The McCutcheon ruling and zombie democracy in the U.S.

I have always found discussions on democracy in the U.S. curious and at times hilarious. While I have always been impressed by the skillful way elites construct a narrative of democratic values and practice in a country that is, in reality, the antithesis of a democracy, the fervor with which that fairytale is embraced, even by intellectuals, has always been a source of curiosity for me. But at other moments, like the one we are in now, I can’t help but find some of the arguments used to support the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent McCutcheon decision—and even some of the comments lamenting how the decision will destroy democracy in the U.S.—somewhat funny.

Of course, these are deadly serious times and the McCutcheon decision, which makes it easier for the corporate and financial elite to buy elections and candidates, is a serious ruling that conveys a devastatingly simple message: that the furtherance of the neoliberal project and the maintenance of the U.S. Empire require the evisceration of democracy.  

That message has always been clear to those of us on the margins who have never had the luxury of embracing illusion as a way of life. For us, democracy in the U.S. has always been a “zombie democracy”—a rotten facsimile that looked a little like democracy, sounded like democracy and even had some democratic forms, but was never the real thing, never really alive.

The possibility of democracy was aborted by Thomas Jefferson and the white, male, property-owning, settler “revolutionaries” who declared their independence in 1776. It was aborted by the first American coup in Philadelphia in 1787, when men of property ignored the mandate from their state legislatures to strengthen the Articles of Confederation and instead met in secret to produce a document that would solidify their power.  The resulting Constitution consolidated a white, male, property-owning republic that reduced black people to 3/5th of a person, marked the indigenous for genocide and did not mention democracy anywhere in its text.

It was the people’s struggle over time that injected what little life there is in the walking corpse that is democracy in America.

Democratic reforms, limited as they have been, have nevertheless represented high marks in the people’s demands for democratic rights and dignity. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that during the current phase of right-wing reaction; liberal capitulation; leftist opportunism, confusion and demobilization; and the hegemony of an NGO culture of de-politicized issue fragmentation, that a political culture has been created that has given a reactionary clique on the Supreme Court the confidence to brazenly demonstrate its class bias with the series of decisions we have seen it make over the last few years.

The Citizens United case, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act last year, the rash of state-level laws passed to suppress democratic participation, felony disenfranchisement, and now the McCutcheon ruling—they all signal that the democratic zombie apocalypse is upon us now. And we all know from popular culture what you do when you encounter the walking dead.  So let’s put this zombie out of its misery.

Left-right white solidarity? A comment on the new face of 21st century neo-fascism – part one

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” (George Santayana)

 

Some years ago Italian anarchist Camillo Berneri suggested that while not always visible in the social practices of everyday European life, the racist foundation for European fascism was still present, safely confined to a space in the European psyche but always ready to explode in what he called a racist delirium.

 

Today, white workers and the middle classes in Europe and the U.S., traumatized by the new realities imposed on them by the decline of the Western imperialist project and the turn to neoliberalism, are increasingly embracing a retrograde form of white supremacist politics.

 

This dangerous political phenomenon is developing in countries throughout the European Union and in the U.S. Just recently, the National Front, a racist, authoritarian party that labored on the fringes of French politics for years, has emerged as one of the dominant forces in French politics. The Tea Party in the U.S., Golden Dawn in Greece, the People’s Party in Spain, the Partij Voor de Vrijheid in the Netherlands – in these and other countries, a transatlantic radical racist movement is emerging and gaining respectability.

 

The hard turn to the right is not a surprise for those of us who have a clear-eyed view of Euro-American history and politics. In all the 20th Century fascist movements in Europe, two elements combined to express the fascist project: 1) the rise of far-right parties and movements as the political expression of an alliance of authoritarian, pro-capitalist class forces bankrolled by sections of the capitalist class and constructed in the midst of capitalist crisis; and 2) racism grounded in white supremacist ideology.

 

The neo-fascism that is now emerging within the context of the current capitalist crisis on both sides of the Atlantic has similar characteristics to the movements of the 1930s but with one distinguishing feature. The targets for racist scapegoating are different. The targets today are immigrants: Arab, Muslim and African in Europe; Latinos and the never-ending target of poor and working class African Americans in the U.S.

 

What makes the rise of the racist radical right even more dangerous today is that it is taking place in a political environment in which traditional anti-racist oppositional forces have not recognized the danger of this phenomenon or for strategic reasons have decided to downplay the issue. That strategy has been tragically played out in the “immigrant rights” movement in the U.S

 

The brutal repression and dehumanization witnessed across Europe in the 1930s has not found generalized expression in the U.S. and Europe, at least not yet. Nevertheless, large sectors of the U.S. and European left appear to be unable to recognize that the U.S./NATO/EU axis that is committed to maintaining the hegemony of Western capital is resulting in dangerous collaborations with rightist forces both inside and outside of governments.

 

The manufactured crisis with Russia over the issue of Ukraine is a case in point. The incredible recklessness and outrageous opportunism of the U.S./NATO/EU axis in destabilizing Ukraine – knowing that the driving forces on the ground were racist, neo-Nazi elements from the Right Sector and the Svoboda party – demonstrated once again the lengths that this axis is prepare to go to achieve its geo-strategic objective of full-spectrum economic and political global domination.

 

Yet strangely, not only did many radicals in the U.S. and Europe not see the potential threat that this situation represented but they seemed unable to penetrate the simplistic cold-war propaganda that suddenly reemerged to frame events in Ukraine.

 

Instead of being concerned that as a direct consequence of U.S. actions a government came to power in Europe that for the first time since the 1930s included ultra-nationalist, racist neo-Nazis in key positions, the left along with the general population allowed the corporate media and U.S. propagandists to turn the narrative away from U.S./EU destabilization of Ukraine to Putin’s supposed expansionist aspirations.

 

The ease in which the corporate media was able to flip that script and to make Putin the new face of evil has been truly astonishing. And the fact that that narrative was embraced by most liberals and large sectors of the white left in the U.S. only affirmed that having abandoned class analysis, anti-imperialism and never really understanding the insidious nature of white supremacist ideology, the U.S. left has no theoretical framework for apprehending the complexities of the current period.

 

The inability to extricate itself from the influences of white supremacist ideology has to be considered as one explanation for the strange positions taken by large sectors of the white liberal/left over the last few years. How else can one explain the bizarre incorporation of the discourse of humanitarian intervention and the obscenely obvious racism of the “responsibility to protect?

Could it be that many white radicals have fallen prey to the subtle and not-so-subtle racial appeal to a form of cross-class white solidarity in defense of  “Western values,” civilization and the prerogative to determine who has the right to national sovereignty that is at the base of the rationalization of the “responsibility to protect” asserted by the white West?

 

The apparent incapacity of white leftists to penetrate and understand the cultural and ideological impact of white supremacy and its powerful effect on their own consciousness has weakened and deformed left analysis of U.S. and European foreign policy initiatives.  It has also resulted in the U.S. and European left taking political positions that either objectively championed U.S./NATO imperialist aggression or provided tacit support for that aggression though silence.

 

As a consequence of the abandonment of anti-imperialism and an active class/racial collaboration with the Western bourgeoisie, an almost insurmountable chasm has been created separating the Western left from its counterparts in much of the global South.

 

Instead of more resolute anti-imperialist solidarity, broad elements of the white left in the U.S. and Europe have consistently aligned themselves with the policies of the U.S/NATO/EU axis that are giving support to right-wing forces from Ukraine to Venezuela.

 

Exaggeration, racial paranoia, an overly simplistic and a divisive, even “racist” assessment of the liberal/left will be the charge. We accept those charges. We accept them because we know they will come. For those of us living outside the walls of privilege who must nevertheless accept the realities of the colonialist/imperialist-created global South, we don’t have the luxury of comforting illusions. Our lived experiences negate the false history of Europe’s benevolent civilization. We see developing in Europe and the U.S. and very real possibility of a left-right racial convergence fueled by crisis, leftist ideological confusion and what appears to be a mutual commitment to maintaining the global structures of white supremacy.

 

Understanding the violent history of the Western project and the pathological nature of white supremacy, we are forced to see with crystal clarity that within the context of the volatile economic and social conditions in Europe, giving legitimacy to neo-fascist forces like the ones in Ukraine might just be the fuel needed to ignite that racist, fascist delirium Berneri referred to.

Ukraine and the Pathology of the Liberal Worldview: An African American Perspective

Reading the March 2 editorial in the New York Times on the so-called revolution in Ukraine, I couldn’t help but marvel at how easily elite opinion makers in the U.S. can call for the use of public resources to bail out the people and government of Ukraine without significant opposition or even serious questions.  The Times editorial forcefully argued that in response to the “revolution” in Ukraine, Western powers must “provide prompt and substantial assistance to the Kiev government.” This sentiment was also voiced by a number of conservative Republicans who normally pretend to be fiscal conservatives, at least when it comes to state expenditures for working class and poor people in the U.S.

In response, the Obama administration is calling on Congress to agree to a long-term aid package for Ukraine and announced on Tuesday a short-term billion dollar aid package. 

Yet, when it comes to crisis situations like extending unemployment benefits to the 1.3 million people who lost them in December or the forced bankruptcy of Detroit, a major city that happens to have an African American majority, or maintaining food assistance for the working class and poor in the form of the food stamp program, elite opinion in both parties has embraced the “common sense” position that significant reductions in public expenditures and services at every level of government are a reasonable and unavoidable necessity.

The Times editorial further argued that since President Yanukovych left the Ukrainian treasury bare, the West should provide immediate assistance. But what about the people in Detroit, whose government coffers were left bare as result of the predatory looting by big banks that targeted African American families with sub-prime loans and floating interests rates that resulted in them losing their homes? Where is their relief?

And when those same banks seized the properties of more than 100,000 families through foreclosure and then refused to pay property taxes to the city of Detroit—helping to create a fiscal crisis for the city—where was the Federal assistance to replenish the city’s coffers?  Continue reading