From the July-August 2021 issue of News & Letters
The whole of American civilization was put on trial after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. The protests were unprecedented in scope, depth and creativity. While Black Lives Matter certainly laid the ground for such a movement, what transpired went way beyond the organized groups and drew in hundreds of thousands of others: white, Black and other people of color, in the U.S. and worldwide, including high school-age youth led especially by young women of color.
But this outpouring for freedom and justice also sparked a new intensity in Republican-led determination to erode, stifle, obfuscate, erase from memory and repress democracy. Republicans have clearly decided that democracy must be destroyed so that they can rule in perpetuity, representing the 1% in the name of white Christian America.
TRASHING HISTORY TO FIT AN AGENDA
To this end they willingly attack not only democratic institutions but any challenge to their racist, sexist, class-biased version of history. Rewriting history and creating Big Lies has always been a favorite tactic of dictators and fascists because the truth threatens their authority. Freedom movements have long fought these falsifications.
The arenas of contention can feel overwhelming. Even community activists who traditionally concentrate on “get out the vote” found in 2020-21 how that is but one small step. The entire voting process, from registration to ballot counting, was and is threatened. Black, Brown, and poorer communities now confront bills to restrict voter access. Some limit mail and early voting; others make it easier to overturn election results. “The groundswell began early this year…according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice…[and] rose to at least 389 bills in 48 states as of May 14.”
Another 225 bills considered in 45 states would restrict protests, expanding the definitions and penalties of “violence” or “riot” for justice seekers while shielding the individuals who violently attack people who are demonstrating in the streets, for example mowing them down with cars. These bills even garnered some Democratic support.
At the same time as they savage our present democracy, white conservatives want to abolish teaching “critical race theory” (which holds that racism is systemic, deeply embedded in institutions from hospitals to courts, police, banks, schools, all levels of government—everything) because they want to destroy the freedom movements. (See “Targeting anti-racism,” page 1.)
EDUCATORS FIGHT BACK!
In response to this attack on history and reality, on June 12 thousands of educators gathered virtually and in person at historic locations in more than 20 cities to make clear that they would resist efforts going on in at least 15 Republican-led states to restrict what teachers can say in class about racism, sexism and oppression in America.
On May 24, Tennessee approved a law that intimidates teachers into lying to students about the role of racism, sexism, and oppression throughout U.S. history.
The organizers of the Memphis event issued this call to action: “Unfortunately, a lot of American history is uncomfortable…we should never lie to students in order to preserve comfort over truth.…Imagine having to teach about the massacres, lynchings, and systemic oppression of Black Americans that all went unpunished by the U.S. Justice System—but instead of prioritizing historical fact and legacy, teachers must prioritize appeasing state regulations that ban divisive history, whatever that means….
“Educators understand what this is, a threat from state politicians: teach the history we don’t like and you’re breaking the law in Tennessee.”
Likewise, an important document, “The 1619 Project”—published by The New York Times Magazine and available as a podcast, a book, and a set of curriculum materials—brought down the wrath of conservative politicians bent on banning it from U.S. classrooms. It emphasizes that U.S. history was born and shaped irrevocably when the first shipload of Black Africans were sold as slaves in Virginia.
What Marxist-Humanism singled out in Raya Dunayevskaya’s American Civilization on Trial: Black masses as Vanguard is that 1619 was also the beginning of Black revolt and U.S. liberation struggles. Racism is America’s Achilles Heel. The inseparability of freedom ideas and struggles is what white supremacists are desperately trying to bury, and trying to keep white workers, women and youth away from, by spewing an avalanche of lies and manipulation.
The attacks on education furnish just one example of the multi-sided conservative onslaught being felt in every facet of American life today. The Republicans are tailending former President Trump’s fascist base. Trumpism drives their direction. Key Senate Democrats, and Joe Biden himself, enable them by opposing an end to the filibuster, precisely because capitalists like the way the filibuster blocks legislation that would hurt their profits by increasing taxes or regulations. The forms may have changed but the fight remains critical.
Forces of retrogression, organized around racism, have a stranglehold on one of the two major political parties, nearly half of state governments, the Supreme Court, and an effective veto power in Congress. As American Civilization on Trial showed in 1963, Black masses in motion have been in the vanguard effectuating social progress throughout American history. Only when white labor—and all freedom movements—come together with them can a turning point be reached. Such a revolutionary turning point is needed now, and not only to stop the destruction of even the flawed democracy we have left.