks are, as socialist commentator, Paul Street observes, “barely making it in shitty jobs that don’t match the ever rising costs of health care, housing, food, clothing and more.”

For a model of how to appeal to working-class voters’ material interests, look no further than Great Britain, where England’s Jeremy Corbyn (basically the UK’s version of Bernie Sanders, but with an anti-war platform), just defied all expectations, helping the Labour Party secure an historic upset in the recent snap election. Corbyn, like Sanders in the states, attracted droves of enthusiastic working-class supporters—especially young people—with his unapologetically democratic socialist campaign of taxing the rich, paying workers a living wage, nationalizing public industries, and ending the UK’s pernicious austerity programs.

Corbyn’s recent success proves there is a growing hunger among working-class people throughout the Western world for socialism. But we will not tap into that audience by following the Democrats down the new age Red Scare rabbit-hole that is “Russiagate.” Comey, the FBI, the “deep state” intelligence agencies, Clinton… none of them are on the side of working-class Americans. Only the working class, through the time-honored tradition of class-struggle, can bring about its own emancipation.

“Millions of Americans have mobilized to stop Trump and his agenda,” Selfa writes, “–from the largest day of demonstrations in U.S. history on inauguration weekend, to the town hall protests against Republican plans to take away their health insurance. For those people, ‘Wait ’till 2018′ is already too late.”

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 Rage of the Dispossessed

Manchester Memorial
Mourners gather in Manchester’s St. Ann’s Square to pay respects to the 22 people killed when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device outside an Ariana Grande concert, on May 22, in Manchester, England.

Pop-star, Ariana Grande is correct:

There are, simply, no words—of comfort, consolation or condolence—to offer the families of the young victims following the horrific explosion outside Grande’s concert in Manchester, England last week. The fact that the 22 people killed were mostly children and teenage girls makes the terrorist attack especially heinous.

Concerts should be a place for leisurely escapism from the mind-numbing monotony of work and school—if not even a more meaningful form of musical transcendence. (I suspect Grande embodies more of the former.) They should not be a venue of fear and repulsive violence.

Following an attack such as the one in Manchester, politicians inevitably single out the Muslim community, calling for the moderate Muslims to “isolate” and “report on” their more radical counterparts, in the hope of preventing similar terrorist attacks. (“If you see something, say something!”)

This was the crux of Donald Trump’s lecturing (and completely unoriginal) speech in Saudi Arabia. “A better future [for the Middle East] is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists, Trump said. “Drive. Them. Out.”

Trump went on:

“Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. And drive them out of this earth.”

Yet, in the 16-years that the U.S. and its allies have waged the so-called “war on terror,” when has a similar call ever been made to Christian communities? When have politicians or world leaders exhorted “moderate” Christians to “isolate” and “weed out” the radical members in their ranks? Nor has any effort been made to curb the growing influence of Zionist, pro-Israeli Jews–particularly those who falsely mischaracterize the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement as “anti-Semitic.”

Indeed, by all assessments Americans face a far greater threat from right-wing, nationalist and Christian extremist groups than from what Trump insists on calling “radical Islam.” This home-grown, quasi-fascist threat has grown exponentially since Trump’s election. And the discrepancy in rhetoric proves the utter hollowness of presidents’ assurances—from George W. Bush to Barack Obama to Trump—that the U.S. is not “at war with Islam.”

No doubt, our decades-long war on Islam is almost certainly what motivated the Libyan-born suicide bomber, Salman Abedi to commit this heinous act. Abedi targeted the wrong people, to be certain. His victims were innocent and completely undeserving of having their young lives cut so short in such a brutal fashion.

But the inchoate rage and hostility Abedi felt toward England and the West in general is legitimate. Our nations must understand this if we are to have any hope of truly ridding the world of terrorism.

“We have engineered the rage of the dispossessed,” author and Truthdig columnist, Chris Hedges, wrote in the wake of the 2015 Paris attack on the satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo.

The evil of predatory global capitalism and empire has spawned the evil of terrorism. And rather than understand the roots of that rage and attempt to ameliorate it, we have built sophisticated mechanisms of security and surveillance, passed laws that permit the targeted assassinations and torture of the weak, and amassed modern armies and the machines of industrial warfare to dominate the world by force.

Libya was a thriving and affluent country before the U.S.-NATO military campaign deposed Col. Muammar Gaddafi and decimated the nation. Then-Secretary of State Hillary “Queen of Chaos” Clinton oversaw the bombing, which left more than 30,000 Libyan civilians dead, and over 50,000 injured in the ensuing civil war.

Clinton later gloated over Gaddafi’s death on CBS News, laughing that, “We came. We saw. He died.”

Thus it is perfectly rationale that someone like Abedi, after witnessing the destruction of his home-country, might have some animosity toward the global West.

And Libya is just one example. The scope of the ill-conceived “war on terror” (a nebulous conflict which, by design, can never end) has expanded tenfold under President Obama. The U.S. is currently engaged in military strikes in Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, and Afghanistan, in addition to Libya. Indeed, the war in Afghanistan is now the longest war in U.S. history.

And make no mistake about it: These bombing campaigns—what investigative journalist, Jeremy Scahill calls “dirty wars”—would have continued, likely with greater efficiency and professional expertise, had Clinton prevailed in last year’s presidential election.

The left must revive the beleaguered anti-war movement which has been largely dormant for the last eight years. While the recent opposition to Trump’s racist travel ban (the so-called “airport protests”) was certainly encouraging, I lament the left’s failure to connect the refugee crisis to the larger issue of war and imperialism.

As it is, those airport protests have largely subsided—along with much of the initial activism that greeted the first days of Trump’s presidency. Liberals seem content to merely sit back and trust that the courts will, again, strike down Trump’s revised travel ban. But as The Guardian‘s Rob Hunter points out, investing our hopes in the bourgeois legal system, without the necessary pressure of protests in the streets, would be a grave mistake.

Likewise, the thousands of voters who were understandably inspired by Bernie Sanders’ social-democratic presidential campaign failed to truly challenge the Vermont U.S. Senator on his hawkish foreign policy positions. When I attempted to point out Sanders’ “blind spot” on foreign policy—including his Zionist, pro-Israel record—I was promptly dismissed as a rigid “ultra-leftist.”

This, again, speaks to the contemporary left’s overall detachment from matters of war and peace. Attend an anti-war protest today, and you are unlikely to find anybody under the age of 50. And many of these Baby Boomer protesters formed their anti-war politics after having served (whether they were drafted or voluntarily enlisted) in combat themselves.

But I fear that, for millennials my age, war is very much an abstraction.

This is not to suggest young people on the left do not care about militarism. Quite the reverse, in fact. Merely, that most working-class millennials’ lack of direct experience in military combat makes it less of a priority (behind more immediately pressing issues like student debt, affordable housing, health care, and free college education) in activist struggle.

But none of these domestic concerns can ever be addressed (let alone, funded) if we continue to ignore the Pentagon’s giant “pot of gold,” as longtime anti-war activist and blogger, Bruce Gagnon calls it. Fifty-seven percent of our federal income tax dollars go to the bloated, wasteful military-spending budget. And the GOP’s baseless mantra that Obama “depleted” the military of funding should be roundly dismissed as the phony propaganda it is.

Thus, the U.S. war-machine is not a “secondary” issue as many Sanders supporters argued. It is the issue.

“These terrorist attacks are not confined to Europe,” Tariq Ali said on a recent appearance of Democracy Now! “They take place every single day in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, and Yemen, Bahrain.”

… We all deplore the loss of lives of innocent people. … Everyone does. But we can’t have double standards, in which we say that someone killed in Europe, their lives are more valuable than the lives being taken in large parts of the Muslim world. And unless the West understands that these double standards provoke and anger more people, it will carry on.

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 Failure of Identity Politics

Lena Dunham
Lena Dunham, star of the HBO series, “Girls,” shows off her support for Hillary Clinton with a dress emblazoned with the Democratic presidential candidate’s first name.

I maintain, as I have previously argued on this site, that one of the greatest obstacles to developing a mass, diverse working-class movement to fight not only the Trump regime, but also the system that spawned it in the first place, remains the scourge of identity politics.

This political orientation, along with its associated practices of “privilege-checking,” and “calling out,” has rendered the left atomized, devoid of a concrete political vision, and largely incapable of joining together in solidarity. Indeed, even that word, “solidarity,” is quite threatening to practitioners of identity and privilege-politics, who regard it as a sort of “whitewashing” of real inequities in race, gender, and sexual orientation.

The absence of a clearly articulated class-oriented approach to social justice, combined with a generally low-level of class-struggle (recent resistance to Trump’s election, notwithstanding), has allowed the nebulous, postmodernist dictates of identity politics to fill the void. As a result, in places like Portland, Maine the framework of identity politics has become the default orientation of left-wing groups.

According to liberal identitarians all white people are inherently—and perhaps, irredeemably—racist, simply by nature of being white. And no amount of education, enlightenment, commitment to social justice, or personal growth can alter a “privileged” white person’s racist, prejudiced views. Thus, identity politics casts White People or even just “whiteness” as the enemy of the oppressed, rather than the structural racism intentionally perpetuated by the wealthy elite.

As the great abolitionist, Frederick Douglass observed of the twisted genius of the capitalist ruling class in pitting white workers against black workers, “The slaveholders, by encouraging the enmity of the poor, laboring white man against the blacks, succeeded in making the said white man almost as much of a slave as the black himself.”

“Both,” Douglass adds, “are plundered by the same plunderer.”

Proponents of identity politics, likewise, insist Donald Trump was elected president based purely on racism—and nothing more. They point to exit-poll data suggesting a majority of white voters—including a majority of white women—voted for Trump.

But this data is misleading. A majority of white Americans did not vote for Trump. A majority of the whites who voted did. This is a crucial distinction. Nearly 50 percent of eligible voters stayed home on Election Day or were barred from voting.

And, while racism no doubt played some role in Trump’s election, many of the working-class whites who voted for him did so out of legitimate economic grievances. As Jacobin’s Adaner Usmani puts it, “All Klansmen are Trump supporters, but all Trump supporters are not Klansmen.” It is crucial those of us on the left understand this if we are to have any hope of winning some of those working-class Trump supporters–many of whom voted for Barack Obama, at least once–to our side.

This is in no way meant to diminish the very real and insidious role of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and ableism in Trump’s electoral victory. It is merely to acknowledge that his ascension is more complicated to explain—his supporters’ motivations more complex and often contradictory—than the easy scapegoat of “racism” suggests.

Furthermore, it was the slave-owning Founding Fathers’ Electoral College which handed Trump the presidency—not the voters. If we lived in an actual democracy, where candidates were elected based on the popular vote (or, for that matter, if we had more than two candidates to choose from), then Hillary Clinton would currently be sitting in the White House.

But proponents of identity politics conveniently overlook all of these nuances, preferring a simplistic (and decidedly cynical) understanding of society and human nature as governed by nothing more than fear, hatred, and naked self-interest.

As such, Maine activist and blogger, Shay Stewart-Bouley, claims in a recent post on her “Black Girl in Maine” blog that a “fear of the declining value of whiteness is what brought us Trump.”

Stewart-Bouley goes on to admonish her white readers that people of color do not need their “white guilt” in anti-racist activism, only to then proceed to remind them that “racism is largely a white problem.” Sure seems like a guilt-trip to me.

But rather than explaining how white leftists can be better “allies” in the fight against racism, Stewart-Bouley echoes the familiar identitarian doctrine that black and white activists conduct their work in separate circles. This, she explains, is so white people can “have a space [of their own] to work out the kinks on their journey without harming me and other POC [People of Color].”

This insistence of separate spaces for black and white activists flows from the identitarian concept that it is “not the job” of oppressed people to educate others. White progressives, in other words, must “do the work” of educating themselves.

“Seriously, I am not Oprah or Mammy,” Stewart-Bouley writes, “and for my own well-being, I want people to know what they don’t know and work on it without being expected to have their hand held by me while they do it.”

As someone who has worked (albeit, briefly) in education, I can assure you: Dismissively telling students to “go educate yourselves,” with no additional guidance or direction from the teacher, is a surefire way to ensure the majority of them do not take the class seriously, spend the semester slacking off, and ultimately fail the course. And, when it comes to eradicating racism, and building a viable, multi-racial, multi-gender, multi-ethnic working-class movement, failure, as they say, is not an option.

Telling people to “educate yourself” or just “Google it” in response to legitimate questions about unfamiliar phrases, jargon, or histories, merely reproduces “neoliberal atomization,” as one of my comrades in the International Socialist Organization (ISO) phrased it in a recent internal document. That is, “sit by yourself in front of a computer and figure it out alone.” And this is to say nothing of the generally contemptuous tone of telling people, “It’s not my job to educate you!”

Part of being a revolutionary means being willing to educate, discuss and patiently debate with others—even those who may not be as radical as you are. Reading, studying, and debating collectively are indispensable components to building a sense of solidarity, and coalescing around a unified, cohesive political orientation.

Contrary to the dictates of identity politics, just because an individual does not personally experience a particular form of oppression does not mean he or she has no interest in fighting to end that oppression. Indeed, the system of capitalism—a system that is inherently exploitative— oppresses all workers to some degree. The ruling class has its proverbial thumb on all workers—though it presses down with greater force on some particularly oppressed workers (African Americans, women, LGBTQ folks, people with disabilities), than others.

But all workers have an interest in cutting off the bourgeois thumb (if not, indeed, the entire hand it is a part of) and dismantling the system that keeps us all down.

As socialist author, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes in her 2016 book, From Black Lives Matter, to Black Liberation:

Solidarity is standing in unity with people even if you have not personally experienced their particular oppression[.] The reality is that as long as capitalism exists, material and ideological pressures push white workers to be racist and all workers to hold each other in general suspicion. But there are moments of struggle when the mutual interests of workers are laid bare, and when the suspicion is finally turned in the other direction—at the plutocrats who live well while the rest of us suffer.

While the inclusion of more people of color, women, and gays in the corporate and political arena is certainly a welcome trend, the folly of multiculturalism is in viewing this diversity alone as a form of progress. The fact is, one can be gay, black, female, or trans and still be part of the bourgeoisie. Take figures like Caitlyn Jenner, Clarence Thomas, Oprah Winfrey, or warmonger “feminist,” Anne-Marie Slaughter, for example.

As left-wing professor Adolph Reed, Jr. writes in a stinging rebuke of liberal identity politics:

[A] society in which 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources could be just, provided that roughly 12% of the 1% were black, 12% were Latino, 50% were women and whatever the appropriate proportions were LGBT people. It would be tough to imagine a normative ideal that expresses more unambiguously the social position of people who consider themselves candidates for inclusion, or at least significant staff positions in service to, the ruling class.

None of this is to suggest that class is “more important” than race or other aspects of identity. Rather, as Karl Marx observed, class and race are 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 Volume One of Capital. “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.”

The left must rekindle the old labor slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” Only through solidarity—through a shared sense of class-struggle among workers of all genders, gender-identities, races, and sexual orientations—can we hope to fight the right, rebuild the left, and win nothing less than the self-emancipation of the working class.

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Small Business Owners — Not the Working Class — Elected Trump President

Trump Supporters

The narrative that has emerged in the months since Donald Trump’s seemingly improbable election last November—that of a “Rust Best revolt” among disaffected, white working-class voters—has been, in the words of left-wing writer, Paul Street, “badly oversold.”

It is not, in truth, an accurate, nor an especially insightful, lens through which to view Trump’s election.

If the left is to mount an effective campaign against Trump’s xenophobic, misogynist, racist, bourgeois policies—a campaign that can win real victories for the working class—it is imperative that we understand how the Predator-in-Chief and his cabinet of swamp monsters oozed their way to the White House, in the first place. And in order to do that, we must push back against this rather misleading narrative that white working-class voters are responsible for Trump’s victory.

Trump basically received the same amount of support as Mitt Romney did in 2012. His election should not be taken as evidence that the nation’s proverbial political pendulum has swung suddenly to the right. Trump’s victory is due less to Republicans gaining support among working-class voters as it is to Democrats losing that support.

As CounterPunch’s Anthony DiMaggio observes, the 2016 presidential election result was “more about growing working class and white voter disgust with the Democratic status quo than it was about being enamored with the Trump candidacy.”

He adds,

“If the Democratic Party had fielded a real progressive candidate who had a meaningful history of seeking to help the working class—Bernie Sanders, for example—the outcome of the election may have been very different.”

Then again, Sanders had the option of challenging Clinton and the Democratic machine as an independent. Likewise, the Green Party’s Jill Stein extended numerous invitations to Sanders to join her presidential campaign. She even offered to take a back seat on the ticket, as Sanders’ vice president.

But Stein’s calls to Sanders’ campaign went unanswered. Sanders, with his history in third-party politics, knew full well what he was getting into when he signed on to run as a Democrat. And no—I do not believe that Sanders would have had “no chance in hell” of winning as an independent. Voter disgust with both capitalist parties is at a record high.

But DiMaggio’s point is well taken.

Hillary Clinton proved utterly tone-deaf to the legitimate economic concerns of working-class voters—many of whom turned out in droves (twice) for the considerably more charismatic, Barack Obama.

Clinton’s empty response to Trump’s inane campaign slogan, “Make America Great, Again,” was that America is “already great.” Not only did this rebuttal fail to clearly differentiate Clinton’s brand of technocratic neoliberalism from Trump’s faux-populist nationalism, but it rang completely false to the hundreds of laid-off workers whose jobs had been shipped overseas, largely as a result of her husband’s policies.

Faced with the “choice” of two bourgeois, corporatist candidates, nearly half of eligible voters (46.9 percent) opted to stay home on Election Day. Indeed, both candidates registered record low approval ratings, even before emerging as their respective party’s nominee.

As embattled WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange put it, choosing between Clinton and Trump is like picking between “cholera and gonorrhea.”

“Personally, I would prefer neither,” Assange acidly told Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman.

And several million voters—primarily people of color or those with disabilities–were prohibited from voting due to onerous voter ID laws, incarceration or felony status, ridiculously strict voter registration deadlines, or GOP gerrymandering of voting districts. Those most affected by these punitive laws—which essentially amount to a modern day poll tax—are traditionally more inclined to vote for Democrats.

Yet, despite the depressed turnout and Clinton’s inability to excite the traditional Democratic base, she still won the popular vote by a significant margin—nearly three million votes. This makes Clinton the recipient of more votes than any other losing presidential candidate in American history, according to CNN.

It was the Electoral College–an antiquated relic of the slave-owning Founding Fathers, designed to artificially boost the influence of slave-states in elections–that ultimately handed Trump the presidency.

Trump, despite what he and his spokespeople may claim, has no popular mandate. Only three months into his presidency, Trump’s approval rating is already well below 50 percent. And his recent failure to “close the deal” on Congress’s repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, throws many of his other legislative promises into question.

So, if it was not the “white working class” that elected Trump, as the capitalist media claim, then who did?

With most of the capitalist class throwing its weight behind the more experienced, reliable Clinton, Trump drew his support largely from middle-managers, self-employed workers, and small business owners. According to the Socialist Worker‘s Lance Selfa, Trump’s supporters have a median household income of over $50,000, while Clinton generally drew from voters with less than $50,000. In keeping with the Republican Party’s general makeup, Trump voters are primarily middle-aged, white, middle-upper class, and do not have a college degree.

In other words, Trump’s support came from what Marx and Engels called the “petit bourgois,” (“petty” or “small” bourgeois; the term was intended as something of an epithet). These right-leaning small business owners and middle managers generally hate taxes and subsidies (hence their dislike of “Obamacare”), higher minimum wage laws, and government regulation of any kind.

And many of these voters were receptive to Trump’s racist, xenophobic rhetoric, which blames their economic struggles on immigrants, Muslims, and African Americans. Indeed, a CBS-New York Times post-election exit poll found an alarming 84 percent of Trump voters support deporting undocumented immigrants from the United States. Eighty-six percent, likewise, support building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Meanwhile, a similar post-election poll by the Pew Research Center reveals only seven percent of Trump supporters view sexism as a “very serious problem,” just 21 percent said the same about racism, and a mere 14 percent view climate change is a “very serious problem.”

This is not to suggest Trump voters were not at all motivated by legitimate economic grievances, including the adverse affects of global “free-trade” deals. Many of them certainly were. Nor should we dismiss them outright as irredeemable racist, sexist, ignorant “deplorables.” As Jacobin‘s Adaner Usmani aptly puts it, “All Klansmen are Trump supports, but not all Trump supporters are Klansmen.” Rather than writing these voters off (or worse, mocking them for “getting what they deserve”), the left’s goal should be to hold out an alternative vision of organizing society, one rooted in economic and social justice, that is worth fighting for.

That said, as the findings clearly show, most Trump supporters are not truly hurting economically. Many of them are doing quite well, thank you very much. As such, the media’s narrative of a “white working class uprising” at the ballot box, begins to fall apart upon closer scrutiny.

“The fact of the matter is that Trump supporters represent a perverse fusion of economic discontent and hateful, right-wing bigotry and nationalism,” DiMaggio writes. “We ignore the latter part of Trump’s support at our own peril.”

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Ignore the GOP’s Lies: The Pentagon is Not Broke

Fighter Jet

During a recent interview on NBC’s Meet the Press,  Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins reiterated one of the biggest lies about Barack Obama’s presidency.

When host, Chuck Todd asked Collins if there is “any part of [President Donald Trump’s] budget you support?” she responded:

“Yes. I do think that we need an increase [in spending] for our veterans and an increase in military spending because readiness has really suffered.”

For context, the majority of Collins’ six-and-a-half minute interview was devoted to the president’s proposed health care bill which, as of this writing, is DOA. These remarks were her sole reference to military-spending.

Yet, the statement, minor though it may be, is extremely significant.

The notion that military readiness has “really suffered” due to Obama’s budgetary policies has been widely repeated by congressional Republicans, Trump, and the corporate media. The GOP maintain Obama “depleted” military funding, leaving the U.S. woefully under-prepared—if not, in fact, completely unprepared—to adequately respond to a foreign attack.

Trump alluded to this notion of a “weakened” military during his March 1 address to Congress.

“I am sending Congress a budget that rebuilds the military, eliminates the defense sequester and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history,” Trump said of his proposed $54 billion military-spending budget.

This oft-repeated talking point that the military suffers from a lack of “readiness,” corresponds with the equally false narrative that Obama was “weak” on matters of foreign policy—too eager to engage in “wimpy diplomacy,” and “negotiations,” rather than military force.

But this baseless narrative ignores the fact that both military spending and the use of military force increased under Obama. Indeed, Obama—who received the Nobel Peace Prize less than a year into his presidency—proved to be more of a warmonger than George “I’m a War president!” Bush.

Under Obama, the U.S. escalated the war in Afghanistan, down-scaled—but did not end, entirely—the U.S. military occupation of Iraq, and engaged in covert drone bombing campaigns in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, and Syria. Perhaps most unnerving was the Obama administration’s penchant for relying on unmanned predator drones which can be controlled from thousands of miles away, and its codification into law of extrajudicial targeted assassinations.

The latter tactic claimed the lives of at least two U.S. citizens: Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son, Abulrahman al-Awlaki.

Obama even maintained a not-so-secret “kill list” of suspected terrorists targeted for death, for Christ’s sake! Perhaps Republicans are just jealous a black man got to engage in all the really deranged, ultra-violent stuff, while Cheney and Rumsfeld had to settle for merely waterboarding people.

The fact is Obama was hardly the peacenik Republicans—along with their subservient echo-chamber in the corporate media–constantly portray him as. Likewise, the claim that Obama “depleted” the military of funding, leaving it in a “weakened” state, is downright laughable.

Contrary to the GOP’s rhetoric, the United States still maintains the largest, strongest, most expensive military force in the world.

As Branko Marcetic writes in a March 6 piece for Jacobin titled, “The Lie of ‘Rebuilding’ the Military”:

The US military has a vastly larger airforce, navy, and number of aircraft carriers than any of its closest rivals. While it commands less manpower than China and India, its nuclear stockpile—a mind-boggling 6,970 warheads—is second only to Russia. The massive three hundred held by France in third place looks piddling by comparison. According to a 2015 Credit Suisse report, all of this and more means the United States far outmatches any other country in terms of military strength.

As Marcetic notes, maintaining an absurdly massive military of this size does not come cheap. The Pentagon ate up $622 billion of the federal budget in 2016, alone. Fifty-four percent of our federal tax dollars go to military spending. And much of this money is wasted on outdated, Cold War-era weapons and fighter jets the Pentagon has no need for—a fact that, curiously, goes unnoticed by “fiscally conservative” Republicans who constantly harp about the need for the government to “get its fiscal house in order.”

(And while we are on the topic, can we mention the hypocrisy of claiming to want to “shrink the size of government,” while lavishing the military–which, last time I checked, is part of the executive branch of the federal government–with billions of dollars?)

Contrary to what the talking heads on “liberal” NPR insist, the largest portion of the federal budget is devoted to the misleadingly-titled category, “Defense”—not so-called “entitlement” programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

But military-spending is so sacrosanct among both political parties it is almost never brought up in budgetary debates. Instead, we are told immigrants, refugees, public school teachers and their “cadillac-style” retirement benefits, and the earned-income programs won through hard-fought working-class struggle are to blame for our nation’s budgetary woes.

This is the perverse genius of the so-called “austerity” policies the global capitalist elites have pushed in Europe and the U.S. since the Great Recession: Socialize the costs and privatize the profits. And during Obama’s presidency those profits continued to soar for weapons manufacturers like Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, and General Dynamics, which owns Bath Iron Works, one of the largest employers in Maine.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, is eyeing deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is now headed by climate change denier, Scott Pruitt. Also on the chopping block is funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the State Department, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and most federal regulatory industries.

Turns out Americans should have heeded President Dwight Eisenhower’s outgoing warning about the dangers of the “military-industrial complex,” after all.

“As millions of Americans struggle with inadequate health care, low wages, deteriorating public services and uncertainty about their futures as the wage gap between the wealthy elite and the working poor widens,” famed consumer advocate and ertswhile independent presidential candidate, Ralph Nader wrote back in 2013, “billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars are pouring into the coffers of the Department of Defense ever year.”

All of this makes clear the left’s urgent need to revive the beleaguered anti-war movement, which largely remained dormant during Obama’s presidency. As Maine anti-war activist, blogger, and professional organizer, Bruce Gagnon told me in a 2015 interview, “Liberal Democrats are reluctant to challenge the president when he’s ‘their guy.'”

“It’s a real hypocrisy,” Gagnon added. “And it’s a real problem for maintaining an active anti-war movement.”

Perhaps the fact that it is now a Republican carrying out these disastrous wars will reinvigorate the anti-war left. The mass opposition to Trump’s racist campaigns against Muslims and immigrants is certainly an encouraging sign. Socialists must tap into this growing movement, while also making the broader connections between the global refugee crisis and U.S. imperialism.

But our first task must be to offer a forceful rebuke to the bourgeois falsehood that the military needs “rebuilding.” Quite the reverse, we should be investing less money in killing people, and more on infrastructure, good-paying jobs, renewable energy programs, health care, and our public schools.

“Monopolies, oligarchy, the striving for domination and not for freedom, the exploitation of an increasing number of small or weak nations by a handful of the richest or most powerful nations,” Vladimir Lenin wrote in his 1917 essay, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, “… all these have given birth to those distinctive characteristics of imperialism which compel us to define it as parasitic or decaying capitalism.”

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“Centering” is Tokenism

Solidarity, Not Centering

Though well-intentioned, the practice of “centering” oppressed voices in left circles threatens to become an end in and of itself.

Anyone involved in activism during the last five-eight years is likely familiar with the practice of “centering” marginalized voices at rallies, protests, and demonstrations. This practice entails placing the voices of oppressed people—African Americans, Muslims, women, immigrants, LGBT people—front-and-center during speeches or pre-march rallies. The practice is sometimes referred to as “Passing the mic.”

In theory, “centering” is a well-intentioned concept designed to give space to oppressed individuals who often are denied a platform to speak publicly or whose voices are generally ignored.

But, alas, the “road to hell…” as they say…

The problem with “centering” is its complete disregard for the actual content of the speakers’ speeches. Protest organizers often assemble their multi-ethnic/multi-racial/gender-“non-conforming” panel of speakers with little to no concern for what, exactly, they are going to say at the event, or how a panelist’s views may differ from those of the host organization.

As a result, you wind up with black speakers who encourage participants to divest their money from corporate banks like TD, Bank of America and the like, and participate solely in “black banking,” or only patronize businesses owned and operated by African Americans.

Again, this is an understandable and well-meaning idea. But as a socialist I have to ask: How does shopping exclusively at “black businesses” in any way threaten or undermine the system of capitalism?

Answer: It does not.

Indeed, this strategy strikes me as all too similar to the naïve liberal belief that shopping exclusively at “small businesses,” or “buying local,” can create a more egalitarian world. While I certainly prefer shopping at a locally-owned coffee shop rather than at Starbucks any day of the week, the small businesses in my neighborhood are no less motivated by profit than a giant corporate chain is. Likewise, the baristas at the local coffee shop are no less exploited as workers than those at Starbucks.

(Voters in Portland, Maine defeated a referendum in 2015, put forward by the Portland Green Party, to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. Most of the opposition came not from chain stores or corporate retailers, but from the city’s myriad “small” businesses and restaurants.)

But, as a white male, I am prohibited from offering this counter-argument to the “black business” strategy. That is because the practice of “centering,” in its effort to raise the voices of marginalized people, often excludes those of white, straight men, entirely. Protest organizers tend to be quite explicit about this. Your role at these demonstrations if you are white, male, straight or all of the above, is basically to sit down, shut-up, and defer entirely to people of color, women, LGBT folks, etc.

Other times, the speakers assembled will not express any coherent political philosophies or strategies at all. They will just rant.

The need to rant about racism, homophobia, sexism and “The System” at large, is no doubt an entirely natural, human desire—especially for those who must endure such pernicious forms of oppression on a daily basis. We all need to rant at some point. It is, I suppose, a necessary form of catharsis.

But merely ranting about the system will not change it. In order to do that, we need carefully thought out political theories, philosophies, strategies, and views. And we should debate those views among each other in a comradely fashion. Selecting speakers based on their gender, gender-identity, race or sexual orientation, rather than their political views, denies leftists this opportunity. As a result, leftists are less knowledgeable about how, precisely, to go about creating a world devoid of sexism, racism, ableism, and capitalist exploitation.

Finally, if the goal of centering is to provide a platform for those routinely denied one, why are poor or homeless people (of any race, ethnicity, gender, etc.) rarely among the speakers featured? Poverty is, after all, a form of oppression.

Socialists are often accused of “class reductionism,” or focusing exclusively on class while ignoring or downplaying the significance of other forms of oppression. This was the chief complaint among liberal women and people of color about Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Yet, these accusations of sexism and racism were—particularly in the case of the former—cynically stoked by the Hillary Clinton campaign, in order to discredit Sanders and his platform of democratic socialism.

Leaving aside the fact that socialists have historically been at the forefront of struggles against sexism, racism, homophobia and the like, identitarian liberals are rarely accused of class reductionism’s inverse: identity politics. The point is, just as oppression based on identity cannot—and should not—be ignored, neither can class.

As Sanders said in a widely mischaracterized speech during a post-election book tour last November, “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,” Sanders went on:

“… It’s not enough to say, ‘I’m a woman! Vote for me!’ No, that’s 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.”

These limitations beg the question: At what point does centering become little more than a politics of representation at best—or a cynical form of tokenism, at worst?

This is not to suggest there is no value in sitting back and listening more—especially for those of us (white men, mostly) who, admittedly, tend to do most of the talking. And marginalized people should tell their own stories, and lead their own movements. But centering—like all forms of identity politics—threatens to become an end in and of itself.

It is time for the left to move beyond the practice of centering and toward an orientation of solidarity. Our orientation should be the old labor slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

This is not to suggest we abandon the practice of centering, altogether. I do believe it has some value.

But if we are serious about ending racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia—and, ultimately, the capitalist system that perpetuates such forms of oppression in the first place—then we need to, in the words of the rap group, The Coup, “pick a bigger weapon.” And that weapon, in my opinion, is socialism.

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.

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