The Utopian Dream of Portland Is Lit by Flames of Racist Hatred: Educating the Next Generation Is Our Only Hope for Change

Susan Anglada Bartley

 

When I moved to Portland 17 years ago, freshly graduated from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study with a degree in History and Literature of Marginalized Communities that I studied to earn with people so brilliant, people who worked so hard, researched so deeply that I should probably not say that I am associated with them–people like the great Dr. Tricia Rose, professor, warrior, TV commentator, and author of Black Noise and several other texts, people like Dr. Robin Kelley, highly regarded professor of History, author ofRace Rebels and Thelonius Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original and numerous other books and articles–toting Albert Gallatin Scholar and Founder’s Scholar awards for my academic work, I was totally unaware of the depth of racism I would encounter in Oregon.

I left New York City with a dream of the West handed down to me by the beat poetry movement, namely Allen Ginsberg, who I deeply admired and had the chance to meet personally before he passed away in 1997, and from my Uncle Kearney, a member of the 60s counterculture who left his Detroit home to wander across the country and up and down the West Coast of the United States, staying at communes in Traverse City, Michigan, Hood River, Oregon, the Russian River, California, and finally in San Blas, Mexico, where he lived for 15 years. My journey West, then, did not initially arise from a desire to fight racism; it came from a desire to follow the footsteps of a dream that is in fact very racist–the escapist dream of the White American hippie. I was born a hippie. I was spoon fed the hippie dream when my uncles would wander into town from the road to visit, full of the shine of San Francisco (and full of marijuana), full of guitar, full of long hair, full of sex, full of Love. They basically told me three things — Fuck the Man, Everyone is Your Brother or Sister, and Go West! These boys were raised in Detroit–they felt a brotherhood with Blues Music, felt close to Black Urban Poor folks, thought Black and Brown women were BEAUTIFUL, and felt no responsibility to serve anyone or change shit–other than guitar strings. It was through this lens of reality that Oregon always glimmered in the distance, like a mountain range to equality, peace, and brotherhood! New York was nothing like that. New York was halls, and elevators, and stairways. New York was smelly subways. New York was rich people who I served in restaurants or cocktail bars. Or New York was going back to Buffalo…and after what I felt I achieved at NYU, in honor of my Mother who never went to college, I couldn’t give up on having a different life. To clarify–this dream wasn’t consciously racist; but the unconscious privilege in the concept that one can just leave, escape the system and establish oneself in the magic of the West is the epitome of White blindness– only a young White college grad would ever believe in the existence of such a Utopia (and let’s not forget that it is all related to the constantly reproduced dream of settler colonialism).

Seventeen years later, I write in an area of Portland once called Felony Flats, where impoverished Whites were known to congregate and participate in the underground economy through collecting and selling metals and trading in mind-altering substances (and still do). While it once was a neighborhood populated by more White people, the neighborhood is now one of the most diverse in the city, with large Vietnamese, Chinese, Mexican, Somalian and Ethiopian communities coexisting with working class or unemployed Whites. The heartbeat of the neighborhood is either the parking lot of 7-11 at 82nd Avenue and Flavel, a methamphetamine and heroin and oxy sales station which is very close to a public park that holds much-debated homeless encampments, or the Vietnamese Buddhist Monastery at the end of my block, where monks meditate in silence for long periods of the day while people of all of these communities, including white-supremacist Nazis, walk by outside, or perhaps it is Franklin High School, a school with a lot of pride and a lot of poverty where I dedicated my life energy as a teacher and program leader for 13 years.

I write in an historical moment where a frightening murderous racist hatred has splashed blood on our streets. This hatred is not a new hatred; it is a hatred that has incubated since the inception of the State of Oregon, which, as an article for The Atlantic by Alana Samuels notes, was founded as a racist Utopia in 1859. It is a racist hatred that often wears a “progressive” disguise; it is a hatred that occupies every facet of public life, from public education to the mayor’s office. And if we are going to hold onto our humanity, educators, parents, and citizens who care about the future of the State must use our collective power to rip racism from its roots and reforest. But to do so we must first see the way it operates, understand our role in it, and educate children in solidarity against it.

In 2013, I won an H. Councill Trenholm National Education Association Human and Civil Rights Award for my work to dramatically increase the number of students of color in Advanced Placement courses at Franklin High School. It seems appropriate, now, to point out that one can only win a Human and Civil Rights Award for opening doors that are already legally supposed to be open to everyone in a very racist environment. What doesvery racist mean? Doesn’t racist sum it up? Very racist means that the culture inside schools in Oregon, minus a few islands, caters directly to White privilege and actively polices, rejects, intimidates, and totally fails students of color. Very racist means Black, Latino, Native, and Asian students being marginalized, in mass numbers, to remedial and lower-level courses while White students are ushered into higher level opportunities. Very racist means that the experience of children of color in Oregon schools are significantly different, based on their race, as are the results they get from their education. In the mid-2000s, I saw this going on at the high school I taught in, and worked with two tremendous Black Principals–Dr. Charles Hopson followed by soon-to-be Dr. Shay James, to end gatekeeping at one school. Through building solidarity between a group of teachers and counselors through the program I co-founded (called The Advanced Scholar Program) we opened the gates and provided needed supports and mentoring for students of color and students living in poverty. Through this work, we also became the school with the number one graduation rate for African American students in the State of Oregon. But soon after the fanfare of the awards (I also won the OnPoint Community Credit Union Award in 2014, which paid my mortgage for a year) wore off, I began to look beyond the myopic focus that was required to do the work I did at Franklin to examine what was going on at other schools.

The problem was, and is, everywhere. Students of color are relegated to lower level courses and locked out of AP programming, especially in Science and Mathematics, all over the State of Oregon. Noting this, I set out with a group of former students of color who are currently in college to author the Bill of Rights for Students of Color in AP & IB Courses. The document gives specific direction to the Portland School Board regarding exactly how to eradicate barriers for students of color. It contains budgetary suggestions, as well as immediate actions that can be taken by Principals to remove barriers like we successfully did at Franklin in the past. After creating the document, we built a coalition of local leaders including prominent leaders of the Black, Latino, and Native American Communities like Portland Black Parent Initiative Executive Director Charles McGee, I AM Academy Executive Director and Real Estate Investor Ellis “Ray Ray” Leary, Don’t Shoot Portland Founder Teressa Raiford, Andrea Morgan of CAUSA Oregon, and now State Representative Tawna Sanchez. Each time a new leader signed on, we updated the school board, totaling more than eighty emails back and forth. Soon, the Bill gained national attention. Multi-platinum rapper Scarface signed on, as did Olympic Gold Medalist Steve Meslar. My college roommate, MacArthur Genius Michelle Dorrance, also reached out to sign on to the Bill of Rights, as did the League of Women Voters, and many other local and national leaders. With tremendous social pressure behind it, the Bill was passed unanimously by our school board. An article was published on the NEA Ed-Votes Website, encouraging other school districts to pass similar legislation. And then the school board and district totally failed to act on any of the initiatives in the Bill. Perhaps their failure to act can be blamed on lead contamination that was found, at exactly the same moment, in most of the Portland schools, making not also poisoning the children the clear priority for the district, trumping and overshadowing educational equity.

Very racist also means that throughout my experience of fighting for racial justice in Portland Public Schools, I have faced significant backlash from white administrators and even fellow teachers (though, interestingly, no African American administrator has ever admonished me or punished me in any way). After winning the awards, I was moved into an office and given no desk, while my male office mate had a desk. When I requested a desk, I was given a children’s school desk, where, as an award-winning educator with clear, well-documented and published results, I was supposed to do my work adjacent to my male counterpart with an adult desk. While working on the Bill of Rights, which I completed entirely outside of the school day (documenting my hours so as to avoid the assumption that I was working for justice on company time), I was regularly berated by several administrators, and again placed into an office with no door to the main hallway so that students could not come in to see me. I was also told that in order to continue to operate my extremely successful program, I had to do it with less time, little real support, and constant threats of funding cuts. From 2003 to present, when I called out gatekeeping, I have been bullied by small groups of fellow teachers who do not agree with or understand civil rights law, or suggest that I am making trouble by suggesting we focus on examining the significant inequities in the system that relate to the way we do our work–and actually focus on serving children of color. When I say bullied, I mean ostracized and gossiped about; I mean that my work has been degraded multiple times. Though I have had eight Gates Scholars come through my classroom, some white teachers who are themselves incapable of conceiving of Black, Latino, and Native American academic excellence put down my work by claiming that I am making things easier for my students, or that my grading systems do not equate to their rigorous standards. Really, they are afraid to face their own complicity and responsibility in the system they have devised, with support from administrations, to uphold White supremacy in Portland Public Schools without ever even stopping to care. Of course, there are many educators who supported and collaborated in the work of eradicating racism, but these educators have never been asked to lead, and have never been in the majority — we are always pushing against a racist status quo that governs public education in Portland, Oregon.

They’ll say they cared. They’ll say they devised systems, helped students write special essays about African American history. They’ll say this and they’ll say that–but some will know what I mean when I say no one ever really stopped to care. I mean it was never the sole focus for a significant number of years in many schools others than one or two. I mean that there was never a time when every single teacher was asked to take five years to really work on their relationships with students of color. There was never a time when every administrator was asked to look at who they privilege in the school, and how they make staff of color feel in the school environment. There was never a time when administrators were required, with appropriate accountability, including penalties for not doing the work, to examine the inequities in their advanced coursework, discipline data, grade data, and graduation rates for students of color. This district has never stopped to really listen to the amazing voices of the former students of the I AM Academy who will tell you one by one that the reason that they stayed in school, and often the reason they are alive is in part because of the wisdom of African-American educator Ray Leary–a man who himself has faced continued hatred, discrimination, and threats to his excellent program simply for doing great work with Black boys. This district never put its foot down around obscene parental funding at Lincoln High School, a school known to serve privileged White students on the West side of town, turning a blind eye regarding additional funding that parents put in to set their own kids up to win when they face less privileged schools in academic and athletic competitions.

And, it’s not that the school teachers never stopped to care. Of everyone who is culpable for the racist system, teachers cared the most, but we are still complicit in the fabric of racism; we are still accountable. The truth is so hard to hear! To teach in Portland means to be complicit in a racist system. And there is racism in the roots of the system. In a 2016 article for KATU News, investigative report Joe Douglass writes, “African American K-12 students in Oregon are 2.3 times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students…black children in Portland Public Schools are four times more likely to be suspended or expelled”. But the racism doesn’t end there–the racism thrives in the way history is often taught–as evidenced by the rape culture denial letter that went viral earlier in the year from a Social Studies teacher in Portland Public Schools. The presence of a prominent, if not LOVED, history teacher denying the existence of rape culture is an abomination of the field of history itself, for one cannot teach the history of Western Civilization and also deny the omnipresence of rape culture. To do so is a total denial of the reality of the history of the world. To do so is to deny the existence of women in history at all. To specifically deny the existence of Native and Black women is misogynoir, is absolute fiction, is simply the rhetoric of supremacy. Racism also shows up in Forensic Science courses, where some teachers still use terms like Mongoloid to describe people of Asian origin, Negroid to describe people of African origin, and Caucasoid to describe White Europeans. These terms, which were invented by racist Scientist Blumenbach in the 1780s were strictly forbidden, even by my history teacher, Mr. John Toy, in the early 90s, who was educated by Catholic Jesuits in New York City. It is an abomination that these terms are still in use in this state, but I’ve heard about their usage in a science class as recently as this year. Portland educators never stopped to truly investigate their curriculum for racist and sexist attitudes and make appropriate changes to rectify inappropriate attitudes found therein.

A diversity training program called Courageous Conversations, offered through the always-under-attack Office of Equity aimed to gently ask White educators to examine our biases–and many did, but some tried to refuse the training or chose not to absorb the benefits and made a joke of it as time went by. That eradicating racism is not the topic of discussion for every educator in the state every day of the year has troubled me since I arrived seventeen years ago; that systemic and overt racism is not the topic of discussion in every school now that we cannot deny the existence of a thriving, deadly white power movement in our city and state makes me wonder what the fuck I am doing here. One time, when faced with the reality that a student of Mexican heritage who was in fact a genius could not go to college because of his immigration status, I prayed on my knees, asking God to simply make me a woman of great faith. I prayed it sincerely. Sincerely, I prayed it. I prayed it with depth, with all of my heart. I can only say that if you ask God to make you a person of great faith, she is likely to give you some challenges.

The City of Portland, too, never stopped to care. Portland never stopped to care when Kendra James was murdered in her car by police while trying to unfasten her seatbelt. They never stopped to care for Quanice Hayes. They never stopped to care–it got so bad in schools that they sometimes just painted over swastikas and didn’t report it to the parents. It got so bad that I once heard about a kid being sent back to class by an administrator when a teacher sent them out because they had swastikas drawn on their jean jacket—but the administrator didn’t confiscate the jacket or send the kid home. He just told him to roll up his sleeves and go back to class. Isn’t that just the way it is, Portland, Oregon?

I now realize that a large part of the problem that white Portland has with racism is that for many, they have been raised in such an isolated white supremacy that they really haven’t had much contact with Black or Brown people, other than in this dynamic where they have total power. Black and Brown children are the only contact many white educators have, and Black and Brown children are under them. If they have contact with other Black or Brown people, it is often in a condition of subservience. There are, for example, many fancy restaurants, with almost all White waiters, and all Central American and Mexican workers inside the kitchen. The color caste system is so prominent and visible in Portland that many white Portlanders don’t see any reason why that should change, nor do the teachers who come from this same society. Thus, the sharp and humiliating tongue of the White teacher is like a double lash on the backs of Black and Brown children who must bear the brunt of that pain twice as painfully as a White child who does not have to assume that some of the hatred is not just for their youth, but also for who they are as a person–at a soul level–their identity. For many students of color, the humiliation from racist encounters in Portland Public Schools causes feelings of dejection so powerful that students feel more comfortable outside of school and far away from certain classrooms, which ultimately impacts their ability to navigate the system, and reflects as low grades and lower graduation rates for students of color.

It’s not that every teacher in Portland Public Schools is actively racist, except me. There is, in fact, a legacy of anti-racist work that started before my arrival, like the work of former teachers, who took students from Portland to Alabama to walk in the footsteps of Dr. King (a trip that continues through the dedication of several current educators). Currently, there are cells of anti-racist educators at many schools throughout the city; few of them will tell you that their work is fully supported. Many have faced significant challenges in order to stay focused on supporting students of color. All will speak of the greater financial support they would need to provide greater resources for students of color. Many anti-racist educators in Portland know the great faith required to continue to fight for achievement for students of color in a district that prioritizes equity in messaging, but not in reality.

What if every teacher in Portland felt part of the movement to transform Portland Public Schools? What if every teacher had the skills and humility to actually relate to and support students of color? What if every teacher was willing to look inside our attitudes, and inside our curriculum, to eradicate racism with the goal of creating social change in the city of Portland? What if?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the foundations of anti-racist education…and how they were laid in me. As I previously mentioned, my hippie Uncles were obsessed with Howlin’ Wolf, and all of the Blues greats — I had Blues songs for lullabies and still do. I get it that they were appropriating a dream — but in that particular dream, there was a solidarity between White and Black working class dudes that I really have not seen since. For me, anti-racist education began in a bizarre if not obtuse, but totally child and heart-centered school, founded by complete hippies, called CAUSE School. This school was founded on the principle that through community-based education, community action, and education totally focused on unity between students of different races, anti-racist and non-violent social revolution could be activated. Throughout my early childhood, I was constantly surrounded by intelligent, counter-culture black adults who were speaking the language of Black Power. Whether they were struggling to get by or pursuing a doctorate, I felt a great sense of love and respect for the many Black adults in my life — and I readily and eagerly gave that love and respect, and learned how to receive that love and respect, which was the greatest gift I ever received in terms of becoming an educator — for I did not ever have to say, “I have a Black friend.” I was part of a community that included many Black people who loved me and who I loved; in fact, my very definition of love came from the feelings I had from people in that community. Black love was my definition of love — and though I am fully white and have lived a life of incredible privilege — I also had the privilege of understanding some of the language of Black love. Part of that language is that you can’t come out here as some dumbass White woman and define Black love. That would be some bullshit. You have to feel it. And I do.

If I really had to explain anti-racist education, I would say it through this anecdote: when I was a little older, attending another extremely radical hippie diverse Montessori school in the early 1980s, I noticed a Black boy who was very unclean. This school was also in the middle of the most impoverished Black neighborhood in the city of Buffalo, NY — a community totally devastated by crack cocaine. Many other children said that his Mother was on crack. This made me so sad when I went home that I snuck into the cabinet and brought this boy a bar of soap. When we were in the hall alone, I walked up to him and quietly offered him the bar of soap.

SMACK!!!!

“I don’t need no soap, White Bitch!” he said, slapping me hard across the face.

That was perhaps the best anti-racist education a White person can have. I was slapped out of savior at age eight. And it was a righteous slap. It was not a slap where you go tell the teacher. It was a you-better-fucking-not-go-tell-the-teacher-or-I’ll-fucking-kill-you-next-time-slap. It was a slap into total submission and full realization that you do not pity Black people or in any way make assumptions about their level of resourcefulness or resources because you will have another thing coming. In my earliest years, I was surrounded by the children of Black nationalists who regularly spoke about African power. In my 7-9 year old Montessori class, we studied South Africa in great depth. The teachers focused on helping us to understand the meaning of racism, and working hard to connect us, through helping us to look at racism in our own society and in ourselves.

In my recollection, there was some very specific language they used that was effective for my young mind. When I say these words, I know that the intellectuals who read this will get their guns and start shooting me down with great acuity for how little deconstruction I am going to do here; however, in defense of these radical educators of the 1980s, they did something really amazing through focusing their entire methodology on anti-racist language. While they focused the curriculum on showing us the history of oppression and revolution throughout the world in depth, they also used slogans that a child could easily remember to help us to understand anti-racist philosophy in the way that worked for the mind of a 5 to 9 year old. The words they wove into us as we sat on the floor looking up at their mythic storytelling were, It’s what’s on the inside that counts.

It’s what’s on the inside that counts will not heal the deaths of all of the Black and indigenous people who have died, to date, from the largest genocide in the history of the planet. It’s what’s on the inside that counts will not bring back Trayvon, or Emmett, or any of the millions who died in the chokehold of White power, but for God’s sake, Portland, we cannot go on like this.

Portland teachers need a new language and an entirely new focus on anti-racist education. Dr. Rosenberg’s work on non-violent communication is a great place to start; and we must also be willing to take direction from our local educators and leaders of color who can convene and, if supported appropriately with pay, can help White Portlanders to understand what they don’t see. Every teacher must be willing to investigate our own curriculum each year, each week, each day, to work toward bettering our relationships with students. We can do this by requiring that every teacher change from a teacher-centered model to a student-centered model that utilizes non-violent communication, as well as a variety of other techniques that I will discuss in a future article. Above all, we need more Black, Latinx, and Native American teachers in our schools. We know that the state tests filter out candidates of color because of various forms of bias. We also know that our schools are often currently not comfortable places for Black and Brown staff members. We must call for changes in how teachers are hired while also requiring administrators to work on school climate with a specific focus on racism, sexism, and White male supremacy, and how they manifest in staff culture.

We must turn the schools upside down, shake them, and put them back down with new walls, higher ceilings, open doors, and more light. In creating a new infrastructure that supports students of color, we can look to the legislation that is already provided for us by Dr. King, Reverend Shuttlesworth, Fanie Lou Hamer, and other heroes of the early NAACP and civil rights movement who fought to write their suggestions into law. Until this transformation takes place, the Portland School Board, current district leaders, high school principals, and even teachers must accept full responsibility for evident civil right violations and a culture of racism that operates in the public system. The Utopian dream of Portland is lit by flames of racist hatred. Focusing on eradicating civil rights violations in every school, supporting the Office of Equity in a large scale collaborative project to examine all questionable curriculum to remove racist attitudes, and gathering together as anti-racist educators to teach the next generation both anti-racist philosophy and inclusive student-centered curriculum is our only hope for change.

Susan Anglada Bartley is an activist, writer,​and teacher in Portland, Oregon. She earned her B.A. from NYU, and her M.Ed from Portland State University. She was awarded a National Education Association H. Councill Trenholm Human and Civil Rights Award in 2013 for her work to end racism in public education. She presented her work on Systemic Barriers to AP and IB Courses for Black, Native American, and Latino Students, and co-presented with Pedro Anglada Cordero, MSW on Invisible Fences: Removing Obstacles for Latino Students at the Teaching for Social Justice North West Conference and at the Evergreen Education Association Diversity and Social Justice Conference. She has published articles with Artvoice Buffalo, Literary Arts Portland, The National Education Association Magazine, NEA-Ed Votes, Latino Rebels, and The Hampton Institute: A Working Class Think Tank.

Progress and Making the Native Disappear in South Africa

Richard Raber

 

In the name of modernity and capital expansion, indigenous peoples across the globe have been slaughtered, dispossessed and made to be invisible. Through the writing out of history or blotting out of popular culture, indigenous people are often relegated to a state of pre-modernity or tradition; this continues to underpin policy.

We have seen this narrative countless times as manifest destiny, the empty-land myth and the like; gross human rights violations justified as the price of Progress. In this way, Progress is considered through the lens of the inevitability of capital. Some proponents of this notion of Progress may claim to lament the cultural, familial and economic attack on local communities. If taken at face value, such sentiments speak less to personal immorality but rather point to a crisis of imagination. Progress is bestowed with inevitability, simply pitted against Tradition, leaving little room for intellectual alternatives. Lacking options, proponents remedy Progress by painting it as ethical advancement while distancing it from its colonial origins. Extraction industry apologetics demonstrate this trend through buzzwords such as energy independence or exaggerated claims of job creation.

In an act of colonial continuity, the government of South Africa is incessantly trying to put forward the Traditional Khoi-San Leadership Bill. Amongst other issues, the Bill would increase the authority of Traditional Leadership in the nation’s former Bantustans including the ability to unilaterally enter their communities into agreements with third parties. This would sanction an existing reality in many communities wherein Traditional Leadership personally benefits from extorting or at least preventing community resistance against the arrival of extraction or tourism industries. As I have covered before,Traditional Leadership has sold land that is not theirs to sell, while others have acquiesced to the intimidation of their community members. In this way, the Bill would further institutionalize Traditional Leadership and rural patronage as a fulcrum for capitalist exploitation.

The proposed legislation is the next descendent in a long line of rural patronage used to manage and exploit the nation’s black majority. The Bill would directly affect roughly 18 million people . While it would be unfair to paint every Traditional Leader with the same brush, we must question their histories and relationship to the title. Many contemporary Traditional Leaders do not fit into the great lineage of anti-colonial resistance embodied by Chief Albert Luthuli or King Langalibelele but rather fall into a line of collaboration. For instance, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini legitimized Mangosuthu Buthelezi and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), armed by the regime, the IFP engaged in a ravenous civil war with the African National Congress across today’s KwaZulu-Natal and the townships of Gauteng. It should be noted that Zwelithini also faces accusations of stoking the xenophobic violence plaguing the nation.

During the transition process, the IFP harnessed its ability to withhold peace by threatening to boycott the 1994 election. In exchange for their participation, the IFP was awarded a major concession and pre-cursor to the TKLB, the Ingonyama Trust Act. Passed days before the historic election, the Act stipulates that much of the land belonging to the former KwaZulu homeland is to be administered by the Zulu King. As I have argued before, the nature of the relationship between the national state and citizens on this land has remained largely unchanged since the colonial era. The Traditional Khoi-San Leadership Bill would further reify these borders and this relationship.

Considering the magnitude in terms of those directly affected by the Bill, there has been relatively little coverage of it. This falls into a long pattern of externalizing the experiences as well as plight of rural communities. Further, as I have noted before, much of the popular discourse surrounding rural people taking place outside of rural areas often frames these folks and by extension their communities withintwo stereotypes. The first label is stupid or lazy while the second is rural people as the proverbial gate-keepers of tradition, seemingly left-behind by modernity. A consultation process mired in inadequaciesspeaks to the first perception as rural people are to be spoken to, never heard, to be led rather than to lead. The relative silence in major English language media speaks to the perceived irrelevance of rural matters.

Much like its colonial forbearers, the Traditional Khoisan Leadership Bill is a tool to overlook the experiences, ambitions, opinions and indeed, dignity, of rural black South Africans. If enacted, this Bill will further empower corrupted Traditional Leadership while capital freely exploits the local soil. Progress is often understood as innovation, the easing of life. For capital this Bill effectively solves the problem or removes the barrier of rural people and their ability to politically participate, resist exploitation and direct their own destiny.

Raised in Canada, Richard Raber is a writer and researcher presently based in Luxembourg. His current research centres around social memory in contemporary South Africa. His writing has previously been featured by Open Democracy, Daily Maverick, New Politics and Thought Leader as well as other platforms. He can be found on Twitter at @RaberRichard.

Race, Solidarity, and the American Working Class

Edward Carson

 

The search for solidarity has escaped white, black, and brown working class people, in part, due to white people’s historical reluctance to embrace shared experiences that cross racial boundaries. Because of recent political news, mass rallies by Black Lives Matter, and the growing concerns about the economic gap, I aim to resurrect past and present conversations about the “working class.” As we know, it is not monolithic. In order to confront working class issues, society must mend the color line through class, which is complex, as the American race question is the real problem.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, expresses the unchanged dimensions of the American color line and class-consciousness among the working class:

“Solidarity is standing in unity with people even when you have not personally experienced their particular oppression. The reality is that as long as capitalism exists, material and ideological pressures push white workers to be racist and all workers to hold each other in general suspicion. But there are moments of struggle when the mutual interests of workers are laid bare, and when the suspicion is finally turned in the other direction – at the plutocrats who live well while the rest of us suffer.” [1]

Black lives do matter, but many accept arguments that society operates under the guise of color blindness, a falsity that permits modern day atrocities to black and brown Americans. This argument stands in the way of interracial workers forging unity. Black Lives Matter further elicits a reaction to the present-day injustices that were not wholly resolved via 1960’s de jure legislation. Thus, the movement has sought to bring all people together in solidarity against systematic racism and brutality.

Working class people should be unified across racial lines; however, the lack of solidarity and the division capitalism promotes regarding class and race continues to divide them, as noted by the rise of Donald Trump, the 2016 Republican Presidential winner. If the white, black, and brown working class were fully unified – they might grasp their intersectional identities and achieve an understanding of themselves as a wholly marginalized people, often comprised of multiple identities: LGBTQ, people of color, women, etc.

The past and present reflect white people’s belief in their own understanding of racism, not the real experiences faced by people of color. Often, they have defined racism in a “neoliberal” sense of saving black people from their own community problems. Rudy Giuliani, following the killings of five police officers in Dallas, referenced how he has saved more lives than Black Lives Matter. He, as well as others, such as Republican National Convention speaker David Clarke, a Milwaukee Sheriff, who too spoke against Black Lives Matter, failed to note the waves of cyclical oppression in cities like Baltimore, a conclusion of America’s past Jim Crow policies. White people fail to understand the ubiquitous degree of privilege they hold, a precursor to being an ally to black and brown people. The rejection of “white privilege” is an acceptance of interracial solidarity.
Black Identity and Solidarity

Without privilege and facing racial oppression, American Negroes have long sought solidarity, but without it, focused on their own struggle and revolution. As Malcolm X wrote in Message to the Grassroots,

“The Negroes were out there in the streets. They were talking about how they were going to march on Washington… That they were going to march on Washington, march on the Senate, march on the White House, march on Congress, and tie it up, bring it to a halt, not let the government proceed. They even said they were going out to the airport and lay down on the runway and not let any airplanes land….That was the black revolution.”

This revolution was absent of racial solidarity, in part, due to white resistance and disinterest, growing Black Nationalism, and societal failure to grasp the extent of white racism within the working class.

Before the second civil rights period, 1954 – 1965, black Marxist, who pondered their approach to fighting capitalism and Jim Crow in the early 20 th century, witnessed the pervasiveness of racial injustice and the pronouncement of white supremacy as ubiquitous forces in post-bellum America. Thanks to the work of W.E.B. Du Bois and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), black folk sought to address their oppression in a country shaped by de facto racism and Jim Crow. Through such challenges, Negro solidarity continued, though Carol Anderson’s book, Bourgeois Radicals, discusses the NAACP’s attempt to distance itself from radical Du Bois, whose writings offered a Marxist analysis in the United States and an international call for colonial independence.

Du Bois witnessed the rise of Marcus Garvey and his paradigm, which sought to use capitalism in promoting Black Nationalism in the 1920s. Du Bois, who joined the Communist Party USA in 1961, adopted a Marxist perspective early in his training to challenge racism, while Garvey’s use of capitalism was his means of addressing the race problem. And though there was solidarity in addressing the advancement of blacks, Garvey’s capitalism offered a contentious anti-Marxist narrative to Du Bois’s integrationist approach. After all, it was Du Bois who opposed Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Compromise, even though he shared a desire with them in eradicating Negro oppression.

By the 1950s, the United States government saw a need for change regarding its race problem, due to the Soviet Union and voices from organized movements, such as the International Labor Defense. Black American communists, such as William Patterson, Claudia Jones and Esther Jackson, propagated the left’s message questioning American democracy. The United States championed the 1954 court ruling Brown v. Board of Education, which chipped away at Jim Crow, but did not fully resolve legal segregation; it was a clear response to the accusations made by the Soviet Union and American radicals regarding America’s race problem. [2]
Marxism and Racial Unity

According to Marxism, the first focus is on class; hence, a desire to unify the oppressed proletariat. Karl Marx assumed class struggle would address the race question. However, both are contentious forces in the United States. This, unfortunately, has historically created troubled interest for white and colored workers in unifying, often because capitalism and white supremacy have maintained a symbiotic relationship. Blacks have long suspected that white working class people were exploited and fed lies about the Negro, in an attempt to prevent solidarity. As Du Bois wrote in The place of Negroes in the crisis of capitalism in the United States,

“This newest South, turning back to its slave past, believes its present and future prosperity can best be built on the poverty and ignorance of its disfranchised lowest masses-and these low-paid workers now include not only Negroes, but Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and the unskilled, unorganized whites. Progress by means of this poverty is the creed of the present South… The Northern white worker long went his way oblivious to what was happening in the South. He awoke when the black Southern laborer fled North after World War I, and he welcomed him by riots… They excluded Negroes. It is taking a long time to prove to them that their attitude toward Negroes was dangerous. If Negro wages were low in the South, what business was that of New England white labor?”

Angela Davis, who ran for the vice presidency of the United States on the Communist Party ticket in the 1980s, and recently authored, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement, reminds us of the universal struggle shared by black and brown folk, as she echoed Du Bois’s observation that the “problem of the twentieth century is that of the color line.” Davis contends “Racism, in the first place, is a weapon used by the wealthy to increase the profits they bring in by paying Black workers less for their work”.

Du Bois and Davis touched on the unique struggles of being black and American. They remind blacks that white bourgeois power and racism are instruments to suppress their blackness and social condition. This promulgated Negro distrust of whites, driving later concerns about the Communist Party USA (CP), as reflected in the writings of Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright, who critiqued their struggles with the left, due to the reluctance of white communists and the CP to fully address race. Wright showcased his frustration in his essay I Tried to be a Communist.

Those fears should have been allayed by the historical solidarity and support the CP expressed in fighting the racial injustices toward the falsely accused Scottsboro Boys of rape. Not even the NAACP supported them, withdrawing from the case in 1932. Later, in 1955, it was the CP who sought justice for the slaying of Emmett Till, who was murdered in Mississippi by white supremacists.
The Struggle for Unity in Labor

With such efforts at building solidarity by black, brown, and white communists, challenges persisted. A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, pointed to the complexity of America’s racial binary relationship, as he noted, “Salvation for a race, nation or class must come from within. Freedom is never granted; it is won. Justice is never given; it is exacted.”

Randolph, like Du Bois, Washington, and Garvey, sought first to take care of the Negro race – then use that to advance the race within white America. The commonality of race consciousness and black identity usurped class. Negro awareness of white working class differences was a grave barrier to achieving unity over capitalism. Randolph’s approach moved closer to solidarity with whites, as the American Federation of Labor (AFL) granted the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters a charter, but the color line was not mended in a fashion that promoted class-consciousness. Manning Marable’s book,Race, Reform, and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction in Black America, 1945 – 1990, noted that”The purge of communists and radicals from organized labor from 1947 through 1950 was the principal reason for the decline in AFL-CIO’s commitment to the struggle against racial segregation.” [3]

Blacks observed white union members still struggling with racial solidarity in the trade union movement decades later. In the 2008 election, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka spent weeks encouraging white workers to support Barack Obama, saying, “While there are many reasons to vote for Obama, there’s only one really, really bad reason to vote against Barack Obama. And that’s because he’s not white.”

Racism has long divided the working class, and today is no different. Many white working class people voted for Donald Trump. And much like 2008, race was a reason. While some will salute a strong economy, in truth, wages have flattened for the working class. Because of this, and because white workers have grown suspicious of the burgeoning black power call by Black Lives Matter, the search for solidarity continues to escape a racially divided country, as noted by the current political climate.
Edward Carson is an independent historian who teaches courses on race, religion, United States history, and African American Studies in the history department at the Brooks School, a residential school in North Andover, Massachusetts. He is the current chair of the Communist Party USA Boston. The title of his working manuscript is ” W.E.B. Du Bois’s Editorial Influence on Western Negro Migration .”

Notes

[1] Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation (Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2016), 215.

[2] Daniel Rubin, “James and Esther Jackson: Shapers of History,” Peoples World, December 16, 2006,http://www.peoplesworld.org/james-and-esther-jackson-shapers-of-history/ .

[3] Manning Marable, Race, Reform, and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction in Black America, 1945 1990 (University Press of Mississippi, 2007), 28.

The Power of Candy: Celebrating Robert Hillary King’s Freeline

Holly Genovese

 

Freelines, a delicious candy make from large amounts of butter, sugar, evaporated milk, and of course, pecans, doesn’t seem all that different from your standard New Orleans Praline. Much softer, and a bit sweeter, but if you didn’t know any better you might think they were simply the homemade version of the mass produced French Quarter treat. But candy connoisseur and business owner Robert Hillary King has given these sweet, southern treats a life, and political purpose, of their own.

King was a member of the Black Panther Party and the Angola 3, a group of Black Panther members incarcerated in the Louisiana Stat e Penitentiary and falsely accused of the murder of prison guard Brent Miller. (They were given this moniker in the early 1970s when their mothers were organizing for their freedom). King, alongside Albert Woodfox and the late Herman Wallace, were Black Panther Party members sentenced to life in solitary confinement for this murder, which they ascribe to their association with the Panthers.

Can a piece of candy be an act of protest? Can it be intellectual work? Robert Hillary King believes so. And he manages, through one candy, to contest the legacy of the Black Panther Party, help to humanize the experience of the incarcerated, and to supplement his income.

King can talk for hours about the years he spent in the state penitentiary, his favorite books (Native Son by Richard Wright and the Bible rank high among them), and his most beloved intellectual influences (other incarcerated writers and activists). His home at the time I met him, a small Austin residence, was decorated with Angola 3-inspired art and ephemera.

Posters from events about the Angola 3 were alongside more singular art projects like an Angola 3 wall clock. His bookshelves were filled with books and articles about the Angola 3 and the New Orleans Black Panther Party. He gave me a few freelines (pronounced free-leans-like pralines) to take home, a candy he learned to make while incarcerated and began selling after his release because it was impossible for him to find employment. [1]

Freelines are a play on pralines, the French-inspired Louisiana candy common in New Orleans. [2] King shared how he learned to make his pralines with me. On his website, King describes his freelines and the process in which he developed them. King explained, “I had plenty of time to perfect the recipe from my cell in Angola Penitentiary. I created a make shift kitchen from a stove made out of coke cans and burnt toilet paper rolls to get heat. My friend ‘Cap Pistol,’ who was working in the prison kitchen, taught me how to make sugar candy and I gave them away, especially to the guys on death row.”

King’s freelines are packaged with a label that describes the process for making them and his education in prison, alongside “the story of the Angola 3.” Next to the brief story is a Black Panther, symbolizing King’s continued allegiance to the Black Panther Party, although it was officially disbanded many years ago.

Both the Black Panther Party and the story of the Angola 3 are central to the production and packaging of King’s freelines – without them, they would seem like any other New Orleans candy. Even decades after the Black Panther Party officially disbanded, King engages with the party politically and intellectually. His activism is still informed by their ten-point platform, which emphasized the need for an end to the incarceration of African American men, education, an end to police violence, and an emphasis on ending economic suffering for low-income African Americans. King explicitly links the Black Panthers with the Angola 3 on his candy, and had done this while the other members of the Angola 3, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, were still incarcerated (Herman Wallace was released in 2013, 3 days before his death from cancer and Woodfox was released in January 2016). King saw the freelines as a way to garner support for their freedom. Black Panthers and the incarcerated are both stereotyped and remembered as violent militants. By protesting unjust incarceration and false perceptions of the original Party with candy, something both non-violent and associated with sweetness, King helps to subvert these dangerous stereotypes.

The case of King’s freelines as an act of Black Power is particularly interesting because of his connection to the South as a native New Orleanian. While influenced by the French, the American praline originated in New Orleans, whereas black power is often popularly constructed as a northern and urban phenomenon (although the origins of both Black Power and the Black Panther Party are in the South). [3] By combining the pralines with the imagery of the Black Panther Party, King uses his candy to assert the connection between the Party, black liberation movements in America, and southern history. By doing so, he helps to reframe ideas about the Party and Black Power through this edible treat, while also creating awareness to the proud history of Black struggle in America.

King’s freelines serve as a source of empowerment and protest for those who remain incarcerated. By altering this food in a way that made it possible to make in prison, King implicitly makes an argument for the innovation and creativity found within the Louisiana State Penitentiary. While King started selling them after he left prison, his adjustments to the standard New Orleans praline came about because of the limited tools and supplies he had available to him while incarcerated. This resourcefulness and creativity, which amounted to forging a stove out of coke cans and toilet paper roles, gives the Freeline a defining quality that cannot be matched.

But more than an act of protest, King’s freelines are an act of survival. While many states and cities have taken action to “ban the box,” (the checkbox referring to incarceration on job applications), it is still incredibly difficult for the formerly incarcerated to gain employment. [4] This amplifies tremendously in the case of someone like King, who spent 29 years incarcerated, much of which was in solitary confinement. Beyond prejudices towards the formerly incarcerated and African American men on the job market, King had missed almost 30 years of experience and skill building, time he couldn’t make up. Because of this, King’s freelines are an act of radical protest, as well as an act of economic independence. By starting a business out of his activism, while also writing his autobiography From the Bottom of the Heap and going on speaking tours, King defied the constraints placed on him as a Black man in America. This defiance should be celebrated.
Notes

[1] see Orissa Arend Showdown in Desire

[2] Pralines Are More Than Just New Orleans’ Signature Candy,http://www.eater.com/2016/10/27/13422426/praline-new-orleans-pecan-candy

[3] Black Power was coined in 1966 Mississippi by Stokely Carmichael, then a leader in SNCC. While the Black Panther Party was founded in October 1966 in Oakland California by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, students at Merritt College, they were both originally from the South. New Orleans in particular had an active Black Panther Party chapter, to which King and the other members of the Angola 3 were connected with.

[4] Ban the Box Campaign, http://bantheboxcampaign.org/ .

The Nurses’ Union That Made Medicine Sick: How the Oligarchs Hypnotized Labor Leaders to Betray Working-Class Communities of Color

Jon Jeter

 

Opened in 1889, O’Connor Hospital was the first in the city of San Jose, and the second in California to be chartered and managed by the Daughters of Charity, a 400-year-old Catholic mission founded by St. Vincent de Paul. Its benefactor, Judge Myles P. O’Connor, made his fortune in mining and he and his wife, Amanda, were two of Silicon Valley’s first philanthropists. They had originally planned to open an old-age home and an orphanage, but the local Archbishop convinced the couple that the needs of what would grow to become the state’s third most populous city were far too prolific to address only that which vexed the very young, and the very old.

For the next 125 years, the Daughters of Charity faithfully served San Jose’s sick, pregnant, and poor, the hospital’s fortunes rising and falling in tandem with that of Santa Clara County’s laboring classes. With paychecks buoyed by postwar productivity and assertive trade unions, the order built a new, state-of-the art campus on the city’s east side in 1953, just as Americans were bursting at the seams with hope, and babies.

Similar to the protagonist in Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises, however, O’Connor went broke, gradually at first, and then suddenly, as good-paying jobs dried up, culminating in the ruinous 2008 recession that left millions of Californians unable to pay their hospital tab. Forced to borrow heavily just to stay afloat, the Daughters of Charity Health System announced in 2014 what would’ve once been unthinkable: a sale of its network of six hospitals.

More jarring still was the colorful streetscape that greeted morning commuters on Forest Avenue as they approached O’Connor’s main gate in the first days of 2015. As the low-watt January sun doused the Santa Cruz mountains in a champagne-colored dew, motorists were visibly puzzled, some even scratching their heads as they passed by.

On the campus’ north lawn, nearly 100 protesters clad in robin’s-breast red, chanted, cheered and hoisted placards that read: “Nurses and nuns agree: Approve the Sale.”

To the south, maybe 20 yards away, stood another 100 or so demonstrators clad entirely in blue, brandishing signs that read: “Save our Hospital; Reject the Sale.”

The dueling rallies prefaced a public hearing by California’s State Attorney General Kamala Harris, who is legally required to approve the sale of nonprofit hospitals, and pitted one powerful labor union - the California Nurses Association in red - against another - the Service Employees’ International Union, in blue.

Dubbed by the Nation Magazine as the country’s most progressive trade union, the CNA and its umbrella organization, National Nurses United, endorsed a proposal by Daughters of Charity executives to sell the chain to Prime, a southern California-based healthcare provider with a reputation for ripping off Medicaid, its patients, and its workforce. A 2014 federal audit of Prime hospitals, for instance, found 217 cases of improperly diagnosed kwashiorkor, a form of malnutrition that is seldom seen in the US, and typically found only in the global South. Unsurprisingly, Medicaid reimbursement rate for the the disease is quite high when compared with other maladies.

The SEIU, on the other hand, favored a sale to a Wall Street hedge fund named Blue Wolf with no management experience in the healthcare industry, but a demonstrated proficiency for dismantling businesses and auctioning its parts off to the highest bidders.

But here’s the thing: San Jose’s working-class communities - a Benetton- blend of Latinos, south Asians, Blacks and Whites - wanted neither, Prime least of all.

Had they bothered to show up for any of the dozen or so community stakeholder meetings held in 2014, the CNA’s leadership might have known this. But Bob Brownstein, the executive director of the civic organization, Working Partners USA, could only remember seeing a CNA labor representative at a single meeting, and if he chimed in on the discussion, Brownstein couldn’t recall.

Labor representatives for the SEIU, on the other hand, and Blue Wolf executives were fixtures at the stakeholders’ meetings.

“I don’t think either union did much of anything,” Brownstein recalled more than a year later, “but SEIU was clearly more comfortable in dealing with the community. As I recall, there was someone from Blue Wolf and the SEIU at every meeting and they answered every question that everyone put to them. They were clearly trying to generate answers and they even made some changes to the original proposal” to win the community’s approval.

“Their offer was more opaque but they did a much better job than Prime did in acknowledging community concerns. We never trusted Blue Mountain but the community was much more worried about Prime.”

So much so that a coalition of 15 civic groups wrote a joint letter to Harris urging her to veto the sale to Prime. The stakeholders’ clear preference was Santa Clara County which had bid on O’Connor, and whose health care network had a regional reputation for providing quality care to the uninsured that was second only to O’Connor’s.

But Daughters of Charity executives did not want to break up the set, so-to-speak, and preferred selling all six hospitals to a single bidder.

“I don’t know why the California Nurses Association didn’t help us push the county’s bid,” said Grace-Sonia E. Melanio, Communications Director for Community Health Partnership, which was one of the authors of the letter to the attorney general’s office.

“I assume it was because they don’t represent county nurses but I don’t know that for a fact.”

By January of 2015, Brownstein, Melanio and others knew that shifting the conversation from the two labor-backed bidders to the county’s bid was a longshot, at best.

Still, Melanio recalls her astonishment at seeing the the tsunami of red and blue as she pulled into the O’Connor parking lot ahead of that January public hearing.

“I was shocked,” she said, “to see that the unions had the community outnumbered by roughly 100 to 1.”
“You Got to Dance with Them That Brung You”

The question of who killed organized labor in the US has always been something of a whodunit for me, until I went to work as a communications specialist for the California Nurses Association in January of 2015.

The action at O’Connor was my first week on the job and the hospital’s ultimate sale to a Wall Street hedge fund was tantamount to an exhumation. After examining the cadaver close up, I can report that all evidence identifies the killer beyond a shadow of a doubt:

It was a suicide.

What proved the undoing of the labor movement was not the bloodlessness of conservatives, but the faithlessness of liberals; not the 1 percent’s dearth of compassion, but the 99 percent’s failure of imagination; not the corruption of the managerial class but trade union leaders’ desertion of the very communities that made the American labor movement a force to be reckoned with in the first place.

“You got to dance,” the immortal Molly Ivins once wrote, ” with them what brung you.” After collaborating with workers of all races to create a middle-class that stands as the singular achievement of the Industrial era, unions switched dance partners mid-song.

In championing Prime Health Care, the nurses’ union, and its Executive Director, RoseAnn DeMoro, carried water for a venal corporate class in much the same fashion that the Democratic Party, and its titular leader, Hillary Clinton, runs interference for Wall Street, leaving the people of San Jose to choose from the lesser of two evils, just as voters in next week’s presidential ballot have no good options.

This is no coincidence. Beginning in earnest with Wall Street’s 1975 takeover of New York City’s budget, corporate executives have wooed both Democrats and labor union leaders with increasing assertiveness, in a concerted effort to thwart the interracial labor movement that is the only fighting force to ever battle the plutocrats’ to a draw.

To put only slightly too fine a point on it, financiers’ courtship of labor in the postwar era mirrors Napoleon’s recruitment of Haiti’s mulattoes to help put down the island’s slave mutiny. Both counter- revolutions drove a wedge through the opposition with a psych-ops campaign that can be reduced to a question of identity:

Are you a worker, or are you white?
No More Beautiful Sight

The Bay area can make a credible claim to being the birthplace of the modern labor movement. When West Coast longshoremen went on strike at the height of the Great Depression, Blacks who had consistently been rebuffed in their efforts to integrate the docks, jumped at the chance to work, albeit for smaller paychecks than their white peers.

Confronted with a failing strike, the head of the longshoremen’s union, an Australian émigré named Harry Bridges, toured African American churches on both sides of the Bay bridge, according to the late journalist Thomas Fleming.

From the pulpit, Bridges acknowledged the union’s historical mistreatment of Blacks, but promised skeptical parishioners that if they respected the pickets, they would work the ports up and down the West Coast, earning the same wage as white dockworkers.

They did, and the strike’s subsequent success triggered a wave of labor militancy that not only imbued the economy with buying power, but connected workers’ discontent with broader political struggles for affordable housing, free public education, infrastructure improvements, and civil rights.

“Negro-white unity has proved to be the most effective weapon against the shipowners,” the historian Philip S. Foner quoted a dockworker saying in his book, Organized Labor and the Black Worker, “against the raiders and all our enemies.”

When Oakland’s two chic department stores, Kahns and Hastings, denied pay raises to their mostly women employees in 1946, nearly 100,000 union members - mostly men - walked off the job in solidarity.

But they didn’t stop there, shutting down the whole of Alameda County for the better part of two days, ordering businesses to close, and turning back deliveries of everything other than essential medical supplies and beer, which they commandeered to hold a bi-racial bacchanal in the streets of Oakland, dancing, singing, and exulting in the power of the many.

It was the last general strike in US history; within months, Congress overrode President Truman’s veto of the Taft-Hartley Act which, among other things, outlawed so-called sympathy strikes, and mandated trade unions to expel Communists from their ranks.

Still, the working class maintained its swagger for another generation.

Invoking eminent domain, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency razed thousands of structures in the city’s “blighted” Fillmore neighborhood, forcing nearly 10,000, mostly Black households to relocate, and transforming Geary Street into an eight-lane monstrosity which sealed off the Fillmore from the whiter and wealthier Pacific Heights.

In a 1963 interview with the Boston television station WGBH, about his iconic documentary, Take This Hammer, James Baldwin said this:

“A boy last week - he was 16, in San Francisco - told me on television….He said, “I’ve got no country. I’ve got no flag.” Now, he’s only 16 years old, and I couldn’t say, “You do.” I don’t have any evidence to prove that he does. They were tearing down his house because San Francisco is engaging - as most Northern cities now are engaged - in something called urban renewal, which means moving the Negroes out.”

Among those who took notice of the Fillmore’s gentrification was Lou Goldblatt, who was, at the time, the second-in-command of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, the very same union that had integrated the West Coast’s docks.

“There was no reason why the pension funds should just be laying around being invested in high-grade securities, Goldblatt later recalled. I thought there was no reason why that money shouldn’t be used to build some low-cost housing.”

The ILWU created the Longshore Redevelopment Corporation to pounce on the three city blocks-out of a total of 60- that the city had set aside for affordable housing.

In her 1964 letter to the San Francisco Chronicle, Josephine Solomon described her new digs: “I’ve just moved into my new home in St. Francis Square…and living here is quite clearly going to be exhilarating and, more important, the best possible place in which I can raise my children. About 100 families have already moved in…and we have representatives of all races and colors living together as neighbors. There is no more beautiful sight in this town than our marvelous, mixed-up collection of white, brown, and yellow children playing together in the sunny community square every afternoon.”
Who’s The Boss?

“C’mon people, what are some more nurses values?”

I was nearly four months into my stint at the CNA when I found myself in a half-lit, mildewed, second-floor conference room in the union’s downtown Oakland office, seated among a clutch of maybe 7 or 8 other communications staffers, all but two of us-an Asian woman and myself-who are non-white.

The task this late April afternoon was to identify “nurses values,” which I had assumed meant that I would help pore over the results of a nurses’ questionnaire to produce a coherent ad campaign.

Instead, the communications manager, Sarah Cecile, stood astride an easel that leaned like a sprinter at the finish line, her magic marker poised to add to the wan list of nouns that glared accusingly at me, reducing Hegelian dialectical inquiry to a game of fucking charades.

“Wait,” I said, “we’re telling the nurses what their values should be? Shouldn’t we be asking the nurses what their values are, you know, like in a survey, or a poll?”

“That’s a bad word for us,” said a graphic artist who’d worked for the CNA for several years. “Polling is frowned upon here.”

“Maybe they know something I don’t,” I said sarcastically, “but if we’re telling the rank and file what to do, doesn’t that make the union just another boss that the nurses have to answer to?

Should communications organize a coup of sorts?” I asked provocatively.

When I returned to my office 30 minutes later, I had an email from De Moro’s secretary, summoning me to a meeting with the executive director the following morning.

This was extraordinary for a couple of reasons, not the least of which was that despite sharing the same floor as the executive staff, it was an unwritten rule that communications was to have no contact with top management. This directive went so far as to prohibit communications from either emailing executives directly, or from entering or exiting through the executives’ north wing.

Moreover, I was told that both the executive staff, and the board, were almost all lily-white, save for one Latino and one African-American on each.

What I remember most about the next day’s meeting is the mirthless half-smile that DeMoro wore like a mask for nearly the entire 45-minutes, reminding me of Sir Richard Burton’s description of Lucille Ball as “a monster of staggering charmlessness.”

She began by asking me if I had any ideas for trying to improve the union’s communications effort, which was odd, since she’d blown off an email with my suggestions for doing exactly that only weeks earlier.

“Anything we could do to make this more of a bottom-up effort would be to the union’s benefit,” I recall saying. “It seems we spend an awful lot of time trying to talk to people who really aren’t interested in what we have to say, and not enough rallying and organizing the community to put pressure on decision makers.”

By this time, California’s Secretary-of-State, Harris had already, effectively vetoed the sale to Prime by attaching such stringent conditions to the transaction that she knew no corporation would accept the terms. I had publicly predicted as much months earlier; knowing that Harris would rely heavily on Wall Street to finance her US Senate campaign, I’d proposed, unsuccessfully, writing articles interrogating the investment firm’s mishandling of other businesses it had acquired.

But DeMoro’s communications’ director, a walking mediocrity named Chuck Idelson, had all of the imagination of a lamp post, and only half the personality. His idea of media relations was sending out at least one anemic press release per day, then marshaling the entire communication staff for two days to badger journalists we had no relationship with to cover news conferences that were wholly absent any news. A North Carolina rally for the Robin Hood tax on Wall Street transactions was attended by two people, the parents of Cecile, the communications manager.

As presidential hopefuls began campaigning in Iowa ahead of that state’s all important caucus, the nurses’ union planned to launch an ad campaign against Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker.

“Why in the world would you do that?” I asked Idelson one day in early 2015 just as the primary season was beginning to take shape.

“Well, Walker is really bad on labor,” Idelson said.

All the Republicans are bad on labor,” I said. “All the Democrats too. You’re gonna tell the rank-and-file that you spent a quarter-of-a-million dollars to help send union-busting Hillary Clinton to the White House? Why don’t they spend that money on organizing, or on an ad campaign to support Black Lives Matter. Police violence against people of color is a public health crisis,” I said. “Who is more credible on that issue than nurses?”

Moreover, I said, a California-based trade union buying ads in Iowa with union dues will surely be used as a cudgel with which to beat organized labor upside the head.

I repeated my concerns to DeMoro, but with that awkward smile on her face, she made it clear that she shared neither my faith in the rank-and-file, or the community.

“The nurses have some issues,” she said at our meeting. “We need for more of them to support the Democrats and to work the phone banks and things like that,” she said. “And frankly,” she said, abandoning all pretense now, her smile dissolving into a contemptuous frown, “they need to be more progressive, more radical and to take more chances.”

DeMoro’s annual salary at the time was $359,000, more than triple the average nurse’s yearly pay.
You Ain’t White

Portraying Leftists as subversives, the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act required trade unions to weed out suspected communists, according to the historian Foner, by asking Black workers questions like:

“Have you ever had dinner with a mixed group?”

And this: Have you ever danced with a white girl?”

Whites were asked if they had ever entertained Blacks in their homes, and witnesses, Foner wrote, were asked “Have you ever had any conversations that would lead you to believe (the accused) is rather advanced in his thinking on racial matters?”

Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women, would later acknowledge that this purge of communists from trade unions was akin to severing the umbilical cord while the baby was still in the womb, starving the most democratizing social movements of a vital fuel-source.

Much of the labor movement’s bandwidth however, could not be measured in muscle, or union-dues, but in imagination, as demonstrated by the ILWU’s Goldblatt’s vision of a Beloved Community, fashioned from the stevedores’ pension fund.

“So let’s all be careful,” United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther once said, “that we don’t play the bosses game by falling for the Red Scare.”

And then Reuther went on to play the bosses game, expertly, chasing Marxists from the union, isolating Black workers, and reverting to the anodyne reforms that characterized the ineffective, segregated unions before the 1934 San Francisco General Strike. So disillusioned were Black autoworkers with Reuther’s tripartite alliance with Detroit’s industrialists and the Democrats that by the late 1960s, many had begun to joke that the acronym UAW stood for “U Ain’t White.”

The tipping point, however, occurred in the midst of the 1975 fiscal crisis, when New York bankers hatched a scheme to recoup their losses on bad real estate investments from the wages, pensions, and subsidies shelled out to city employees and the working class. The facts were not on their side, and so the financiers played the only hand they knew to play: race.

Doubling down on the Birth-of-a-Nation narrative, the city’s oligarchs, and their friends in the media, portrayed Blacks as a menace to the civic project, exploiting racial resentment of a Black polity that had found its voice mostly through labor unions.

In a 1976 episode of the NBC television series, McCloud, titled “The Day New York Turned Blue,” the stetson-wearing New Mexico sheriff- an avatar for white, male supremacy- almost single-handedly rescues Gotham from ruin, largely by convincing an Italian cop named Rizzo to cross a picket line, and help repel an attack by the mafia, who ambush police headquarters to kill a mob attorney-turned state’s witness.

Aside from the mafia, the villains in this urban morality tale are the police union-led by the Bad Nigger that 1970s America loved to hate, Carl Weathers-which refuses to call off a labor walkout in the city’s time-of-need, and a prostitute who is drugging her clients-one an accountant visiting New York to audit federal bailout money-with a fatal, suffocating blue paint.

Playing the role of Rizzo in real-life was the head of the city’s largest municipal union, Victor Gotbaum. In his book, Working Class New York, the historian Joshua B. Freeman wrote of Gotbaum and his partner, Joe Bigel:

“Having seen the power of the financial community,the hostility of the federal government, and the divisions within the union movement, they shied away from a militant, independent labor strategy which might have led to them being blamed for a city bankruptcy. Instead, they preferred to make concessions and invest their members’ pension money in city debt in return for a place at or near the table, where discussions about the city’s future were being made by financiers, businessmen, and state and federal officials. Gotbaum became so entranced by the power elite . . .that within a few years he and (investment banker Felix) Rohatyin were calling each other best friends, even holding a joint birthday party in Southampton.”

DeMoro is an heir to Gotbaum, not Goldblatt. If she or any of her lieutenants had an ounce of imagination I never saw it. Consider that at no time during the Daughter’s of Charity sale, did I ever once hear anyone mention the possibility of pushing for legislation to convert O’Connor to a worker, or community-managed health co-op, similar to the ILWU’s response to the Fillmore’s housing crisis.

Shortly after Harris nixed the Prime deal, DeMoro called an emergency all-staff meeting in March of 2015, in which she bluntly asked the 65 or so staff members for their suggestions.

“If we don’t do something different now, we’re going to die,” she said.

A young Latina labor organizer raised her hand, and said: “Why don’t we start to build partnerships with the immigrant rights community that’s politically active and organizing across California,” I recall her saying. “We could really strengthen our own organizing capacity and deepen our roots in a community that is looking to join forces with institutional allies.”

You could’ve heard a gnat piss on cotton in Georgia.

Later, the young organizer would tell me privately me that had she been a white, male labor organizer, and replaced immigrant rights community with some off-brand faction of Silicon Valley white liberals, say Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, DeMoro would’ve been over the moon.

“Everybody knows that RoseAnn loves her white boys,” she said.

As for me, I was fired a week after proposing a coup because “you don’t seem happy here.”

It was May 1, or May Day.

This was originally posted on Jon’s personal blog.
Jon Jeter is the author of ‘Flat Broke in the Free Market: How Globalization Fleeced Working People,’ and the co-author of ‘A Day Late and a Dollar Short: Bright Nights and Dark Days in Obama’s Postracial America.’ He is a former Washington Post Bureau Chief in southern Africa and South America, a former producer for This American Life, and twice a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.

Americanism Personified: Why Fascism Has Always Been an Inevitable Outcome of the American Project

Colin Jenkins

 

“When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” This quote, which has often been misattributed to Sinclair Lewis , is wise in its recognizing the authoritarian potential of both nationalism and organized religion. In slight contrast, Professor Halford E. Luccock of the Divinity School of Yale University said in a 1938 interview , “When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled ‘made in Germany’; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, ‘Americanism.'” Luccock’s view was that of a Christian theologian during the height of Nazi Germany, likely meant to not only downplay the role of religion but perhaps more so warning against the false idolatry of nationalistic reverence.

Despite the tidbits of insight offered, both quotes underestimate Americanism as a highly-authoritative and dominating national project in and of itself. At the time of both quotes, America had already cemented strong elements conducive to fascism: an economy based in capitalist modes of production, a geography created through mass extermination of Native American populations, white supremacist ideals rooted in both dominant culture and pseudoscience , and aggressive expansionist and imperialist projects throughout the Western hemisphere. It should come as no surprise that Adolf Hitler studied, admired, and was inspired by the US genocide of Native Americans as well as its subsequent reservation program. “Hitler’s concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of English and United States history,” John Toland wrote in his book, Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography . “He admired the camps for Boer prisoners in South Africa and for the Indians in the wild west; and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America’s extermination-by starvation and uneven combat-of the red savages who could not be tamed by captivity.”

This notion of American fascism is certainly nothing new. As Steve Martinot explains in his invaluable essay on ” Fascism in the US ,” this discussion has been around for a long time:

“In an early, now canonical discussion of racism in the US, Pierre Van den Berghe (1967) pointed out that a prevalent racial despotism coexisted with constitutionality, a confluence he characterized as ‘herrenvolk democracy’ – ‘democracy for white people.’ In his book, Friendly Fascism, (1980) Bertram Gross argues that the US under Reagan began moving toward a form of governance closely analogous to 1930s European fascism; he compares the social consequences of corporate influence to Mussolini’s ‘corporate state.’ George Jackson finds no better word than ‘fascism’ to describe the psychotic use of power and violence by which white prisoners relate to black, or by which the prison administration maintains its hierarchical system — and which he sees mirrored in white-black relations outside the prison.”

As a settler-colonial project steeped in white supremacist domination and capitalist ideals, America is and always has been an ideal fascist breeding ground. The current rise of Donald Trump, the “alt-right,” neo-Nazism, and white nationalism is nothing new, it is merely Americanism becoming further personified through the vulnerabilities opened by the failures of capitalism and the weakening of liberal democracy – systems that were constructed on shoddy, hypocritical foundations to begin with.
Fascism as a Capitalist Phenomenon

“People that are more concerned with the trappings of this pseudo mass society and its spectacular leisure sports; parades where strangers meet, shout each other down and often trample each other on the way home will never see the ugly reality of fascism. Amerikkkan fascism is so effective in emotionally appealing to people’s desires and fears that when we point out to them that Amerikkkan capitalism has had 200 years to disguise and refine its face, and 50 years to consolidate fascist control of the country, they would simply dismiss us.”

– Shaka Sankofa Zulu

Fascism, as a conscious and working ideology, was intentionally constructed to serve as a polar opposite to the materialist conception of thinking that scientific socialism (Marxism) was based in. Benito Mussolini, a former socialist, specifically noted this in his Doctrine of Fascism, which he wrote with Giovanni Gentile. Fascism is a collectivist ideology, much like socialism; however, fascism calls on a societal tie that differs greatly from that of socialism. While socialist collectivism is rooted in an inclusive, communal responsibility to have basic material needs met for all, fascist collectivism is rooted in an exclusive, nationalistic responsibility to dominate and conquer peoples who are viewed as not belonging. While socialist collectivism is based in worker-control of the means of production, fascist collectivism is based in a natural adherence to corporatism, which takes form in concentrated control of the means of production (mimicking that of capitalism). While socialism seeks to undermine and ultimately destroy the capitalist system, fascism seeks to fortify the late stages of capitalist accumulation by merging corporate power with the State.

As socialists view the working-class struggle as the primary vehicle to creating self-determination, fascists flatly reject economic (material) motives as a potential driving force for societal change. The authoritarian nature of capitalism is an ideal precursor to fascism. Because of this, fascism seeks to take the reins of the system and use it to carry out its nationalistic project that is based in a form of heritage or national identity as determined by the fascists. The Doctrine of Fascism explains ,

“Fascism [is] the complete opposite of…Marxian Socialism, [which posits] the materialist conception of history of human civilization can be explained simply through the conflict of interests among the various social groups and by the change and development in the means and instruments of production. Fascism, now and always, believes in holiness and in heroism; that is to say, in actions influenced by no economic motive, direct or indirect. And if the economic conception of history be denied, according to which theory men are no more than puppets, carried to and fro by the waves of chance, while the real directing forces are quite out of their control, it follows that the existence of an unchangeable and unchanging class-war is also denied – the natural progeny of the economic conception of history. And above all Fascism denies that class-war can be the preponderant force in the transformation of society.”

The authoritarian nature of capitalism is rooted in its most elemental relationship – that between the owners and the workers – which naturally creates minority class dominance over the majority class. Fascism seeks to transform this class dominance into national dominance. Because of this, parasitic billionaire exploiters of the capitalist class (like Donald Trump) become welcome members of this nationalist project, and exploited workers who embrace fascism are more than willing to overlook the complicity of the creators of their own misery as long as these overseers are willing to repent through an embrace and renewal of ethnic nationalism.

The natural extension from capitalism to fascism is impossible to ignore. In structural terms, as concentrations of wealth and power are created through the mechanisms of capitalism, so too are widespread dispossession for the masses of people who exist under the system. Despite the construction of robust welfare and police states, which have been implemented to prevent this widespread dispossession from transforming into civil unrest, the weight of such unequal power dynamics is bound to crush the experiment we’ve come to know as “liberal capitalist democracy.” This has never been more evident than in the neoliberal era, where both globalization and so-called “free-market” ideology have unleashed the system to do what it is designed to do.

An anarcho-capitalist (American “libertarian”) analysis of fascism, presented by Sheldon Richman in the Library of Economics and Liberty, recognizes at least a part of the natural connection between capitalism and fascism, without overtly saying so:

“Where socialism nationalized property explicitly, fascism did so implicitly, by requiring owners to use their property in the ‘national interest’-that is, as the autocratic authority conceived it. (Nevertheless, a few industries were operated by the state.) Where socialism abolished all market relations outright, fascism left the appearance of market relations while planning all economic activities. Where socialism abolished money and prices, fascism controlled the monetary system and set all prices and wages politically. In doing all this, fascism denatured the marketplace. Entrepreneurship was abolished. State ministries, rather than consumers, determined what was produced and under what conditions.”

While Richman would surely argue that such elements – autocratic control, currency manipulation, and the end of entrepreneurship – are not natural byproducts of capitalism, they perfectly describe the stage of monopoly capitalism (actual existing capitalism) that has inevitably developed as a result of the most basic mechanisms of the system: the labor-capital relationship and the private ownership of land as a means to exploit. In other words, what American “libertarians” like Richman describe as “corporatism” or “crony capitalism” is really just a mature and naturally developed stage of capitalism. The “cronies” are merely the benefactors of this inherent process. This point has been illustrated by many economists outside of the establishment , and perhaps most effectively and intensely by the Monthly Review school.

The insurmountable weight that capitalism has brought down on “democracy” has demanded the need for more authoritarian adjustments within government, as societal unrest becomes more likely. This mature stage of capitalism creates a ripe environment for fascism, both in its creation of a highly-centralized State apparatus that has already meshed with corporate power , as well as in its need to recruit masses of foot soldiers from within the systematically dispossessed population. The Fascist Doctrine describes the transfer of the “Liberal State” to the “Fascist State”:

“The foundation of Fascism is the conception of the State, its character, its duty, and its aim. Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State. The conception of the Liberal State is not that of a directing force, guiding the play and development, both material and spiritual, of a collective body, but merely a force limited to the function of recording results: on the other hand, the Fascist State is itself conscious and has itself a will and a personality — thus it may be called the “ethic” State.”

The transformation that Mussolini and Gentile describe is that of a capitalist state with pluralistic tendencies that are conducive to capitalist growth to one of a corporatist state with homogenous tendencies that are designed to protect and grow nationalist interests. While modern fascists in the United States tend to focus on “multiculturalism” and what they refer to as “cultural Marxism,” they fail to realize that the same structure which shaped these social dynamics happens to be a prerequisite for the fascist transition. The Western capitalist system required a massive, intercontinental slave trade to get started, centuries of internationalist/globalist expansion to spur continuous growth, and an imperialist agenda that has displaced entire societies throughout the global South. In other words, the tactics that have been used to feed the capitalist system, most of which could be characterized as crimes against humanity , not only created the incredibly unequal distributions of wealth and power both nationally and internationally, but also created the societal makeups that fascist foot soldiers decry. In this sense, capitalism has not dug its own grave, like Marx once promised that it would; it actually has birthed the inevitability of fascism.
From “Liberal State” to “Fascist State”

Through capitalism’s reliance on imperialism, the transition from Liberal State to Fascist State has already begun. In order to be formally transitioned into fascist control, it merely needs time, political direction, and a forceful wresting of power from the entrenched Liberal State. Once completed, the nature of imperialism shifts from one of economic motivations to one of nationalistic motivations. The doctrine discusses this process:

“For Fascism, the growth of empire, that is to say the expansion of the nation, is an essential manifestation of vitality, and it’s opposite a sign of decadence. Peoples which are rising, or rising again after a period of decadence, are always imperialist; and renunciation is a sign of decay and of death. Fascism is the doctrine best adapted to represent the tendencies and the aspirations of a people, like the people of Italy, who are rising again after many centuries of abasement and foreign servitude. But empire demands discipline, the coordination of all forces and a deeply felt sense of duty and sacrifice: this fact explains many aspects of the practical working of the regime, the character of many forces in the State, and the necessarily severe measures which must be taken against those who would oppose this spontaneous and inevitable movement of Italy in the twentieth century, and would oppose it by recalling the outworn ideology of the nineteenth century – repudiated wheresoever there has been the courage to undertake great experiments of social and political transformation; for never before has the nation stood more in need of authority, of direction and order. If every age has its own characteristic doctrine, there are a thousand signs which point to Fascism as the characteristic doctrine of our time. For if a doctrine must be a living thing, this is proved by the fact that Fascism has created a living faith; and that this faith is very powerful in the minds of men is demonstrated by those who have suffered and died for it.”

While gaining control of the State is formally accomplished through the emergence of electoral movements, it still requires a groundswell of support from the lower classes. The class divisions created by capitalism, especially within post-industrialized societies like that of the US, present the most opportune dynamics for what is sometimes referred to as “right-wing populism.” Not only is the emergence of an industrialized middle class a key component in this development, but even more crucial is the subsequent collapse of this middle class. This second stage has been occurring in the US since the 1980s, with the onset of neoliberalism and globalization. Politically speaking, it has manifested itself in Reagan’s neoliberal blueprint, the neoliberalization of the Democratic Party, the complete economic abandonment of the American working class by both major parties, the rise of proto-fascist groups like the Tea Party, the triumph of lesser-evilism, and now in the rise of 21st-century neo-Nazism and white nationalism, both of which have helped buoy an actual billionaire capitalist to the White House.

Gaining political support from the working class seems like a difficult proposition for those running for office, since the political parties in power are the same parties which have abandoned most Americans for the past several decades. However, this is where fascism’s reliance on emotion and identity, or what Mussolini refers to as “duty,” “holiness,” and “heroism,” over material need becomes so powerful. The structural dispossession of masses of people by macro-systems like capitalism is difficult to pinpoint, especially when systemic understanding is absent. Left-wing populism relies on these understandings, as well as the expectation that material conditions will motivate the working class to act in its own best interests, which are diametrically opposed to the interests of capital, bourgeois politicians from within the liberal democratic system, and of course billionaire businessmen. Fascism makes things easier, focuses on a national/racial identity, and deems all who exist outside of that identity to be enemies of the State. The structural pressure created capitalism, especially against that of the former middle class, or against anyone feeling as though they’re losing privilege, creates an environment conducive for recruitment. This process was never explained more succinctly than by George Jackson :

“The shock troops of fascism on the mass political level are drawn from members of the lower-middle class who feel the upward thrust of the lower classes more acutely. These classes feel that any dislocation of the present economy resulting from the upward thrust of the masses would affect their status first. They are joined by that sector of the working class which is backward enough to be affected by nationalistic trappings and loyalty syndrome that sociologists have termed the ‘Authoritarian Personality.’ One primary aim of the fascist arrangement is to extend and develop this new pig class, to degenerate and diffuse working-class consciousness with a psycho-social appeal to man’s herd instincts. Development and exploitation of the authoritarian syndrome is at the center of ‘totalitarian’ capitalism (fascism). It feeds on a small but false sense of class consciousness and the need for community.”

The authoritarian nature of fascism is found in its reliance on identity, a fluid concept that allows for some maneuverability within the minds of its adherents, while also shoring up the herd mentality that becomes rooted in its perceived national agenda. In other words, the individual within a fascist movement may perceive themselves, the movement, and even the ultimate goal of the movement in varying ways; however, when called upon to act, their actions will always fall in line with the national agenda as set by its directors. This is why fascism requires the presence of strong leaders. Much like the Orc armies in JRR Tolkien’s famous Hobbit series, the foot soldiers of fascism are easily swayed into violent action for a greater good that is constructed by a strong, charismatic leader. And with this support, those leaders can accomplish electoral feats previously unheard of.
Punching Down: The Fascist Engine of White Supremacy and Xenophobia

Despite the structural failures of both capitalism and “liberal capitalist democracy,” American fascism would find difficulties materializing without a strong element of identity. Whereas left-wing populism clearly relies on the material desperation of the working class under capitalism, fascism’s reliance on the vague concepts of “holiness” and “heroism” needs a constructed and recognizable identity. In America, the structural and cultural phenomenon of white supremacy serves as this identity, and therefore acts as the engine needed to redirect the widespread angst developed through the systematic dispossession created by capitalism and “democracy” into a nationalistic movement.

It is important to understand that white supremacy is not something only reserved for jackbooted neo-Nazis giving “Heil Hitler!” salutes, but that it is a systemic phenomenon which is heavily seeped in American culture. It is both a conditioned mentality and a material reality. The conditioned mentality that Black lives are substandard has been shaped through centuries of popular culture, from the racist Minstrel shows of the early 19th century, which utilized the ” coon caricature” to lampoon Black people as dim-witted, lazy, and buffoonish, to modern TV shows like COPS, which perpetuates the racist stereotype that Black people are more prone to debauchery and criminality. The material reality has been shaped by two and a half centuries of chattel slavery followed by various forms of legalized systems of servitude and second-class citizenship, including sharecropping convict leasing Jim Crow, and mass incarceration. This history has built complex layers of institutional racism carried out under the guise of legality, and a systematic ghettoization supported by both ” white flight” and widespread discriminatory housing and employment practices, all of which have combined to shape a uniquely intense experience for Black Americans who must face both class and racial oppression.

The two factors (conditioned mentality and material reality) interplay with one another in a way that is increasingly disastrous for the ways in which American society views and treats its Black citizens. Because of the perpetuation of racial stereotypes, people on average are less empathetic toward their Black counterparts. Studies have shown that white children as young as seven years old believe that Black children feel less pain than them; that emergency medical personnel are less likely to give pain medication to Black and Latinx children who are in pain; and that “Caucasian observers reacted to pain suffered by African people significantly less than to pain of Caucasian people.” The material reality shaped by institutional racism has created a landscape where Black people are disproportionately poor, unemployed, and in prison. Martinot talks about this seemingly never-ending cycle that is centered within a highly racialized criminal punishment system:

“The social effects of this process are catastrophic, yet familiar. Not only does felonization of a population insure massive unemployment (a general tendency not to hire people with a record), but routine felony charges amount to systematic disenfranchisement (14% of black people by 1998, according to Fellner and Mauer). Recent studies indicate that one out of every three black men under the age of 30 has been through the judicial system in the last 25 years. To continually remove a sizable number of people from a community in this way constitutes a massive disruption of its social coherence. This disruption buttresses its criminalization as a community in white society’s eyes, and rationalizes the disinvestment of capital and a general financial obstruction of community asset accumulation. Racial oppression, impoverishment, imprisonment and police impunity are all of a piece.

Ultimately, the increase in prison population has become one of the arguments, in social discourse, for further drug laws and racial profiling. It is a self-generating cycle. What is significant about it is that it is not perceived by white society at large as an extant injustice. Instead, more prisons are called for and accepted, again with a sense form of cultural familiarity (“how else are we going to deal with crime?”). This acceptance euphemizes itself in political campaigns as being “hard on crime” as opposed to addressing the social conditions that generate crime. It inhabits a white consensus in solidarity with the police and prison industry that have allowed for their untrammeled growth — a consensus whose content is white racialized identity.”

When turned on its head, white supremacists can use this current reality to support their arguments that Black people are in these positions because of “poor decisions,” “a lack of personal responsibility,” “a lack of work ethic,” “laziness,” or even some type of biological shortcoming, as is argued by so-called “race realists” (the modern term for pseudoscientific racism). Individualizing systemic problems is both a convenient way to blame victims of societal oppression, by basically ignoring history, and the result of a general lack of historical and practical knowledge regarding how systems shape lived realities for people within those systems.

The latter point helps explain why ignorance is naturally drawn to reactionary politics, and why fascism has always been the likely outcome for America. As most Americans suffer from extreme deficits in sociological, historical, economic, and systemic understanding, any reaction against personal misgivings (which are experienced by the working class as a whole under capitalism) will surely default into raw emotion for many. This is fascism’s advantage, as it feeds off aimless frustrations. Ignorance is easily swayed; and guiding these frustrations into an intense anger against women, immigrants, Muslims, Black people, Brown people, or LGBTQ people, is easily accomplished.

Ignorance is also a harbinger to cowardice. Due to a lack of general understanding of the world around them, such people grow to see the world as a dangerous place. So they must back themselves into a corner, stockpile guns, become suspicious of any and all who do not look like them, and brace themselves for the globalist, Illuminati-led, Bilderberg-planned, Soros-funded, politically-correct, cultural-Marxist New World Order. Their lack of understanding leads them down a delusional rabbit hole, and their vulnerabilities and insecurities breed a cowardice that drives them to “punch down” at those who appear even more vulnerable than they. This authoritarian stance taken against class peers, and its need to dominate and brutalize marginalized people, is just waiting to get swept up in the fascist tide. And for many Americans, it inevitably has.
The Struggle Against Inevitability

Since the inevitability of American fascism is deeply rooted in both capitalism and white supremacy, any resistance against this fascist tide must be focused on destroying these two systems. Therefore, the only suitable orientation to embrace is one of a left-wing populist, internationalist, working-class, anti-racist ideology. The black-clad, masked anarchists and anti-fascists who have been physically confronting Trump’s shock troops in the streets are firmly rooted in this orientation. They are the front lines of this struggle, but their effectiveness will ultimately be dependent on a mass, organized movement that includes political and labor-oriented groups on the left, and most importantly liberation groups that are rooted in justice for people of color and immigrant populations.

The upcoming war against American fascism will occur on multiple fronts. First, ground troops of the left (antifa and others ) are desperately needed to confront the violent, bigoted, gun-obsessed right wing that has formed under the banner of Americanism. These ground troops must be armed and proficient with guns, physically conditioned, and trained in hand-to-hand combat skills. A guerilla orientation influenced by the teachings of Che Guevara and Abraham Guillen , among others, and rooted in the approach of the original Black Panther Party and Fred Hampton’s rainbow coalition (the BPP, Young Lords, and Young Patriots) is vital. Included in this need are community defense projects that can protect working-class people from the immediate dangers posed by right-wing militia groups, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and police.

Second, a multi-pronged attack against the capitalist system is needed. This must include a return to militant labor organizing and the inclusion and politicization of low-wage service sector workers. This must also include a left unity project that creates a coalition of anti-capitalist political, labor, and social justice groups that can effectively bring in and give the reins to immigrant laborers, the unemployed and underemployed, and specifically those who are most marginalized due to their racial, gender, or religious identity. A rejection of both capitalist political parties (Democrats and Republicans) is necessary in this struggle, as is a rejection of the lesser-evil approach to electoral politics that has brought the entire system rightward over the past 40 years.

Third, a struggle against government repression is unavoidable. The American government has a brutal history of crushing anti-capitalist dissent: the Haymarket martyrs , the execution of Joe Hill, the targeting and forced exile ofBill Haywood, the Palmer raids, the framing of Sacco and Vanzetti McCarthyism, Communist blacklists, COINTELPRO , the MOVE bombing , the imprisonment of folks like Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier and Oscar Lopez Rivera, and the forced exile of Assata Shakur , are a few examples. Legitimizing the movement with a formidable, nationally-based political wing can help with this. A third party rooted firmly in anti-capitalism is needed to serve as a vehicle for spreading class consciousness among an American working class that has been strategically and historically shielded from this. While electoral victories would be nearly impossible and largely ineffective in the current structure, political pressure and education is a crucial tool that should be used to create legitimacy and transparency.

This struggle must be carried out with an understanding of the role that liberals and many progressives play in protecting the fascist movement. While conservatives and those on the “alt” and far right represent a clear enemy, liberals can sometimes pose as allies when it comes to mainstream political rhetoric. History shows this is not the case. It shows that no matter how progressive their platforms may appear, liberals will always side with the capitalist system and, most importantly, with their own stability and comfort within the system. This has never been more evident than in their recent support of a proven corporatist and war hawk in Hillary Clinton, their red-baiting propaganda since the election, their blanket condemnation of anti-fascists, their constant cries against counter-violence, and their false equivalencies against “extremists on both sides.” The fact that the Democratic Party sabotaged Bernie Sanders, a politician whose platform is nothing more than that of a New Deal liberal, shows how far to the right they have moved since the inception of neoliberalism. Nancy Pelosi’s honest proclamation that “we’re capitalists and that’s just the way it is” while answering an unscripted question from a student at a January “Town hall” appearance perfectly captured the smug elitism of the party, especially when considering Pelosi herself is married to a wealthy “businessman/investor” and has a net worth in the range of $43 to $200 million. Capitalism has been great for her and her family; however, not so great for 200 million Americans. And now we have a war on our hands.

Russophobia and the Logic of Imperialism

Ava Lipatti

 

As it stands today, the U.S./NATO imperialist bloc has its eyes set primarily on two countries: Russia and China. While NATO imperial terror, including economic sanctions and military action, in countries such as Ukraine, Syria, Iran, and North Korea constitute exploitative projects in their own right, they also function to encircle Russia and China. Given the importance of Russia as an object of imperial desire, clarity on the character of Russia is imperative in order to understand the current economic and political crisis of imperialism.

There are several important aspects to the question of Russia as it stands today.

The narrative of the Democratic Party is that “Russian hackers” rigged the “democratic” “elections” and that Trump is a puppet of the Kremlin and of Vladimir Putin in particular. There virtually no substantial evidence for this claim. But what is the significance of this narrative? What are its historical roots?

There is also the common claim by elements of the left that Russia is in fact an imperialist power in its own right, primarily for its actions in Crimea, Syria, and Chechnya. However, Russia’s relatively weak economy is characterized primarily by the export of raw materials, rather than the export of finance capital as in imperialist countries. The claim that Russia is an imperialist country has been convincingly argued against both by Sam Williams and by Renfrey Clarke and Roger Annis . But does this claim come from nowhere? What is its intellectual heritage?

The purpose of this article is not to prove that Russia is not imperialist or that Trump is not a Kremlin puppet. Others have already grappled with these questions in a much more thorough way than I am equipped to do. The purpose of this article, rather, is to place these phenomena in the context of a long history of Orientalism directed at Slavic people in general, and Russia in particular.

Before proceeding, a brief definition from Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978):

“Orientalism is a style of thought based upon ontological and epistemological distinction made between ‘the Orient’ and (most of the time) ‘the Occident.’ Thus a very large mass of writers, among who are poet, novelists, philosophers, political theorists, economists, and imperial administrators, have accepted the basic distinction between East and West as the starting point for elaborate accounts concerning the Orient, its people, customs, ‘mind,’ destiny, and so on… the phenomenon of Orientalism as I study it here deals principally, not with a correspondence between Orientalism and Orient, but with the internal consistency of Orientalism and its ideas about the Orient… despite or beyond any correspondence, or lack thereof, with a ‘real’ Orient.” (5)
Whiteness, Nazism, and Bolshevism

On the border between “Europe” and “Asia”, Russians have historically maintained at best a vacillating, conditional relationship with whiteness and “European civilization”. The most historically openly terroristic, revanchist manifestation of European supremacist ideology was undoubtedly Nazism. What was the relationship between Nazism, Bolshevism, and the Slavic peoples?

In War and Revolution: Rethinking the Twentieth Century (2015), Italian Marxist Domenico Losurdo seeks to reclaim the revolutionary tradition and reevaluate the character of Nazism, which he argues has been whitewashed by revisionist historians. Losurdo emphasizes several key points in relation to Nazism and Bolshevism.

Perhaps most importantly, Losurdo argues that in rejecting the revolutionary tradition (from the Jacobins through the Bolsheviks), the revisionist historians have also concealed the colonial character of the Nazi project. Even a cursory reading of Nazi ideology and its goals and practices indicates an essentially colonial dynamic with respect to Jews, Romani, Slavs, and other oppressed peoples. However, U.S. and European historians prefer to whitewash this history, ripping the Holocaust from its historical context and presenting it as an anomaly in human history, rather than an integral manifestation of colonial conquest and imperial terror.

A central aspect of the Nazi project, outlined in Hitler’s Mein Kampf, was the plan to colonize Eastern Europe, specifically through exterminating Eastern Europeans and settling throughout the Soviet Union. What historians have traditionally suppressed is that this plan did not come from nowhere: it was inspired in large part by the U.S. settler-colonization of “North America” and the genocide carried out against both the Indigenous people and the people of Africa. Nazi concentration camps were influenced by U.S. concentration camps (i.e. “Indian reservations”); Nazi eugenics was largely inspired by reactionary U.S.”scientists” .

Anti-Semitism, anti-Ziganism, and anti-Slavic racism fused to produce the fascist Nazi ideology of turning Eastern Europe into an Aryan settler-colony. In this process of counter-revolution, Nazi ideology racialized its most ferocious enemy: Bolshevism. Bolshevism, a revolutionary working class movement, was the primary existential threat to Nazism, the counter-revolution of big capital. The Bolsheviks, who supported the rebellion of the toiling colonized masses, were the antithesis of imperialism in general and especially its Nazi iteration. Losurdo writes:

“[Revisionist historiography] forgets that, in addition to calling for the transformation of the imperialist war into revolutionary civil war, the Bolsheviks also appealed to the slaves of the colonies to break their chains and wage wars of national liberation against the imperial domination of the great powers. Such repression makes it impossible adequately to understand Nazism and Fascism, which also presented themselves as a movement in reaction – extreme reaction – against this second appeal.” (103)

Nazi demagogues painted the Russian Revolution as a “Judeo-Bolshevik” conspiracy, bankrolled by the supposedly economy-controlling Jewish capitalists. As Bolshevism, a movement born out of Russia, took on an anti-colonial character, Russian workers were increasingly racialized for “betraying” Europe and placing their lot with the oppressed rather than with imperialism and colonialism. In a way this process was the opposite that took place among ethnic minorities in the United States, particularly Italians, Poles, and Irish. While the latter groups assimilated into whiteness fully from their conditional status through embracing cross-class white supremacy (and especially anti-Black racism), the Bolsheviks embraced the toiling masses and national liberation; thus, their “whiteness” was “revoked.” Hitler himself stated directly in Mein Kampf that the Tsarist Empire was a product of “the state-forming efficacity of the German element in an inferior race,” whereas the “inferior” Slavic elements took power in October 1917.

The racialization of Bolshevism was a direct manifestation of historical Orientalism. Nazi SS leader Heinrich Himmler told a group of Waffen SS fascists three weeks after the invasion of the Soviet Union:

“When you, my men, fight over there in the East, you are carrying on the same struggle, against the same subhumanity, the same inferior races, that at one time appeared under the name of Huns, another time- 1000 years ago at the time of King Henry and Otto I- under the name of Magyars, another time under the name of Tartars, and still another time under the name of Genghis Khan and the Mongols. Today they appear as Russians under the political banner of Bolshevism.”

However, this was not the first time that the Soviet Union faced an invasion of reactionary terror. After October 1917, the Bolsheviks fought a “Civil” War against the pro-Tsar White Army, the latter enjoying military support from 14 countries. As Losurdo notes, the anti-Semitic pogroms and lynchings carried out by the anti-Bolshevik White Army against Russian Jews and other ethnicities was “a chapter of history that seems to be a direct prelude to Nazi genocide.” Anti-Bolshevism, anti-Slavic racism, and colonialism thus became intermeshed in the anti-Semitic Nazi program of extermination. Losurdo explains:

“Denunciation of October [1917] as a Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy now reached its most tragic conclusion. General Blum communicated the orders received: ‘Eastern Jewry constitutes the intellectual reserve of Bolshevism and hence, in the Führer’s opinion, must be destroyed.’ As well as building the new colonial empire, the crusade in the East now aimed to detect and destroy the bacillus of dissolution wherever it was to be found. The ‘poison of dissolution’ that acted via Bolshevik cadres was to be neutralized once and for all, but without forgetting that ‘the chief “carriers of the Bolshevik infection”‘ were the Jews. In Goebbels’ words, ‘Jewish terror’ was the core of ‘eastern Bolshevism’, that mortal enemy of civilization. The Jews were doubly Oriental and doubly barbarous. They were an ‘Asiatic people’ alien to Europe and the West, as had been stressed by Houston Chamberlain and the anti-Semitic tradition that fed into Nazism; they therefore formed part of the ‘native’ populations. Furthermore, they were the inspirers of ‘eastern Bolshevism’ – were, in fact, the ethnic basis of the virus eroding civilization that was to be eliminated for good.” (190)

This racist ideology of anti-Semitism provided the ideological narrative for the Nazi colonial project, which killed millions of Jews, Slavs, Romani, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, and other oppressed groups. According to Nazism, Russia, far from being a bastion of “Aryan civilization”, was a “host body” of the “Judeo-Bolshevik virus” that “infected” Europe.

The relationship that Russians and other Slavic peoples have with whiteness today cannot be evaluated in isolation from the history of Nazism and the racialization of Slavs and Bolshevism that went hand-in-hand with anti-Semitism and the entire Nazi project, a project deeply rooted in settler-colonialism, directly inspired by the United States and Canada.
Hannah Arendt and “Totalitarianism”

Most bourgeois historians have suppressed the colonial character of Nazi Germany and its conquest of Eastern Europe. Instead, they have gone as far as to conflate the USSR under Stalin and the Third Reich under Hitler as equally oppressive dictatorships. They conceptualize World War II and surrounding geopolitics as the struggle between “democracy” (imperialist U.S., Britain, etc.) and “dictatorship” (“Stalinism”, Nazism).

One of the most popular ideologues of this argument was the Heideggerian philosopher Hannah Arendt for the theory of “totalitarianism”, which equates Nazism with Communism (or “Stalinism”). Other proponents of this theory included George Kennan, Arthur Koestler, and George Orwell. In effect, this framework asserts that despotism “infected” the “civilized world” (Europe) through the “uncivilized” and “barbaric” peoples of Africa and Asia.

In The Post-Colonialism of “Cold War” Discourses (1988), William Pietz asserts that Cold War discourse displaced colonial discourse in the aftermath of World War II. Note that George Kennan located “totalitarianism” in the “Oriental mind” of Russians:

“[Russian] fanaticism, unmodified by any of the Anglo-Saxon traditions of compromise, was too fierce and too jealous to envisage any permanent sharing of power. From the Russian-Asiatic world out of which they had emerged they had carried with them a skepticism as to the possibilities of permanent or peaceful coexistence of rival forces. Here caution, circumspection, flexibility, and deception are the valuable qualities; and their value finds natural appreciation in the Russian or the oriental mind.”

Hannah Arendt followed suit, asserting that “totalitarianism” was something “learned” from African tribes:

“When the Boers, in their fright and misery, decided to use these savages as though they were just another form of animal life they embarked upon a process which could only end with their own degeneration into a white race living beside and together with black races from whom in the end they would differ only in the color of their skin. They had transformed themselves into a tribe and had lost the European’s feeling for a territory, a patria of his own. They behaved exactly like the black tribes who had roamed the Dark Continent for centuries.

“My point is not the awful, Conradian diction or even the stark conceptual separation between the European and the African. It is the effect upon the Boers and thence – so the retrograde diffusionist argument goes – upon Europe. We “degenerate” into a race-based, primitive and nomadic, rootless ‘tribe’ (or ‘race organization’) no better than them. Thanks to this contact with the primitive, not only do we come to think in terms of race (i.e. in a racist way), but this mode of thinking later morphs into a tribal nationalism that, in turn, becomes modern anti-Semitism and totalitarianism (‘a whole outlook on life and the world’). This last phenomenon ‘lies in the nature of tribalism rather than in political facts and circumstances.'”

Instead of locating the origins of fascism in the colonial violence of capitalism, it is located in the mind of the Oriental despot who, like a virus, has spread from the East into Aryan civilization. Pietz elaborates:

“It was Arendt’s signal achievement to frame a set of historically grounded political concepts capable of locating the origin of ‘totalitarianism’ in general and modern European anti-Semitism in particular – and by implication, the responsibility for the Nazi holocaust – outside Europe, in the savage ‘tribalism’ of ‘the Dark Continent.'”

The colonized are blamed for an outgrowth of colonialism itself; the socialist tradition is condemned as the catalyst for the very system most antagonistic towards it, fascism. Pietz states:

“American cold war discourse about totalitarianism served a double function: in regard to the Soviets, it justified a policy of global anti-communism by reinterpreting all struggles for national self-determination in terms of the geopolitical contest for zones of power against totalitarian Russia; in regard to Nazi Germany, it saved the traditional pre-war faith concerning ‘the values of Western civilization’ held by post-war foreign-policy ‘wise men’ by displacing the human essence of fascism into the non-Western world… The necessary conscience-soothing exorcism was achieved by affirming the equation of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, combined with an historical interpretation of the essential Orientalness of the Russian mentality. The basic argument is that ‘totalitarianism’ is nothing other than traditional Oriental despotism plus modern police technology. The appearance of the first truly totalitarian state in the heart of Europe was thus an accident, explainable by the fact that the technology permitting totalitarianism was invented by Western science and was thus first accessible in the West. Moreover, Germany’s totalitarian moment is characterized by Kennan as a ‘relapse’ into barbarism; far from showing a flaw in Western culture, it proved the need for constant alertness in preserving our distinctly Western values.”

A supposedly anti-racist theory reveals its racism in its implied upholding of “Western values”, a distinctly fascistic, colonial ideal. As “European civilization” faces an existential threat of “barbarism”, it tightens its ranks and purges itself of all but the purest elements. According to the Orientalist worldview, Russians have only been able to masquerade as white due to their frequent contact with Europe. However, once the veil is lifted, an essentially Oriental mind is revealed. Pietz again writes:

“History – specifically the pre-modern geopolitics of the Eurasian ‘ecumene’ which produced the ‘Russian-Asiatic world’ – explains the Oriental essence of the Russian mind. This mentality is distinguished by its ability, after centuries of direct contact with Europe, to appear civilized and to use this facade of civility for its own barbaric ends.”

Not only was Cold War discourse anti-communist; it, in effect was also deeply racist, Orientalist, and provided cover for Nazi terror and its colonial origins. While Russians may have enjoyed conditional whiteness under Tsarism via participation in European imperialism, this privilege was quickly revoked upon the world-historic Bolshevik revolution for its anti-colonial character. The facade of whiteness evaporated, and all that was left was Oriental despotism, or so the racists argue.

On the one side there is Bolshevism, national liberation, and revolution; on the other, Nazism, colonialism, and imperial conquest. To reject the former is to provide tacit support for the later.
Russian “Exceptionalism” and Eurocentrism

A Eurocentric view of history asserts that, while Europe exists as a dynamic, linearly progressing bastion of “civilization”, the “uncivilized” world (Africa, Latin America, Asia, and other places) is static and dormant. The “uncivilized” people have no history, existing as a feature of nature itself rather than as an active agent within it.

This teleological worldview attempts to measure all social formations by the standard of the development of industrial capitalism that took place in Europe. Of course, it sidelines the fact that western Europe developed the way it did precisely because of colonialism and genocide enacted on the rest of the world.

Even Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, in their earlier works, fell into this trap with the concept of an “Asiatic mode of production” separate from the slave, feudal, and capitalist modes of production as they developed in Europe. This idea is based on an understanding of Georg Hegel’s concept of The Oriental Realm .

Marx outlines several basic features of this supposed mode of production in Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations (1857-58):

“…as is the case in most Asiatic fundamental forms, it is quite compatible with the fact that the all-embracing unity which stands above all these small common bodies may appear as the higher or sole proprietor, the real communities only as hereditary possessors…

“Oriental despotism therefore appears to lead to a legal absence of property, in most cases created through a combination of manufacture and agriculture within the small community which thus becomes entirely self-sustaining and contains within itself all conditions of production and surplus production.”

This unfortunately aligns with the common racist myth that the “Orient” has a tendency towards despotism and dictatorship, which has intellectual roots dating all the way back to Aristotle .

Not only was this concept for the most part dropped by Marx and Engels, but Samir Amin (a Marxist)has theorized a “tributary mode of production” that encapsulates both European feudalism and economic systems based on land ownership in east Asia. However, the “left” has latched onto this “exceptionalism” for the East, continuing to characterize Russia as a timeless, supernatural social formation of Oriental despotism.

The Soviet Union, formed on the basis of the Russian Revolution of 1917, was quickly denounced by left communists as non-socialist, especially under Stalin. However, these theorists were unable to argue that the USSR was a capitalist formation in the traditional sense, because it clearly functioned like no capitalist society to ever have existed. Thus, “left” detractors of the Soviet Union resorted to creating ad hoc economic categories much like the way “Asiatic mode of production” was used to characterized the “exceptional” nature of the “Orient”.

Raya Dunayevskaya characterized Soviet Russia’s economy as “state capitalism”:

“Since under the specific Russian state capitalism legal title to the means of production as well as the competitive market for such means have been abolished, how is appropriation achieved?

“Inasmuch as private property in the means of production has been abolished in Russia, it is a deviation from the juridical concept to permit accumulation within any enterprise since the state aims to increase only ‘national capital’. Nevertheless, with the establishment of ‘ruble control’, enterprises were permitted to accumulate internally…

“The Stalinist Constitution of 1936 recognized the intelligentsia as a special ‘group’, distinct from workers and peasants. With this juridical acknowledgement of the existence of a new ruling class went the guarantee of the protection of state property from ‘thieves and misappropriatiors.'”

Compare this with Marx’s statement above that “Oriental despotism therefore appears to lead to a legal absence of property”; compare “national capital” and “new ruling class” with “the higher or sole proprietor“. The Asiatic mode of production makes a reappearance, in so many words. Again, the despots of the Orient have achieved the impossible: capitalism without capital, and a ruling class with no legal property rights. Stalinist totalitarianism thus became the latest iteration of Oriental despotism.

Hillel Ticktin called the Soviet Union’s economy a “non-mode of production”; yet again, Asiatic production exists outside of history, time, and space. It is a static, non-society without a mode of production and subsequently a political and cultural life. Italian “socialist” Bruno Rizzi and later a faction of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party (SWP) characterized the Soviet Union’s economy not as socialist but rather as “bureaucratic collectivist”:

“In the USSR the ‘nationalisation’ of property came in one swoop following the October revolution, but, since the concept of nationalisation has no scientific validity in Russia, in effect this was the generalisation in one swoop of state capitalism and its foster brother statism.

“What has happened to the economy? Has it become socialist? No, says Trotsky. Is it still capitalist? No, we say, precisely because of the law of the transformation of quantity into quality; it is Bureaucratic Collectivism.”

Dunayevskaya, Ticktin, and Rizzi thus all latched onto the idea of an Asiatic mode of production. An Oriental despot (Stalin) has appropriated the (collective) means of production through totalitarian rule, absent legal property ownership. This application of the so-called Asiatic mode of production to the Soviet Union was put forth even more explicitly by Karl August Wittfogel in Oriental Despotism (1957), in which he “observed a transition from the old despotic governments to a new form of despotism represented by communist Russia, which could be considered as a new version of industrial-bureaucratic despotism.”

The ghost of Oriental despotism and the Asiatic mode of production made an appearance yet again with the theory of Soviet “social-imperialism,” which Albert Szymanski argued against . This charge that the Soviet Union was “socialist in words, imperialist in deeds” was first asserted by the Communist Party of China, and subsequently taken up by the Party of Labour of Albania and numerous U.S. Maoist groups in the New Communist Movement. Yet again, the Slavic despots have achieved the impossible: an imperialist version of socialism, and yet another (imperialist) ruling class with no legal property rights.

As left communists and U.S. Maoists alike have noted, legal property relations are secondary to productive relations, which underlie the economic life of a given society. Of course this is true; but to assert that the two can be wholly incongruent is an exercise in metaphysics. In this model, the Superstructure has a life wholly independent from the Base; form has transcended content.

In The ‘State Capitalist’ and “Bureaucratic Exploitative’ Interpretations of the Soviet Social Formation: A Critique (1978), David Laibman produces an incisive critique of all of these trends:

“The power of capital, then is exercised through a heterogeneity of institutional structures no one of which, taken in isolation, manifests that function… Adequate comprehension of capitalism requires this complex structuring of concepts in which the capitalist function is determinant at the level of production relations but is simultaneously constituted by the proximate forms in which it is manifested. This approach must be contrasted with rationalist methodology of ideal types which focuses on ‘essences’ or ‘deep structures’ as uniquely ‘real’ and the proximate forms as mere illustrations ‘at a lower level of abstraction’ No more than the Hegelian Absolute Idea can the capital concept exist in disembodied form. Capital is not reducible to its form of existence; but neither is it separable from these forms…

“Capitalist production relations, and in particular the existence of a capitalist class or bourgeoisie, are not like a disembodied spirit that can inhabit one or another juridical form – i.e., state vs. private property – at will. As an important application of the dialectic of the production relations as a complex structure, one can neither merge the property form and the ‘social process of appropriation’ and mistake the form for the real relation itself; nor separate them, and speak of the underlying class relation as one of real ‘appropriation’ etc., without explaining the source and reproduction of the power appropriate.”

In other words, Marxist dialectics allow us to understand the underlying relations of production in a given society through the really existing institutions and mechanisms that facilitate and reproduce them. Capitalism cannot persist without means by which to maintain and reproduce the accumulation of Capital. Capitalism is not some “inner essence” that invisibly persists in the DNA of a given society; it is a real process involving real actors and real mechanisms and institutions. Legal institutions are not identical with capitalist exploitation as such but they cannot be an isolated phenomenon wholly separate from the economic system of a given society.

Laibman aptly locates these critiques not in Marxism, but in Hegelianism, a philosophy of teleology, rationalism, and Eurocentrism. The Asiatic mode of production and the ruling class without legal property rights are wholly alien to Marxism. While those who call themselves Marxists have continuously put forth the arguments of Dunayevskaya and Rizzi as it applies to Russia, their arguments are both anti-Marxist and Orientalist in essence.
“Russian Imperialism”?

It is within this intellectual tradition that the new thesis emerges: since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation has developed into a modern imperialist power, some claim even in the Leninist sense. While the form (Stalinist totalitarianism) is long gone, the content (Russian despotism) has lingered on. Tsarism, Stalinism, and Putinism are each manifestations of Oriental despotism, an inherent feature of the ahistorical Slav.

It would be quite difficult to argue that Russian Federation can be characterized as an imperialist power in the Leninist sense. Economic arguments aside, the “Russian imperialism” thesis cannot be separated from the theses above: state capitalism, bureaucratic collectivism, and the Asiatic mode of production. If the Russian Federation, boasting an economy based on the export of raw materials, constitutes an imperialist power, it would be the strangest one to ever exist.

Yet again, the Slavs have transcended reality: a ruling class without legal property ownership, capitalism without capital, socialism with imperialism; and now, imperialism without finance capital. Clearly, at least among the liberal left, arguments about “Russian imperialism” are based much more on racist fears and imperial chauvinism than a sober appraisal of Russia’s economic situation.

The liberal media projects constant fear about Russian encroachment onto NATO territories, and has blasted Russia’s air assistance to the Syrian government. They have also condemned Russian “interference” in Crimea and the Donbass, despite the high concentration of ethnic Russians in these territories and Crimea’s landslide vote to join Russia . The spectre of “Oriental Despotism” has returned to Europe, the United States, and the rest of the “free world”, hellbent on undermining Aryan civilization.

All of this is very ironic, given that NATO has been quietly deploying thousands of troops to the Russian border in Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Estonia for months now; and given that a far-right, NATO-backed military junta rules over Ukraine, persecuting ethnic minorities such as Jews, Romani, and Russians. This continuous uptick in anti-Russian hysteria has most recently manifested in the charges by the Democratic Party and its supporters that in fact Donald Trump is a puppet of the Kremlin in its plot to expand its Empire’s influences across the globe.

The Democratic Party and Imperial Decay

In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), Marx famously noted:

“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

If Cold War conspiracies were a tragedy, the contemporary anti-Russian conspiracies of the Democratic Party are a farce. It is obvious, and thus has been widely noted, that the smear campaign against Russia reeks of McCarthyism and Cold War hysteria. This hysteria is in no way limited to the Democratic Party elite. Rachel Maddow spent over half of March talking about Russia. Newt Gingrich has even called for the establishment of a new House Un-American Activities Committee. The bourgeois T.V. news has gone as far as to “accidentally” refer to the Russian Federation as the Soviet Union. While the Soviet Union has been gone for over 25 years, the spectre of “Asiatic despotism” continues to haunt the paranoid Western powers.

Yet again, Arendt-esque Cold War discourse comes into play, this time perhaps through an even more openly Orientalist form. U.S. society cannot come to terms with the fact that President Donald Trump is a direct product of centuries of settler-colonialism and white supremacy. So, it blames Russia for “infecting” “American culture” with Asiatic despotism, this time in the form of Putinism. The racist logic of this argument is no different than Arendt’s and the original Cold War fear-mongering. Therein lies the basis for re-asserting “American values”, which in itself constitutes an ideology of white supremacist terror.

The red scare is being replayed through a broken projector; while the original McCarthyist witch hunts were an ascendant imperialist power’s expression of fear of socialism, today’s Russophobia is the desperate sigh of U.S. imperialism in utter decay. Russia is threatening to U.S. imperial interests because the U.S. is failing. Recent U.S. imperial conquests, especially in Syria, have been largely unsuccessful, and all the oppressed of the world continue to fight as the economic and political crisis of imperialism only deepens.

Ava Lipatti is a Marxist, anti-imperialist, feminist activist and writer. Her blog can be found atlonelyhourreflections.wordpress.com .