“Faith in the system is the bedrock of the system. Without it, the system is drained of its inviolable authority. This is the danger America now faces.” So wrote the N.Y. Times on May 4, just days after mass protests that included property damage and attacks on the police rocked the city of Baltimore.
From Ferguson to Baltimore
The events in Baltimore were not alone. From similar protests in Ferguson following the police murder of Michael Brown, to protests in Oakland and elsewhere, the black community, with support from some whites and others, is starting to signal that enough is enough. This mood is furthered by the internet and smart phones/camcorders. Video after video of police brutality and murder – Tamir Rice, John Crawford, and countless others – are rocketing around the internet, proving to millions what many in the black community have known and experienced for years.
People think in images, and the image of the “tough but fair” cop, the one who protects women from abuse, protects little children from sexual predators and serial killers – that is the image peddled by the media, Hollywood, and the politicians, and it is starting to give way to an image that better suits reality. Above the law, racist, shoot-first-ask-questions-later – that is the new image that is starting to take hold throughout society, and it is leading to a breakdown of “faith in the (entire) system”, as the NY Times fearfully commented.
Right Wing Populism
Already, this weakening of faith in the system has spawned a populist movement, but to the right, as represented by the Tea Party. Corporate America succeeded in capturing this movement and channeling it back into one of their two main parties – the Republicans. This has caused some problems within the Republicans, but the thinking is: Better that than have these right-wing nuts run completely out of control and more clearly reveal their racist and chauvinist/xenophobic character. Better that than racist physical assaults, assaults on union activists, etc. That would spark a counter mobilization that Corporate America strives to prevent. (They are holding the more widespread racist assaults in reserve and will unleash it on a wider scale when the crisis becomes even more acute and even more desperate measures are needed.)
Now, a similar task confronts the Democrats, and their “progressive” wing is attempting the same task. So it was that just two days after the defiant protests in Baltimore were put down by the National Guard, Baltimore prosecutor Marilyn Mosby announced that the six police involved in the murder of Freddie Gray would be charged with various felonies. “To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America: I heard your call for ’No justice, no peace,’” she commented. “I will seek justice on your behalf,” she added.
And on the same day, “socialist”-but-Democrat-in-all-but-name US Senator Bernie Sanders announced that he will run for the Democratic presidential nomination. In doing so, he will be providing the “left alternative” competitor that the Democrats have long sought for their all but certain ultimate nominee, Hillary Clinton. As with the charging of the six Baltimore cops, Sanders’ move is aimed at seeking to restore faith in “the system” and preventing an independent movement on the left from developing.
(Note: Many may have differences with Sanders but still have faith in his basic decency, as shown by the comment on an MSNBC article “”I’m happy about Bernie running. He is such a decent, good man…” One simple issue disproves this: Sander’s full support for the racist, expansionist State of Israel. It’s impossible that a US Senator doesn’t know about the crimes against humanity of which the State of Israel is guilty. To continue to support them shows a lack of basic human decency; it shows the cynicism that is the basis for capitalist politics.)
There is a long, long tradition of the Democrats acting as the “shock absorbers” for the movement from below. In this writer’s lifetime, it goes all the way back to the candidacy of Gene McCarthy for the Democratic presidential nomination back in 1968. That was at the height of the anti-Vietnam War movement, and millions of young people were becoming increasingly disaffected with corporate politics. So McCarthy was thrust forward as the peace candidate, and a whole layer of the youth adopted the slogan “neat and clean for Gene”, shaved their beards, removed their beads and put on bra’s and were drawn into his campaign. The result? Of course, he was bound to fail and, after the murder of Robert Kennedy, the establishment liberal Hubert Humphrey won the nomination and McCarthy did his level best to turn his campaigners into active Humphrey supporters.
Sanders has already announced that he will do exactly the same thing, that he will support Clinton or whoever else wins the Democratic nomination.
To draw the movement into the Democratic Party, the “progressive” wing will have to produce something, and that won’t be so easy. Decades of glorifying the police and of giving them a free hand has made them believe they are above the law, and they will continue to resist all attempts to rein them in. Also, all the propaganda about “violent criminals,” “law and order,” and the “war on drugs” (code words for “blacks and Latinos are the problem”) have increased the already semi-latent racism within a large layer of white society. This means greater conflict from below and also from above.
Struggle in the Streets
This means increased struggles on the streets, including more of what is called “violence” and activity by “thugs”. As an article in Salon.com put it: “After nearly a week of resistance—including the occupation of Baltimore by heavily-armed National Guard—Maryland state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby stepped into the fray, announcing charges against six officers and admitting that her hand had been forced by the streets: “To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America: I heard your call for ‘No justice, no peace.’”….
“Riots work, so why do so many well-meaning voices continue to insist that they don’t? The argument that they harm communities makes intuitive sense, but doesn’t hold up to serious scrutiny: the Maryland Insurance Commission has estimated the uninsured losses from the riots to be a paltry $1 million. Meanwhile, foreclosures from the recession cost Baltimore $1.5 billion (with a B) from 2008-2010, and $13.6 million in tax revenue in 2010 alone. And as many are quick to point out, the city has paid out more than $5.7 million to settle police abuse lawsuits since 2011. The police—not to mention capitalism—have done far more to damage Baltimore than any riot could.”
As the article points out, though, the arrest of the six police officers is only a partial and temporary victory as they are already out on bail and on paid vacation (“administrative leave”) while 18-year old Allen Bullock is in jail on $500,000 bail for being accused of having broken in the window of a police car.
So, yes, “riots” can lead to temporary and partial concessions, but these can as easily be taken away, and also the forces of the criminal (in)justice system will be even freer to crack down even more.
While black people (and others) are rising up from Baltimore to Ferguson, others are taking up outright resistance and defiance on other issues, especially the issue of fracking. (This is the destructive practice of pumping poisonous chemicals into the ground to fracture oil-bearing shale rock to pump out the oil. This practice is poisoning the air and water of those who live in the immediate area and beyond. For a background article on fracking, see here.) Residents in town after town have voted to ban fracking, despite the fact that these bans are illegal. This campaign to ban fracking is in general carried out outside of the main, liberal environmental groups, just as the uprisings in places like Ferguson and Baltimore are carried out outside of groups like the NAACP, as well as the leadership of those like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.
Hopefully, the activists in such movements can come together and develop a strategy and goals – both short term and long term – and build an organization to carry this forward. This direction would help avoid the trap set by the “progressive” Democrats by developing as an independent, working class movement and party to establish a real alternative to the two main parties of Corporate America and the crisis-ridden, oppressive capitalist system these two parties represent.
Categories: racism, rebellion, repression, United States
At least here in Seattle, I think the coal and oil trains, and arctic drilling are a bigger deal than fracking, but along the same lines.
Same in the Bay area, but most oil trains carry fracked oil, so the issues are directly connected.
Your swift and knee-jerk dismissal of Sanders in this article reeks of a tired, fractious sectarianism which has plagued the American left for generations and has assured that it remain in its marginal, weakened status. There are an increasing number of socialists who are abandoning this sinking ship. It goes without saying that in order to determine the revolutionary action needed to build working class power, one must analyze the historic and political conditions. One cannot judge what a revolutionary action is unless one fully grasps the material conditions. As a socialist and a political activist concerned with building working class power one cannot be a tone deaf purist sitting on the sidelines waiting for the perfect, pure presidential candidate to emerge from a third party where the electoral system is rigged against working class empowerment. Instead, if one is to ever have the possibility of building a working class movement leading to the formation of a working class political party, one must face reality. The reality present in America now is there is only one political party. It is the big business party. It runs primaries every 4 years for president and it controls who gets exposure as a candidate. Sanders has historically always run as an independent and he is being honest when he states that he would prefer to remain that way. But unlike many delusional purists on the left, he recognizes the political reality. He cannot attain the visibility he must have as a candidate unless he runs in the Democratic Party. Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist but there are many who would not call him that since he advocates social democracy. This is a matter of legitimate debate and there are many such as this writer, who do not regard his notion of social democracy as socialism. But isn’t that exactly the point? Let’s have the debate in the mainstream media where it can get digested by the broad segment of the working class instead a handful of armchair Marxists and right-wing red baiters. Sanders offers a victory for the left on a silver platter, but it is one that many on the left fringe are tone-deaf to perceive. That victory is not in winning the presidency as a Democrat. It is in building real unity among forces of the left with a large segment of the working class. It is movement building toward the coveted working class third party. This is so, whether Sanders throws his support to Clinton or not. There are those among the socialist left who recognize this. The Socialist Alternative has endorsed Sanders for this reason alone.
Yes, they criticize Sanders for not running as a third party candidate but they recognize the politics he, they, and the working class faces. They encourage him to continue running as an independent after the primaries and one can only hope he does. Of course Sanders is not pure and the purists will be quick to point out his faults. But while there are a bunch of hand-ringing purists pointing to his wrong position on Israel, they ignore the potentiality his candidacy as a self-described democratic socialist represents in base building for the left. There denunciation of Sanders also misrepresents the more nuanced position on Israel that he takes. The following narrative is taken from the Sanders website and is a statement of his position: “Sanders believes the Israeli attacks that killed hundreds of innocent people – including many women and children – in bombings of civilian neighborhoods and UN controlled schools, hospitals, and refugee camps were disproportionate, and the widespread killing of civilians is completely unacceptable. Israel’s actions took an enormous human toll, and appeared to strengthen support for Hamas and may well be sowing the seeds for even more hatred, war and destruction in future years.
The U.S. can and must play a more constructive role in promoting diplomatic efforts to achieve a lasting peace in Gaza. Sen. Sanders believes the ceasefire agreement that was reached is an important step in the right direction. He believes strict adherence, by all sides, to the tenets of international humanitarian law is necessary in order to avoid the escalation of this conflict.” The position of Sanders is far from perfect on the Israel question but one must note that he levels substantive criticism against the country and calls out the immoral acts committed in the name of “self defense.” Yes, Sanders is flawed as a candidate, and if the left waits for the flawless messiah, it will always remain at the political margins. But if people are really sincere about fighting the racist regime in Israel, which strategy serves this objective best? Should the left wait for the perfect candidate to emerge from a tiny fringe left party, or should it become a constituent force within the Sanders team where it can exert political leverage to move Sanders further to the left on this, and other issues?? It seems apparent enough that the latter serves the interests of the Palestinians and the interests of the American working class far better. It is so apparent that the Socialist Alternative has made it their choice and so have many other socialists. It is time for the left to stop sacrificing the good in the name of the perfect.
Interesting comment from the apparently fictional “Tom Wells.” He is clearly a shill for Socialist Alternative, but seems to be using a made-up name, although his comment is absolutely typical of their method.
The major portion of his comment is simply mud-slinging accusations of ultra left purism, as in: “Your swift and knee-jerk dismissal of Sanders in this article reeks of a tired, fractious sectarianism…” Much of the rest of what he writes is of a similar vein – simply name calling and insults. It’s probably convincing for the hand-raisers inside Socialist Alternative, but the reality is that just saying something is so doesn’t make it so.
“Tom Wells” ends with an apology for Sanders’ position on Israel.
In between is some sort of “logic” that maybe a very skilled lawyer could explain. What he never deals with is the entire thrust of the article:
First, that the most important task in the United States is the construction of a true mass workers’ party, one that combines electoral politics with the struggle in the streets, communities, work places and unions;
Second, that there is a long history in the United States of the liberal wing (let’s call it what it is) of the Democratic Party serving to disorient the workers’ movement – the rebellion from below – in order to side track that movement away from independent politics;
Third, that there is a movement from below that is developing in fits and starts that threatens the political monopoly of big business and that it is in this context that the Sanders campaign should be understood. And it is exactly for this reason that anybody who sees the working class as an independent force in society – or at least a potentially independent force – has to jealously guard against getting sucked into this liberal wing — which is exactly what “Tom Wells” and Socialist Alternative are doing.
“Tom Wells” cites the weakness of the socialist left today. He’s right about that. But like so many others on the left, he completely fails to consider whether this weakness could possibly be due in great part to the objective conditions, that is due to factors beyond our control. Instead, he is pushing the latest and greatest get-rich-quick scheme of Socialist Alternative.
It is no accident that this shill for Socialist Alternative is supporting the liberal Democrat Bernie Sanders. After all, Socialist Alternative has done everything in their power to ingratiate themselves with the union bureaucracy, including supporting the team concept put into practice; they have oriented towards the liberal (at best) NAACP vs. the radical black youth in Seattle; and Sawant herself has outright endorsed Democrats (although she was hoping it would be in secret).
I have to add this: “Tom Wells” writes: “The U.S. can and must play a more constructive role in promoting diplomatic efforts to achieve a lasting peace in Gaza.” His faith in the potential for Corporate America to play a “constructive role” is touching, but it is amazing that a socialist could make this claim.
“Tom Wells” wins this year’s Vein-Popping Purple Prose Polemic Award. His prize is the collected works of Hegel–in the original German. As for his hellzapoppin’ debating points:I view the official SA statement as weak and dodgy on several counts. First of all, the headline is misleading—Sanders calls for a revolution but then undermines the very idea by charging into the graveyard of revolutionary hopes, the Democratic Party—yet the article headlines with the misleading puffery, not the deception and hypocrisy that gainsays the claim. Moreover, the whole thing is premised on purveying a dangerous illusion—the hope that Sanders will run as an independent after he is beaten in the primaries—but Sanders has already definitively and repeatedly foreclosed any such possibility and has vowed to support the Neoliberal X nominee of the party. Hence it’s irresponsible to premise SA’s support on a possibility that has already been dashed by Sanders himself. It’s just a rationalization for their opportunist support—designed as a get-rich-quick recruitment scheme—that they know full well has no basis.
Finally, Locker states, “We will be campaigning with Sanders supporters against the corporate politicians while politically arguing for Sanders to run all-out through the November 2016 election, as a step toward building an independent political alternative for working people.” But now that Sanders has anchored his efforts in a corporate-run and –financed party and vowed to support its nominee, he IS a corporate politician of the deed, notwithstanding his hollow words. Campaigning alongside Sanders supporters is thus in no sense a campaign against corporate politicians, nor is it “a step toward building an independent political alternative for working people.” ISO gets this, but SA doesn’t, alas. We are facing an unprecedented planetary emergency, and leftists are still sleepwalking into the same traps and mistakes they make every four years, thereby diverting the scarce energies and resources desperately needed to build independent organs of struggle—another year wasted as the planet’s clock ticks away. . . . If Sanders doesn’t know any better, the leftists who are abetting him in this waste certainly should—at least they shouldn’t perfume the waste as a fabulous opportunity.
As a quick jolt of reality for “Tom Wells” and others determined to repeat the past by not learning from it, here’s something to chew on:
Despite the shill Oaklandsocialists’ feeble attempts at guilt by association, I am not, nor have I ever been a member of SA. By the way in your second post above, the quotation you attribute to me comes from the Sanders website as was noted in my statement. The knee-jerk logic of avoiding action because “Corporate America” might not change, would pretty much end any grassroots action against “Corporate America.” If I have “faith” in the united power of the people, so be it.
I apologize for my mistake. It was caused by the fact that much of Tom Wells’ style of comment is the same as the approach of Socialist Alternative. We still await Tom Wells’ reply to the substantive comments we made. One note: he claims that principled socialists “avoid action.” We are not advocating passively sitting back and waiting for “something” to happen. We are advocating participating in the movement that does exist, trying to figure out where it’s at and where it’s headed, and how we can further it along. History has proven that merging it into the Democratic Party does just the opposite.