Solidarity, Not Reductionist Identity Politics, Will Defeat the Right

Screw the Klan

One of the signs at the post-Charlottesville solidarity rally in Portland, Maine on Aug 13 (which I wrote about here) read, “White? Not racist? You/I Still Benefit from White Supremacy.”

I did not get a chance to talk with the young woman holding the sign, but I would have liked to. I find this sort of sentiment—that all white people benefit from white supremacy—endemic among members of the left oriented around identity politics. As such, I think it is worth taking a critical examination of this view, and offering a socialist perspective.

The woman’s sign actually reminded me of an online video that circulated back in 2012, shortly after Trayvon Martin’s murder. The subject of the video—titled, “I AM NOT TRAYVON MARTIN,” in all capital letters—is a young white woman who chastises fellow white activists for wearing t-shirts with the words, “I Am Trayvon Martin,” emblazoned on them.

The woman argues that white activists–no matter how outraged they are over Martin’s racist killing–are not Trayvon Martin. And, by virtue of being white, their attempts to stand in solidarity with Martin and his family are disingenuous at best. Rather, the woman argues, she and her white colleagues have more in common with Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman. According to her a “more accurate t-shirt” for her white colleagues to wear would say, “I Am George Zimmerman.”

Her argument, which is steeped in “privilege” politics, is that white activists can only ever relate to a racist oppressor, like Zimmerman.

(Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder by a mostly white jury, on July 13, 2013.)

“I look at Zimmerman,” the woman says, “and think, ‘There, but for the grace of God, go I.’”

She goes on, “… Realizing that you more closely resemble a homicidal, oppressive force than a helpless victim is a really uncomfortable thing to do. I know. But wanting to identify with the victim is weak and immature when it is not an accurate representation of reality.”

This woman (she never identifies herself) makes the same reactionary argument as the other woman’s protest sign: “If you’re white, you are part of the problem. In fact, you are the problem.”

This is the essence of identity politics. It suggests that 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–allegedly subconscious–racist, intolerant views.

Liberal identitarians argue, by the same extension, that all men are inherently sexist, all straight people are homophobes, all Westerners are Islamophobic, and all able-bodied people are “ableist,” etc., etc…

Thus, identity politics casts “White People,” (or even just “whiteness”) or “[toxic] masculinity” as the enemy of marginalized people, rather than the structural oppression (be it racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia) intentionally erected and perpetuated by the ruling class as a means of maintaining its power.

As the 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 added, “are plundered by the same plunderer.”

While there is no doubt that certain segments of society (African-Americans, LGBT folks, women, immigrants, and Muslims to name a few) endure greater forms of oppression than others, the system of capitalism serves to keep all working class people in chains. As such, all workers have an interest in joining together in solidarity, and shaking off those metaphorical chains.

If white working-class people are so “privileged,” why do so many of them struggle in dead-end jobs, performing unrewarding work for dirt wages? Why are so many saddled with thousands of dollars of debt from college loans? Why do so many struggle to afford decent health care—despite the positive gains of “Obamacare”? And why do whites make up the majority of recipients of government assistance programs—despite the fact that blacks and Hispanics endure significantly higher poverty rates?

For that matter, what accounts for the fact that only a tiny portion of white people own the economic means of production?

This is not to suggest there are no obvious advantages to being white in an undoubtedly racist society. There absolutely are. But these predicaments do not strike me as a sign of “privilege.” Quite the reverse, in fact.

Furthermore, I think it speaks volumes to how low we have set the bar for social justice that we now seem to regard freedom from the threat of being arbitrarily murdered on the streets by the police—or those acting on their behalf—as a mere “privilege.” This should be a basic human right.

Yet the dictates of identity politics paint all white people as an undifferentiated mass of reactionary, racist attitudes. The woman in the video claims—with no evidence whatsoever—that the white people disingenuously wearing “I Am Trayvon Martin” t-shirts are all “middle-class.”

To this, I have two questions for the woman: 1) What is this “middle-class” you speak of? And, 2) How do I join it?

No doubt, there is a group of privileged (mostly) white people. (A handful of women and African-Americans have joined their ranks in recent decades.) They are the bourgeoisie, the ruling class, the elite, the wealthy, the capitalists or the one percent. Bernie Sanders calls them the “billionaire class.” Their members include people like Donald Trump, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and, yes, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

These are the people who need to “check their privilege.” In fact, they should check some of their wealth, too. And hand it over to the rest of us.

Not only are liberal identity politics incredibly reductionist and deterministic, but one must wonder at the profound cynicism of those who espouse them. If we are all nothing more than our physical identities—rather than the actions that we take from day to day—then what is the point of struggling for a better world…? If white/male/straight/fill-in-the-blank-with-“privileged”-adjective-of-your-choice people are incapable of feeling empathy for anyone other than the oppressors, as “Video Woman” suggests, then activism is all but useless.

And that is precisely the danger of this mindset. It leads to political passivity. Identity politics is a recipe for paralysis.

Likewise, the proliferation of the practices of “calling-out” and “privilege-checking” serves only to deter potential activists from political participation. Who wants to protest racial injustice if they fear they will be publicly shamed and ridiculed for every perceived “microaggression” they accidentally commit?

This is no way to build a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-gender movement to topple capitalism–or to achieve anything, for that matter. It is, however, a way to ensure the left remains small, fractured, atomized, and largely impotent. If we are serious about defeating the far-right and halting the rise of a resurgent fascism, the left must move beyond the narrow confines of identity politics.

“Video Woman” believes stepping out of one’s comfort zone to stand with the oppressed is “weak” and “immature.” I could not disagree more.

“In … a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners,” Albert Camus wrote, “it is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.”

Fortunately, it seems identity politics are beginning to lose some of their currency—particularly in the wake of the mass outpouring of resistance to white supremacy following the repulsive “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12. That rally—in which white supremacist groups including the Ku Klux Klan, the Proud Boys, and neo-Nazis brandished shields and tiki torches, and chanted Nazi slogans—resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal and activist.

In response, cities throughout the country have mounted rallies, marches, and vigils denouncing white supremacy in all its vile forms. At least 400 people turned out for the aforementioned rally in Portland the following day.

About 40,000 people showed up in Boston on Saturday, Aug. 19—a week following Heyer’s death—to protest a pitifully small “alt-right” rally, which ended early. Leftists in Boston literally chased the Nazis out of the city! This was followed by another rally in Portland, on Sunday, Aug. 20, which attracted 1,200 people.

And these are not your run-of-the-mill protests. In the wake of Heyer’s death, these protests are taking place in a pronounced atmosphere of fear. The events in Charlottesville made it terrifyingly clear the far-right has no qualms about using violence and murder to achieve its ends.

It is also painfully clear the increased police presence at these marches is not for the benefit of the mostly peaceful protesters. The police are there to protect the Nazis. At the Boston march, the Boston Police surrounded a gazebo of 20 or so neo-Nazis, and escorted them away when they got scared of the protesters with their, you know … signs, and water bottles… Hence the socialist chant, “Cops and Klan/Hand-in-hand!”

In other words, these anti-racists—black and white–are coming out to these events at great personal risk. They understand that solidarity–the idea that “an injury to one is an injury to all”–is the only way we can defeat the far-right. We won’t defeat them with reductionist, deterministic identity politics.

None of this should be interpreted as a condemnation of workers organizing around a shared identity or history. Nor is it to suggest that class is “more important” than race. Karl Marx, writing in 1867, understood how race and class 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.”

What I would like to offer is an alternative sign for the young woman at the Portland rally–one with a more simple and direct message: “Unite to Fight the Right.”

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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Love Did Not Trump Hate (So it’s Time to Smash the State)

Boston Protest
Thousands march in Boston to protest a white supremacist “free speech” rally, on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. The tiny group of far-right hatemongers received full police protection and dispersed early.

Following the repugnant, white supremacist carnage in Charlottesville, Virginia, author and Princeton professor, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, wrote an article for Jacobin magazine succinctly titled, “No More Charlottesvilles.”

Taylor calls the violence that erupted on Aug. 12, “the predictable outcome of the Republican Party’s racist agenda and Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency.”

“More than providing a platform for Trump’s racist hate speech,” she writes, “the Republican Party has boosted his political agenda—an agenda that has imbued the racist right with the confidence that they can succeed in their campaign of terrorizing, marginalizing, and even killing those who stand in their way. This includes black and brown people as well as the white antiracists who challenge them. We are all in their crosshairs.”

Our organizing in the wake of Charlottesville—where 32-year-old activist, Heather Heyer, was murdered when a young neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd of protesters—should be based on solidarity. It should be rooted in the old labor slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

The dismissive, ultra-left identity-politics which have become endemic among the left in recent years, will not defeat the far right. We absolutely must continue to support the most vulnerable people within our ranks—especially those that have historically been the primary targets of white supremacists’ wrath, like African-Americans, Jews, LGBT folks, and people with disabilities.

But let’s be clear: The fascists are coming for all of us.

Nor will abstract sentiments of “love” and “decency” be sufficient to fight the right. The members of the so-called “alt-right” are not the disadvantaged, ignorant poor the media portray them as. Most of them are middle to upper-middle class, college educated, and voted for Trump precisely because of his quasi-white nationalist leanings. They are not the uneducated, easily swayed victims of “bad ideas.” They understand perfectly well the hate and intolerance they represent.

As one young neo-Nazi candidly told the Washington Post in an online video, “I’m here because our republican values are, number one: standing up for local, white identity. Our identity is under threat [sic]. Number two: the free-market. And number three: killing Jews.”

Don’t get me wrong: I am all for love, and I do not doubt the noble intentions of liberals who advocate we “fight hate with love.” But it will take more than just “love” and good intentions to send the white supremacists packing. It will take organization and a clear, unambiguous political orientation.

The fact is, love did not “trump hate.” So now it’s time to smash the state.

Fortunately, activists on the left seem to be getting the message. People have an intense desire to fight back against the rising far right—especially in the wake of the events in Charlottesville. They want to know how they can contribute to the left-wing resistance. And they are hungry for serious politics to help guide them in this fight.

This desire for real politics over empty, if well-intended, sloganeering was evident at a post-Charlottesville rally in Portland, Maine, the Sunday following the vile “Unite the Right” rally.

Though poorly organized, and hastily thrown together at the last minute, the rally nonetheless drew a crowd of over 400 people. The first few speakers echoed the familiar liberal themes of showing “tolerance” and “understanding” for those we “disagree with”—as if the threat posed by the alt-right is little more than a mere “disagreement.”

Three speakers in, Caitrin Smith, a Portland resident and member of the Portland branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) offered a rousing, politically charged speech that not only received raucous applause from the audience, but also served to shift the tone of the remainder of the rally.

“What happened [Aug. 12] is deplorable!” said Smith. “And we are here today to say to these Nazis, ‘Not today!’, ‘Not tomorrow!’, ‘Not ever!'”

She continued:

… The rulers of this country have always relied on oppression and exploitation to drive working people into submission, to maintain their power. Yesterday’s events cannot be examined without an excavation of this history. … We must dismantle the organization of the right with the organization of the left.

Afterwards, a number of people stopped by our ISO “merch booth,” and signed up for our mailing list or bought copies of our monthly newspaper, the Socialist Worker. Our weekly meeting the following Wednesday had about double the typical number of attendees.

A week later, between 15,000-30,000 anti-fascist protesters marched in Boston in opposition to a “free speech” rally held by a tiny group of white supremacists. The Boston march included contingents of ISO branches from Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, and Boston, as well as members of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and Socialist Alternative.

There are two competing, highly disparate theories on the left when it comes to confronting these white supremacists.

Liberals and establishment figures in the Democratic Party argue we do nothing at all—just ignore the racist and hope they go away. Protesting, liberals argue, merely grants the far right the attention it seeks. Thus, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh spent the days leading up to the Aug. 19, Boston protest attempting to dissuade activists from taking part in the march.

But ignoring these hate 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, allowing their malicious cancer to grow.

On the other hand, far left groups like the Black Bloc and Antifa (short for “anti-fascist”) seek to confront the right in physical confrontations. These confrontations inevitably end in defeat—and arrest—for the leftists. The police have historically acted as the default bodyguards for the KKK and white supremacist groups. This makes for a decidedly unfair fight. Additionally, engaging the right in fist-fights only feeds in to the media narrative that they are “persecuted” by the violent, free-speech-hating liberals.

Neither of these approaches is an effective strategy for fighting the right.

Instead, we should confront them by peacefully, yet forcefully mobilizing in far greater numbers (as we did in Boston) and drowning out their disgusting message with one of our own. Our message must hold up socialism as a viable alternative for dispossessed workers who may find the right’s immigrant and minority scapegoating a convenient narrative for why their own standards of living have declined.

“Now is the time to overcome the fear that the fascists want us to feel,” wrote the editors of Socialist Worker, in an Aug. 15 op-ed following the Charlottesville attack, “and organize demonstrations with overwhelming numbers–to stop this cancer now, before it can grow into something far more threatening. That means organizing broad protests open to everyone affected by this threat–which is just about everyone–to prove the far right is a tiny minority.”

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.

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!

 

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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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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“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.

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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.

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