Call Me Ismail

When the FBI, acting with local police, arrested Ismail Shabazz in Kingston, NY, last summer, it was a set-up. The charges were preposterous. Ismail was accused of selling guns. As head of the NAACP, he has long practiced nonviolence. Ismail is an African American man who embraces Islam. He is loved in Kingston as a mentor for Black youth and an outspoken critic of police abuse. What is the FBI up to?

 

I didn’t have to look far for clues. Just 2 exits south on the NY State Thruway, in Newburgh, in 2009, the FBI arrested 4 Black men and put them into prison for long terms on fabricated charges of terrorism. “The government did not act to infiltrate and foil some nefarious plot; there was no plot to foil,” presiding Judge Colleen McMahon said in open court. The FBI concocted the affair to create the illusion that terrorists were plotting mayhem in Newburgh.

 

A powerful HBO documentary on the case, “The Newburgh Sting” can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3WeAPUHVtc. The FBI is doing things like this all over the country.

 

These plots promote hatred and fear of Islamic people and create support for the government’s fruitless and unending Global War on Terror.

 

Learning about Newburgh, I was moved to study the history of the FBI, a topic often shrouded in secrecy. For about a year I have been working on this. What follows is a concentrated version of what I’ve found.

 

Where Ismail has pursued change nonviolently, the FBI has worked to prevent change, often using great violence to stop, or kill activists. Rather than an agency of law enforcement, the FBI is an agency of political repression, involved in virtually every well-known case of political repression over the last century. They have consistently promoted a right wing counterrevolutionary agenda, supporting the established order.

 

They regularly reach for the well-honed lie, calculated to instill fear into the public with exaggerated threats that justify political repression. FBI actions give the lie to “American democracy.” Malcolm X wisely said, “American democracy is American hypocrisy.”

 

The Bureau was officially formed in 1908, a part of the growing centralized state. But they made their bones as power’s henchmen in WWI. They proved indispensible to retain order in the capitalist society that grew after the Civil War.

 

The Bureau persecuted and deported thousands of “enemy aliens,” often illegally, who opposed the First World War. They busted the big labor strikes after the war, breaking the back of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or “Wobblies”), America’s most vigorous revolutionary working class organization, through arrests and deportations. The Bureau persecuted, arrested and deported Emma Goldman for her outspoken political views, and Marcus Garvey for his efforts against America’s racial hierarchy. They persecuted and framed Sacco and Vanzetti for their political views and saw to it that the anarchists were executed. The FBI routinely propagated “patriotic fervor.”

 

During the Depression, the Bureau attacked the Communist Party and launched McCarthyism, which peaked with the execution of the Rosenbergs. Ethel was falsely charged to pressure Julius into talking, but the brave couple remained silent and was electrocuted on June 19, 1953. “The most sensational case of the McCarthy period” ended with another execution based on FBI lies. Ellen Schrecker, preeminent historian of the McCarthy period, suggests the era should be called “Hooverism,” not McCarthyism, recognizing FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s role in conducting the repression.

 

In the sixties the FBI ruthlessly attacked the Black freedom struggle and the antiwar movement, especially the Black Panther Party, jailing of scores of activists; many remain in prison to this day. Dozens of others were killed. Working with Chicago police, the bureau engineered the assassination of BPP leader Fred Hampton while he slept. Hampton was widely respected for his eloquence and his ability to unite groups opposing racial oppression.

 

In 1979, FBI and police informant Eddie Dawson organized, recruited and led a caravan of KKK and Nazis to carry out the Greensboro Massacre in North Carolina. Five fine young revolutionaries were killed. I was shot in the head and paralyzed. My motivation to study the FBI is not hard to understand.

 

Since the heyday of their Counter-Intelligence Programs (COINTELPRO’s), they have gone on to orchestrate Green Scares to smear environmentalists as “eco-terrorists.” The Bureau orchestrated a slander campaign against environmental leader Judi Bari, jailing her after an attempt on her life. The timber companies who hated her for her work to stop from them clear cutting forests were the likely source of the bomb that almost killed her. The FBI dropped their “investigation” – it remains unsolved.

 

Most recently the FBI has been busy concocting Terror Scares like the one in Newburgh. Once again, many have been falsely jailed to prevent movements opposing the status quo, the Bureau’s basic purpose. Their “patriotism” is a right wing force.

 

Today we face economic and ecological crises, for which the government has no answers. New movements are growing. Black Lives Matter and the spreading calls to end mass incarceration of people of color are poised to renew the Black Freedom Struggle in America. European-Americans in the millions, sick of the established order, are responding to calls for revolution. The FBI is bound to resort to its old tricks of staging incidents calculated to inspire fear split the population and justify its repression of radicals. The media stands ready to help.

 

It’s too early to know precisely what they are up to in Ismail’s trial, but we need to watch closely and not let the FBI imprison him and attack the growing movements for change. Don’t let the FBI smother this nascent movement in its cradle. Don’t let them rob our future.

 

What can you do?

 

Support his case financially. His fundraising web site is: Www.gofundme.com/callmeIsmail. “Justice” in America is expensive, so give generously. Attend fundraisers and rallies. Dare to show your support.

 

Come to the opening of the trial on July 19 in Kingston.

 

If the authorities know we’re watching and understand what they’re up to, they are less likely to frame Ismail. Turn Ismail’s court hearing into a trial of the FBI.

 

Historian Richard Gid Powers worries about the FBI’s “uncertain future” and poses the alternatives, “end it or mend it.” But the modern state/economy needs a sophisticated combination of force and fraud to maintain order. Until we are rid of a society that requires an FBI, the Bureau will endure.

 

 

 

What is the drug war?

(Presented 14 July 2015 (Bastille Day) at a meeting of the End the New Jim Crow Action Network (ENJAN), Kingston, NY)

Recent US history, from the ‘60’s until today, shows the drug war is a crusade of repression against the African American people, incarcerating millions to prevent a renewal of the struggle for freedom. Recent American history makes clear the origins and purposes of the drug war.

We need to look at the whole picture, not just a fragment or a piece. Most writers on this subject either get lost in the details or can’t see past the lie that the US is a “democracy.” In either case they cannot see the realities of this history, even though the facts are clear.

Presenting well-known events in chronological order clarifies the inner connection among these events and brings out their larger significance. Placing the history in sequence makes it plain.

The Great Migration brought a Great Rebellion. A vindictive Great Repression was orchestrated to crush the Great Rebellion and prevent its continuation. Masked as the so-called “War on Drugs,” which has swept millions into prisons and jails across the US, the Great Repression has, in effect, punished generations for the “sins” of their ancestors who dared to rebel.

This repression is still underway, an example of the poisonous decay of US politics. Effects of the repression are clearly racial. But, camouflaged as a “War on Drugs,” it has allowed the rulers to appear “colorblind” or race neutral – as if they are merely enforcing the law.

The Great Migration

Fleeing the decaying Jim Crow system of agricultural labor in the fields and farms of the South, millions of African Americans (AA’s) moved North, seeking jobs in the military-industrial centers of the North, the mid West and the West. From World War I to the 60’s, millions of AA’s migrated. They went from virtual chattel slavery in the South to wage slavery in the North. They found little improvement.

Herded into old ghettoes, or into quickly-created new ones, AA’s found discrimination, barely habitable housing with a constant threat of dislocation by projects of urban renewal, or “Negro removal.” Giant housing projects, little more than stacks of shacks were built to house the many migrants. Overcrowded and neglected schools provided poor or nonexistent education for their children. The misery was compounded by relentless police abuse. When Malcolm X spoke of “the so-called Negro out here catching hell,” he was talking about, and to, this group. Malcolm lived this experience and became the spokesman of urban ghetto dwellers.

The desperation and outrage experienced by AA migrants made explosion inevitable.

The Great Rebellion

Violent repression of civil rights demonstrators seeking basic respect combined with the migrants’ sufferings to ignite a series of mass urban uprisings. These insurrections are generally seen as individual explosions, city by city. But to grasp their cumulative significance we need to see them as a single process: AA’s striving for freedom in racist America. The rebellion was at the heart of the ‘60’s, and drives American politics to this day, even under the US’s first black president.

These rebellions are generally dismissed as “riots” and their significance erased.

Kenneth Stahl titled his website and book on the Detroit Rebellion of 1967 The Great Rebellion, but I expand the use of this term to include all the uprisings. Virtually all were precipitated by violent police attacks or rumors of such attacks. Since officials often lie, it’s impossible to know what exactly happened in every case.

A large number of uprisings took place across the country. Over 300 cities rose up in the ‘60’s, according to the best estimates. I’ll review just a few highlights, by year.

1964
July 18 – 23 NYC (Harlem)
July 18 – 21 – Brooklyn (Bedford-Stuyvesant)
The first insurrection, in NYC, was touched off by a police murder. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) called a demonstration on July 18 to protest the disappearance of 3 civil rights workers in Neshoba County, Mississippi. In the early morning of July 16, off-duty police Lieutenant Thomas Gilligan killed 15 year-old African American student James Powell. News of this murder led CORE to change the focus of their protest to police brutality in Harlem.

The protest was peaceful, but rage at the murder grew into a mass confrontation with police. Bands of looters operated in Harlem’s streets at night. Upheaval soon spread to Bedford Stuyvesant.

After the NYC insurrection abated, like a series of aftershocks, smaller uprisings took place throughout the area, in upstate NY, NJ and Pennsylvania.

1965
Aug. 11 – 17 Watts in LA, Among the first targets of looters was gun stores and they made full use of their weapons. For almost a week, people fought the police and army to a standstill. Black and white looters working together led King to say, “This was not a race riot. It was a class riot.”

The Situationist International treated the rebellion as a “revolutionary event,” with looting seen as a rejection of the commodity system, “the first step of a vast, all-embracing struggle.”

1966

In 1966, there were 43 civil disturbances of varying intensity across the nation, including a notable uprising in Chicago. Chicago’s Puerto Rican community exploded into rebellion after a police shooting, from June 12 to June 19, 1966.

1967

On 4 April 1967 King delivered what is probably his most important speech, generally downplayed, called Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. If mentioned at all, it’s portrayed as King’s speech opposing the US war in Vietnam, but it was much more.

King embraced the world revolution saying, “if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.” He called the US government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” He sought to end “the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and economic exploitation.”

The speech galvanized the antiwar movement. Just eleven days later, on April 15, 1967, over 400,00 people marched to the UN to end the war. The first demonstration I ever attended, I vividly remember the excitement in the gathering place, Central Park’s Sheep Meadow, still packed with marchers, when word came the front of the march, which filled the streets the whole way, had reached the UN over a mile away. The movement’s power continued to grow, as the spirit of revolution spread.

In just a few years, the US military began to disintegrate. 80% of soldiers were taking drugs. Combat refusals, naval mutinies and fragging incidents, soldiers shooting their officers, became widespread.

The uprisings continued.

July 12 – 17, Newark – started with a rumor a black cab driver was killed by police (police routinely beat cab drivers in Newark), but this came after decades of housing discrimination and massive black unemployment. A looting spree was followed by a shooting spree in which police and National Guard fired “indiscriminately” at looters. Despite police allegations, investigations of snipers failed to reveal any.

July 23 – July 28, Detroit, the Motor City – Many thousands of African Americans had migrated there for jobs only to find intense discrimination. The uprising was precipitated by a police raid on a local bar. Over 12,000 soldiers combined with increased police repression, could not contain the rebellion, they only inflamed it. Forty-three people were killed, all but 10 black.

More than 100 other upheavals took place in 1967. LBJ appointed the Kerner Commission and ignored their report.

1968

Nineteen sixty eight was the watershed year. The Rebellion reached its peak and the initiative was seized by the forces of order, who organized the Great Repression.

On 4 April, 1968, Martin Luther King was killed, probably by government assassination. His murder, one-year to the day after his revolutionary speech, strikes some as a signal sent by the government to deter people from taking the revolutionary path. If this is so, it did not work. Following King’s murder the largest insurrection occurred. Over 100 cities exploded.

The Holy Week Uprising was the largest upheaval in the US since the Civil War. The largest took place in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Louisville, Kansas City, and Chicago.

The most significant political events occurred in Baltimore. Liberal Republican Governor of Maryland Spiro T. Agnew gathered AA community leaders and subjected them to a dressing down for not supporting the US government strongly enough. Seeking to divide and conquer, he said, “I call upon you to publicly repudiate, condemn and reject all black racists. This, so far, you have not been willing to do.”

Agnew’s speech got national headlines and led to his role in the presidential election later that year.

Presidential Election: The 1968 election centered on the urban uprisings of the preceding decade and created the miserable legacy of today. The politicians refined a coded language to conceal their racial motives. Republican Richard Nixon ran against liberal Democrat Hubert Humphrey. The civil rights movement drove not only the KKK, it also drove overtly racist language underground. It did not end either.

George Wallace ran as a third party candidate. A staunch segregationist, Wallace attracted large numbers of working class whites, threatening both parties.

Nixon chose Agnew as his Vice Presidential running mate to blunt Wallace’s effect by rallying racist whites.

The election centered on Nixon’s call for “law and order,” a slogan that meant a tough response to insurgents (called “rioters”) and the still popular notion that politicians should be “tough on crime.” Crime, disorder and violence became synonyms for blacks.

Nixon eagerly started to work on a war on drugs before his inauguration. Early in his presidency (28 April 1969), Nixon outlined his basic strategy to his chief of staff: “[President Nixon] emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.” (Haldeman Diaries, p. 53). Nixon’s diabolical efforts to develop a War on Drugs along these lines involved the highest officials in the US government, including William Rehnquist, later appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by Reagan. Nixon initiated a war on crime as well as the war on drugs, setting the pattern for future presidents.

Following in Nixon’s footsteps, Reagan outdid Nixon in his get tough on crime policies and oversaw the steepest rise in incarceration rates. Bill Clinton signed into law an omnibus crime bill in 1994, increasing capital offenses and the federal “three strikes” provision mandating life sentences for criminals convicted of a violent felony after two or more prior convictions, including drug crimes. He poured over $30 billion into militarizing the nation’s police. His group, the Democratic Leadership Council, brought much of the Democratic Party to embrace coded racial politics in order to win over white voters.

Hip hop

A new generation developed hip hop in the early 70’s to promote social change through telling the truth – with a strong beat. As the music went global from neighborhood parties, multinational music companies moved in, commodified and absorbed it. Many trends within hip hop developed and many remained true to this central goal.

Telling the truth about brutal conditions in the ghetto produced harrowing and violent tales often laced with hyperbolic humor. This became gangsta rap. The media seized on its violent features to portray all Black youth as criminals. Focusing only on the violent aspects of hip hop also allowed the media to ignore the truths about horrible conditions of life portrayed by rappers.

Gangsta rap’s advent provided a pretext for the media to criminalize AA youth. The idea that Black youth are inherently criminal was given non-stop coverage, while incarceration rates climbed with no media attention at all.

The Media

Throughout the Great Repression, media criminalization has facilitated mass incarceration.

The media has relentlessly promoted the growth of mass incarceration by promoting widespread fear of crime and by criminalizing AA youth.

In the late 70’s, I personally witnessed in NYC, Durham, NC and Houston, Texas how local news coverage abruptly shifted to overwrought coverage of violent crime, featuring “perp walks” of suspects, almost invariably black and usually in handcuffs. A similar change has been documented in Philadelphia and Baltimore, with crime coverage doubling on local TV between 1991 and 1993, during the steepest rise in incarceration rates. A more recent study found TV coverage still shows AA “perpetrators” at higher than their actual arrest rates.

An American Gulag?

The scope of the Great Repression is virtually without parallel – larger than any repression ever attempted, with the exception of the Soviet Gulag. No mere rhetorical flourish, this comparison is apt and historically revealing.

Both the Gulag and the Great Repression were intended to prevent opposition to the system, hence they resulted in the imprisonment of millions of innocent people. This helps explain the apparent increase in today’s use of solitary confinement and other barbarity in US prisons: To confine millions of innocents, their spirits must be broken. Increasingly vicious punishments must be used, just as was done in the Gulag.

Politics Today

As a movement to stop violent police repression grows, some of the rulers seem to understand they have a tiger by the tail.

The Clinton Team has begun to suggest that mass incarceration might end. Hillary Clinton, as part of her presidential campaign, “called for a re-evaluation of prison sentences and trust between police and communities.” (Time, 4/29/15)

Bill, no doubt to support of Hillary’s effort to win the White House, echoed her statement and “apologized” for his role in promoting mass incarceration. His sincerity might be questioned in light of two things: he issued his apology at a meeting to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his crime bill and, as head of the Democratic Leadership Conference, he made toughness on crime a bipartisan issue, drawing the Democratic Party into the coded racist agitation. To disclaim mass incarceration would require Bill to repudiate his entire legacy.

The Black Lives Matter movement recognizes that discontent fueled by mass incarceration contributes to the movement to stop police murders. Less well-recognized is that granting the police immunity is itself part of the generalized repression of AA’s. The system of mass incarceration rests on a high degree of police discretion in choosing whom to suspect, interrogate and arrest, and in how to do these things. Restricting the police can hardly be allowed if the police are to continue the overall repression.

Conclusion – for a new beginning

Part of developing a new revolutionary movement is reclaiming our history. The masters keep us enslaved by blinding us to our collective strength. The story of the ‘60’s uprisings is one rich in power and agency, the reason the rulers want to erase the ‘60’s altogether.

But we must also recognize that the uprisings failed. Despite the vast strength revealed in the Great Rebellion, our enemies were able to use the images of violence and looting to further the divisions in US society and institute their vengeful repression with at least the passive consent of the “white” majority.

It must be acknowledged that widespread looting and violence frightened the “white” majority making it easier for the rulers to split the people and institute the Great Repression. King’s revolutionary non-violence had a much different effect on the American people. This must be pondered by serious revolutionaries.

Conditions for a new revolutionary movement are maturing. There are growing rebellions seeking a new way of life throughout the world. In the US, an ever-spreading movement affirms the value of black lives as increasing numbers of European-American youth take up the struggle of African Americans as their own. Such a movement may, in time, bring an end to whiteness, eliminating a key pillar of the US rulers’ domination.

In the 1600’s in the Virginia colony, the masters were horrified to see African and European laborers combine to seek to destroy the system of enslavement. Their response was to create a sharp division in condition between their African and their Europeans slaves. They “invented” the white race to split the laborers and preserve their power, a remarkably effective and durable approach.

Race is a social construct devised and manipulated by the masters to maintain their rule. Only by eliminating class society, which requires racism, can racism be swept away.

Recovering Malcolm

Today’s growing movements face questions about social transformation: How can we end racism? How to end exploitation? These perennial questions are hardly new, but Malcolm X’s approach remains largely buried.

The occasion of Malcolm’s 90th birthday on May 19 seems a fitting time to recover his legacy from under a pile of distortions. He might have been still a living elder had he not been killed. His legacy, properly understood, remains powerful.

Manning Marable’s book, the most recent, best-known biography of Malcolm was disappointing. Titled “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” failed to treat Malcolm X’s role as a revolutionary in the upheavals of the 1960’s, instead looking at him as a man capable of radically recreating his own image. It was a version of Malcolm fitting for the media-dominated age in which we live: substance doesn’t count, only appearance.

One of Malcolm’s greatest strengths was his capacity for change. Always putting forth his best understanding, forcefully and persuasively, he was able to change his views as he learned more and as things changed. But he never altered his basic stance as a revolutionary, only his understanding of how best to pursue his aim of ending this rotten system. These are basic characteristics of a revolutionary, not just personal attributes, qualities we much need today.

Malcolm played a central role in the revolutionary upheavals of 1960’s America. We need to reassess Malcolm’s role to understand better our situation today and how to proceed.

Uncompromising about the miserable conditions in which African Americans lived, Malcolm excoriated the US. “American democracy is American hypocrisy,” was his catchphrase, unleashing a critique of the whole of America’s culture of self-congratulation. He exposed the system of lies at the root of America’s self justification and opened the way for historians like Gerald Horne to boldly reframe US history as that of a “slave-owners’ republic.”

Like the American Indian Movement, Malcolm disdained integration into a society that was killing its people.

In 1964 he derided the 1963 March on Washington. Manipulated by big donations from the rulers, it derailed the growing revolutionary upheaval, turning it into a “farce on Washington.”

His analysis of reformism was vivid and incisive. Asked by a reporter if the Voting Rights Act was progress, Malcolm said “no.” Stunned, the reporter asked for more. Malcolm explained, “If a man puts a knife in your back 9 inches and pulls it out 6 inches, that’s not progress.”

Malcolm’s critique had enormous impact, leading to a revolutionary turn in the movement. It contributed to the formation of the Black Panther Party, the political awakening of countless other revolutionaries, and it affected Martin Luther King himself.

Two years after Malcolm’s 1965 assassination by persons still unknown and unindicted, Martin Luther King declared support for world revolution in his officially downplayed speech, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.

King sought to end the “the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and economic exploitation.” He embraced the world revolution saying, “(I)f we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.” He also said “our country is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

One year to the day after this speech, King was assassinated in circumstances similar to those in which Malcolm was killed. Some believe the timing of King’s murder was a signal sent by the government, a signal telling people to steer clear of the revolutionary road. If so, it was a signal well understood, and rebuffed, by African American people. King’s murder was followed by uprisings in 110 cities, the largest upheaval in the US since the Civil War, an upheaval that threatened to overwhelm the entire order. This great rebellion is generally called “riots” and dismissed. It was a belated recognition of the influence of Malcolm X, who taught that revolution in the US was necessary and possible.

It’s a legacy we would do well to ponder today.

This Changes Very Little: Naomi Klein and the Left

Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate has been greeted enthusiastically by the Left. The book garnered extravagant praise from major Left institutions, revealing her shortcomings are those of the Left.

People are more able to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. But this lack of imagination is even a greater problem on the Left. Naomi Klein’s focus on changing governmental policy to ameliorate the worst effects of neoliberalism reflects deeper problems of the revolutionary movement, which can’t be attributed to her alone. If she alone held these views it would not be such a problem.

She exhibits a purely quantitative approach to change, endemic on the Left. What we need is the rejection and replacement of class society as a whole, an end to the commodity system and wage labor. The quantitative approach has whittled the limits of social change down to a slightly improved version of what we have now: better wages and less repression. The quantitative approach in fact changes very little. It would leave the institutions of capitalism, the corporations and their government, universities, etc., intact. This is the net result of the approach Klein takes in her book. (This is implicit in her other books, which I’m not dealing with here). It doesn’t “change everything.” Nor is it an isolated phenomenon.

Syriza, greeted with wild enthusiasm on the Left, talks only about the debt, imposed by the neoliberal order. Yet in Greece today a revolutionary crisis appears to be brewing, which might permit an assault on the foundations of the system as a whole. Syriza does not appear equipped even to consider such things. Syriza, in this sense, demonstrates the limitations of Klein’s approach.

Klein puts forth a partial criticism of capitalism, not a comprehensive analysis, much less a total critique. Throughout the book she describes one or another aspect of the system in order to condemn it. This could be a good start, but she never calls to end capitalism as a whole. The fact that the system is threatening all life on earth would seem sufficient reason to want to end it. A few phrases suggesting a wholesale rejection of the system – scattered through the book, most emphatically on pp. 461 & 462 – and a brave title are not enough.

More than partial or fragmentary criticism of the system, we need a critique that goes to the heart of the system, a critique of the extraction, not only of fossil fuels from the ground, but of surplus value from the exploitation of labor.

Today’s dominant worldview holds Mother Earth a dead pile of resources to be exploited for private gain. This is at the heart of the system’s operation; climate change cannot be stopped and reversed while this attitude remains in command. But the viewpoint cannot be changed while those who hold it retain power. As long as they dominate society, theirs are the society’s dominant views.

Klein’s suggestions about what to do are all policy changes which would leave in place the existing institutions. Nowhere does she call to end the class system nor does she articulate how the commodity system, not just neoliberal institutions, has brought the world’s ecological balance to collapse. She does nothing to reverse the pattern of thought I am criticizing.

From where does the intellectual impoverishment of the Left come? Klein properly rejects communism with a few broad strokes, but offers no alternative approach to supersede capitalism. Her approach does not suffice. A deeper look at the revolutionary movement’s history is necessary.

The legacy of the Third International is the inability to think. The Third International under Lenin subordinated all the world’s revolutionary parties to the dictates of the Bolsheviks. Revolutionary parties flocked to the Third International because the Second International had collapsed – and the Soviet Union seemed the incarnation of their hopes. Lenin diagnosed this fall as a product of the Second International parties’ support for “their own” bourgeoisie in pursuing the imperialist’s First World War. He memorably called the Second International “a stinking corpse.”

But by subordinating all the parties, the Bolsheviks caused revolutionaries around the world to forget how to think about making revolution, which Lenin once called an art. It allowed only one model of how a revolution can take place, the Bolshevik model. The Bolshevik approach to making revolution is that embraced by the Left (and by capitalist propagandists seeking to divert people from working to transform society).

In summary form: a vanguard party leads the masses to overthrow the capitalist state and to build a workers’ state (the dictatorship of the proletariat), over which the vanguard governs. The workers’ state redistributes the wealth of society more equitably to raise the standard of living of the laboring people. However, this wealth is still produced by exploited workers; the vanguard now controls the surplus derived from the workers’ efforts.

In effect, private capitalism has been replaced with state capitalism. Now the vanguard sits at the apex of this new class system. Bolsheviks abandoned the effort to eliminate exploitation, yet few are willing to criticize this method.

The refusal to criticize communism is particularly strong in the US Left where McCarthy cowed a generation into silence. The few who dared oppose him publicly were justly called heroes.

People also believe the rejection of communism can result only in the embrace of capitalism. All the anticommunist classics (The God That Failed, Darkness at Noon, Invisible Man, etc.) suggest that when you reject communism you cannot oppose capitalism any longer – you have no place else to go. This perspective serves the capitalists and the communists, another example of how both oppose genuine liberation. We need to create a new non-communist revolutionary trend.

The collapse of the Soviet Union may prove to be more of a blow to capitalism by freeing the revolutionary movement from communism’s constraints. Occupy Wall Street in the US and the many occupation movements across the globe show this. They share a disinterest in Leninism and are beginning to articulate an alternative vision of social transformation.

We might imagine a movement succeeds in largely occupying all the institutions of society using non-hierarchical, non-violent methods. If this occupations movement can withstand the inevitable repression by the police and army still in possession of society’s wealth and productive power, it would then face the most revolutionary task of all, rebuilding the economy. This reconstruction work would take place under entirely new terms – everyone owns everything. We can only guess what kind of society might grow up in these circumstances. But we can confidently say this approach would change everything.

It may be said that I am asking too much of Naomi Klein. She has been a consistent supporter of Occupy Wall Street, and this is, after all, a book about battling climate change. She can’t reasonably be asked to propose a revolutionary strategy.

I disagree on two counts. First, by igniting the hope of changing everything, she incurs an obligation to address these questions, at least cursorily. Second, if she is to promote a nonhierarchical change, she, like all of us, must think these problems through. Letting someone else to do our thinking for us is only waiting for a new vanguard.

Happy Anniversary (presented at a forum on the film Selma (2014) at the Creative Coop in Rosendale, NY. 18 Feb. 2015)

Misremembering the past, Hollywood is drowning us in a veritable avalanche of self-congratulation for the “great advances” of the Civil Rights movement. Commemorations, dramatic movies, documentaries – all are coming out now to celebrate 50th Anniversaries. These Anniversaries have a common theme: how bad things were back then, and, by implication, how much things have improved. Hollywood uses the Civil Rights Movement to undermine the goals of that movement. We’re being played.

Things haven’t improved. Laws were passed to outlaw segregation and to establish voter rights. But segregation still prevails in the US. Voting rights are everywhere under siege. The greatest victory of the Civil Rights Movement was it curtailed the racist violence that had kept the racial order intact. But the violence of night riders is replaced by police killings. Under the pretext of a war on drugs millions of innocent people are incarcerated for the crime of being black. Where is the improvement?

The CRM took a revolutionary turn conveniently ignored amidst all the contrived celebration. King led the way in this and was killed for it.

King’s assassination came one year to the day after he forcefully supported the movement to end the war in Vietnam and stated his support for world revolution.

Several things he said probably sealed his doom. (The speech, at https://archive.org/details/MartinLutherKing-BeyondVietnam-1967, remains stirring):
“The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.”
And “(O)ur nation (is) on the wrong side of a world revolution… if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered.”
And “our country is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today”
On April 4, 1968, exactly one year after his revolutionary speech, King was killed. The timing of this murder has been called the government sending a signal. African-Americans heard that signal and rose up in 110 cities in response. It was the greatest wave of social unrest the United States experienced since the Civil War. It was a revolutionary upheaval that threatened to overwhelm the entire order.
Some of the biggest uprisings took place in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Louisville, Kansas City, and Chicago.

Since these upheavals, the African-American community has been under siege. With the pretext of a “war on drugs,” the government has incarcerated millions of people of color, most of them innocent of any violent offense, in a massive campaign of political repression.

The FBI was once told to prevent the emergence of a “black messiah.” US government policy has become to prevent any movement of the African-American community from emerging. From mass incarceration to police acting as violent occupiers in their communities, African Americans are subjected to the heavy hand of government repression as never before. It’s a counterinsurgency before an insurgency, to prevent an insurgency.

America’s first black president portrays himself a disciple of Dr. King. Like King he received the Nobel Peace Prize, yet he insists he has the right to kill anyone at any time for any reason. There is no more glaring evidence of America’s moral and political decay.

Obama’s insistence on a presidential right to kill is part of developing a streamlined system of legal repression. Police impunity for murders, militarized police forces with domestic drones, criminalizing dissent such as calling environmentalists “eco-terrorists,” widespread surveillance of everyone, these all add up to a trend toward repression.

The rulers have no solutions for the twin crises of economic and ecological collapse and they rightly expect growing political upheavals. They need unlimited governmental powers to cope with the expected unrest.

The upheavals have begun. In response to official police impunity after brazen murders, the Black Lives Matter Movement shows no sign of letting up. Significantly, young people of all colors have taken up the struggle of African-Americans as their own. Slogans like “I am Mike Brown, I am Eric Garner; Akai Gurley” show an identification that cuts away at the racial divide that has been the foundation of social control by America’s rulers. The way to repudiate white skin privilege is for white people to take up the struggle of African-Americans as their own. Young people are showing the way to unite the 99%.

Some of you know I am the survivor of a government attack, shot in the head at an anti KKK rally in NC, over 35 years ago. The police organized the Klan and Nazis who did the shooting; they didn’t want to do it themselves. But these are more bald-faced times. The police are doing their own shooting to terrorize the population.

If there is anything to learn from the CRM, and there is plenty, it’s that we all need to be fearless in the face of official repression. We also need to understand how we are being lied to.

Racism will persist as long as a tiny elite needs to divide people to maintain its rule. Only by ending that rule can we put an end to racism. So… Happy Anniversary.

War Games

A society that has declared permanent war on the world (the so-called “Global War on Terror”) needs to instill its people with martial values and the NFL has proven a reliable conduit. But the NFL’s ideological function, rarely commented on, increasingly conflicts with its profit-making as a multi-billion dollar enterprise.

Super Bowl XLIX is over, so we can reflect on what the NFL means in American life. It has long provided lessons in how to be a man, how to be a worker and how to live your life. Above all it’s a gigantic money machine, seeking maximum profit.

Every game is filled with heroic stories about the players, our latter-day gladiators. The common theme is the players have overcome adversity to report for work, despite the job’s punishing nature. Trauma, injury, medical catastrophe, personal crisis, nothing is reason enough not to report to work and “play the game.” Labor is the essential commodity, so we must all be instilled with a zeal for labor. The work ethic, a central myth of capitalism, is a major lesson of every game. NFL players’ salaries and iconic status rest on their demonstrating this every bruising week.

The job is to violently seize territory, essentially a military function. George Carlin, one of our sharper social commentators, describes how the quarterback, “known as the field general, utilizes short bullet passes and long bombs … to punch holes in the enemy’s defensive lines.” The violence of the game has also been criticized for frequent brain concussions among players.

Like for soldiers, the violence inevitably spills into the football players’ personal lives, and it has brought the league great trouble. Intimate partner violence became an issue this season when Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught on video dragging his unconscious fiancee Janay Palmer from an elevator.

This became a dilemma for the league, which has been trying to enlarge its market by attracting female spectators. Rice’s brutality repelled women. At the same time, Rice was a celebrity player and the stars’ images must be constantly burnished. Rice was not the first player accused of domestic violence, only the first whose offense was recorded. At first the league lightly tapped his wrist with a 2 game suspension from play. Women’s groups were outraged and demanded a stronger response from the league. Rice was indefinitely suspended after a second video emerged showing the assault inside the elevator. The NFL (haplessly) continues to try to improve its image among women. A Super Bowl ad portrayed a woman trapped by her abuser calling 911, to show the NFL “cares.”

Critics complain that the NFL treats domestic violence as merely an “image problem” and have called on the league’s executive director, Roger Goodell, to resign. But any director will face the same basic problem: continuing the NFL’s ideological preparations for war while operating as a money-making venture.

Je ne suis pas Charlie

The global media is the most powerful weapon in the system of domination. Inculcating commodity worship, sexism, racism and war, it grips most of us as passive spectators. With the Charlie Hebdo murders as a pretext, the media tapped into the xenophobia to serve the system’s ends, mobilizing a movement to support the so-called war on terror. They even made it appear to be “against hatred and for free speech. ”

Like the beheadings carried out by ISIS, the Charlie Hebdo killings have been used to divert attention from the far greater atrocities of the US wars. Presidential summary assassinations, aerial bombings, drone attacks, kidnappings, night raids on peoples’ homes, renditions, tortures, lawless imprisonment for decades, global surveillance, etc., etc., were all forgotten in an orgy of false unity, where over 3 million people marched in Paris. A chorus line of Western leaders, including Benjamin Netanyahu, the odious Prime Minister of Israel, whose crimes seemed for the moment also forgotten, led the march.

All mention of the US Senate’s report on CIA torture disappeared from view as the media hammered home the evil of the terrorists. The obvious fact that war is terrorism, was submerged. Critics of the Global War on Terror were sucked into the vortex of denunciations of the Charlie Hebdo killers. The alleged murderers, the brothers Kouachi, were killed by police; this eliminated any possibility of an inconvenient trial.

The Charlie Hebdo murders took place on French soil, violating the holiest of holies, national sovereignty. This gave the media a pretext for even louder and more passionate cries of righteous indignation.

The media’s inflated outrage was used to strengthen their control over their political subjects, an exercise in domination. While earlier media crusades were largely orchestrated to divert peoples’ attention, this was the first time the media has been used to launch an international movement – to support the “global war on terror.”

This is probably the largest, and loudest single display of the rulers’ power since the birth of the modern propaganda system. From 1917 to 1919, President Woodrow Wilson’s Creel Commission, officially known as the Committee on Public Information, reversed overwhelming public opposition to World War I and brought the US into the war. Both Nazis and Bolsheviks learned from this seminal experiment in modern statecraft.

The hostage “crisis” in Iran (1979 – 1980) helped lay the basis of 24/7 breathless journalism and the “national obsession” manufactured by the media in the OJ Simpson trial (1994-1995) were two milestones in the development of the system’s ability to divert peoples’ attention away from the grim realities of daily life under its domination. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Islam became the official enemy of the West; Sept. 11 launched this crusade.

The Charlie Hebdo case marks an innovation. For the first time an international mass movement was initiated to endorse their current effort: uniting Western societies (sometimes called “civilization”) to crush opposition and dissent. Launching a mass movement is fraught with danger. Much can go wrong. A mobilization like this suggests the ruling elite has great confidence in its control. Can we prove them wrong?

This sobering development needs study. It is a level of psychological operations, “psyops” to covert operatives, we have not seen since the US entered into WWI. It requires study and discussion.

Three points are worth considering:

1. Charlie Hebdo as a “satirical” magazine:
Like all people, all humor has a point of view. It has to do with whom we laugh at and why. Charlie Chaplin said a prosperous businessman falling on the ice is not the same as a young mother with small children falling. Chaplin took the side of the little guy against pompous authority. His films are still loved.

Charlie Hebdo was a little journal (circulation about 45,000, or 60,000) devoted to attacking Islam. The media obscured their role by asserting that the magazine attacks all religions (“an equal opportunity provocateur”), or even “attacks everything.” But making fun of the religion of the dominant and making fun of that of the oppressed are not the same.

Denigrating Islam, in the context of the “war on terror,” Charlie operated as a small cog in the gears of the prevailing order’s machinery of manufactured public opinion, an in-house journal of “satire” for the rulers, more valuable to their masters dead than alive. Quotation marks around the word satirical are justified because they made fun of victims of the system’s racism, but not those who propagate and benefit from that racism. Unlike Chaplin, they typically take the side of authority. That’s not satire it’s flunkeyism.

Like critics of “political correctness” seeking acceptance of prejudiced and hateful comments, Charlie Hebdo promotes racism, despite their claims of irreverence and joviality. They widen divisions among oppressed and exploited people. They are friends of the owners not of the poor. Charlie Hebdo’s designation as a “satirical” magazine should be judged from this perspective.

2. Muslims in France:
Concentrated in banlieues (suburbs) around the largest cities, Muslims in France are the country’s second largest religious group, after Catholics (http://www.brookings.edu/press/books/chapter_1/integratingislam.pdf ). Suffering disproportionately high rates of unemployment, police harassment and racial profiling, in large underserved neighborhoods called ghettos, they are treated by French authorities much like African-Americans are treated in the US. No wonder French Muslims express hostility to and mistrust of officialdom.

They comprise a large and growing percentage of blue collar and white collar laborers. If they can shed the pernicious influence of radical Islam, with its politically and morally bankrupt reliance on terrorism, they could become a major force for social transformation in France as well as in other European countries.

The media does not want Muslims to repudiate terrorism. It constantly presents radical Islam as the only route for young, dissatisfied Muslims to take. This misrepresentation serves radical Islamists and the owners. Young Muslims are diverted from a revolutionary path.

France’s decaying Left, exemplified by President Francois Hollande, has no interest in social transformation. It competes with the right to attack Muslims to curry favor with Western interests and France’s dominant classes by assuring a split among French workers. Other European countries, also experiencing a large influx of Muslim laborers, though not as large as that in France, pursue a similar course.

3. Racism will continue as long as the dominant elites need racism to divide workers and to prevent movements to eliminate class society.