Monthly Archives: December 2009

Still Waiting on a Marxist Analysis of Race . . .

Professor Adolf Reed Jr. argues in The limits of anti-racism that racism needs to be redefined on concrete and political terms. By redefining racism as a system that “stigmatized populations” by being “clustered on the bad side of

The Haitian Revolution:  First successful slave revolt, and subject of CLR James' classic marxist text The Black Jacobins

The Haitian Revolution: First successful slave revolt, and subject of CLR James' classic marxist text The Black Jacobins

the distribution of costs and benefits,” we begin to develop a more serious framework to view the problem. Seeing how the distribution of “costs” and “benefits” is itself racialized, adds a new framework challenging the old, played out Race vs. Class debate.

Most “anti-racist” left groups lack a serious understanding of how race penetrates and shapes the distribution of real world resources: energy-power, purchasing power, education, health services, etc. While anti-racist groups organize meetings to purge the internal white guilt of white activists to become “real anti-racist,” a school serving 100% students of color might have been closed down. Were the anti-racists there organizing against the school closure as an act against of racial oppression? No.

Has Marxism been a useable political framework that seriously challenges racism? Yes and No. Many Marxist militants of color have dedicated their lives to fighting both capitalism and racism. For example Nelson Peery, Harry Haywood, Ben Fletcher, CLR James, Claudia Jones, and Harry Chang all contributed greatly to an understanding of how Marxism and race relate. Oliver C Cox, Tomas Almaguer, and Theodore Allen are three outstanding academics who produced pioneering work, giving a historical and theoretical explanation of race and class as interwoven processes throughout American history.

Both Marxists and antiracists have a problem; it’s simple: they are separated. Marx created Marxism by synthesizing three sources: English Political Economy (Smith, Ricardo), German Idealism (Hegel) and Utopian Socialism (Fourier, Simon and Owen). The most mature work of Marx is Capital, where one the key points in the first volume, contrary to Smith’s argument, is that the source of surplus value is unpaid labor. Profits come from Surplus value. Ok, if that’s the case, how do we understand American Chattel Slavery, the Chinese railroad workers of the 1880s, and the Bracero program of World War II? What racial conditions were created and what surplus value was produced?

Were any of these five individuals listed above as the sources of Marxism non-white? No. So it’s about time there is an expansion of the theoretical roots of Marxism. As we can see there were key individuals that created and expanded earlier thought that Marx interwove to create his revolutionary framework. Before any Luxemburg versus Lenin, or Trotsky versus Stalin debate takes place, lets be a little imaginative and ponder the idea of what would happen to Marxism if Marx could talk with Malcolm X for a couple of days? Could Marx have had the theoretical prowess to begin his framework with four sources, one that included race? This obviously didn’t take place but it still represents a key task for today’s Marxist militants of color to accomplish.

Adolf Reed Jr.’s work contributes to the development of a political framework for activists to use that can help materialize the necessary historical project of synthesizing anti-racism and Marxism.

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The Limits of Anti-racism

Adolph Reed Jr.

Antiracism is a favorite concept on the American left these days. Of course, all good sorts want to be against racism, but what does the word mean exactly?

The contemporary discourse of “antiracism” is focused much more on taxonomy than politics. It emphasizes the name by which we should call some strains of inequality—whether they should be broadly recognized as evidence of “racism”— over specifying the mechanisms that produce them or even the steps that can be taken to combat them. And, no, neither “overcoming racism” nor “rejecting whiteness” qualifies as such a step any more than does waiting for the “revolution” or urging God’s heavenly intervention. If organizing a rally against racism seems at present to be a more substantive political act than attending a prayer vigil for world peace, that’s only because contemporary antiracist activists understand themselves to be employing the same tactics and pursuing the same ends as their predecessors in the period of high insurgency in the struggle against racial segregation.

This view, however, is mistaken. The postwar activism that reached its crescendo in the South as the “civil rights movement” wasn’t a movement against a generic “racism;” it was specifically and explicitly directed toward full citizenship rights for black Americans and against the system of racial segregation that defined a specific regime of explicitly racial subordination in the South. The 1940s March on Washington Movement was also directed against specific targets, like employment discrimination in defense production. Black Power era and post-Black Power era struggles similarly focused on combating specific inequalities and pursuing specific goals like the effective exercise of voting rights and specific programs of redistribution. Continue reading

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Reflections on ISO Critique: Response to Readers

We received a critical message regarding our piece on the SFSU occupation from a commentator named “Alejandra.”

"Liberation is a praxis: the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it." - Paulo Freire

"Liberation is a praxis: the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it." - Paulo Freire

As self-reflection and self criticism is just as important as criticism of others, we take these types of comments seriously and hope to continue receiving them from leftists in response to what we post on here.

Just to be clear, folks who participate and post on this blog work in coalition with ISO members (and various other tendencies we have written about) in movements against budget cuts and justice for Oscar Grant.  Our criticisms and reflections never preclude working together with these groups in the real world.

Here is the message we received from “Alejandra” (our response follows it)

Alejandra:

i´m not a member of the ISO, but i think it should be noted that this AS response fails on many accounts.

if you argued that what made Nov. 20th at Berkeley a success was a synthesis of the General Assembly with direct action, then why wasn´t the SFSU occupation proposed to a general assembly? do you acknowledge the turnout at SFSU in support of the occupation was pretty damn small? why can´t direct actions be done via the process of mass democracy (one person, one vote)?

The occupiers undercut the actual general assembly process at SFSU by making a unilateral decision. but rather than acknowledge this, you simply evade the question.

moreover, you pose a total strawman concerning democracy. nobody has every claimed that democracy means “every person has to approve something before it happens.” ridiculous! in the real world, a democratic process means a majority rules vote. couldn´t there and shouldn´t there have been a discussion and debate and vote on the occupation? if you don´t agree there should have been, you have the obligation to explain why.

lastly, it is a terrible means of debate to respond to a mild criticism with the inflamattory comparison of Corrigan´s critique and the ISO´s. what a great way to cut off discussion! if it´s true you are trying to learn from experience and not be sectarian, why have such a derisory tone and approach to other groups that,whatever your differences may be, are working in the struggle against the budget cuts?

despite all the talk about moving beyond the problems of the left, it seems to me that AS is mired in some of the worst old traditions: sectarianism and ultraleftism.

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Reflections on ISO Critique:  Response to Readers

I.  Possibility of Repression

II.  Democracy:  Theoretical Confusion

III.  Politicization

IV.  “Sectarianism” vs. Criticism

V.  Conclusion

Comrade Alejandra, first of all your response is very much appreciated!  In the spirit of comradely criticism, I’d like to point out where it’s problematic.  Primarily this emerges in two ways: a total lack of consideration for the possibility of repression and underlying theoretical confusion over the nature of democracy.  These problems, and the conflict between our two approaches in general, are important questions for this struggle; it would be much appreciated if you would continue to engage. Continue reading

Racial Unity in the Class Struggle

Most people don’t openly say this, but it’s generally assumed that an activist should only organize their own racial community and not any others. It is commonly accepted that whites should not organize communities of color due to them reproducing white supremacy. These

Racial unity amongst bay area militants.  Is this SF State or Berkeley?

The photo shows representatives of the Asian, Black, and Chicano/Mexicano student organizations at Berkeley (that is Richard Aoki on the left, whose life is documented in the recently released film “Aoki”)

are questions and concerns we should take seriously but with the conscious goal of working through the racial contradictions rather than accepting them as they are. The process of building unity amongst the working class will find its most difficult hurdles in confronting race and racism.

The picture to the right is of three different militants, from three different racial groups, coming together in struggle.  Many have pointed out that the budget cut movement is largely White activists, but the reality is that the budget cuts impact communities of color far more. Therefore it’s important for communities of color to continue entering this struggle, and in large part this means bringing in issues that pertain specifically to one’s racial community. For example, many Black activists against the budget cuts bring up the racist murder of Oscar Grant. In their political mind these issues are not different but stem from the same system.

Let’s return to the positive aspects of the 1960s, and the quest for racial unity in order for the struggle to deepen by simultaneously challenging the particular issues in each racial community with the major issues that we are all subjected to through the budget cuts and the general breakdown of capitalism.

Everything Touched by Capital Turns Toxic

In the article below, written by Gifford Hartman, capital’s war against the ecological is couched within a rich history of class struggle in California.  California’s economy transformed from its early days as center of raw mineral extraction (primarily gold and, later oil), to one based on agriculture, and then became the site of the pioneering suburban sprawl model of housing development. The earth was abused and re-abused through every cycle of accumulation right along with the indio slaves, mexicano laborers, chinese contract workers, okie migrants,  black longshoremen, and the rest of us who were drawn by the dynamic economy at the Pacific rim of  US imperialism.

Crisis in California: Everything Touched by Capital Turns Toxic

I should be very much pleased if you could find me something good (meaty) on economic conditions in California…. California is very important for me because nowhere else has the upheaval most shamelessly caused by capitalist centralisation taken place with such speed.

– Letter from Karl Marx to Friedrich Sorge, 1880

Shantytown USA

In California toxic capitalist social relations demonstrated their full irrationality in May 2009 when banks bulldozed brand-new, but unsold, McMansions in the exurbs of Southern California.

Across the United States an eviction occurs every 13 seconds and there are at the moment at least five empty homes for every homeless person. The newly homeless are finding beds unavailable as shelters are stretched well beyond capacity. St. John’s Shelter for Women and Children in Sacramento regularly turns away 350 people a night. Many of these people end up in the burgeoning tent cities that are often located in the same places as the ‘Hoovervilles’ – similar structures, named after then President Herbert Hoover – of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The tent city in Sacramento, California’s state capital, was set up on land that had previously been a garbage dump. It became internationally known when news media from Germany, the UK, Switzerland and elsewhere covered it. It featured in the French magazine Paris Match and on The Oprah Winfrey Show in the US. Of course this publicity necessitated that Arnold Schwarzenegger, California’s governor, and Kevin Johnson, mayor of Sacramento, shut it down. When we visited in March 2009 to investigate, we met Governor Schwarzenegger and Mayor Johnson there by chance. Johnson told us the tent city would be evacuated, saying, ‘They can’t stay here, this land is toxic.’

Almost half the people we spoke with had until recently been working in the building trades. When the housing boom collapsed they simply could not find work. Some homeless people choose to live outside for a variety of reasons, including not being allowed to take pets into homeless shelters or to freely drink and use substances. But most of the tent city dwellers desperately wanted to be working and wanted to be housed. In many places people creating tent encampments are met with hostility, and are blamed for their own condition. New York City, with a reputation for intolerance towards the homeless, recently shut down a tent city in East Harlem. Homeowners near a tent city of 200 in Tampa, Florida organised to close it down, saying it would ‘devalue’ their homes. In Seattle, police have removed several tent cities, each named ‘Nickelsville’ after the Mayor who ordered the evictions.

Yet in some places, like Nashville, Tennessee, tent cities are tolerated by local police and politicians. Church groups are even allowed to build showers and provide services. Other cities that have allowed these encampments are: Champaign, Illinois; St. Petersburg, Florida; Lacey, Washington; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Reno, Nevada; Columbus, Ohio; Portland, Oregon. Ventura, California recently changed its laws to allow the homeless to sleep in cars and nearby Santa Barbara has made similar allowances. In San Diego, California a tent city appears every night in front of the main public library downtown. Continue reading

Wallerstein on the Current Cojuncture

We’re reposting these notes by world-systems analyst Immanuel Wallerstein because of their concise presentation and contribution towards an understanding of our present situation.  Here in California we are in the midst of interesting and exciting developments of struggle against budget cuts, the outward expression of the crisis of capital.

Immanuel Wallerstein

Immanuel Wallerstein

In this context radical forces should be engaging in “serious internal struggles over the correct strategy to pursue.”  We’ve seen this develop in the student movement (see the posts below) and will continue to see it as resistance spreads.

The Current Conjuncture: Short-run and Middle-run Projections
by Immanuel Wallerstein

1. Where We Are:

a) The world has entered a depression, whose greatest impact is yet to come (in the next five years).

b) The United States has entered a serious decline in geopolitical power, whose greatest impact is yet to come (in the next five years).

c) The world environment is entering into serious crisis (and nothing much will be done about it) (in the next five years).

d) The rumblings of left-oriented social movements are everywhere, but they are poorly coordinated and lack clear tactical vision (because they lack clear middle-run strategic vision).

e) Far-right forces have clearer short-run tactical vision than the left (a combination of preparing for violence and a refusal of all centrist compromise), but they too lack clear middle-run strategic vision.

f) The future (both short-run and middle-run) is very, very uncertain. Continue reading

SF State CEO Corrigan and “Socialists” Attack SFSU Occupation

SF State CEO Corrigan and “Socialists” Attack SFSU Occupation

I. CEO and Socialists Share Bourgeois Notion of Democracy

II. Building March 4th Strikes: Synthesizing Diverse Approaches to Organizing

The wave of occupations at universities across California has raised the stakes of the anti-budget cut struggle while also raising questions about methods of struggle. On December 9th, SFSU students spoke with action that rang louder than any “speak-out” could as they occupied the Business building for 24 hours; in the process they galvanized a whole new layer of disgruntled students around a hopeful and inspiring

No more bourgeois control!!  This is a Class War

No more bourgeois control!! This is a Class War

project: fighting the budget cuts which attack the whole working class, starting where they are right now, at their own campus. Many students remarked that the occupation was the single most important experience of their political lives. In many cases this was the first day of their political lives.

CEO and Socialists Share Bourgeois Notion of Democracy

Teachers, faculty, campus workers, and the whole campus community are affected by these cuts. Yet some have seen it necessary to publicly condemn the occupation. Chief among these are the President of SFSU, Robert Corrigan (not a surprise), and the International Socialist Organization (kind of a surprise). Continue reading

Obama’s War: Foreign and Domestic

Obama’s recent decision to commit 30,000 more soldiers to the

Translation: he criticized him so much . . . yet he follows his footsteps!

Translation: he criticized him so much . . . yet he follows his footsteps!

occupation of Afghanistan has angered folks who thought the promised “change” would include change in the US government’s imperialist foreign policy.  Anti-war, semi-socialist ex-Democrat Cynthia McKinney puts the cumulative effect well in a recent editorial:

“…there is deep disquiet today within the ranks of the President’s own base in the Democratic Party, with independents, and with middle-of-the-roaders called “swing” voters.  In unprecedented numbers, voters in the United States of all previous political persuasions went to the polls and invested their dreams and, most importantly, their votes in the “hope” and “change” promised by the Obama campaign.  But in light of the President’s defense of Bush Administration war crimes and torture in U.S. courts, the transfer of trillions of hard-earned taxpayer dollars to the wealthy banking elite, continued spying on environmental and peace activists as well as support for the extension of the Patriot Act, and removal of Medicare-for-all (single payer) as a central feature of proposed health care reform, Obama voters are rethinking their support.”

The resulting uproar from the liberal/progressive wing of Democratic Party voters doesn’t result from simple naïveté about the nature of the US political system; many up-until-recently disillusioned US residents were bamboozled by Obama’s race and rhetoric.  The Black electoral base, which is generally the most progressive section of US society, has been especially victimized by the assumption that racist, imperialist politics radiate from a white, racist chief executive.  The Obama administration PR team, and the Democratic Party in general, have encouraged this image through Obama’s constant appropriation of Black political heroes like MLK and most recently Muhammad Ali.  As Dave Zirin observes in his recent article Message to Obama: You Can’t Have Muhammad Ali, this is a cynical bastardization of one of the most famous war resisters in the 20th century. Continue reading