Democrats debate identity politics

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By Niles Niemuth
15 December 2016

In the aftermath of the victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, a heated debate has been raging in Democratic Party circles over the efficacy of identity politics and its role in the party’s electoral debacle.

Some figures within the party and its periphery have raised concerns that the overriding focus on racial and gender politics has prevented the Democrats from making an effective appeal to broader segments of society beyond those in better-off and more privileged layers of the middle class.

In a November 18 New York Times op-ed column titled “The End of Identity Liberalism,” Columbia University humanities professor Mark Lilla, seeking to draw the lessons of Clinton’s loss to Trump, writes: “In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.”

While Clinton was “at her best and most uplifting when she spoke about American interests in world affairs and how they related to our understanding of democracy,” he asserts, “when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, LGBT and women voters at every stop.”

This focus on identity was a “strategic mistake,” Lilla writes. He calls instead for a “post-identity” liberalism that places a greater emphasis on civic duty and a new nationalism, drawing inspiration, in part, from Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Lilla’s column corresponds to remarks made by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders following the election. Sanders campaigned for Clinton after failing in his bid to win the Democratic nomination, but now he is implicitly criticizing her focus on racial and gender politics. “It is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘I’m a woman, vote for me!’” he said in a recent speech. “What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.”

The actual content of Sanders’ proposals is reactionary. In the name of “taking on the corporations” he advocates an aggressive economic nationalism that echoes the “America-first” trade war program of Trump. Nor does Lilla propose any serious program to challenge the interests of the corporate elite. In his commentary he makes a vague reference to the Democrats’ long-abandoned policies of social reform, but he does so to advocate not a struggle against the corporate elite, but rather a new, “left” form of American nationalism. His “post-identity liberalism” would “speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in this together and must help one another.”

What is most striking, however, is the hysterical response such muted criticisms have evoked. The most vociferous attack on Lilla’s article has come from Columbia University law professor Katherine M. Franke, who equates Lilla with the former head of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, in a blog post published by the Los Angeles Review of Books on November 21.

“In the new political climate we now inhabit, Duke and Lilla were contributing to the same ideological project, the former cloaked in a KKK hood, the latter in an academic gown,” Franke writes. “Both men are underwriting the whitening of American nationalism, and the re-centering of white lives as lives that matter most in the US. Duke is happy to own the white supremacy of his statements, while Lilla’s op-ed does the more nefarious background work of making white supremacy respectable. Again.”

For Franke, any move away from a politics based on racial and gender identity is equivalent to the promotion of racism and misogyny. “Let me be blunt: this kind of liberalism is a liberalism of white supremacy,” she declares. “It is a liberalism that regards the efforts of people of color and women to call out forms of power that sustain white supremacy and patriarchy as a distraction. It is a liberalism that figures the lives and interests of white men as the neutral, unmarked terrain around which a politics of ‘common interest’ can and should be built.”

These remarks are echoed by Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman, who denounces criticism of identity politics as the “primal scream of the straight white male.” She argues that those who want to “emphasise what we have in common instead of focusing on the differences” have a “delightfully kumbaya view of the world.”

Journalist Tasneem Raja, in a commentary published on National Public Radio’s Code Switch blog, which is dedicated to racial and identity politics, rejects Lilla’s criticisms as support for white supremacy. She accuses Lilla of being “keen on pulling the plug on conversations about multiculturalism and diversity” and thereby unconsciously playing “right into the hands of the newly emboldened neo-Nazis who helped put Trump in office…”

The unhinged response to Lilla’s column reflects entrenched social interests. Franke speaks on behalf of a layer of American academics for whom the politics of identity is a central mechanism for accessing positions of affluence and privilege.

Identity politics has become an entrenched industry. Many of its professional proponents have high-paying academic positions in black and gender studies. Such institutions are funded to the tune of billions of dollars and politically tied to the Democratic Party and corporate America.

According to her university biography, Franke’s research is focused on feminist, queer and critical race theory. She is the director of Columbia University’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, a member of the Executive Committee for the Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality, and a member of the Steering Committee for the Center for the Study of Social Difference.

The relationship of the Democratic Party–and bourgeois politics as a whole–to identity politics is not accidental or secondary. The fixation on the politics of race and gender is inextricably bound up with the protracted shift of the Democratic Party to the right, in line with the drive by the ruling class to claw back all of the gains that workers won through bitter struggle, particularly in the 1930s and the decades following the Second World War.

For the past half century, as it abandoned any commitment to social reform, the Democratic Party adopted identity politics and programs such as Affirmative Action as its modus operandi, building up around it a privileged layer of the upper-middle class on this basis. This period has at the same time seen a historic growth in social inequality, including, and especially, within minority groups and among women.

Between 2005 and 2013, black households earning more than $75,000 were the fastest growing income group in the country, while the top one percent possessed more than 200 percent the wealth of the average black family. Despite the enrichment of this small but substantial and influential layer, the vast majority of African Americans remain deeply impoverished. Half of black households, nearly 7 million people, have little to no household worth.

At the same time, large parts of the country populated by supposedly privileged white workers, particularly in the so called Rust Belt states where Trump defeated Clinton, have been devastated economically by deindustrialization.

Identity politics found its consummate expression in the Clinton campaign, which was based on an alliance of Wall Street, the military-intelligence apparatus and the right-wing purveyors of racial and gender politics.

The proponents of identity politics such as Franke are opposed to economic and social equality. They regard any orientation to working people on a class basis as a threat to their own racial- or gender-based privileges. They are deeply hostile to the working class—black and Latino as well as white.

The anger that these forces direct toward Lilla will be turned with even greater intensity against a politically independent movement of the working class

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/12/15/iden-d15.html

It’s Worse Than You Think

Posted on Nov 11, 2016

By Chris Hedges

New York City police officers guard Trump Tower, President-elect Donald Trump’s Manhattan home. (Richard Drew / AP)

Widespread social unrest will ignite when Donald Trump’s base realizes it has been betrayed. I do not know when this will happen. But that it will happen is certain. Investments in the stocks of the war industry, internal security and the prison-industrial complex have skyrocketed since Trump won the presidency. There is a lot of money to be made from a militarized police state.

READ: Revenge of the ‘Deplorables’

Our capitalist democracy ceased to function more than two decades ago. We underwent a corporate coup carried out by the Democratic and Republican parties. There are no institutions left that can authentically be called democratic. Trump and Hillary Clinton in a functioning democracy would have never been presidential nominees. The long and ruthless corporate assault on the working class, the legal system, electoral politics, the mass media, social services, the ecosystem, education and civil liberties in the name of neoliberalism has disemboweled the country. It has left the nation a decayed wreck. We celebrate ignorance. We have replaced political discourse, news, culture and intellectual inquiry with celebrity worship and spectacle.

Fascism, as historian Gaetano Salvemini pointed out, is about “giving up free institutions.” It is the product of a democracy that has ceased to function. The democratic form will remain, much as it did during the dictatorships in the later part of the Roman Empire, but the reality is despotism, or in our case, corporate despotism. The citizen does not genuinely participate in power.

“It is very similar to late Weimar Germany,” Noam Chomsky told me with uncanny insight when I spoke with him six years ago. “The parallels are striking. There was also tremendous disillusionment with the parliamentary system. The most striking fact about Weimar was not that the Nazis managed to destroy the Social Democrats and the Communists, but that the traditional parties, the Conservative and Liberal parties, were hated and disappeared. It left a vacuum which the Nazis very cleverly and intelligently managed to take over.

“The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen,” Chomsky went on. “Every charismatic figure is such an obvious crook that he destroys himself, like [Joseph] McCarthy or [Richard] Nixon or the evangelist preachers. If somebody comes along who is charismatic and honest, this country is in real trouble because of the frustration, disillusionment, the justified anger and the absence of any coherent response. What are people supposed to think if someone says ‘I have got an answer: We have an enemy’? There it was the Jews. Here it will be the illegal immigrants and the blacks. We will be told that white males are a persecuted minority. We will be told we have to defend ourselves and the honor of the nation. Military force will be exalted. People will be beaten up. This could become an overwhelming force. And if it happens, it will be more dangerous than Germany. The United States is the world power. Germany was powerful but had more powerful antagonists. I don’t think all this is very far away. If the polls are accurate, it is not the Republicans but the right-wing Republicans, the crazed Republicans, who will sweep the next election.”

The repression of dissents will soon resemble the repression under past totalitarian regimes. State security will become an invasive and palpable presence. The most benign forms of opposition will be treated as if they are a threat to national security. Many, hoping to avoid the wrath of the state, will become compliant and passive. We, however, must fight back. We must carry out sustained acts of civil disobedience, as many have done in streets around the country since the election. But we must also be aware that the democratic space allotted to us in our system of inverted totalitarianism has become much, much smaller.

Trump, with no democratic institutions left to restrain him, will accelerate the corporate assault, from privatizing Social Security to exonerating militarized police forces for the indiscriminate murder of unarmed citizens, while he unleashes the fossil fuel industry and the war industry to degrade and most probably extinguish life on earth. His administration will be populated by the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party, men and women characterized by profound intellectual and moral impoverishment, as well as a stunning ability to ignore reality. These ideologues speak exclusively in the language of intimidation and violence.

Half the country lives in poverty. Our former manufacturing centers are decayed wrecks. Our constitutional rights, including due process and habeas corpus, have been taken from us by judicial fiat. Corporations and the billionaire class carry out legal tax boycotts. Police gun down unarmed citizens in the street. The military, under Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, is empowered to carry out the extraordinary rendition of U.S. citizens within the United States, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in our black sites. We are the most spied upon, watched, eavesdropped, photographed and monitored population in human history. When the government watches you 24 hours a day, you cannot use the word “liberty.” That is the relationship between a master and a slave. And governments that wield this kind of surveillance power swiftly become totalitarian. Trump and his cronies have been handed by bankrupt elites the legal and physical mechanisms to instantly transform America into a brutal police state.

Rudy Giuliani; Newt Gingrich, who advocates stripping U.S. citizens of their citizenship if they are deemed to be terrorists; retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and John Bolton—these men will not exhibit legal or moral restraint. They see the world through the Manichaean lens of good and evil, black and white, patriot and traitor. Politics have been transformed, as philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote of fascism, into aesthetics. And the ultimate aesthetic experience for the fascist, Benjamin warned, is war.

State terror and state violence, familiar to poor people of color in our internal colonies, will become familiar to all of us. Racism, nationalism, misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, intolerance, white supremacy, religious bigotry, hate crimes and a veneration of the hypermasculine values of military culture will define political and cultural discourse. The ruling elites will attempt to divert the growing frustration and rage toward the vulnerable—undocumented workers, Muslims, African-Americans, Latinos, homosexuals, feminists and others. White vigilante violence will be directed at those the state demonizes with little or no legal ramifications. New enemies, at home and abroad, will be manufactured. Our endless wars in the Middle East will be expanded, perhaps to include a confrontation with Russia.

There were some, such as Ralph Nader, who saw this dystopia coming. They desperately tried to build a viable third party and empower citizen movements to give the dispossessed working class a vision and hope. They knew that the longer corporate power had a stranglehold on the economic and political system, the more we seeded the ground for an American fascism.

The elites put up numerous obstacles—refusing to let Nader or later, Jill Stein, into the debates, making ballot access difficult or impossible, turning campaigns into long, money-drenched spectacles that cost billions of dollars, and skillfully using the politics of fear to intimidate voters. But the elites were aided by a bankrupt liberal class. In presidential election after presidential election, especially after Nader’s success in 2000, so-called progressives succumbed to the idiotic mantra of the least worst. Those who should have been the natural allies of third parties and dissident movements abjectly surrendered to the Democratic Party that, like the Republican Party, serves the beast of imperialism and makes war on the poor, the working class and the middle class. The cowardice of the liberal class meant it lost all credibility, much as Bernie Sanders did when he sold his soul to the Clinton campaign. The liberal class proved it would stand and fight for nothing. It mouthed words and ideas it did not truly believe. It bears significant responsibility for the phenomena that created Trump. It should have had the foresight to abandon the Democratic Party after President Bill Clinton passed the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, to build parties and institutions that defended the interests of the working class. If it had stood up for working men and women, it might have prevented them being seduced by protofascists.

The rot of our failed democracy vomited up a con artist who was a creation of the mass media—first playing a fictional master of the universe on a reality television show and later a politician as vaudevillian. Trump pulled in advertising dollars and ratings. Truth and reality were irrelevant. Only when he got the nomination did the mass media see their Frankenstein as a threat, but by then it was too late. If there is one vapid group that is hated even more than the liberal class, it is the corporate press. The more it attacked Trump, the better Trump looked.

Trump is emblematic of what anthropologists call “crisis cults.” A society in terminal decline often retreats into magical thinking. Reality is too much to bear. It places its faith in the fantastic and impossible promises of a demagogue or charlatan who promises the return of a lost golden age. The good jobs will come back. The nation will again be prosperous. The decrepit cities will be rebuilt. America will be great again. These promises, impossible to achieve, are no different from those peddled to Native Americans in the 1880s by the self-styled religious prophet Wovoka. He called on followers to carry out five-day dance ceremonies called the Ghost Dance. Native Americans donned shirts they were told protected them from bullets. They were assured that the buffalo herds would return, the dead warriors and chiefs would rise from the earth and the white men would disappear. None of his promises was realized. Many of his followers were gunned down like sheep by the U.S. army.

We face the most profound crisis in human history. Our response is to elect a man to the presidency who does not believe in climate change. Once societies unplug themselves from reality, those who speak truth become pariahs and enemies of the state. They are subject to severe state repression. Those lost in the reverie of the crisis cult applaud the elimination of these Cassandras. The appealing myths of magical thinking are pleasant opiates. But this narcotic, like all narcotics, leads to squalor and death.

Truthdig

The social roots of unrest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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16 August 2016

Once again deeply rooted social anger has boiled over in an American city against police violence. This time protests erupted in the Sherman Park neighborhood of Milwaukee, Wisconsin following the killing of 23-year-old African American Sylville K. Smith by an as yet unidentified African American police officer Saturday afternoon.

Approximately 100 people gathered Saturday night to protest near where Smith was killed. The night ended with a handful of nearby businesses looted as well as a gas station, a bank branch and an auto parts store torched. A handful of cop cars and other vehicles were damaged or destroyed. The police arrested 31 people during protests Saturday and Sunday night.

At the request of Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, a prominent African American backer of Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has mobilized the National Guard. At least 100 members have been placed on standby to respond to protests if deemed necessary by city officials, adding to the 150 specially trained Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) officers and regular police patrols.

This marks the second time since 2014 that Walker has put the National Guard on notice for deployment in response to protests against police violence in the city. The National Guard, a branch of the military, has been used to put down popular protests in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 and Baltimore, Maryland in 2015.

While the killing of Smith is the immediate cause of the protests in Milwaukee, it is clear that broader issues are involved—bound up not with racial divisions, but a one-sided class war waged by the American financial elite. Like so many cities in the United States, Milwaukee has been devastated by decades of deindustrialization and financialization, which has produced the highest levels of inequality since the 1920s. The factories that provided decent wages and benefits for tens of thousands of workers have all but disappeared.

The city lost three-quarters of its industrial jobs between 1960 and the 2010. The disappearance of manufacturing employment had a particular impact on black male workers in the city. From 1970 to 2010, the employment rate for black men aged 16 to 64 in the metro Milwaukee region fell precipitously, from 73.4 percent to only 44.7 percent.

The city’s overall poverty rate in 2014 was 29 percent, nearly double the national rate. Children and youth aged 18 and under were the worst affected, with more than 42 percent growing up poor. More than 43 percent of the population in the Sherman Park neighborhood lives below the poverty line.

It is fitting that President Barack Obama visited the Sherman Park area in 2012 where he spoke at the Master Lock factory, one of the few remaining industrial facilities in the area. Obama hailed Master Lock as a great example of the “insourcing” of low wage manufacturing jobs. In its more than seven years in office, the Obama administration has not proposed a single initiative or program that would begin to address the staggering levels of social inequality, poverty and unemployment in the United States.

The growth of poverty and inequality, the eruption of social anger and the build-up of the police forces are interrelated components of the same class dynamic. Whatever the role racism may play—a 2011 analysis of traffic stop data found that African American drivers were more than seven times as likely as white drivers to be pulled over by the MPD—the war waged by the American ruling class has been directed at the working class of all races.

In considering the issue of police violence, it is once again necessary to stress that the majority of those killed by police in the United States are white. As for the conditions that are fueling social anger, these transcend race as well. The majority of poor in the United States are white, and white workers have suffered some of the most disastrous declines in conditions of life over the past several decades. One only needs to cite the stunning rise in mortality rates among working class whites in recent years.

As for African Americans, one of the most significant if very little noted facts of American life is the extraordinary growth of social inequality within the African American population over the past four decades. A black family in the top 1 percent of the US population has a net worth 200 times the average black family, and the top 10 percent controls 67 of the wealth held by all African Americans.

In politics, African Americans have been elevated to positions of power by both the Democrats and Republicans—Obama, Loretta Lynch, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell being some of the most notable. Many major American cities have had black mayors and city councils are populated by African American politicians.

Those promoting racial politics speak for this social layer of more privileged sections of the middle class and for sections of the ruling class itself whose interests are thoroughly hostile to those of African American workers and youth.

A genuine fight against police violence must proceed from an understanding of certain basic facts.

First, that police violence is the product not of racial animosity of “white America” against “black America,” but rather is a reflection of the nature of the state as an instrument of class rule. The build-up of police power, which is a component part of a vast apparatus of repression, from the military to the spying agencies, will be used against all social opposition to the policies of the financial aristocracy.

Second, all factions of the political establishment are committed to the defense of the police. In the 2016 elections, Trump and the Republicans are running on a program of “law and order” and calls for criminalization of opposition to police violence (expressed most ruthlessly by Milwaukee County Sheriff Clarke at the Republican National Convention last month).

Meanwhile Hillary Clinton and the Democrats hail the police while sickeningly and hypocritically exploiting the family members of the victims of police violence to promote racial identity politics. She is committed to continuing and extending the policies of the Obama administration—which means escalating the assault on the working class, expanding war abroad and doing nothing to halt the reign of police violence in the United States.

The fight against police violence means a fight against the society that creates it. It requires a political struggle to unify all sections of the working class, of all races, in a common fight against unemployment, poverty, inequality and the capitalist profit system.

Niles Niemuth

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/08/16/pers-a16.html

Race, class and police murder in America

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11 July 2016

In the aftermath of the mass shooting of police officers in Dallas, Texas Thursday night, the American media and political establishment has sought to portray the police killings of unarmed people and widespread protests against police violence as proof of deepening and unbridgeable racial divisions in the United States.

According to the media presentation, the homicidal actions of police across the country are somehow a manifestation of “white people” expressing their elemental, collective racial hatred of African-Americans.

The New York Post, for example, ran a banner headline proclaiming “Civil War,” while the New York Times led its Sunday opinions section with a column titled “Divided by Race, United by Pain.”

This presentation is grotesquely at odds with reality. What is taking place in America is not a race war, but rather public protest against police violence in a country where more than a thousand people a year are executed without trial by police forces run amok.

Racism, of course, exists and it may be a factor in many police killings. Blacks are targeted for police attack in numbers disproportionate to their share of the population. But the facts themselves demonstrate that the scourge of police violence and murder is not limited to blacks or minorities, but extends to working people and youth of all races and ethnicities, especially the poorest and most vulnerable sections of the working class.

According to a database compiled by the Guardian, through July 9, 571 people had been killed so far this year by police in the US. The dead included 88 Hispanics and 138 African-Americans, but nearly half—281 people—were white. Last year 1,146 people were killed by the police, of which the majority, 586, were white.

Many of the cops who carry out these murders are themselves members of minority groups. Three of the six officers charged in the April 2015 killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, an outrage that sparked nationwide demonstrations, were African-American. In that city, as in many others where police brutality is rampant, both the mayor and the police chief were black.

Even the government seems unable to rein in the police. When New York Mayor Bill de Blasio made comments deemed sympathetic to protests against police violence, following the police killing of Eric Garner in Staten Island, he faced a virtual insurrection by New York City police.

The claim, made without either factual substantiation or historical explanation, that the United States is suddenly convulsed by sectarian hatred, is a falsehood that does not withstand any serious analysis. It is being promoted as part of a narrative that serves definite political interests.

This presentation conceals the nature of the state and distracts attention from the fundamental questions of social class that are at the root of the relentless exercise of police brutality and murder. The wave of state violence takes place under specific conditions: a deepening economic and social crisis, an immense growth of social inequality, mounting signs of a resurgence of class struggle and a broad process of political radicalization within the American working class.

The number of days lost to major strikes in the US in 2015 was nearly four times that of 2014, and this year, with the month-long strike by Verizon workers, the figure will be far higher still. Even more disturbing to the ruling class, there are mounting signs, including the near-rebellion last year by autoworkers, that the trade union bureaucracy is losing its grip on the working class. And the mass support among workers and especially among youth for the campaign of Bernie Sanders, who describes himself as a socialist and talks of a “political revolution” against the “billionaire class,” has revealed the widespread growth of anti-capitalist sentiment, to the horror of the ruling elite.

The aim of the campaign to inundate the public with a racialist narrative concerning police violence and all other aspects of American society is to divert attention from the capitalist system itself and head off the development of what the ruling class fears most—a broad, popular movement uniting the working class in the struggle against this economic system.

This requires grossly distorting popular attitudes toward race. There have, in fact, been vast changes—generally of a healthy character—since the heyday of Jim Crow segregation in the South and widespread racial discrimination in the North. In the America of the 1930s and 1940s, lynchings of blacks were virtually a daily occurrence. The great mass of African-Americans in the South did not have access to the ballot, and there were virtually no black political representatives.

Fifty years ago, in 1966, Edward Brooke was elected senator from Massachusetts, becoming the first African-American popularly elected to the United States Senate. Police forces throughout the country were almost exclusively white, and intermarriage between blacks and whites was virtually unknown.

These circumstances were radically altered by a 30-year upsurge of the working class between 1934 and 1964, which broke the back of segregation in the South and led to the racial integration of state institutions, including the police and all levels of government. The United States, after all, elected an African-American president in 2008 and reelected him in 2012.

Today, 87 percent of Americans, including 84 percent of whites, say they support interracial marriage, up from 4 percent in 1958. Fifteen percent of all new marriages in 2010 were interracial, more than double the share in 1980.

What really happened last week? The killings of two black men, Alton B. Sterling and Philando Castile, both caught on video, sparked outrage and opposition throughout the United States and internationally. With less publicity but no less chillingly, local media published a video showing police executing Dylan Noble, a 19-year-old white man in Fresno, California, as he lay motionless on the ground. Mass protests by people of all ethnicities throughout the country were met by the arrest of hundreds of demonstrators, carried out by highly militarized police who look and act like occupation forces.

As for the actions of Micah Johnson, the Dallas shooter, the fact that he himself was killed by means of a bomb-wielding robot—the first incidence of drone-type warfare within the borders of the United States—makes it difficult to determine what his precise motives were.

While it seems that his actions were to some extent motivated by police killings of African-Americans, it is also the case that he was a military veteran who spent nearly a year in Afghanistan. His actions follow the pattern of the dozens of mass shootings, many by military veterans, that take place in the United States every year.

The promotion of a sectarian outlook is embraced by politicians and academics who have a deep and vested interest in racial politics. They generally have nothing but praise for President Obama, who has presided over eight years of unending war, growing social inequality and poverty, and the arming of police departments with military-grade weapons throughout the country. These purveyors of racial politics are indifferent to the social distress of broad sections of the working class and have no proposals to improve their plight.

We urge all workers and youth to reject the reactionary, racialist narrative being peddled by the media and political establishment. The struggle against police violence, like all great social questions, requires uniting all sections of the working class in a common struggle against the capitalist system.

The World Socialist Web Site Editorial Board

Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote

From the crime bill to welfare reform, policies Bill Clinton enacted—and Hillary Clinton supported—decimated black America.

Photo Credit: stocklight/Shutterstock

Hillary Clinton loves black people. And black people love Hillary—or so it seems. Black politicians have lined up in droves to endorse her, eager to prove their loyalty to the Clintons in the hopes that their faithfulness will be remembered and rewarded. Black pastors are opening their church doors, and the Clintons are making themselves comfortably at home once again, engaging effortlessly in all the usual rituals associated with “courting the black vote,” a pursuit that typically begins and ends with Democratic politicians making black people feel liked and taken seriously. Doing something concrete to improve the conditions under which most black people live is generally not required.

Hillary is looking to gain momentum on the campaign trail as the primaries move out of Iowa and New Hampshire and into states like South Carolina, where large pockets of black voters can be found. According to some polls, she leads Bernie Sanders by as much as 60 percent among African Americans. It seems that we—black people—are her winning card, one that Hillary is eager to play.

And it seems we’re eager to get played. Again.

The love affair between black folks and the Clintons has been going on for a long time. It began back in 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for president. He threw on some shades and played the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show. It seems silly in retrospect, but many of us fell for that. At a time when a popular slogan was “It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand,” Bill Clinton seemed to get us. When Toni Morrison dubbed him our first black president, we nodded our heads. We had our boy in the White House. Or at least we thought we did.

Black voters have been remarkably loyal to the Clintons for more than 25 years. It’s true that we eventually lined up behind Barack Obama in 2008, but it’s a measure of the Clinton allure that Hillary led Obama among black voters until he started winning caucuses and primaries. Now Hillary is running again. This time she’s facing a democratic socialist who promises a political revolution that will bring universal healthcare, a living wage, an end to rampant Wall Street greed, and the dismantling of the vast prison state—many of the same goals that Martin Luther King Jr. championed at the end of his life. Even so, black folks are sticking with the Clinton brand.

What have the Clintons done to earn such devotion? Did they take extreme political risks to defend the rights of African Americans? Did they courageously stand up to right-wing demagoguery about black communities? Did they help usher in a new era of hope and prosperity for neighborhoods devastated by deindustrialization, globalization, and the disappearance of work?

No. Quite the opposite.

When Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, urban black communities across America were suffering from economic collapse. Hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs had vanished as factories moved overseas in search of cheaper labor, a new plantation. Globalization and deindustrialization affected workers of all colors but hit African Americans particularly hard. Unemployment rates among young black men had quadrupled as the rate of industrial employment plummeted. Crime rates spiked in inner-city communities that had been dependent on factory jobs, while hopelessness, despair, and crack addiction swept neighborhoods that had once been solidly working-class. Millions of black folks—many of whom had fled Jim Crow segregation in the South with the hope of obtaining decent work in Northern factories—were suddenly trapped in racially segregated, jobless ghettos.

On the campaign trail, Bill Clinton made the economy his top priority and argued persuasively that conservatives were using race to divide the nation and divert attention from the failed economy. In practice, however, he capitulated entirely to the right-wing backlash against the civil-rights movement and embraced former president Ronald Reagan’s agenda on race, crime, welfare, and taxes—ultimately doing more harm to black communities than Reagan ever did.

We should have seen it coming. Back then, Clinton was the standard-bearer for the New Democrats, a group that firmly believed the only way to win back the millions of white voters in the South who had defected to the Republican Party was to adopt the right-wing narrative that black communities ought to be disciplined with harsh punishment rather than coddled with welfare. Reagan had won the presidency by dog-whistling to poor and working-class whites with coded racial appeals: railing against “welfare queens” and criminal “predators” and condemning “big government.” Clinton aimed to win them back, vowing that he would never permit any Republican to be perceived as tougher on crime than he.

Just weeks before the critical New Hampshire primary, Clinton proved his toughness by flying back to Arkansas to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally impaired black man who had so little conception of what was about to happen to him that he asked for the dessert from his last meal to be saved for him for later. After the execution, Clinton remarked, “I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I’m soft on crime.”

Clinton mastered the art of sending mixed cultural messages, appealing to African Americans by belting out “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in black churches, while at the same time signaling to poor and working-class whites that he was willing to be tougher on black communities than Republicans had been.

Clinton was praised for his no-nonsense, pragmatic approach to racial politics. He won the election and appointed a racially diverse cabinet that “looked like America.” He won re-election four years later, and the American economy rebounded. Democrats cheered. The Democratic Party had been saved. The Clintons won. Guess who lost?

Bill Clinton presided over the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. Clinton did not declare the War on Crime or the War on Drugs—those wars were declared before Reagan was elected and long before crack hit the streets—but he escalated it beyond what many conservatives had imagined possible. He supported the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine, which produced staggering racial injustice in sentencing and boosted funding for drug-law enforcement.

Clinton championed the idea of a federal “three strikes” law in his 1994 State of the Union address and, months later, signed a $30 billion crime bill that created dozens of new federal capital crimes, mandated life sentences for some three-time offenders, and authorized more than $16 billion for state prison grants and the expansion of police forces. The legislation was hailed by mainstream-media outlets as a victory for the Democrats, who “were able to wrest the crime issue from the Republicans and make it their own.”

When Clinton left office in 2001, the United States had the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Human Rights Watch reported that in seven states, African Americans constituted 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders sent to prison, even though they were no more likely than whites to use or sell illegal drugs. Prison admissions for drug offenses reached a level in 2000 for African Americans more than 26 times the level in 1983. All of the presidents since 1980 have contributed to mass incarceration, but as Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson recently observed, “President Clinton’s tenure was the worst.”

Some might argue that it’s unfair to judge Hillary Clinton for the policies her husband championed years ago. But Hillary wasn’t picking out china while she was first lady. She bravely broke the mold and redefined that job in ways no woman ever had before. She not only campaigned for Bill; she also wielded power and significant influence once he was elected, lobbying for legislation and other measures. That record, and her statements from that era, should be scrutinized. In her support for the 1994 crime bill, for example, she used racially coded rhetoric to cast black children as animals. “They are not just gangs of kids anymore,” she said. “They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”

Both Clintons now express regret over the crime bill, and Hillary says she supports criminal-justice reforms to undo some of the damage that was done by her husband’s administration. But on the campaign trail, she continues to invoke the economy and country that Bill Clinton left behind as a legacy she would continue. So what exactly did the Clinton economy look like for black Americans? Taking a hard look at this recent past is about more than just a choice between two candidates. It’s about whether the Democratic Party can finally reckon with what its policies have done to African-American communities, and whether it can redeem itself and rightly earn the loyalty of black voters.

An oft-repeated myth about the Clinton administration is that although it was overly tough on crime back in the 1990s, at least its policies were good for the economy and for black unemployment rates. The truth is more troubling. As unemployment rates sank to historically low levels for white Americans in the 1990s, the jobless rate among black men in their 20s who didn’t have a college degree rose to its highest level ever. This increase in joblessness was propelled by the skyrocketing incarceration rate.

Why is this not common knowledge? Because government statistics like poverty and unemployment rates do not include incarcerated people. As Harvard sociologist Bruce Western explains: “Much of the optimism about declines in racial inequality and the power of the US model of economic growth is misplaced once we account for the invisible poor, behind the walls of America’s prisons and jails.” When Clinton left office in 2001, the true jobless rate for young, non-college-educated black men (including those behind bars) was 42 percent. This figure was never reported. Instead, the media claimed that unemployment rates for African Americans had fallen to record lows, neglecting to mention that this miracle was possible only because incarceration rates were now at record highs. Young black men weren’t looking for work at high rates during the Clinton era because they were now behind bars—out of sight, out of mind, and no longer counted in poverty and unemployment statistics.

To make matters worse, the federal safety net for poor families was torn to shreds by the Clinton administration in its effort to “end welfare as we know it.” In his 1996 State of the Union address, given during his re-election campaign, Clinton declared that “the era of big government is over” and immediately sought to prove it by dismantling the federal welfare system known as Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC). The welfare-reform legislation that he signed—which Hillary Clinton ardently supported then and characterized as a success as recently as 2008—replaced the federal safety net with a block grant to the states, imposed a five-year lifetime limit on welfare assistance, added work requirements, barred undocumented immigrants from licensed professions, and slashed overall public welfare funding by $54 billion (some was later restored).

Experts and pundits disagree about the true impact of welfare reform, but one thing seems clear: Extreme poverty doubled to 1.5 million in the decade and a half after the law was passed. What is extreme poverty? US households are considered to be in extreme poverty if they are surviving on cash incomes of no more than $2 per person per day in any given month. We tend to think of extreme poverty existing in Third World countries, but here in the United States, shocking numbers of people are struggling to survive on less money per month than many families spend in one evening dining out. Currently, the United States, the richest nation on the planet, has one of the highest child-poverty rates in the developed world.

Despite claims that radical changes in crime and welfare policy were driven by a desire to end big government and save taxpayer dollars, the reality is that the Clinton administration didn’t reduce the amount of money devoted to the management of the urban poor; it changed what the funds would be used for. Billions of dollars were slashed from public-housing and child-welfare budgets and transferred to the mass-incarceration machine. By 1996, the penal budget was twice the amount that had been allocated to food stamps. During Clinton’s tenure, funding for public housing was slashed by $17 billion (a reduction of 61 percent), while funding for corrections was boosted by $19 billion (an increase of 171 percent), according to sociologist Loïc Wacquant “effectively making the construction of prisons the nation’s main housing program for the urban poor.”

Bill Clinton championed discriminatory laws against formerly incarcerated people that have kept millions of Americans locked in a cycle of poverty and desperation. The Clinton administration eliminated Pell grants for prisoners seeking higher education to prepare for their release, supported laws denying federal financial aid to students with drug convictions, and signed legislation imposing a lifetime ban on welfare and food stamps for anyone convicted of a felony drug offense—an exceptionally harsh provision given the racially biased drug war that was raging in inner cities.

Perhaps most alarming, Clinton also made it easier for public-housing agencies to deny shelter to anyone with any sort of criminal history (even an arrest without conviction) and championed the “one strike and you’re out” initiative, which meant that families could be evicted from public housing because one member (or a guest) had committed even a minor offense. People released from prison with no money, no job, and nowhere to go could no longer return home to their loved ones living in federally assisted housing without placing the entire family at risk of eviction. Purging “the criminal element” from public housing played well on the evening news, but no provisions were made for people and families as they were forced out on the street. By the end of Clinton’s presidency, more than half of working-age African-American men in many large urban areas were saddled with criminal records and subject to legalized discrimination in employment, housing, access to education, and basic public benefits—relegated to a permanent second-class status eerily reminiscent of Jim Crow.

It is difficult to overstate the damage that’s been done. Generations have been lost to the prison system; countless families have been torn apart or rendered homeless; and a school-to-prison pipeline has been born that shuttles young people from their decrepit, underfunded schools to brand-new high-tech prisons.

It didn’t have to be like this. As a nation, we had a choice. Rather than spending billions of dollars constructing a vast new penal system, those billions could have been spent putting young people to work in inner-city communities and investing in their schools so they might have some hope of making the transition from an industrial to a service-based economy. Constructive interventions would have been good not only for African Americans trapped in ghettos, but for blue-collar workers of all colors. At the very least, Democrats could have fought to prevent the further destruction of black communities rather than ratcheting up the wars declared on them.

Of course, it can be said that it’s unfair to criticize the Clintons for punishing black people so harshly, given that many black people were on board with the “get tough” movement too. It is absolutely true that black communities back then were in a state of crisis, and that many black activists and politicians were desperate to get violent offenders off the streets. What is often missed, however, is that most of those black activists and politicians weren’t asking only for toughness. They were also demanding investment in their schools, better housing, jobs programs for young people, economic-stimulus packages, drug treatment on demand, and better access to healthcare. In the end, they wound up with police and prisons. To say that this was what black people wanted is misleading at best.

To be fair, the Clintons now feel bad about how their politics and policies have worked out for black people. Bill says that he “overshot the mark” with his crime policies; and Hillary has put forth a plan to ban racial profiling, eliminate the sentencing disparities between crack and cocaine, and abolish private prisons, among other measures.

But what about a larger agenda that would not just reverse some of the policies adopted during the Clinton era, but would rebuild the communities decimated by them? If you listen closely here, you’ll notice that Hillary Clinton is still singing the same old tune in a slightly different key. She is arguing that we ought not be seduced by Bernie’s rhetoric because we must be “pragmatic,” “face political realities,” and not get tempted to believe that we can fight for economic justice and win. When politicians start telling you that it is “unrealistic” to support candidates who want to build a movement for greater equality, fair wages, universal healthcare, and an end to corporate control of our political system, it’s probably best to leave the room.

This is not an endorsement for Bernie Sanders, who after all voted for the 1994 crime bill. I also tend to agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates that the way the Sanders campaign handled the question of reparations is one of many signs that Bernie doesn’t quite get what’s at stake in serious dialogues about racial justice. He was wrong to dismiss reparations as “divisive,” as though centuries of slavery, segregation, discrimination, ghettoization, and stigmatization aren’t worthy of any specific acknowledgement or remedy.

But recognizing that Bernie, like Hillary, has blurred vision when it comes to race is not the same thing as saying their views are equally problematic. Sanders opposed the 1996 welfare-reform law. He also opposed bank deregulation and the Iraq War, both of which Hillary supported, and both of which have proved disastrous. In short, there is such a thing as a lesser evil, and Hillary is not it.

The biggest problem with Bernie, in the end, is that he’s running as a Democrat—as a member of a political party that not only capitulated to right-wing demagoguery but is now owned and controlled by a relatively small number of millionaires and billionaires. Yes, Sanders has raised millions from small donors, but should he become president, he would also become part of what he has otherwise derided as “the establishment.” Even if Bernie’s racial-justice views evolve, I hold little hope that a political revolution will occur within the Democratic Party without a sustained outside movement forcing truly transformational change. I am inclined to believe that it would be easier to build a new party than to save the Democratic Party from itself.

Of course, the idea of building a new political party terrifies most progressives, who understandably fear that it would open the door for a right-wing extremist to get elected. So we play the game of lesser evils. This game has gone on for decades. W.E.B. Du Bois, the eminent scholar and co-founder of the NAACP, shocked many when he refused to play along with this game in the 1956 election, defending his refusal to vote on the grounds that “there is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I do or say.” While the true losers and winners of this game are highly predictable, the game of lesser evils makes for great entertainment and can now be viewed 24 hours a day on cable-news networks. Hillary believes that she can win this game in 2016 because this time she’s got us, the black vote, in her back pocket—her lucky card.

She may be surprised to discover that the younger generation no longer wants to play her game. Or maybe not. Maybe we’ll all continue to play along and pretend that we don’t know how it will turn out in the end. Hopefully, one day, we’ll muster the courage to join together in a revolutionary movement with people of all colors who believe that basic human rights and economic, racial, and gender justice are not unreasonable, pie-in-the-sky goals. After decades of getting played, the sleeping giant just might wake up, stretch its limbs, and tell both parties: Game over. Move aside. It’s time to reshuffle this deck.

 

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/why-hillary-clinton-doesnt-deserve-black-vote?akid=13966.265072.p80thZ&rd=1&src=newsletter1050560&t=8

US Supreme Court justice argues black students should attend inferior schools

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By Tom Carter
12 December 2015

The US Supreme Court heard extended arguments December 9 regarding the validity of an affirmative action program at the University of Texas.

The case and the arguments, which were significant in themselves, were overshadowed by a provocative and racist diatribe by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in which he claimed that black students would be better off in “less-advanced” and “slower-track” schools.

“There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school, where they do well,” Scalia said.

Scalia claimed that “most of the black scientists in this country” come from “lesser schools” where they were not “pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”

Repeatedly interrupting the attorney who was trying to argue the case, Scalia went on to declare that he was “not impressed by the fact that the University of Texas may have fewer” black students if certain affirmative action policies were discontinued. “Maybe it ought to have fewer,” he said.

Scalia’s words were carefully chosen—doubtless prepared in advance—as a direct appeal to racists. This is language that has not been heard in Supreme Court for decades, and the attorneys arguing the case were evidently stunned. The lawyer representing the University of Texas pointed out that this was essentially a proposal to send minorities to “inferior schools.”

Scalia’s words are an echo of the darkest days in the court’s history, when it upheld racial segregation in the infamous case of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), and chattel slavery in the Dred Scott case (1857).

It is significant that Scalia made his remarks in a case that originated in Texas. Annexed in 1845, Texas was a slave state and its regiments fought for the Confederacy. For a century after the end of the Civil War, the state constituted a bastion of Jim Crow apartheid, and Texas officialdom to this day remains a cesspool of Christian fundamentalism, bigotry, and corruption. It is clear that Scalia’s remarks are directed at those sections of American society that never fully accepted the civil rights reforms.

Scalia’s racist remarks came only two days after Republican candidate Donald Trump’s call to close the country’s borders to all Muslims. Scalia no doubt feels emboldened by this political climate.

The case being argued before the Supreme Court was Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a prolonged and complicated lawsuit that was argued in the Supreme Court once before in 2012. The lead plaintiff in the case is Abigail Fisher, a white high school graduate who was denied admission to the university in 2008, her attorneys alleged, because of racial preferences.

Fisher was not admitted on the basis of the “Top Ten Percent Law,” which guarantees university admission to the top 10 percent of each high school class in Texas. Accordingly, she was one of 17,131 applicants for the remaining 1,216 positions at the university, who were subject to a “holistic” and “race-conscious” review that included racial preferences. Fisher alleged that she had higher academic scores and qualifications than other students who were admitted. She had a 3.59 grade point average (out of 4.0) and a class ranking of 82nd out of 674 students at her high school (ranking among the top 12 percent).

When the Supreme Court previously heard the case, it decided that the racial preferences (called “affirmative action” in America) that lower courts had upheld at the University of Texas had been given “undue deference” and should have been subjected to more exacting scrutiny. It upheld affirmative action in an abstract sense, and remanded the case back to the lower courts for more factual findings and analysis.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the University of Texas affirmative action regime twice, in each case finding that the university takes race into account as a legitimate part of a “holistic” review process, which aims for a generally diverse student body. Fisher’s attorneys argued that it was still a violation of Fisher’s individual constitutional rights for the university to take her race into account, in effect denying admission to Fisher because she is white.

The Fisher case once again underscores the extent to which affirmative action policies have become integrated into the framework of the state and the corporate-military-political establishment. Sixty-seven amicus curiae (friend of court) briefs favored the university, with only sixteen supporting Fisher.

The briefs revealed broad support from within the ruling class for affirmative action. One such filing—by “Fortune-100 and Other Leading Businesses”—emphatically defended affirmative action from the standpoint of maximizing profits. These businesses, “who collectively generate revenues in the trillions of dollars,” have hiring practices that mirror the university’s admissions policies, which they consider “critical to their business success.” Diversity, they argue, is “associated with increased sales revenue, more customers, greater market share, and greater relative profits.” In other words, promoting minorities to positions as “business leaders” is profitable.

Another amicus brief was filed on behalf of 36 military leaders, including “four Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, two Army Chiefs of Staff, a Chief of Naval Operations, two Air Force Chiefs of Staff, two commanders of Special Operations Command, five military academy superintendents, a former U.S. Senator and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, and the first female 4-star in the U.S. military.”

These military officials considered “this case as critical to the Armed Forces’ ability to defend our Nation’s security, because that ability depends on an officer corps consisting of our best qualified, able, and racially diverse leaders.” They pointed to the phenomenon of “fragging” during the Vietnam War, during which “many black troops lost confidence in the military.” Affirmative action policies at universities, they argue, provide the military with a pool from which to recruit black officers, which in turn improve the “legitimacy and effectiveness of our military as an institution in the eyes of minority service members and society at-large.”

The military leaders also argued that having black officers helped the military recruit from black neighborhoods. The Obama administration’s brief similarly argued, “Maintaining a pipeline of well-prepared and diverse officer candidates is…an urgent military priority.”

The Obama administration went on to argue that “our military leaders have concluded that an officer corps that shares the diversity of the enlisted ranks improves performance by ‘facilitating greater confidence’ in leadership.”

It goes without saying that there is nothing remotely left-wing about any of these arguments for affirmative action.

In Wednesday’s arguments, the ostensibly liberal justices twisted themselves into knots to try to justify the ever-more convoluted maze of legal fictions surrounding affirmative action, which in the final analysis involves denying admission to students like Fisher on the basis of race. The reactionary justices advanced openly right-wing arguments for abolishing affirmative action at the University of Texas or abolishing it in general. Various intermediate positions were taken and compromises were proposed. After more than an hour of oral argument it was clear that none of the positions on this spectrum have any progressive content, and none of them constitute anything resembling a program of genuine social equality.

Affirmative action in America is not about social equality. As its defenders on the Supreme Court make clear, it is about fostering a “diverse elite,” which the population will regard as “legitimate.”

“High-ranking retired officers and civilian military leaders assert that a highly qualified, racially diverse officer corps is essential to national security,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in 2003 in support of affirmative action policies.

“In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry,” O’Connor continued, “it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity.”

In other words, the point of affirmative action is not to abolish an unfair and unequal social system. The point is to preserve an unfair and unequal social system by bringing a privileged layer of minorities into “visible” positions in the military, the government, academia and business, in order to make the system appear more “legitimate.” Not one more student receives a university education as a result of affirmative action policies; instead these policies force students to compete with each other for limited positions based on racial preferences.

The reactionary justices, led by Scalia, exploit the undemocratic character of racial preferences to posture as proponents of fair and “race-neutral” policies. However, Scalia’s comments Wednesday expose these pretensions. The reactionary justices would be happy to roll back all of the democratic reforms that have been implemented over the past century, and are only seeking to take advantage of the resentments generated by “race-conscious” policies.

The comments of Trump and Scalia over the past week pose even more sharply a question of major concern to students, workers, and youth: how are racism and bigotry to be eradicated? To answer that question it is necessary to examine these phenomena objectively.

For the theorists of the pseudo-left, racism and bigotry are primarily a psychological phenomenon, rooted in the “white male psyche,” in “white privilege,” and so forth. Their program flows from these conceptions: race-based identity politics, diversity training, more racial preferences, increased oversight by the state apparatus, and more “opportunities” for minorities to get rich within the framework of capitalism. On the basis of the conception that race is the fundamental social category, the pseudo-left widely endorsed Barack Obama, one of the most reactionary presidents in American history, on the basis of his skin color.

Socialists understand that the decisive dividing line in society is class, not race. Racism and other backward prejudices are promoted and encouraged by the capitalist class and intensified in the imperialist epoch. The capitalist class dredges up the ideological filth of the past to divide the working class and to stampede popular support behind policies that benefit the ruling class, and which could not otherwise be justified. This is the class content of racism and bigotry.

Anti-Muslim hysteria, in particular, provides a clear example of this phenomenon. Hatred against Muslims is being deliberately promoted by the imperialist ruling classes around the world in order to justify domestic crackdowns and military aggression abroad, as part of the phony “war on terror.” Contrast the response in broad sections of the international working class to the Syrian refugee crisis—compassion, hospitality, and demonstrations for better treatment—with the attempts by political leaders to whip up fear and hatred.

In the US, the figure of Donald Trump expresses perfectly the relationship between imperialism and bigotry. The billionaire parasite, like every aspiring fascist politician before him, seeks to generate support for his policies by appealing to xenophobia, misogyny, racism, and religious bigotry. For socialists, the fight against Trump means shutting down the machine that produces Trumps—capitalism.

Imperialism, Lenin explained, is “reaction all down the line.” The ugly reappearance of open racism in American politics, including on the Supreme Court, is a process parallel to the abrogation of democratic rights, the plundering of the economy, the shift towards dictatorship, and fifteen years of military aggression and brinksmanship.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/12/12/scal-d12.html

 

The Baltimore upheaval: On race and class in America

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12 May 2015

In the aftermath of the eruption of anger in Baltimore, Maryland over the police killing of Freddie Gray, the media and political establishment are seeking to conceal the real social and political issues at stake.

The killing of 25-year-old Gray last month—only one of the latest in a wave of police murders around the country—triggered clashes with police, demonstrations that spread to other cities and a police-military occupation of the city that was only lifted last week. While Gray’s murder was the catalyst, the scope and magnitude of the social discontent was fueled by the destitute conditions confronting working-class youth in the city’s poorest, largely minority, neighborhoods.

Much of the political elite that runs Baltimore is African American, including the current mayor, police chief and the majority of the city council. Although this fact has seriously undermined the arguments of the proponents of identity politics, it has not stopped them from insisting once again that the essential division in American society is race, not class.

On Sunday, the New York Times published a lead editorial, “How Racism Doomed Baltimore.” The newspaper, which sets the tone for what is described as “liberal public opinion” in America, declared that conditions in the city could only be understood within the context of the city’s legacy of racism and segregation.

“Americans might think of Maryland as a Northern state, but it was distinctly Southern in its attitudes toward race,” the Times editorialists write before giving a potted history of the state, from efforts to disenfranchise black voters in 1905 to more contemporary examples of racial segregation in public housing.

The desperate condition of young low-income men, the newspaper says, cannot be understood outside of the context of the “century-long assault that Baltimore’s blacks have endured at the hands of local, state and federal policy makers, all of whom worked to quarantine black residents in ghettos, making it difficult even for people of means to move into integrated areas that offered better jobs, schools and lives for their children.”

The “tensions associated with segregation and concentrated poverty place many cities at risk of unrest. But the acute nature of segregation in Baltimore—and the tools that were developed to enforce it over such a long period of time—have left an indelible mark and given that city a singular place in the country’s racial history.”

That Baltimore, like many cities in the north and the south, had a history of racial segregation is of course true. However, if a reader of this column were not familiar with the politics of Baltimore, they might be excused for believing the city is run by the Ku Klux Klan and that its police force is made up of Night Riders covered in white sheets.

The Times does not mention that the political establishment in the city is predominantly African American, or that half of the Baltimore Police Department is black. Indeed, three of the six cops indicted for Gray’s killing, including the driver of the police van charged with murder, are African American.

The relentless police violence in Baltimore stems not from racism but from class oppression, which the black politicians defend no less than their white counterparts. Unable to contain her hatred and fear of the city’s youth after sporadic rioting erupted the day of Gray’s funeral, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake declared, “Too many people have spent generations building up the city for it to be destroyed by thugs who are trying to tear down what so many fought for. They are tearing down businesses, destroying property.”

Rawlings-Blake speaks for a whole layer of wealthy African Americans who have a stake in defending their property and wealth and overseeing a system that produces ever-greater poverty for black and white workers alike. This corrupt social layer includes countless academics, politicians, preachers, millionaire “civil rights” leaders and black entrepreneurs who have benefited from government funding for minority-owned businesses and African American university programs.

Alongside the Times are various pseudo-left organizations that have long promoted identity politics in order to subordinate the interests of workers and youth to the Democratic Party. They represent the strivings of a segment of the upper middle class that uses the politics of race, gender and sexual identity as part of efforts to gain more of a share of the wealth exploited from the working class.

With angry youth in the streets of Baltimore denouncing the mayor and other black officials, the International Socialist Organization (ISO)—which hailed Obama’s 2008 election as a “transformative event in US politics, as an African American takes the highest office in a country built on slavery”—has suddenly discovered a “black elite” whose interests are at odds with the majority of minority workers and youth.

The problem, however, is that these “black elected officials” defend the “racist system!”

The ISO’s Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor—an assistant professor in Princeton’s African American studies department—tells us, “Black elected officials have largely governed in the same way as their white counterparts, reflecting all of the racism, corruption and policies favoring the wealthy seen throughout mainstream politics.” This “powerful Black political class,” she continues, “helps to deflect a serious interrogation of structural inequality and institutional racism.”

In other words, the problem is, according to Taylor, that the black politicians are simply not aggressive enough in their promotion of identity politics. Never does she suggest that there is a fundamental unity of interests between black and white workers.

The New York Times, the ISO—which is essentially an auxiliary agent of the Democratic Party—and the political establishment as a whole are determined to prevent any real examination of the social and economic structure of America because they all defend the capitalist system, which is the source of poverty and police brutality.

It has been 50 years since the Watts Rebellion in Los Angeles, one of the first of a wave of urban uprisings across the United States in the 1960s. The call made in the 1968 Kerner Commission on Civil Disorders for massive government spending to stop the country’s drift towards racial and economic polarization was never realized. Instead, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” programs gave way to massive outlays for the Vietnam War, with politicians declaring that it was impossible to provide “guns and butter.”

The five decades that have elapsed have seen the deindustrialization of major manufacturing centers like Baltimore, combined with an unrelenting destruction of social programs. At the same time, sections of the African American upper-middle-class have been elevated into positions of privilege and power.

By the time of Bill Clinton’s election in 1992, the Democratic Party had completely repudiated its association with the reforms of the New Deal and Great Society periods. Clinton gutted welfare programs to provide an ample supply of cheap labor for the rich, including a growing layer of black capitalists, and passed the 1994 Federal Crime Bill, with its notorious “three strikes” provision that has helped create the largest prison population in the world.

Since taking office Obama has only escalated these reactionary policies. Today the American ruling class will not even provide “guns and water,” as tens of thousands of low-income residents in Baltimore and Detroit are seeing their water service shut off for unpaid bills. The only “urban policy” Obama and the ruling class have is to try to contain the explosive social tensions with police military repression.

Whatever role racism might play in any particular act of police violence, the events in Baltimore expose the fact that above all class is the determining factor. With nothing to offer masses of people, the political and media representatives of the ruling class, along with the upper-middle-class boosters, are determined to block the development of a politically conscious and united movement of black, white and immigrant workers and youth against the profit system.

Jerry White

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/05/12/pers-m12.html