Spending, Debt and the Shutdown: The Bi-Partisan “Disappearance” of Race and Class

Whatever the result of the current governmental stalemate, one thing is certain: The ongoing crisis of workers in general and the African American working class and poor in particular will continue unabated.  

This is understandable given that, when the U.S. and the capitalist world faced the unraveling of the global economic order in 2008, the health of banks and the financial sector proved the main concern of Congress and the President. In fact, the recession presented managers of the global order with an opportunity to impose much-needed “discipline” on workers in the U.S. and Europe through the imposition of austerity programs as well as regressive fiscal and monetary policies, which had the dual objectives of weakening the relative bargaining power of labor while enhancing the dominance of the financial sector globally.

The result has been that the contradictions of the global capitalist/colonialist order finally caught up with the labor aristocracy in the West. Nor were the Western working class or its organizations prepared for the systematic assault on their relative privilege.

From the Golden Dawn in Greece to the Tea Party “movement” in the U.S., the economic crisis has once again brought forth the ugly specter of race-based fascism, that seemingly cellular characteristic of the more extreme expressions of white supremacist ideology that has poisoned Euro-American consciousness and culture and undermined national and transnational working-class solidarity and anti-imperialist politics. 

The Euro-American corporate and financial elites have always been able to take advantage of the material and ideological contradictions of workers in the West by manipulating those contradictions while simultaneously developing unified strategic positions and global institutions to protect and advance their interests.

In the current battle over the issues of governmental spending and the debt ceiling in the U.S., there is general bipartisan agreement on the fundamentals, which adhere closely to the elite agenda. The only element gumming up the process toward passing a budget and raising the debt ceiling, thereby ensuring the integrity of the U.S. monetary system, is the reactionary Tea Party faction of the Republican Party.

This obstruction to the smooth flow of capital is based on an almost pathological hatred for all things Obama, some of which is overt and some of which (the socially unacceptable components, including white supremacy) is largely subtextual. Yet the Tea Party was born in 2009 in part as a reaction to the excesses of Wall Street and governmental policy, specifically the bank bailout plan that appeared to reward the very same financiers who precipitated the crisis. Tea Party sympathizers, however, allowed this focus to be lost in a sea of their own race-based vitriol of personal attacks and name-calling.

The undeniable influence of racial politics in the actions of the Tea Party and its Congressional proxies is more than ironic. Before he was elevated to the position of Presidential candidate, Obama was thoroughly vetted by powerful elements of the ruling elite. They concluded that he could indeed be trusted to carry out the traditional role as the mediator and chief executive officer for capital, required of any individual who holds the office of U.S. President. Had he not met that litmus test, the cash needed to mount a competitive campaign would never have materialized, and some other water-carrier would now occupy the White House.

In other words, Obama was cleared to uphold the interests of the white minority ruling class – interests that historically have been counter to those of the Tea Party base – and has been dutifully protecting those interests even as the Tea Party obsesses about his race. The fact that the only questions about spending priorities contained in the budget and demands that the debt ceiling be raised are coming from this dubious source is a bizarre indicator of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of what passes for normal in U.S. politics.

The failure to challenge the priorities of the Obama administration from a radical, left, human-rights position that addresses the needs of poor and working-class people reflects the utter collapse of reform liberalism, the ideological confusion and self-marginalization of U.S. radicalism along with its capitulation to white supremacist ideology, and the centralization of corporate news media with its narrow, mind-numbing propaganda.

As a result, the discussion on U.S. fiscal and monetary policy has been entirely controlled by those with an interest in maintaining the status quo. During the last few years and in the weeks leading up to the current governmental impasse, Euro-American banking and corporate interests have accepted an orthodoxy that privileged the issue of debt reduction, primarily in order to avoid defaults and keep debt payments flowing. The resulting governmental policies, including the back-door austerity program known as sequestration, meant that the plight of the working class and poor was effectively “disappeared.”  

Nevertheless, massive unemployment, whole communities without access to affordable food, crumbling infrastructure, entire dying cities like Detroit, crime and violence as the oppressed turn on themselves, and a hopelessness born out of the realization that in this economy some human beings are disposable, are realities that just cannot be wished away. Millions of people in the U.S., rural and urban, wake up every day faced with the challenge of trying to fend for themselves in the dismal new reality of a U.S. economy that can no longer even pretend to offer the false promise of social mobility and material prosperity.

The economic and social contradictions exist for an effective challenge to the rule of capital in Europe, the U.S. and in many parts of the world. In the U.S. we are not going to be able to reverse the four-decade-long assault on the working class if we don’t confront and overcome the influences of white supremacist ideology. As the hard right continues to congeal with direct and indirect appeals to white racial solidarity, we can no longer afford to avoid this historic confrontation.

Because the interests of workers and the poor are not part of the conversation around spending and the debt, it is certain that the day after the U.S. government resolves this latest phony drama, the reality of systematic human rights abuses in the form of racial oppression, capitalist exploitation and colonial national repression will not have been altered in any form.  

May Day and the failure of the mainstream immigrant rights movement

http://socialistaction.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/April-2013-Immigration-582x297.jpgHow did a movement that put millions on the streets in 2006 allow the development of something called the “comprehensive immigration reform act,” now being debated in U.S. Congress, which expands the guest worker program, devotes millions to border and immigration enforcement, denies migrants access to public services and in general does not recognize the rights of migrants and immigrants as full human beings with human rights? This legislation does not in any way reflect the power and success of the immigrant rights movement—instead, it demonstrates its loss of autonomy and vision. What is being touted as immigration reform is no more than an unprincipled capitulation to the forces of nativism, white supremacy and liberal opportunism.

How did this happen? Unfortunately, the failure of the immigrant rights movement in the U.S. is a story that is not unique. Like a recurring nightmare that haunts progressive/radical activists and movements in the U.S. over the last forty years, the story of the immigrant rights movement is one in which the final chapter was predetermined as soon as it allowed itself to be influenced by the paternalism and conservative politics of the liberal non-profit industrial complex and the interests of the Democratic Party. Movement fragmentation and the marginalization of its radical elements, unprincipled pragmatism, demoralization and demobilization of its popular base, and eventual dissolution have proven to be the inevitable outcome of many popular movements, from the civil rights and women rights movements though to the environmental and now immigrant rights movements, after they allowed themselves to be hijacked by the liberal establishment and drained of all radical possibilities.

While there have been many missed opportunities and strange developments within the immigrant rights movement, one of the most politically backward developments was the movement’s embracing of the colonialist narrative related to the origins and character of the U.S.  By pushing the “we are all immigrants” line, a position encouraged by the non-profit hustlers and political hacks from the Democratic Party that hijacked the movement, the movement collaborated with the white supremacist narrative that erased the presence of indigenous people in the territory that became the U.S. and the reality of the U.S. as a colonialist, white settler-State.

This communications strategy of winning “acceptance” from mainstream white supporters is always the objective of the media hustlers brought in to advise emerging movements and campaigns. However, the result of this communications strategy was that instead of winning over the white public, it unwittingly reinforced the narrative of nativists and white supremacists who see themselves as the first and only legitimate “immigrants” to a territory given to them by God as a “white nation,” making border enforcement and continued repression “legitimate” and necessary components of any agreement on immigration reform.

Settlers are not immigrants—they are occupiers. But of course this inconvenient fact is not part of the colonial fantasy that passes as U.S. history nor is it considered by the proponents of the “path to citizenship.”

Along with the brutal colonial conquest and attempted genocide of the indigenous people of this land, the racist foundations that justified genocidal policies and the institution of slavery and racist totalitarian terror for a hundred years after the official ending of slavery are subjects that many immigrant rights spokespeople assiduously avoid. The exception to the movement’s general silence on the issue of race and racism—even in light of the racist pogrom directed at undocumented migrants from Latin America since 2006—was references to Dr. King—but only as long as those references were the distorted, deradicalized version of Dr. King and the movement that produced him.

Not everyone in the immigrant rights movement embraced this petit-bourgeois silliness. A number of organizations have been involved in principled work around the human rights of migrant workers victimized by the contradictions of globalization, which has resulted in migration as an only option for survival for many workers and displaced farmers. But for individuals and organizations that did not toe the liberal, Democratic Party “pro-citizenship” line, as opposed to legalization, there was a price to pay. Those organizations were either under-funded or de-funded and relegated to the hinterlands of the movement.

Immigration legislation will probably pass in some form in the near future, but millions of people will still find themselves denied their full range of human rights, and we must continue the struggle for those rights. Our common humanity and commitment to social justice can serve a basis for building an independent, multi-national, anti-oppression, people’s movement that emphasizes people-centered human rights, self-determination, authentic decolonization, and a politicized global perspective that understands the contradiction of global capitalism and imperialism, which push and pull people across national borders. There is a basis in the U.S. for a new progressive social bloc, if only we can see its potential form and have the courage to struggle with our differences and contradictions to snatch victory back from our defeat. This is the key lesson that we can take from the efforts for comprehensive immigration reform.

 

Ajamu Baraka is a long-time human rights activist and veteran of the Black Liberation, anti-war, anti-apartheid and Central American solidarity  Movements  in the United States.  He is currently a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Baraka is currently living in Cali, Colombia.

www. Ajamubaraka.com

 

 

Why I stand with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Ajamu Baraka and Lucas Benitez, CIW

Ajamu Baraka with Lucas Benitez, one of the founders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Why I stand with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

When asked by an African-American politician why I was heading down to Florida to support the CIW fast and mass-action against Publix, I had to remind my friend – who’s memory of mass struggles that created the conditions that allowed him to become an elected official was dimed by too many years of being disconnected from the unbearable conditions that working people and the poor face in this country – that like the struggles to maintain the human right to organize in Wisconsin, the battle by IWLU in Seattle, the fight back against the decimation of Public Sector workers and their unions, The fight by CIW is a fight for all of us who believe in social justice and human rights, and so I could not be any place but in Florida, standing shoulder to shoulder with the men and women of CIW.

As a Southern based African-American working class human rights activist and organizer who has been organizing in the South since the late 70s, I know the history and have experience directly the devastating consequences of experienced by a people who have had every ouch of value squeezed from their labor by a rapacious ruling elite only interested in profit and the maintenance of white supremacy.

It is in this region with its brutal legacy of slavery, genocide and the super-exploitation of labor, both Black and White, that serves as the backdrop and context for the contemporary struggles of the CIW and indeed, for the struggles of the African-American and broader Latino and migrant/immigrant working class. This region where the working class is the most politically oppressed, systematically disenfranchised and suffer the most brutal racist treatment is now home to the fastest growing Latino community with the predictable backlash. But it is in this region, like no other, where the transformative potential inherent in the unity of all oppressed nationalities could constitute a major political force and foundation for a new movement to lead the people in the territory known as the United States toward the realization of human rights and societal transformation.

But we understand that the forging of unity is not easy. Efforts by the corporate media, certain spokespeople in both parties and other retrograde social forces to divide the African-American and Latino working class are no accident and should not be ignored. But our common interests and histories of struggle against all forms of national oppression will counteract those attempts. When Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, it banned slavery throughout its country. Thousands of enslaved Africans went to Mexico to escape slavery and were welcomed. This angered Southern plantation owners and the US government who declared that white supremacy should be the law of the land – promoting “Manifest Destiny” as its imperialist slogan and was one of the issues that precipitated the eventual US military invasion of Mexico and annexation of California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Wyoming. And even in defeat, Mexico refused to include a provision to return runaway Africans in the “peace treaty’ negotiated between the US and Mexico. The story of this “underground railroad” to Mexico is a story that more people need to be aware of. And the solidarity work carried out by African-American activists in support of the people’s’ struggles in Guatemala, El-Salvador and Haiti provides a solid ground for reciprocal solidarity that must be developed as we rebuild a powerful, unified social movement in the South!

So we head to Florida to put our bodies on the line with the more than 50 workers from the Caribbean, Guatemala, El-Salvador and Mexico, who have chosen to fast for a week for freedom, so that one day we can all sit down at the table of freedom and share a feast that has not been gathered as a consequence of anyone’s suffering.