From the May-June 2016 issue of News & Letters
Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2016-2017
The need for new beginnings in thought and in action
I. Discontent, revolt and reaction in the U.S.
II. The worldwide war against women
III. Chinese labor in revolt
IV. Counter-revolution and revolution in the Middle East and North Africa
V. Toward organizational new beginnings
…Continued from Introduction
I. Discontent, revolt and reaction in the U.S.
Discontent is seething across this country. Its counterpart, the fear of revolution, powers the neo-fascism heard most loudly in the Trump campaign, with the Republican Party increasingly following Donald Trump’s vicious xenophobia, racism and sexism. That phenomenon is not solely dependent on one person, and will not disappear if he loses the election. Trump’s and Ted Cruz’s embrace of torture and genocidal “carpet-bombing” are not idle rhetoric but a true reflection of the brutal counter-revolution they wish to unleash on masses both at home and abroad.
While Trump’s message is not far from the Republican Party establishment’s, his support does not come mainly from the 1%—more precisely, the ruling class, which however will bow to his supremacy if their feckless “Stop Trump” effort fails. (A single grassroots demonstration that shut down Trump’s Chicago rally displayed more power than all the maneuvers of the Republican establishment.) Rather, most of his support comes from significant portions of the middle class and the working class.
THE NON-RECOVERY ‘RECOVERY’
Seven years into the “recovery” after the officially declared end of the 2007-09 Great Recession, the working class in this richest land in the world still suffers its effects—in unemployment, lost houses, lower wages, precariousness of jobs and the stress of everyday life. Far from being an accidental crisis caused only by Wall Street manipulations, that recession marked the resurgence of capitalism’s structural crisis that burst out in the 1970s. Three decades of vicious economic restructuring—through unionbusting, automation, globalization—drove down wages and benefits, eliminated jobs, and greatly aggravated inequality, yielding a temporary rebound in the rate of profit. That is past and the crisis has deepened.
From this soil have sprung both revolt and reaction. Support for a candidate like Trump, whose whole career has proved his drive to dominate and exploit, shows the need for the working class in the world’s richest economy to “pave a new road of world solidarity between themselves and all the ‘immigrants’ of the world. The first step in that direction is the recognition of the fact that many of them have been repeating the reactionary ideas of their own exploiters.” (See “Racism, workers and freedom ideas,” p. 4, March-April 2016 N&L.)
White workers in the U.S. live in the same world as Black and Latina/Latino workers, as undocumented immigrant workers, as workers in Chinese and Indian sweatshops, as miners in South Africa and Chile, as domestic workers in Mexico and Lebanon, and all are on the same exploited side of the class divide. Black and Latina workers, who are overwhelmingly opposed to Trump and his ilk, are the majority of those driving struggles on behalf of the working class in the U.S., from the fight for a $15 minimum wage to organizing of low-wage workers at fast food restaurants and Wal-Marts, to the militant struggles of teachers in cities like Chicago and Detroit.
The fact that an avowed socialist, Bernie Sanders, who prominently uses the word “revolution,” is winning so many votes reflects the simmering discontent and the desire of many for an alternative to capitalism, especially among the youth.
YOUTH FIGHT CLIMATE CHAOS
Not least in stirring discontent is the sense of looming disaster from climate chaos, the sense that the future of today’s youth is being sacrificed on the altar of dying capitalism. The coal business provides a perfect specimen of how capitalism operates. (See “One year for 29 lives,” p. 3.) As coal companies declare bankruptcy, miners’ pensions are decimated and communities are left with abandoned mines, polluted water and soil, and the devastation caused by strip mining and mountaintop removal. Yet coal continues to be mined and burned, coal plants are being built in China and India, coal burning has increased in Europe, and the administration is pushing more exports.
At the same time, there is no reason to believe that the first social democratic President or the first woman President would be any more able than the first Black President to pull U.S. society away from capitalism and imperialism, or to end sexism and racism. The needed change is fundamental, revolutionary, and cannot come from the top down but only as the result of masses in motion taking social relations into their own hands and transforming society through their own self-activity and self-organization.
As American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard points out:
“In office, Jefferson and the Jeffersonians were fulfilled Hamiltonians. In office, Jacksonian democracy turned out to be something very different from the rule of farmer and mechanic against Eastern finance capital….
“In the same manner, Lincoln, in office, developed the ‘American System’ more in line with the concept of the ‘Great Compromiser,’ Henry Clay, than in the spirit of a ‘Great Emancipator’ heading the Second American Revolution.”1American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard by Raya Dunayevskaya (News and Letters, 2003), p. 40.
WARS AT HOME AND ABROAD PERSIST
President Obama, who never claimed to be a socialist, acted in accord with his platform of using state intervention to save capitalism from itself and dialing back U.S. imperialism’s direct military intervention abroad. Recent announcements of a halt to troop withdrawals in Afghanistan and an expected increase of troops in Iraq, along with the failure to close the Guantanamo detention center, show how little he has moved away from those wars.
He has, in addition, continued and in some cases greatly expanded lower-profile forms of military intervention, including the use of drones, special operations forces, mercenaries and other private contractors, and proxies under the aegis of other countries. This is combined with the continuing militarization of domestic police forces—pausing recently only due to the Black Lives Matter movement—and ever more pervasive surveillance at home and abroad. The way surveillance and the forces of violent repression—nationally coordinated with involvement of the Department of Homeland Security—were used to smash the Occupy movement show the fear of revolution on the part of the rulers, who recognized the dangers to them of the worldwide wave of revolt that opened up in 2010-11.
But revolt cannot be forever stifled where its objective bases persist. Today struggles abound, from workers demanding a living wage to Trans people opposing violence and discrimination, from women squaring off against anti-abortion fanatics to prisoners bringing attention to systematic human rights abuses they face.
As if to announce that all freedom struggles must be connected, the North Carolina legislature held a lightning special session in which they passed a bill mandating that people can only use restrooms and locker rooms corresponding to the sex declared on their birth certificates, overturning LGBT rights enacted by the city of Charlotte, banning them everywhere in the state, and banning any city from passing its own minimum wage. (See “North Carolinians protest anti-LGBTQ laws,” p. 11.)
Coming from the same legislature and governor who had already attacked everything from voting rights and environmental regulations, to unemployment benefits and Medicaid, to abortion and education, this sparked a new wave of protests in a state that has experienced regular Moral Monday protests for three years. The very next day, hundreds came out to a protest at the governor’s mansion, organized by #BlackLivesMatter Queer and Trans People of Color Coalition with support from 20 other groups. Five were arrested for chaining themselves together in the street.
“It was passed within a twelve-hour period without a single Trans person of color being allowed to speak. That’s why we’re speaking here today. Trans and Queer people of color demand a living wage and freedom from brutalization and discrimination within the workplace and in the bathroom!” said one speaker.
However much the media allow election campaigns to drown out the real struggles from below, they continue, with Black Lives Matter in particular breaking silences and forcing concessions from universities, local governments, courts and police departments. The election defeats of pro-police-brutality prosecutors Timothy McGinty in Cleveland and Anita Alvarez in Chicago (who was also notorious for persecuting Occupy Chicago activists) were won by Black Lives Matter activists, who made clear that their sights are set far beyond the electoral field.
Killings by police and by would-be cops like Trayvon Martin’s assailant, George Zimmerman, were the spark that set off the movement, galvanizing a new generation of potential revolutionaries. Nevertheless, what matters about Black Lives encompasses everything from housing conditions to jobs to education to reproductive justice.
It includes ending environmental racism, which by no coincidence has returned to center stage after the catastrophe of lead poisoning in Flint, Mich. Even Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s own handpicked Flint Water Advisory Task Force found that it was a case of “environmental injustice” toward a majority Black, poor community. This in turn cast a spotlight on other cases of lead poisoning, often falling mainly on children of color, as in Newark schools and New York public housing. Despite all the efforts of climate change denialists, awareness has been spreading in Black America that those most at risk, and those already hurt the most, by global warming are people of color and poor communities and countries.
It is easy to forget that just a few years ago some self-assured pundits of the Left pontificated that Black militancy was a thing of the past. Marxist-Humanism, however, has always been rooted in the living history of the U.S. and world revolts, singling out the fact that Black masses have been the vanguard of liberation at turning points in U.S. history. We make a category of the developing relationships among Black, women’s and labor struggles today. The strikes and organizing of the Chicago Teachers Union catalyzed the coalescence of struggles in Chicago and Illinois by teachers, other public employees suffering from draconian budget cuts and layoffs, residents dealing with closing of schools and clinics, and youth of color at risk from police violence and the schools-to-prison pipeline. (See “Widespread solidarity with Chicago Teachers Union strike,” p. 3, and “Black youth and labor come together,” March-April N&L.)
The todayness of American Civilization on Trial is unmistakable:
“American civilization has been on trial from the day of its birth. Its hollow slogans of democracy have been found wanting from the very start of the labor and Black struggles at the beginning of the 19th century. The first appearance of trade unions and workingmen’s parties in the U.S. paralleled the greatest of the slave revolts and the emergence of the Abolitionist movement. This parallelism is the characteristic feature of American class struggle. Only when these two great movements coalesce do we reach decisive turning points in U.S. development….
“The AFL-CIO’s current failure [in 1963] seriously to relate its struggles with those of the Southern student youth is not only a result of the organizational failure of ‘Operation Dixie,’ but of the lack of a unifying philosophy. At the same time it must be clear to the young Freedom Fighters that the many separate organizations and their struggle also lack a unifying philosophy. It is wrong to think that a ‘coordinating committee’ is all that is needed….What is needed is a new Humanism….
“The elements of the new society, submerged the world over by the might of capital, are emerging in all sorts of unexpected and unrelated places. What is missing is the unity of these movements from practice with the movement from theory into an overall philosophy that can form the foundation of a totally new social order.”2American Civilization on Trial, pp. 92, 98.
LEADERSHIP, MASSES AND PHILOSOPHY
The way American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard challenged dominant concepts of “vanguard” and “leadership” speaks directly to debates in today’s movements. Post-Marx Marxism had substituted the party-to-lead as the vanguard, rather than the mass social forces Marx had in mind. In contrast, Marxist-Humanism singled out Black masses in motion as the vanguard of the U.S. revolution, in a concept of multiple subjects of revolution. Black, women, workers and youth were named in our Constitution from the very beginning in 1956. As important as individual leaders can be, what is crucial is philosophy as leadership, in relationship to both individuals and masses in motion. American Civilization on Trial shows, through comprehending U.S. history, how even the greatest leaders are not immune to becoming separated from the masses and their underlying humanism.
At the same time the Black Lives Matter movement has spurred discussion on the relationship between Women’s Liberation, Black Liberation and Queer Liberation.
Perhaps the greatest challenge to the anti-abortion juggernaut has been boldly and creatively given by Black women. In February, Black History Month, Trust Black Women offered their “formal solidarity with Black Lives Matter.” (See “Women battle war, terrorism and anti-abortion fanatics” and Trust Black Women’s solidarity statement in the March-April N&L.)
BLACK WOMEN AND HUMAN EMANCIPATION
Black Lives Matter has never been separate from women’s struggles for freedom. It was begun by women, Queers, disabled and Transgender people, who brought something new to the freedom movements in the U.S. Black Lives Matter founders have refused to be erased as leaders of a movement, to succumb to the appeal of “leaderlessness.” Insisting on being who and what they are, they are breaking new ground in the long struggle for freedom in the U.S.
They are doing so not only by being savvy about social media or giving a united face to a freedom movement. They have been changing the movement in profound ways that may not be immediately apparent.
For one thing, they have brought Black women to the forefront, explicitly. They have helped change the discourse of police killings of young Black men to fit the reality of the situation and foregrounded the murders of women including Trans women. They have also made sure to be clear about who it is they are fighting. In speaking of the alliance with Trust Black Women, Alicia Garza stated that to her reproductive justice
“is not just about the right for women to be able to determine when and how and where they want to start families, but it is also very much about our right to be able to raise families, to be able to raise children to become adults….And that is being hindered by state violence in many different forms. One form being violence by law enforcement or other state forces, and the other form of crisis [is] through poverty and lack of access to resources and lack of access to health communities that are safe and sustainable. So we certainly understand that Black Lives Matter and reproductive justice go hand in hand.”
They are consciously breaking from the way a lot of Black groups—and for that matter a whole slew of Left groups—have worked in the past and, again, are doing so explicitly. Patrisse Marie Cullors-Brignac speaks about why they reject leaderlessness and recognize the need, as she says, “to center the leadership of women.” She continues: “Among our movement, mentors were Queer and Trans people whose labor had been erased and replaced with an uncontested narrative of male leadership.” And this female/Queer/Trans leadership is also determined to lead differently, a difference that could be seen in Ferguson, Mo.
Cullors-Brignac writes that when she heard about the murder of Michael Brown, “We put a call out to folks on the ground in St. Louis, asking whether it would be of use to have our team show up. They said yes….We asked them to let us know what their needs were and to tell us exactly how our presence could best be utilized to elevate their plight. Our goal was to amplify their work and not distract attention away from it.”
In the aftermath of the work in Ferguson, people left “hungry to galvanize their communities to end state-sanctioned violence against Black people, the way Ferguson organizers and allies were doing.”
Trust Black Women springs from SisterSong, which broadened the concept of abortion rights by demanding “reproductive justice.” Reproductive justice is, as Trust Black Women defines it,
“an intersectional theory emerging from the experiences of women of color whose multiple communities experience a complex set of reproductive oppressions. It is based on the understanding that the impacts of race, class, gender and sexual identity oppressions are not additive but integrative, producing this paradigm of intersectionality….[In part, reproductive justice] links sexuality, health, and human rights to social justice movements by placing abortion and reproductive health issues in the larger context of the well-being and health of women, families and communities because reproductive justice seamlessly integrates those individual and group human rights particularly important to marginalized communities. We believe that the ability of any woman to determine her own reproductive destiny is directly linked to the conditions in her community, and these conditions are not just a matter of individual choice and access.”
This entails a totally new society where the human being is the center—showing how deep the transformation must be for Black women to be free.
This alliance between Black Lives Matter and reproductive justice deepens both movements, and it may also give the women’s movement as a whole a more revolutionary view of how to fight against the war on women, now being led by Republican presidential contenders, governors and state legislators determined to control women’s bodies and minds. Not only is the right to abortion being pushed out of reach for poor women and women of color, but what little healthcare they had is being pulled out from under them.
The onslaught of repressive, insulting, dangerous and misogynist anti-abortion laws, which impact women of color and poor women most deeply, continue to be spewed forth from statehouses at incredible rates. One of the newest and worst bills is Indiana’s House Enrolled Act 1337. It bans abortion for genetic abnormalities, despite the fact that there are few resources to help people with abnormalities; abortions based on the sex of the fetus, although this seldom if ever happens; research using fetal tissue, even though not one abortion clinic in the entire state provides fetal tissue for research. That is in addition to the usual barrage of abusive mandates. Tracts on perinatal hospice are to be forced on parents whose fetus is diagnosed with a “lethal fetal anomaly.”
A woman who had terminated a wanted but non-viable fetus explained the real life implications of that part of law: “[HEA 1337] requires us to be subject to counseling about perinatal hospice care—counseling that will consist of required language written by the state, that will undoubtedly be coercive in attempting to persuade families to carry babies like mine to term, and that must be delivered at the time of diagnosis. Pregnant women who’ve just learned their babies are dying will be required to participate in this counseling and sign documentation to be filed with the state affirming they have received such counseling.”3“Indiana’s Anti-Abortion Bill: A Blueprint for Attacks on Rights Nationwide,” by Katie Klabusich, Truthout, March 23, 2016.
The lie that all these restrictions are imposed out of concern for women’s health is seen in how on March 23 the Republicans in Arizona’s House passed a bill forcing doctors to follow outdated standards on medication abortions that cost more, have more side effects and force doctors to follow superseded FDA protocols over 15 years out of date, trashing new best practices.4“Arizona GOP Sides with Obsolete Medication Abortion Guidelines,” by Nicole Knight Shine, Rewire, March 24, 2016,.
Is it any wonder that anti-abortionists have been provoked into terrorist acts, such as the shooting last November at a clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., which killed three people injured nine? Whereas terrorists acts like the San Bernardino, Calif., attack five days later become the pretext to harass all Muslims, anti-abortion terrorism is dismissed as isolated acts of mentally ill people. Congress and the Department of Homeland Security systematically downplay this threat, and virtually eliminated the DHS team studying “domestic non-Islamic extremism” in response to pressure from Tea Party and other right-wing politicos.
…Continued in Part II. The worldwide war against women…
|↑1||American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard by Raya Dunayevskaya (News and Letters, 2003), p. 40.|
|↑2||American Civilization on Trial, pp. 92, 98.|
|↑3||“Indiana’s Anti-Abortion Bill: A Blueprint for Attacks on Rights Nationwide,” by Katie Klabusich, Truthout, March 23, 2016.|
|↑4||“Arizona GOP Sides with Obsolete Medication Abortion Guidelines,” by Nicole Knight Shine, Rewire, March 24, 2016,.|