Against Transphobia AND Militarism

Chelsea Manning
Former United States Army intelligence officer, whistleblower, and trans activist, Chelsea Manning.

Or, Walking and Chewing Gum While Marxist

Donald Trump’s recent ban (via Twitter) on transgender people serving in the military has put leftists in something of a double-bind. Condemn the abrupt rule change as bigoted and discriminatory (which it absolutely is), and you run the risk of tacitly supporting the military and U.S. imperialism.

If you argue, on the other hand, that nobody—transgender or otherwise—should want to join the military in the first place, you overlook the fact that the military has, for decades, relied on a so-called “economic draft” to fill its ranks with a steady supply of working-class enlistees. Then you risk coming off as a “class-reductionist,” arguing the oppression of LGBT people is a “secondary” concern to the “more important” matters of militarism and capitalism.

So, what’s an LGBT-supporting, anti-war socialist to do…?

Thankfully, we need not pick one cause or the other in this scenario. It is, in fact, quite possible to oppose Trump’s bigoted ban and U.S. militarism at the same time. Or, as the International Socialist Organization’s (ISO) Sherry Wolf put it in a recent tweet, “Walking and chewing gum while Marxist.”

First off, the ban itself is little more than a decree (from a would-be king  who sits atop a golden toilet, at that). Tweets are neither laws nor legal policy. If Trump is serious about the rule change, he will need to issue an executive order.

Second, the U.S. military has no immediate plans to comply with the ban, according to Gen. Joseph Dunford, America’s top military officer. In response to the president’s tweet, Dunford released a memo to all military personnel saying “there will be no modifications” to the military’s policy regarding transgender service members, for now. Trans service members can continue to serve openly, Dunford indicated, until Trump formally informs Secretary of Defense James Mattis, of the rule change.

Finally, Trump’s baseless claim that the Pentagon “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs” associated with transgender-related health care is downright laughable. Contrary to what the Sunday morning talking-heads claim, the Pentagon is not broke.

The annual military-spending budget is nearly $600 billion, representing 54 percent of all federal discretionary spending. (“Discretionary” means it is money the state is not obligated to spend. It is optional.)

The Pentagon spends $91.1 million on one (1) F-35 fighter jet, alone. In February, the military signed a deal to purchase 90 F-35s from WMD-manufacturer, Lockheed-Martin. So I am pretty confident the Pentagon can cough up a few extra dollars to cover its transgender service members’ medical costs.

Clearly, this has nothing to do with money and everything to do with a renewed right-wing assault on LGBT rights.

Just hours after issuing his trans-ban, Trump’s Justice Department informed a federal appeals court the worker-protection law, Title VII, which prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, does not apply to gay workers. It seems Trump is desperately trying to change the topic from “Russiagate,” the increased tensions among his cabinet, or the fact that the Republican Party is apparently only capable of passing symbolic, non-binding votes repealing Obamacare—not the real thing.

This latest escalation of attacks on LGBT people is meant to whip up support from Trump’s Evangelical base.

“Trump’s ban is an attack on equality,” Fainan Lakha writes in Socialist Worker, “that serves to legitimate violence and discrimination against trans people inside and outside the military.”

There are approximately 15,500 transgender men and women currently serving on active duty in the armed forces, according to a study by the Rand Corporation. Another 134,000 trans people are military veterans. These Americans risk losing their incomes, pensions, and health care if they are to suddenly be discharged.

Indeed, much as I cringe every time a politician from either capitalist party justifies obscene military spending on the basis that it will “create jobs,” the fact is that for many transgender and working-class people the U.S. Army is often one of the few job opportunities available to them.

This is particularly true here in Maine (especially the northern, more rural half of the state), where the job opportunities in some towns are virtually nonexistent. (So much for Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s claim that Maine is “Open for business”…)

In fact, 18-24 year-olds from Maine, Florida, and Georgia are “twice as likely to join the armed forces,” than those from other states, according a 2014 story from Business Insider.

Additionally, only 20 states currently have laws protecting trans people from discrimination at the workplace.

Should Trump’s ban become an official policy, it would have devastating effects on thousands of trans Americans in the here-and-now.

That said, we need to acknowledge that not every working-class trans person who joins the military is an unwilling participant. The fact is many trans Americans proudly enlist. They genuinely believe they are fighting to “defend the country,” or to spread “freedom” and “democracy” throughout the globe.

And the lack of a visible, cohesive anti-war movement means these bourgeois ideas about the supposed “nobility” of military service go unchallenged.

Indeed, in the last decade the left has all but abandoned anti-war activism. Barack Obama expanded the ill-conceived “war on terror,” ramped-up the never-ending war in Afghanistan, pioneered the use of unmanned predator drones in the place of conventional warfare, and claimed for himself the unilateral right to assassinate anybody deemed a “terrorist”—including U.S. citizens.

Yet the anti-war left was AWOL throughout Obama’s eight years in office.

Even Bernie Sanders’ otherwise inspiring presidential campaign was notably silent on issues of foreign policy. (This is, I suspect, largely because Sanders’ supporters are to the left of him on foreign policy issues—especially on the Israel-Palestine conflict, where Sanders’ Zionist views do little to distinguish him from any other U.S. senator.)

This is unfortunate, because Sanders missed a prime opportunity to make the connection between the robust, New Deal-style domestic programs he championed, and the bloated, wasteful military-spending budget. Whenever a reporter pushed Sanders on how he would fund all this “free stuff,” rather than logically pointing to the proverbial elephant-in-the-room—the Pentagon budget—he instead hemmed and hawed about some sort of Wall Street transaction tax … or something…

Only a mass, organized left can revive the anti-war movement, and fight for decent-paying jobs beyond military service. And we must not succumb to the narrow limits of the politics of representation. In opposing Trump’s bigotry, we must not fall into the trap of celebrating U.S. imperialism–or implying that transgender liberation is only possible through military service.

As trans scholar and activist, Dean Spade wrote on Facebook:

The liberation we are working toward requires [that] we fight for vets and everyone else who gets exploited and abandoned for U.S. military imperialism, but not that we participate in rhetoric that celebrates the U.S. military as an employer or ties trans well-being to military service.

Rather, we must understand that full equality for LGBT people is intimately tied to working class liberation for all. So, let’s protest Trump’s transphobia right now, but also continue to organize and struggle for a more just, peaceful world where war is not the only form of employment for working-class people.

Recently freed U.S. Army whistleblower, Chelsea Manning took to the New York Times Op-Ed pages last week, to voice her opposition to Trump’s ban. Manning, who is a trans-woman, called the ban “a devastating blow to our livelihoods, our basic humanity, our survival.”

“It is also a devastating blow,” Manning adds, “to the entire credibility of the United States military for years go come.”

… But we will move forward. We will make sure that all trans people in the military, and all people outside the military after serving, receive the medical care they need. We will not back down. Our progress will continue. Our organizing and activism will grow stronger.

We are neither disruptive nor expensive. We are human beings, and we will not be erased or ignored.

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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The Myth of Democracy

vote1

Maine lawmakers’ open contempt for the will of the people is further evidence that true democracy in America is severely lacking.

Democracy in America has always been something of a joke.

As Vladimir Lenin wrote in his 1917 classic, State and Revolution, “Freedom in capitalist society always remains about the same as it was in ancient Greek republics: Freedom for the slave-owners.”

But the Maine Legislature’s blatant rejection of four citizen-initiated referendum questions passed in November brings the abject hollowness of America’s vaunted “democracy” painfully to light. Measures passed through Maine’s century-old referendum process—designed to give voters a voice on issues or legislation ignored by lawmakers—are supposed to be state laws.

Yet, both Republican and Democratic legislators have effectively decided these laws are merely suggestions to be enacted at their discretion. They have arrogantly dismissed the referendum process as a glorified opinion poll. And both parties have openly defied the will of the voters.

No wonder large portions of voters in Maine and the rest of the country do not even bother to vote. When politicians are free to flagrantly disregard the results, what is the point?

For background, Maine voters approved four out of five referendum questions on last November’s ballot. The referendums ranged on issues from legalizing recreational marijuana for adults (Question 1); taxing residents with incomes of $200,000 or more to fund public education (Question 2); gradually raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour and eliminating the “tip credit” for restaurant workers, which effectively allows employers to pay them an insulting sub-minimum wage as low as $2.13 an hour (Question 4); and establishing a ranked-choice or instant run-off voting system for all Maine elections (Question 5).

(Question 3, which called for strengthening the state’s background-checks for gun purchases, was overwhelmingly defeated.)

But, rather than honoring the will of the voters and implementing the new laws as the Maine Constitution requires, the Legislature has instead undermined the measures, re-written them, or repealed them entirely.

Here is where the referendums stand as of mid-July:

Question 1 (Marijuana legalization): Implementation has been delayed for “further review.”

Question 2 (Tax the rich to pay for schools): Perhaps the most contentious of the lot, Question 2 was at the heart of a protracted battle over the state budget, which led to Republicans and wing-nut Gov. Paul LePage shutting down the state government for three days during the Independence Day weekend. Maine Senate Republicans refused to accept any budget that included the three percent surcharge tax on wealthy Mainers intended to fund the state’s constantly underfunded public education system. And Democrats, naturally, caved with barely a fight.

Question 4 (Minimum wage): Re-written and watered-down. While the state’s minimum wage will still increase to $12 by 2020 (still not a living wage, but it’s something, I guess…), legislators voted to restore the tip credit under intense pressure from the restaurant industry.

Question 5 (Ranked-choice voting): Declared “unconstitutional” by the Maine Supreme Court. Its future remains uncertain, though repeal seems likely. As the Portland Press Herald editors opine in a recent editorial, “It’s safe to say that the least likely option will be for the Legislature to follow the will of the majority of voters, and make sure the new system is in place before next year’s election.”

Maine is the first state in the nation to pass a ranked-choice voting law—a bittersweet accomplishment, given that it is apparently meaningless.

Legislators have justified their attempts to undermine the will of the people by claiming voters were simply “confused” about what, exactly, they were voting for—particularly with regard to Question 4.

“Mainers did not understand the specifics of the referendum,” Gov. LePage wrote in a Nov. 29, 2016 press release announcing his intent to block and delay the new minimum wage law.

This claim—that voters are essentially too stupid to even understand the ballot questions they are voting on—has been echoed by Maine Senate President Mike Thibodeau. It is in keeping with longstanding elite views–which date back to the United States’ founding–of the public as an “unruly herd,” that is incapable of managing its own affairs.

World renowned public intellectual and dissident, Noam Chomsky, in summing up the views of Walter Lippmann, an early pioneer in manipulating public opinion (or “manufacturing consent,” as Chomsky terms the practice), writes:

The public must “be put in its place”: its “function” in a democracy is to be “spectators of action,” not participants, acting “only by aligning itself as the partisan of someone in a position to act executively,” in periodic electoral exercises.

Other legislators, meanwhile, have justified their blatant disregard for the voters by quibbling that the constituents of their specific legislative district did not, in fact, vote for a particular referendum—and that their sole obligation is to those voters.

But this is nitpicky nonsense.

By this rubric, the people of southern Maine’s 1st Congressional District should not have to accept Donald Trump as their president, since his support came largely from the northern, 2nd District. First District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree should just say, “Sorry, but my constituents did not vote for Trump, so we’re just going to ignore the election results. Voters clearly did not understand what they were getting when they voted for this xenophobic, Twitter-addicted, sexual predator.”

In fact, while we are at it, there are a lot of other recent elections I would like to revisit…

The fact is both Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature have long expressed disdain for the referendum process. Republicans decry the outsized spending by out-of-state advocacy groups on various ballot questions.

But unlimited campaign spending by Political Action Committees (PACs), unions or advocacy groups is hardly a new phenomenon–nor is it limited to the referendum process. (Citizens United, anyone…?)

Indeed, the Koch Brothers do not live in Maine, yet they have been influencing LePage—who is a member of the Koch’s free-market-legislation-pushing, American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC—since he rode the 2010 “Tea Party” wave to victory. Where is the outrage over the Koch’s undue influence over our elections?

Maine Democrats, likewise, gripe that the referendum process is “too divisive,” and make it difficult to “compromise” and find “common ground.”

But there is, by definition, no “compromising” in elections. They are (ostensibly) based on majority rule. The losing candidate or side in our “winner-take-all” system does not get to negotiate some sort of power-sharing deal or compromise after the vote. They are expected to honor the “integrity” of America’s enviable “democracy,” thank voters for their time, get the hell off of the stage and shut-up about the whole thing, already.

As bourgeois Trump supporters are so quick to snidely chastise liberals, “You lost. Get over it!”

Yet, when it comes to these referendums, it seems Maine legislators cannot “get over it.” Indeed, they preferred to shut down the government for three days, leaving hundreds of “nonessential” state workers without pay, to avoid implementing a measly three percent tax on Mainers who can most easily afford it to better fund education.

And there is more than a hint of elitism in both parties’ opposition to the referendum process. That is because, unlike traditional elections in which the candidates and issues are largely pre-selected by the capitalist parties, referendums allow citizens to bypass the state and place issues on the ballot that could actually improve their daily lives.

Furthermore, citizens typically go to referendum after becoming fed up with their state government’s inaction on issues like drug reform, raising the minimum wage, taxing the wealthy, school funding, etc. The increased use of ballot referendums speaks to Maine voters’ frustration with the lack of representation in government at both the state and federal level.

As such, the citizens’ referendum is the closest thing Maine voters have to an actual democratic process. And this is precisely why elite lawmakers on both sides of the aisle resent it. It is also why the Legislature is actively working to make the referendum process more difficult—increasing the number of voter signatures groups must collect before an issue can be placed on the ballot.

All of this should underscore the fact that we do not live in an actual democracy. We live under capitalism. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the two systems are not the same. Indeed, democracy is incompatible with a system based on wage slavery in which a tiny minority enjoys incredible wealth while the majority of working-class citizens live paycheck to paycheck. Not only is such an economic system inherently unequal and unjust. It is unfree.

The recent events in Maine merely highlight this sad reality.

George Carlin–still America’s greatest comedian, in my humble opinion–said it best: “The owners of this country know the truth. It’s called the American Dream ’cause you’ve got to be asleep to believe in it.”

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

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

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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.

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 Democrats: History’s Second Most Enthusiastic Capitalist Party

Sanders Portland, Maine
Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses a crowd at the State Theater in Portland, Maine on April 17, 2017.

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ recent appearance in Portland, Maine highlighted the structural disorganization and lack of strategic vision that continue to plague the American left—particularly in the wake of the demoralizing election of Donald Trump.

Over 1,500 people packed the State Theater on April 17 for the first night of Sanders’ and newly-elected DNC chairman, Tom Perez’s post-election pick-me-up tour, “Come Together and Fight Back.”

But make no mistake about which of these two politicians attendees showed up for: Mainers loudly booed Perez, who recently beat out the more progressive, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), to head the DNC. Sanders, meanwhile, remains the most popular politician in the country, according to several polls.

One young woman, waiting in the interminable line, seemed to speak for the crowd. “I’m here to see Bernie!” she announced. “Not the DNC!”

I joined four other comrades from the Portland branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) to sell copies of our newspaper, the Socialist Worker, and talk to people in line. (Full disclosure: I am a dues-paying member of the ISO.)

While we did sell a lot of papers, and had some quality conversations with a few folks, most people seemed rather indifferent to our presence. A few even audibly scoffed at the word “socialist,” which is completely baffling to me. Were these people unaware they were waiting in line to hear a self-professed “democratic socialist” speak? Sanders certainly made no secret about his identification with socialism on the campaign trail. He even gave a whole friggin speech on the topic.

One of my comrades ventured into the crowd to talk to people one-on-one. He opened by asking what they thought about the “state of politics, today.” Most people groaned or laughed cynically in response.

“I’m actually feeling optimistic,” my friend countered. “The Women’s March and airport protests have all given me hope.”

Upon reflecting on these recent anti-Trump protests, people suddenly shifted their tone. “Oh yeah!” they said. “That’s right!”

While these informal conversations can hardly be granted the weight of a Gallup poll, I think they are nonetheless informative. They suggest a demoralized left that is unsure how to proceed in the wake of Trump’s election.

Indeed, the initial, seemingly daily protests and rallies that greeted Trump’s inauguration have subsided in recent weeks. And early talk among Democrats of impeaching Trump based on alleged Russian interference with the election have failed to yield any substantive evidence—and, given the overall dubiousness of the claims, are unlikely to.

Instead, the Democrats have resigned themselves—and their liberal supporters—to waiting for the 2018 midterm election where they hope to re-take Congress. (Hence the Sanders/Perez rally.)

Thus, a noticeable sense of despair and demoralization has overcome much of the left—right at the time when we should be ramping up our resistance to Trump’s racist, xenophobic, imperialist policies.

Many of those at the State Theater rally had understandably pinned their hopes on Sanders’ presidential campaign and his social democratic platform. But Sanders’ campaign was ultimately sabotaged by the Democratic Party, which remains opposed to all of his policies.

As such, any path forward for the left cannot come through the Democratic Party. Progressives’ long-standing fantasy of “taking over” the Democratic Party from within remains just that.

The history of left-wing activism is rife with examples of progressive reformers–from Jesse Jackson, to Dennis Kucinich, to Howard Dean, and Sanders–who have attempted to “re-take” or “recapture” the party through “insurgent” presidential campaigns. And not only did each of these efforts fail, but the Democratic establishment was able to pull these candidates’ supporters back into the party fold, every time.

Little wonder the Democratic Party has been dubbed the “graveyard of social movements.”

“The question remains: Can progressives take over the Democratic Party..?” Lance Selfa asks in his 2008 book, The Democrats: A Critical History.

To answer that, one has to consider that the Democratic Party really represents one of the two main parties of corporate rule in the United States. Despite its name, it is not a democratic organization whose members control it. So any activist or trade union or popular attempt to take it over always faces a counter-attack by the people who really control it—big business interests, who will use every underhanded trick in the book to maintain their hold.

In other words, despite their traditional posturing as the party of labor, women, immigrants, and minorities, the Democrats are at heart a capitalist party—just like the Republicans. The Republicans are merely more up-front about their servitude to corporate interests.

While the Dems pose as the “party of the people,” the truth is they are responsible for some of the most grievous ravages against the working class—the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, the elimination of welfare, and the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), all facilitated by President Bill Clinton—in modern history.

Indeed, no less a lionized “progressive champion” than Franklin Delano Roosevelt claimed his greatest achievement as president was that he “saved capitalism.”

But don’t take my word for it. House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi recently conceded as much during a CNN town-hall style special. In response to a college student’s question about millennials’ growing preference for socialism over capitalism, Pelosi answered, “Well, I thank you for your question. But I have to say, we’re capitalist. That’s just the way it is.”

Straight from the donkey’s mouth, if you will.

No, the Democrats will not save us. The working class needs its own political party—one that truly represents our interests.

I maintain that the tragedy of  Sanders’ presidential campaign was his decision not to challenge Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party as an independent candidate. Had he done so, he may well be sitting in the White House, today.

(And can we please drop this mantra that Sanders would have had “no chance in hell” running as an independent or with the Greens? In an election in which a record number of Americans were disgusted with both the frontrunner candidates, it is no far-fetched stretch of the imagination to see Sanders winning the presidency as a third-party candidate. At the very least, he would have been able to continue his campaign through the general election, having avoided the DNC’s nefarious underhanded schemes that ultimately undid his primary campaign.)

But then, Sanders has always been a nominal member of the Democrats. It all goes back to Sanders’ longstanding deal with the party: He faithfully tows the party line, and they will not challenge his Senate seat in Vermont. As such, CounterPunch’s Paul Street calls Sanders a “de facto Dem.”

Worst of all, Sanders by running within the Democratic party structure–and, ultimately, endorsing Clinton when his quixotic primary bid was inevitably foiled–failed to build an enduring, politically astute left-wing movement that can continue to push for his campaign demands. Instead, his supporters find themselves disillusioned and uncertain how to proceed. Some of them have ditched the Democrats for good, but others are all too willing to give them “one more chance.” And with Trump in office, those of the latter mindset are likely to have greater sway over the direction of Sanders’ “political revolution”–or whatever remains of it.

On the other hand, Sanders has convinced hundreds of young people to identify as “socialist,” which in of itself is pretty awesome. This means there is an audience out there for socialists. Our task is to tap into that audience, discuss socialist politics with its members, and try to pull them to more radical views.

But if the formation of a viable, militant working-class left is to ever take hold, leftists must disabuse themselves of the misguided notion it can use the Democratic Party as a vehicle for that end. It cannot.

The Democratic Party is and always has been a party for capital, empire, and corporate interests. It has never been a party for the working class. Any successful socialist revolution can only come, as Hal Draper observed, “from below.”

Many readers are likely to scoff at this analysis, dismissing it as “unrealistic,” or beyond the realm of the so-called “politically possible.”

Yet, as Selfa writes:

It’s said that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time. If that’s true, the partisans of such “realistic” strategies of fusing with the Democrats or “taking over” the Democratic Party–both of which have failed generations of progressives–are really the ones who are out of touch with reality.

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The Fire This Time

James Baldwin

The Academy Award-nominated documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, is the latest addition in a resurgence of interest in the prophetic work of James Baldwin.

Author, Chris Hedges, in a recent column for Truthdig, calls Raoul Peck’s Academy Award-nominated film, I Am Not Your Negro “one of the finest documentaries I have ever seen.”

“I would have stayed in the theater in New York to see the film again if the next showing had not been sold out,” writes Hedges.

Portland theater-goers interested in the documentary film are experiencing a similar problem. The film’s recently concluded run at the Portland Museum of Art proved so popular, additional showings were added for April. (All of the film’s March 12 screenings sold out.)

Readers who want to see I Am Not Your Negro should definitely get tickets while they can. The film is, as the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday writes, “a brilliant piece of filmic writing, one that bursts with fierce urgency…”

Though based on the notes, words, interviews, and writings of author and essayist, James Baldwin, Peck’s film is no mere biopic.

Instead, Peck has attempted something far more daring. I Am Not Your Negro envisions Baldwin’s final, uncompleted work. The unfinished book—to be titled, Remember This House—was to be a comprehensive, personal account of Baldwin’s close relationship with the three key figures of the Civil Rights movement: Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Baldwin died in 1987, having completed only 30 pages of the manuscript.

Using a combination of Baldwin’s own voice—supplied through audio recordings, television interviews, and archival footage—and that of actor, Samuel L. Jackson, reading from Baldwin’s manuscript, Peck eschews the traditional “talking heads” format and allows his prophetic subject to tell the story of black America in his own words.

“The story of the Negro in America is the story of America–or, more precisely, it is the story of Americans,” Baldwin writes in his essay, “Many Thousands Gone,” collected in the 1955 compilation, Notes of a Native Son. “It is not a pretty story: the story of a people is never very pretty.”

But the film’s chilling coup de grace is achieved through its juxtaposition of contemporary images and video of recent victims of police violence including, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Sandra Bland. Clips from the mass protests in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri highlight the sickening reality that, in the 30 years since Baldwin’s death, precious little has fundamentally changed for black Americans.

James Baldwin’s work is undergoing something of a resurgence of interest of late and it is not difficult to see why.

In the wake of the increase in police killings of unarmed black men and women, greater scrutiny of the issue of mass incarceration prompted by Michelle Alexander’s best-selling, The New Jim Crow, the rise of a young, impassioned anti-racist movement in the guise of Black Lives Matter, and the election of an overt racist to the White House, leftists are seeking guidance and wisdom in Baldwin’s poetic prose.

Indeed, Baldwin is equal perhaps only to George Orwell in his prophetic vision, his command of the English language, and his unwavering commitment to telling inconvenient truths.

Baldwin’s novels, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953) and Giovanni’s Room (1956), along with his searing essays, The Fire Next Time (1963), Notes of a Native Son (1955), and Nobody Knows My Name (1961) exposed, in prose that is both lyrical and uncompromising, the dark cancer of racism.

“If we were white, if we were Irish, if we were Jewish, if we were Poles … our heroes would be your heroes, too,” says Baldwin.

Nat Turner would be a hero instead of a threat. Malcolm X might still be alive… But when the Israelis pick up guns, or the Poles, or the Irish, or any white man in the world says “Give me liberty or give me death,” the entire white world applauds. But when a black man says exactly the same thing, word for word, he is judged a criminal, and treated like one, and everything possible is done to make an example of this bad nigger so there won’t be any more like him.

Baldwin’s novels also grappled with issues of homosexuality decades before the emergence of the gay rights movement. (Baldwin was gay, a fact often overshadowed by his identification with the Civil Rights movement.)

In every instance, Baldwin went out of his way to defy expectations and literary trends. He did not want to follow in the footsteps of other African American writers, like Richard Wright, whose work he was quite critical of. And Baldwin refused to be pigeonholed as a writer of what he termed “protest novels.”

Baldwin brought this uncompromising stance into his activism, as well. Though Baldwin clearly adhered to liberal-left politics, he was reluctant to identify with any official political cause, party or movement.

(“Many Thousands Gone” is critical of Marxism, dismissing the notion that the Negro and “the Worker” share any economic, social, or political aims. This unfortunate view—one firmly rooted in liberal identity politics—is echoed today by Baldwin disciple, Ta-Nehisi Coates.)

As a result, Baldwin—not unlike, again, Orwell–positioned himself more as a reporter or witness of the Civil Rights movement, rather than an active participant in it.

The film opens with Baldwin’s 1957 return to America after living abroad in France for nearly a decade. Baldwin wearily confesses that he never really missed America, nor the stereotypical staples of American culture like hot-dogs, baseball, and New York City. Seeing the images of 15-year-old, Dorothy Counts, as she is heckled and harassed by white students in a newly desegregated high school in Charlotte, North Carolina, prompted Baldwin to return to the States.

“I could simply no longer sit around Paris discussing the Algerian and the black American problem,” says Baldwin. “Everybody was paying their dues, and it was time I went home and paid mine.”

“If you have not read Baldwin you probably do not fully understand America,” Hedges writes in his piece. “Especially now.”

To understand America is to acknowledge the uncomfortable, horrifying truth so many of us are afraid to admit: This nation was founded on mass genocide and slavery. It is to concede the painful truth that America fought a bloody civil war, not to defend so-called “states’ rights,” as so many of us are taught in school, but to maintain the institution of slavery.

And it is to understand, as Karl Marx did, that both the institution of slavery and the pervasive disease of racism that continues to plague America some 150 years after slavery was abolished, are integral components of capitalism. Capitalists cynically employ racial animosity–alongside the equally deplorable oppression of sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and ableism–to sow fear and distrust among members of the working class.

The goal is to keep workers so busy fighting among themselves they fail to unite against their mutual oppressor: the bourgeoisie.

As the great abolitionist, Frederick Douglass put it, the ruling class in pitting white workers against black workers, “divided both to conquer each.”

The solution, then, is not to agonize over our individual “privilege,” or to reduce the role of white anti-racists to that of mere “allies.” Rather, we must develop a multi-racial, multi-gender, multi-ethnic mass movement that can fight for nothing less than the self-emancipation of the working class.

As the closing credits began–punctuated by Kendrick Lamar’s excoriating, “The Blacker the Berry”–I felt simultaneously galvanized by Baldwin’s words, but discouraged that some 30 years after his death, white Americans have largely failed to heed his prophetic words.

“The question you got to ask yourself … the white population of this country’s got to ask itself,” Baldwin says on an archival clip from an interview on Boston Public Television, “is why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place. Because I’m not a nigger. I’m a man.”

“But if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it, and you have got to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that.”

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The Police State: Racist to the Core

police-barricade
Police cordon off a section of the Old Port in Portland, Maine, during a July 15, 2016 Black Lives Matter demonstration that blocked traffic for hours. Eighteen protesters were arrested. Photo from the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

PORTLAND, Maine- One of the most common objections to last summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstration that shut down parts of Portland’s Old Port on a busy Friday night in July, and resulted in the arrest of 18 protesters, is that the police shootings of unarmed black citizens that have become a regular fixture of the cable-news cycle “do not happen here in Maine.”

As Chris Busby wrote in his Bangor Daily News column (07/21/2016), questioning the overall efficacy of the protest, “If Portland cops are engaging in any racist behavior, word of it hasn’t reached my ears…”

But Black Lives Matter detractors can no longer make such naive assertions.

Chance David Baker, 22, was fatally shot by a Portland Police officer on Saturday, Feb. 20 at Union Station Plaza. Baker, who is black and had a history of mental illness, was seen outside the Subway restaurant, wielding a pellet gun and acting erratically, according to eye witnesses. Police were, reportedly, unable to discern that the pellet gun was not a rifle.

The PPD officer who shot Baker, Sgt. Nicholas Goodman, previously used deadly force prior to Saturday’s incident. Goodman has been placed on administrative leave following the shooting.

Baker had struggled with substance abuse as a teenager, and had been in and out of homeless shelters, according to local news reports. Still, friends said Baker had made great progress in recent years. They praised his selfless nature and committed work ethic. Baker was working three jobs just to make ends meet.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck lashed out at criticism of the PPD’s use of deadly force the following Wednesday, telling reporters he is “disgusted” by local officials who have “politicized” the shooting.

“I am saddened, I’m disappointed,” said Sauschuck at a press conference, “and I’ll tell you I’m disgusted by any use of a tragedy to further some kind of political agenda…”

The citizens of Portland are disgusted as well, Chief: Disgusted that police throughout the country feel they can kill unarmed people of color at will without repercussions.

Speaking of “politicizing tragedy,” Sauschuck was scheduled to receive an honorary commendation from the Portland City Council during its Feb. 22 meeting. Mercifully, a group of protesters loudly disrupted the provocatively-timed ceremony, causing the council to go into recess, and the police chief to flee City Hall before it could be concluded.

Baker’s death marks the third fatal shooting by a police officer in Maine so far this year. Much as we like to believe otherwise, we are not immune to racist police violence, here in Maine.

Yet, in our imperialistic culture of mandatory troop worship, many Mainers are reflexively rushing to express sympathy and condolences not with Baker or his friends and family–but with the officer who murdered him in broad daylight.

Eileen Reynolds of Brunswick defends the “brave, heroic sergeant,” in a Feb. 22 letter to the editor in the Portland Press Herald, “who prevented what easily could have resulted in a disastrous situation.”

“This incident,” Reynolds writes, “… should reinforce all of us to appreciate and stand behind our law enforcement officers.”

Donald Trump–who campaigned on a pledge to be a “law and order president”–has, likewise, stoked pro-police sentiments, perpetuating the false narrative that law enforcement officers are “under attack.” Trump and police-worshiping Republicans have countered the mantra of “Black lives matter,” with the ludicrous rejoinder, “Blue lives matter.”

Legislators in Louisiana recently passed a “Blue Lives Matter” law, which expands the list of protected classes under the state’s hate crimes statute to include police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel.

But not only is there no “war on cops,” police work overall is not actually as dangerous as we are frequently led to believe. A 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of the most dangerous jobs in America does not even list law enforcement among the top-ten. Instead, the survey found that truck drivers, fishermen, electricians, and garbage collectors all face a greater threat of injury or death on the job.

Thus, it is difficult to understand why Goodman felt compelled to use lethal force against Baker, rather than resolving the situation by talking him down and apprehending him. Perhaps the answer becomes clear when one considers the origins of the modern police force and its roots in the late 19th century slave patrols.

The epidemic of police violence towards people of color is not, as is often suggested, the result of a “few bad apples.” The entire system of capitalist law enforcement is rotten to the core.

“The modern police institution is at its core racist, elitist, undemocratic, authoritarian, and violent,” writes Kristian Williams in his recently updated book, Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America.

These are the institution’s major features and it did not acquire them by mistake. The order that the police preserve is the order of the state, the order of capitalism, the order of White supremacy. These are the forces that require police protection … These are the ends the police serve.

Far from being members of the working class, the police have historically been the bourgeoisie’s first line of defense against strikes, peaceful protesters, and the threat of slave insurrection in the antebellum South. Though police officers generally make a fairly modest salary, their elevated position in society often causes them to identify more closely with the wealthy elite.

And the overall selective nature of the implementation of law enforcement grants individual police officers (who, unlike most workers, generally go about their job unmonitored by a boss or supervisor) wide leeway in terms of who, precisely, to target. This leaves them to rely on subconscious (and, in all likelihood, racist) prejudices about what a “criminal” or “suspect” looks like, how he dresses, his skin color, etc. Such leeway also provides greater opportunity for corruption.

As George Orwell wrote in Homage to Catalonia:

I have no particular love for the idealized “worker” as he appears in the bourgeois Communist’s mind, but when I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on.

Baker’s death must not go unpunished. We should fully support the implementation of body-cameras on all PPD officers–an effort many of the “liberal” local news outlets oppose.

But our efforts for police accountability must not end at body-cameras alone. Indeed, I ultimately envision a world where we do not need the police at all–at least not the institution of policing as it currently exists. (Williams, in his book, points to a form of democratically-run community policing as a viable alternative.)

In the meantime, let us place blame for Baker’s murder squarely where it belongs: With Sgt. Goodman, and the racist, hyper-masculine culture of violence that the police ultimately serve.

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…). Thanks for reading!