Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 17, 2020

The background to the NY Times article on Adolph Reed Jr. and the “cancelled” meeting

Filed under: Black Lives Matter,class-reductionism,DSA — louisproyect @ 7:37 pm

Adolph Reed Jr.

On August 14, NY Times sports reporter Michael Powell weighed in on the virtual meeting for Adolph Reed Jr. that fell through in May after DSA’s Afrosocialists and Socialists of Color Caucus demanded a debate instead. On June 12, Reed and co-thinker Walter Benn Michaels did an interview with Bellows magazine in which Reed stated that he did not need the stress of listening to hostile comments in a virtual meeting, so he decided to withdraw.

The left has been trying to figure out why the Times decided to report on this controversy, with many concluding that it was an attempt by the paper to weaken our movement. Since the NY Times has been one of the biggest supporters of the DSA, this seems unlikely to me. My guess is that they were simply trying to sell newspapers since this “cancel culture” business has been hot ever since the Harper’s Open Letter. They have mined this culture wars vein in the past with ample coverage of Alan Sokal’s spoof, for example.

One can understand why Bellows would have provided a friendly platform for Reed and Michaels. Self-described as an online Marxist magazine, it has the same contrarian bullheadedness as Reed and Michaels. Just check an article on the home page titled “The New Cultural Revolution” that describes the George Floyd protests as a conspiracy orchestrated by “transnational capital and its petit bourgeois enforcers”. Although I haven’t had time to check all the content on Bellows, it strikes me as a leftwing version of Quillette. Reed might have thought twice about being interviewed by a Quillette contributor like Matt Taibbi did but perhaps Bellows has less of a reek about it.

The clash between Reed and DSA’s Black caucus was to be expected. This has been a simmering dispute since 2017 when Reed went for their jugular on Adam Proctor’s Dead Pundits Society podcast to talk about “Race, Class and the DSA”. The bulk of it was an attack on the resolution the caucus submitted to the 2017 DSA convention that endorsed BLM and reparations, both of which Reed considers a roadblock to building class unity.

Basically, Proctor, an ideologue in the Dustin Guastella mode, and Reed saw eye-to-eye on what a threat the resolution was to the DSA’s social democratic agenda. There was no pretension about the term democratic socialism in their conversation. Both men expressed deep nostalgia for Bayard Rustin and agreed that the left took a wrong turn in 1965 when it abandoned social democracy for black power. As is generally the case with these ritual bows to Rustin, there is no attention paid to his refusal to support the seating of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the 1964 DP convention or Rustin keeping mum on the Vietnam War in order to placate wealthy liberal donors and trade union bureaucrats.

Reed dismissed BLM as inconsequential and having no organic ties to the Black community. If they weren’t happy with the class-unity, social democratic strategy of the DSA, they should just get out, to use Jordan Peele’s terminology. The best thing for this “little authoritarian enclave” is to have their caucus dissolved and its members disseminated into class-based efforts by the DSA such as ringing doorbells for democratic socialist candidates.

Adam Proctor makes no efforts to be respectful to BLM activists or Black caucus members. He favors a scorched earth approach even more brutal than Reed’s, describing the caucus as immersed in “melatonin” politics. He is cozy with people like Amber A’Lee Frost and Angela Nagle who joined him in a discussion of “How the left got lost in puritanism and in-group policing and the right took advantage.” In other words, the same agenda as Thomas Chatterton Williams and Matt Taibbi. If that wasn’t bad enough, he allowed Rania Khalek and Ben Norton to hold forth on “How Kinky are Salafists In Syria?”. They must had a thousand laughs about bombing hospitals and killing tens of thousands of men in Sednaya Prison.

One of the interesting points made by Michael Powell was about Reed’s co-thinkers who “see the current emphasis in the culture on race-based politics as a dead-end.” One of them is Bhaskar Sunkara. Since that is explicitly a barb aimed at BLM, Sunkara must have a short memory in light of what he wrote in “The Socialist Manifesto”:

Now history seemed to be repeating itself in Ferguson: Wilson absurdly maintained he felt like a “five-year-old” next to Brown’s “Hulk Hogan” and said he fired to protect his life. Less than a day later, Ferguson was gripped by massive protests that turned into violent confrontations at night as police tried to disperse the demonstrations. The actions lasted for weeks and inspired solidarity protests in cities around the country.

This was the inaugural moment of the nation-wide Movement for Black Lives (MBL), which called for an end to racist law enforcement. MBL challenged accepted realities about state violence and harassment faced by black Americans. After Ferguson, as unarmed people continued to die at the hands of US police—with some of it caught on cell phone cameras similar protests rocked cities like Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Chicago, and New York. The demands advanced by the protesters in Ferguson and their counterparts around the country—including an end to police impunity and the creation of poverty-alleviation programs in black neighborhoods—were broadly social-democratic and garnered widespread sympathy.

So BLM raised demands that “were broadly social-democratic and garnered widespread sympathy.” How deep was Sunkara’s analysis if he could change politics like underwear? Was it a good marketing choice to extol MBL (same as BLM) in his book and now a better one to write it off? Since the guy’s main goal in life is to build a publishing empire, I can’t say I blame him.

While Michael Powell does not end up squarely in the Harper’s open letter camp, it is clear that his goal is to portray Reed as a victim of cancel culture:

Amid murmurs that opponents might crash his Zoom talk, Professor Reed and D.S.A. leaders agreed to cancel it, a striking moment as perhaps the nation’s most powerful Socialist organization rejected a Black Marxist professor’s talk because of his views on race.

The truth, of course, is that they called for a debate that clearly the organizers would not have agreed to. As I said above, Reed dropped out because he didn’t want to deal with hostile comments in a virtual meeting.

Yesterday, Roger Berkowitz, a Bard professor who signed the Harper’s letter, understood Powell’s intentions even if most of the left could not. He wrote:

If you want an example of the inability to see the absurdity of a situation and a complete aversion to reality, the story of how the Democratic Socialists of America have canceled a speech by Adolph Reed is at the top of the list. Reed grew up in the segregated South and organized poor Black people and war resisters. He has been a leading socialist fighter for the rights and dignity of the poor. And he is an esteemed professor. But Reed’s belief that the root of oppression today is based in poverty rather than race runs afoul of contemporary pieties. As Michael Powell explains, this has led to the truly unreal situation where he has been prevented from speaking to the Democratic Socialists.

His article concluded: “Amid murmurs that opponents might crash his Zoom talk, Professor Reed and D.S.A. leaders agreed to cancel it, a striking moment as perhaps the nation’s most powerful Socialist organization rejected a Black Marxist professor’s talk because of his views on race.”

What’s apparent to me is an inability of the DSA to have clarity around these issues, which is the function of its unresolved position on race/class. I can see at least three distinct outlooks. The Black caucus sees things pretty much in the way that revolutionary socialists have viewed them going back to the time of Lenin. Reed spent a fair amount of time scoffing at the idea of self-determination for Black America that was popular in the 1960s. Where are the borders of their country, he laughed. In 1920, Lenin wrote a resolution for the Comintern that stated “All communist parties must directly support the revolutionary movement among the nations that are dependent and do not have equal rights (for example Ireland, the Negroes in America, and so forth), and in the colonies.” As for trying to make sense of how this applies to the USA today and BLM, I would only say that having a mass movement that focuses on specific Black demands is much more in line with the Comintern than Reed’s Bayard Rustin platitudes.

Probably, the big majority of the DSA goes along with the sort of analysis found on the Bread and Roses website and in magazines like In These Times and Jacobin (excluding the Reed and Cedric Johnson junk). They support any movement against racism but, like Reed and Sunkara, feel that the most effective strategy is finding demands that are in the interest of Black and white workers alike.

Finally, you have the Philly DSA and the LES DSA branch that sponsored Reed’s talk. They are totally into the whole Bayard Rustin nostalgia trip. Let them take that ride while the rest of us move forward to socialist revolution.

August 16, 2020

Socially Relevant Film Festival documentaries on Black Voices

Filed under: Black Lives Matter,Film — louisproyect @ 3:12 pm

I will be moderating the Black Voices panels on Monday and Tuesday. More information at https://www.ratedsrfilms.org/.

August 12, 2020

How leftist conspiracy-mongers ended up on the same side of the barricade as the alt-right

Filed under: Black Lives Matter,conspiracism,COVID-19,Donald Trump,Fascism,Trump — louisproyect @ 6:29 pm

Why would anybody in their right mind think that a color revolution conspiracy was targeting him?

That is what totalitarianism is, this desire to establish complete control over everything and everyone, every thought, emotion, and human interaction. The character of its ideology changes (i.e., Nazism, Stalinism, Maoism, etc.), but this desire for complete control over people, over society, and ultimately life itself, is the essence of totalitarianism … and what has taken over the minds of the New Normals.

–CJ Hopkins

This is not the benign, Bernie Sanders, work-within-the-system-type socialism. This is Bolshevism, there’s a big difference. The smoldering downtown corridor and the ruined lives of thousands of merchants attests to that difference. What we’re seeing is the resolute actions of a thoroughly-committed group of violent extremists who want to obliterate the system and impose their own vision of socialism.

–Mike Whitney


These are excerpts from articles that appeared on The Unz Review website, named after its owner Ron Unz. I can’t provide the links since it has been banned on Facebook for promoting white supremacy, we can assume. You will find the articles by concatenating unz and com. Once there, you can do a search on both of the authors above and the articles will show up. Hopkins’s “new normals” is a reference to the people protesting against the cops, whose side he takes. As for Whitney, he is against rioting even though most of the protests against George Floyd have been peaceful. This smear, of course, is straight out of Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson.

It is important to understand that Ron Unz’s website is one of the most prominent neo-Nazi websites with a ranking of 15,537 on Alexa. That’s six times as much traffic as Stormfront, which ranks 96,704 as a long-time promoter of holocaust denial, racism and nativism. It’s also almost three times the traffic of CounterPunch, where both Hopkins and Whitney’s articles appeared before it cleaned house.

The question before us is why someone who once wrote for CounterPunch, like I do, would want to be associated with Ron Unz. When I challenged Hopkins for crossposting to Unz’s website while he was writing for CounterPunch, he defended himself by saying that Unz used to be a major contributor to CounterPunch, as well as writing for it occasionally. Of course, if you look up his articles for CP, you’ll see that they’re nothing like the white supremacist propaganda he writes today. Like Hopkins, Whitney had been crossposting to both CP and Unz all along but I never asked him why. Anyhow, the important thing to understand is that both of them have drifted to the far right once their connections to CP were severed. Today, nothing they write has the slightest tinge of leftism and more recently it is unvarnished defense of Donald Trump against BLM protests.

Other former writers for CounterPunch have also been moving in this direction. Max Parry only wrote 3 articles for CP but has flooded various leftwing websites for ages now promoting a conspiracist worldview. On off-Guardian, a COVID-19 denialist and 9/11 truther outlet, Parry has an article that makes an amalgam of Assadism and anti-BLM propaganda. Titled “The Battle of Seattle was Fought by the Pro-war ‘Left’ in Northern Syria”, the article sounds like it could have been written by someone on Tucker Carlson’s staff:

What began as protests against police brutality were not only derailed into efforts to set-up communes in major cities but a nationwide debate on statues, after the wave of demonstrations and rioting across the country led to the Taliban-style destruction of historical monuments perceived as glorifying racism.

Taliban-style, really? As if tearing down a Confederate General’s statue has something in common with the Taliban’s horrendous destruction of Buddha statues.

Kurt Nimmo, who had dozens of articles published on CP but none later than 2004, now writes mostly for Global Research, a conspiracist cesspool with a lot in common with off-Guardian. Recently, he wrote something titled “Black Lives Matter (BLM) and the Neoliberal Color Revolution in America” that was a riff on William Engdahl’s “America’s Own Color Revolution” and that also appeared on Global Research. Engdahl was a former member of Larouche’s organization who retains pretty much the same politics he once had. Implicit in writing about a “color revolution” in the USA is the idea that Donald Trump is some kind of post-Soviet nationalist like Milosevic or Shevardnadze. This is a preposterous idea as if “neoliberalism” and the Trump White House were on a collision course. One might understand Engdahl taking this position since Larouche PAC virtually worships Donald Trump.

Conspiracism pollutes much of “radical” journalism on the net. If you see it as concentric circles getting more and more nutty and reactionary as you move toward the hub, Grayzone and Consortium News would be further away from the center, even if they overlap to some extent with Global Research. For Max Blumenthal, everything is simple. Just read what Nicholas Kristof writes and take the opposite tack. If Kristof condemns the Chinese government for putting Uighurs into concentration camps, your task is to write that concentration camps do not exist.

Close to the innermost circle, you get off-Guardian, Global Research and Zero Hedge that share the Trump administration’s hatred for the BLM protests and laissez-faire attitude toward the pandemic. You’ll see article after article about how BLM is violent and why COVID-19 is not that big a deal. You’ll find plenty of anti-corporate rhetoric about how George Soros is funding the BLM and why Bill Gates wants to exploit the pandemic for personal gain, but you’ll also find Hitler railing against big business in “Mein Kampf”.

When I used to read Mike Whitney in CounterPunch, I never had any strong objections except to his support for the “axis of resistance”. As for Hopkins, there wasn’t much to pay attention to since he wrote the same article over and over, which boiled down to his defense of “populism”. Whether it was from the left or right, it didn’t matter since the only real enemy was the “deep state” that was so intent on bringing down Trump. Like Aaron Maté, Hopkins got a lot of mileage exposing “Russiagate” even though it was mixed with Putin worship.

This move toward the right has been gestating ever since Trump became president. You can see signs of it everywhere, with Max Blumenthal’s appearances on the Tucker Carlson show and Stephen F. Cohen’s many guest spots on the John Batchelor show on WABC radio, which is a carriage trade version of Rush Limbaugh. Carlson and Batchelor were determined to clear Trump of all charges of interference in the American elections, which in and of itself is not wrong. It is wrong, however, to amalgamate that with support for the eastern Ukraine secessionists as Cohen did ever since Euromaidan broke out.

No matter how malevolent these tendencies were in the past, they have become even more pronounced this year as the pandemic and the George Floyd protests divided America sharply along ideological lines. Hopkins and Whitney have decided to make common cause with the most reactionary circles, which Ron Unz champions on a daily basis to a large internet following.

On DissidentVoice, a conspiracist website not quite as bad as off-Guardian, you can read Hopkins’s take on the pandemic. He sounds exactly like a guest on the Tucker Carlson show: “Also, ‘we have no immunity against it,’ which is why we all have to remain ‘locked down’ like unruly inmates in a penitentiary until a vaccine can be concocted and forced onto every living person on earth.” Like his business about “Stalinism” controlling our lives above, the emphasis is on personal liberty—the same excuse people give for shopping maskless and punching, or even shooting, an employee who tells them to wear one or leave.

Whitney operates from the same premise: “The Covid-19 Scamdemic is an even more vile component of the 3-pronged offensive. The ‘fairly mild’ infection (that kills between 1 in every 200 to 1 in every 1,000) has been greatly exaggerated by the media to scare the public, undermine normal relations, prevent physical intimacies, and inflict maximum damage of the fragile psyches of millions of people worldwide.”

This blatant denialism goes hand in hand with their hatred of BLM protests, which they see as a “deep state” conspiracy funded by corporate America with the willing support of the Democratic Party. Hopkins writes, “The part where the mayors of major cities stood down and otherwise hamstrung their cops, and let the ‘peaceful protesters’ run amok, was particularly audacious, in my opinion.” Whitney is beside himself with anger over BLM protests, which at the time he wrote an article (July 20), had become overwhelmingly peaceful. He told Unz’s fascist readers “These aren’t protests, this is political warfare the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1960s.” Most people on the left have fond memories of the 60s, either from direct experience like me or from reading memoirs by people like Daniel Ellsberg. I guess that Whitney identifies more with the Silent Majority of the time. Who knows? This landscape company owner might have belonged to it at the time.

Let me conclude with a few words about the Socialist Workers Party, a group I belonged to from 1967 to 1978. At one time, it was the flagship party of Trotsky’s Fourth International with about 2,000 members at its height. Now, it is a tiny cult around Jack Barnes who has managed to expel or drive people to resign to the point that it consists of maybe 90 people as old as me. Their main political activity consists of going door-to-door like the Jehovah’s Witnesses use to, peddling the party newspaper The Militant.

Like the aforementioned people writing for The Unz Review, Barnes became a convert to the Trump cause in 2016. With only minor criticisms of the white supremacist, The Militant concentrates its fire (such as it is) on the Democratic Party and on activists opposed to Trump. Like Hopkins and Whitney, they minimize the pandemic and hate how “mobs” topple monuments to Confederate generals.

In one of the more bizarre offerings, the newspaper defends the “right to worship” in Nevada:

In a serious attack on the constitutional right of freedom to worship, the U.S. Supreme Court voted July 24 to refuse to suspend a public health order imposed by Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak limiting attendance at church services. It was part of a series of edicts issued under the guise of stopping the spread of coronavirus.

This goes hand in hand with the SWP’s refusal to wear masks when it goes peddling its tracts and newspapers from door to door. You can never see a mask on a party member. Given their age, you’d think they’d be more careful. But at this stage of the game, anybody who has been a member for forty years or so, as is generally the case, you lost the capacity to think independently long ago.

August 2, 2020

Justice denied to Michael Brown once again

Filed under: Black Lives Matter — louisproyect @ 8:17 pm

Michael Brown Jr.

This week St. Louis’s top prosecutor Wesley Bell, an African-American, announced that no new charges would be brought against Darren Wilson, the cop who fired six bullets into an unarmed teen named Michael Brown on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. His killing triggered protests that helped to establish Black Lives Matter as the key organizer against racist cops.

On March 4, 2015, the Department of Justice absolved Wilson of all crimes in a memorandum that was embraced by both the Democratic and Republican Party’s media outlets. While Fox News was predictably jubilant, Jonathan Capehart, a Washington Post reporter who received a prize for his Black rights advocacy, penned an article titled “‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ was built on a lie.” The title speaks for itself.

The failure of the Democratic Party media outlets to question the report is easily explicable by its blind loyalty to Barack Obama, the country’s first Black president and his attorney general Eric Holder, the first African-American to hold that office in American history. To give the impression of impartiality, Holder also issued a blistering report on how the cops abused Blacks in Ferguson for many years. That report should have been titled “Dog Bites Man”.

On April 27, 2018, I reviewed a documentary titled “Stranger Fruit” for CounterPunch that pretty much treated Michael Brown as an innocent, even to the point of absolving him of the petty theft of some cigarillos from a convenience store. I still recommend the film even though it goes overboard in trying to make Brown far more the victim than the facts would support. It’s main strength is in debunking Darren Wilson’s firing six bullets into Brown as an act of self-defense.

Jason Pollock made his film before the DOJ report was released. In sitting down to write this article, I was curious to see how he would react to it since it contradicted his own findings. In an interview with Daily Kos, he made an interesting point. In responding to the meme that was conveyed in the title of Capehart’s article, he stated, “All the DOJ said.. was they could not determine [the angle of Brown’s arms].  People didn’t read the report, they just didn’t read it.” In fact, he was right. Frank Vyan Walton, the interviewer, took a close look and included an excerpt that jibed with Pollock’s point:

Given the mobility of the arm, it is impossible to determine the position of the body relative to the shooter at the time the arm wounds were inflicted. Therefore, the autopsy results do not indicate whether Brown was facing Wilson or had his back to him. They do not indicate whether Brown sustained those two arm wounds while his hands were up, down, or by his waistband. The private forensic pathologist opined that he would expect a re-entry wound across Brown’s stomach if Brown’s hand was at his waistband at the time Wilson fired. However, as mentioned, there is no way to know the exact position of Brown’s arm relative to his waistband at the time the bullets struck. Therefore, these gunshot wounds neither corroborate nor discredit Wilson’s account or the account of any other witness. However, the concentration of bullet wounds on Brown’s right side is consistent with Wilson’s description that he focused on Brown’s right arm while shooting.

In my own close reading of the DOJ report, I was struck by other inconsistencies. 86 pages long, the report is divided into 3 parts. Part 1 evaluates the physical and forensic evidence. Part 2—the bulk of the report—recapitulates the testimony of the various eyewitnesses, nearly all of whom backed up the cop’s version of what took place, except for his friend Dorian Johnson, who was walking alongside him that day and who is featured prominently in Pollock’s film, and a white contractor with no vested interest in the incident. Part 3 is the summary.

In the brief summary at the end of the report, this excerpt will give you the impression that Dorian was ready to give up his friend:

Witnesses 102, 103, 104, and Wilson and concluded that Brown did in fact reach for and attempt to grab Wilson’s gun, that Brown could have overpowered Wilson, which was acknowledged even by Witness 101 [Dorian Johnson], and that Wilson fired his weapon just over his own lap in an attempt to regain control of a dangerous situation.

Acknowledged by witness 101? If you go to page 44 of the report, you’ll only see that Johnson described Brown as having the “upper hand” in the confrontation. Given that Wilson had a gun, it seems far-fetched to think that the cop could not have prevailed. Johnson does say that Wilson would have to be “superhuman” to “overpower” Brown but that’s a reference to something resembling an arm-wrestling match. When Wilson shoots Brown in the hand, he runs away from the patrol car as fast as his legs can carry him. If he was “superhuman”, the bullets would have bounced off his hand. Right?

As for Witness number two, I got a chuckle out of why he decided to turn up at the police department to finger Brown as someone deserving to be shot six times:

Witness 102 explained that he came forward because he “felt bad about the situation,” and he wanted to “bring closure to [Brown’s] family,” so they would not think that the officer “got away with murdering their son.” He further explained that “most people think that police are bad for ‘em up until the time they’re in need of the police,” and he felt that witnesses would not come forward to tell the truth in this case because of community pressure.

He wanted to console the family while justifying the killer cop’s deeds? His notion that most people think that the police are bad makes me scratch my head. Wasn’t it obvious what had been going on Ferguson for decades?

For me, the hardest part to swallow was the excuse made for Darren Wilson firing six bullets into Michael Brown:

According to Wilson, Brown balled or clenched his fists and “charged” forward, ignoring commands to stop. Knowing that Brown was much larger than him and that he had previously attempted to overpower him and take his gun, Wilson stated that he feared for his safety and fired at Brown. Again, even Witness 101’s account supports this perception. Brown then reached toward his waistband, causing Wilson to fear that Brown was reaching for a weapon.

Once again, there is nothing in the recap of Dorian Johnson’s testimony that supports the cop’s claim. The report states, “Witness 101 was steadfast that Brown fell to the ground right where he initially stopped and turned around. At most, Brown took a half-step forward, but he did not move toward Wilson. Witness 101 was also steadfast that Brown never put his hand(s) near his waist.”

As for this business about reaching toward his waistband, just think about it. If Michael Brown had a gun and was such a desperado, why would he have run away? Wouldn’t he have pulled out the gun much sooner and put a bullet in the cop? Anybody who has been following these de facto lynchings knows that this is often used as an excuse. It is called the “fear defense”. All you need to do is state that a “perp” was reaching for a gun and then you can shoot him or her in cold blood. Sometimes, you can even plant a gun on the dead “bad guy” just to make sure you are cleared.

In 2016, Benjamin Wallace-Wells wrote an article for The New Yorker titled “Police Shootings, Race, and the Fear Defense” that makes clear how Darren Wilson would play this card:

The shooters’ protestations of fear have in some cases seemed cynical and absurd, because of the imbalance in power between the cops (armed, able to summon support, the arm of the law) and their victims, and because the suggestions that their victims were scary and impossible to control have tended to draw on the basest racial fears, and to be expressed in the crudest language. “When I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan,” the Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson said, of the man he killed, Michael Brown. Brown was six feet four and two hundred and ninety pounds, and Wilson is six feet four and two hundred and ten pounds. “Hulk Hogan. That’s how big he felt and how small I felt just grasping his arm.”

Finally, the Department of Justice did not take the word of Witness 122 seriously, a contractor who, unlike Dorian Johnson, had little reason to make things up. If you look at the DOJ report, you will find the suppression of this witness’s testimony troubling:

Witness 122 is a 46-year-old white male. He was laying drain pipe on Canfield Drive with Witness 130 on the morning of the shooting. Witness 122 gave six statements, including testimony before the county grand jury. SLCPD detectives and an FBI agent twice jointly interviewed him, and SLCPD detectives once independently interviewed him. Witness 122 and Witness 130 authored one-page written statements on advice of a former boss.

Witness 122 also claimed that Brown put his right hand to the ground to regain his balance when he was hit and as he turned around. According to both contractors, Brown then turned around with his hands up and repeatedly screamed “Okay!” as many as eight times, an exclamation heard by no other witness. When Witness 122 demonstrated the position of Brown’s hands for federal prosecutors and agents, he wavered from a position of surrender to one indicative of a person trying to maintain balance.

According to the Brown family, Witness 122 called them after the shooting and told them that he had seen Wilson shoot Brown execution-style as Brown was on his knees holding his hands in the air. However, Witness 122 denied making any statements about the nature of the shooting to the Brown family. As mentioned, despite his earlier statements, Witness 122 recanted the claim that he actually saw Brown fall dead to the ground. Witness 122 has no criminal history. As detailed above, material portions of Witness 122’s accounts are irreconcilable with the physical and forensic evidence. These accounts are also inconsistent with each other and inconsistent with credible witness accounts. Accordingly, after a thorough review of all of the evidence, federal prosecutors determined this witness’s accounts not to be credible and therefore do not support a prosecution of Darren Wilson. The person who recorded this video claimed that yet another person, “Chris,” made that statement.

So, the DOJ discounted the testimony of this white contractor while relying on that of someone who said, “most people think that police are bad for ‘em up until the time they’re in need of the police.” Clearly, the fix was in.

July 21, 2020

Transgender people and the Harper’s Open Letter

Filed under: Black Lives Matter,Harper's Open Letter,transgender — louisproyect @ 8:43 pm

A number of critiques of the Harper’s cancel culture open letter have referred to the presence of transphobic signers such as JK Rowling, the British author of the Harry Potter novels. Less well-known is Atlantic contributor Jesse Singal, who is into “concern-trolling” against trans kids. In other words, seeing teens as not having the capacity to decide whether they can make the right decision about transitioning. Of course, when 40 percent of them attempt suicide out of misery, maybe there should be some leeway. Another is Katie Herzog, a freelance writer who was focused on “detransitioners”, those small number of people who regretted their decision and then began identifying with their birth sex again. All three have been “cancelled” for their positions but none has suffered any professional consequences.

Five days after my critique of the open letter appeared on CounterPunch, which had virtually nothing to say about transgender, an article by Robert Jensen appeared there as well. Jensen, a professor emeritus from U. of Texas best known for his articles on foreign policy, defended the open letter and particularly the grievances of people like JK Rowling who have been supposedly victimized for their opinions on transgender issues. A local radical bookstore in Austin cut all ties with him and other speaking engagements have been canceled. In the past, I haven’t gainsaid such actions since they are a democratic right. No matter how much Max Blumenthal complained about bookstores canceling a reading because of his support for Assad, this was not “McCarthyism”. McCarthyism would be, for example, Hollywood screenwriters or professors being fired for signing a petition for the Popular Front in Spain.

Jensen has been writing such articles over the years for CounterPunch and other magazines. In 2014, he wrote one that labeled transitioning medical procedures such as surgery and hormones as contrary to ecological principles as if someone desperately trying to change their sexual identity had something in common with climate change. You might get the idea from such a claim that Jensen has his head up his ass. If you look at his newest article, that take will be reinforced. He writes:

One of the basic points that radical feminists—along with many other writers—have made is that biological sex categories are real and exist outside of any particular cultural understanding of those categories.

If you click the “radical feminist” link, you’ll arrive at an article in Spiked Online titled “The trans ideology is a threat to womanhood” by Meghan Murphy. I guess you can tell from the title that this is openly transphobic. In November 2018, Murphy got booted from Twitter after referring to a trans woman as “him”. She had consistently been using the wrong pronoun and using pre-transition names for transgendered people. I haven’t been following the JK Rowling controversies but I doubt that there’s much difference between her and Murphy.

As for “other writers”, that link takes you to the Wall Street Journal article titled “The Dangerous Denial of Sex”, an opinion piece by Colin M. Wright and Emma N. Hilton. The brunt of the article is to establish that there are two biological categories for sex and that is anti-scientific to accept a transgender person on their own terms. Of course, it wasn’t too long ago when psychologists and scientists held the same rigid views on heterosexuality as a norm.

I come to these discussions not as a theorist but as someone who developed an appreciation for transgender issues as a film critic. Although I never got around to reviewing “A Fantastic Woman”, this great 2017 Chilean film tells the story of a transgender female whose older male companion dies unexpectedly. Excluded from his funeral and left without any support that a married woman might benefit from, the titular character asserts her rights both as the man’s significant other and as a human being deserving respect in her own right”. The film is available on Amazon Prime. More recently, I saw “The Garden We Left Behind” that, like the Chilean film, stars a transgender actor. My review begins:

For most people on the left who are supportive of transgender rights, including me, there’s still little understanding of the realities of transgender life. Having gay friends and comrades is ubiquitous but unless you count a transgender person as part of your social circle, your knowledge tends to be based on what you’ve read about the well-known such as Chelsea Manning. To get that understanding, there’s no better place to start than Flavio Alves’s “The Garden Left Behind” that will be available as VOD on December 13th (Amazon Prime, iTunes, etc).

It stars Carlie Guevara as Tina Carrera, a transgender, 20-something, undocumented Mexican immigrant living and working as a gypsy cab driver in Queens, a far cry from the superheroes, mafia gangsters, ingenues, and cops that you can see in the typical Hollywood movie. Even though Tina’s grandmother Eliana accepts her without qualifications, she still calls her Antonio, a function more of long-time family ties than prejudice.

Unfortunately, the film is not yet available on VOD.

Finally, there is “Changing the Game”, a documentary about transgender teens competing in various sports and putting up with the resistance from parents who feel that they are cheating. This is one of the major issues facing such kids today. My review began:

Like Flavio Alves’s narrative film about a transgender female, “Changing the Game” is a much-needed documentary that will open your minds to one of the most despised minorities in the USA. In this film, we meet a trans male and two trans females who are high school students competing in wrestling and track respectively. As you may know, this has become a major controversy lately as parents of cisgender athletes demand their expulsion from competitions. Mack (born Mackenzie) has been forced to compete with cisfemales even though his deepest desire is to wrestle other boys. That mattered much more to him than becoming the 110-pound class Texas state champion in 2017 and 2018. What makes this film so great in addition to the utter honesty and magnetic personalities of its principals is the support they get from their parents or, in Mack’s case, the grandparents who adopted him after his mom could not provide adequate financial support. They are quintessential Red State personalities but utterly on his side. The grandmother is a cop and the grandfather is a good old boy in bib overalls but don’t let their appearance fool you. Every word out their mouth spells compassion in capital letters.

Like “The Garden We Left Behind”, the film is not yet available on VOD. Keep on the lookout for them.

Most of the articles on the left written about transgendered people involve a lot of theorizing about gender, the biology of sex, psychoanalysis, etc., with references to Judith Butler and a lot of professors writing for specialized journals. I can recommend Richard Seymour’s article in Salvage titled “None Shall Pass: Trans and the Rewriting of the Body” that is roughly divided into two parts. The first part I found most useful since it answers people like Robert Jensen. The second part was an attempt to apply Lacanian psychoanalytic theory to transgender people, which was above my pay grade, I’m afraid. But this snippet from the first part should motivate you to look at the article:

For many who style themselves as ‘trans-critical’, however, being trans is either a delusion or a pretence. “The physical transformations created by hormones and surgery,” Sheila Jeffreys, asserts in Gender Hurts, “do not change the biological sex of the persons upon whom they are visited.”
Jeffreys makes no attempt to argue for this point, but in the past she would not have been expected to, as the state would have agreed with it on the grounds that ‘natural’ sex was the only legitimate basis for heterosexual marriage. Jacqueline Rose recounts the case of April Ashley at length for the London Review of Books, in which the judge made exactly this distinction, claiming that Ashley’s vagina was simply not big enough to accommodate a penis. Anne Fausto-Sterling, in Sexing The Body, describes a similar case in which a marriage between a man and “a woman born without a vagina” was annulled on the grounds that the artificial vagina was only two inches deep, and sex of this kind was a “quasi-natural connexion” to reduce a man to. It is notable that this unexpected convergence of heterosexist, patriarchal reaction with the politics of a militant lesbian feminist takes place around the ‘naturalness’ of the body.

Needless to say, these issues will remain with us for the foreseeable future since the Republican Party will exploit transphobia to win votes for a losing cause.

It is not only the Republican Party that is transphobic. The Socialist Workers Party, a group I belonged to for 11 years, has the same reactionary politics as Robert Jensen. In a recent issue of the Militant newspaper, you can read this assessment of the Supreme Court ruling on a LBGT case:

The decision as issued strengthens the hand of those transgender campaigners who argue that sex is a subjective feeling, not an objective fact, and seek to pillory and threaten anyone who says otherwise. It deals a counterrevolutionary blow to the fight for women’s emancipation.

It also weakens the overall fight to end discrimination against gays and lesbians.

None of these fucking stupid articles take into account the massive sympathy that is developing for the right of people to adopt a sexual identity that allows them a certain amount of gratification as opposed to the daily torture that leads so many of them to suicide. I’ve been retired from Columbia University for nearly a decade but stop occasionally for yearly “international luncheons” in which employees bring meals from their home countries. Yeah, Columbia is big on diversity. Get used to it, Walter Benn Michaels.

When I stop in to take a pee, I get satisfaction out of seeing a sign on the door asking people to use the bathroom whose gender they identify with. As you might expect, an Ivy school is going to be ahead of the curve on something like this. But what if you were a transgender female with a factory job? What would it be like to be forced to use the men’s room because you still had a penis? In most cases, you might get a punch in the mouth. Even worse, if you walk down the wrong street, you might get killed. A March 28th article in the Daily News was titled “Transgender woman fatally stabbed in the neck in Harlem; friend believes she was killed over a wig” Can you believe that? Killed over a wig?

Some commentators took issue with the Harper’s Open Letter showing up during a massive movement against killer-cops. As good liberals, they probably support it but for the kind of support that really matters, you have to appreciate the massive outpouring for Black transgender people at a BLM protest in Brooklyn shown in the video above. It took place on June 14th, the day before Jensen’s wretched article appeared. The NY Times reported:

One speaker at the rally was Melania Brown, sister of Layleen Polanco, a transgender woman who was found dead in 2019 in a cell at Rikers Island.

“Black trans lives matter! My sister’s life mattered!” Brown said in her speech. “If one goes down, we all go down — and I’m not going nowhere.”

Black transgender people not only bear a disproportionate burden of police violence but also face high rates of violence and harassment on the street. The American Medical Association said last fall that killings of transgender women of color in the United States amounted to an epidemic.

Two more black transgender women nationwide were killed in less than 24 hours while the event was coming together. Dominique Fells, 27, known as Rem’Mie, was found with stab wounds in Philadelphia on June 8, Rolling Stone reported. A day later, Riah Milton, 25, was found shot multiple times in Liberty Township, Ohio.

None of these realities impinge on the articles written by the Open Letter signers, Robert Jensen or any other transphobic leftists. From now until a socialist revolution triumphs in the USA, you can bet that transgender people will be on its side. Just as long, of course, if our movement has the wisdom and the courage to stand up for their rights.

July 3, 2020

Following the money is not a useful guide for understanding mass movements

Filed under: african-american,Black Lives Matter,class-reductionism,Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 2:09 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JULY 3, 2020

Over the past fifty-three years as a socialist, I have seen repeated calls for purifying the left of capitalist influences, both governmental and corporate. The latest flare-up was a Jacobin article titled “Don’t Let Blackwashing Save the Investor Class” by Cedric Johnson, a black African American studies professor. Just as Deep Throat advised Bob Woodward in “All the President’s Men,” Johnson followed the money:

While antiracist protesters were tough on long-dead oppressors, these same protests have delivered a public relations windfall for the living investor class. Within weeks, corporations pledged upward of $2 billion dollars to various antiracist initiatives and organizations. The leadership of Warner, Sony Music, and Walmart each committed $100 million. Google pledged $175 million, mainly to incubate black entrepreneurship. YouTube announced a $100 million initiative to amplify black media voices. Apple also pledged $100 million for the creation of its racial equity and justice initiative.

These payoffs were supposed to dull the edge of the protests and keep the capitalist system safe from pitchfork-wielding mobs. Oddly enough, they didn’t seem to be making much headway in light of the continuing worries about capitalist instability. Most of the young people organizing the protests hardly seemed to be cooptation-bait as indicated by a New York Magazine interview with the female, teenage organizers of a Louisville protest that drew 10,000:

New York Magazine: Have you faced any backlash since the protest? And what does it mean to you three to be doing this work in the South?

Kennedy: I was actually surprised that we had a lot of support, because we do live in the South, and I’ve encountered various types of racism from people in the South. We did get backlash from a lot of people saying we’re brainwashed or that we’re being paid to do this or that we’re secret people the Democrats are using to win.

Emma Rose: We’re not even Democrats.

Kennedy: I’m not even a Democrat. I’m a radical.

Continue reading

June 15, 2020

The Killing Floor

Filed under: african-american,Black Lives Matter,Film,trade unions — louisproyect @ 6:42 pm

Now showing as part of Film Forum’s pandemic-induced virtual cinema program, “The Killing Floor” is a striking illustration of the need to synthesize class and race. Based on the experience of trying to build a trade union in Chicago’s stockyards during WWI, it is an object lesson on the need to abandon “white privilege”.

“The Killing Floor” was a 1984 TV movie directed by Bill Duke that I had heard about over the years but never seen. Not without its limitations, it belongs alongside “Salt of the Earth” and “Matewan” as truly engaged, working-class cinema. The teleplay was written by Leslie Lee, an African-American playwright who worked with the Negro Ensemble Company, and is based on a story by Elsa Rassbach. Rassbach lives and works in Berlin, where she heads the “GIs & US Bases” project for the German affiliate of the War Resisters International. She is also active in Code Pink, No to NATO, and the anti-drone campaign in Germany.

Duke, an African-American, is probably best known to most people as a hulking, action film actor who was part of the team Arnold Schwarzenegger led in “Predator”. He has also directed blaxploitation films like “A Rage in Harlem” and, unfortunately, directed his black cast members in “The Killing Floor” to use the exaggerated rhetorical style of such films. That directorial misstep and the inability of the film to represent the large-scale violence that took place in 1919 between whites and blacks due to budget constraints are its only drawbacks. However, if you are looking for an accurate and thought-provoking dramatization of the class/race contradictions that must be overcome in order to make a revolution in the USA, no other film comes close.

Nearly all of the characters in “The Killing Floor” are drawn from history, including the lead Frank Custer (Damien Leake), a black man from Mississippi who “freighthops” a boxcar to Chicago with his best friend Thomas Joshua (Ernest Rayford) in search of work.

Jobs were plentiful in the stockyards since so many able-bodied men had enlisted in the army. Like other blacks fleeing the misery of sharecropping, Frank and Thomas head directly to the YMCA on Chicago’s south side, the home of recently transplanted blacks. There they are told that they should go directly to the stockyards the next morning and expect to be hired on the spot. The YMCA’s role in funneling black men into the stockyards is just one of the many historically accurate details of the film.

Frank learned that a job in the stockyards paid well ($1.50 a day!) but in the most miserable conditions possible. With his experience slaughtering hogs on the farm back home, he was a natural for butchering cattle on the killing floor. However, he could not start right away since he didn’t have the knife necessary for the job. It took him days to put the money together. Unlike Frank, Thomas had neither the stomach for slaughtering cattle nor the willingness to put up with white worker racism. The Irish and eastern European immigrants who preceded them were spat upon in the old country. Now, in the U.S.A., they took every opportunity to spit upon those in a lower caste. Thomas, a “new Negro” who would not put up with such indignities, joins the army to leave all that behind.

Not all of the whites are racist. Some, like trade union organizer John Fitzpatrick (James O’Reilly), believe in black-white unity and bend every effort toward getting someone like Frank Custer to join the union. Like most of the newly arrived blacks, Frank is skeptical but eventually sees the wisdom of working-class unity and strength. My friend and fellow CounterPunch contributor Paul Street wrote about the role of people like Frank Custer in his 1996 Journal of Social History article “The Logic and Limits of ‘Plant Loyalty’: Black Workers, White Labor, and Corporate Racial Paternalism in Chicago’s Stockyards, 1916-1940” (the SYLC referred to below was the Stockyard Labor Council):

“Northern” Black workers joined unions in roughly the same proportion as white workers. Ninety percent signed up by early 1918. Barrett notes that they “created the type of institutions commonly associated with stable working-class communities-unions, cooperatives, fraternal groups, and an independent political organization [the Colored Club of the Cook County Labor Party].” They provided a “nucleus of Black union activity, serving on [SYLC] floor committees and recruiting for the SYLC.” Within that nucleus were such individuals as Robert Bedford and Frank Custer, both long-service packinghouse workers and elective SYLC floor committeemen on the Wilson plant’s cattle-killing floor. While they possessed a strong consciousness of race, Bedford, Custer, and other Black SYLC militants braved the scorn of anti-union Blacks (one of whom called them “a lot of white folks’ niggers”) to advocate labor unity “irrespective of race, creed, color, nationality or sex.” Their struggle reminds us that there were individuals within the Black working class striving for industrial unionism prior to the 1930s. It also suggests that Black workers’ race consciousness was not completely or inherently opposed to working-class solidarity.

Inside the plant, Moses Gunn plays Heavy Williams, a black worker deeply hostile to the union. When Thomas returns from Europe, he is forced to work in the stockyards and just as resentful of white racists as he was when he left. He takes Williams’s side against the union. No matter how often Frank tries to sell Thomas on the need for class unity, he sees few differences between white workers and their white boss.

Paul Street attributes this distrust to real factors that had to be overcome before a strong and lasting union could be built.

Black workers’ “loyalty” to the packers, then, was no simple, undiluted expression of docile Black paternalization. It was mediated by a proud “race consciousness” and by a realistic calculation of Black self-interest. It reflected both t core, self-active Black impulses behind the Great Migration and the influence a race-conscious Black middle-class leadership. It was offered because the packers (for all their racism) were especially favorable to Black workers, because labor movement and the working-class community in and around the stockyard were tinged by racism, because stockyards employment was a ticket to the relative racial freedoms of the North and (though this is the most difficult to gauge because of the dream of an independent Black metropolis built on wages earned in white-owned industries. It was contingent, and therefore reversible when if—as occurred during the 1930s—employers came to be seen as working against “the race,” northern opportunities waned, and a new unionism could emerge meet “the race’s” needs.

Once WWI came to an end, the veterans entered the job market once again and crowded out the blacks in a pattern aptly described as “last to be hired, first to be fired.” There had always been tensions between whites and blacks but as long as everybody had a job, they could be contained. With the post-WWI slump, class peace came to an end.

In the summer of 1919, the so-called Red Summer (named after blood, rather than communism) came to Chicago. That year and for a few years later, blacks were set upon by racist whites across the country, with the most devastating results in Tulsa, Oklahoma where Trump will visit soon in an obvious salute to white riots (good, rather than the bad black riots.) What makes Chicago exceptional was the willingness of returned black veterans like Thomas Joshua to use weapons in self-defense.

While the willingness of Chicago’s black community to defend itself against white pogroms was encouraging, it had the result of destroying any possibility of building a strong union. In the 1992 International Review of Social History, Rick Halpern deals with this sad failure to integrate race and class in an article titled  Race, Ethnicity, and Union in the Chicago Stockyards, 1917–1922”. He writes:

The most important force working to preserve order was the Stockyards Labor Council. Union leaders recognized how much was at stake. In a plea entitled “For White Men to Read”, the New Majority implored union members to use their influence in the community to shield blacks from the frenzy of race prejudice. Portraying the riot as their movement’s “acid test”, the article explained that a critical juncture had been reached: “Right now it is going to be decided whether the colored workers are to continue to come into the labor movement or whether they are going to feel that they have been abandoned by it and lose confidence in it.” This crucial question remained unresolved during the troubled days of early August. Anxious to preserve their strained ties with the black workforce, the SLC took the bold step of holding mass interracial meetings. Later, when it became impossible for blacks to reach the Yards safely, the Council organized relief for them and other victimized families.

These efforts proved insufficient. A week after the start of the riot, a new crisis arose which widened the gulf between black and white packinghouse workers. On 2 August, arsonists torched forty-nine homes in a Lithuanian’ enclave in Back-of-the-Yards. Although blame later was fixed upon the Irish gangs, rumors that revenge-seeking blacks committed the deed gained quick currency. While some spokesmen pointed out the absurd improbability of blacks sneaking undetected into the area, the moderation that prevailed in the neighborhood evaporated and was replaced with hatred and malice.

As it happens, the Irish gangs behind the raids were known as Rogan’s Colts, an “athletic club” sponsored by Democratic alderman Frank Rogan. Like the Irish race riots against the draft during the Civil War, the Democrats often show their true color: white.

Never that keen on white support during the best of times, black stockyard workers crossed the picket line and stayed on the job during these confrontations. The film ends with Frank Custer joining them in the plant with his union button concealed. In the locker room, he begins recruiting to the union once again—thus ending on a positive if not exactly convincing note.

In an interview with Time Out last year, Elsa Rassbach tells why she got interested in writing about a trade union struggle that took place a century ago but one that seems like it was torn off today’s front pages:

Though my family was neither left-wing nor union, I’ve been drawn to the struggle for social justice ever since high school, when we engaged in sit-ins at Woolworth’s in my hometown, Denver, in protest against the firm’s segregationist policies in the South. Following college in the U.S., I studied at the film academy in West Berlin, where people scoffed at the saying that “messages are for Western Union” and honored the work of politically committed artists like Berthold Brecht. My first short films were on feminist themes, but I soon developed a passionate interest in untold stories of history. I returned to the U.S. in 1972 and began reading more and more about the fascinating history of working people, who have played such an important role in our history, for which they have never been recognized. I found it astounding that I had never learned about these stories in school or college. Meanwhile I had been hired at the public television station in Boston, WGBH, to work on the first seasons of the NOVA series, and I received support from the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop a public television series on the history of the American labor movement. In William Tuttle’s book about the Chicago Race Riot I happened upon a footnote in which I discovered the two main characters in The Killing Floor: Frank Custer and Heavy Williams. These two black men, who both worked on the killing floor of a Chicago slaughterhouse, were testifying before a white federal judge, and the two were entirely at odds with each other in how they viewed the causes of the mounting racism from which they were both suffering. I was drawn to the complexity—the race riot was of course not just about black people vs. white people. So I ordered from the National Archives the entire transcript of the hearing in which the two testified. All of the characters who work on “the killing floor” in our film, both black and white, leapt out of the thousands of pages of testimony by a group of workers at the Wilson Meatpacking Company in June of 1919. I knew immediately that a film about them had to be made. I felt that the film needed not only to be dramatically compelling but also to be as accurate as possible—people should know this really happened. In the film the names of the main characters have remained the same as in the original testimony. And I founded a nonprofit production company to tell this story.

 

 

June 13, 2020

Putting class-reductionism under a microscope: Adolph Reed Jr., Jacobin, and the George Floyd protests

Filed under: Black Lives Matter,Jacobin — louisproyect @ 5:42 pm

Adolph Reed Jr.
(Photo by Dan Creighton)

Recently three blips popped up on my radar screen that reminded me it was time once again to look at the tortured race/class debate that dominates, if not haunts, the American left.

On June 5th, Philly DSA issued a statement on George Floyd’s killing that epitomized the class-reductionism that has festered in the group for some time now. So much static was generated over the statement, especially on social media, that they issued a Maoist-style self-criticism3 days later:

On Friday, Philly DSA posted a statement on our website titled “Against Police Violence and Austerity, For Worker Power”. In doing so, we made a mistake that we deeply regret. Our statement did not sufficiently address the disproportionate impact of police violence on people of color, specifically Black Americans, and the significant anti-racist character of the protests. George Floyd’s life mattered, and all Black lives matter.

Along the same lines, Cedric Johnson, a black professor and class reductionist par excellence, wrote an article for Nonsite titled “The Triumph of Black Lives Matter and Neoliberal Redemption”. It asserted, “This moment has been a triumph for Black Lives Matter activists, but once the plumes of tear gas dissipate and compassion fatigue sets in, the real beneficiaries will likely be the neoliberal Democrats and the capitalist blocs they serve.” Johnson also reminded his readers that the silent majority in the black community is pro-cop:

While a slim majority of Americans now believe police are more likely to use excessive force against blacks than other groups, millions more do not share the most militant calls to defund or dismantle police departments voiced by some activists. Most Americans are upset by police killings, but they also want more effective policing. Over the last five years, satisfaction with police has strengthened among all ethnic and racial groups, including African Americans (from 50% “at least somewhat satisfied” in 2015 to 72% now).

To bolster his arguments, Johnson cited an article by Adolph Reed Jr. titled “How Racial Disparity Does Not Help Make Sense of Patterns of Police Violence” that also appeared on Nonsite, where Reed serves on the editorial board alongside fellow class-reductionist Walter Benn Michaels. Like Reed and Johnson, Michaels (who is white) sees any pro-black movements as a particularism that ultimately supports the goals of the capitalist liberal elite.

Reed’s article crows triumphantly over his revelation that white people constitute the majority of victims of police shootings, even if blacks are disproportionately affected. He cites a Washington Post article that reveals that the states with the highest rates of police homicide per million of population are among the whitest in the country. The only problem with his data-driven analysis is that it doesn’t account for how and why these homicides take place. Would Derek Chauvin have kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes if he was white? Or would Timothy Loehmann, a white cop, have shot Tamir Rice, a 12-year old black boy playing with a toy pistol in a Cleveland park? To even pose the question renders you brain-dead, no matter your academic credentials. For the class-reductionist left, suggesting that cops single out blacks for shooting first and asking questions later puts you in the same category as the kente-wearing Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer.

Not only does Reed turn a cold shoulder to the protests against George Floyd’s murder, he probably is grumbling at all the statues now being overturned. Writing for the Lens, a New Orleans ‘zine, in 2017, he urged readers not to be duped: “The clamor to take down the monuments falls short of a truly radical movement.” Among the statues he would defend against the unruly mob was Andrew Jackson, the slave-owner and Cherokee mass murderer whose portrait adorns Donald Trump’s Oval Office:

Already the group has over-reached in its tone-deaf demand that the statue of Andrew Jackson be removed from Jackson Square because Jackson was a slaveholder and architect of genocidal suppression of Native Americans. The Jackson statue against the backdrop of St. Louis Cathedral is one of the city’s most iconic, internationally known images, and Jackson, never really my cup of tea, fought to save the young republic and extend its reach, not secede from it in an act of treason. Indeed, when the city was under Union occupation, Gen. Benjamin F. Butler emblazoned the Jackson statue with the legend, “The Union Must and Shall Be Preserved,” thus rendering it an emblem of Confederate defeat.

Never his cup of tea? WTF? Sure, he fought to defend the young republic, whatever that means. As for his being on the side of preserving the Union, it should never be forgotten that Jackson was the first DP president. And what does Reed mean by extending the reach of the U.S.A.? Does this refer to Jackson’s ability to wrest control of land owned by American Indians? After the War of 1812 ended, General Jackson was directed to secure the southern borders of the United States. He used his military muscle to get the Creeks, Chickasaws, Cherokees and Choctaws to sign treaties ceding huge tracts of land to the U.S., thus leaving them confined in much smaller territories. The only other academic I’ve run into who has this unaccountable devotion to Jackson is Sean Wilentz, the only opponent of the 1619 Project that not even WSWS would touch with a ten-foot pole.

To avoid being co-opted by the liberal elite, it is supposedly necessary to abandon “anti-racism” and advance economic demands that can unite black and white workers. In putting this position forward, Reed and Johnson are continuing with a very long ideological tradition going back to Eugene V. Debs. In his 1905 “The Negro and the Class Struggle”, he wrote, “We have nothing special to offer the Negro, and we cannot make separate appeals to all the races.” In distinction to the SP, the CPUSA did see race and class as interlinked, even if in practice it fell short such as in opposing A. Philip Randolph’s March on Washington during WWII.

However, by the early 60s, it too began to sound a lot like Debs. When Malcolm X began to develop a following, James E. Jackson, a black CP leader, ripped into him in Political Affairs in 1963:

The Muslim organization, in general, and Malcolm X, in particular, are ultra-reactionary forces operating in the orbit of the Negro people’s movement, with the strategic assignment to sow ideological confusion, to dissipate the organization energies of the Negro masses, to promote divisionism within the Negro movement, and to alienate the Negro movement from fraternal ties with and support of comparably deprived or democratically inclined white masses.

The Muslim movement objectively serves the interests of the main enemies of the cause of Negro freedom and equality.

The Trotskyist movement saw Malcolm much more positively, even if he was still under the sway of his sect’s obscurantism. This should not come as a great surprise since Leon Trotsky spoke favorably of Marcus Garvey in his discussions with American co-thinkers, including CLR James.

Some SWP members felt the same way as James E. Jackson. Tim Wolforth and James Robertson regarded black nationalism as divisive, so much so that this would convince the two to start their own groups based on the mechanical black-white unity defended by Debs and Jackson.

Wolforth’s group folded long ago but much of his thinking is preserved in the World Socialist Web Site, the online newspaper of the Socialist Equality Party that has been on a campaign against the 1619 Project launched by the NY Times last August. In addition to providing a space for civil war historians appalled by the idea that slavery was a major factor in black oppression today, the WSWS allowed Adolph Reed Jr. to recite some of his talking points. He disparaged those who are dwell on killer-cops and racial profiling. Despite his willingness to trash the 1619 Project, he failed to understand that its basic premise is correct, namely that this was the year that slavery first appeared in this country. He says, “Those first 20 people weren’t slaves. There wasn’t chattel slavery yet in British North America.” Implicit in these words is the notion that they were indentured servants, when in fact they were nothing of the sort. Whites who became indentured servants signed a contract under duress, usually to pay off a debt. But the Africans were simply kidnapped by Portuguese, who then ended up on a privateer’s ship alongside such genuine indentured servants.

I’ll give Jacobin credit for publishing a critique of Reed in 2016 written by Paul Heideman and Jonah Birch. In defending BLM against the charge that it is a tool of Nancy Pelosi, et al, they point to its success in changing young peoples’ minds: “At this point, BLM has majority support among young white Americans.” Only 4 years later, it now has the support of a majority of American voters by a 28-point margin, up from a 17-point margin before the most recent wave of protests began. One can imagine Reed and Johnson sitting in the chairs at home watching all these protests and gnashing their teeth over such a wasted effort.  They’d be better off, I guess, ringing doorbells for the latest round of “democratic socialists” as the next election approaches.

Reed and Johnson get more articles published in Jacobin than any other black people, as far as I can tell. It is clear that Bhaskar Sunkara endorses their analysis, which coincides with his own social democratic gradualism. That affinity also exists between the Philly DSA and Reed, who developed ties with the chapter’s leadership when he was still teaching at the U. of Pennsylvania. One might hope that the self-criticism alluded to at the beginning of the article shows that the material reality of people in the streets in numbers might have changed their minds.

Over the past year or so, Jacobin has become more and more stuck in the rut of electoral politics. With the collapse of the ISO, there are fewer more openly revolutionary articles in its pages or on the website. And for those ex-ISOers who still have an in with Sunkara, there must have been an understanding that spouting the old-school opposition to the Democratic Party was a no-no. Ex-ISOer Paul Heideman, who once skewered illusions in the DP in Jacobin, is now just as vehemently a Sandernista ideologue.

It will be interesting to see whether Sanders’s swan dive into the Biden election campaign, as well as his opposition to police defunding, will have an impact on rank-and-file DSA’ers and/or Jacobin subscribers. As of now, Reed is on record as opposed to Biden, having co-authored a Guardian op-ed with Cornel West titled “Joe Biden wants us to forget his past. We won’t”.

Yet, he was not above urging a vote for someone cut from the same cloth as Biden, once upon a time. In an April 28, 2008 Progressive article that starts off with the ostensibly insurrectionary-minded title of “Obama No”, we learn that it could have just as easily been titled “Hillary Yes”:

I’m hardly a Clinton fan. I’m on record in last November’s issue as saying that I’d rather sit out the election entirely than vote for either her or Obama. At this point, though, I’ve decided that she’s the lesser evil in the Democratic race, for the following reasons: 1) Obama’s empty claims to being a candidate of progressive change and to embodying a “movement” that exists only as a brand will dissolve into disillusionment in either a failed campaign against McCain or an Obama Presidency that continues the politics he’s practiced his entire career; 2) his horribly opportunistic approach to the issues bearing on inequality—in which he tosses behaviorist rhetoric to the right and little more than calls to celebrate his success to blacks—stands to pollute debate about racial injustice whether he wins or loses the Presidency; 3) he can’t beat McCain in November.

Eight years later, Reed made another pitch for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in a July 7th radio interview on Doug Henwood’s “Behind the News”:

DH: The movement that has catalyzed with the Sanders campaign, how can we keep it from dissipating as November approaches. “Trump is so horrible, you know, hold your nose and vote for Hillary. etc.” There’s a great possibility for induced amnesia to set in. How do we fight that?

AR: What one does in November lies in a different dimension from the movement building concerns. From a pragmatic point of view there really is nothing else to do except to vote for Hillary. But that only becomes a big to-do if you have an exaggerated sense of the significance of your own vote anyway.

DH: People get so obsessed with something that takes five minutes to do in early November. It’s really remarkable.

AR: Absolutely. On some level it only comes down to a matter of taste and existential choice. I could vote for Gore in 2000. I lived in Connecticut and it was easy not to vote for Gore in 2000 and to vote for Ralph. I’d argue that this is a different moment and especially with Republican control of Congress-even if they lose the Senate which is a long shot . . . we’re going to be in the same position on the Wednesday after the election than we were on the Monday before the election. The real challenge is to try to disconnect the organizing from it being driven by the election cycle.

What was it that Molotov said to reporters after signing a non-aggression pact with the Nazis? Oh, I remember: “fascism is a matter of taste”. As far as existential choices are concerned, I would say that celibacy is an existential choice. Or assisted suicide. Or masturbating with a vacuum cleaner. That sort of thing, if you gather my drift.

September 12, 2016

When Justice isn’t Just

Filed under: african-american,Black Lives Matter,Film — louisproyect @ 8:20 pm

First Run Features released the 42-minute documentary When Justice Isn’t Just to iTunes on August 30 and follows up with a DVD beginning tomorrow, September 13, 2016. The film, directed by Oscar-nominated and NAACP Image Award winner David Massey, addresses the concept and reality of justice in the United States, particularly in regard to racial disparities in the American criminal justice system. It will be very useful for classroom discussions of why Black Lives Matter emerged, why Colin Kaepernick is refusing to stand for the national anthem, etc.

Filmed in cities across the country, the documentary explores why so many unarmed black people have been targeted and killed by law enforcement officers, an issue that has taken center stage in the national consciousness. The filmmakers talk to legal experts, activists and law enforcement officials who speak to the inequality within our criminal justice system. The film asks the crucial question of how to prevent more violence in this country, including Black on Black deaths. Activists, law enforcement officials, legal scholars, and the family members of victims offer a range of responses.

At its heart, When Justice Isn’t Just confronts the broken criminal justice system, focusing on the incarceration rate of people of color. As the Black Lives Matter movement and citizens nationwide question the accountability of our justice system in cases of police violence, When Justice Isn’t Just is an essential addition to the ongoing discussion about reform and renewal.

David Massey and producer Dawn Alexander have screened their film throughout the country. As Massey states, “we as filmmakers couldn’t sit on the sidelines without documenting one of the most important human rights issues facing America and the black community today.”

When Justice Isn’t Just features a broad array of people, including Civil Rights Attorney Benjamin L. Crump, Dr. Cornel West, Black Lives Matter’s Dr. Melina Abdullah, Criminal Attorney Tom Mesereau, LAPD Deputy Chief William Scott, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill and many more.

Director/Producer David Massey is an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications & Education from Ohio Dominican University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Advanced Film & Television from the American Film Institute. He is the first African American in the history of the Academy Awards to be nominated for an Oscar in the Live-Action Short Film category.

Presently, Massey is the co-chair of the Black Association of Documentary Filmmakers, West (BAD-West) in Los Angeles and an adjunct professor at Pasadena City College. He has been the recipient of several prestigious awards, including The Martin Ritt Scholarship; the Eastman Kodak Second Century Honoree; induction into The Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame; The National Education Association for the “Advancement of Learning through Broadcasting”; the National Black Programming Consortium “Prized Pieces”; PBS “Innovator Teacher’s Award”; and the Heartland Film Festival’s Crystal Heart. Additionally, Massey is a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Co-Producer/Writer Dawn Alexander is mother of a young African American male, and as such created this project with a deeply felt commitment to his safety and the safety of other young black men in America. When Justice Isn’t Just is her most recent attempt to address justice since: “Justice can only exist within the coordinates of equality, and is the constant and perpetual disposition to render every person his due.”

 

July 19, 2016

Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, workers and communists

Filed under: Black Lives Matter,Occupy Wall Street — louisproyect @ 6:53 pm

Today I got a FB message from an American living in Italy who has been asked to give a short speech “to one of the many Italian communist parties at the end of the month in Naples concerning class consciousness in current movements in the US, particularly Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, among others.” He asked what I and another North Star editor might have responded to the questions below. As is customary, I will answer them publicly since others might have the same types of questions.

1) what the make-up of these movements is, if they’re vastly working class and poor or if there is a substantial component of middle or even upper class support etc.

Occupy Wall Street was predominantly made up of students and young working people who were willing to camp out in Zuccotti Park in the financial district even if it meant losing their job. Since many young people are part of the “precariat”, it is altogether possible that sacrificing a job as a barista or a bike messenger was acceptable given the importance of the struggle. I have much less contact with Black Lives Matter but feel confident in saying that many of the activists are a mixture of working class African-Americans and students. In fact, I doubt that there is much difference in social terms between the two movements and the Vietnam antiwar movement and Black liberation movement of the 1960s such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) that was led by college students primarily. What you will not see to any great extent is representation from the major unions of the AFL-CIO even though they have praised the movements and provided speakers at rallies. The explanation for this is that bus drivers, UPS deliverymen and women, postal workers, etc. tend to be preoccupied with managing their family affairs and unwilling to take the chance of being arrested or fired. This has been true of leftist movements since WWII for the most part.

2) what the role of the working class is, especially among the young, in these movements..and what their contribution has been to these movements towards the development of mass organization

Answered above.

3) if communists, those identifying as such, or communist parties in the US are participating in these movements

Once again I have had more direct contact with the Occupy movement than BLM. Although I am sure that “the communists” themselves would disagree with me but I would say that the anarchists had a much more organic connection to the Occupy movement than the organized left that saw it as an opportunity to pick up members. This is not to say that they weren’t hard workers and did not believe deeply in the goals of the movement. It is just that they have been trained for generations to see the mass movement as a sphere to operate it rather than an end in itself. They are hamstrung by conceptions of “democratic centralism” that entail caucusing beforehand and bloc voting to support the party line. If the party line and the mass movement’s goals coincide, that works out but when they clash, there can be hell to pay. I say that as a veteran of the Vietnam antiwar movement.

4) and what links, if any, there has been to anti war movements in recent years to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan etc.

There has been almost no connection. The anti-war movements tend to be made up of older veterans of earlier struggles such as Vietnam and Central America who belong to “communist” parties that were not particularly suited to the “horizontalism” of Occupy or BLM. I posted an article written by a co-thinker about the “culture clash” between the Leninist parties and the new movements back in December 2011. It is a very astute commentary on the failure of the communists to develop organic ties to Occupy and by implication applies to BLM as well.

Guest post by Pham Binh

Occupy and the Tasks of Socialists

By Pham Binh

December 14, 2011

Occupy is a once in a lifetime opportunity to re-merge the socialist and working class movements and create a viable broad-based party of radicals, two prospects that have not been on the cards in the United States since the late 1960s and early 1970s. The socialist left has not begun to think through these “big picture” implications of Occupy, nor has it fully adjusted to the new tasks that Occupy’s outbreak has created for socialists. In practice, the socialist left follows Occupy’s lead rather than Occupy follow the socialist left’s lead. As a result, we struggle to keep pace with Occupy’s rapid evolution.

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) mobilized more workers and oppressed people in four weeks than the entire socialist left combined has in four decades. We would benefit by coming to grips with how and why other forces (namely anarchists) accomplished this historic feat.

The following is an attempt to understand Occupy, review the socialist response, and draw some practical conclusions aimed at helping the socialist left become central rather than remain marginal to Occupy’s overall direction.

Occupy’s Class Character and Leadership

Occupy is more than a movement and less than a revolution. It is an uprising, an elemental and unpredictable outpouring of both rage and hope from the depths of the 99%.

Occupy is radically different from the mass movements that rocked American politics in the last decade or so: the immigrants’ rights movement that culminated on May 1, 2006 in the first national political strike since 1886, the Iraq anti-war movement of 2002-2003, and the global justice movement that began with the Battle of Seattle in 1999 and ended on 9/11. All three were led by liberal non-governmental organizations (NGOs). They sponsored the marches, obtained the permits, and selected who could and could not speak from the front of the rallies. Militant, illegal direction action tended to be the purview of adventurist Black Bloc elements or handfuls of very committed activists.

Compared to these three movements, the following differences stand out: Occupy is broader in terms of active participants and public support and, most importantly, is far more militant and defiant. Tens of thousands of people are willing to brave arrest and police brutality. The uprising was deliberately designed by its anarchist initiators to be an open-ended and all-inclusive process, thereby avoiding the pitfalls of the failed conventional single-issue protest model. The “people’s mic,” invented to circumvent the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) ban on amplified sound, means that anyone can be heard by large numbers of people at any time.

One of the most important elements that makes Occupy an uprising and not merely a mass movement is its alleged leaderlessness. Of course as Marxists we know that every struggle requires leadership in some form, and Occupy is no exception. The leaders of Occupy are those who put their bodies on the line at the encampments and get deeply involved in the complex, Byzantine decision-making process Occupy uses known as “modified consensus.” Occupy’s leaders are those who make the proposals at planning meetings, working groups, and General Assemblies (GAs) that attract enough support to determine the uprising’s course of action.

The people leading the uprising are those who are willing to make the biggest sacrifices for it.

Since Occupy is self-organizing and self-led by its most dedicated participants, attempts to make its decision-making process more accessible to those who are not willing or able to dedicate themselves to Occupy 24 hours a day, seven days a week will fall flat. “All day, all week, occupy Wall Street!” is not just a chant, it is a way of life for Occupy’s de facto leadership.

This reality has affected the class character of encampment participants, who tend to be either what Karl Marx called lumpenproletariat (long-term homeless, hustlers, drug addicts, and others who have fallen through the cracks of the capitalist edifice) or highly educated (white) students, ex-students, and graduate students. The former joined the encampments not just to eat and sleep in a relatively safe place but also because they hope the uprising will win real, meaningful change. The latter tend to dominate Occupy’s convoluted decision-making process and what motivates them is identical to what motivates the lumpenproletarian elements: hope that Occupy will win real, meaningful change. Many of these people are saddled with tremendous amounts of personal debt, have worked two or three part-time jobs simultaneously, or were unable to find work in their field despite their expensive, extensive educations. They were destined to be secure petty bourgeois or well-paid white-collar workers before the ongoing fallout from the 2008 crisis claimed their futures and put their backs against the wall. This is the material reality underpinning the determination of Occupy participants to keep coming back despite repeated arrests, beatings, and setbacks. Their determination is the stuff revolutions are made of.

The advantage of Occupy’s structure and form is that the Democratic Party, liberal NGOs, and union leaders have been unable to co-opt the uprising before it exploded into over 1,000 American towns and cities and targeted President Obama. The disadvantage is that it limits Occupy geographically to places where authorities will tolerate encampments and sociologically to the least and most privileged sections of the population, to those who have no where else to go besides the encampments and to those who can afford to camp out for weeks at a time.

The undocumented immigrant who works 60 hours a week and the wage slave who works 40 hours a week will find it very difficult to shape Occupy’s decision-making process. Attempts to scrap Occupy’s existing structures and forms to make them more accessible to those other than full-time occupiers carry two inherent risks: 1) opening it up to forces that would love nothing more than to turn the uprising’s fighters into foot soldiers for Obama’s 2012 campaign and 2) diminishing the power wielded by Occupy’s most dedicated participants. In places where Occupy does not take the form of a permanent encampment its decision-making process can be even more diffuse and difficult to participate in.

Full: https://louisproyect.org/2011/12/15/occupy-and-the-tasks-of-socialists/

 

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