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.

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!

 

Comrades Converge on Chicago for Annual Socialism Conference

Socialism Conference Pic

CHICAGO- At least 2,000 activists converged at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago for the International Socialist Organization’s (ISO) annual Socialism Conference from July 6-9. The four-day conference consists of talks, debates, discussions, and entertainment for dedicated socialists, people interested in socialism or those just hoping to learn more about revolutionary theory.

This year’s conference featured talks ranging from “privilege” theory, the politics of food sovereignty, why we need a revolutionary left, the history of the Combahee River Collective, and the lessons from the Russian Revolution.

(The Russian Revolution featured prominently in this year’s conference, as 2017 marks the centennial anniversary of the 1917 workers’ uprising.)

Notable speakers included actor, John Cusack; comedian, Hari Kondabolu; actor/playwright, Wallace Shawn; and “Socialism” regular, Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now! Additionally, Jacobin magazine sponsored a series of talks, including a debate on the efficacy of the left “using” the Democratic Party to get socialists elected to office.

“Socialism 2017” also boasted the largest attendance in the conference’s history. Attendees were no doubt motivated by Donald Trump’s nightmarish presidency as so many Americans have been since his election last fall.

Feminist activist, Angela Davis, perhaps best summed up the urgent need to resist Trump and the racist, sexist, capitalist system that spawned him at the history-making Women’s March on Washington, back in January.

“The next fourteen hundred and fifty-nine days of the Trump administration,” said Davis, “will be fourteen hundred and fifty-nine days of resistance. Resistance on the ground. Resistance in the classrooms. Resistance on the job. Resistance in our art and in our music. This is just the beginning.”

And, judging from the record turnout at this year’s Socialism Conference, Americans—particularly young ones—are heeding Davis’s words.

Indeed, a fierce atmosphere of urgency permeated the conference compared to last year’s. Last year at this time, speakers and attendees had more or less resigned themselves to four more years of neoliberal Clintonism. How wrong we all were…

Trump’s election has emboldened far-right white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Islamophobes. Incidents of hate crimes against immigrants, Muslims, and people of color rose precipitously since 2016, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Much of this spike in violence occurred in the ten days following Trump’s election.

Thus, this year’s conference theme: “Fight the Right. Build the Left.”

This was my second year attending Socialism Conference. I joined 15 other comrades from the Portland, Maine branch of the ISO.

Author and Princeton University professor of African American Studies, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, gave the opening address—a speech the right prevented her from delivering earlier this year. Taylor was forced to cut short the book tour for her best-selling, From Black Lives Matter, to Black Liberation back in May, after a Fox News hit-piece inspired an onslaught of vicious, racist, and downright frightening death-threats from right-wing bigots.

“Hey nigger,” one such punctuation-less email opened, “keep talking down the President of the United States we will try you in federal court for hate crimes and have you lynched” [sic]. Another was more direct: “If Trump is what you say, you are a dirty ass coon dyke cunt. Just saying … Cunt.”

(Yet “liberal” media outlets, including the New York Times, insist it is the left in general–and Sen. Bernie Sanders, in particular–that is responsible for spreading the hateful, violent rhetoric that pervades contemporary political discourse. The Times flat out blamed Sanders for Republican Rep. Steve Scalise’s shooting, last month.)

Taylor’s talk drew on the inherent, though often overlooked, interrelation of racism and capitalism—how one form of oppression necessitates the other.

“Racism is the central divide between ordinary people in this country,” she said, “and without a struggle against it, it will be impossible to organize any coherent movement for anything.

… It is no mystery why socialism is no longer a dirty word in the United States. It is no mystery why thirteen million people voted for an open socialist—Bernie Sanders—in this country. Not only is this an indictment of capitalism’s failures, but it is also an expressed desire for a better way. We want real democracy, where the people who create the wealth in this society are entitled to have a say in how it is distributed. We want real freedom—freedom from racism, imprisonment, borders, detention, and second-class personhood.

Taylor later joined fellow ISO-er, Sharon Smith and Professor Barbara Ransby for a panel discussion with Barbara Smith and Demita Frazier—founding members of the Combahee River Collective. The panel reflected on the 40-year anniversary of the Collective’s founding, which presented a radical understanding of the intersectional relationship between the struggles against sexism, racism, and homophobia.

The Combahee River Collective’s 1977 statement reads:

We are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives.

The authors went on:

“As Black women, we see Black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneous oppressions that all women of color face.”

Other talks examined the best strategies for fighting the resurgent white-supremacist, “alt-right,” which has brazenly mounted marches and rallies in even in the “bluest” of states in recent weeks.

College campuses, likewise, have seen an influx of high-profile right-wing figures invited to speak since Trump’s election. College presidents and administrators bend over backwards to allow provocative right-wing celebrities like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos to spew their hate-filled diatribes on campus because of “free speech” … or something… (But remember: Conservative college students are a persecuted minority at “liberal” universities, with no outlet whatsoever for their right-wing views.)

When confronted with protesting these campus speakers or right-wing rallies, those on the left are typically presented with two disparate options:

The liberal-left and Democratic Party’s position is to do nothing at all, claiming counter-protests only grant these conservative groups the attention they seek. They urge progressives, instead, to simply ignore the KKK marches in hopes, presumably, that they will just go away.

The approach of far-left groups like the anarchist, Black Bloc and “Antifa” (short for “Anti-fascist”) meanwhile, is the complete opposite. They seek to fight the right by literally beating the crap out of them in physical confrontations.

But both of these strategies have proven ineffective at counteracting the far-right.

Ignoring these groups does not cause them to go away. Quite the reverse, the lack of a visible opposition to their racist, xenophobic views tends to leave the right further emboldened, convincing them their views are more widely accepted than they actually are.

And, while I am all for punching fascists in the face, Captain America-style, this is often precisely what these right-wing demonstrators want. It inadvertently feeds into their public image as “persecuted” by the mean, free-speech-hating liberals. Additionally, these far-right groups traditionally have the backing–whether tacit, or explicit–of the police, the National Guard, and ex-military contractor thugs (like the kind deployed in Standing Rock, last winter).

In other words, these people–many of whom have recently returned from military deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan–are trained fighters. They can crush scrawny, unarmed leftists like you and me with little effort.

Thus, leftists need to devise an effective middle-ground strategy that peacefully (yet forcefully) confronts the far-right by drowning out their repugnant message with our own–one that is delivered in far greater numbers. Our goal should be to hold up socialism as a viable alternative for dispossessed workers who may find the right’s convenient immigrant and minority scapegoating an attractive narrative for why their own living standards have gone down.

“The left must seek … to educate a new generation about the need to challenge the far right through mass mobilization,” writes Socialist Worker‘s Eric Ruder. “This has to include education about struggles of the past, such as fighting fascism in Germany, as well as debates and discussions about strategy and tactics in the here and now.”

“And of course,” Ruder adds, “it means attempting to mobilize the largest possible response anywhere and everywhere” the right rears its ugly head.

Our branch members left conference feeling rejuvenated after a particularly difficult six months. We returned to Maine recommitted to the fight for building a broad, all-inclusive working-class left to overthrow capitalism and build a more just, egalitarian, and sustainable society.

As Karl Marx famously wrote:

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change 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.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Hope to Hopeless: Reflections on Obama’s Legacy of Corporatism and Militarism

barack-obama

Barack Obama’s farewell address last Tuesday highlighted, one last time, the conflicting disparity between the president’s rhetoric and the actual policies he has pursued throughout the last eight years.

It was, as always, a rousing speech–even if it was completely detached from the material reality working-class Americans endure. (Say what you will about the president, but the man remains an impressive orator. George W. Bush, on the other hand, struggled just to correctly pronounce the word “nuclear.”)

Obama assumed office just as the 2008 Great Recession, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, was unfolding. He handily defeated Republican John McCain, on a marketing-savvy (if, ultimately, vacuous) platform of “hope” and “change.” And congressional Democrats rode Obama’s campaign coattails to victory, enlarging their already solid majority in the House and Senate.

The message from voters was clear: Americans were fed up with eight years of Bush’s unpopular wars, shredding of constitutional liberties, torture and spying programs, and the ever widening gap between the wealthy one percent and the working class. President Obama and the Democrats had a clear mandate to enact sweeping progressive changes on the level of FDR’s New Deal.

Eight years later, those unpopular wars have not only continued but been expanded. The NSA’s surveillance program is far more widespread than we originally imagined. The U.S. no longer tortures its enemies–it murders them, without charge, warrant or trial, via unmanned predator drones. The once discredited Republican Party has retaken control of Congress and the White House along with 67 state legislatures.

And the economy remains stagnant–the much lauded “economic recovery,” a cruel joke. Wall Street not only weathered the recession, but emerged richer and more influential than when taxpayers were forced to bail out the floundering Lehman Brothers and AIG at the height of the recession.

What the hell happened…?

For starters, Obama’s roughly $800 billion stimulus fell far short of the type of robust stimulus package many economists–including New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman–believed was necessary. (Krugman would later reveal the true limits to his supposed Keynesian economic populism in his intense opposition to democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.)

In fact, the stimulus contained limited money for job-creation and, according to the Socialist Worker‘s Lance Selfa, “explicitly ruled out direct government jobs programs modeled on the 1930s-era Works Progress Administration. It dedicated upwards of 40 percent of the stimulus bill to tax cuts and credits to individuals and business that were useless in creating jobs.”

But then, it seems that Obama–who described himself on the campaign trail as a “free-market guy,” and cited Ronald Reagan as a political inspiration–was always more committed to serving Wall Street than Main Street.

Investigative journalist, Ron Suskind, in his book, The Confidence Men, reported on a March 27, 2009 meeting between the president and a group of the most influential Wall Street CEOs. Despite Obama’s warning the billionaires that, “My administration is the only thing standing between you and the pitchforks,” he and then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner nonetheless assured them they would not interfere with business-as-usual in Wall Street.

Suskind quotes one of the attending CEOs:

The sense of everyone after the big meeting was relief… The president had as us at a moment of real vulnerability. At that point, he could have ordered us to do just about anything, and we would have rolled over. But he didn’t. He mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob.

The list of botched opportunities and unfulfilled promises goes on.

The health insurance giveaway known as the Affordable Care Act is based on a right-wing proposal and is a far cry from the single-payer, universal health care program left activists have long called for. The former community organizer who frequently invokes the language and rhetoric of nonviolent civil disobedience used the brute force of the NYPD to violently crush Occupy Wall Street.

Obama has deported more immigrants than any other president in history. (And you thought Trump’s xenophobia was bad!) He has, likewise, created a repressive, chilling atmosphere toward journalists, prosecuting more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all other previous administrations combined.

And, while the historic significance of a nation founded and built on slavery electing its first African American president should not be undermined, Obama did precious little to address the deeply-embedded, institutional racism that remains a pernicious presence in our supposedly “post-racial” country. Indeed, black Americans have lost ground in every economic category during the last eight years.

By the 2010 midterm elections, liberal voters were understandably underwhelmed and unimpressed. They stayed home on Election Day, allowing the conservative Tea Party “movement” to sweep Republicans back into the House of Representatives. The Democrats barely hung on to their majority in the Senate–a situation which would eventually by reversed after the GOP won big gains in the 2014 and 2016 elections.

As Selfa writes of Obama’s first two years in office, “This was a time when Obama and the Democrats held almost all the levers of political power in Washington. And they squandered it.”

He later adds,

“Obama’s penchant to reach for compromise and ‘bipartisanship’ was exactly the opposite of what the dire situation he inherited required–and what the American populace was ready for.”

But I think the biggest gap between President Obama’s rhetoric and his actions is demonstrated in the area of foreign policy, where the Nobel Peace Prize winner has proved himself to be a greater warmonger than Bush.

Obama ramped-up the nebulous war in Afghanistan, making it the longest war in U.S. history. He has dropped bombs on Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Somalia. In fact, according to anti-war activist and Code Pink co-founder, Medea Benjamin, the U.S. dropped 26,171 bombs in 2016 alone. And the U.S. maintains a military presence in Iraq, a nation both Bush and Obama have all but ravaged, paving the way for the massive refugee crisis and the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“What does the administration have to show for eight years of fighting on so many fronts?” writes Benjamin. “Terrorism has spread, no wars have been ‘won’ and the Middle East is consumed by more chaos and divisions than when candidate Barack Obama declared his opposition to the invasion of Iraq.”

Additionally, Obama has codified and normalized the use of unmanned predator drones. Contrary to his insistence, these robotic death machines do not allow for more selective, precisely targeted killings. Obama is also the first sitting president to claim for himself the right to assassinate, at will, any person based on the slightest suspicion of connections to terrorism. Targets are selected for assassination based on Obama’s secret “kill list”—a list which includes American citizens.

And on Jan. 20—five days from this writing—Donald Trump will inherit all of this awesome, unprecedented military power and extrajudicial authority. Yeah, I’m fucking scared, too.

To that end, perhaps Obama’s greatest achievement has been his ability to get progressives to passively go along with policies they never would have supported under a Republican president.

Glenn Greenwald observed this phenomenon during Congress’s debate in 2011 on raising the federal debt-ceiling in order to avoid a government shutdown. As part of Obama’s “Grand Bargain” with the Republicans he offered up deep cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, the crown jewels of New Deal liberalism.

As Greenwald wrote in The Guardian at the time:

Therein lies one of the most enduring attributes of Obama’s legacy: in many crucial areas, he has done more to subvert and weaken the left’s political agenda than a GOP president could have dreamed of achieving. So potent, so overarching, are tribal loyalties in American politics that partisans will support, or at least tolerate, any and all policies their party’s leader endorses–even if those policies are ones they long claimed to loathe.

In the end, Obama’s true legacy may be that he was not the “lesser evil,” but in the words of Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford, the more “effective evil.”

Going forward, as Obama exits the White House and we look down the barrel of Trump’s administration of swamp monsters, it is worth remembering a quote from left-wing historian, Howard Zinn.

“What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House,” Zinn wrote in A People’s History of the United States, “but who is ‘sitting in’–and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change.”

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any Word Press-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.