Resistance, Anarchism, and the Black Bloc: An Interview with Lacy MacAuley

Peter Schmidt

 

The University of California at Berkeley probably will not be the last American college to experience mayhem at the hands of “black bloc” militants.

In the weeks since President Trump took office, such activists have mounted destructive protests not just on Berkeley’s campus but in the streets of Portland, Ore., and Washington D.C. Although the target of their Berkeley action, the right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, has been sidelined as a result of controversy over his remarks about pederasty, other similarly incendiary “alt-right” leaders, such as the white supremacist Richard B. Spencer, remain on the college speaking circuit.

The “black bloc” label, attached to those who broke windows and set fires at Berkeley, refers not to a specific organization but to a specific tactic that involves wearing black clothing to blend in with other activists, shielding one’s identity behind bandannas or masks, and causing disruption to get a point across.

Lacy MacAuley, a member of the D.C. Antifascist Coalition, has been a public face for such militants. In January, for example, she was a spokeswoman for DisruptJ20, the group that organized Inauguration Day protests, without permits, at which black-bloc activist destroyed property in downtown Washingtonand skirmished with the police. On a national level, she has provided media representation for anarchist and leftist activists for about 12 years.

In February, The Chronicle asked Ms. MacAuley about this month’s chaos at Berkeley and the likelihood that other campuses will see similar activity. Following is an edited and condensed transcript of that interview.
Q. When protesters this month smashed windows and started fires at Berkeley, the university blamed such actions on “black bloc” members who had “invaded” the campus. Do you have any reason to believe that students were among the people who caused destruction there? If not, how would they have been drawn there?

A. The black-clad anarchists who were present at UC-Berkeley were a blend of students and nonstudents. The group was there in response to someone who was a vitriolic fascist, Milo Yiannopoulos. There didn’t have to be a huge system of organization under that action. There was some organization, but I really think that most people were responding to the obvious signs, in front of everyone right now, that the fascists are starting to really gain a foothold and that represents a danger to all of us. That is why we responded in force.
Q. Tell me about the black bloc. Does it have any sort of leadership structure?

A. The black bloc is certainly not under some sort of hierarchy or leadership structure, as a rule. Most black blocs are really just people who are temporarily masking themselves because they fear retribution – either now or at some point in the future – due to their fighting injustices.

The political philosophy of many, but not all, of the people who participate in the black bloc is the political philosophy of anarchism. That is why people associate anarchism with disorder or violence. That is really far from the truth of what an everyday anarchist actually practices and believes.

Anarchism is based on mutual consent, and the so-called violent aspect of black blocs and anarchism really needs to be understood. I mean, can you really commit an act of so-called violence against a window, or is an act of violence something that you commit against a person? What most people in the black bloc would say is that it is not violence to break a window.
Q. How much of a presence are militant anarchists on or near college campuses? Are there specific places where we are likely to see them become active in the coming years?

A. The level of militancy will go up while we see our government, at this moment, actively impinging upon the rights of everyday people. We have already seen the U.S. government make reality policies like the Muslim ban, a “military operation” that enforces immigration law, and violation of trans youths’ rights. To a lot of people, the only logical response is to make a strong stand against that.

When the only thing that you can do is flood into the street and demand that your right to exist be protected, that is what you are going to do. On college campuses, where there are a large number of people whose rights are being violated, I suspect you are going to see many more people who are going to be rising up.
Q. Back in the Vietnam War era, colleges themselves became the targets of militants. Are there specific actions by colleges that are likely to prompt actions against them?

A. Colleges that really protect platforms for individuals who are already rich, white males – who already have their voices amplified and valued much more than other people’s voices – are going to see, probably, much more resistance.

We are not protesting because we don’t respect free speech. We’re protesting precisely because we have already heard these people. We have already listened, and we believe them, and we believe that they pose a threat to our right to exist. That is why we don’t view what they are doing as a simple act of free speech. We view it as mobilizing for further violating our rights, and therefore we have to resist.
Q. A Tennessee lawmaker has cited the recent unrest at Berkeley in proposing legislation that would require public universities to discipline any student who tries to shout down a speaker.Do you see such measures as likely to be much of a deterrent?

A. It likely would have a chilling effect on protest at a time when we in our country absolutely need to be protesting. At a time that is so crucial to rising up, that would be the wrong action. It is valuable to consider that all of our systems, even in academia, absolutely privilege the speech of rich, white males and others who are somewhere on that ladder of privilege.

What we don’t need to do is create more protections for people who already have a platform. We need to create a horizontal structure where everyone’s speech is actually equal.
Q. If you are unhappy with the Trump administration or the current Congress, why not join, say, the College Democrats, and try to put new people in office?

A. The perspective of most of us who are anarchists, and who are participants in the black bloc, is that we don’t see the two-party system as a viable way to conduct society. We don’t see it as just and fair and valuing and respecting people’s lives. So the best way is to actually inspire people to rise up, to resist, and to change the way that our system is actually structured.
Q. You have tweeted about being barraged with anonymous harassment and threats as a result of your political activities. Are college students who publicly espouse views and tactics similar to yours going to be safe?

A. We need to realize that, right now, that is going to happen to people who have the hope and the will to stand up and resist. Should you let it dissuade you from taking actions you need to take to protect what you love? No. Absolutely not.

Peter Schmidt writes about affirmative action, academic labor, and issues related to academic freedom. Contact him at peter.schmidt@chronicle.com.
This interview originally appeared online at The Chronicle and in the The Chronicle of Higher Education’s March 10, 2017 issue .

Striking While the Iron Is Hot: Trump and the Antifa Resistance

Brenan Daniels

 

This is a transcript of a recent email interview I had with JA, an administrator of the Facebook page Anarchist Memes where we discuss Trump’s rise to the presidency and how people can more actively resist the fascist-esque politics that are currently being put in the mainstream.

Regarding Trump’s ascendance to the Presidency, many argued that he would never make it. Seeing his rhetoric and proposed policies at the very beginning, what were your initial thoughts? Do you think that his tapping into social and economic unrest was purposeful on some level?

I thought that Trump was too unpolished and goofy to beat a career politician of Clinton’s caliber. It seemed to me at the time that his ascendency to RNC nominee was the result of in-fighting and disarray within the GOP. I never imagined he’d win the presidential election.

I don’t think that anything Trump does is particularly strategic on his part. Even when it is apparent he’s trying to stick to a narrative, he still seems to go off-script, and delve in to bizarre and perverse tangents. I think the man is totally untethered to objective reality.
There are those who would argue that in some ways a Trump win is impressive seeing as how the media and a large amount of The Establishment was against him. What are your thoughts on this?

I think he is popular for the same reasons right-wing, racist, proto-fascist demagogues are ever popular. Namely, the combination of socio-economic despair and a chauvinistic dominant culture. My intuition is that, those who are deeply invested in the narratives and affirmations of the dominant culture, resolve the emotional and cognitive dissonance of their socioeconomic predicament within the culture as well as dissent against it…by going deeper in to their nationalist fairytales and faulting scapegoats and/or lack-of-purity/faith as to explain the present conditions.

Trump’s utter stupidity, incredulity and narcissism allowed him to say and declare things that a more strategic and refined politician would-not. I think this allowed him to out-flank his opponents in the GOP and DNC alike. Likewise, the media seemed either unaware or unconcerned that its tittering responses to Trump, amplified his popularity.
Currently it seems that Trump is hitting the ground running by doing a number of things such as the recent Muslim ban, proposing that the US leave the United Nations, and reinstating a ban on US funding overseas, to the glee of many of his supporters. However, there are those who are expressing dismay over other policies such as a freeze on government employee hiring and salaries. What do you think will happen if/when people realize that many of Trump’s policies are going to hurt them? Will we see an increase in violence against marginalized communities?

I think it’s decidedly possible that the white-reactionary milieu will react violently if/when their economic conditions are negatively impacted by Trumps policies. Some certainly will. But the flip-side of that, the only possible silver-lining to any of this depravity and cruelty, is that the shock of trumps failures on the reactionary white working class, may bump them out of their racist, right-wing stupor. I think it’s incumbent on radicals to strike while things are amorphous and strange, and try to capitalize on the shocks that do come.
What would you make of the liberal’s reaction to Trump? There are some who argue that this is an opportunity to push them further to the left, but on a personal level, I have some doubts about that seeing as how they supported Clinton, who seemingly wanted to push us into a war with Russia.

I think it’s a mixed-bag. I think some liberals have been bumped ever-so-slightly to the left, become disillusioned with the DNC, with their patriotism, with capitalism etc. I think there are also liberals who are looking for an excuse, a scapegoat, someone or something to blame for the ascension of Trump. I’ve interacted with both types. Some who have shown an interest in radical philosophy and explanations where before there was a lack of interest…and I’ve also met some who have tried to blame Sanders or everyone to the left of Clinton for the outcome of the election.
Seeing the rise of the far right in Europe and finally it coming to the US, how would you say that Trump fits into a larger global context of elements of the Western world embracing far right fascistic (and actual fascist) politics?

I think what is happening in the US is a similar phenomenon to what we’ve seen and is happening in Europe. Where economic stagnation or depression generate a resultant lashing out by those enamored with the dominant culture’s narratives and mythology…as well as anyone else critical of that mythology.
Given the recent J20 protests and the black bloc actions, what should anarchists do now that we are in a Trump presidency, someone who many would argue is close to, if not entirely, a fascist?

I think the most useful and necessary and impactful thing radicals can do is join an organization – and start organizing. As well, I think radicals needs to make a concerted effort to try and organize, radicalize, and bring-in working class and rural white people – as tempting as it is to just write-off anyone who is even the slightest bit reactionary (and I wouldn’t blame anyone who does), I think work needs to be done to change these people’s minds – to help them find another path materially and ideologically.
Seeing as how I have used the term fascism and fascist in the last two questions, where can people go to get a solid understanding of fascism, both historically and modern day as it seems that it is a word that can be misapplied.

There’s a ton of literature out there, people just need to reach out and grab it. They can go to the source, like Mussolini or Jose Antonio to even out their understanding of Nazism – or to any number of books comparing and contrasting the various strains in fascism. As well, there is anti-fascist literature which also gives great insight in to what fascism is and how fascists behave (AK press just released Confronting Fascism for free in ebook form, and I know M. Testa’s Militant Fascism is available in pdf form for free on the internet).

That said, I think people’s impulse to use the label is usually generally correct – in that the people they’re assigning the label to exhibit (generally) the basic features of fascism…even if not in an explicitly ideological or intentional way.
In what way(s) can people be organized today to support antifascism and push for change beyond the ballot box, including those who lack time/funds due to personal situations?

Join an organization(s) and just do something – anything one can – for that organization(s)…and try not to fall in to complacency after an absence from involvement. Being broke, having kids, work, social life, health issues etc all invariably inhibit our ability to maintain commitments to organizations we’d like to be involved in and the tendency to stay-away after an absence is common. Try to remember, that our participation is needed, and wanted, and beneficial.

[JA]

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss: Bracing for Trump’s Anti-Worker Corporate Agenda

Colin Jenkins

 

This was originally published by Social Justice: a journal of crime, conflict, and world order as part of a series titled, The Possible Futures of the US Under Trump .

 

Rich people don’t have to have a life-and-death relationship with the truth and its questions; they can ignore the truth and still thrive materially. I am not surprised many of them understand literature only as an ornament. Life is an ornament to them, relationships are ornaments, their ‘work’ is but a flimsy, pretty ornament meant to momentarily thrill and capture attention.

-Sergio Troncoso
In a February speech on his campaign trail, then-candidate Donald Trump lambasted his opponents for their cozy relationships with Wall Street bankers. “I know the guys at Goldman Sachs. They have total, total control over [Cruz],” Trump said. “Just like they have total control over Hillary Clinton.” Trump’s campaigns for both the Republican candidacy and the US Presidency were heavily themed on this inside-out approach to posing as a whistleblower of the elite, a billionaire businessman gone rogue, eager to feed other members of his exclusive club to the lions. Americans by the tens of millions-ravaged by decades of predatory loan schemes, joblessness, and unfathomable debt-gathered in the den, fevered by this angst-ridden anti-establishment message, thirsting for the flesh he was to heave from the castle on the hill.

Nine months later, Trump was elected to the office of President of the United States. Taking a page from George W. Bush, Trump successfully packaged his billionaire, elitist self into an average dude sitting on the bar stool across from us. Taking a page from Ronald Reagan, Trump successfully molded the chronic economic woes of the American working class into avenues for racial and xenophobic hatred. Trump’s infamous wall is the modern-day version of Reagan’s mythological “welfare queen”-both masterful mind tricks designed to avert the attention of the understandably ravenous working-class lions away from the ringmasters and toward others in the den. The oldest trick in the book: divide and conquer. The end result: a billionaire businessman buoyed to the highest office of the land by 63 million working-class voters during a time of unprecedented poverty and wealth inequality.

Predictably, Trump’s ascension to the presidency has ended his inside-out shtick. Much like Barack Obama in 2008, Trump’s anti-establishment marketing assault has culminated into an uber-establishment cabinet. Within six weeks of his election victory, Trump has proceeded to form what some have referred to as the General Billionaires Administration . As of December 7th, Trump’s prospective cabinet topped a combined personal wealth of $14 billion , “more than 30 times greater than that of even President George W. Bush’s White House.” And that represents only half of the total appointees to come. Instead of “draining the swamp” as he promised to do on the campaign trail, Trump has called on his real-estate instincts to expand the swamp into a gargantuan monstrosity of a cesspool. For working-class Americans, this means the President and those surrounding him are even more out of touch with the common struggle than ever before.

Although personal wealth does not necessarily imply the embracing of a blatant anti-worker ideology, it almost always sets this tone through efforts to legitimize said wealth, promote false meritocracies, and push unrealistic narratives rooted in “personal responsibility” and “pulling up boot straps,” all of which ignore the material realities of working-class people. Taken on their words and actions, there is no reason to believe that Trump and his cabinet will be anything but disastrous for working-class Americans.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for Education Secretary, wants to privatize education and treat it as an industry among others in a competitive capitalist market. “Let’s not kid ourselves that [public education] is not an industry,” she told a crowd in Texas , “we must open it up to entrepreneurs and innovators.” In other words, run it as a for-profit venture, which inevitably means lowering pay, benefits, and standards for employees (teachers) in order to maximize the bottom line. Not good for working-class Americans who teach for a living, and not good for working-class children whose educations will take a back seat to profit margins.

Andrew Puzder, Trump’s pick for Labor Secretary, has proven to be fiercely anti-worker in his role as CEO of CKE Restaurants. NY’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman referred to this appointment as a ” cruel and baffling decision by Trump ” due to Puzder’s presiding over a fast-food chain “that repeatedly stole workers’ hard-earned wages.” As an employee at one of Puzder’s restaurants, Rogelio Hernandez called Puzder ” one of the worst fast food CEOs ,” adding that his appointment “sends a signal to workers that the Trump years are going to be about low pay, wage theft, sexual harassment and racial discrimination.” Not good for tens of millions of working-class Americans who are desperate for living-wage employment.

Ben Carson, Trump’s pick to run Housing and Urban Development, has been consistently opposed to government assistance programs like the one he is about to oversee. Rather than viewing such programs as necessities in a capitalist system that leaves many people without the means to fulfill basic needs, Carson sees them as “socialist experiments” that “attempt to infiltrate every part of our lives.” Carson even said that trusting the government “to use housing policy to enhance the opportunities available to lower-income citizens” can be “downright dangerous.” Ironically, he is now entrusted to do just that. Not good for the millions of working-class Americans who rely on public housing programs to shelter themselves and their families.

While most of Trump’s own plans have been hidden in vague political rhetoric (“Making America Great Again,” “create a dynamic booming economy” with “pro-growth tax plans” and “new modern regulatory frameworks”), they are mostly taken from the same neoliberal agenda that has shaped American policy for the past three decades, merely repackaged with Trump-speak. If his own business dealings are any indication of how he feels about working people, the Trump presidential agenda will most certainly be anti-worker. Workers have filed numerous lawsuits against Trump over the years, alleging everything from anti-union intimidation to paying below-minimum wages. ” In one case , the Trump Organization paid $475,000 to settle a claim with nearly 300 Los Angeles golf club employees in a class-action suit alleging unpaid wages and age discrimination, among other offenses.” In another case, the Trump Organization “settled for an unknown sum” regarding the employment of undocumented Polish immigrants who “were paid $5 an hour or less when they were paid at all,” and “worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week with no overtime.” Earlier this year, workers at Trump’s Las Vegas hotel filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging they were “interfered with, restrained, and coerced” in an effort to avoid unionization. Dozens of similar complaints against Trump businesses have come to light over the years, including alarming trends of misogyny against women employees.

Like most marketing slogans, “Make America Great Again” has no real meaning in regards to concrete plans. Its call on some glorious past allows for an embrace of generic change, and its purposeful vagueness speaks to whatever is important to each individual who embraces it, essentially allowing for a wide range of beauties in the eyes of a wide range of beholders. Trump’s “pro-growth tax plan” draws on the same neoliberal ideology that was implemented by Reagan and survived by every administration since, proclaiming that lowering corporate tax rates will incentivize American companies to stay in the US, which will create more jobs, and will inevitably allow the increased corporate wealth to trickle down to the rest of us. The only problem is that never happened. Ironically, the implementation of such policies actually paralleled the mass exodus of American companies, partly due to free trade agreements like NAFTA and partly due to the globalization of the capitalist system, which allowed for the formation of an international labor pool to replace the industrialized, unionized labor pools that once existed in countries like the US.

Between 1986 and 1988, Reagan lowered the corporate tax rate from 46% to 34%. To put this move in perspective, this rate had stayed between 46% and 52.8% since 1951. The Reagan rate has barely moved since, despite 16 years of Democratic administrations. And it has done nothing to keep American companies home; rather, it actually complemented massive outsourcing of American jobs. In fact, ” manufacturing employment collapsed from a high of 19.5 million workers in June 1979 to 11.5 workers in December 2009, a drop of 8 million workers over 30 years. Between August 2000 and February 2004, manufacturing jobs were lost for a stunning 43 consecutive months-the longest such stretch since the Great Depression.” This trend has continued as the US lost 5 million manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2016. According to the Center for American Progress, “US multinational corporations, the big brand-name companies that employ a fifth of all American workers… cut their work forces in the US by 2.9 million during the 2000s while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million.” All of this despite historically low corporate tax rates. Trump’s solution: double down by cutting corporate tax rates even more.

Remaining consistent with the neoliberal agenda, Trump has also promised to “scale back years of disastrous regulations unilaterally imposed by our out-of-control bureaucracy.” Yet another failed policy direction, tried and tested for decades, being recycled to give already reckless corporations even more maneuverability. Trump plans to repatriate trillions of dollars of corporate money that has been hidden in foreign banks for years. By allowing special immunity to these corporations (which have essentially evaded taxes through loopholes) with a temporary reduction in the tax rate (from 35% to 10%), Trump believes roughly $5 trillion will return to the US (although reports estimate closer to $2.5 trillion ). Unfortunately, the last time such immunity was granted, in 2004, “a congressional report noted that some companies used more than 90 percent of the repatriated cash to enrich shareholders , generally through stock buybacks. Corporations that brought home the most cash, in fact, cut jobs.”

Trump’s recycled economic agenda has proven time and time again to boost corporate wealth at the expense of working-class interests. The widely reported deal made with Carrier recently, which was facilitated by Trump and promises to keep 800 jobs in Indiana, is a perfect example of this misguided approach. The Carrier deal was said to include a tax giveaway, the main tool in Trump’s corporate welfare tax plan, which stands to cost about $6.2 trillion in lost federal revenues over a decade. Not only does this approach ” starve the beast ,” as originally intended by Reagan, it simply does not create American jobs as promised. The past four decades have proven this. The corporate tax rate in the US (which is actually on par with G7 countries, whose rates average over 30% ) is not a tremendous factor in why companies move elsewhere. They avoid taxes because they can. There is no reason to believe they wouldn’t avoid them just the same with a lower rate. They also relocate for the “cheap labor,” which is near chattel-slavery levels in some places, and for preferable infrastructures. As the New York Times reported shortly after the Carrier deal, “Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies , never mentioned taxes as the reason for the offshoring move. Instead, it cited its ‘existing infrastructure’ and ‘strong supplier base’ in Mexico. More revealing, United Technologies says it can save $65 million a year by moving operations to low-wage Mexico.”

Trump’s economic plan does nothing to stray from the corporate-friendly neoliberal agenda of the past three decades. In many cases, it doubles down on it. These strategies have never benefited the working-class majority, and they will continue to represent an abysmal failure for those of us who depend on wages and salaries to live-a reality that Trump and his cabinet have never faced. Their out-of-touch, fairy-tale lives will undoubtedly amount to out-of-touch policies, leaving most of us entrenched in our ongoing struggle for living wages, affordable housing, reliable healthcare, and meaningful educations for our children. This struggle must take place in our communities, at our jobs, and in our children’s schools. Rejecting the corporate agenda embraced by Trump will not be easy-but it is a struggle we’ve inherited from decades ago, only with a new face at the helm.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed Against Trump: Communist Education in the Emerging Mass Movement

Derek R. Ford

 

Education is a central component of revolutionary activity, especially during non-revolutionary times, and especially for cadre in a Leninist Party. In fact, Lenin’s seminal work on organization and leadership, What is to be Done? touches on many educational issues, including consciousness and theory.

As a polemic against economism – which held that the working class develops its own revolutionary consciousness spontaneously as a result of daily struggles with the bosses – Lenin argued that spontaneity was only consciousness “in an embryonic form,” and that something more was needed. Spontaneity is necessary but is ultimately limited to “what is ‘at the present time'” (p. 67). In other words, spontaneity by itself isn’t able to look beyond isolated daily struggles and forward to a new society. Lenin called the spontaneously generated mindset “trade union consciousness.”

This analysis is what led Lenin to state that “without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary practice” (p. 69). By this he meant that, without a theory capable of connecting individual struggles and issues to the totality of the social and economic system, struggles would be limited to reforms within the existing system. Revolutionary theory is developed not by intellectuals holed up in university classrooms, but through the communist party, which is composed of workers who become “socialist theoreticians” (p. 82f1). In the party, he wrote, “all distinctions as between workers and intellectuals… must be obliterated” (p. 137).

Lenin believed that workers were capable of more than trade union consciousness. He actually derided those who insisted on appealing to the “average worker:” “You gentlemen, who are so much concerned about the ‘average worker,’ as a matter of fact, rather insult the workers by your desire to talk down to them when discussing labor politics and labor organization” (p. 153). He wrote that organizers had actually held workers “back by our silly speeches about what ‘can be understood’ by the masses of the workers” (p. 156).
Pedagogy of the oppressed

The question of pedagogy comes into the picture here. Pedagogy names the process by which we enter into educational engagements with others. It’s a question that communists in the U.S. have to take seriously, especially at this moment, when a new truly mass movement is brewing. Of course, it is important not to dismiss those who are either new to the struggle or who are limited by liberalism or “trade union consciousness,” but we need to think beyond our attitude and toward our pedagogy.

Paulo Freire’s book Pedagogy of the Oppressed can be helpful in this regard. Freire was a revolutionary Brazilian educator who was jailed and exiled from his homeland in 1964 for his activities as a teacher. Like any good revolutionary book, it is a reflection of actual experience. In Freire’s case, the book is a reflection of his work in literacy campaigns, where he taught poor peasants how to read and write and how to, as he put it, “name the world.”

Pedagogy of the Oppressed has been targeted by the right wing in the U.S. (it is currently banned from public schools in Arizona). It addresses the educational components of revolutionary movements and, as such, it is littered with references to Marx, Lenin, Guevara, and others. In fact, Freire uses Castro and the Cuban revolution as an example of the pedagogy he advocates.

Specifically, the book is concerned with how the revolutionary leadership pushes the struggle forward, or how it teaches the mass movement. Interestingly, the book is mostly referenced in academia, and its tight connections to revolutionary leadership are rarely, if ever, mentioned.
The problem: Banking pedagogy

The pedagogy of the oppressed has two stages. During the first stage, “the oppressed unveil the world of oppression and through praxis commit themselves to its transformation.” During the second stage, which is after the world of oppression has been transformed, “this pedagogy ceases to belong to the oppressed and becomes a pedagogy of all people in the process of permanent liberation” (p. 54).

The first stage of Freire’s pedagogy addresses how the oppressed view and relate to the world. It begins by acknowledging that the oppressed possess both an oppressed consciousness and an oppressor consciousness. The oppressor consciousness is the enemy that needs to be liquidated:

The oppressor consciousness tends to transform everything surrounding it into an object of its domination. The earth, property, production, the creations of people, people themselves, time-everything is reduced to the status of objects at its disposal. (58)

This is what capitalism does: it takes everything and makes it into private property, including our ability to labor. This has a profound impact on the world, even instilling the oppressor consciousness in the oppressed. Thus, we have to distinguish an oppressor consciousness from the oppressed person, and we have to transform that consciousness.

The way that we engage in that transformation is absolutely crucial, and this is where the question of pedagogy comes into play. The traditional form of pedagogy Freire calls “banking pedagogy.” In banking pedagogy, the teacher is the one who possesses knowledge and the students are empty containers in which the teacher must deposit knowledge. The more the teacher fills the receptacle, the better teacher she is. The content remains abstract to the student, disconnected from the world, and external to the student’s life.

Banking pedagogy-which is what most of us in the U.S. have experienced in public schools-assumes that the oppressed are ignorant and naïve. Further, it treats the oppressed as objects in the same way that capitalism does.

Importantly, banking pedagogy can happen regardless of the political nature of the content. Even communists and other revolutionaries can engage in banking pedagogy and objectify the people. This is what happens when alleged revolutionary groups talk down to the people, telling them they must read their newspapers for the correct analysis, deriding them when they don’t chant their slogans or follow their directions. This is an elite form of education wherein some enlightened individuals or sects feel that they, and only they, are equipped to “name the world.” Freire calls this “manipulation” and “cultural invasion,” and it can happen regardless of our attitude and our politics.

Thus, it is not enough that we be friendly to newcomers and that we welcome them to the struggle. We have to can engage them in an authentic educational relationship.
The solution: Dialogic pedagogy

The correct educational method for revolutionaries is dialogue, which means something very specific. To truly engage in dialogue means becoming partners with the people. In this situation, “the teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow” (80).

The task of revolutionaries is to engage with our class and our people in true, authentic dialogue, reflection, and action. If we have dialogue and reflection without action, then we are little more than armchair revolutionaries. On the other hand, if we have only action without dialogue and reflection, we have mere activism.

Revolutionary organizers, therefore, are defined not just by the revolutionary ideals they hold or actions they take, but by their humility, patience, and willingness to engage with all exploited and oppressed people. It is not possible for us to “implant” the conviction to fight and struggle in others. That must be the result of their own ” conscientização,” or coming-to-critical-consciousness.

This is a delicate and contingent process that can’t be scripted in advance. Still, there are a few general components to it.

First, we have to truly get to know our people, their problems and their aspirations. This means that we have to actually learn from people, acknowledging that, even if this is their first demonstration, or even if they voted for a democrat in the last election, they might actually have something to teach us. The more experiences we learn from the people the richer our theories are and the more connection they can have to the daily realities of workers and oppressed people today. Our class is bursting with creative and intellectual powers that capitalist society doesn’t allow us to express or develop. The revolutionary party is stronger the more it cultivates these powers.

Second, we have to provide opportunities for others to understand their problems in a deeper and wider context, and to push their aspirations forward. Freire gives a concrete example of this:

…if at a given historical moment the basic aspiration of the people goes no further than a demand for salary increases, the leaders can commit one of two errors. They can limit their action to stimulating this one demand or they can overrule this popular aspiration and substitute something more far-reaching-but something which has not yet come to the forefront of the people’s attention… The solution lies in synthesis: the leaders must on the one hand identify with the people’s demand for higher salaries, while on the other they must pose the meaning of that very demand as a problem. By doing this, the leaders pose as a problem a real, concrete, historical situation of which the salary demand is one dimension. It will thereby become clear that salary demands alone cannot comprise a definitive solution. (183)

Through this process, both the people and the revolutionary leadership act together and collectively name the world. Genuine knowledge is produced and authentic action is taken, and real conviction for the struggle is strengthened.

Slogans and newspapers are crucial tools in the revolutionary struggle, but not because they instill the truth in the people. Rather, they are tools that-in addition to crystallizing demands and analysis-initiate a dialogue with others. We engage in this dialogue and action with hope and conviction, because ruling powers are overthrown, and because the masses do make history.
Originally published at Liberation School .
References

– Paulo Freire. (1970/2011). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.
– V.I. Lenin. (1902/1987). What is to be done? In H.M. Christman (Ed.), Essential works of Lenin. New York: Dover Publications.

Gangsters for Capitalism: Why the US Working Class Enlists

Colin Jenkins

 

This was published as part of the Transnational Institute’s State of Power 2017 report.

Through its reliance on the relationship between labour and capital, fortified by state-enforced protections for private property to facilitate this relationship, capitalism creates a natural dependency on wages for the vast majority. With the removal of ‘the commons’ during the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the peasantry was transformed into a working-class majority that now must serve as both commodities and tools for those who own the means of production.

While those of us born into the working-class majority have little or no choice but to submit to our ritualistic commodification, we are sometimes presented with degrees of options regarding how far we allow capitalists, landlords, corporations, and their politicians to dehumanize us as their tools.

While we are forced into the labour market, for example, we can sometimes choose public jobs over private, therefore limiting the degree of exploitation. While we are forced to find housing, we may sometimes choose to live in communal situations with family or friends.

One of the areas where total choice is allowed is in the business of Empire, particularly in the maintenance and proliferation of the modern US Empire. Although governments worldwide are using technological advances in robotics to replace human bodies in their military ranks, and thus lessen their dependence on the working class, there is still a heavy reliance on people to act as tools of war. In ‘all-volunteer’ militaries like that of the United States’, ‘willingness’ is still a crucial component to the mission.

As global capitalism’s forerunner and guardian, the US military has nearly 3 million employees worldwide, including active duty and reserve personnel and ‘civilian full-time equivalents’. The US Department of Defense’s official proposed budget for FY 2017 is $582.7 billion , which, combined with corollary systems of ‘security’, swells to over $1 trillion.

According to public Pentagon reports , the US Empire officially comprises of 662 overseas military bases across 38 countries. Since the birth of the United States in 1776, the country has been involved in a war or military conflict in 219 of these 240 years.

Throughout this history, the US government, which has directly represented and acted upon the interests of capital and economic elites, has required the participation of many millions of its working-class citizens to join its military ranks in order to carry out its missions by force.

For many generations, the US working class has answered this call to serve as what US Marine General Smedley Butler once deemed, ‘gangsters for capitalism’. Millions upon millions have lost life and limb to clear the path for new global markets, steal and extract valuable natural resources from other lands, and ensure the procurement of trillions of dollars of corporate profit for a privileged few.

Why? Why does the working class willingly, even enthusiastically, join to serve in a military that bolsters the very system which undermines and alienates them in their everyday lives?
Cultural Hegemony and Capitalist Indoctrination

We can start to answer this question by drawing on Antonio Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony to see how capitalist interests have shaped the dominant culture in US society. Utilising Hegel’s binary of social influence, where societal power is jockeyed between ‘political society’ and ‘civil society’ Gramsci suggested that power is based on two forms: coercion (Dominio) or consensus (Direzione).

According to Gramsci, the battle over ideology between the ruling and subaltern classes is ultimately won through ‘the hegemony of one social group over the whole of society exercised through so-called private organizations, such as the church, trade unions, schools, etc.’

Under capitalism, the hierarchy relies on the state to control and dictate these central organs of ideological influence, thus establishing cultural hegemony. This isn’t necessarily done in a highly centralized or coordinated manner by a tight-knit group, but rather occurs naturally through the mechanisms of the economic system.

Just as the economic base shapes society’s ‘superstructure’, the superstructure in turn solidifies the interests of the economic base. In this cycle, the interests of the capitalist class are morphed into the interests of the working class.

Unearthing these dynamics allows us to explain why impoverished Americans living in dilapidated trailers and depending on government projects still proudly wave the red, white, and blue cloth; why tens of millions of impoverished people measure their value according to which designer clothes or sneakers they’re wearing; why these same tens of millions, who can barely afford basic necessities to survive, spend much of their waking time gawking at and worshipping obscenely wealthy celebrities; or why over 100 million working-class people show up every few years to vote for politicians that do not represent them.

It also allows us to explain, at least in part, why members of the working class so willingly carry out the brutalization of their class peers by serving in imperialistic militaries and militarized police forces.

This culture, which is ultimately shaped by capitalism, receives its values through many different channels, formal and informal. Part of this is accomplished through formal education, where traditional intellectuals become more specialized, and where the process of learning and thinking is replaced by indoctrination.

In his 1926 examination of the ‘Southern Question’ , Gramsci wrote of this phenomenon:

The old type of intellectual was the organizing element in a society with a mainly peasant and artisanal basis. To organize the State, to organize commerce, the dominant class bred a particular type of intellectual… the technical organizer, the specialist in applied science… it is this second type of intellectual which has prevailed, with all his characteristics of order and intellectual discipline.

While Gramsci was specifically referring to the dominant intellectuals in northern Italy during his time, and how they influenced the ‘rural bourgeoisie’ and their ‘crazy fear of the peasants’, he was also expounding on the general development of a cultural hegemony that characterizes the capitalist system:

The first problem to resolve… was how to modify the political stance and general ideology of the proletariat itself, as a national element which exists within the ensemble of State life and is unconsciously subjected to the influence of bourgeois education, the bourgeois press and bourgeois traditions.

Uncovering these hegemonic elements stemming from society’s economic base, according to Gramsci, was crucial in exposing the ruling-class propaganda that seeped through layer upon layer of working-class and peasant cultures of the time.

So, how does Gramsci’s analysis play out today? Within systems of formal education, it exposes the strict parameters set by the capitalist modes of production and the social norms that result. It explains why formal education, even at its highest level, often takes the form of indoctrination.

A prime example of this indoctrination can be seen in the field of Economics, whose students at the most prestigious institutions and earning the highest academic achievements seem unable to apply their thought beyond the narrow confines of classical liberalism and its modern form of neoliberal capitalism.

They may be Ivy League PhDs, members of the Federal Reserve, or highly influential presidential cabinet members, but all exhibit an unwillingness or inability to see the most obvious of contradictions within their theory.

The indoctrination that has essentially taken over all fields of formal ‘study’ and ‘expertise’ inevitably flows throughout society, originating from elite institutions that are specifically designed to justify and maintain the economic base, and transferred from there into so-called public policy.

In turn, public education programmes that are shaped by the capitalist hierarchy are not concerned with the students’ ability to comprehend or critically think, but rather with turning them into ‘docile and passive tools of production’.

Part of this process is focused on the creation of obedient workers who are minimally competent to fulfil their exploitative labour role; and another part is focused on preventing the same workers from being able to critically think about, and thus recognize, their exploited labour role within this system. The former fetishizes obedience, control, and ‘work ethic’; the latter obstructs awareness and resistance.

These formal, ‘public’ structures of dominant ideology are naturally coupled with more informal arrangements deriving from the market system, notably the consumption process. As such, workers are moulded through a structured progression that begins at birth.

In fulfilling this role, workers become consumers in the market for both necessary and conspicuous consumption. As the US capitalist system has become ever more reliant on conspicuous consumption (evidenced in the ‘supply-side’ phenomenon of the 1980s), this way of life once reserved for the ‘leisure class’ has now taken hold of the ‘industrious class’ (working class).

This intensification of the consumption process has exposed the working class to informal channels of indoctrination, established through advertising and marketing, popular entertainment such as television shows, movies, and video games, and the arrival of a billion-dollar voyeur industry based on worshipping the ‘cult of personality’ and celebrity (and, thus, wealth).

Clearly, when consumption becomes the only goal in life, people are pushed to consume more and more. In doing so, the working class is serving capitalist culture even in its ‘personal life’. And through this manufactured encouragement to consume lies a complementary ideology that convinces working-class folks to literally buy into, become vested in, and thus serve and protect, the capitalist system.
Whose Security?

In a class-based society, fear becomes a convenient and effective tool in shaping ideology and pushing through ruling-class agendas with widespread working-class approval.

As in Gramsci’s notion of cultural hegemony, where the interests of the owners and facilitators of capital are gradually accepted as the interests of the masses, issues of security also become blurred between those designed to protect the powerful and those designed to protect the powerless.

The modern security culture that has come to fruition in the US, especially after 9/11, compels masses of citizens to not only be subjected to increasing measures of authority and surveillance, but also to join in the effort to carry out these measures. Americans do so with a shocking willingness.

The reasons for this unquestioned submission to authority can be found in the most blatant of examples: the formation of the US Patriot Act. With the threat of ‘extreme Islam’ and ‘global terrorism,’ such legislation passed with ease because, like all such measures, it exploits the emotional (and irrational) needs brought on by fear.

Mark Neocleous tells us :

Security presupposes exclusion. Take the piece of legislation passed just a few weeks after the attack on the World Trade Centre, called the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. Coming in at over 340 pages and carrying twenty-one legal amendments, the Act was said to be necessary and essential to the new security project about to be unleashed on the world.

It changed criminal law and immigration procedures to allow people to be held indefinitely, altered intelligence-gathering procedures to allow for the monitoring of people’s reading habits through surveillance of library and bookshop records, and introduced measures to allow for greater access to property, email, computers, and financial and educational records. But if the Act is about security, it is also immediately notable for the wordy title, designed for the acronym it produces: USA PATRIOT. The implication is clear: this is an Act for American patriotism. To oppose it is unpatriotic .

This modern security culture has also taken on an extremely broad and vague agenda of ‘national security’, a term that represents a very specific construction of government strategy designed to create a catch-all apparatus that accommodates the never-ending growth of the military-industrial complex.

In fact, the term was deliberately chosen as a play of words with ‘national defense’, used during post-World War II reconfiguration efforts aimed at creating ‘a unified military establishment along with a national defense council’.

‘By 1947, “common defense” had been dropped and replaced with “national security” – hence the creation of the National Security Council and the National Security Act.’ The purpose of this change in wording was tipped by Navy Secretary James Forrestal, who ‘commented that “national security” can only be secured with a broad and comprehensive front’, while explaining, ‘I am using the word “security” here consistently and continuously rather than “defense”.

As Neocleous notes, “security” was a far more expansive term than “defense”, which was seen as too narrowly military, and far more suggestive than “national interest”, seen by many as either too weak a concept to form the basis of the exercise of state power or, with its selfish connotations, simply too negative’.

This conscious shift from ‘defense’ to ‘security’ was made for fairly obvious reasons. President Dwight Eisenhower’s outgoing speech in 1961, which included an eerie warning of a creeping military-industrial complex that had become largely unaccountable, exposed the underlying reason in a rare act of deep truth coming from a major political figure.

In a similar act some four decades earlier, US Major General Smedley Butler exposed the embryo of this insidious institution , famously equating his 33-year military career to serving ‘as a high-class muscle man for big business, Wall St., and the bankers’ and ‘a racketeer and gangster for capitalism’ by making:

Mexico, and especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.

This shift also highlights the importance of understanding Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony and how it plays out in the real world.

By examining the focus of US domestic policy over the past century, we can see how forms of ‘security’ can be dissected into two parts: those focusing on the interests of the ruling-class minority, and those focusing on the interests of the working-class majority.

An example of the latter, which can aptly be described as ‘social security’, can be seen in the aftermath of the Great Depression and the subsequent focus on working-class (social) security in the New Deal.Neocleous points to the literature of the time to highlight this culture rooted in social security :

The economist Abraham Epstein, for example, had published a book called ‘Insecurity: A Challenge to America,’ in which he spoke of ‘the specter of insecurity’ as the bane of the worker’s life under capitalism, while Max Rubinow had been articulating demands for ‘a complete structure of security’ in a book called ‘The Quest for Security’.

A 2012 report issued by The Corner House provides a very clear and useful differentiation between what is referred to as ‘lower-case’ and ‘upper-case’ security.

The first type, which they label as ‘lower-case’ (which Neocleous refers to as ‘social’), specifically applies to that of the working-class majority. This type of security, which relates to us all, include ‘the mundane, plural protections of subsistence: holding the land you work and depend on; having a roof over your head; being able to count on clean water and regular seasons; knowing you can walk home without being assaulted by thieves or marauders; getting a good enough price for your crop to make ends meet; above all, knowing you have the right to the wherewithal for survival’.

The second type of security, which they label as ‘upper-case’ (and which Neocleous refers to as ‘national’), applies specifically to the capitalist class. ‘This is the Security that matters particularly to ruling elites: security of property and privilege, as well as access to enough force to contain any gains made by, or to counter the resistance of, the dispossessed or deprived.’

Actions taken under the umbrella of national security are done so for two main reasons: to protect ruling-class interests, and to feed the immensely profitable military-industrial complex. When major political figures own personal financial stock in the arms industry, as they often do in the US, these dual purposes go hand in hand. The fact that it has developed so intensely within the global epicentre of capitalist power (the US) is expected.

Karl Kautsky’s 1914 essay on ‘ultra-imperialism’ described this inevitable stage clearly, stating that, as capitalist governments, in representing their profit sectors, were forced to seek out new industrial zones, ‘the sweet dream of international harmony (free trade) quickly came to an end’ because, ‘as a rule, industrial zones overmaster and dominate agrarian zones’.

Hence, the massive outgrowth of industrial capitalism, in its constant search for new markets to exploit, can be accomplished only through widespread shows of force and power. Once the ball is rolling, this forceful expansion becomes a perpetual cycle through the opening of markets, the manufacturing and deployment of massively destructive armaments, and the rebuilding of markets.

In this process, the enormous loss of human life is viewed as a necessary and acceptable sacrifice in light of the potential profit to be made.

The final stage of capitalism, which has materialized over the course of the last 50 years or so, confirms these power relations based in the obsessive search for more profit. It is occupied by corporations that ‘gobble down government expenditures, in essence taxpayer money, like pigs at a trough’, and are facilitated by a ‘security’ industry that is funded ‘with its official $612 billion defense authorization bill’ that contributes to ‘real expenditures on national security expenses to over $1 trillion a year’ and ‘has gotten the government this year (2015) to commit to spending $348 billio n over the next decade to modernize our nuclear weapons and build 12 new Ohio-class nuclear submarines, estimated at $8 billion each’.

Ironically, by upholding upper-case Security, the working-class majority undermines its own security. As upper-case Security strengthens so too does our insecurity. Despite this, we remain active participants in maintaining the highly militarized status quo.
Patriotism and Penury

Realizing the difference between ‘lower-case’ and ‘upper-case’ security allows us to see how the interests of the ruling class can be inherited by the working-class majority through the construction of an ‘outside threat’ or common enemy:

Traditionally the business of lord or state, Security has always had an uneasy, ambivalent relationship with the lower-case ‘securities’ of the commons. The law was used to take people’s land and subsistence away, but it could also occasionally be mobilised in their defence. The lord or the state’s ability to make war was typically used against many of the common people both at home and abroad, but could also enlist a willing community to defend territory and livelihoods against common enemies.

Today, outside threats and common enemies are constructed through popular culture. Corporate news stations that are concerned only with ratings (thus, profit) choose sensationalist narratives that strike fear and shock in the viewer.

In this realm of profit-based ‘news’, there is no need for government propaganda because corporate ‘news’ outlets fill this role through sensationalism. The successful creation of foreign threats runs hand in hand with the dominant narrative of safety that is centred in upper-case Security.

It is also made possible through an intense conditioning of patriotism to which every US citizen is subjected from an early age, where as children we are forced to stand in formation in school classrooms with our hands to our hearts, citing a pledge of allegiance in drone-like fashion.

Children as young as five are made to participate in this ritual, with absolutely no idea what they’re saying, why they’re saying it, and what this odd pledge to a piece of cloth hanging in the corner means. As we grow older, this forced allegiance is layered with vague notions of pride and loyalty, all of which remain defined in the eyes of the beholder, with virtually no substance.

The notion of American exceptionalism serves as the foundation for this conditioning, and has roots in the cultural and religious practices of the original European settler-colonists. ‘It’s there in the first settlers’ belief that they were conducting a special errand into the wilderness to construct a city on a hill in the name of their heavenly father’, explains Ron Jacobs :

It is this belief that gave the Pilgrims their heavenly go-ahead to murder Pequot women and children and it was this belief that gave General Custer his approval to kill as many Sioux as he could. It made the mass murder of Korean and Vietnamese civilians acceptable to the soldiers at No Gun Ri and My Lai, and exonerated the officers who tried to hide those and many other war crimes from the world. It [gave] George Bush the only rationale he needed to continue his crusade against the part of the world that stands in the way of the more mercenary men and women behind his throne as they pursue their project for a new American century.

This notion has motivated the ruling classes of the US (and subsequently, the global capitalist order) to ride roughshod over the world’s people in order to establish a global hegemony conducive to capitalist growth.

And it is this notion, often rooted in white-Christian supremacy, that has given many working-class Americans a false sense of superiority over the global population – whether labelled ‘savages’, ‘uncivilized heathens’, ‘filthy Communists’, ‘backwards Arabs’, or ‘Muslim extremists’.

Because of its Eurocentric organization, the global capitalist onslaught that has dominated the modern world has blatantly racial underpinnings. The ‘core nations’ that have led this global hegemony (US, UK, France, Germany) tend to be ‘lighter’ on the skin-colour scale, while the ‘periphery nations’ that make up its dominated group (primarily in the global South) tend to be ‘darker’.

This oppression based in white makes it easier for core-nation ruling classes to justify their actions to their own. As world-systems theorist Samir Amin tells us , for the peoples who live within periphery nations, ‘colonization was (and is) atrocious. Like slavery, it was (and is) an attack on fundamental rights’, and its perpetuation is motivated by material gain.

‘If you want to understand why these rights were trampled on and why they still are being trodden on in the world today’, explains Amin, ‘you have to get rid of the idea that colonialism was the result of some sort of conspiracy. What was at stake was the economic and social logic that must be called by its real name: capitalism’.

In relation to the trajectory of imperialism, notions of American exceptionalism and patriotism are almost always fronts for deeper emotional calls to obey capitalism and white supremacy. These are effective and powerful tools.

Most answer this call because, quite frankly, we are incapable of comprehending the systemic exploitation that plagues us under capitalism. It is difficult for many to understand that cheering for the carpet-bombing of Arab and Muslim peoples worldwide, or publicly calling for the mass killing of black protestors in places like Ferguson and Baltimore, only strengthens the proverbial boot that crushes us in our daily lives.

This inability to understand is rooted in the aforementioned formal education system that prioritizes obedience over enquiry, with the ultimate goal of obstructing any degree of class consciousness from forming among American citizens.

For working-class kids in the US, this ‘manufactured consent’ doubles down on the existing desperation that materializes through a forced dependence on wage labour. Jobs and income are needed to sustain us, but often these do not exist. In the US, unemployment, a staple of capitalism, consistently fluctuates between 4% and 8%.

Underemployment, or the lack of jobs that provide a living wage, plagues another 25-30% of the population, with some estimates as high as 40% in the age of neoliberalism and globalization, where many former unionized, ‘middle-class’ jobs have been sent overseas. The poverty rate, as defined by the government, consistently rests between 13% and 15% of the US population. As of 2015, 15.8 million households (42.2 million Americans) suffer food insecurity.

Because of this bleak economic landscape, many in the US are forced to consider military enlistment. My own entry into military service, for which I served four years in the US Army, was strongly influenced by a lack of options. With college appearing too costly, the job market appearing too scarce, and with few resources to explore life as an adult, it was a relatively easy decision despite the severity that it posed.

Choosing an unknown future where I could find myself anywhere in the world, fighting whichever enemy my government chooses, and ultimately risking my life and well-being was, I concluded, a better option than wandering aimlessly into a world where my basic needs were not guaranteed, and where jobs, living wages, and affordable housing were scarce.

During my time in basic military training, I recall each soldier being asked why they enlisted. The most common answers were, ‘because I needed a job’ or ‘I need money for college’.

My personal experience is confirmed by a 2015 field study conducted by Brad Thomson for the Institute of Anarchist Studies, where a series interviews with veterans concluded that ‘a significant common thread is that they came from working-class backgrounds and overwhelmingly named financial reasons as their motivation to enlist’.

As one veteran, Crystal Colon, said: ‘Most of them [recruits] are people that just want money for college, or medical care, or have a family and need money.’

Another veteran, Seth Manzel, sacrificed personal beliefs in order to satisfy material needs, saying: ‘I was aware of the war in Afghanistan – it seemed misguided but I was willing to go. I heard the drums beating for Iraq. We hadn’t invaded yet but it was pretty clear that we were going to. I was opposed to the idea, but again I didn’t really have a lot of options as far as skills that could transfer to other jobs.’

In the face of material desperation, the addition of spiritual and emotional calls to duty becomes even more effective. As one interviewee recalled: ‘When I joined, in all honesty, I was very, well, that way I would put it now is indoctrinated… your thinking is that this is your country, you’re giving back, it harkens on those strings, and then there’s the pragmatic side – how am I going to pay for college? I’ve got these problems, my family didn’t plan well, financially, so I’ve gotta take care of my own, and how am I going to do that?’ For me, the calls to duty were firmly planted through the repetitive ritual of pledging allegiance.

And, growing up in the 1980s, Hollywood had no shortage of blockbusters that glorified war and military service. From Red Dawn to Rambo to Top Gun, working-class kids like myself were (and continue to be) inundated with films that delivered passionate and emotional calls to serve.

It is no coincidence that US military recruiters strategically seek out economically marginalized populations to fill their ranks – which explains why the ranks are disproportionately Black, Latino, poor, and working class.

This modern practice reflects historical precedence. During the Vietnam War, African Americans and poor whites were drafted at much higher rates than their middle-class counterparts, leading to numerous allegations that ‘blacks and the poor were intentionally used as cannon fodder’.

Today, African Americans represent 20% of the military population, but only 13% of the general population. In contrast, Whites make up about 60% of the military ranks, despite representing 78% of the general population. Only 7% of all enlistees hold a Bachelor’s degree. Nearly 30% of military recruits in 2008 did not possess a high-school diploma, a large proportion of whom came from families with incomes of less than $40,000 a year.

The military (all branches combined) spends roughly $1 billion per year on advertising, which is specifically designed to pull at these emotional strings. The content of these ads, along with recruitment promises, are largely misleading. The money for college, whether through the GI Bill or the College Fund, is overestimated; the supposed job skills that can transfer to the civilian sector are almost always non-existent; and the compensation itself, which is skewed by ‘housing’ and ‘meal’ adjustments, is drastically overvalued.

During my time in service, it wasn’t unusual to see soldiers using public assistance programmes and receiving Article-15 punishment for writing bad cheques in order to buy groceries.

At each of my duty stations – Ft. Jackson (South Carolina), Ft. Sill (Oklahoma), and Ft. Campbell (Kentucky) – pawnbrokers and cheque-cashing establishments were strategically positioned nearby, ready to exploit the many soldiers who needed their services. My last two years in service were sustained by using cheque-cashing services that charged up to 40% interest on advancing money one or two weeks ahead. For me, as for many, this was a necessary evil to sustain any semblance of a reasonable standard of living.
Conclusion

Under capitalism, the working-class majority constantly finds itself in a paradoxical state. Our entire lives are dominated by activities that directly benefit those who own the houses we live in, control the production of the commodities we buy, and own the businesses we work for. Our participation in these activities both strengthens those owners while also further alienating us from what would otherwise be productive and creative lives. Our activities increase the owners’ social and political capital while at the same time separating us from our own families and communities.

This soul-sapping existence takes on a more severe form when we are called upon to fight and die in wars that, once again, only benefit these owners.

In our social capacities, we are conditioned to follow the status quo, despite its propensity to subject many of us to authoritative and militaristic avenues. The vague notion of patriotism ironically leaves us vulnerable to direct repression from our own government. For those who run our worlds, the use of the term ‘patriot’ in the Patriot Act was not arbitrary, just as the decision to replace ‘defense’ with ‘security’ in official policy discussions was not.

This play on words is very effective to an already dumbed-down population. And the cognitive dissonance it creates is blatant – while over 80% of Americans do not believe the government represents our interests, most of us go along with the authoritative policies stemming from this same government, as long as they’re labelled patriotic or presented as being designed to keep ‘the Other’ in check.

Even blind faith in a Constitution that was written 229 years ago by wealthy elite landowners (many of whom were also slave-owners) strengthens this method of control, for it creates another vague form of Americanism that can be used for coercive means.

Just as patriotism is a naturally vague notion, so too are our respective ideas of freedom, liberty, justice, loyalty, and service to our country. So, when called upon to give our lives for the ‘greater good’, ‘for God and country’, for ‘defense of the homeland’, or ‘for freedom’, working-class Americans volunteer en masse, without question, are slaughtered and maimed en masse, and remain socially and economically disenfranchised en masse, despite our ‘service’.

Capitalism’s tendency toward mass dependence on wage labour (and, thus, widespread desperation) serves the military-industrial complex well. The politicians who facilitate the system know this, and actively seek to maintain this advantageous breeding ground. Arizona Senator John McCain’s off-hand comments during his 2008 presidential campaign, warning about the dangers of ‘making veterans’ benefits so good that nobody will stay in service’, alluded to this fact.

When tens of millions of working-class kids are faced with the dire options of McDonald’s or the military, or perhaps college followed by impotent job markets and lifelong student-loan debt, the coercive nature of military recruitment tends to set in.

So, we join en masse, travel the world in metal machines, kill impoverished people whom we’ve never met, fight, get maimed, sometimes die… and return home still broke, living paycheque-to-paycheque, with inadequate benefits and medical care, struggling to support our families and keep our heads above proverbial water. All the while, arms manufacturers enjoy skyrocketing stock prices and unfathomable profits. And the American military machine keeps churning, spitting us all out in its tracks.

Fake News: It’s Ideology, Stupid

David I. Backer

 

Glenn Greenwald recently skewered Ben Jacobs at The Guardian for “summarizing” an interview Stefania Maurizzi did with Julian Assange. The essay shows how Jacobs cherry-picked ideas from the interview to portray Assange as being pro-Russia and pro-Trump, but goes on to a more general meditation on the phenomenon of “fake news”:

If one really wants to battle Fake News and deceitful journalism that misleads others, one cannot selectively denounce some Fake News accounts while cheering and spreading those that promote one’s own political agenda or smear those (such as Assange) whom one most hates.

While Greenwald is absolutely correct, there is a much easier way to say this, one that’s largely absent in the debate on fake news.

Simply put, this “fake news” thing is just ideology. Plain and simple. And the sooner we integrate this concept into our toolbox for interpreting media, the better.

The philosopher Louis Althusser revolutionized how we think about ideology in the 1970s. His definition is the most helpful one in this case. He defines ideology as “imagined relations to real conditions of existence.”

There’s a difference between real conditions and someone or some group’s imagined relation to those conditions. Generally speaking, real conditions are extremely complex, while people’s imagined relations to that complexity are simplified versions that vindicate their agendas.

As Greenwald points out, it’s in Jacobs’ interest to portray Assange the way he portrayed him. Jacobs was a Clinton insider, and the Clinton faction’s position on the 2016 election places inordinate blame on outside forces like WikiLeaks, Russia, and hackers.

The real conditions of Clinton’s loss are complex, and obviously include the leaking of DNC emails, which we know came through WikiLeaks. But the Clinton campaign also failed in various ways that had nothing to do with leaking or Russia.

The Clintonite ideology is an imagined relation to real conditions which attempts to vindicate Clinton’s position by casting WikiLeaks and Assange in a certain way. Ben Jacobs’ “summary” is a paradigm case of this particular ideology, which is the ideology of the centrist faction of the Democratic Party and some moderate Republicans.

The beauty of Althusser’s definition of ideology is that no one is exempt from ideological speech. Everyone must imagine their own relation to real conditions.

And it’s not a matter of truth and falsity. Each speech act, to some degree, is limited by the speaker’s imagination. The real conditions are always more complex.

This is why Althusser wrote that ideology is allusion, not illusion. Everyone, particularly in the public sphere, is always alluding to this or that part of complex social conditions. Why? To push their agenda.

In this sense, all news is “fake” news. People speak in the public sphere in order to vindicate their positions as much as (and sometimes more than) representing real conditions’ complexity.

When they do this, they cherry pick aspects of real conditions accordingly, speaking from their imagined relation to it via their agenda. Sometimes this is intentional and flagrant (like the Pizzagate fiasco), but most times it is unconscious and subtle (like most “objective” reporting).

The term “fake news” itself is a masterpiece of ideological speech. Calling reports “fake news” is a desperate attempt to communicate that one’s own report is “real news.” But making this claim is clearly a power play just as much as it is an attempt to refer to something in the world.

If Democrats call Republican reports “fake news” then it benefits Democrats because it makes it look like Republicans are trying to pull the wool over society’s eyes. Republicans do it to Democrats too and get the same benefit.

But the thing is: every report comes from a perspective. Even “objective” ones.

So rather than making it seem like there’s some hidden force out there pulling the wool over society’s eyes, what people need to realize is that political speech is always trying to win for a particular side. When people speak, whether they mean to or not, they are promoting an agenda. Period.

All political speech is subject to imagined relations to real social conditions, since speakers have positions and have to imagine what their relationship with social conditions are when speaking. This doesn’t mean there isn’t truth and every state is merely a Machiavellian power play.

But when it comes to speaking and writing in the public sphere, we have to consider peoples’ imagined relations to society just as much as we consider the extent to which their statements refer to something like the real social world.

In other words, ideology is everywhere in political speaking, writing, and conversing. The sooner everyone in the debate about fake news gets comfortable with this basic concept, the better.

David I. Backer is Assistant Professor in the Department of Professional and Secondary Education at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

Abolition of Nuclear Weapons: The Struggle Continues

Werner Lange

 

The United Nations and the antithesis of its noble ideals, nuclear weapons, were both born in the same fateful year of 1945. Now in 2017, after some seven decades of dialectical conflict, one of them is destined to be placed, in earnest, on an irrevocable course towards disappearance or debilitated diminution. The 45th President of the United States, another septuagenarian, is hell-bent on making sure it is not the nukes.

One month before his inauguration as President, Trump ominously proclaimed, in a tweeted message, “the US must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes”. The very next day, December 23, the General Assembly of the United Nations overwhelming approved a resolution (L.41) to convene negotiations in 2017, starting in March, on a “legally binding agreement to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.

This historic breakthrough toward imposition of a universal permanent ban on nuclear weapons was greeted, again ominously, by another Trump tweet: “As to the UN, things will be different after Jan. 20th”. Just how different remains to be seen, but it is fully conceivable and consistent with its misanthropic agenda that the Trump regime will use the full force of its usurped power to unrelentingly attempt to dismantle the United Nations entirely; or alternately, to implement the longstanding rightwing cry to get the UN out of the US and the US out of the UN. Unlike the abolition of nukes, the elimination or even evisceration of the UN would have catastrophic consequences for world peace and human rights.

The current existential conflict is not entirely unlike the one having faced humanity at the onset of the Cold War, and it is worthwhile for progressives to remind ourselves of the sacrifices and successes of the pioneers, particularly W.E.B. DuBois, in their heroic peace efforts during the dawn of the Nuclear Age as we hopefully move towards its twilight this year.

At a time when nukes numbered at the most in the dozens (instead of thousands) and nations possessing them were limited to only two (instead of nine and counting), a worldwide campaign was launched in early 1950 to outlaw nuclear weapons and identify any nation which first uses them as a war criminal. The text of the Stockholm Peace Appeal, put in the form of a petition, was unambiguous and uncompromising in its call for the abolition of these new weapons of unprecedented mass destruction:

“We demand the outlawing of atomic weapons as instruments of intimidation and mass murder of peoples. We demand strict international control to enforce this measure. We believe that any country which first uses atomic weapons against any other country whatsoever will be committing a crime against humanity and would be dealt with as a war criminal. We call on all men and women of good will throughout the world to sign this appeal”.

Over 2.5 million Americans joined some 140 million persons worldwide in signing the first international appeal to abolish nuclear weapons. Organizing this historic peace effort in the USA was the short-lived Peace Information Center, led by an elderly African-American scholar, W.E.B. DuBois, the most prominent of the unsung heroes and pioneers of the American peace movement against the very existence, let alone proliferation, of nuclear weapons. Under his prophetic and indefatigable leadership, the PIC – though only permitted a 6-month existence in McCarthyite America – disseminated 485,000 copies of the Stockholm Peace Appeal along with thousands of “Peacegrams” sent to some 6000 Americans on its mailing lists.

Although over 125 prominent Americans, including 1946 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Emily Greene Balch, endorsed the Appeal, it was the enormous grassroots support throughout the country which undoubtedly concerned, even enraged, the Administration of the only world leader to ever authorize use of nuclear weapons for mass slaughter. Truman’s Secretary of State publicly denigrated the Stockholm Peace Appeal as “a propaganda trick in the spurious ‘peace offensive’ of the Soviet Union”; the head of the US delegation to the UN called signers of the SPA, “traitors to their country”; the corporate media almost uniformly denounced this “anti-American” petition; circulators were often assaulted and occasionally jailed; and DuBois, along with his associates at the PIC, were ordered by the US government to register as foreign agents. Subsequent to a federal grand jury hearing at which only government evidence was presented, the elderly DuBois was indicted and arraigned in handcuffs at the Criminal Courtroom of Washington’s Federal Courthouse.

A worldwide outpouring of righteous anger at his arrest coupled with expert legal defense prevented his death behind prison walls. His triumphal acquittal in late 1951 was the first time the US government failed to convict a citizen targeted by McCarthyism, marking the beginning of the end of this dark time in American history.

With the ascendancy of the Trump presidency, a forced descent into a similar darkness is now upon us. As before, there will be victims, institutional as well as individual, only in greater numbers and kinds. But there will also be victories, great ones, if we learn from the examples of patriotic peacemakers like DuBois who had the courage of their convictions to speak truth to power and suffer the consequences; or if we would but follow the directives of our national founders and do our duty, as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, that “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government and to provide new Guards for their future security”. Then, and only then, will a light so shine in the darkness that the darkness of our times cannot overcome it, and the nightmare of a Trump presidency along with that of nuclear weapons ends, never to return.
Werner Lange was a Bernie Sanders delegate to 2016 DNC. He may be contacted at wlange912@gmail.com.