Joint and massive mobilizations

With so much at stake and the margin so thin between victory and defeat or, to put it differently, between political progress or severe political retrogression, one would think that the diverse coalition that elected President Biden and its movers and shakers would be engaged in massive joint actions in support of his domestic agenda. I said a few months ago that the present and future prospects of that coalition, not to mention the country, depend on the success of the Biden administration in legislating its domestic agenda – infrastructure renewal to voting rights to jobs to union rights to criminal justice and immigration reform to climate action and more – in the face of fierce Republican opposition. That is still true.

To paraphrase Marx, the weapon of criticism and insider lobbying at this moment should take a back seat to the weapon of joint and massive mobilizations in support of the legislative measures of the administration, which will, in turn, position Democrats to increase their congressional majorities in the elections next year.

Herein lies the core element of the “independent” role of the broader movement at this moment, not critiquing from the sideline, not each exclusively engaged in their own separate initiatives, as good as they may be.

On the Tulsa Massacre

It may not have been the proximate cause, but I have to think that the economic, social, cultural, and intellectual vibrancy of Tulsa’s Black community gave the racist massacre in Tulsa in 1921 an intensity seldom seen. It must have been a too unambiguous refutation of the Big LIe of racism, that is, African American people are innately inferior, for the Black  community in Tulsa’s Greenwood District not to escape the wrath of white racists in high as well as low places in Tulsa.

After all, this lie is the ideological underpinning of a whole system and structure of racism as well as the rationale for white privilege, corporate superprofits, and warmaking. Though the rationalizations for racism and inequality evolve and adapt to new circumstances, if you dig down enough – and in many instances you don’t have to dig down very far – you will still find the false notion of Black inferiority at the ground floor legitimizing racist practices, policies, and structures.

But the varied and notable achievements of African American in the Greenwood neighborhood gave lie to this Big Lie. By the force of their creative labor and intellectual acumen, Black Tulsans demonstrated for all to see that they were every bit as equal – and then some – to white Tulsans. And white Tulsans for their part couldn’t abide that reality, a reality which was so contrary to their understanding of the world and their place in it.

Or to put it differently, they couldn’t adjust their thinking to this historical reversal. The thought didn’t elicit admiration from them, but racist fury. And what followed was not only a racist assault on African Americans in Tulsa, but a total war to annihilate the Greenwood District in toto and then to erase this bloody massacre from our collective memory. To a large degree, they were successful. If the Tulsa massacre had any place in our memory, it was as a “race riot,” not worthy of national attention or remembrance.

That’s beginning to change, and no doubt President Biden’s appearance and speech in Tulsa helps out in that regard. But one day of witness is only a beginning. Much more needs to be done, including teaching the role, function, and history of white racism to white Americans.

A class divided … so what?

The split within the contemporary U.S. ruling class is, like the Pacific, wide, deep, and turbulent. To find a similar specimen, I would say, requires a reach back to the early 1930s. At that time, the ruling class was riven by division and the singular event that precipitated it was the onset of the Great Depression and the contending views within these circles and across society as to the efficacy of a model of capital accumulation and political governance dominant at that time and how to escape its clutches.

Today’s split is traceable, not to one overarching event, but, in my mind, to a number of shape shifting events over roughly a decade. The first was the near total meltdown of the global economy in 2008 and the slow recovery that followed. Only with the Biden administration in the White House and governing is it becoming apparent how shape shifting an event the Great Recession and its aftermath were at every level of society. Capitalist globalization, financialization and neoliberalism weren’t unceremoniously whisked away never to see the light of day again, but their role and legitimacy as the dominant vehicles and modalities to organize the economy and structure politics came under intense scrutiny so much so that a look for economic alternatives began in earnest among sections of the ruling class.

Close on its heels came the historic, and, to many, unexpected election of the first African American, Barack Obama, to the presidency. While tens of millions rightly celebrated this cracking of the wall of racist exclusion, it soon became clear that many others didn’t at the mass level and in elite circles. They met the electron of the first Black president – and not only in the moment – with chilling racist anger and an irreconcilable revanchist spirit.

The evolution of the Republican Party into a hard right wing, anti-democratic instrument of white supremacist authoritarian rule further aggravated divisions in the ruling class. Gone from the Trump dominated Republican Party is any pretense of winning a popular majority or commitment to democratic norms, rights, and governance or even a preference for a democratic form of capitalism. Instead, minority rule by any means necessary, including bloody insurrection as we saw on January 6, unrelieved exploitation, xenophobia, and white supremacy, always in the bloodstream of U.S. politics, have become the governing staples of the party of Trump and a section of the U.S capitalist class.

The existential nature and consequences of climate change over the past decade have fractured the ruling class as well. One the one hand, powerful concentrations of capital – low road capitalists – are wedded to older and dirtier (fossil fuel) production systems and products that ravage the environment and ecosystem, while, on the other hand, other concentrations of capital – high road capitalists – employing new technologies and developing new products make them protagonists for a transition to a less fossil dependent – even fossil free – and equitable economy.

Finally, the scale, depth, and political character of democratic and class struggles intensified over the decade and predictably caused rifts in ruling circles.  The candidacy of Bernie Sanders, the women’s march, the election interventions of a broad democratic coalition in 2018 and 2020, the shift of the center of gravity of the Democratic Party in a progressive direction, the massive uprising in reaction to the police assassination of George Floyd, and, not least, the election of Joe Biden couldn’t help but exacerbate intra class contradictions.

Broadly speaking, two different responses to this tangle of events (or social processes) are evident. One grouping of the ruling class energetically pursues a politics steeped in white nationalism, plutocratic authoritarianism, hatred for equality and difference, climate denialism, militarism, and a relativisation of truth and meaning. Domination and dictatorship not hegemony is the lifeblood of this section of the ruling class.

The other gravitates towards a renovated capitalism, that is more egalitarian, democratic, ecologically sustainable, and responsive to popular democratic desires and pressures that have notably grown over the decade in scope, depth. This grouping of the political and economic elite embraces reforms that only a year or two ago it would consider anathema. This cat hasn’t changed colors, but it purrs and moves to a new beat.

This split is (or should be) of more than academic interest to any individual, movement, coalition, and parties that have an interest in a more just, egalitarian, and sustainable world. Ignoring it would be folly and self destructive. The movements in the 1930s didn’t make such a mistake. They rightly adjusted their strategy and tactics to take into account these differences. Class against class was replaced by a cross class coalition stretching from FDR to the Communist Party, searching for a new model of economic organization and political governance (out of which came Social Keynesianism) and committed to the imperative of unity and joint action. Let us hope that today’s movement has such wisdom!

Matching changes in tactics

In the 1930s, the left in the midst of a worldwide economic crisis adjusted its strategic policy to take into account the rise of German fascism abroad and the growth of plutocratic right wing extremism at home – not to mention an exploding economic crisis. But what goes unmentioned is the effectiveness of those strategic adjustments by the left (and progressive movements) at that time turned on a tactical reset as well. Without the latter, without tactics that accented cross class and multi-racial unity, the former, that is, the popular front strategy, would only limp along – sapped, as it were, of its ability to bring to life the sort of expansive, energetic, and diverse coalition that was absolutely necessary to meet the challenges of those times.

Much the same could be said today. In other words, strategic adjustments to today’s unprecedented and exceedingly dangerous circumstances are to be welcomed, but by themselves aren’t enough. What has to accompany them are matching changes at the tactical level that would facilitate the deepening and broadening of an expansive and diverse coalition and, in turn, practical action. To a degree this happened in the lead up to last fall’s election, but more, tactically speaking, needs to be done to facilitate the further building of a broad, diverse, and multi-racial coalition that matches the challenges and dangers of this moment.

A glass of beer on Memorial Day

(I post this on my blog every Memorial Day to remember my two friends who died in the Vietnam War. SW)

Today, I will again drink a glass of beer in memory of my two friends and their comrades who died in Vietnam.

I honor them without honoring the aggressive and unjust war in which they fought. I don’t know their reasons for joining the military, maybe it was simply that the draft gave them no choice, but it really doesn’t matter now. What I do know is that their lives were cruelly cut short.

As a young peace activist in the late 60s, I probably didn’t always make a distinction between the soldiers fighting the war and the war itself. The soldier and the general were equally responsible as I saw it. But I think differently now. I place the main responsibility for war on its architects in high places and a social system – capitalism – whose logic is to expand, dominate, and, when necessary, make war.

Ricky and Cotter were near the bottom of the food chain of war making, nothing but cannon fodder. They were working class kids whose lives didn’t count for much in our government’s war plans. Neither was born with a silver spoon in their mouths, which is why they ended up with a gun in their hands so far away from their hometowns.

I will always wonder what kind of lives they would have lived had they safely returned. With no hero’s welcome, no counseling waiting for them, no easy slide into a well paying job, I can’t help but wonder if they would have had the internal resources and external support to come to terms with their war experience and live productive lives?

After all, they were not that much different than me, and I have no confidence that I could have. It was hard enough to grow up at that time without a tour of duty in Vietnam on my emotional resume. I wish, though, that they had that chance. I wish their lives hadn’t been senselessly erased doing things that no one should do. I wish they had the opportunity to live long and joyful lives.

I miss them. I celebrate them. They were “my buddies.” I wish they could join me for a beer today, although knowing them a single beer wouldn’t quite satisfy them. Or me.

I also hope that we could toast to the millions in our generation who opposed the war as well their comrades who also never made it back from Vietnam. Both deserve to be honored.

Finally, I like to think that the three of us could clink glasses to the people of Vietnam who suffered so much during and after the war, and are now rebuilding their country in conditions of peace. Maybe that would be too much to expect. Unfortunately, I will never know. They will join me only in memory this afternoon, as I wash down a glass of beer.

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