The Yemen Tragedy and the Ongoing Crisis of the Left in the United States

“… it is Western propaganda that is capable of mobilizing the masses for whatever ends or goals anywhere in the world. For whatever reasons, it can trigger coups, conflicts, terrible violence, and ‘strive for change.’ It can call the most peaceful large country on earth the most violent; it can describe it as the real threat to world peace; and it can call a bunch of Western nations that have been, for centuries, terrorizing the world, the true upholders of peace and democracy, and almost everybody believes it. Almost all people in the West believe it.” (Chomsky and Vltchek, On Western Terrorism: From Hiroshima to Drone Warfare)

“trenches of ideas are more powerful than weapons. (José Martí)

After months of horrific scenes of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean where literally thousands of human beings were dying at sea, European public opinion was finally mobilized to respond to this movement of people. However, the anguished expressions of concern from the general public and government leaders in Europe was a far cry from the response that met the first wave of migrants that was largely African.

In response to that migration, European authorities openly talked of launching military attacks on the boats in Libya to stop the “flood” of these “illegal” immigrants into Europe, even after experts cautioned them that military attacks would result in even more deaths at sea.

What changed? The racial composition of the majority of the migrants shifting away from Sub-Saharan Africans to refugees from the various conflict zones of Iraq and Syria, captured in the image of the globally disseminated image of Aylan Kurdi, the Kurdish child from the devastated city of Kabani. But even more importantly, European and U.S. propaganda could exploit this flow of humanity from Syria politically.

This example is pertinent to the discussion here because it raises two issues related to Yemen: first, the ease in which public opinion is influenced by Western propagandists (I include both the official state entities responsible for psy-ops directed at the public and the corporate media that largely collaborates with these efforts because of shared ideological positions and worldviews), and secondly, how humanitarian concerns are selectively manipulated to prepare and justify military attacks from the U.S./EU/NATO axis of domination.

In Yemen, six months of relentless and seemingly indiscriminate bombing by the repressive Wahhabaist dictatorship of Saudi Arabia has cost the lives of over four thousands human beings, who according to the United Nations and major human rights organizations have been primarily civilians.

Along with this wanton murder, the Saudi government and its allies from the contemptuous gang of corrupt Arab monarchies known as the Gulf Cooperation Council benefit from the diplomatic cover and military support from the equally contemptuous U.S. state. Together, they have created a humanitarian catastrophe in one of the poorest nations on the planet.

Yet, for the majority of the people in the U.S., the carnage in Yemen simply does not exist because it has not been in the interests of the rulers to draw the attention of the American people to it.

Therefore, the U.S. public is unaware that the U.S. is participating in the naval blockade of a country that imports 80% of its food by sea. They don’t know that the bombing, blockade, and massive displacement has resulted in widespread famine with more than 78% of the population now in need of humanitarian assistance. They never read the report from Peter Maurer, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who said that “Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years.”

And while U.S. propagandists are preparing the people for an even more direct intervention into Syria, using the absurd pretext that somehow the imposition of a “no fly zone” is an appropriate response to the humanitarian concerns of refugee flows from Syria to Europe, the humanitarian emergency created by the war in Yemen is largely uncovered and outside the bounds of polite conversation in the U.S.

This conspiracy of silence has translated into impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity. It has meant that the central role played by the U.S. in this criminal assault occurred without any opposition from mainstream politicians or most radicals and leftists in the U.S.

Do Non-European Lives really Matter to White Leftists?

The political reaction to the killing spree in Yemen that now eclipses the murderous assault on Gaza by Israel, has not only been met with indifference but many leftists and radicals in the U.S. have given their support to Bernie Sanders who said very clearly that under his administration the Saudi’s would be given even more latitude to carry out military operations in the Middle-East. The Sanders’ position is that the Saudi’s needed to get their “hands a little dirty.” For Bernie and his supporters, the mischief that the Saudi government and private individuals have been engaged in across the region financing groups like ISIS wasn’t dirty enough.

After years of drone attacks from the U.S., the end of the agony of the people of Yemen is nowhere in sight. These attacks targeted weddings, funerals, first responders to an initial drone attack and so-called signature strikes where an anonymous person is murdered because he fits the behavior profile of a “terrorist.” After pounding the country into rubble with six months of terror from the sky, the Saudi’s are now involved in ground operations in Yemen that will only increase the death toll and the humanitarian disaster.

This is the world that a President Sanders promises—continued war crimes from the sky with drone strikes and Saudi led terror in support of the Western imperial project.

This is not to suggest that everyone who might find a way to support Sanders is a closet racist and supporter of imperialism. I know plenty of folks of all backgrounds who “feel the Bern.” There is, however, an objective logic to their uncritical support that they cannot escape and which I believe represents the ongoing crisis of radicalism in the U.S. and Europe.

The Sanders’ campaign, like the Obama phenomenon before it, does not offer a program or strategic direction for addressing the current crisis and contradictions of Western capitalist societies. Instead, it is an expression of the moral and political crisis of the Western radicalism.

This crisis – which is reflective of the loss of direction needed to inform, vision, and fashion a creative program for radical change – is even more acute in the U.S. than Western Europe. Yet, what unites both radical experiences is a tacit commitment to Eurocentrism and normalized white supremacy.

In their desperate attempt to defend Sanders and paint his critics as dogmatists and purists, the Sanders supporters have not only fallen into the ideological trap of a form of narrow “left” nativism, but also the white supremacist ethical contradiction that reinforces racist cynicism in which some lives are disposable for the greater good of the West.

And as much as the ‘Sandernistas ’ attempt to disarticulate Sanders “progressive” domestic policies from his documented support for empire (even the Obamaite aphorism “The perfect is the enemy of the good” is unashamedly deployed), it should be obvious that his campaign is an ideological prop – albeit from a center/left position – of the logic and interests of the capitalist-imperialist settler state.

The silence of the left on Yemen is not a trivial matter. The fact that so many white leftist supporters of Sanders can politically and psychologically disconnect his domestic program from his foreign policy positions that objectively support U.S. and Western neoliberal hegemony means that not only have they found a way to be comfortable collaborating with imperialism, but that they have also decided that they can support the implicit hierarchy that determines from an imperial perspective that lives in the White West matter more than others.

What this means for those of us who are internationalists and believe in the equal value of all life is that we have to question the sincerity of individuals who claim that black lives matter while supporting someone who clearly believes that Israeli lives matter more than Palestinian and Yemeni lives. And that the pro-democracy fighters in Bahrain should be subjected to the policing and murderous assault by the gangster regime in Saudi Arabia.

It means that if today leftists in the U.S. can find a way to reconcile the suffering of the people of Yemen and Gaza and all of occupied Palestine for the greater good of electing Sanders, tomorrow my life and the movement that I am a part of that is committed to fighting this corrupt, degenerate, white supremacist monstrosity called the United States, can be labeled as enemies of the state and subjected to brutal repression with the same level of silence from these leftists.

And since tomorrow has already happened in the past with the repression of the Black Liberation Movement, when it happens again we will not be surprised – but this time we will be ready.

Why is Cornel West Sheep-Dogging for the Democrats – Once Again?

Rosa Clemente, who ran for Vice President with Cynthia McKinney in 2008, reminds us that Cornel West and many other notable left activists and intellectuals who have given lip-service to the need for an independent left politics in the U.S., dutifully lined-up to give their support to Barack Obama. For many of these leftists, the rationale offered to support the Democrat candidate wasn’t even about the traditional “lesser of two evils,” but a strange belief that somehow this individual, selected and pushed by powerful forces within the liberal democrat establishment and some defectors from the Clinton DLC wing of the party, represented a significant break with the neoliberal agenda that both parties had committed themselves to since the late 70s.

Brother West, who claimed that Barack Obama was a “good and decent brother” whose “character and judgement” would overcome his lack of experience, endorsed and campaigned incessantly for the freshmen senator from Illinois. In more than sixty appearances, West assured black and progressive audiences that Obama represented the embodiment of democratic hope to reverse a corrupt and moribund politics in the U.S.

Of course, being the pro-capitalist flim-flam man and opportunist pimp that he had always been for most of his adult life, Barack Obama had no intention of breaking with the corporate neoliberal agenda. Obama’s vigorous support for the bank bailout and the role he played lining up skeptical members of the Democrat party to get behind the Bush bailout in September 2008 should have been a wake-up to his “progressive” supporters that without significant pressure from his “left” all of his “liberal” campaign promises would be jettisoned and he would govern from the right. Surprisingly, after Obama won and it became even more clear with his appointments and advisers that he was in fact going to govern as a neoliberal, many leftists, including West, withheld early criticisms of his policies and even more tragically decided to deploy a strangely passive and disempowering “wait and see” strategy.

Now almost eight years later and brother West is giving his support to Bernie Sanders, another candidate running as a Democrat. West professes a deep love for Sanders and identified Sanders as belonging to a tradition of “prophetic politicians” because according to West, he “ tells the truth about Wall Street, white supremacy, empire, patriarchy and homophobia.”

Prophetic politicians? Not only does this seem on the surface to be an oxymoronic construction, especially when one considers that bourgeois politicians almost by definition are self-creations as opposed to representing prophetic, popular mass-based movements, but his qualifiers for who would fit that category seems to disqualify every politician in the race today, including Sanders, and every mainstream person who ever ran for the presidency of the U.S.

Therefore, I think that it is legitimate to ask what is going on here. To question the politics and strategic reasoning behind what is turning out to be a consistent pattern of sheep-dogging for the Democrat party on the part of our dear brother.

As Bruce Dixon pointed out in Black Agenda Report related to the Sanders campaign:
“Sheepdogs are herders, and the sheepdog candidate is charged with herding activists and voters back into the Democratic fold who might otherwise drift leftward and outside of the Democratic party, either staying home or trying to build something outside the two party box.”

What is being argued here is that sheep-dogging for the Democrat party is not reducible to support for this or that candidate, but to the corrupt institution and the anti-people interests represented by the Democrat party itself.
I am not making some purist argument against radical participation in electoral politics or a principled opposition to a strategy of contestation within the national Democrat party depending on the objective circumstances at a particular moment.

The Sanders campaign is a fact, the only question for progressives and/or radicals is to determine how they relate or not relate to the campaign and whether or not it can be used for progressive purposes? I for one, am not interested in just attacking the campaign and have, consequently, refrained from the debate on the left around the campaign until now.

But with the endorsement of the campaign by West and the possible impact it might have for progressive and left-leaning African Americans and their attitudes toward the Democrat party and its politics, the principle of accountability that West has mentioned numerous times, demands a further explanation from West related

to the politics that he claims to champion.
My position is that within the candidate-centered style of bourgeois politics, if a radical alternative and contestation within the democratic party is not grounded by an independent political structure, or an organized and coordinated radical “social bloc,” the insurgency will not last beyond the election cycle and will only result in expanding the social base of support for the party.

But even more importantly, the struggle to break the grip of the Democrat party has serious implications beyond the national electoral cycle for black politics. The local Democrat party apparatus is the home for the retrograde politics of neoliberal black petit-bourgeois urban regimes across the country. Any politics that further legitimizes the narrow politics and policy options championed by local black Democrats and their party only makes it harder to reconnect black resistance with its radical foundations and history.

To his credit, brother West broke with the liberal-centrist democrat coalition relatively early, compared to the opportunism and tailism of many other black leftist celebrities. And with Obama’s second run in 2012, West informed the public that he didn’t vote at all because he could not bring himself to vote for a “war criminal”.

But with the endorsement of Sanders, we need to ask brother West how the objective necessity for building independent power among the black working class and poor is advanced by support for the Sander’s campaign. What does that endorsement represent in terms of a strategy? Is it part of an inside-outside strategy for contesting power within the Democrat party? And if so, from what social base? Where is the authority derived from for advancing this strategy? What about the question of political independence from the bourgeois parties? Is the Sander’s campaign supposed to represent an independent thrust in U.S. politics?

In response, West might argue that his endorsement of Sanders is related to his belief that 1) Sanders represents a departure from traditional corporate democrat party priorities and that 2) Sanders can win the nomination and thus will be in a position to halt or least slow the right-ward movement of politics in the U.S., and 3) he might argue more clearly that even if Sanders does not win, his candidacy with the issues raised and the public airing of important contradictions reflected in the neoliberal corporate agenda will force the eventual nominee to take on more populist positions in favor of workers and the poor.

Assuming for the sake of argument here, that this is the rationale for West’s endorsement, and it seems to me to be the most logical explanation based on my understanding of his politics and public statements on the matter, the political calculus represented by those points does not avoid the charge of sheep-dogging for the Democrats.

West can reasonably argue that his endorsement is only his and does not represent any standing as a movement leader or the representative of any organized political structure. However, as probably the most visible black public intellectual and activist in the U.S., he understands that his endorsement goes well beyond him as an individual and that is why there must be accountability.
West argues that Sanders’ deserves support because of his positions on Wall Street and by extension the billionaire bankers that Sanders’ condemns. And of course within the context of conservative political culture in the U.S., any criticism of the extreme class contradictions represented by the wealth concentration among the small billionaire class is a welcome contribution to the ongoing ideological battle. But beyond Sander’s focus on wealth concentration and economic inequality, does his campaign utterances really differ substantially from many of the positions taken by Barack Obama in 2007-8?

However, even more damaging question for West who has always ground his politics in a revolutionary ethical framework, is how he squares his endorsement for Sanders with his ethics when it comes to Sander’s foreign policy positions.

For West, the most troubling aspect of Sanders’ foreign policy positions is his continued support for the Israeli occupation: “I don’t hear my dear brother Bernie hitting that, and I’m not gonna sell my precious Palestinian brothers and sisters down the river only because of U.S. politics.”

But as morally challenged as West might be regarding Sanders’ support for Israel, it is Sander’s positions on a whole host of other foreign policy positions that should cause some pause for brother West.

Sander’s stakes out a position very similar to many white leftist on the issue of Ukraine, Putin and the destruction of Libya and Syria. And his argument that the reactionary dictatorship of Saudi Arabia should be encouraged to become more militarily involved in the region is just bizarre.

But what should be the most problematic position for West and his endorsement of Sanders and his placement of Sanders in the category of “prophetic politicians, is his recent statement that he would continue Obama’s illegal and immoral drone warfare. And as everyone is aware, it was the issue of drone warfare waged by Obama that West relentlessly condemned.

The Dead-end Politics of Liberal Reformism and Social Democracy

There is blatant dishonesty in claiming to want a changed domestic policy in the United States without also changing foreign policy. The two are linked, and American workers can’t have a living wage or health care as long as imperialism goes unchecked. Liberals can’t claim superiority to followers of Donald Trump if they consent to war crimes and human rights violations. Their only requirement seems to be that Democrats ought to be in charge of the carnage. ( Margaret Kimberly)

While West identifies the contradictions of neoliberalism and the dominance of finance capital as the source of the economic and moral crisis of Western states, Sanders articulates a mild form of European social democracy that has never been able to fully embrace the politics that would lead to a rupture with capitalism.
Sanders program of economic nationalism from his opposition to TPP to a raising income for working people, is still based on the assumption of the continued disproportionate consumption patterns and income generation guaranteed by the global hegemony of the imperialist/capitalist West. Solidarity with the populations slated for super-exploitation as a result of these neoliberal trade agreements is not even an afterthought.

Where is the prophetic break with empire and white supremacy? Bernie Sander’s policy prescriptions appear to be firmly grounded in the grand tradition of European social democracy, that is, politically and philosophically committed to capitalist reform. His economic program reflects a position that understands the functioning of capitalism as 1) a system that can still be reformed with the right policies, and 2) is predicated on the assumption that the “American” way of life, the middle-class dream, will only be maintained by the continued, brutal suppression and exploitation of the world’s people’s.

And while West claims that he would be upset with Sanders if he just turned his power over to Clinton, are we supposed to believe that he thinks Sanders would do something differently if he didn’t win the nomination?

No brother West, we are not convinced that you and all of the other radicals who support Sanders are not going to give your support to the eventual Democratic nominee if Sanders doesn’t win the nomination.

You revealed from your own actions in 2012 that you are not committed in any way to a national electoral politics outside of the two party system when you decided that instead of voting for the only national third party candidate running in 2012, the Green Party’s Jill Stein, you made a conscious choice not to cast your vote for anyone!

Instead of drawing voters into an independent political alignment representing an authentic attempt to democratize the anti-democratic electoral processes in the U.S., you and Sanders are drawing voters into the corrupt Democratic party with no discernable plans to build anything beyond the activities of the national electoral cycle.

And brother West, you can’t quote King on his stance against militarism and support a candidate that is unable to utter a word against U.S. militarism. You can’t condemn Obama as the “drone president” and give moral cover to a candidate that confesses that he would continue that immoral policy.

You can’t proclaim the value of Black lives and support a candidate that is just as willing as the other imperialist candidates to shed non-European blood from Yemen, Gaza and Syria to the 651 military operations carried out by the U.S. military in Africa last year, in the interests of maintaining Pan-European colonial/capitalist hegemony.

“Every sheepdog candidate surrenders the shreds of his credibility to the Democratic nominee in time for the November election. This is how the Bernie Sanders show ends…”

Brother West, I raise these questions as someone who defended you when the Obama Negroes were calling for your head. You should consider that as black people in the U.S. build a militant, independent resistance movement for liberation and socialism for themselves and the people of the world, you risk your credibility in the “chocolate” cities of the U.S. and the non-white spaces of the world by once again giving your support to a democrat party candidate that is committed to upholding the interests of empire.

Unfortunately, unlike the criticism coming from the blind supporters of Obama, this time my brother, you have been caught in a moral and political contradiction of your own making.

Making Black Lives Matter in Riohacha, Colombia

IMG_3213 (2)A gentle breeze from the Caribbean sea should have provided temporary relief from the scorching sun for our small group of international observers gathered together in a stuffy, concrete hall off the beach in Riochacha, Colombia. But that breeze was unable to compete with the “street heat” generated by the hundreds of Black Colombians gathered in the coastal city of Riochacha for the Black Communities’ Process (PCN) IX National Council of Palenques August 22 to 24.

Originally established and defended by escaped enslaved Africans in the territory that became known as Colombia, Palenques are now the regional organizing structures for PCN, the preeminent militant Afro-Colombian organization primarily based in the majority black territories of Colombia’s pacific coast. For the last twenty-three years under increasingly dangerous conditions, PCN assumed the leadership of the struggle to defend Afro-Colombian culture, territorial rights, and political and economic independence.

For three days, our international delegation of black activists from Brazil, the U.S., Bolivia, and the U.K. watched and participated in some of the most extraordinary discussions and examples of participatory democracy that we had ever been a part of. These representatives from the Palenque’s – many of whom regularly receive death threats – debated security, development, internal organizational principles, and the programmatic goals that would ensure that they were able to continue to envision and defend their economic, ecological and cultural difference—their right to “be” to be black and self-determinant.

The Context of Struggle:

Historically, the story of Afro-Colombians is a familiar story for Africans in the America’s who were torn from our land to labor for the European invaders in conditions structured to destroy us individually and collectively. But while African populations in the Caribbean were able to win some degree of national independence with the establishment of national states, however neo-colonial they may have been, that minimum option was not available, short of a generalized social revolution, for the captured and colonized African people in the U.S., Colombia, Brazil and the other nations in the America’s with Black populations.

In Colombia, home to the third largest population of African people outside of Africa, the plight of Afro-Colombians has become even more daunting over the last twenty-five years with the “new” circumstances of internal armed conflict that has engulfed large portions of Afro-Colombian territory, paramilitary terror, and the free-trade agreement between the U.S. and Colombian.

Massive displacement, state and paramilitary violence, assassinations of community leaders, disappearances and an invasion of traditional Afro-Colombian territories by U.S. and other European multi-national corporations who want the land that Afro-Colombians occupy and the minerals beneath the ground, are the new existential threats. The imposition of these new realities have affirmed for Black organizers in Colombia that Black lives don’t matter to the Colombian authorities and certainly cannot mean much to the policy-makers in Washington D.C. who give unqualified support to the Colombian government.

The Black movement in Colombian has been able to win some of the most progressive protections of collective Black rights on paper, including the right to collective titles of land, ethno-education and the integrity of their independent cultural expressions. However, PCN asserts that the failure of the state to fully implement those legal protections and to reign-in the marauding paramilitary forces aligned with powerful economic forces empties those wins of content and ensures the continuation of the multi-dimension assault on black existence.

Making Black Lives Matter by Building Dual Power:

The Colombian authorities understand that with PCN they are dealing with a real and significant force that has the organizational capacity to mobilize opposition on both a local and national level. PCN is organized around a clearly articulated national program that fully integrates local and national work toward the realization of its strategic objectives.

PCN’s national program is informed by political principles and a common vision that emerged from its extensive social base and was developed through its network of internal democratic processes and structures. It fiercely guards its political independence and has a theoretical position that does not reject strategic engagement with the state or the electoral arena, but as a matter of principle PCN does not involve itself in any of the machinations of the traditional political parties. Its primary objective is developing its own independent power informed by its principles.

PCN would find it absurd to expend energies on demanding that the state or elected officials produce a program of action that addressed black concerns. And it would be inconceivable for any PCN organizer, no matter how inexperience, to get into a meeting with a presidential aspirate and frame a question around what that person “felt” about their role as an oppressor. PCN organizers understand that it’s about the balance of power when dealing with the state and making any transitional demands.

Ideologically PCN is clear about the role of the state and the character of the national and global system of white supremacist, neoliberal capitalist domination that denies the value of black life and indeed all life on this planet. That is why for PCN the slogan of “Black Lives Matter” resonates, as it does for so many in the black world who experience the constant negation of black humanity.

For PCN the assertion of blackness is reflected in the capacity to develop and project black power, that is power materialized in the structures and capacities to defend the right to be, to be different, the right to identity, ancestral territory, autonomous participation and the collective well-being of black communities reflected in envisioning “development” and economic life beyond the dictates and constraints of neoliberal capitalism.

The valuation of Black life is given material reality in the communities and territories where black people live and are able to gain control over the institutions and structures that impact on black life. It is not a gift from the state but a positive development of the people as a result of struggle. As one of the activist explained to the international delegation: “We understand that it is only through our organizational strength that we are able to intervene and shape the political, economic and environmental conditions that structure our lives, for us organization is the priority.”

That is why PCN concentrates on building a broad-based organization that addresses all of the elements of black life from education and housing to community-based economic development. Afro-Colombian Community Councils and local associated structures provide after-school services to young people, cultural events, support for the elders, formally incarcerated re-introduction programs, to name a few. However, along with addressing the material needs of the community, political education/learning from childhood to adults is fully integrated as a central component of the work.

Promoting and defending a Transnational Culture of Resistance:

For three days, from morning to late at night, the militants of PCN debated, struggled, and produced new clarity on the way forward. Documents were produced and debated on the spot. For the members of the international delegation, it became clear why PCN calls their approach a “process.” We observed the struggles around some of the same afflictions that still impact all people-centered movements grappling with constructing liberatory practices: sexist practices despite the very visible and central role played by women, creeping elitism, liberal opportunism, “celebrity-ism.” And we saw how through honest (and sometimes intense and painful) struggle those elements were taken head-on.

And at the end of the process on Sunday, the gathering had dozens of pages of a tentative plan that would be further debated in their regional Palenques back home in preparation for the National Assembly, PCN’s highest decision-making body.

PCN did not get to this point overnight. It took years of struggle, experimentation, and more struggle to build an instrument that has become institutionalized without becoming bureaucratized. We need to keep this in mind in relationship to our critique of the decentralized BLM in the U.S. that is in its infancy.  The move from a social media phenomenon to a real oppositional structure will take time and will encounter many obstacles, including state subversion.

There are models of oppositional politics in the Black world that can be studied for how they can be applied within the particular conditions and circumstances of North America. Here in the hot sun of Riohacha, Colombia the militants of PCN engaged in a struggle for clarity of purpose and a way forward for themselves and all who still labor under the vicious regime of global capitalist neoliberalism. They understand the nature of the police state that we face in the U.S. because they see and experience the flip side of that militaristic coin with the subversive power of U.S. global militarism in their country and communities. They understand, like many of the young folks in the BLM in the U.S. are starting to understand, and us “old heads” who learned through painful experience, that black lives will not matter as long as the colonial/capitalist system that was born in the Americas is able to continue its brutal rule over all of the people of the world. And in this struggle, the militant black people of Colombia extend their hand of solidarity.



Ajamu Baraka is a human rights activist and currently lives in Cali, Colombian. He is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, D.C. and editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report. Baraka is a contributor to “Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence” (Counterpunch Books, 2014). He can be reached at