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.


George Jackson on the Psychology of Fascism


“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.”

– George Jackson
“Blood In My Eye: The Political Thought of Comrade George Jackson” (1972)

Here We Go Again: Socialists, Democrats, and the Future of the Left

Charles Wofford

In his article “Want to Elect Socialists? Run Them in Democratic Primaries,” Daniel Moraff, a self-described democratic socialist, demonstrates a thoroughly liberal and pedestrian understanding of how social change occurs. There are several errors of history and of reasoning in the article which I hope to illustrate here.

Our problems begin in the first paragraph, where Moraff conflates “winning elections” and “building power.” As a socialist, one would think Moraff would understand that power is in the People, in the mass movements and organization that takes place in communities by and for community members. The People provide the labor and do the dirty work upon which the political class maintains its privilege. If the People get angry and decide in sufficient number not to participate in the system anymore, then the basis of political privilege will teeter and possibly collapse, and those in power would generally rather give up what’s been demanded of them rather than lose their power entirely.

In the second section Moraff references Kim Moody’s article in Jacobin magazine titled, “From Realignment to Reinforcement.” Moraff writes, “One cannot argue with Moody’s contention that those currently in control of the party are rich, powerful and odious. They are also, as Moody points out, firmly determined to repel left challenges within the party. These same interests poured millions into the Hillary Clinton campaign, and pour millions more into incumbency protection every cycle.” Moraff misses however the part where Moody says, “The party structure and establishment has been fortified against its rivals, external and internal.” Moody is correct; the party structure has been fortified against its rivals. Moraff falls into an individualist fallacy when he argues that it is simply about “odious” people, as though we can simply replace the people and the whole system will work. A socialist ought to know better.

If it were merely about corrupt people, then we wouldn’t need to be anti-capitalist at all. All we would need is to make sure “progressives” got into political an corporate offices. Then we could have total, unfettered capitalism, and because those with power aren’t “odious,” we wouldn’t need to worry about exploitation, environmental destruction, war, etc.

Some basic Marxist philosophy can help to clarify the point. In “The German Ideology,” Marx writes, “The way in which men produce their means of subsistence depends first of all on the nature of the actual means they find in existence and have to reproduce…the nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production.” In other words, people are born into their circumstances, not the other way around. The structures in which people live and work have greater influence on who they are as individuals than vice versa. So we cannot simply pin the problems of the Democratic Party on the “odiousness” of its leaders. Just as we condemn capitalism as a system, so must we recognize the Democratic party is part of that system which must be condemned.

Moraff asks throughout his article what alternatives there can be to running socialists as democrats. If you assume that winning elections is the same as building power (or the only way to do so) then it’s hard to see an answer. But here are a few examples of progressive change in recent American history that I think illustrate the distinction between being in office and having power.

The first is the signing of the 1965 Civil Rights Act by President Lyndon Johnson. President Johnson did not sign that bill into law because he was a benevolent philanthropist and really felt for the struggle of colored folk. Remember, this was the president who escalated the Vietnam War into the hideous conflict it became. Descriptions of him by those who knew him and extant audio recordings show Johnson to be possibly the most arrogant president in American history. Yet he signed the Civil Rights Act into law. Why?

Because one of the main functions of the president is to preserve the nation. And as the demonstrations, boycotts, riots, strikes, and other forms of disobedience and popular organization and resistance began to take their toll on society, the power-that-were recognized the precariousness of the situation. The bottom was coming for the top, and the top had to do something. And, as stated above, those in power would sooner give up a little bit of their power than lose all of it. So in the end Johnson, as a representative of the power-that-were, was compelled to sign that act into law by virtue of the mass popular pressure applied to him.

A second example is Richard Nixon ending the Vietnam War. Anyone who thinks that Nixon was some peace-loving progressive has never opened a history book: Nixon’s name is practically synonymous with the warmongering arch-conservative. Yet he ended the Vietnam War. Why?

Exactly the same reasons as above: the resistance at home, and the resistance of the military in Vietnam which was starting to collapse. Nixon, despite his personal wishes, was compelled to end the war because of the popular pressures placed on his administration and his duty-as defined by the structure of the institution-to preserve the nation.

Those are two recent examples, but that is how social change always happens. If we continue to divert our energies into the black hole that is the Democratic Party, then socialism will never come. You cannot elect socialism: it can only come about through a revolution that will overturn the legal fiction of private property, the protection of which the U.S. government is constitutionally predicated.

The lesson is this: We need not look to the powerful; we need only remember who the powerful truly are.

The Democratic Socialists of America seems to serve two functions: one is to be a kind of transition group for those who are gradually disconnecting from liberal ideology. The other is to act as a net to catch those who might otherwise go to actual radical organizations. There are DSAers who support democrats, and there are radicals in the DSA too. But sooner or later the DSA as an organization is going to have to choose which side it is on: the capitalists, or the revolutionaries.

The Pedagogy of Hip Hop: Underground Soundtracks for Dissecting and Confronting the Power Structure

Colin Jenkins

Disclaimer: The language expressed in this article is an uncensored reflection of the views of the artists as they so chose to speak and express themselves. Censoring their words would do injustice to the freedom of expression and political content this article intends to explore. Therefore, some of the language appearing below may be offensive to personal, cultural, or political sensibilities.

On the 16th track of Immortal Technique’s Revolutionary, Volume 2, Mumia Abu-Jamal theorizes on the inherent contradictions between the lived reality of many Americans and the notion of homeland [in]security. In doing so, he explains how the musical phenomenon of hip hop captures these contradictions by displaying “gritty roots” that are bound up in systemic injustice and deep feelings of fear and hatred. These feelings, according to Mumia, engulf entire generations of children who have been betrayed by systems of capitalism and white supremacy, and their intricately constructed school-to-prison pipeline:

“To think about the origins of hip hop in this culture, and also about homeland security, is to see that there are at the very least two worlds in America. One of the well-to-do and another of the struggling. For if ever there was the absence of homeland security, it is seen in the gritty roots of hip hop. For the music arises from a generation that feels, with some justice, that they have been betrayed by those who came before them. That they are at best tolerated in schools, feared on the streets, and almost inevitably destined for the hell holes of prison. They grew up hungry, hated, and unloved. And this is the psychic fuel that generates the anger that seems endemic in much of the music and poetry. One senses very little hope above the personal goals of wealth to climb above the pit of poverty. In the broader society, the opposite is true. For here, more than any other place on earth, wealth is more widespread and so bountiful, that what passes for the middle class in America could pass for the upper class in most of the rest of the world. Their very opulent and relative wealth makes them insecure. And homeland security is a governmental phrase that is as oxymoronic, as crazy as saying military intelligence, or the U.S Department of Justice. They’re just words that have very little relationship to reality. And do you feel safer now? Do you think you will anytime soon? Do you think duct tape and Kleenex and color codes will make you safe?”

In his short commentary, Mumia refers specifically to the Black community in the US – a community that has been ravaged from every angle through America’s relatively short history: 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. A history consumed with betrayal after betrayal, 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. Mumia juxtaposes this unique experience to the “broader society,” one that is riddled with insecurities stemming from “opulent and relative” wealth, to expose the irony of “homeland security,” a term that he views as oxymoronic.

Mumia is correct in characterizing the reactionary temperament of both the American middle and upper classes – sects that both determine and maintain dominant culture. Broader society is molded by this temperament, which is buoyed by small pockets of socioeconomic comfort floating in a vast sea of instability that not only plagues the Black community in its never-ending struggle against both white supremacy and capitalism, but also poor and working-class white communities that have been similarly doomed by their forced reliance on wage labor. Despite what he describes as “bountiful wealth,” American society has always been propped up on this hidden base of despair, felt by a majority of the population that exists below the façade. Since the 1980s, this façade has been slowly chiseled away as neoliberalism has successfully funneled wealth to the few at the top while creating a race to the bottom for everyone else, including those once deemed “middle class.”

This race to the bottom has exposed the underbelly of instability through its attack on a fast-eroding, mostly-white middle class that now finds itself desperately seeking reasons for its newfound despair. While those of us at the bottom may welcome the company, in hopes that it will bring the critical mass needed to finally confront and bring down the capitalist system, it also signals trying times ahead. In being consistent with similar erosions of “relative and bountiful wealth” throughout history, the American demise brings with it a fairly high probability of a fascist tide. In fact, this tide has already begun to form, largely through millions of white tears dropping from the Tea Party, its Reaganite forerunners, the “alt-right,” a surge of neo-Nazism and white nationalism, and Donald Trump’s pied piper-like rhetoric that has pooled it all together.

While middle-class America comes crashing down along with the empire, the Black community remains steadfast in its centuries-long defensive posture. Despite facing an acute, structural oppression that is unparalleled in any other modern “industrialized” setting, and in spite of Mumia’s sobering analysis, the Black community has in many ways survived and thrived like no other. This survival in the face of intense hatred has been expressed through many musical forms , from the early roots of rock n roll, Blues, and American Jazz to the hip-hop phenomenon that Mumia speaks of. This collective survival is perfectly captured in Tupac’s poem,The Rose that Grew from Concrete, which tells the story of

…the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete
Proving nature’s laws wrong, it learned how to walk without havin feet
Funny it seems but by keepin its dreams
It learned to breathe fresh air
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
When no one else even cared.

In explaining the meaning of the poem, Pac summed up much of the African-American experience, as well as the reactionary temperament often directed at it from those in more privileged positions:

“You try to plant somethin in the concrete. If it grows, and the rose petal got all kind of scratches and marks, you not gonna say, “Damn, look at all the scratches and marks on the rose that grew from concrete.” You gonna be like, “Damn! A rose grew from the concrete?!” Same thing with me… I grew out of all of this. Instead of sayin, “Damn, he did this, he did this,” just be like, “Damn! He grew out of that? He came out of that?” That’s what they should say… All the trouble to survive and make good out of the dirty, nasty, unbelievable lifestyle they gave me. I’m just tryin to make somethin.”

Pac’s story also describes that of the entire American working class, as a collection of former slaves, indentured servants, peasants, and poor immigrants set up for failure by a capitalist system designed to exploit us all, collectively. The working-class struggle is tightly intertwined with the Black struggle. The Communist Party knew this long ago. The Industrial Workers of the World did as well. The original Black Panther Party also knew this, as did all those coming from the Black Radical Tradition in America: W.E.B. DuBois, the African Blood Brotherhood, Harry Haywood, the Revolutionary Action Movement, Frances M. Beal, Angela Davis, C.L.R. James, the Combahee River Collective, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, the Congress of African People, and so many others.

As this struggle commences and intensifies during what appear to be the end days of American Empire, underground hip hop provides us with a soundtrack that is laced with historical context, deep analysis, and valuable knowledge – all of which should be applied while moving forward. The “psychic fuel” that Mumia points to in his brief commentary, which “generates the anger that seems endemic in much of the music and poetry” is far from misguided, and extends far beyond cathartic release. While in the mainstream, the Black Radical Tradition continues to be tragically mocked by identity politics , activist-celebrity tweeters pimping corporate brands , black liberation-themed credit cards , high-dollar-plate events, non-profit organizations, and the Democratic Party, its torch remains lit through the lyrics burning on underground hip-hop tracks. And this underground reflects the pulse of the streets, where tens of millions experience daily life in the underbelly of instability – not on Twitter, Facebook, or fundraising dinners at the Marriott.


Structural Oppression Under Capitalism

As resistance movements gain momentum in the days of Trump, an understanding of the disastrous effects of capitalism is necessary. Party politics are, as John Dewey once explained, the “shadow cast on society by big business (capitalism).” Politicians from both parties work within this shadow, delivering rhetoric to the masses before and after taking orders from their donors, sponsors, and corporate overlords. Regardless of who is in the highest office, whether it’s an eloquent black President or a blustering billionaire, “the attenuation does not change the substance.” As a popular Internet meme recently noted, the ‘hood under Trump is the same as the ‘hood under Obama, which was the same as the ‘hood under Bush, which was the same as the ‘hood under Clinton. Sadly, this sentiment could go on for as long as Presidents have occupied the white house. Politicians and presidents come and go, and nothing changes for most of us; because, quite frankly, it is not supposed to. Politics serve capitalism; and capitalism does not serve us.

“It’s like an open-air prison and it remained packed”

Hip hop serves as historiography in this sense, documenting the conditions of neighborhoods throughout the US for the past four decades, examining the histories behind multi-generational poverty, and seeking ways to address the dire situations many find themselves in. Ironically, the rise of hip hop paralleled the rise of the neoliberal era, a period that has been marked by an intensification of the capitalist system. During this time, things for most have at best remained stagnant, and at worst become increasingly disastrous. The hook in Erykah Badu’s The Cell (2008) captures this lived experience in sobering fashion:

We’re not well
We’re not well
We can’t tell

Brenda done died with no name
Nickel bag coke to the brain
Will they ever find the vaccine?
Rich man got the double barrel
Po’ man got his back to the door
Code white stands for trouble
Shots from the po-po (blah blah)

Jean Grae’s Block Party , the 4th track on her 2002 album Attack of the Attacking Things, provides an intimate glimpse into the state of Black communities during this time:

I don’t wanna preach or come off bitter, this is a commentary auditory
Editorial, about the state of things, state of mind and state of being
What the fuck is goin on? How the fuck we gonna make it out?
It’s hectic, from asbestos filled classrooms
To the stench of death that’s still in New York
The air is thick with it, but it reaches further
Like the world murder rate

While illustrating the chronic conditions found in many communities, Grae immediately offers insight into possible solutions rooted in consciousness. Without actually saying it, her lyrics brilliantly dip into a structural analysis that calls for abandoning capitalist culture and realizing the tragic ironies in seeking individual materialistic goals. In doing so, there is an underlying theme to escape values that have been implanted into not only predominantly Black communities, but also working-class communities as a whole:

We need to globalize, further spread on this earth
To appreciate the full value of individual worth
To realize how ridiculous the thought of ownership is
And protectin your turf – that’s bullshit man
That’s how we got colonized
Missionaries create foreign schools and change the native way & thinkin
So in ten years, we can have a foreign Columbine
In some small village in the Amazon, c’mon man

Grae’s second verse masterfully ties together a narrative based in seeking a collective consciousness while avoiding a house-slave mentality that aims to, as she puts it, “chill with rich white folks.” Again, while directed toward members of the Black community, Grae’s commentary is undeniably relative to the working-class struggle in its entirety, especially in terms of how the “rags-to-riches,” so-called “American Dream” is framed strictly within individual pursuits of wealth and hyper-consumerism. Ultimately, as Grae suggests, this mentality must be shed through deeper calls for knowledge, community, and shared struggle:

It’s every man for himself
That’s why the black community is lackin in wealth, there’s no unity
We soon to be chillin with rich white folk
And that means that we made it
Let our kids go hungry before our wardrobe is outdated

…If the system’s corrupt, then change it
Fought for the right to vote, don’t even use it
Forget electoral winnin
The way the world’s goin, we in the ninth inning
Heh, and we still aren’t up to bat
Niggas is happy just to have the rights to sit on the bench
Like floor seats is alright, and that’s as far as we reach
Materialistic values, not morals, that’s what we teach
I see it in the youth, hungry for fame and money
Not for knowledge and pursuit of the truth
Pick up a book or a newspaper
Take a free class in politics or human behavior

Talib Kweli and Rapsody’s Every Ghetto , the 2nd track on Kweli’s 2015 album Indie 500, echoes Grae’s track in addressing the systematic ghettoization of the Black community under the intertwined tandem of capitalism and white supremacy. Crucially, the track challenges the often-mistaken attempt to characterize ghetto life as a monolithic existence, seemingly warning against the fetishization of the black struggle while reflecting Pac’s poem of the concrete rose and highlighting the unique struggle and persistence of the Black working class. Kweli’s bridge builds on Grae’s Block Party narrative, celebrating the communal potential of struggling communities:

I’m good walkin’ in every ghetto around the world
The hood often embrace ya when you profound with words
I say the shit they relate to, I keep it down to Earth
Other rappers sound like they hate you, them niggas sound absurd
So when they walk through the ghetto they get their chain snatched
They gotta talk to the ghetto to get their chain back
It’s like an open-air prison and it remain packed
Nothin’ but straight facts

Kweli’s initial verse jumps directly into a layered analysis, with the first bar alone touching on chronic malnourishment, poor education, smothering crime, gentrification, and a culture of anti-consciousness:

Every ghetto, every city, like Ms. Hill
They way too used to the missed meals
Hard to concentrate, hard to sit still
Murder rate permanent place in the top 10
We live here, these hipsters drop in
You hear them barrels cockin’
They say consciousness mean a nigga ain’t rugged
Until they get beat within an inch of it

Rapsody closes the track with a powerful verse, filled with structural and cultural critiques all tied to capitalism and white supremacy. Her verse is laced with innuendo in a masterful play on words as she illustrates the lived reality of generations of Black Americans who have been systematically targeted by America’s settler-colonial project, pointing to everything from police terror and the destruction of the Black family unit to the false promises of individualized pursuits of wealth.

Indie 5, for the people by the people
Ya-ya, giddy up, who got the juice now?
Snatch it out your kiddies cups
The shit you gave us watered down
This one’s for Basquiat
They be brushin’ with death, uh
Is this The Art Of War for cops?
We double-dutchin’ duckin’ shots
Every home ain’t got a Pops
Every man ain’t sellin’ rocks
A different will to win here
Different from switchin’ cars
They pray that we switch our bars
To a fiend from a metaphor
Worldstar, Worldstar
Lotta love and this life hard
Keep us prayin’ like “oh God”
Illegally thievery think us peelin’ off easily
Frustrated we hate it
That’s why we scream out “nigga we made it”
It’s an odd future they ain’t know we was all some creators
Somethin’ from nothin’ was told Kings walk and man you frontin’
For the people and by the people but them over money
I’m on my Viola Davis here, workin’ for justice
How you get away with murder? Be a cop and just kill us
How we supposed to not catch feelings?
Innocent lives, boy we got kids in these buildings
I’m on my Viola Davis, it’s what you call a defense
For all the drama they gave us I’m spittin’ Shonda Rhimes wit
Too high for you like ganja, that’s what Shonda rhyme with
I holla back in the Hamptons, you still black if you rich
Spread love ain’t just the Brooklyn way, it’s universal
360 and the nine lives, whoa, what a circle


“Keep it movin’ on”

While systemic oppression has plagued many generations of working-class Americans, especially non-white (as noted by Grae, Kweli and Rapsody), the middle class has only begun to feel the pressure of the capitalist system. The American middle class is an anomaly in history. Its formation defied the internal mechanics of capitalism, a system that is designed to favor the privileged few who have access to enough capital to own the means of production. This anomaly was beneficial for America’s capitalist class, in that it allowed for a slick rebranding of capitalism as a system of “freedom” and “liberty.” For decades, the American middle class was held up as the ultimate advertisement for a system that we were told allowed for social mobility through “hard work.” These fables became so strong that an entire century was spent trying to shape a benevolent form of capitalism through government intervention (Keynesianism) and a robust Welfare State. Because of its relative success, mainly due to US imperial endeavors abroad, the capitalist system was not only propped up, but it was even sold to the masses as “the only alternative.” The era of neoliberalism ended all of that. As capitalism’s internal mechanics were unleashed during this period, so too were its natural consequences – capital accumulation for the elites, and mass dispossession for the people.

While mainstream media outlets continue to push a tired narrative, hip hop has shed some light on the real effects of capitalism. Vinnie Paz’s 2010 track Keep Movin’ On provides insight into these effects, and especially how they relate to the American worker. The first verse informs us in two ways. First, Paz illustrates the workers’ role in the capitalist system, which is merely to serve as a tool to be used and exploited until no longer needed. In this role, we are not considered as human beings with families, needs, and inherent rights; we are only valuable as long as we provide owners with an avenue of extracting surplus labor from us for their profit. Second, the verse specifically describes the plight of the American manufacturing worker and the demise of middle-class jobs over the past 40 years due to globalization, corporate offshoring, and free trade agreements – all elements of the proliferation of capitalism in the neoliberal era:

I lost my job at the factory and that’s disastrous
They said it’s due to regulation and higher taxes
They ain’t give me no notice. They knocked me off my axis
I can’t pay the electric bill. It’s total blackness
I suggested some incentives for innovation
But that was met with resistance like it’s a sin of Satan
I’m losing my patience over here. I’m sick of waiting
And I ain’t never expect to be in this situation
And the manufacturing jobs are fading fast (Damn)
Can’t do nothing else. I should’ve stayed in class
I have to wait till summertime to cut the blades of grass
I have this little bit of money. Have to make it last
I have children to feed. I have a loving wife
I had a hard time coming that was nothing nice
I keep asking myself what am I doing wrong
And they just look at me and tell me “Keep it movin’ on”


“Kill my landlord”

Along with massive unemployment and underemployment, the working class is also constantly faced with insecure housing situations. Landlordism is a natural byproduct of a capitalist system which seeks to commodify basic human needs such as food, clothing, housing, and healthcare for profit. Under this system, the few who can afford to own multiple properties are allowed to exploit the many who can barely afford basic shelter for themselves and their families. Because of this, many of us go our entire lives without ever establishing a stable home environment.

As of 2017, this natural housing crisis has reached a point where it’s being labeled an epidemic even by mainstream sources. As rent continues to soar , so do evictions. ” As of 2015 , more than 20 million renters-more than half of all renters in the U.S.-were cost burdened, meaning they spent at least at least 30 percent of their income on rent. That’s up from almost 15 million in 2001. And while rents have risen 66 percent since 2000, household incomes have only risen 35 percent.” In 2015, an estimated 2.7 million Americans faced eviction. Median rent has increased by more than 70% since 1995, while wages have stagnated for almost 30 years, and jobs that pay a living wage have disappeared during this same period. Landlords will go to great lengths to throw families and children out in the streets, sometimes even for falling behind one month on rent. “A landlord can evict tenants through a formal court process,” explains Matthew Desmond , “or they can choose cheaper and quicker ways” to boot the families, such as “paying them a couple of hundred dollars to vacate by the end of the week” or even by removing the front door of the home. In order to protect this for-profit housing system from total collapse, the federal government uses numerous programs to assist people, including public housing, rental assistance, and even massive tax subsidies for homeowners. Despite this, many families are cold-heartedly exploited and discarded by landlords who want nothing more than to profit off this forced, human desperation. After living such an existence, The Coup’s 1993 track Kill My Landlord , which featured the less-known rap duo Elements of Change, is surely to serve as a long-standing anthem for many:

Overlord of the concrete jungle but I’m humble
As I witness my opponent crumble
Like the shack that I live in the house that I rent from him
Roach infested I’m sure that the rats are nesting
The heat doesn’t work he still hasn’t checked it
Disrespected me for the last time
I loaded up the nine stepping double time
Bullseye, Another point scored
Right between the eyes of my landlord

All who have relied on rental property to live can certainly relate to the undignified relationship between landlord and tenant. Like bosses, landlords exploit us as resources. And the capitalist system not only allows them the power to do this on mass scale, it actually supports their rights with force if necessary. Our collective desperation is their individual gain. And our forced dependency on them leaves us with no leverage against their power. The second verse of The Coup’s classic track reflects on this slave-like existence brought on by capitalism and landlordism:

So me I’m chilling at the table with my family
Hypothetically trying hard to keep my mind off the economy
Yeah I know the reason I find it hard to pass the test
Call me a victim cause I’m another brother jobless
Every day it seems like I’m moving closer to the streets
PG&E repo’ed the lights and my fucking heat
The situation’s getting hard for me to handle
Had to trade my Nike’s to the store to buy some candles
Last to first and I’m a-hunted and a ho I know
The man is going to come and throw me in the cold
Tears in my eye as I’m thinking of place to stay
While I’m staring at the freebie cheese up in my plate
I heard a bang bang bang knocking at my door
I looked up it was my motherfucking landlord, let him in quick
Followed by the sheriff deputy trying to come in
Every po on my property, staring me down
Mugging hard up in my family’s face
While they’re sitting at the table trying to say grace
But before I make this one my last meal
Any moves, yeah I’m looking for the damn kill
I said it twice in case he didn’t hear me though
Sucker made a move evidently when he hit the floor
So now I’m in cuffs for the crimes I’ve committed
Maybe I’ll go to jail, heh, or maybe I’ll get acquitted
But the fact still stands I killed my landlord dead
Now I’ve got three meals and a roof over my head

In the third verse, Boots Riley connects the inherent injustices of landlordism to not only capitalism, but also to European conquest and the process of primitive accumulation that allowed settler-colonists to create wealth from the Atlantic Slave Trade and Indigenous holocaust. There is an overt racial component to this process, as descendants of former slaves are still forced to depend on descendants of former slave-owners for basic needs. Recognizing the injustices and illegitimacy of this system, and seeking revolutionary change, is crucial. Boots delivers knowledge:

Cash is made in lump sums as street bums eat crumbs
So I defeat scum as I beat drums
Rum-tiddy-tum like the little drummer boy song
Here comes the landlord at the door, ding dong
Is it wrong that my momma sticks a fat-ass thong
Up his anal cavity cause he causes gravity to my family
Says we gotta pay a fee so we can stay and eat
In a house with light and heat
The bastard could get beat, stole the land from Chief Littlefeet
House is built on deceit, got no rent receipt
So I’m living in the street and I’m down now
Don’t you know to not fuck with the Mau Mau?
Notice of eviction, four knuckle dental affliction
Friction, oh did I mention
You’ll be finger licking as I handicap your diction
And you say you’re not a criminal like Tricky Dick Nixon?
While we’re fixing to impose rent control
We didn’t vote on it, this land wasn’t bought or sold
It was stole by your great granddaddy’s ganking
Osagyefo said they call it primitive accumulation
Plantations, TV stations wealth is very stationary
I learned the game and I became a revolutionary
Scaring the corporate asses cause the masses are a loaded gun
Killing the world banking and international monetary fund
I’m done, we’re done with what you’ve done
For twenty-five score we’ve got a battle cry
Kill my, kill my, kill my, kill my
Kill my, kill my, kill my, kill my landlord

While representing a main staple of capitalism, landlordism also mimics the dynamics of settler societies in that settlers gain a disproportionate amount of land ownership at the expense of the mass dispossession of native populations. In many ways, modern landlords in the US represent the traditional colonizer, often buying up property in “foreign” communities for the sole purpose of exploiting masses of renters through dispossession and forced reliance. As in the process of gentrification, landlords dispossess thousands of poor and working-class people in their never-ending pursuit for more and more property to commodify. E-Roc finishes the track strong, calling on a figurative Mau Mau rebellion to “kill” the modern version of colonizers.

I need six hundred dollars by the end of the week
My body is cold, dirty socks on my feet
Not a black sheep, but who’s the creep
Trying to put me on the street while I’m trying to sleep?
I wanna kill my landlord, murder in the first degree
If there’s something wrong he wants to blame me
Wants to be a threat so he carries a gun
Well I pack a 9 cause I can’t trust 911
Son of a gun, I’m the one who cuts the grass
Wash the windows and he still wants me to kiss his ass
But I laugh cause America’s not my home
My landlord took me away from where I belong
But it’s a sad song so I face reality now
Pick up the phone and now here comes the Mau Mau
To the rescue, down with The Coup
Yo landlord, I’ve got a little message for you
I’m going cuckoo, fuck a machete or sword
E-Roc is on a mission to kill my landlord


How the Capitalist/Imperialist War Machine Works Against Us

On Track 7 of Immortal Technique’s 2005 Bin Laden remix album, Mumia Abu-Jamal once again spits knowledge, this time providing brilliantly poetic commentary framing capitalism and imperialism as ” a war versus us all “:

“The war against us all
This war in Iraq isn’t the end; it’s the beginning of Wars to come
All around the world at the whim of the Neo-Cons in the White House
This is the Bush Doctrine come to life; War, war and more war!
War brought to you by the big corporate-masters who run the show
This isn’t just a War on Iraqis or Afghanis or Arabs, or even Muslims
It is ultimately a War on us all.
That’s because the billions and billions that are being spent on this War
The cost of tanks, rocketry, bullets and yes even salaries
For the 125, 000 plus troops, is money that will never be spent on;
Education, on healthcare, on the reconstruction of crumbling public housing
Or to train and place the millions of workers
Who have lost manufacturing jobs in the past three years alone
The War in Iraq is in reality; a war against the nations’ workers and the poor
Who are getting less and less
While the big Defense industries and making a killing, literally.
What’s next Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela?
We’ve already seen the corporate media
Play megaphone to the White House, to build and promote a War based on lies
War is utilized by the imperialists first and foremost, to crush internal enemies
We’re seeing the truth of its insight
When we see the sad state of American education
The rush of seniors to buy affordable medications from the Canadians
Because American drugs are just too expensive
The threat of privatization of Social Security
And the wave of repression that comes with an increasing Militarized Police;
This is a War on all of us
And the struggle against War is really a struggle for a better life
For the millions of folks who are in need here in this country!
The fight against the War is really to fight for your own interest
Not the false interests of the Defense Industry
Or the corporate media or the White House
Down with the Wars for empire.”

Immortal Technique’s subsequent track, Bin Laden , is a masterful critique of US imperialism and the corollary effects of government control on American citizens. Written during the W. Bush administration and the Iraq War, the track touches on the fear-mongering that led to the Patriot Act, the hypocrisy of American politicians, and the CIA’s dealings in the Middle East during the 1980s, which created and strengthened groups like the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Tech begins by contrasting the lived realities of most American citizens with the artificial realities disseminated from the power structure and its calls for blind patriotic loyalty:

I pledge no allegiance, fuck the President’s speeches!
I’m baptized by America and covered in leeches.
The dirty water that bleaches your soul, and your facial features.
Drowning you in propaganda that they spit through the speakers.
And if you speak about the evil that the government does.
The Patriot Act will track you to the type of your blood.
They try to frame you and say you was trying sell drugs.
And throw a federal indictment on niggas to show you love.
This shit is run by fake Christians, fake politicians.
Look at they mansions, then look at the conditions you live in.

He wraps up the first verse by summarizing US foreign policy during the 1980s, specifically referring to the substantial financial and military aid provided to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan during their prolonged war against the Soviet Union. During this time, Osama Bin Laden was a US ally who was a beneficiary of much of this aid, as was Saddam.

All they talk about is terrorism on television.
They tell you to listen.
But they don’t really tell you they mission.
They funded al-Qaeda.
And now they blame the Muslim religion.
Even though Bin Laden was a CIA tactician.
They gave him billions of dollars and they funded his purpose.
Fahrenheit 9/11? That’s just scratching the surface!

…And of course Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons.
We sold him that shit after Ronald Reagan’s election.
Mercenary contractors fighting in a new era
Corporate military banking off the war on terror.

The fact that the US government once supported and funded Bin Laden, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein is not the main point in Tech’s lyrical thesis, but rather the context that leads us into deeper analysis on US foreign policy, the military industrial complex, and the rise of Islamophobia and the War on Terror. By showing how loyalties easily sway, Tech is showing us how the purpose of US interventions abroad are not really about “protecting freedom” or “defending us.” Rather, US foreign policy is a chess game played by the capitalist ruling class for the purpose of engineering and maintaining the US Empire , which in essence is serving as the forerunner and protector of the global capitalist system. So-called terrorism and “Muslim extremism” are nothing more than a manufactured fears designed to scare a sizable portion of the American public into supporting these destructive efforts abroad. Samuel Huntington’s 1996 book Clash of Civilizations is often looked to as the main driver in this farce of a cultural/religious global war. In supporting Tech’s message, Noam Chomsky talks about the obvious contradictions of Huntington’s thesis here , as Edward Said further discredits ithere . A simple search of stock reports for major weapons manufacturers over the past decade shows how profitable the “war on terror” has been. Understanding geopolitics is often as easy as following the money.

Part of Tech’s second verse includes a brilliant critique of state nationalism and patriotism, illustrating how and why government and capitalist interests are not the same as the peoples’ interests, despite being advertised as such. While these wars spread and intensify, most of us continue to struggle.

They say the rebels in Iraq still fight for Saddam
But that’s bullshit, I’ll show you why it’s totally wrong
‘Cause if another country invaded the hood tonight
It’d be warfare through Harlem and Washington Heights
I wouldn’t be fighting for Bush or White America’s dream
I’d be fighting for my people’s survival and self-esteem
I wouldn’t fight for racist churches from the South, my nigga
I’d be fighting to keep the occupation out, my nigga

…. ‘Cause innocent people get murdered in the struggle daily
And poor people never get shit and struggle daily

In a remixed version of this track that includes hip-hop vets Chuck D and KRS-One, Tech tweaks the lyrics to this verse in order to show how the “clash of religions” narrative, as highlighted by Chomsky and Said, is falsely perpetrated:

They say that terrorism revolves around the Qur’an
But that’s stupid, I’ll show you why it’s totally wrong
Cause if this country was invaded and crumbled
I’d turn Harlem into a Columbian jungle
And I wouldn’t be fighting for a Christian nation
I’d be fighting for survival from extermination
I wouldn’t fight for Fox News, them racist niggas
I’d be fighting for the hood, for the faceless niggas

Tech also addresses the hypocrisy of America’s fundamentalist Christian sect, which strongly supports the Republican Party, the clash of civilizations/religion narrative, the Israeli Apartheid state, and military interventions abroad. Christian fundamentalism in the US plays an important role as a conduit to white supremacy and class warfare, as seen in its common stance against the interests of both the Black community and the immigrant community, as well as the poor and working-class communities altogether. This conduit has shown itself in the Republican Party’s four-decade-long Southern Strategyand the rise of Donald Trump’s presidency, which has brought with it overt elements of white supremacy, or as Tech puts it, “devils that run America like ‘Birth of a Nation,’ a popular white-supremacist propaganda film from 1915:

Government front religious, but their heart is empty
Like a televangelist preaching out of his Bentley
Calling abortion murder in a medical building
But don’t give a fuck about bombing Iraqi children
Talking like units in the fucking libretto
Look at their mansions and look at your suburban ghetto
The gulag, the new hood where they send us to live
Cause they don’t give a fuck about none of our kids
That’s why Blacks and Latinos get the worst education
While devils run America like “Birth of a Nation”
Affirmative action ain’t reverse discrimination
That shit is a pathetic excuse for reparations


Fake News, Structural Misinformation, and How the Ruling Class Control Politics

The notion of “fake news” has become a prominent theme in American politics due to Donald Trump’s constant use of the term to explain what he views as his unfair treatment and misinterpretation by some media outlets. Ironically, the term is also being used by liberal opponents of Trump to claim that Russia had influenced the Presidential election in Trump’s favor. The Washington Post even went as far as publishing a report citing “anonymous groups” to list dozens of online news sources that allegedly served as “instruments of Russian propaganda” during the 2016 Presidential race. Despite some backpedaling on the initial article (to include an editor’s note and the removal of some websites from the list), liberal-leaning media outlets like the Washington Post and MSNBC have persisted with this seemingly hysterical and bizarre Russophobic angle to attempt to discredit Trump’s presidency. As if Trump’s personal history, business dealings, fascist rhetoric, narcissism, constant lies, and hyper-capitalist policy platform are not bad enough.

There are some very interesting points to take from this liberal narrative. One is regarding the corporate media itself, which has both perpetuated the allegations of “fake news” and been accused of delivering it. Ironically, Trump is correct in referring to these news sources as fake. But they are not fake for the reasons he claims they are fake – which is only regarding how they portray things related to him. They are fake because they ceased being news agencies decades ago. They are now part of the entertainment industry. They are concerned with ratings and advertising profit, not with delivering information to the public. Information does not sell, sensationalism does. Fox News knows this just as much as MSNBC and CNN know this. To earn profit, you need ratings. To get ratings, you need people to tune into your channel. To get people to tune into your channel, you need drama, controversy, fear, sex, shock, sensationalism; in other words, entertainment.

Another point is regarding corporate news as a de facto fourth branch of government. Often referred to throughout history as the fourth estate, media and press journalism have long been relied on to provide a valuable fourth branch of checks and balances in the US. However, as time has gone on, rather than uncovering conflicts of interest, exposing backroom deals, and delivering investigative journalism, the media in the US has become both complicit and indifferent in and to government corruption. This was never more evident than in the months leading up to the Iraq War, which according to Australian journalist John Pilger , may have never happened if journalists had done their job of uncovering truths in the face of, and in spite of, power:

“…had journalists done their job, had they questioned and investigated the propaganda instead of amplifying it, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children might be alive today; and millions might not have fled their homes; the sectarian war between Sunni and Shia might not have ignited, and the infamous Islamic State might not now exist.”

Media collusion with the power structure has been a central theme to the work of Pilger, who has consistently tied the media’s full institutional compliance to what is properly referred to as “the deep state” or “invisible government” through the proliferation of propaganda . This was also the main theme of Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman’s 1988 book, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, as well as the subsequent 1992 documentary by the same name. According to Chomsky and Herman, mass media in the US “are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function, by reliance on market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship , and without overt coercion.” Which is to say that profit-driven news not only seeks to appease popular narratives, but also will toe the government line in return for continued access or exclusive scoops, all of which are determined by government officials.

Immortal Technique’s 2003 track, The 4th Branch , fortifies the work of Pilger, Chomsky, and Herman by illustrating how the media and its propaganda serve the ruling-class narrative. Released in the aftermath of 9-11 and during the beginnings of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tech weaves multiple theses into a central theme of propaganda versus reality. The hook sums up the track:

It’s like MK-ULTRA, controllin’ your brain
Suggestive thinking, causing your perspective to change
They wanna rearrange the whole point of view of the ghetto
The fourth branch of the government, want us to settle
A bandanna full of glittering, generality
Fightin’ for freedom and fightin’ terror, but what’s reality
Read about the history of the place that we live in
And stop letting corporate news tell lies to your children

The opening verse introduces us once again to Huntington’s clash-of-civilizations narrative and the role of Evangelical Christians in pushing forth this narrative. Tech focuses on the moral bankruptcy of Christian fundamentalism in the US and how US foreign policy is continuously designed on a base of hypocrisy and misinformation, carried out by agents of the capitalist class:

The voice of racism preachin’ the gospel is devilish
A fake church called the prophet Muhammad a terrorist
Forgetting God is not a religion, but a spiritual bond
And Jesus is the most quoted prophet in the Qu’ran
They bombed innocent people, tryin’ to murder Saddam
When you gave him those chemical weapons to go to war with Iran
This is the information that they hold back from Peter Jennings
Cause Condoleezza Rice is just a new age Sally Hemings

The remainder of the first verse continues the critique on conservative ideology and Christian fundamentalism, tying them into the ultimate hypocrisies perpetrated in the founding of the United States. The miseducation that most of us are subjected to through years of formal education interplay with Tech’s exposure of the public misinformation that disseminates from media sources, all of which combine to produce a hidden history of the US that is a perfectly pliable tool firmly in the hands of the ruling class:

I break it down with critical language and spiritual anguish
The Judas I hang with, the guilt of betraying Christ
You murdered and stole his religion, and painting him white
Translated in psychologically tainted philosophy
Conservative political right wing, ideology
Glued together sloppily, the blasphemy of a nation
Got my back to the wall, cause I’m facin’ assassination
Guantanamo Bay, federal incarceration
How could this be, the land of the free, home of the brave
Indigenous holocaust and the home of the slaves
Corporate America, dancin’ offbeat to the rhythm
You really think this country, never sponsored terrorism
Human rights violations, we continue the saga
El Savador and the contras in Nicaragua
And on top of that, you still wanna take me to prison
Just cause I won’t trade humanity for patriotism

Returning to Vinnie Paz’s track, Keep Movin’ On, we see the experiences and views of an American soldier, handpicked from the working class to serve in illegal and immoral wars and occupations abroad. The verse touches on everything from the recruitment process and the brainwashing effects of patriotism to the gruesome effects of serving as tools of war for the capitalist ruling class :

I signed up cause they promised me some college money
I ain’t the smartest motherfucker but I’m not a dummy
They told me I would be stationed in places hot and sunny
I had a lot of pride. Motherfuckers got it from me
These people over here innocent. They never harmed me
My sergeant tried to convince me that they would try to bomb me
I feel like an outsider stuck inside this army
Everybody brainwashed. American zombies
I ain’t realized how much it set me back
Until I lost my leg and then they sent me back
I don’t have anything now. I’m left with scraps
From a government who created AIDS, invented crack
People told me not to join. I tried to prove ’em wrong
Now I’m homeless and I’m cold without no food thas’ warm
I keep asking myself, “What did I do that’s wrong?”
And the government telling me, “Keep it movin’ on”

Tech’s closing comments on the 4th Branch summarizes the class-component that shapes the military industrial complex, a system designed to create, maintain, and protect private profit. Echoing Paz’s verse on the experience of soldiers, Tech illustrates our role in this system while touching on the constant propaganda we are bombarded with, which pushes this narrative of “we,” as if “we” have anything in common with the American ruling/capitalist class and their servants in mass media.

The fourth branch of the government AKA the media
Seems to now have a retirement plan for ex-military officials
As if their opinion was at all unbiased
A machine shouldn’t speak for men
So shut the fuck up you mindless drone
And you know it’s serious
When these same media outfits are spending millions of dollars on a PR campaign
To try to convince you they’re fair and balanced
When they’re some of the most ignorant, and racist people
Giving that type of mentality a safe haven
We act like we share in the spoils of war that they do
We die in wars, we don’t get the contracts to make money off ’em afterwards
We don’t get weapons contracts, nigga
We don’t get cheap labor for our companies, nigga
We are cheap labor, nigga
Turn off the news and read, nigga
Read… read… read

Tech’s final verse is powerfully connected to liberation movements of the past, echoing among other the great Irish socialist, James Connolly, and his call for international, working-class solidarity during the beginnings of World War I. In his A Continental Revolution (1914) , Connolly sums up the profit motive and class-basis of war:

“… [in war] the working class are to be sacrificed that a small clique of rulers and armament makers may sate their lust for power and their greed for wealth. Nations are to be obliterated, progress stopped, and international hatreds erected into deities to be worshipped.

… against the patriotism of capitalism – the patriotism which makes the interest of the capitalist class the supreme test of duty and right – I place the patriotism of the working class, the patriotism which judges every public act by its effect upon the fortunes of those who toil.

To me, therefore, the socialist of another country is a fellow-patriot, as the capitalist of my own country is a natural enemy.”

“Fake news” is simply propaganda constructed through ruling-class channels to boost systems and cultures that support the power structure. In other words, it is the status quo. It is nothing new. It happens rather naturally, flowing from concentrations of money and power. Regarding the newfound liberal version of “fake news,” the final point to consider relates to the idea of an outside influence on American politics. Long before the Russia hysteria surfaced, the American political system had been bought and sold numerous times over. To suggest that politicians from either major party ever represented the interests of American people is incredibly naïve. Campaign financing and corporate lobbying determine who wins political races and which legislation is introduced and passed in Congress. Long before Russia was accused of influencing elections, Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms were proven to influence elections. Long before Trump supposedly got a boost from Putin, official US policy had been directly shaped by Israeli interests in the Middle East.

Access to oil has always determined foreign policy, access to capital for big business has always determined economic policy, and the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision has ensured that the Kochs’, Soros’, Gates’, and Buffetts’ of the world will always hold more political weight within the electoral system than 100 million voters combined, if they so choose. Whether it’s Goldman Sachs, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Koch brothers, George Soros, or Putin, the American people have never had a say in what the political machine does or doesn’t do. This fact renders the Trump-Russia hysteria as moot. Any real sense of US national interests has long been replaced by the global capitalist order, if they ever truly existed at all. In terms of political empowerment and self-determination for the working-class majority within the US, a foreign president is no different than any number of nameless American millionaire hedge-fund donors.


The Seamless Political Machine and the Failures of Identity Politics: From Reagan to Trump

Within electoral politics, lesser-evilism has become the dominant stance for at least half of the American population. For individual voters, the 2-party duopoly has been mostly abandoned as identifications with either party have reached near-historic lows . As of 2015, nearly half of registered voters identify as something other than Republican or Democrat. However, despite this overwhelming rejection of the 2-party system, many of these voters continue to choose what they view as the “lesser evil” in voting for candidates from one of the two major parties.

Since the Reagan administration and introduction of a seamless political machine based in neoliberalism (an intensification of capitalism), presidential administrations regardless of party have been almost indistinguishable. Despite this seamless identity that’s emerged, many voters still insist on claiming differences between the two corporate parties, even if it means choosing what they view as the lesser-evil. The fact that some public radical intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Angela Davis have proposed lesser-evilism lends this direction some undue credence. However, when we step back and analyze the big picture, away from the emotions that often emerge in the heat of electoral moments, it is easy to see that lesser-evilism, as an electoral tactic embraced by the Left, has pushed the entire political system to the right over the past 40 years. Clear evidence of this shift can be seen in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, which carried forth Reagan-esque economic policy, while also gutting welfare (Clinton), facilitating mass incarceration of the Black community (Clinton), escalating US bombing campaigns (Obama), pushing historical levels of deportation of immigrants (Obama), and maintaining the attack on civil liberties that began under W. Bush (Obama). Even more evidence is the emergence of Bernie Sanders as a candidate who is viewed as being an outlier of the Democratic Party, despite an ideological identity that is consistent with run-of-the-mill liberalism of old. Yet, when compared to a Democratic Party that has clearly shifted rightward, toward more hard-line capitalist-friendly policies that have characterized the neoliberal era started by Reagan, as well as highly-destructive imperialist missions abroad, Sanders looks like a radical.

Killer Mike’s 2012 track, Reagan, brings us to the start of the neoliberal era. In a social context, specifically regarding the treatment of Black communities throughout the country, the Reagan era merely picked up on hundreds of years of oppression. By implementing an official “war on drugs,” this era provided the basis for what Michelle Alexander termed The New Jim Crow , in her book with the same title. It also created a new wing of the military industrial complex through the construction of an extensive for-profit prison system and widespread militarization of domestic police forces. Mike’s second verse introduces us to the Reagan environment, as experienced by the Black community:

The end of the Reagan Era, I’m like ‘leven, twelve, or
Old enough to understand the shit’ll change forever
They declared the war on drugs like a war on terror
But what it really did was let the police terrorize whoever
But mostly black boys, but they would call us “niggers”
And lay us on our belly, while they fingers on they triggers
They boots was on our head, they dogs was on our crotches
And they would beat us up if we had diamonds on our watches
And they would take our drugs and money, as they pick our pockets
I guess that that’s the privilege of policing for some profit

The intensification of American policing in poor communities of color served a bigger purpose. As Mike explains in the same verse, it bolstered the cornerstone of US economics and capitalism: free labor. As per the 13th amendment of the US Constitution , “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” In other words, the forced free labor of convicts in the US prison system is still legal. And the “war on drugs” helped to create nearly 1.3 million free laborers for mainstream corporations , as the prison population in the US grew from roughly 300,000 in 1980 to over 1.5 million in 2015 . Killer Mike touches on this:

But thanks to Reaganomics, prisons turned to profits
Cause free labor is the cornerstone of US economics
Cause slavery was abolished, unless you are in prison
You think I am bullshitting, then read the 13th Amendment
Involuntary servitude and slavery it prohibits
That’s why they giving drug offenders time in double digits

Mike closes the track by moving the focus from Reagan to the system, telling us that Presidents (and most politicians, for that matter) are nothing more than “employees of the country’s real masters,” serving capitalist interests rather than the masses of people:

Ronald Reagan was an actor, not at all a factor
Just an employee of the country’s real masters
Just like the Bushes, Clinton and Obama
Just another talking head telling lies on teleprompters
If you don’t believe the theory, then argue with this logic
Why did Reagan and Obama both go after Gaddafi
We invaded sovereign soil, going after oil
Taking countries is a hobby paid for by the oil lobby
Same as in Iraq, and Afghanistan
And Ahmadinejad say they coming for Iran
They only love the rich, and how they loathe the poor
If I say any more they might be at my door
(Shh..) Who the fuck is that staring in my window
Doing that surveillance on Mr. Michael Render
I’m dropping off the grid before they pump the lead
I leave you with four words: I’m glad Reagan dead

Reagan the man may be dead, but his spirit has survived in symbolic terms through the perpetuation of neoliberalism’s capitalist/imperialist order. The actions of our last President, Obama, who may appear to be the polar opposite of Reagan in any superficial analysis, confirms this perpetuation. The 2015 remix, Obamanation 4 , hammers this truth home in magnificent fashion. Opening with excerpts of speeches from Malcolm X, the track sets up a premise of systemic analysis as Malcolm rails against the “international Western power structure (capitalism),” calling upon “anyone, I don’t care what color you are, as long as you want to change the miserable conditions on this earth.”

Echoing Killer Mike’s track, M-1 (from Dead Prez) uses his verse in Obamanation 4 to expose the systemic nature of our political system, illustrating how not only the Democratic Party, but also the first Black President, equal nothing more than cogs in an imperialist machine. His analysis begins by disregarding the propaganda stemming from right-wing sources like Fox News and syndicated radio, all of which claimed Obama represented a diversion from politics-as-usual by having some mythological “radical-left-wing agenda.” In reality, Obama’s administration continued, and even escalated in some cases, America’s imperialist endeavors abroad. M-1 flips this “right-wing propaganda” and puts it back on progressives, rhetorically asking “who you gonna blame” now that the man in charge is no longer a white Republican named Bush:

After you divorce yourself from the right wing propaganda campaign, it’s all simple and plain.
America customed the game.
Your President got an African name, now who you gonna blame?
When they drop them bombs out of them planes.
Using depleted uranium, babies looking like two-headed aliens.
Follow the money trail, it leads to the criminal.
Ain’t nothing subliminal to it, that’s how they do it.

Continuing on this theme, M-1 pinpoints Obama as the new head of the US’ global imperialist agenda, even touching on the irony of a Black man carrying out neo-colonialism with white-supremacist underpinnings. M-1’s verse is not only insightful in its blanket condemnation of the 2-party machine, but also in its inherent warning about the dangers of a brand of identity politics that seeks to plug folks from historically marginalized groups into the power structure. Ultimately, to M-1, as to all radicals and revolutionaries, it’s the system that drives our injustices, not the figureheads chosen to facilitate the system:

See they game they run.
Give a fuck if he’s cunning, articulate, and handsome.
Afghanistan held for ransom.
By the hand of this black man, neo-colonial puppet.
White power with a black face, he said fuck it I’ll do it.
…. Last stage of imperialism, I ain’t kiddin.
In the immortal words of Marvin Gaye ‘This ain’t living.’

On the same track, Black the Ripper picks up on M-1’s analysis, keeping the focus on Obama as nothing more than a figurehead of a system that must be opposed. This particular verse includes a harsh critique, deploying the house-slave mentality in describing Black figures in power, as well as their accomplices:

See it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.
He’s sitting in the White House, so who cares if he’s black?
And why’s there still soldiers out there in Iraq?
Natural resources ain’t yours, it’s theirs, give it back!
You’re just another puppet, but I’m not surprised
Look at Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.
They didn’t change shit, house nigga’s fresh off the slave ship.

The Obamanation remix includes a verse from Lupe Fiasco’s track, Words I Never Said. The verse fits the overall narrative perfectly, keeping focus on systemic operations. Lupe takes the analysis even further, touching on various social aspects stemming from capitalism and imperialism, most notably those which keep the American public in line, agreeable, and ignorant through a process of devalued education, fear-mongering, and mind-numbing celebrity gossip. All of this, Lupe suggests, leads to what Chomsky has referred to as “manufactured consent,” which he strongly rejects:

I really think the war on terror is a bunch of bullshit.
Just a poor excuse for you to use up all your bullets.
How much money does it take to really make a full clip?
9/11, building 7, did they really pull it?
Uh, and a bunch of other coverups.
Your child’s future was the first to go with budget cuts.
If you think that hurts, then wait, here comes the uppercut.
The school was garbage in the first place, that’s on the up and up.
Keep you at the bottom but tease you with the upper crust.
You get it, then they move it, so you never keeping up enough.
If you turn on TV, all you see’s a bunch of “what the fucks.”
Dude is dating so and so, blabbering ’bout such and such.
And that ain’t Jersey Shore, homey, that’s the news.
And these the same people supposedly telling us the truth.
Limbaugh is a racist, Glenn Beck is a racist.
Gaza strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say shit.
That’s why I ain’t vote for him, next one either.
I’m a part of the problem, my problem is I’m peaceful.
And I believe in the people.

Lowkey concludes the remix with a strong verse on American imperialism, an agenda that has become indistinguishable between various Presidents and both corporate parties. He points to specific missions carried out under the Obama administration, seemingly calling to attention those who continue to portray Obama as a separation from the Bush administration. The verse serves as a prophetic warning about Syria, and nails home M-1’s earlier reduction of Obama as just another “neo-colonial puppet” doing the job that every American President is called upon to do, including bombing an African country (Libya) and disposing of a leader (Gaddafi) known for promoting pan-Africanism throughout the continent:

Was the bigger threat from Osama or from Obama?
Military bases from Chagos to Okinawa.
I say things that other rappers won’t say.
Cause my mind never closed like Guantanamo Bay.
Hope you didn’t build a statue or tattoo your arm.
Cause the drones are still flying over Pashtunistan.
Did he defend the war? No! He extended more.
He even had the time to attempt a coup in Ecuador.
Morales and Chavez, the state’s are on a hunt for ya.
Military now stationed on bases in Columbia.
Take a trip to the past and tell em I was right.
Ask Ali Abunimah or Jeremiah Wright.
Drones over Pakistan, Yemen, and Libya.
Is Obama the bomber getting ready for Syria?
First black president, the masses were hungry.
But the same president just bombed an African country.

The false hopes placed in the first Black President highlight the failures and pitfalls of identity politics, a political approach that is grounded in assimilation. This approach to social justice attempts to mold a multicultural, multi-sex, non-gender-descript power elite by simply placing individuals who identify with these hyper-marginalized groups into the existing power structure. Thus, the ultimate goal is more Black bankers, more gay landlords, more transgender politicians, more women Senators, and so on. This approach has led to the creation of what the left-wing publication Black Agenda Report (BAR) has deemed the black misleadership class in the US. Obama was the ultimate product of this class, but not the totality of it. For as long as identity politics seek to assimilate into the power structure, this class will persist, as will the formation of other such classes: the gay misleadership class, the transgender misleadership class, the women’s misleadership class (Hillary), etc…, because, ultimately, the power structure does not exist to serve the people, no matter how diverse it is. Nas touches on this in his 1999 track, I Want to Talk to You , which addresses the frustrations of living under a government that does not represent:

Step up to the White House, let me in
What’s my reason for being, I’m ya next of kin
And we built this motherfucker
You wanna kill me because my hunger?
Mr. America, young black niggas want ya
I wanna talk to the man, understand?
Understand this motherfuckin G-pack in my hand
Look what happened to San Fran
Young girl hit by policeman
Twelve shots up in her dome, damn
….Dissin us, discrimination different races
Tax payers pay for more jail for Black Latin faces

Coming full circle, Nas closes the track by delivering a prophetic warning against identity politics, characterizing BAR’s “black misleadership class” as nothing more than “fake black leaders [who] are puppets, always talking ’bout the city budget (rather than addressing problems that plague their communities).”

What y’all waitin for the world to blow up
Before you hear this rewind this 4 minutes before we timeless
Let y’all niggas bang my shit before Saddam hits
Let Nastradamus tell us what time it is
They try to buy us with doe
Fake black leaders are puppets, always talking ’bout the city budget
The news got it all confused lyin to the public
They eyes watchin stay wise move above it
Water floods predicted, hurricanes, twisters
Its all signs of the Armageddon, three sixes
People reverse the system, politics vs. religion
Holy war, Muslim vs. Christians
Niggas in high places, they don’t got the balls for this
People in power sit back and watch them slaughter us
Mr. President I assume it was negligence
The streets upside down, I’m here to represent this


Confronting the Power Structure

Modern working-class resistance is still rooted in Marx’s class war analysis, whereas the proletariat (those of us who are forced to depend on our labor to survive) finds itself fighting for its collective life against the bourgeoisie (the owners of the means of production) and the layered power structure created by this economic realtionship. It is also crucially intertwined in the fights against other forms of structural oppression, including white supremacy, patriarchy, and misogyny; because, quite frankly, all forms of oppression that splinter the working class must be effectively destroyed if the working class has any hopes of overcoming the capitalist system.

In echoing Malcolm X’s famous “the ballot or the bullet” speech from 1964, working-class resistance must include “action on all fronts by whatever means necessary.” Since the police represent the front lines of a criminal justice system inherently designed to enforce class oppression, as well as structural white supremacy, working-class resistance must include a firm stance against not only police brutality and mass incarceration, but also against the very foundation of modern policing, which is rooted in “slave-catching” and strike-breaking. This means standing in blanket opposition to policing as an institution designed to “serve and protect” capitalist property and enforce laws created by a capitalist ruling class with capitalist interests in mind. Reflecting on the Black community’s especially intense history of oppression at the hands of police, hip hop has delivered a proper analysis and call to action. From NWA’s seminal track Fuck tha Police (1988) to David Banner and Tito Lo’s Black Fist (2016), the armed extension of the capitalist state is consistently exposed, as it has left countless Black lives lying in its tracks with no signs of slowing. Banner and Lo’s track captures the sheer anger and frustration stemming from this reality:


These crackers got drones. They are flying their saucers
Keep your white jesus, don’t pray to your crosses
They are burning our churches, K.R.I.T. pass me the UZI
I know how to work it; I know how to Squirt it
No Martin, No Luther, No King, No Marching No choirs don’t sing
The same christian lovers that raped our GrandMothers and hung our GrandFathers from trees
They are enemies!
Blood on the leaves, blood on the streets, blood on our feet
I’m sick of walking, I’m sick of dogs getting sicced on us, I’m sick of barking
I’m sick of spitting written sentences listeners don’t get
Don’t get, don’t get, don’t get!
Because they got Chains on their brains and that is not a diss


… I’m staying religious, cause we stay in the trenches
And gotta play where they lynch us, done came to my senses
I bet them crackas never came through my fences
Ya burn up ya cross, and I’ll burn up ya corpse
Then I turn and bang and do the same to the witness
Hang ’em and dangle ’em in the street looking up at his feet
So you never forget this we did this for Martin and Malcolm, even Mandela
Jimmie Lee Jackson and then Medgar Evers
For Clyde Kennard, hard labor slaving in the yard
For Huey, for Hampton, for Bobby we GODLY
For Jordan Davis we gon’ play this, for Sandra Bland we gon’ stand
I’m still out here stomping, for Janaya Thompson, from the Coast to Compton

The video for Black Fist shows a series of events that encapsulate what working-class justice would look like outside the parameters of capitalism and white supremacy. This includes a people’s arrest, people’s trial, and subsequent execution of a police officer who was acquitted of murdering a Black teenager. The fact that this hypothetical scenario could be remotely controversial illustrates how strong we’ve been conditioned to equate our current system with any real sense of justice, of which there is very little if any. The environment of injustice that is bred under so-called legalities is masterfully summed up in Lauryn Hill’s Mystery of Iniquity (2002):

Ya’ll can’t handle the truth in a courtroom of lies
Perjures the jurors
Witness despised
Crooked lawyers
False Indictments publicized
Its entertainment the arraignments
The subpoenas
High profile gladiators in bloodthirsty arenas
Enter the Dragon
Black-robe crooked-balance
Souls bought and sold and paroled for thirty talents
Court reporter catch the surface on the paper
File it in the system not acknowledged by the Maker
Swearing by the bible blatantly blasphemous
Publicly perpetrating that “In God We Trust”
Cross-examined by a master manipulator
The faster intimidator
Receiving the judge’s favor
Deceiving sabers doing injury to they neighbors
For status, gratis, apparatus and legal waivers
See the bailiff
Representing security
Holding the word of God soliciting perjury
The prosecution
Political prostitution
The more money you pay.. the further away solution

…Blind leading the blind
Guilty never defined
Filthy as swine
A generation purin it’s own mind
Legal extortion
Blown out of proportion
In vein deceit
The truth is obsolete
Only two positions:
Victimizer or Victim
Both end up in destruction trusting this crooked system

Running hand in hand with capitalism’s version of “justice” is the underlying dominance of white supremacy. In the formation of the United States as a nation, as well as the customs, cultures, and systems we’ve become accustomed to during this process, white supremacy has played a formidable role. It has created an all-powerful wedge among the working class, rendering its potential limited. Its divisive message is often hidden in powerfully emotional rhetoric regarding “American values” and patriotism, all of which secretly (or not so secretly in the era of Trump) call for protecting the Eurocentrism that has systematically devalued black skin in dominant American culture. In an old-school track from 1991, Ice Cube uses brilliant analogy and powerful lyrics while condemning America’s history of white supremacy and challenging the toxicity of patriotic rhetoric, concluding with the need to ” kill Sam“:

I wanna kill him, cause he tried to play me like the trick
But you see, I’m the wrong nigga to fuck with
I got the A to the motherfuckin K, and it’s ready to rip
Slapped in my banana clip
And I’m lookin.. (lookin..)
Is he in watts, oakland, philly or brooklyn?
It seems like he got the whole country behind him
So it’s sort of hard to find him
But when I do, gotta put my gat in his mouth
Pump seventeen rounds make his brains hang out
Cause the shit he did was uncalled for
Tried to fuck a brother up the ass like a small whore
And that shit ain’t fly
So now I’m settin up, the ultimate drive-by
And when you hear this shit
It make the world say “damn! I wanna kill sam”

…Here’s why I wanna kill the punk
Cause he tried to take a motherfuckin chunk of the funk
He came to my house, I let ’em bail in
Cause he said he was down with the l.m
He gave up a little dap
Then turned around, and pulled out a gat
I knew it was a caper
I said, “please don’t kill my mother, ” so he raped her
Tied me up, took me outside
And I was thrown in a big truck
And it was packed like sardines
Full of niggas, who fell for the same scheme
Took us to a place and made us work
All day and we couldn’t have shit to say
Broke up the families forever
And to this day black folks can’t stick together
And it’s odd..
Broke us down, made us pray – to his god
And when I think about it
It make me say “damn! I wanna kill sam”

…Now in ninety-one, he wanna tax me
I remember, the son of a bitch used to axe me
And hang me by a rope til my neck snapped
Now the sneaky motherfucker wanna ban rap
And put me under dirt or concrete
But god, can see through a white sheet
Cause you the devil in drag
You can burn your cross well I’ll burn your flag
Try to give me the h-I-v
So I can stop makin babies like me
And you’re givin dope to my people chump
Just wait til we get over that hump
Cause yo’ ass is grass cause I’mma blast
Can’t bury rap, like you buried jazz
Cause we stopped bein whores, stop doin floors
So bitch you can fight your own wars
So if you see a man in red white and blue
Gettin chased by the lench mob crew
It’s a man who deserves to buckle
I wanna kill sam cause he ain’t my motherfuckin uncle!

Ultimately, resistance in the 21st century must focus on the inherent inequities created by the capitalist system and the corrollary social hierarchies that support these inequities. There simply is no choice but to destroy and replace this system. Gang Starr’s 1998 track Robbin’ Hood Theory hammers this home, urging us to “squeeze the juice out of all the suckers with power, and pour some back out so as to water the flowers.” Just as reparations are needed to begin to address the history of Black enslavement in America, so too is mass working-class expropriation of the capitalist class. In realizingthe illegitimacies of the wealth accumulated under this system , we must formulate bold moves toward recuperating it for all of society. Guru preaches, leaving us with our battle cry:

Now that we’re getting somewhere, you know we got to give back
For the youth is the future no doubt that’s right and exact
Squeeze the juice out, of all the suckers with power
And pour some back out, so as to water the flowers
This world is ours, that’s why the demons are leery
It’s our inheritance; this is my Robin Hood Theory… Robin Hood Theory

They innocent, they know not what they face
While politicians save face genius minds lay to waste
If I wasn’t kickin rhymes I’d be kickin down doors
Creatin social change and defendin the poor
The God’s always been militant, and ready for war
We’re gonna snatch up the ringleaders send em home in they drawers
But first where’s the safe at? Let’s make em show us
And tell em hurry up, give up the loot that they owe us
We bringin it back, around the way to our peeps
Cause times are way too deep, we know the
Code of the Streets
Meet your defeat; this is my Robin Hood Theory… my Robin Hood Theory

…Necessary by all means, sort of like Malcolm
Before it’s too late; I create, the best outcome
So I take this opportunity, yes to ruin the
Devilish forces fucking up my black community
And we ain’t doing no more interviews
Til we get paid out the frame, like motherfucking Donahue
We’re taking over radio, and wack media
Cause systematically they getting greedier and greedier
Conquering turfs with my ill organization
Takin out the man while we scan the information
You wanna rhyme you best await son
You can’t even come near, if you ain’t got our share
You front on us this year, consider yourself blown out of here
Yeah… by my Robin Hood Theory


What’s Wrong With the “Right to Work”: A Marxist Critique

J. Richard Marra

At this writing, 28 US states have instituted “Right to Work” laws (RTWLs). These laws prevent labor unions from excluding non-union workers from receiving improved wages and benefits gained through union negotiations with employers, as well as worker-empowering services such as grievance assistance. These laws also bar unions from requiring non-union employees to pay a fee to unions to offset the costs of union work and services. This legislation extends established Federal law that protects a worker’s right not to join a union, and the Taft-Hartley Act, which requires that unions exclusively represent all employees regardless of union membership status.

Neo-liberals dislike unions and wish to diminish their ability to organize and advantageously negotiate contracts with employers. They disparage union demands that all employees who the receive benefits of union work pay their fair share. Neo-liberals cast these complaints in legal language rights, which resonates among Americans. In 2014, GALLUP found that 71% of those polled approve of RTWLs because they agree with proponents that no American “should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will.” RTWL advocates such as The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation remind workers that the Foundation defends the workers’ right to personally bargain with employers, and celebrates the right of every American to employment without the government compelling them to join a union.

For Neo-liberals, workers’ labor power is their exclusive private property and the law should insure its unrestricted sale to employers. In contrast, Marxists argue that appeals to a right to sell labor power rest upon an established a capitalist conception of private property, which is a structural basis of the capitalist wage system. Marx argues that capitalist law invests workers with an exclusive ownership and control over their labor power. However, upon exchanging that labor power (as a commodity) for money (wages), it becomes the private property of the employer. It is upon these dimensions of ownership rights that Marx’s bases his class explanation of the exploitive and alienating capitalist economic system.

These rights obtain meaning and scope within a capitalist legal superstructure, described by Gerald Allen Cohen as “a set of non-economic institutions, notably the legal system and the state.” (p. 216) This legal order defines rights within the capitalist economic structure (the forces and social relations of production), and institutionalizes private property rights and production relations in legal terms. The legal superstructure enshrines rights in way that insure the best “fit” between capitalist social relations and the prevailing forces of production to maximize the effectiveness of the prevailing productive forces.

It is indispensible to capital that workers freely sell their labor power. The superstructure sanctions this right because capitalists wish to legally expedite a “free circulation of labor,” which facilitates the centralization of sufficient labor power to maximally exploit the prevailing productive forces. Concerning the growing scale of agriculture and, with it, the end of “settlement laws” in Medieval Europe, Cohen explains:

The productive forces demanded “large scale production on modern lines” with larger aggregation of labor, and therefore new material relations of production. These in turn required “free circulation of labor,” the right to move, which was then denied. Since the law forbade movement, it was broken, ignored, and finally scrapped, new social production relations forming on its ruins. (p. 167)

The legal superstructure determines the power relations of private property. It enables the good working order of the prevailing economic structure through legal means by establishing rights over the ownership and sale of labor power. RTWLs institutionalize a power asymmetry between employers and unions; financially encumbering unions and diminishing their ability to organize effectively and negotiate for improved wages and benefits from a position of financial strength.

A central problem for Marxists who wish to explain RTWLs with reference to class dynamics is to recognize and avoid the biased preconceptions of capitalist rights talk. As Cohen suggests, “The problem…is to (i) formulate a non-legal interpretation of the legal terms in Marx’s characterization of production relations, in such a way that (ii) we can coherently represent property relations as distinct from, and explained by, production relations .” (p. 219) [Author’s italics]

To do this, Cohen develops a “rights free” semantic that renders rights as “powers.” Powers are just the ability of persons to do A, regardless of whether A is normatively a legal or moral act. A revealing way to explore how laws reflect capitalist power relations is to consider Cohen’s three “dimensions of subordinate status.” Cohen defines the working class as comprising people who (p. 69):

1) Produce for others [superiors] who do not produce for them

2) Within the production process,…are commonly subjected to the authority of the [superiors]

3) In so far as their livelihoods depend on their relations to their superiors,…tend to be poorer than [their superiors]

To transform these dimensions in to talk of power, we simply replace the word “right” with a matching “power.” Then, in order to divorce rights talk from powers, we also require that the:

Possession of powers does not entail possession of the rights they match [nor vice versa]…Only the possession of a legitimate power entails the possession of the right it matches, and only the possession of an effective right entails the possession of its matching power. (p. 219)

Considered in this way, the workers’ right to sell their labor becomes the power to produce for their superiors, acquiesce to the authority of employers and managers, and generally be poorer than their superiors. Cohen makes clear the relevance of this perspective to class struggle:

No superior has rights over his [the worker’s] labor power. His subordination ensues because, lacking means of production, he can ensure his survival only by contracting with a capitalist whose bargaining position enables him to impose terms which effect the worker’s subordination. Through unionization proletarians improve their bargaining position and their consequent lot in all three dimensions of subordination. When the reduction of subordination is substantial, we may also speak of a reduction of proletarian status. (p. 70)

For unions to break free of the dimensions of capitalist subordination, organizing and worker solidarity are crucial. Cohen argues that workers can establish “a self-aware” group consciousness whose political dispositions reflect the Marxist critique (p. 77), one that views union membership outside of the Neo-liberal narrative of rights that dominates the American culture . This consciousness would realize that the right to private property remains a Neo-liberal legal construct whose function is to institutionalize beneficial social relations for the capitalist.

The Economic Policy Institute reported on the benefits non-RTW states offer to workers and their unions.

No matter how you slice the data, wages in RTW states are lower, on average, than wages in non-RTW states. As shown in great detail in Gould and Shierholz (2011), these results do not just apply to union members, but to all employees in a state. Where unions are strong, compensation increases even for workers not covered by any union contract, as nonunion employers face competitive pressure to match union standards. Likewise, when unions are weakened by RTW laws, all of a state’s workers feel the impact

If socialism intends to replace the economic structure of capitalism, these data suggest that opposing RTWLs leads to significant economic and political gains for workers. Socialist activists and union organizers struggling against the enactment of RTWLs can bolster their advocacy by illuminating that Neo-liberal semantic of rights that conceals the subordinating power relations of capitalism.

J. Richard Marra lives in Connecticut. He received his Doctoral degree from Cornell University in 1977, majoring in Musical Composition and the History of Music Theory. While on the Faculty of the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, he completed graduate work at Johns Hopkins University, majoring in the Philosophy of Science. He is a member of the Socialist Party USA, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Philosophy of Science Association. He is also a contributing writer for the Secular Buddhist Association. He is a member of the Socialist Party – USA, and has served as the Convener of the Editorial Board and Managing Editor of The Socialist. He is a 2014 recipient of the SPUSA’s Eugene V. Debs Award.

The Chasm: On State Socialists and Anarchists (An Interview)

Brenan Daniels


Below is an interview I had with both Tom Wetzel and two members of the Facebook page Anarchist Memes discussing the history between state socialists and anarchists, with the above individuals representing an anarchistic view of the situation. Part 2 will discuss the same idea from the view of state socialists.

It is well known that there was a split between Marxists and anarchists at the First International. However, how were relations between Marxists and anarchists before the split and how did this split affect relations generally speaking?

JA: Despite the first international or the Hague conference a decade later or even Krondstadt, the attack on Makhno’s forces or the ’37 may-fighting in Spain…I think the overall tone and relationship between anarchists and Marxists has been one of comradery and socialist kinship.

That said, I think that anarchists are well aware of the fact that Marxism is not homogeneous – not least because anarchists (in my observation) tend to have been Marxists first before adopting anarchism. The tendency is not to hold all of Marxism responsible for the opinions and actions of “tankies”. We are aware that the POUM fought with the CNT in the aforementioned may-days, we are aware of the Pannekoeks’, Luxemburgs and Lukacs’s within Marxism and hold these people and Marxists like them in high-esteem.

OM: I would generally say, that as soon as these two tendency formed from early Socialism, there were elements of both hostility and cooperation. The problem is that, historically, there has been a tendency by some Marxist currents (Leninism and its Maoist/Stalinist derivatives) to prefer a reactionary victory over the victory of a competing leftist tendency in any given conflict. With other tendencies of Marxism though, like Left or Council Communism, the relationship was much more harmonious and cooperative, as mentioned by [JA]. Today, both of these histories seem to inform Marxist-Anarchist relationships in varying measure, while I see the current resurgence of ultra-authoritarian Marxist tendencies seen among young activists today as a problem.

Wetzel: The label anarchism wasn’t really used by the libertarian socialists in the International Workingmen’s Association. Bakunin referred to his politics as “revolutionary socialism.” The main disagreement was over Marx’s advocacy of building labor political parties “to win the battle of democracy” (as he put it) through gaining government power. This was the beginning of the party-based strategy that has always been central to Marxism.

The libertarian socialists put the emphasis on building mass union organizations, and their potentially revolutionary role. Thus, the libertarian socialists in the first international were in many ways precursors of the type of revolutionary strategy that was called syndicalism in the early 20th century. Marx’s statement “The emancipation of the working class is the work of the workers themselves” was strongly endorsed by the syndicalist militants of the 20 th century. Libertarian socialists have been influenced as well by Marx’s analysis of how capitalism works.
In the US, it is known that anarchists and state socialists supported labor in their fight against capital, but how close was the relationship between the two groups at this time?

JA: The relationship between anarchists and Marxists in the United States has been overwhelming close, intertwined, and copacetic. Marxists and anarchists in the late 19th century and early 20th century shared common-causes and worked closely with one another – often co-mingling in abstractly socialist organizations like the knights of labor or the IWW (which is still welcoming to both anarchists and Marxists alike) and/or coming out to protest/agitate/strike etc. in defense of workers, marginalized, or imprisoned and/or executed Marxist/anarchist comrades.

OM: Not being from the US, I can add little to the situation there. In Germany, many radical leftists ID only as vaguely “radical left” without identifying fully with either Marxism or Anarchism, though.

Wetzel: In the period from early 1900s to World War 1, the growing revolutionary syndicalist movement of that era was influenced by both Marxist and anarchist ideas. There were a number of cases where Marxist and anarchist groups cooperated in building highly democratic worker organizations. In the IWW in the USA Marxists associated with the left wing of the Socialist Party cooperated with anarcho-syndicalists like Jack Walsh and Carlo Tresca. The important factory council movement in Turin Italy in 1919-20 was developed as a joint project of Antonio Gramsci’s Socialist Party group and the Turin Libertarian Group. This was an independent shop stewards council movement based on stop work assemblies in Fiat and other factories. The councils were developed independently of the bureaucracy of the CGL (Socialist Party trade union).

This Marxist-syndicalist alliance was broken with the development of the Communist International in the early ’20s. The Leninist parties insisted on working towards party hegemony in labor movements. Although the American Communist Party continued to adapt and use many syndicalist tactics and ideas in their organizing in the ’20s and early ’30s (such as elected negotiating committees, agitation around the flat incompatibility of working class and employing class interests), they were not opposed to top-down forms of labor organization in their ideology, and this became obvious after the turn of the Communist Parties to the Popular Front approach in 1936.
Talk about the situation between anarchists during World War 1 as it doesn’t seem that that is too much discussed.

JA: WWI for anarchists was marked by controversy, activity, and suppression. Throughout Europe and the US, anti-war anarchists were incarcerated en-mass and hounded endlessly. Pushed further underground, many escalated their militancy (i.e. Galleaninists in the US who actively bombed targets and assassinated officials), while others waged free-speech fights and took part in all manner of anti-war and anti-capitalist activism. The rule that anarchists opposed the war was excepted by notable anarchist luminaries such as Kropotkin – and in turn, this support was denounced by others (and the majority) i.e. Goldman, Berkman, Malatesta.

OM: The rather marginal German Anarchist groups were heavily oppressed by the state, so they devoted relatively little time to internal controversy. Activities in general declined markedly, with military authorities often sending known Anarchists, along with other radical leftists, on suicide missions during WWI. Additionally, Anarchists lacked ideas and strategies for dealing with the war, being driven by events rather than taking on an active role.

Wetzel: Let’s take each country separately. During the Russian revolution there were a variety of anarchist and libertarian socialist groups. Two groups that worked in an alliance during the revolution were the Union of Socialist Revolutionaries-Maximalist and the Russian Anarcho-Syndicalist Confederation. For example at the time of the October revolution the alliance between these two groups controlled the important soviet in Kronstadt and provided armed sailors to overthrow the Provisional Government. The October 1917 revolution occurred when the Soviet Congress took power and overthrew the unelected Provisional Government.

All the anarchist and libertarian socialist groups supported this move. However, the Bolsheviks got the Soviet Congress to let them centralize power in a new state via the Council of People’s Commissars. The syndicalists and maximalists opposed this but continued to give “critical support” to the revolution because they believed they would be able to still organize for their view in the factory committees, soviets and unions. By 1921 however the militants of these groups were in prison and they were completely suppressed. Between 1918 and 1920 the Communist government also eliminated the last elements of worker collective control in industry and converted the soviets into rubber stamps of the party…including the overthrow of soviet elections that went against them.

The syndicalists and libertarian socialists of the ’20s and ’30s came to understand that Bolshevik policies and program had led to the creation of a new ruling class in Russia, based on the party and state bureaucracy…the industrial managers, elite planners, military officers, and the power of the party bureaucracy. The working class, in their view, continued to be an exploited and subordinated class.

In Spain the anarcho-syndicalist labor organization, CNT, was the majority union, especially in the industrialized regions of Catalonia and Valencia which contained 80 percent of Spain’s manufacturing. Because of the long history of anti-labor violence and repression in Spain, both the CNT and the UGT (union shared by the Socialist and Communist parties) had armed groups. CNT had an organized system of clandestine armed cells in Catalonia, used for protecting workers in strikes. When the army attempted to seize power to crush the labor movement in July 1936, this clandestine armed organization smashed the army in Catalonia. CNT then built its own “proletarian army” with about 100,000 members and UGT built an armed militia also. Under cover of this armed power, the workers of Catalonia and other areas proceeded to engage in the most widespread direct worker seizure of capitalist property that has ever occurred…almost the whole of the economy in northeast Spain. Both the CNT and UGT farm labor unions had a revolutionary program and proceeded to collectivize millions of acres of farm land, creating more than two thousand collectivized village communities.

CNT proposed to replace the Republican state with a joint defense council of the UGT and CNT unions and a unified militia. They also proposed that the entire economy should be socialized under worker management. This was veto’d by the state socialists…the Socialist and Communist Parties. This was based on the Communist’s naïve view that somehow they could get the capitalist “democracies” to let the anti-fascist forces buy weapons even though it was clear that a proletarian revolution was underway. So if they “respected government legality” this would protect the “international legitimacy” of the Spanish Republic. This didn’t work.

The Communists in Spain pursued a strategy of trying to get control of the state through control of the police and army. After street fighting between CNT armed defense organizations and police in Barcelona in May 1937, the Communists were able to consolidate power in the national state and in 1938 began to nationalize the worker-managed industries, moving to create a managerialist type of bureaucratic class as they did in Eastern Europe after World War 2.

Various anarchist tendencies in the CNT also contributed to this result. At the outset of the revolution anarchists and syndicalists in the CNT were divided over the question of consolidating political or society-wide power. Some thought the decentralized and uncoordinated system of local committees was enough.

A minority wanted the CNT to take power in the regions where it could. This is what they did, under support of Buenaventura Durruti’s large militia organization, in eastern Aragon in September 1936. The economy was coordinated via a regional congress of delegates and the village assemblies elected a defense council to replace the old state authority. But they failed to do this in Catalonia and Valencia which were the core industrial regions of Spain. Durruti thought they could negotiate with Francisco Largo Caballero (prime minister and head of the UGT and left wing of the Socialist Party) for an acceptable solution if they held their ground and went as far as they could in consolidating working class power.

Some anarchists in the CNT were confused about the concept of “power”. Based on what happened in the Russian revolution, they thought of “taking power” as meaning that some new bureaucratic group would hold top down managerial power in some state. But “taking power” could also be interpreted as collectivizing power, via things like worker delegate congresses and coordinating councils. This would depend upon accountability to the masses via the base assemblies in the workplaces and neighborhoods. By rejecting the solution of building worker political power via workers councils in Catalonia, they found themselves forced into the hopeless situation of participating in the Popular Front government, where they were essentially captive to the socialist parties with their Popular Front strategy.
During World War 2, what was the situation in Spain and Russia, respectively, in which anarchists and state socialists found themselves on the same side or against one another? How did anarchists threaten the cause of state socialists or vice versa? How does this affect present relations?

JA: I don’t think the present is affected by the internecine socialist fighting in Spain or during WWII. These historical episodes and the debates that still take-place about them, are not (as far as I can tell) having any negative impact per Marxist/anarchist coordination. Backing up a bit, I say internecine because Trotskyists and anarchists during this period often shared a similar fate and fought/died together – in Spain and Greece most notably.

Wetzel: I think there are several essential strategic goals that the radical left needs to work at:

First, there needs to be a revival of disruptive, collective strike actions by workers. Strikes are very important because workers have the power to shut down the flow of profits to employers, or shut down operation of government agencies. Doing this helps to change the mindset and outlook within the working class because it changes the situation from one where people confront their employers as powerless individuals to a situation where people can think in terms of “we”. Strikes are learning experiences because people will learn how they confront all the institutions of the society – the media, the courts, the police, the union bureaucrats, the politicians. It develops “class consciousness” because people tend to think more in terms of “us” versus “them”.

Workplace organizing is also important because the workforce has become much more diverse than in an earlier era and thus building mass worker unions with a democratic character means working to build bridges across the various differences in the working class and taking account of the different ways that groups in the working class are oppressed. This is another way in which a revived era of mass worker struggle would change the labor movement.

Rebuilding a real labor movement is not going to be an easy or simple task, partly because the inherited American unions are so intensely bureaucratized and controlled from the top. Back in the ’30s radicals generally understood workers have to control their own unions. I think that rebuilding an effective labor movement is going to require building new unions outside the inherited bureaucratic unions of the AFL-CIO.

It’s also more likely that working people will become more identified with unionism, if they are not so limited as they’ve been in their aims and not so controlled by staff and paid officers from HQ but are more authentically organizations workers form and run themselves. There have been various periods in the past where workers in the USA built organizations from below like this on a large scale, as during 1915-21 and 1933-35.

Secondly, and related to my first point, we need ways for working at training and supporting people who make the commitment to stick at the project of rebuilding worker organization and action. This would mean forms of public education outside academia developed by and for working class people. In rebuilding the “militant minority” in the workplace we’re laying the groundwork for the radical left to once again have an actual presence and influence in the working class.

Third, for a long time there has been a general understanding by many on the left that fragmentation is a serious weakness. This takes various forms, such as single issue movements, or separation into a myriad of different kinds of movements – climate justice, Black Lives Matters, immigrant rights, tenant movement, each union focusing narrowly on its struggles with its employer, and so on,.

From a strategic point of view, I think we need to think in terms of developing a coalescing of forces into a kind of class front or working class social movement alliance. But I tend to think of this as a grassroots, horizontal kind of linkage, not via bureaucracies of unions and non-profits. This would be reflected in movements supporting the aims and struggles of other movements. There is some of this going on, but it will need to develop further.
It seems that due to the right wing onslaught in the 70s and 80s that much of the left has retreated to the academy. What are your thoughts on this and can it be reversed?

JA: I agree with your premise that the left has retreated to the academia and inward after defeats in the 60’s and 70’s. I don’t know that this will be reversed any-time soon, but I am optimistic. I sense the youth of today are more politicized and enlightened than my generation (generation x), and that gives me hope. As well, the uptick in anti-fascist militancy (unfortunately, an uptick in fascism concomitantly) and propaganda-of-the-deed of late also gives me a sense (although, perhaps it’s inflated or a product of my social-bubble) that an episode marked by a more tangible praxis is nigh.

OM: I would agree that there has been a retreat into the academy, but shortly followed by another retreat into subculturalism. With regards to reversal: Where I live, academic Anarchism has largely died out already (except for a few people in deep cover), while the subculture is slowly drying out due to self-isolation and increasing, self-imposed irrelevance. At the same time, I see a lot of discontent with Capitalism and popular demands for alternatives. At least theoretically, we should be able to build on this for a resurgence.
How is anarchism making a comeback today?

JA: Relative to our recent marginalization, I think so. My sense is that more people of know what it is and/or have some sympathy for it.

OM: If us Anarchists can get it together enough to publicly propose viable and attractive alternatives, I consider a comeback not only possible, but actually likely. The demand is there, but we need to deliver. For this, we need to abandon subculturalism and academic obscurantism and actually work in a more strategic and popularly appealing fashion.
How is state socialism making a comeback today?

Wetzel: With the Bernie Sanders campaign the concept of “democratic socialism” was widely popularized. This refers to a social-democratic perspective that doesn’t really aim at replacing capitalism with a new socialist economy, but aims to use elections of people to state office to create laws and programs to restrict the predatory behavior of corporations and provide some benefits that would be of benefit to the masses, such as Medicare for All health insurance.

In Europe the old social democratic or socialist parties have been rotted out by commitment to neo-liberalism and austerity. This has led to either new left parties or things like change of leadership in the UK Labour Party, with an aim to pushing back against austerity and rebuilding support for the stronger social-democratic policies that were characteristic of Europe in the post-World War 2 era.

But this isn’t really a comeback for the concept of socialism as state-management of the economy or centralized state planning. To the extent that “democratic socialists” or electoral socialists think beyond capitalism at all, they tend to think in terms of building worker cooperatives which would still operate in a market economy. So market socialism, in one form of another, has become the dominant vision for many socialists.
Can anarchists and state socialists ever work together? It seems that that would be so since they agree on so much.

JA: We excel in cooperation where specific issues are concerned…police violence or some local outrage etc. – what I think is difficult is getting socialists abstractly, together under a big umbrella that can connect our groupuscules up and harness our collective potential.

OM: In my experience, cooperation with anti-authoritarian Marxists (like leftcoms) is possible and productive, having participated myself in this. With the more authoritarian variants, only partial/punctual cooperation, usually on defensive issues like anti-fascism, seems practical.

Wetzel: They could work together I think in practical organizing projects such as building unions or cooperatives or tenant organizations or climate justice protests, etc. There have been state socialists as members in syndicalist unions like the IWW for example.

However, there may still be disagreements or conflicts in these areas. These disagreements are likely to happen over the question of how mass organizations are to be run. Libertarian socialists want mass organizations to be self-managed, that is, they want them to be controlled in a direct way by the rank-and-file members. They would oppose concentrating power in an executive body. Social-democrats and Leninists are likely to still favor some strategy of “boring from within” – changing leadership – in the inherited unions, rather than building independent worker committees, and grassroots unions apart from the inherited labor bureaucracy.

Dialogue might suggest areas where there can be agreement in relation to some goals or programs. But there is still the fundamental difference in how libertarian socialists and Leninists (and other state socialists) think about what socialism is. Workers self-management – and complete worker mastery of production — is, in the libertarian socialist view, a necessary condition for working class liberation from the class system. It’s not adequate to limit this to simply control of a coop or individual workplace but has to be generalized and coordinated throughout the economy, from a libertarian socialist point of view.

There is the related problem of how we view working class political power or society wide power. Even if libertarian socialists would support particular reforms in the context of the present system (such as Medicare for All in USA), in the end the old state has to be dismantled for the working class to be freed from its subordinate class position. That’s because the state is based on top-down structures of managerial control that have the boss/worker relation of subordination built in. The state represents the concentrated defense of a system of class domination and exploitation, and the forms of inequality tied in with this. So working class political power would have to be based on some form of delegate democracy consistent with worker self-management everywhere and be accountable to the masses at the base, through workplace and neighborhood assemblies.

A form of direct communal power by the masses (via neighborhood and workplace assemblies) is also going to be essential to have a solution to the present worsening environmental crisis. The people need to obtain a very direct control over what gets put into the atmosphere and water through the economic system. So we can think of the socialist goal as having both a worker control and communal control dimension. But both require replacing the present hierarchical institutions – corporations and state – that dominate society.

Historically socialists have often defined socialism as democratic worker and community control over the political economy. Libertarian and state socialists have differed in working out the details.

Colin Kaepernick, Patriotism, and the Owning Class

Colin Jenkins


Colin Kaepernick took a courageous and principled stand this past season by kneeling during the national anthem before NFL games. This was done in response to a society that continues to systematically, culturally, and institutionally devalue non-white lives. This devaluation is played out in many areas, including politics, economics, housing, employment, and perhaps most notably, within the criminal justice system. Non-white lives are routinely extinguished by police in the streets without recourse, in the courts without pause, and in the prisons without hesitation. Entire generations of non-white Americans have essentially been destroyed through the “school-to-prison pipeline” and a system of mass incarceration.

Kaepernick recognized this and felt compelled to bring attention to it. He openly protested the national anthem, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to community agencies, and started a national youth camp program to teach children from marginalized communities about self-empowerment.

He is now a free agent, in the prime of his career, and without a job. By all “measurables” (and the NFL is big on “measurables”), Kaepernick should have a starting job somewhere. Despite playing for one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2016, he still managed to put up impressive numbers in only 12 games: 2,241 passing yard, 468 rushing yards on a 6.8 yards-per-carry average, a 16/4 TD/INT ratio, and a passer rating of 90.7. His passer rating was higher than that of 13 other starting QBs, including Eli Manning, Cam Newton, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, and Joe Flacco.

The only reasonable explanation for Kaepernick’s newfound unemployment status is that he’s being blackballed by billionaire NFL owners. We’ve seen this before. Muhammad Ali, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Craig Hodges, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos all faced similar treatment after using their platforms to take principled stands. Kaepernick has made millions of dollars in the NFL, so he will be fine either way. But there are many lessons to be learned from this situation.

One important lesson is how the capitalist class relies on patriotism to help protect and secure its position in society. The notion of patriotism is one that tells the working class within any given country that they have a deep, common bond with the owning class. This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, the owning-class minority drives the working-class majority into widespread deprivation in order to secure more and more wealth for itself. One way to hide this reality is to create an artificial bond based in geographic nationalism — patriotism.

While globalizing its capital, the owning class calls for “national unity.” While laying off American workers in mass, it airs multi-million dollar ad campaigns celebrating patriotic loyalty. While employing foreign workers for slave wages, it parades its brand name during celebrations of national independence. While driving wages down and forcing American workers into welfare programs, it asks that you celebrate “American values.” While systematically exploiting the majority, it demands that this majority remain loyal to its nationalistic ties.

Patriotism is a crucial tool for the owning class. To them, Kaepernick’s refusal to submit to this nationalistic ritual was not merely “disrespect”; it was a potentially damaging challenge to this incredibly important tool that is wielded in their quest to extract all of society’s wealth. For this reason, it is vitally important that Kaepernick be taught a lesson. The NFL’s billionaire class is in the process of carrying out this lesson.

In solidarity.