Category Archives: Racism

American Blowback: Cop-on-Cop Crime in LA

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By George Ciccariello-Maher and Mike King
February 9, 2013

Christopher Dorner

Yesterday was not simply a day like any other, and yet an entire system is grinding into motion to ensure that the peculiarities of the day be promptly forgotten: another crazy person lost it and committed unthinkable acts. The act of killing stands in and speaks for the person: look what he has done, of course he must be crazy. Case closed.

What they want you to see is just another Adam Lanza, just another inexplicable act, and when the act speaks for the assailant, words are secondary and there is no need to listen. But this is not, and has never been, a good way to understand reality.

What they want you to forget is the sheer strangeness of what is happening in Los Angeles. Christopher Dorner allegedly killed a police officer and two civilians. This was not a random shooting by a right-wing gun-nut mourning the loss of the “Real America.” Here is a man with good things to say about liberal democrats, a supporter of heightened gun control, a former LAPD officer and Navy reservist, targeting his own institution, which he accused of racism, violence, and corruption.

Dorner’s “Last Resort”

We know all of these things because what is most peculiar about this entire case is the written testament that Dorner has left us. In a letter titled only “Last Resort” and addressed to “America,” he makes clear his grievances, his objectives, and the rationale behind his actions – a chilling declaration of war on the Los Angeles Police Department.

The press is busy citing only those bits of the statement which make Dorner seem crazy: when he addresses Tim Tebow or Larry David, for example, or when he laments the fact that he will not survive to see The Hangover 3. (See for example, Buzzfeed’s “Everything You Need to Know,” which conspicuously says very little). But the vast majority of the letter paints a picture of someone who, while clearly undergoing some sort of mental break, is astonishingly lucid as to the causes and candid as to what he intends to do about it. These causes and these intentions, regardless of what you may hear on MSNBC or Entertainment Tonight(both will essentially carry the same message), begin and end with the LAPD.

The LAPD has long played a vanguard role in white supremacist policing in the United States. Whether it be the conscious recruitment of racist cops from the south in the 1960s under William Parker (sparking the 1965 Watts Rebellion) or the continuity of well-worn brutal methods under Darryl Gates (sparking the massive 1992 L.A. Rebellions), there has been little new under the sun. Even after 1992, when change seemed for a moment inevitable and when the Bloods and Crips had, themselves, laid down arms and put forth a plan to rebuild the city, this long-needed transformation didn’t materialize. Instead, South Central became South L.A., Gates was canned, and the LAPD forcibly destroyed the gang truce. Nothing had changed.

It wasn’t long before the next scandal. Toward the end of the 1990s, what many had already known became public knowledge: that the LAPD, and especially the Rampart Division, routinely brutalized suspects and planted evidence. As a result of this revelation, the LAPD was charged under the RICO Act (as a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization) and placed under the federal oversight of a consent decree that would only be lifted in 2009.

Not coincidentally, “Globocop” Bill Bratton, currently en route to advise the Oakland Police Department, amidst widespread public opposition, is credited with cleaning up the LAPD, and Dorner’s statement appears on many websites alongside a picture of the former officer beaming alongside Bratton (it has emerged that Dorner mailed evidence to Anderson Cooper last week, including a gift from Bratton, on which he wrote “Thanks, but no thanks Will Bratton”).

According to Dorner’s statement:

“The department has not changed since the Rampart and Rodney King days. It has gotten worse. The consent decree should never have been lifted. The only thing that has evolved from the consent decree is those officers involved in the Rampart scandal and Rodney King incidents have since promoted to supervisor, commanders, and command staff, and executive positions… Are you aware that an officer… seen on the Rodney King videotape striking Mr. King multiple times with a baton on 3/3/91 is still employed by the LAPD and is now a Captain on the police department? … As a commanding officer, he is now responsible for over 200 officers. Do you trust him to enforce department policy and investigate use of force investigations on arrestees by his officers?”

One indication of this is the fact that, during the course of more than a decade of investigation of the Rampart case, only five officers were terminated, which suggests just how shallow the investigation efforts were. Dorner ominously adds that “I will correct this error,” and deems his actions a “necessary evil” not only to clear his own name, but to force “substantial change” within the LAPD.

According to Dorner, he was suspended in 2008 after reporting a superior for use of excessive force against a suspect, and eventually terminated in 2009. Dorner goes on to describe the prevalence of white supremacy in the police force: from anti-Semitic taunting to openly anti-black sentiment. After one incident involving use of the n-word, Dorner recalls confronting other officers physically, for which he was reprimanded. In retrospect, he reflects, with regard to the speaker of the word, “What I should have done, was put a Winchester Ranger SXT 9mm 147 grain bullet in his skull.” On the day that his fellow officers were given what were effectively paid suspensions, “That day, the LAPD stated that it is acceptable for fellow officers to call black officers niggers to their face and you will receive a slap on the wrist.”

A Bloody Fight for Honor on the Other Side of the Blue Line

“I am an American by choice, I am a son, I am a brother, I am a military service member, I am a man who has lost complete faith in the system, when the system betrayed, slandered, and libeled me. I lived a good life and though not a religious man I always stuck to my own personal code of ethics, ethos and always stuck to my shoreline and true North. I didn’t need the US Navy to instill Honor, Courage, and Commitment in me but I thank them for re-enforcing it. It’s in my DNA.”

–Christopher Dorner

It is clear from Dorner’s communiqué that he feels that he is following a code of honor against an unlawful body that has sullied his name; his objective being to reclaim his honor. Through his spectacle of violence he is also overtly drawing attention to his self-identity – as a black man, as an “honest officer”/ conscientious worker, and as a veteran – counter-posed against institutions of corruption, deceit and abuse. In an effort that he clearly self-defines as terrorism, Dorner invokes old-West, rugged individualism: “Unfortunately, I will not be alive to see my name cleared. That’s what this is about, my name. A man is nothing without his name.” At length, Dorner goes through ideal-types of various officers’ grouped by race, and explicitly cites their role in reproducing white supremacy. He makes clear that he is patriotic and loves the government (and Chris Christie); his war is with the LAPD.

Not unlike many mass killers, Dorner’s writing exhibits a hyper-vigilant(e) feeling of betrayal and unwavering need for revenge. His writing reflects a self-conscious awareness of this role, a self-forged morality that invokes clear Zarathustra-like qualities of the Overman imposing his will on weak and vile petty tyrants. Dorner says:

“I am here to change and make policy. The culture of LAPD versus the community and honest/good officers needs to and will change. I am here to correct and calibrate your morale (sic) compasses to true north.”

Dorner’s writing also features a list of thanks to everyone from George H.W. Bush to Charlie Sheen. The following quote has extensively repeated in the press, and bears some interrogation: “If possible, I want my brain preserved for science/research to study the effects of severe depression on an individual’s brain.” To dismiss this as simple madness, is to individualize this man and his actions (however they are interpreted) as apolitical and random, another tragic coupling of broken people with fully-functional weapons. It is clear, through his chronicling of long-past slights un-avenged, interspersed with calls for more gun control and an endorsement for Hillary Clinton for President, that he is troubled. Dorner writes, “Ask yourselves what would cause somebody to take these drastic measures like I did. That’s what is important.”

This is surely a discussion the LAPD would not pine over if it did not happen. It is a discourse that is foreign to the press, even the likes of liberals like Chris Matthews, that Dorner lauds. Soldier-Officer Dorner sits, using his training against the force that trained him, waiting to unleash his next attack. The extent to which we go to Dr. Drew for helpful insights in the next few days and not victims of police brutality or whistle-blower cops or to analyses of race and policing in our cities, the extent to which we talk about gun control and not how and why the men who beat Rodney King got to run the LAPD instead of being run out of it, is the extent to which we sit and wait, feeding ammunition to the next Christopher Dorner.

A Defection in the Occupation Forces

Now Dorner has declared war on the LAPD and he has named targets: “The enemy combatants in LA are not the citizens and suspects, it’s the police officers.” To a list of different offenders, he adds the ominous promise: “You are a high value target.” The parameters of the violence he has seen meted out to everyday poor residents of Los Angeles structures his own response, such as when he urges:

“Citizens/non-combatants, do not render medical aid to downed officers/enemy combatants. They would not do the same for you. They will let you bleed out… don’t honor these fallen officers/dirtbags. When your family members die, they just see you as extra overtime at a crime scene and at a perimeter. Why would you value their lives when they clearly don’t value yours or your family members lives?”

He has studied the new counterinsurgency doctrine, as rewritten in 2006 by General David Petraeus, and he turns its language against its authors, comparing himself to insurgent forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. “I will bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether on or off duty. ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance] is my strength and your weakness. You will now live the life of the prey.”

Frantz Fanon argued pointedly that exploitation, occupation, and colonization simply cannot exist without racism and torture of one form or another. As a result, it is useless to oppose the violence of occupation, or the torture made so palpable in Zero Dark Thirty, without opposing the occupation itself, of Iraq, of Afghanistan, of South Central L.A. Yes, something similar could be said of the LAPD, and here we begin to grasp why this most violent of institutions has so rigidly resisted change: because its historically brutal and terroristic tactics, the daily oppression and humiliation exerted most directly at poor black and brownAngelinos, are merely symptoms of the LAPD’s structural function.

When Fanon resigned his post as a psychiatrist to join the Algerian Revolution, he was merely putting into revolutionary practice what he had practiced in the analyst’s chair for years. For Fanon, mental neuroses, especially among people of color, were the result not of any inherent trait or familial trauma, but of the profound trauma imposed by white supremacist and colonial society. And since social structures generate many mental illnesses, we cannot hope to cure these without destroying the institutions that make people sick in the first place.

It was this imperative that led Fanon to throw himself into the armed struggle, and when he did so, he wrote that: “A society that drives its members to desperate solutions is a non-viable society, a society to be replaced.” There can be no more powerful symptom of desperation, no more direct indicator of the non-viability of existing institutions, than this hunted man named Christopher Dorner.

There’s nothing pretty about the desperate actions of a soon-to-be-dead man, but we owe it to ourselves, and to the world, to at least attempt to understand. To be clear: Dorner’s statement is not a revolutionary manifesto, and he certainly didn’t grasp the structural relationship between occupation and LAPD brutality, but his statement and his actions are deeply symptomatic of a social illness that it does not name. If the adage “you reap what you sow” were not already the slogan of the week when unrepentant Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, who embraced the murderous dehumanization of his profession, was killed at a Texas gun range last Saturday, this is now undeniable.

Shoot to Kill: Counterinsurgency and Collateral Damage

Given its social function, the LAPD simply cannot be anything but racist and brutal, and as though attempting to prove Dorner’s point, the response to his attacks has been as brutal as anything. The thin blue line of secrecy among officers has been replaced by a thick blue line, protecting officers and their families while unleashing unrestrained violence on southern California. In only the most infamous incident of yesterday, two women delivering newspapers were shot by trigger-happy officers who, it seems, mistook their royal blue truck for Dorner’s gray one. Dozens of bullet holes riddled the back of the pickup, their clusters suggesting a clear intent to kill without identifying. Within the context of legitimate, open threats to officers, the “shoot anything that moves” approach is perhaps an accentuation, but hardly an aberration, from the norm.

The application of a counterinsurgency model of urban policing in cities like Los Angeles is longstanding. In Los Angeles alone, from bulldozed houses in “Operation Hammer” and the invention of gang injunctions in the mid-late 1980s, to the racialized use of checkpoints, and the routine abuses Dorner points to today, the “War on Crime” is a war in every sense of the word. The LAPD gang unit trains troops headed to Afghanistan in how to develop informants and use counterinsurgency tactics to control “hostile” populations and spaces. The abuses that Dorner lists are the effects of this logic of occupation, a term officers themselves use to describe their work. As with criminal Ramparts officers getting promotions, Dorner sees the daily routines of abuse as morally wrong, but without seeing the logic of the broader structures in which those practices are embedded.

The violent overlap between modern warfare and domestic policing, of which Dorner is a strange byproduct of, is especially acute among police officers that are returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq. The increased levels of PTSD and violence among veterans in general, is amplified, not only by holding a job that empowers, and sometimes requires, the use of deadly force, but because the current methods of contemporary urban policing have become enmeshed with the overall objectives, strategic logic, and daily practice of counterinsurgency.

As Oakland brings on former LAPD Chief William Bratton to add a play or two to Oakland’s counterinsurgency manual, the OPD, City Council, and District Attorney continue to refuse to fire and criminally charge Miguel Masso, an Iraq veteran who had previously tortured a man in custody when with the NYPD, before shooting and killing 18-year old Alan Blueford in East Oakland last May, as he laid on the ground and cried “I didn’t do anything.” Despite Masso’s account of what happened seriously conflicting with the coroner’s report and witness accounts, Masso still has his job. Without pathologizing veterans it is clear that there are serious concerns here. For the time being, Masso is another one of those cops who gets paid leave, who gets to walk the streets, who may get a medal or a promotion down the line – though there are many people in Oakland continuing to try and see otherwise. It is the commonness of excuses for police abuse/murder, the erasure of the victims as collateral damage that should be highlighted when trying to make sense of this broken, rogue former-LA cop.

A Gravedigger in Uniform

“I am the walking exigent circumstance you created.”

– Christopher Dorner

Much like Dan Freeman, the main character in Stan Greenlee’s classic book and film, The Spook Who Sat By the Door, Christopher Dorner is the dialectical gravedigger of a dying system: armed, trained, and prepared by a system which prizes cop culture, which massively arms the police and unleashes them on the poor and racialized, and which in its late stages demands that black people do the work of white supremacy. In this circumstance, those skills are being utilized against the police. Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz said, “This is a somewhat unprecedented, or at least rare occurrence – a trained, heavily armed person who is hunting for police officers.”  LAPD Chief Charlie Beckadded, “Of course he knows what he’s doing; we trained him. He was also a member of the Armed Forces… It is extremely worrisome and scary.”

For Marx, capitalism would sow the seeds of its own destruction and produce its own gravedigger, the proletariat. Fanon recognized, however, that this gravedigger might be characterized more by the “desperate solutions” to which they turn than by their class consciousness. In the United States today, late capitalism is equally shot through with white supremacy and upheld by brute force by increasingly heavy-handed police. It should not surprise us when the gravediggers assume an ominously different form.

George Ciccariello-Maher is assistant professor of political science at Drexel University. He is the author of We Created Chávez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution and can be reached at gjcm(at)drexel.edu.

Mike King is a Ph.D candidate in sociology at UC Santa Cruz, and can be reached at mikeking0101(at)gmail.com. Both study policing and counterinsurgency.

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Constitutional referendum, presidential elections to be held in Zimbabwe

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The following analysis below was originally published by Fight Back! News, the news wing of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. To understand more of the history of the ZANU-PF and its ongoing revolutionary shaping of Zimbabwe, then I’d highly recommend everyone in reading “New Democracy & ZANU-PF: Zimbabwe’s Revolutionary Path,” which was published by Return to the Source

Constitutional referendum, presidential elections to be held in Zimbabwe

January 27, 2013

Zimbabwe’s two major political parties agreed to a new draft constitution Jan. 17. After nearly two years of deliberation, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), reached an agreement that may replace the country’s current constitution and pave the way for a presidential election later this year. This draft proposal will go before the Zimbabwean people for approval in a nationwide referendum later this year.

Following the agreement, President Robert Mugabe, of ZANU-PF, called for peaceful presidential elections as early as March 2013. Fearing defeat, the unpopular MDC immediately came out against holding elections.

Most analysts believe that Mugabe and his party, ZANU-PF, will handily defeat Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC at the polls. An August 2012 survey by Freedom House, a pro-imperialist Western think-tank, found that more than 31% of people support ZANU-PF compared to the 20% who support MDC in the upcoming elections. The study found that the MDC had lost 18% support since 2010 while ZANU-PF had gained 17% support in the same period. Even Zimbabwe Vigil, a pro-MDC firm based in Britain, predicted in September 2012 that ZANU-PF would win the upcoming elections because of corruption in the MDC.

The draft constitution comes amid the profound revolutionary changes taking place in Zimbabwe. White colonists, never more than 4.3% of the population, ruled Zimbabwe for many decades. Then Zimbabweans waged a 15-year liberation war against white minority rule that led to negotiations and ended Ian Smith’s racist regime in 1980. This victory established African majority rule and most whites left the country. Still, wealthy whites continued controlling most of Zimbabwe’s good farmland and resources. Former colonial power Britain claimed to support land reform and resettlement, but failed to fund it. Britain ignored their agreements with Zimbabwe’s government and stirred up trouble.

After a series of austerity measures forced upon Zimbabwe by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the people of Zimbabwe began occupying large farms and taking control of their own resources in 2000. President Mugabe and ZANU-PF supported these farm occupations through the Fast Track Land Reform Program. The reform redistributed 7 million hectares of Zimbabwe’s land to more than a million small farmers. Many large landowners were dispossessed and their land given to the rightful owners.

The land reform drastically changed ownership and power relations in Zimbabwe. The U.S. and Britain responded with economic sanctions, sending Zimbabwe down a destructive path of hyperinflation and economic turmoil. In the 2008 presidential election, Britain and the U.S. tried to use Zimbabwe’s economic crisis to violently destabilize the country and oust Mugabe, trying to replace him with the puppets of the MDC.

Although the MDC won a plurality of the votes in the first round of the 2008 presidential election, they withdrew from the runoff in an attempt to delegitimize the democratic process. In the runoff, Mugabe defeated the MDC candidate Tsvangirai in a landslide. Mugabe nearly doubled his absolute vote total from the first round of elections – 1.1 million in the first round to 2.2 million in the runoff. Shortly after the election, Mugabe and ZANU-PF formed a power-sharing government with the MDC that included Tsvangirai as prime minister.

Land reform is not the only area of Zimbabwe’s economy experiencing serious progressive change. In 2012, the Zimbabwean government began enforcing the Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Bill, which requires at least 50% black local ownership of all businesses and companies. This policy is extremely popular among the Zimbabwean people, who see it as means of exercising their right to control over their own resources. By November 2012, Zimbabwe had indigenized 120 major mining companies and created 400 Employee Share Ownership Trusts to better redistribute the nation’s wealth to the people.

In spite of the continued sanctions and economic warfare from the U.S. and Britain, Zimbabwe’s economy continues to recover and has grown at a remarkable rate since 2009. According to Zimbabwean Finance Minister Tendai Biti, the country saw 8.1% growth in 2010 and 9.3% growth in 2011. Agricultural production experienced growth from the land reform as well, with tobacco production expanding from 2008’s record low of 105 million pounds to 330 million pounds in 2012. As Zimbabwe recovers, more black Zimbabweans will share in their nation’s wealth than in the 33 years since the end of white minority rule, leading to a more balanced, collective economy.

As Zimbabwe approaches its 2013 elections, the danger of imperialist meddling in southern Africa runs high. Wikileaks revealed in August last year that Tsvangirai, of the MDC, had used his 2009 visit to U.S. President Barack Obama to lobby for greater sanctions on Zimbabwe in order to bring down Mugabe and ZANU-PF. Banks and corporations in the U.S. and Britain have a vested commercial interest in seeing an end to ZANU-PF’s progressive, national democratic policies and anti-imperialism. True to form, the MDC showed their loyalty to their foreign masters by unveiling the Jobs, Upliftment, Investment, Capital and Environment Plan on Nov. 29 of 2012. This scheme proposes to reverse ZANU-PF’s indigenization policy, facilitating U.S. and British corporate domination.

It’s no surprise that the people of Zimbabwe have turned against the MDC, given the party’s allegiance to Britain and the U.S., at the expense of the people. However, the US, Britain, France and other Western European powers are waging a campaign to re-colonize Africa, most recently seen in the U.S.-backed French military intervention in Mali.

Military interventions by imperialist powers in Somalia, Ivory Coast, Libya, Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and now Mali demonstrate the willingness of the U.S. and Western Europe to use military force against governments or people that resist their dominance.

Progressive activists, organizers and revolutionaries in the U.S. must resolutely oppose any attempt by Western powers to intervene in Zimbabwe, especially with elections on the horizon. People in the U.S. should support the right of the Zimbabwean people to determine their own destiny, as expressed through the policies of ZANU-PF, and they should fight moves for the re-colonization of Africa.

Three Positions on Gun Control

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The following article below was originally published by the Return to the Source news blog: 

December 19, 2012

Armed Black Panther members of the Seattle chapter on the steps of the Legislative Building.

People across the United States are mourning the ghoulish mass murder that took place on Friday, December 14, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The victims – 20 children as young as six years old and six adults – were murdered by 20 year old Adam Lanza.

The horrific tragedy in Connecticut immediately ignited fierce debate on the merits of gun control, but predictably neither side is interested in examining the issue from a class-based perspective. The usual suspects representing the traditional political trends in America, led by different sections of the capitalist class, jumped feet-first into the discussion espousing the positions that people in the US have come to expect.

Yesterday, President Barack Obama came out in support of reinstating the assault weapons ban that expired under President George W. Bush in 2004. Though Lanza acquired his murder weapons by stealing them from his mother, rather than purchasing them, the President argues that reducing access to assault weapons will prevent future tragedies like the killings in Newtown, Connecticut, from taking place.

On the other side, we find the right-wing gun proponents. For them, not even the most heinous tragedy can shake their determination to uphold the Second Amendment for the capitalist class. Whereas liberals want to limit gun ownership to the state, the right-wing prefers to have armed bands of vigilantes and militias, who can be counted on to repress workers and oppressed nationalities if the conditions call for it. They hypocritically defend the right to bear arms for themselves while turning a blind eye to the already-existing gun control regulations on oppressed people in the US.

After observing the stances of comrades taking part in the debate, we felt it might be helpful to identify and materially analyze the competing positions of the gun control question. For the purposes of this piece, we hope to present some historical examples to better prepare comrades for discussions in the workplaces and the community.

Most of all, we hope to refute both the liberal position calling for greater restrictions on firearms and the crypto-right-wing position extolling the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. In its place, we arrive at and examine the Marxist position on the right to bear arms.

The Liberal Position

The “pro-gun control” forces, who have traditionally opposed to the Republican Party’s Second Amendment support and the expansion of firearms across the US, have found themselves languishing for many years. The Democratic Party has all but abandoned the position out of political opportunism. The pro-gun control position has found new life in the corporate media and the mind of liberal supporters in the US following the recent wave of mass shootings, like in Connecticut.

Rest assured, this “pro-gun control” position is put forward by other sections of the capitalist class in the Democratic Party, supported broadly by white middle class liberals. However, it also has some material support in oppressed nations affected most heavily by gun violence. Groups like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence articulate this position as follows:

“We should make it harder for convicted felons, the dangerously mentally ill, and others like them to get guns in the first place. We can do this by passing laws such as requiring Brady criminal background checks on all gun sales; banning military-style assault weapons; and strengthening law enforcement’s efforts to stop the illegal gun market, like limiting the number of guns that can be bought at one time.” (1)

The capitalist class and the white middle class in the large cities in the North, West, and Midwest that live in more constricted confines with the working class and oppressed nations push forward this “law and order” gun control policy. Indeed, the US government already has massive gun control measures in place, especially in the major cities like New York and Chicago and states across the nation, which represent the extreme end of this policy, where it’s practically unheard of for average citizens to own firearms legally.

These measures don’t restrict mass murderers like Jared Lee Loughner – the shooter in Arizona last year – or Neo-Nazis like Wade Michael Page, who murdered six people at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin this summer, from acquiring firearms. Instead, they largely restrict the rights of oppressed people who face violence from vigilantes or police from owning guns.

It is no surprise then that billionaire Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg and his coalition, “Mayors Against Illegal Guns,” are quickly becoming the leading force advancing this agenda. Principally, they support gun control for the same reason the Republican opposed gun control: they are afraid of oppressed nationalities. We quote the website of “Mayors Against Illegal Guns”:

“We support the Second Amendment and the rights of citizens to own guns. We recognize the vast majority of gun dealers and gun owners carefully follow the law…But what binds us together is a determination to fight crime, and a belief that we can do more to stop criminals from getting guns while also protecting the rights of citizens to freely own them.” (2)

This is a common theme among the liberal gun control advocates: a heavy focus on “crime” and keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, especially in big cities. This position cannot be divorced from the war on drugs and the war on Black and Latino youth, who find themselves disportionately criminalized and imprisoned. Capitalist leaders like Mayor Bloomberg in no way seek to limit the violence visited on working class and oppressed communities. Remember that Bloomberg is responsible for spearheading the blatantly racist “stop and frisk” policies carried out by the NYPD. (3) The NAACP has said of these policies: “Bloomberg’s massive street-level racial profiling program is a civil rights and human rights catastrophe that both hurts our children and makes our communities less safe.” (4)

Are we to trust the liberals like Bloomberg, chiefly responsible and complicit in waging the war on black and brown communities, with ending gun violence with new criminal restrictions? Are we to trust the racist criminal justice system and groups like the NYPD whom Bloomberg has called “his army, the 7th largest in the world?” (5)

It is no coincidence that liberal bourgeoisie like Bloomberg are silent about gun control for their “private army” when it comes to police violence and murder committed by police, like in the case of unarmed 17 year old Ramarley Graham in New York City. (6)

The gun control policies of Bloomberg and reactionary allies, like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, are efforts to extend national oppression and the capitalist monopoly on violence, especially over Black and Latino communities. This also serves to keep the working class and discontented elements of society passive in the face of foreclosures, austerity, voter suppression, legislative attacks like Right-to-Work initiatives, and efforts to use state repression to silence social movements like Occupy Wall Street and trade union protesters in Michigan. After all, unarmed protesters are entirely at the mercy of the capitalist class’ “personal army,” leaving them subject to violent repression at protests or on picket lines.

It is only natural that these forces support such measures to strip oppressed nationalities and workers from their democratic rights to bear arms: They have their own arms, their own personal security, their own “personal armies”, their police, their courts, their prisons; in other words, the “special bodies of armed men” talked of by Lenin in State & Revolution. They live in gated communities and mansions, while most Black and Latino people live in occupied territory not unlike occupied Afghanistan. The agenda of the liberal Democrats is to strengthen the apparatus of state repression – to increase arms and weapons in the hands of their “personal army” – while keeping guns out of the hands of “criminals” and other “undesirable elements”. This agenda is reflected in the expansion of billions of dollars in state funding to arm police with military hardware to the tune of $34 billion dollars over the past decade. (7)

There seems to be no talk of gun control or preventing gun violence when it comes to the army of the capitalist class. There’s no talk of assault weapon bans for the police, who are upgrading to tanks in many cities! (8)

Middle class white liberals who live in gated communities, or the “nice” sections of town also don’t have the same worries as our class and our allies. They want to strip “the common rabble” and criminals of their means of self-defense. After all, the police and the ruling class of the United States are their friends. They’re not the ones getting imprisoned, stopped and frisked, or having their homes foreclosed on.

However, comrades cannot ignore that gun violence does have a disproportionate and devastating impact in the communities of oppressed people and working class communities. African-Americans are the victim of 54% of all firearm homicides, despite making up just 13% of the population, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (9) It’s no surprise that gun-related violence disproportionately occurs in the US South, the historical home of Jim Crow and Ku Klux Klan terrorism against Black and Latino people, according to Zara Matheson at the Martin Prosperity Institute. (10) This provides some material appeal to elements of the oppressed nations in regards to these gun control policy.

Still, comrades should combat this wolf in sheep’s clothing. The enforcers of this violence are the American capitalist class and white supremacist forces that work to uphold the established order. Trusting them to end violence in the oppressed communities with gun control is the equivalent to entrusting the United States to help Syria and Libya with “humanitarian intervention.”

Malcolm X understood the nature of violence by the US government and police, as well as the need for African-Americans to defend themselves from these attacks. We quote him at some length:

“Last but not least, I must say this concerning the great controversy over rifles and shotguns. White people been buying rifles all their lives…no commotion. The only thing I’ve ever said is that in areas where the government has proven itself either unwilling or unable to defend the lives and the property of Negroes, it’s time for Negroes to defend themselves. Article number two of the Constitutional amendments provides you and me the right to own a rifle or a shotgun. It is constitutionally legal to own a shotgun or a rifle. This doesn’t mean you’re going to get a rifle and form battalions and go out looking for white folks, although you’d be within your rights – I mean, you’d be justified; but that would be illegal and we don’t do anything illegal. If the white man doesn’t want the black man buying rifles and shotguns, then let the government do its job.” (11)

There’s a reason that the Sanford police covered up the shooting of Trayvon Martin this past February, and it was only after massive protests that his killer, George Zimmerman, was arrested. Across this country, the system of white supremacy is reinforced by the underlying threat of violence, whether it comes from police brutality or vigilante terrorism. The response is not to buckle to the pressures of liberals, who trust the very purveyors of violence to protect oppressed people, but for oppressed people to have the ability to defend themselves.

Sensible policy on guns for working class and oppressed people in America can only come from a Marxist position. But to do that, we must first analyze and pull apart the muddled position carried by the advanced, progressives, and some of our comrades.

The Left-Second Amendment Position

In response to the liberal gun control proposals, many people on the US Left embrace a position similar to that espoused by the Right. This “Left-Second Amendment” position unites with the views put forth by the National Rifle Association by dismissing guns as incidental to mass murders like yesterday’s tragedy in Connecticut. In this view, something else – an external cause like mental health or the culture of violence in the US – is chiefly to blame.

This is not incorrect. The US is an incredibly violent society, with the greatest purveyor of violence being the US government itself – and that’s not our opinion; that’s the opinion of Martin Luther King Junior, who used those exact words to describe the government on April 4, 1967. We see the evidence of this ‘cultural violence’ everywhere, from movies like Act of Valor, financed by the US military to glorify violence committed against other countries, to police violence inflicted on children and the innocent, like we saw in Anaheim, California, this year.

Along the same lines, mental health services in the US are stigmatized and woefully underfunded. It’s no coincidence that many of the perpetrators of these mass killings have had severe mental health crises; crises that were more often than not identified but not adequately treated.

The Left-Second Amendment position boils down to the pressing concern over the state having a monopoly on violence. When we look back in history, oppressed people have never won their freedom without armed struggle. In many cases, the lack of an armed populace has led directly to the rise of brutal fascist regimes, like in Chile and Spain. In 1973, the workers in Chile were underprepared to defeat the fascist coup d’etat that overthrew elected President Salvador Allende because of the government’s refusal to arm the people. During the Spanish Civil War almost four decades earlier, the social democratic government was similarly reluctant to arm the workers to resist Franco’s fascist brigades. And of course everyone knows of Adolf Hitler’s infamous ban on citizens owning guns after the rise of the Nazis.

In essence, many leftists view guns as a means of self-defense for oppressed people and a safeguard against fascism. This leads them to oppose gun control measures, i.e. the liberal position on gun control.

However, the Left-Second Amendment position mistakenly adopts the Right’s view of the right to bear arms as a philosophical abstraction, rather than a material reality. In practice, the Constitution does not protect the rights of oppressed people to bear arms. Even the most vocal advocates of the Second Amendment have no objection to regulations on firearm ownership by the people who need it most to defend their class and national interests from right-wing vigilantes and state power.

The Left-Second Amendment position rests on two incorrect assumptions. First, it implicitly assumes that gun ownership is not already heavily regulated and restricted for oppressed people. And second, it assumes that the US government would ever totally restrict the ownership of firearms, which leads these leftists to vocally oppose gun control measures.

We will begin with the first assumption.

Consider the following: In 1967, there was a major legal battle going on in California against a Governor bent on abridging “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” The Governor and his party brought out all of the pro-gun control arguments about dangerous vigilantes running loose with weapons, saying that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons” and that guns were a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” (11) As it would today, the Governor’s gun control policies led to massive demonstrations of armed people marching on the Capitol.

Yes, in 1967, California Governor Ronald Reagan – future right-wing President of the United States and darling of the National Rifle Association – signed the Mulford Act in direct response to the protests and actions of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The Act banned the open-carry of loaded firearms in California, which the Panthers used to intimidate racist police officers and thereby prevent police brutality in black neighborhoods. Open-carry meant that the Panthers could defend the black community, and they rarely had to fire a single shot.

There was no talk of “a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state.” The white Second Amendment advocates we see today were not out in the streets marching with the Panthers against “encroaching tyranny.” Reagan banned the use of guns in a meaningful way by oppressed people because it was a direct threat to police dominance and white supremacy in California.

Historically, the Second Amendment has never defended the right of oppressed people to bear arms. An integral component of the state “Black codes” that were implemented at the end of Reconstruction was the denial of the gun ownership to African-Americans. This Jim Crow-era policy of national oppression extends into the 21st century through the racist “War on Drugs” and the disenfranchisement of Blacks and Latinos.

Remember that the US takes away the second amendment “right” of non-violent felons. By prosecuting the war on drugs, a disproportionate amount of Black men – 1 in 8, according to the Huffington Post – have no right to bear arms because of convicted felon status. (12) Similarly, Latinos comprise a disproportionate percentage of all convicted felons – “disenfranchised at a rate higher than whites, but lower than blacks.” (13) Through convicted felon status, the US government takes away the right to bear arms disproportionately from the African-American and Chican@ nations, allowing the state to more heavily occupy their territory through police.

Onto the second assumption:

The US government has no interest in repealing the second amendment or outright banning guns across the board. They already have ways of restricting the right of oppressed people to bear arms. For everyone else – especially white males – it’s the Wild, Wild West.

When the country was experiencing revolutionary upheavals during Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement, armed bands of white reactionaries used their second amendment ‘right to bear arms’ to attack and repress African-Americans struggling for more freedom. Striking trade unionists faced the same repression from both police and company-hired thugs on the picket lines in the 1930s and 1940s. In both cases, oppressed people and workers exercised their right to bear arms against and in opposition to the rights of an oppressor to bear arms.

The real Second Amendment advocates, attempting to make guns even more prevalent, actively pass Stand Your Ground laws that lead to the slaughter of Black youth like Trayvon Martin in February and Jordan Davis last month in Jacksonville, Florida. Marxists and progressives have nothing in common with these people.

The Marxist Position

“Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary.”

Karl Marx, March, 1850

We have examined two erroneous positions on gun control: the “left” error of embracing the Second Amendment, and the liberal “right” error of trusting the state with an exclusive monopoly on violence. Fundamentally, both positions stem from idealist assumptions about rights and the nature of the state.

The Marxist position on gun control is unequivocally upholding the right of workers and oppressed nationalities to bear arms.

In direct refutation of the Left-Second Amendment position, which upholds the right to bear arms as an abstract constitutional right, the Marxist position upholds gun ownership as a class right. Similarly, class rights directly confront the liberal belief that the state should be the predominant or sole trustee of firearms.

By classifying the right to bear arms as a class right, rather than a ‘human’, ‘constitutional’, or ‘natural’ right, the Marxist position upholds the social character of gun ownership. The Second Amendment enshrines the right to bear arms as an individual right set in place to protect individuals and their property from threats. Under capitalism, this translates into principally a ruling class and petty-bourgeois right since these are the classes that own “property,” i.e. capital, businesses, the means of production.

‘Open-Carry’ or ‘Concealed-Carry’?

We see further evidence of the reactionary character of the Second Amendment when looking at the prevalence of ‘concealed-carry’ state laws versus ‘open-carry’ state laws. ‘Open-Carry’ – allowing people to publicly carry firearms – is a social means of exercising the right to bear arms. As the Black Panther Party understood, the known presence of firearms allows oppressed people to better police their own communities and challenge the authority of the state without firing a single shot. The right to bear arms thereby becomes ‘social’ because it is a public exercise of power.

Consider why the police openly carry their firearms. The state allows its officers and agents to publicly display their firearms to deter confrontations with said agents. It is a silent exercise of state power.

Reagan banned the open-carry of loaded firearms in California precisely in reaction to the Black Panthers’ practices. If an African-American was stopped and harassed by a police officer, an openly armed Panther cadre would enter the scene to give legal counsel to the person facing police harassment. The Panthers challenged the state’s perceived monopoly on violence by acting as “a well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free [Black] State.”

In fact, California is one of seven states in the US to have outright bans on open-carry. Not surprisingly, the other six states with these bans – Illinois, Texas, New York, Florida, South Carolina, and Arkansas – are either the most populous and multinational, or located in the heart of the Black Belt South.

Not coincidentally, though, all 50 states in the US allow the concealed-carry of firearms. Illinois was the one state that upheld a ban on concealed-carry, but the US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals struck down that ban a week ago. (15) Concealed-carry caters to the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois class nature of the Second Amendment, which allows individuals to ‘protect themselves from attacks in public’. From Bernhard Goetz in 1984 to George Zimmerman in 2012, this right has generally manifested itself in white men gunning down Blacks and Latinos on the basis that they ‘felt threatened’.

Concealed-carry individualizes, rather than socializes, the right to bear arms. The Right uses concealed-carry laws to expand the legal basis for the murder of African-Americans and Latinos through Stand Your Ground laws. Even the NRA backhandedly agrees with bans on open-carry, calling the repeal of these bans “not a priority.” (16) Instead, the NRA’s far-right membership dedicatedly works to expand concealed-carry, which offers no legal basis for oppressed people to socially exercise the right to bear arms.

The Social Organization of the Right to Bear Arms

On picket lines, strikers in the 1930s regularly had to defend themselves and their fellow workers from company-hired paramilitaries. As far back as the Homestead Strike in 1892 involving Steelworkers and the Battle of Blair Mountain involving Coal Miners, the capitalist class has openly resorted to violence in order to crush the demands of striking workers.

Looking at restoring a militant strike movement as one of the main objectives of the progressive labor movement, it would be a folly to support increased gun control, which would allow the state, the capitalist class and its supporters to monopolize guns. While not all proposed gun control methods would completely curb access to firearms, Marxists should oppose any restrictions that further reduce the ability of oppressed people and workers to defend themselves or deter violence.

The disastrous consequences of gun control on the workers’ movement came full-circle during the South African Miner’s strike this year, in which state police opened fire killing 34 miners, armed mostly with clubs and other such weapons. A modern picket line with workers legally and openly carrying arms in self-defense would represent a strong deterrent to violent attempts to break up the strike by management, vigilantes or illegal police actions, like the ones that occurred in South Africa.

Many comrades will find that workers, and especially people of the oppressed nations in the US instinctively understand that the police force represents the ruling class and not their interests. Presenting the question of gun ownership in terms of class opens up workers to realizing that gun control is a question of democratic and class rights. Many workers understand reasonable gun rights and even gun control, but they will also reject the idea when presented with the prospect of surrendering their democratic right while the rich and their personal army get to hold onto this right.

In a March 1850 Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League, Karl Marx described the need for workers to exercise the right to bear arms through social organization independent of the state. We will quote him at some length:

To be able forcefully and threateningly to oppose this party, whose betrayal of the workers will begin with the very first hour of victory, the workers must be armed and organized. The whole proletariat must be armed at once with muskets, rifles, cannon and ammunition, and the revival of the old-style citizens’ militia, directed against the workers, must be opposed. Where the formation of this militia cannot be prevented, the workers must try to organize themselves independently as a proletarian guard, with elected leaders and with their own elected general staff; they must try to place themselves not under the orders of the state authority but of the revolutionary local councils set up by the workers. Where the workers are employed by the state, they must arm and organize themselves into special corps with elected leaders, or as a part of the proletarian guard. Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary. The destruction of the bourgeois democrats’ influence over the workers, and the enforcement of conditions which will compromise the rule of bourgeois democracy, which is for the moment inevitable, and make it as difficult as possible – these are the main points which the proletariat and therefore the League must keep in mind during and after the approaching uprising. (17)

In the underlined portion of the quote selected above, Marx describes the security functions of what the Bolsheviks would later call ‘Soviets’, or workers councils. Writing in London, Marx was warning against English attempts to co-opt independent armed bodies of workers by reviving citizens militias, which were directed and organized by the state to supposedly police communities. In actuality, these bodies served the interest of the capitalist state, making them functionally analogous to the gun control demands of the liberals today.

Marx instead recognized the necessity of workers organizing themselves and defending the right to bear arms through political struggle. This right would not be exercised individually through concealed-carry or for personal security, but it was instead a social right of the working class to defend their gains and interests.

In the oppressed nations within the United States, open-carry and the class right to bear arms has a rich history in America of forwarding national liberation. From countering white terrorism during Reconstruction, to the CPUSA again fighting off the Klan in the 1930’s, to the Black Panthers patrolling black communities, the right of Black armed organizations has been a guarantor of their democratic rights. Every instance of this has been organized, not on individual basis of “concealed-carrying” a handgun for individual defense, but as disciplined groups acting practically as the police force or army of the black nation itself. This, in essence, is the social right to bear arms.

The American working class and the Black and Chican@ nations should have the right and authority in their respective organizations to decide how to best manage gun rights in their communities. The answers lie in organizations and successful practices of the past, in contrast to the white liberal proposal to rely on the capitalist police forces’ monopoly on violence for protection.

We believe gun rights for workers and oppressed nationalities is a major factor in this struggle. Marxists should oppose the war on drugs and any possible “war on guns,” which would likely result in an intensification of national oppression. We should oppose legal restrictions, including efforts to strip members of the oppressed nations victimized by the Jim Crow legal system, of their right to bear arms. We believe Marxists should also support defensive, deterrence-based social gun policies, like open-carry, which would give oppressed nationalities and workers the ability to defend themselves from illegal violence and racist vigilantes in a legal fashion.

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(1) Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Mission Statement, 2012,http://www.bradycampaign.org/about/

(2) Mayors Against Illegal Guns, “About the Coalition,” 2012, http://maig.us/awoN03

(3) The Gothamist, “Bloomberg Continues Tone-Deaf Support Of Stop-And-Frisk Policy,” May 18, 2012,http://bit.ly/KXZrz2

(4) CBS News, “Bloomberg Defends NYPD’s Stop-And-Frisk Program, Says It Should Be ‘Mended, Not Ended’,” June 11, 2012, http://cbsloc.al/NsJZht

(5) Graham Rayman, The Village Voice, “Bloomberg Claims NYPD “7th Biggest Army in World” … Um, That’s Totally Wrong,” November 30, 2011, http://bit.ly/tgb0fT

(6) Lucy McKeon, The Nation, “Marchers Demand Justice for Ramarley Graham,” June 26, 2012,http://bit.ly/Oe65EU

(7) Justin Elliott, Salon, “How the feds fueled the militarization of the police,” December 24, 2011,http://bit.ly/u74o0s

(8) John W. Whitehead, The Rutherford Institute, “Tanks on Mainstreet: The Militarization of the Local Police,” January 3, 2012, http://bit.ly/ybNymo

(9) Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, “Introduction to Gun Violence Statistics,” November 18, 2012,http://bit.ly/R5xf0i

(10) The Atlantic Cities, “The Geography of Gun Violence,” July 20, 2012, http://bit.ly/MOxA2k

(11) Malcolm X, “Malcolm X on the Right to Bear Arms,” http://bit.ly/R49Yhq

(12) Adam Winkler, The Atlantic, “The Secret History of Guns,” September 2011, http://huff.to/odPpKZ

(13) Dan Froomkin, The Huffington Post, “How Do You Disenfranchise 1 in 8 Black Men?” May 17, 2010,http://huff.to/au3ptU

(14) Michael McLaughlin, The Huffington Post, “Felon Voting Laws Disenfranchise 5.85 Million Americans With Criminal Records: The Sentencing Project,” July 12, 2010, http://huff.to/NtkyLs

(15) Ray Long, The Chicago Tribune, “Concealed carry: Court strikes down Illinois’ ban,” December 11, 2012, http://bit.ly/SRqfEW

(16) Sean Caranna, All Nine Yards, “NRA’s Own Prodigal Son Story – Open and Concealed Carry,” August 25, 2011, http://bit.ly/YdAOXJ

(17) Karl Marx, Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League, March 1850, http://bit.ly/noHW0h

The Vice Presidential Debate and National Liberation

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The following article below was originally published as a Facebook Note, but I’ve been asked not to link back, nor to include the author’s name: 

October 12, 2012

Libya’s Col. Muammar Gaddafi (left) and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad (right)

There were two discernible moments in last night’s Vice Presidential debate that I thought were the most telling and most important moments we’ve seen in the two confrontations between the Obama-Biden and Romney-Ryan tickets. It wasn’t Congressman Ryan’s brilliant swipe at Vice President Biden’s long history of gaffes. It wasn’t Biden’s blistering attack on Romney’s 47% comment or his rock-solid defense of the Administration’s tax plan, in which he pointed out that 97% of small business owners don’t make more than $250,000 per year. These were all interesting moments, although by my own standards of debate – cultivated from four years of competing in high school and three years of coaching in college – Biden won the arguments.

But the moment I’m referring to was more important than all of that. I get that this election is about jobs and the economy in the minds of voters so I don’t use ‘important’ to mean ‘election-altering’. I mean that for progressive-minded people, organizers, and activists in this country, these two moments told us a lot more about the country we live in and the policies we organize against than anything said on the campaign trail.

The two moments I’m referring to were the Libyan embassy question at the beginning of the debate and the Syria question near the end.

First on Libya: Ryan targeted the Obama Administration for not labeling the embassy attack as “terrorism” earlier and not being prepared. Biden countered by saying that Ryan’s budget had cut security funding for embassies by millions of dollars and short-changed the staff there. Romney and Ryan clearly want to win this election, so why do they – let alone the supposedly “free” and “investigative” press – not point out the obvious: NATO, under the direction of the Obama administration, funded, armed, and brought to power the same Libyan ‘rebels’ that attacked the US embassy in Benghazi on September 11th.

We can quibble as to whether or not the attackers were literally “the same rebels,” but NATO commanders and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton all admitted that a large section of the rebels that they supported in Libya last year were members of al-Qaeda or other Islamist extremists. When NATO was criminally murdering Libyans through their bombing campaigns, they didn’t distinguish between “good rebels” and “bad rebels.” They armed the rebellion by any means necessary – the rebellion that systematically lynched black African migrants; the rebellion that attacked hospitals and schools for children with Down-syndrome; the rebellion that, with NATO’s air strikes, killed more civilians than Libya’s national army; the rebellion that sodomized and murdered Colonel Muammar Qaddafi without trial; and ultimately the rebellion that was directed on the ground by al-Qaeda and Islamist militants.

Qaddafi was a bulwark against radical Islamists, much like Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Al-Qaeda committed terrorist attacks against Libyan targets and Qaddafi showed no tolerance for their indiscriminate violence, so much so that he opportunistically joined the war on terror in 2005. Just as it doesn’t matter in Syria today, though, Washington’s short-term interests in acquiring oil overrode any possible problem they had with materially supporting the same people that attacked the US on 9/11. The Obama administration knew it and they did it anyway.

So fast-forward to 9/11 in 2012. Al-Qaeda attacks the US embassy in Libya right after receiving aid from the US and NATO in 2011. With the amount of support they received, there is a good chance that the same weapons used to breach the embassy were provided by the US, much like how many of the same arms given to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan by the US in the 1980s are now used by the Afghani resistance against US troops today.

Why doesn’t Romney or Ryan bring this up? Why don’t they hammer Obama and Biden on the biggest hole of all in the White House’s sketchy narrative on the embassy attack? Even in catering to the racist and Islamophobic base of the Republican Party, why don’t they point out that the Obama administration, in this case, literally armed al-Qaeda and Islamist extremists?

The answer is because they don’t fundamentally disagree on what happened in Libya. Republican or Democrat, neither one of them has an interest in laying the real question before the American people: Why did we bomb the hell out of Libya and arm our so-called enemy against a government that didn’t threaten the United States? Outside of the Ron Paul clique, nary a critical word was thrown at the President for the crimes his administration committed against the Libyan people.

The two parties can posture all they want over tax policies or Medicare reform, but let’s make one thing clear: When the rubber hits the road and we’re talking about dropping bombs on civilian targets that suck the oxygen out of a mother’s lungs before her and her child are charred by the flames; when we’re talking about black African migrants who are strung up on light poles and disemboweled because of the color of their skin; when we’re talking about a school, where children with Down-syndrome go to learn and are cared for every day, being obliterated by firebombs; when we’re talking about real people dying – who you and I will probably never meet – the two candidates are one and the same.

Isn’t that deeply unsettling? I have conversations with Obama supporters to whom I bring this up and they dismiss it out of fear that it might play into Romney being elected. They then proceed to lecture me on how there are differences between the candidate’s domestic policies. And then for the closer, they turn these concerns on their head and ask me why I care so much about foreign policy when there are people hurting in this country.

I just grow weary of it, folks. I get that Romney’s policies on a lot of economic and social issues are more reactionary than Obama’s – although I would follow it up by saying, “Not by much. They’re both reactionaries.” What I don’t get is the national chauvinism that pervades the lesser-of-two-evils progressive community that writes off foreign policy as if it’s some separate sphere to evaluate candidates.

The mother charred by fire from NATO’s death machines in Libya doesn’t care that Obama’s tax policy only affects 3% of small businesses. Frankly, she doesn’t even care that Romney’s policy will raise taxes on workers in this country. She was living a normal life with her family, raising her children, working a productive job, and putting food on the table in one form of another until her country was invaded. Violence was committed against her, and it was done in the name of the United States – violence, for no honest reason; violence, for no positive outcome; violence, completely divorced from any semblance of justice; violence, that even the most opportunistic and hateful critics of the President in this country cannot condemn, especially at the Vice Presidential debate.

For the hanged black migrant, for the dead Libyan infant, for the wounded Syrian bus driver, and for any oppressed person around the world, this election is literally meaningless and tonight’s debate proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Now someone’s ready to protest, “But we’re not Libyans. We’re not Syrians. We’re Americans who live in this country and have to deal with the consequences of this election.” Yes we are. And if those consequences guide progressives to vote to defeat Romney – however they think they can best do that in their respective states – they should absolutely do so.

But I want people to understand that there is only one way to vote for the President and not have Libyan and Syrian blood on your hands: Resistance. Whether Obama or Romney win on the evening on November 6th, progressives must issue a declaration of independence, not just from both parties but from the entire system of imperialism. We have to commit to organizing our communities, our workplaces, our classrooms, and our places of worship to resist the attacks that come down on us and on oppressed people around the world. We have to build a new movement – not an anti-war movement like we saw under Bush, but an anti-imperialist movement that recognizes that the crimes perpetrated on the Libyans are made possible by the crimes committed against workers and oppressed people in this country, and vice versa.

That’s all anti-imperialism is. It takes the anti-war movement and joins it with the battle against budget cuts, the fight against bosses on the shop floor, the struggle to keep collective bargaining rights, the campaigns for affordable public education, and the continued war against racism, national oppression, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and every other phobia that oppresses people here and around the world. It recognizes that the struggle of Libyan freedom fighters against NATO and the Islamist rebels is intertwined with the struggles that we wage here in the US against anti-union laws, foreclosures, budget cuts, racist violence, and attacks on women’s rights.

Imperialism is a system that oppresses people domestically to commit untold horrors against entire nations internationally. And it’s a system we have to fight and dismantle if we’re serious about wanting freedom in our lifetime.

Clearly it won’t happen through the ballot box. The Vice Presidential debate showed us that. If we hope to achieve that freedom, we have to fight for it in the streets.

Lincoln, Assad & the Vice Presidential Debate

Now onto Syria: The second moment that stood out to me in last night’s Vice Presidential debate was downright awkward and embarrassing for Ryan. Trying desperately to distinguish the Romney campaign’s position on Syria from Obama’s position, he fumbled around and could not answer the moderator’s question, which was, “What would you do differently?” About all he could muster was the flaccid jab at the Obama administration for calling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “a reformer.”

Except Obama never said that, and neither did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for that matter. Clinton made a statement in March 2011 that “many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer,” but her agenda was the same as Romney and Ryan’s from the beginning: Use the civil unrest, which later became a civil war, to topple the Syrian government at any cost.

All things considered, Biden knocked it out of the ballpark in terms of honesty. He noted that the US hasn’t worked through the UN on the question of Syria, having never endorsed or accepted Kofi Annan’s peace plan, and began aiding the so-called “rebels” directly in the early stages of the civil war. He candidly admitted that the US was completely aligned with the oppressive Turkish government and the reactionary Saudi and Qatari monarchies, all of whom are funneling arms – most likely provided by the United States – to the Syrian “rebels.” About the only thing he left out in his effort to bolster the Obama administration’s “Tough on Assad” credentials was the White House’s announcement last week to put troops on the Jordanian border with Syria.

For their part, neither candidate endorsed a US military operation in Syria under the current conditions. I take this to mean that both tickets understand how unpopular the idea of another war is with voters, which by extension means that the Syrian government has at least until December to put down the rebellion before the threat of a Libya-style NATO intervention comes back on the table. This is the good news.

The bad news is that both candidates agreed to a disturbing caveat, stated not-so-eloquently by Ryan: “Well, we agree with the same red line, actually, they do on chemical weapons, but not putting American troops in, other than to secure those chemical weapons.” If there’s one thing that the past two Presidents have taught this generation about justifications for this type of preemptive war, it is that a targeted government doesn’t have to have actual weapons (Iraq) or plan to use them on the population (Libya) to still launch full-scale military operations. What Biden and Ryan – and ultimately Obama and Romney – are really saying is that they won’t exercise military force until after November 6th.

Realize too that when Ryan said, “[our strategy with Syria] means like embargoes and sanctions and overflights, those are things that don’t put American troops on the ground,” he is talking directly about the type of intervention that NATO launched in Libya. Save for some military advisors, US troops were not “on the ground” in Libya in the same way they are today in Afghanistan. It’s horrifying, of course, that drone and aerial warfare allows the US to victimize thousands of people without having to weigh the consequences of physical risk. There are no longer any counter-weights or human cost calculations that go into setting up no-fly zones, which Ryan calls “overflights.”

Between Libya and Syria – and Afghanistan and Iraq, despite how Biden may have postured to pretend like he didn’t vote to put the same two wars “on credit cards,” like Ryan did – we have to admit that we don’t have a choice in the US Presidential elections. If you even have a semblance of sympathy for the women, men, and children who will bear the full brunt of war in these countries, then you have to admit that there’s nothing democratic about the choice that voters will make on November 6th. The candidates are in full agreement that the United States should continue to build its empire, declare war on smaller nations for their resources, and do so in the most brutal and efficient manner possible. This is one area – probably the most major area, if we are honest with ourselves as human beings – where there is literally no difference between a second-term President Obama and a President Romney.

Immediately after the debate, CNN aired the second trailer for the new Steven Spielberg film, Lincoln, which has Daniel Day-Lewis portraying the Great Emancipator himself, President Abraham Lincoln. The juxtaposition of both candidates’ characterization of Assad “turning guns on his own people” coupled with this exciting movie trailer hit me pretty hard. Most Americans in 2012 revere Lincoln as a national hero, and the film’s Thanksgiving release date all but guarantees it will be the movie event of 2012.

But why is that? Most people in the 21st century view the American Civil War as a totally just war and condemn slavery as an institution – though it should be noted that a disturbing number of reactionary Republican lawmakers are beginning to come out as slavery apologists – but it wasn’t always seen that way. Neither was Lincoln enshrined as “the Great Emancipator” by mainstream American canon until relatively recently (read: the last forty years).

For a large portion of the country, Lincoln was remembered as a brutal tyrant who “turned guns on his own people” and grossly violated their constitutional rights. He was remembered as a radical who forcibly expropriated the “property” of the rich – namely slaves – and waged a brutal civil war on the American people. His unwillingness to compromise on the issue was not touted as a virtue as it is today; rather it was seen as the stubbornness of a dictator whose decisions cost hundreds of thousands of Americans their lives. He was seen as divisive, conniving, and wicked by a large section of the country.

Most Americans probably do not think of it this way, but a great number of atrocities were committed during the Civil War, and by no means were they limited to the racists in the Confederacy. Thousands of people – many of whom never owned slaves – were put into prison camps, forced to work without pay, starved, took ill, and died. For the first two years of the war, the Union Army, under the direction of the scoundral George McClellan, refused to liberate slaves in the South, leaving them under the bondage of the white slaveowners. Not least of these victims were the freed slaves, who received second-class treatment when they were allowed to join the Union Army and received unequal compensation.

Indeed, Lincoln’s policies and military draft program were so divisive that they led to massive riots in the North that left hundreds dead, most of whom were black residents targeted by racist pogroms. The media was not silent on these matters either. The Chicago Times in 1863 was topped with the headline, “DICTATOR PROCLAIMED, for the Proclamation can never be carried out except under the iron rule of the worst kind of despotism.”

But here’s the simple and undeniable truth: Lincoln was a hero, the Union was on the right side of history, and the American Civil War was not just justifiable, but necessary and honorable. As Americans in 2012, most of us wouldn’t think twice about making that judgment because we instinctively understand that slavery was a wicked instrument of oppression and the Confederacy was an evil empire seeking its preservation and expansion. All of Lincoln and the Union Army’s actions that were viewed as tyrannical by some people in 1860 are worthy of praise in 2012 because we understand what the conflict meant to oppressed people; so worthy of praise that a legendary director and actor are teaming up for a film honoring President Lincoln.

This should all sound familiar in the context of Syria: Here we have a leader, a President no less, waging a civil war to hold the country together. Opposite him and the Syrian Army is an unholy alliance of neo-liberals seeking to sell Syria’s resources and labor to the West at a profit, militants of al-Qaeda, and other radical Islamists. Assad fights for secular government against theocratic tyranny; he fights for a self-determined Syria against a puppet regime that will prostitute the Syrian people to Western corporations; he fights for an independent country in a region occupied and dominated by the United States and Israel; and now he fights for the self-determination of the Kurdish people in the northern part of Syria.

That last point is particularly salient in the comparison with Lincoln. The Syrian government has by no means consistently stood for Kurdish self-determination or nationhood, and Kurds have in the past faced oppression in Syria. Similarly, the United States government was the chief perpetrator in the crime of slavery against the black Africans kidnapped from their homes to work under the whip in North America. However, just as Lincoln realized that the question of winning the American Civil War was inseparable from the question of emancipation, Assad realizes that winning the Syrian Civil War is impossible without Kurdish independence. And just as the Union Army could not have won the war without the emancipated and slaves liberating themselves, Assad will have the Kurds to thank if he succeeds in putting down the rebellion.

When the Vice Presidents talked last night about the possibility of intervening in Syria, it made me think of the Trent Affair during the Civil War. Oligarchs in France and Britain considered intervening on behalf of the Confederacy. Though the countries were officially neutral, they engaged the Confederacy on possibly intervening on their behalf in the American Civil War and were only dissuaded by the Union victory at Antietam.

As an American, would you have tolerated British or French intervention in the American Civil War, especially on behalf of the Confederacy? I wouldn’t have. Most of us would like to say we would have supported President Lincoln, but I think all of us could agree that foreign intervention would have been wrong.

President Assad will be remembered by Syrians much in the same way President Lincoln is by Americans. Both leaders are fighting a civil war to hold their country together in the face of threats of foreign intervention – in Assad’s case, this is a more likely and greater threat than it was for the Union – and basic questions of freedom and oppression are at stake in the war’s outcome. From every indicator, a majority of the Syrian people supports the government, and it’s only a small band of traitors calling for military intervention.

As progressives, I don’t think it’s sufficient to just call for “Hands Off Syria.” That’s a start, of course, but in 21st century hindsight, “Hands Off America” would have fallen drastically short in 1862. Anti-imperialism means doing what we can to stop the government we live under from violently attacking another nation, but it is also a call to support those forces who are on the right side of history; those forces who find themselves struggling for independence and liberation; those forces who are most threatened by the kind of slaughter we witnessed in Libya last year. And those forces are President Assad and the Syrian people.

When people go to watch Spielberg’s film in November, voters will have already elected a new President. Last night’s debate showed us that the election won’t determine what happens in Syria because both sides are in agreement. Two factors can turn the tide, though: The first is an overwhelming victory for the Syrian people against the terrorist rebellion. And though I pray that happens, we need to begin exercising the second factor: American resistance to war with Syria.

Nations Want Liberation: The Black Belt Nation in the 21st Century

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The following article below was originally published by the political news blog Return to the Source:

By Vince Sherman & Frank Thomson, with contributions from Black Uhuru
June 24, 2012

Thousands rally for Trayvon Martin in Sanford, FL.

In the past year, the United States has experienced an upsurge in black political consciousness as hundreds of thousands of organizations and people poured into the streets to demand justice for Trayvon Martin, the 17 year-old African-American youth brutally murdered in Sanford, FL. Martin’s case has drawn enormous attention to the daily terrorism inflicted on African-Americans by both the US government and vigilante terrorists, like George Zimmerman, who uphold and enforce a vicious system of white supremacy.

As the movement against police brutality and racist oppression continues to grow, Marxist-Leninists must grapple with the burning question of how to build a revolutionary national liberation struggle capable of ending white supremacy and imperialism in the United States.

Seeking to capitalize on the growing struggle against racism, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) has republished a series of articles from the 1980s reflecting their understanding of “The History of Black America” in its newspaper, Socialist Worker. Complete with all of the errors endemic to their bizarre Trotskyite understanding of revolutionary history, these articles are a flaccid attempt for a mostly white organization – an organization that expelled several activists of color from its Washington DC branch in 2010, no less – to make itself relevant to the struggle of African-Americans against white supremacy.

However, one article in particular, republished on Saturday, June 16, stands above the rest in its historical revisionism, its fallacious analysis, and its generally poor syntactical construction. Lee Sustar’s piece, “Self-determination and the Black Belt” is a hit piece on the Marxist-Leninist demand for African-American self-determination, the entire concept of the Black Belt nation, and black nationalism in general.

Rife with historical errors, strawman characterizations, and misspellings, Sustar’s piece itself is barely worth a response. Never missing an opportunity to denounce and slander Josef Stalin, Sustar makes the totally absurd claim that “The Black Belt theory was part of a sharp “left” turn by the Communist International (Comintern) used by Joseph Stalin to mask his bureaucracy’s attack on the workers’ state,” arguing that somehow upholding the demand for African-American self-determination allowed Josef Stalin to better consolidate his so-called “state capitalist regime in Russia.” (1) The relationship between the struggle for black nationalism and the USSR is never explained or warranted by Sustar.

Neither is his claim that the demand for black self-determination was based “on the works of a Swedish professor who aimed to theoretically justify the political turns of the bureaucracy which was coming to control Russia.” (2) Sustar never names this Swedish professor, supposedly the progenitor of the demand for black self-determination, nor does he offer any evidence that such a professor had any impact on the development of the black national question adopted and implemented by the Communist International (Comintern). But a lack of evidence never stands in the way of the ISO’s vicious slander of Marxism-Leninism so the omission of key facts is both unsurprising and expected.

However, the continued relevance and renewed importance of the black national question in the 21st century demands serious consideration by Marxist-Leninists. It is important to respond to these unprincipled criticisms and slander of the experiences of black nationalist organizations and the CPUSA. The ISO may have published this piece nearly 30 years ago, but the same theoretical bankruptcy demonstrated in this re-published essay continues to inform their strange blend of Cliffite-Trotskyism today.

Instead, Marxist-Leninists must put forward a principled and materialist evaluation of the successes and failures of these various groups struggling for black liberation that appropriately contextualizes their specific struggles.

The Soviet Union and the National Question

V.I. Lenin

The Marxist-Leninist position on the African-American national question and the Black Belt South developed directly out of the Soviet Union’s own experience with actualizing the demand for self-determination for oppressed nationalities. The October Revolution of 1917 and the founding of the Soviet Union marked the end of tsarist oppression of the nations in the transcaucasus and Central Asia. In addition to Russia, many other nations under the Tsarist empire participated in the proletarian revolution in October 1917, and the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, began to work towards the creation of a voluntary federation of free, self-determined nations.

The destruction caused by the Russian Civil War, waged between 1918 and 1922, along with the Allied invasion of Russia by fourteen countries in 1921, forged a sense of unity between the underdeveloped constituent nations of the former Russian empire and the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary government. After exiting World War I through the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and emerging victorious over the tsarist White Army, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) met with representatives from these formerly oppressed nations and formed the Soviet Union in 1922. The Soviet Union’s recognition of its constituent nations’ right to self-determination finds its embodiment in the 1917 “Declaration of the Rights of the Russian People,” which legally guaranteed “equality and sovereignty of the peoples of Russia, the right of peoples of Russia to free self-determination up to secession and the formation of independent states, abolition of all national and national-religious privileges and restrictions, [and] free development of national minorities and ethnic groups inhabiting the territory of Russia.” (3) Thus, any analysis of the Soviet Union must account for the complexities of its international composition, rather than viewing it as a purely Russian political phenomenon.

After the formation of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) implemented a policy of korenizatsiya to encourage the indigenous development of revolutionary leadership among the USSR’s constituent nations. While the CPSU argued that the process of socialist construction for each nation was generally the same, it acknowledged a firm belief that “each nation which has overthrown capitalism seeks to plot the course of its economic, political and cultural development in such way as to be most in conformity with its concrete historical features and progressive traditions.” (4) Korenizatsiya was a means by which the CPSU would help create indigenous communist parties, culture, and economies tailored to the specific needs of the nation in question. The central component of this, in the view of the CPSU, was the cultivation of native communist leadership in each nation’s party and the promotion of national minorities in higher Soviet institutions. (5)

In practice, the CPSU “supported local languages, educated and promoted local elites and thus built new loyalties to the socialist cause” as a part of korenizatsiya. (6) Reza Zia-Ebrahimi of the London School of Economics & Politics describes this process in a 2007 article entitled “Empire, Nationalities and the Fall of the Soviet Union,” pointing out that “each Soviet republic was flanked with an official culture, official folklore and national opera-house. (7) Soviet authorities went as far as to develop written systems for local languages that had previously lacked them.” (8) She notes that this policy of nativization also had the effect of combating Russian national chauvinism, citing Ukraine in the 1920s as an example, in which “a Russian residing there also had to be educated in Ukrainian.”(9)

Though the precise manifestations of korenizatsiya oscillated over the history of the USSR and at times nations had less operational freedom – particularly during the glasnost period brought on by Gorbachev – the Soviet state’s dedication to raising the status of national minorities and guaranteeing political representation demonstrates a genuine ideological commitment to national self-determination that inspired oppressed nations around the world. (10)

Developing the Black National Question

Harry Haywood, one of the founders of the Marxist-Leninist line on the Black Belt nation.

Among the many activists inspired by the Russian Revolution was African-American communist Harry Haywood. In his autobiography, Black Bolshevik: Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist, Haywood recounts his excitement at the many achievements of the Russian Revolution, noting its specific importance to African-Americans: “Most impressive as far as Blacks were concerned was that the revolution had laid the basis for solving the national and racial questions on the basis of complete freedom for the numerous nations, colonial peoples and minorities formerly oppressed by the czarist empire.” (11) Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks’ handling of the national question in North Asia prompted Haywood to join the CPUSA in the winter of 1923 and to visit the Soviet Union as a part of a student delegation in 1925.

Sustar views genuine African-American revolutionaries like Haywood, who developed the demand for black self-determination in the Soviet Union, with condescending contempt. He writes, “For these leaders, the Comintern’s theory of self-determination for the Black Bell (sic) must have appeared as a revolutionary commitment to fighting the enormous racism in the U.S.” (12) The implication, of course, is that Haywood, Otto Hall, and James Ford were more or less passive recipients of the black national question line – a falsehood that flies in the face of historical fact – and that they were basically duped into accepting a position hoisted upon them by Stalin.

In actuality, the black national question established by the Comintern came about through vibrant debate and struggle between African-American comrades, the white comrades in the CPUSA, and Soviet comrades, who contributed their own first-hand experience in building a multinational republic of the 15 unique constituent nations of the USSR. During his four-year visit to the Soviet Union, Haywood meticulously analyzed the character of black oppression in the US alongside other comrades.

The CPUSA’s position at that time was that black workers were subject to harsh societal prejudice based on race, but fundamentally they experienced the same capitalist exploitation as white workers. Haywood and the Communist International (Comintern) came to criticize this position because “To call the matter a race question, they said, was to fall into the bourgeois liberal trap of regarding the fight for equality as primarily a fight against racial prejudices of whites.” (13) This simplistic view placed total emphasis on building the trade union movement irrespective of race, leading the CPUSA to mistakenly see the struggle for black civil rights “as a diversion that would obscure or overshadow the struggle for socialism.” (14)

Furthermore, looking at the exploitation of African-Americans purely as a question of race “slurred over the economic and social roots of the question and obscured the question of the agrarian democratic revolution in the South.” (15) In describing Reconstruction, Haywood writes that the “revolution had stopped short of a solution to the crucial land question; there was neither confiscation of the big plantations of the former slaveholding class, nor distribution of the land among the Negro freedmen and poor whites.” (16) The White Supremacist counter-revolution of 1877 brought an end to Reconstruction, and through fascist terrorism by paramilitary groups like the Ku Klux Klan, African-Americans were denied the political rights and economic opportunities afforded to White citizens. Thus, Haywood writes in his 1948 book, Negro Liberation, “The uniqueness of the Negro problem in the United States lies in the fact that the Negro was left out of the country’s general democratic transformation.” (17)

Influenced by Lenin’s Draft Theses on the National-Colonial Question and Josef Stalin’s Marxism and the National Question, both of which identify African-Americans as an oppressed nation within the US, Haywood and the leadership of the Comintern launched an intensive study of the character of African-American people. (18)  In Marxism and the National Question, Stalin outlines the objective conditions for nationhood, which are, “a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.” (19) Using the criteria set out by Stalin, Haywood notes that “Under conditions of imperialist and racist oppression, Blacks in the South were to acquire all the attributes of a single nation.” (20)

A common territory is one of the criteria for nationhood. Although African-Americans were spread out across the US, Haywood argued that the “territory of this subject nation is the Black Belt, an area encompassing the Deep South,” because even after the post-war Northern migrations of black workers, the Black Belt “still contained (and does to this day) the country’s largest concentration of Blacks.” (21) Additionally, Robin D.G. Kelley writes in his book, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression that “This region, dominated by cotton plantations, consisted of counties with a numerical black majority.” (22) The demographic concentration of African-Americans, along with their historical tie to the land, led the Comintern to adopt a resolution affirming the presence of a black nation in the American South at its Sixth World Congress in 1928. (23)

The Black Belt Nation, derived from James Allen’s 1938 pamphlet, Negro Liberation.

Sustar’s article spins a web of sophistry in trying to back-handedly argue that Lenin would have opposed the Comintern’s line on the black national question. While he acknowledges that Lenin viewed African-Americans as an oppressed nation, he then proceeds to ignore that fact in painting Lenin’s position as one in harmony with the ISO’s Trotskyite position: That the struggle for national liberation is simply “a means to fight chauvinism and racism in the working class.” (24)

In actuality, Lenin maintained that “it is necessary that all Communist Parties render direct aid to the revolutionary movements among the dependent and subject nations (for example, in Ireland, among the Negroes in America, etc.) and in the colonies.” (25) True to Trotskyite form, Sustar leaves out any mention of the other toiling masses besides the proletariat, whose support is vital to the national liberation struggle. Lenin writes, “the cornerstone of the whole policy of the Communist International on the national and colonial questions must be a closer union of the proletarians and working masses generally of all nations and countries for a joint revolutionary struggle to overthrow the landlords and the bourgeoisie.” (26) The term “working masses” unmistakably refers to the peasantry and the petty-bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations, who can and must support the proletariat for a revolutionary national liberation struggle to succeed. Much as Trotsky held contempt for the Bolshevik line on a strategic alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry in Russia, the ISO holds contempt for the strategic alliance between the multinational working class and the other nationalist classes comprising the oppressed African-American nation. He can hold that position, but it is characteristically anti-Leninist, as is the entirety of Trotsky’s theory of revolution.

The Comintern’s groundbreaking new line on the African-American question maintained that “African-Americans had the right to self-determination: political power, control over the economy, and the right to secede from the United States.” (27) In a broader sense, however, Haywood’s line on the national question represented an affirmation of the revolutionary character of black nationalist movements, whose efforts could strike blows against US imperialism from within. While Marxist-Leninists view nationalism as a bourgeois ideology, it can nevertheless fuel revolutionary movements against imperialism in colonized nations, whose economic and social development were held back by foreign exploitation.

Organizing in the Black Belt Nation

Sustar has an incredibly superficial understanding of the black national question in theory, but his historical evaluation of its impact is equally flawed.

When Haywood returned to the US in 1930, the CPUSA had already begun implementing the African-American national question by sending party cadre into the Black Belt to organize and raise the demand of black self-determination. Suster claims that “the new perspective launched the CP into a series of senseless sectarian attacks on reformist Black and working-class leaders, alienating the party from the mass of workers,” the actual effect of the Party’s focus on the black national question was tremendous growth in its black membership. (28) The Alabama Communist Party was particularly successful in building strong ties with African-Americans through applying the theory to political organizing. Kelley notes that “From the beginning, Birmingham blacks exhibited a greater interest in the Party than did whites.” (29) The party’s appeal among African-Americans came from its outspoken opposition to racism and its support for national self-determination. Kelley writes that “During the 1930 election campaign, the Communist Party did what no political party had done in Alabama since Reconstruction: it endorsed a black candidate, Walter Lewis, for governor. The election platform included complete racial equality and maintained that the exercise of self-determination in the black belt was the only way to end lynching and achieve political rights for Southern blacks.” (30)

The Alabama Communist Party’s orientation towards building a strong, independent African-American movement translated into exponential growth in black cadre. Starting with a mere three organizers in 1929, the Party “was augmented to over ninety by the end of August 1930, and over five hundred working people populated the Party’s mass organizations, of whom between 80 and 90 percent were black.” (31) Contrary to Sustar’s baseless claims, the correct application of the national question to organizing fueled the early rapid levels of growth for the CPUSA among African-Americans.

Black workers were hit hardest by the Great Depression’s rampant unemployment due to racist firing preferences by White managers. In response to the mass demand among African-Americans for jobs, the Alabama Communists organized an unemployment relief campaign in 1933. By the end of the year “the Party’s dues-paying membership in Birmingham rose to nearly five hundred, and its mass organizations encompassed possibly twice that number.” (32) The unemployment relief campaign was particularly successful in its goal “to increase the number of black female members, who often proved more militant than their male comrades, from open confrontation to hidden forms of resistance, and would later prove invaluable to local Communists continuing their work in the mines, mills, and plantations of the black belt.” (33) The Alabama Communist Party maintained high diversity because of its attention to the plight of African-Americans, and in particular, the plight of African-American women.

Southern communists heavily involved themselves in the sharecropper labor movement, whose composition was primarily African-American. In Alabama, for instance, the Party organized the Share Croppers Union (SCU) in 1931, which grew to “a membership of nearly 2,000 organized in 73 locals, 80 women’s auxiliaries, and 30 youth groups.” (34) The SCU was openly organized by Alabama communists, and while it drew substantial support from the African-American community, it was also subject to a harsh crackdown by state and non-state actors. (35) Nevertheless, “the SCU claimed some substantial victories. On most of the plantations affected, the union won at least seventy-five centers per one hundred pounds, and in areas not affected by the strike, landlords reportedly increased wages from thirty-five cents per hundred pounds to fifty cents or more in order to avert the spread of the strike.” (36) The mass appeal of the SCU, an explicitly red trade union, and its tremendous victories demonstrate the power once possessed by the CPUSA in the American South.

Because sharecropping and rural wage labor was dominated by African-Americans, the SCU gave Alabama communists an interesting opportunity to apply the national question to trade union organizing. African-American communist Al Murphy was chosen as the Secretary of the SCU, and the bulk of the union’s leadership was always black. (37) Kelley writes that as Secretary, “Murphy, an unflinching supporter of the Party’s demand for self-determination in the black belt, had very definite ideas about the radical character of the SCU. He saw within each and every member ‘standard bearers of Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, Gabriel Prosser, Frederick Douglass,’ and regarded the all-black movement as the very embodiment of black self-determination.” (38) The SCU came to represent the embodiment of Black self-determination applied to organizing because African-American cadre themselves comprised the union’s leadership, rather than the white labor bureaucrats that marked most other industrial trade unions in the 1930s. Nearly all of the Party’s black leadership had no prior experience in radical movements, making the SCU an authentic people’s trade union reflecting the class conflicts of the South. (39)

Perhaps the only aspect of Sustar’s piece with a kernel of principled criticism is his claim that the black national question was never “consistently put forward in practice.” While the CPUSA did implement and adapt the theory to much success, the rise of fascism and the breakout of World War II produced zig-zags in the Party’s line on African-American liberation, much to the detriment of the Party. For instance, the CPUSA abandoned Haywood’s line on the national question in 1935 in order to collaborate with conservative middle class black organizations in anti-war work related to fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia. (40)

It is important to understand that Sustar is completely wrong in his assessment of the line’s implementation. Contrary to Sustar’s claim that the black national question “means subordinating the needs of workers to those of the middle class in the oppressed nation,” it wasn’t until the CPUSA dropped the demand for black national self-determination in 1935 that the Party began tailing the conservative black petty-bourgeoisie. (41) While the demand for a black nation was gaining traction among the black proletariat in the American South, the political pivot to a more rightist position proved costly to the CPUSA and actually fueled their waning influence in the working class. Sustar’s claim is outrageously ahistorical, and the facts actually demonstrate that abandoning the line seriously damaged the proletarian character of the black nationalist movement that the Party was building.

This political zig-zag was the product of Northern communists, who dominated the CPUSA leadership at the time. (42) Additionally, the sudden appearance of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), one of the only national trade unions to allow black members, prompted communist leaders to fold the SCU into the CIO in 1936. Although organizing within the CIO had tactical advantages in terms of available resources, the dissolution of the SCU “exacted a costly toll from the Alabama cadre, especially black party organizers.” (43) Because of racist internal policies limiting African-American leadership, “Black Birmingham Communists, for the most part, did not (and often could not) become pure union bureaucrats in the way that their comrades had in Northern and Western CIO unions.” (44) Reflecting deeper changes in their political line, the Alabama Communist Party’s influence declined across the South as it gradually lost its mass base among the African-American Nation.

One of the more bold claims made by Sustar is his claim that the CP pushed a line not shared by African Americans: “in the early 1930s, it was the Communist Party–not Black workers and farmers–who called for self-determination of the Black Belt.” Exactly who else is to put out slogans and calls? Is it a communist party’s job to wait until the people have perfected their demand and in the meantime there is nothing to do but twiddle one’s thumbs and hope for the best? Absolutely not. We say it is the job of the party to collect the best sentiments of the masses and translate them into coherent revolutionary action. Additionally, the tremendous success of the Communist Party in the South, especially among African-Americans and despite incredible state repression, indicates that the workers and sharecroppers in the South responded positively to the line precisely because they demanded it.

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Leslie Feinberg jailed for solidarity with Chrishaun McDonald

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The following article below was originally published by Fight Back! News, the news wing of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization

Bail posted, still calling for everyone to “Support CeCe!”

June 6, 2012

Minneapolis, MN – On the evening of June 4, Leslie Feinberg, a renowned transgender activist and author of Stone Butch Blues and Trans Liberation, was arrested for showing solidarity with Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald.

CeCe McDonald is a 24-year-old African American transgender woman who was walking with a group of her friends in Minneapolis on the night of June 5, 2011. As CeCe and her friends walked by the Schooner Tavern, a group of white bar patrons began shouting racist and transphobic slurs at them. One of the women in the group smashed her beer glass across CeCe’s face. In CeCe’s struggle to defend her life from this violent attack, one of her attackers died. CeCe was quickly arrested and charged with two counts of second degree murder. In May 2012, CeCe accepted a plea agreement to a reduced charge of second degree manslaughter by negligence, and on June 4 she received a 41-month prison sentence. On June 5, 2012, she was transferred to a men’s prison in Saint Cloud, Minnesota.

Leslie Feinberg is currently being held in the Hennepin County Jail and has been charged with felony property damage. Bail was posted June 6 and supporters are awaiting Feinberg’s release. At 8:30 a.m. on June 7, Feinberg will appear in court for arraignment.

Feinberg has been a vocal supporter of CeCe’s, showing deep dedication to raising awareness about McDonald’s case and connecting her fight with broader struggles.

Feinberg was arrested almost exactly a year – within the hour – after the attack against CeCe and her friends that led to CeCe’s arrest. Leslie Feinberg and CeCe spent the night of June 4, 2012 in the same jail, before CeCe was transferred to Saint Cloud on the morning of the June 5. Feinberg has been extremely clear that their actions have been in solidarity with CeCe, intended to draw greater attention to the injustice that CeCe is facing.

Dream Defenders protest sentencing of Marissa Alexander

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The following article below was originally published by Fight Back! News, the news organ of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization

African American woman gets 20 years for firing warning shot to ward off abuser

May 13, 2012

Marissa Alexander in court Thursday, receiving the news of her having to face 20 years imprisonment for defending herself against an abusive ex-husband.

Jacksonville, FL – On May 11, students from the civil rights group Dream Defenders protested at the sentencing hearing of Marissa Alexander, a young black woman who was convicted of aggravated assault stemming from an episode in 2010 where she fired a warning shot at her abusive ex-husband Rico Gray, who had previously beaten her.

Dream Defenders burst out singing, “We who believe in freedom will not rest until it’s won,” as the prosecutor read its last arguments. Cops inside the courthouse converged on the protesters and quickly escorted them out of the courtroom and the courthouse. But that wasn’t before Dream Defender Ciara Taylor, senior at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University started the chant, “No justice, no peace!”

“We feel that this case shows the absurdity in our broken system in that a Black woman who is a victim of domestic abuse who defends herself is going to jail for 20 years while a killer like George Zimmerman is walking free,” said Dream Defender organizer Michael Sampson. “This is a clear episode of a racist criminal justice system choosing to make a victim of yet another person of color but as well, this shows also a sexist criminal justice system that doesn’t care for the struggles of women and victims of domestic abuse.”

Alexander was sentenced by Florida Judge James Daniel to 20 years in jail under the state’s 10-20-life, mandatory-minimum law.

“Such a law seems to disproportionally affect Black and brown youth,” said Sampson. “The system needs changing and we’re gonna organize and mobilize to demand freedom for Marissa Alexander and as well come back stronger and fight back against this tyranny.”

The Dream Defenders are the same student group that marched 40 miles from Daytona Beach to Sanford demanding justice for Trayvon Martin. The same group also shut down the Sanford police headquarters by blocking the doors on April 9. Two days later, Zimmerman was arrested due to public pressure.

“Dream Defenders is a student civil rights group dedicated to defending the dream of Black, brown and other oppressed peoples in this society who are often the victim of this corrupt system,” said Dream Defender Cecelia O’Brien. “We will continue growing and keep defending the dream of oppressed peoples in Florida and nationwide until our voices are heard. We cannot be drowned out.”

Oakland police drop charges against Bakari Olatunji

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The following article below was originally published by Uhuru News

The people are victorious! Oakland police drop charges! Bakari Olatunji freed! Forward to the Oakland Freedom Summer Project!

By Diop Olugbala
May 9, 2012

On Tue, May 8, 2012, members and supporters of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement (InPDUM) and Oakland Freedom Summer Project emerged from the California State Court victorious after discovering that the Oakland Police Department had dropped its charges brought against our comrade Bakari Olatunji.

We went to the court to stand in unity and resistance as we faced the arraignment of comrade Bakari, who was facing felony charges stemming from the police attack on him and other members of the Uhuru Movement during an Oakland Police Dept (OPD) “open house” event.

It was at this event where InPDUM attempted to serve the People’s Subpoena to Police Chief Howard Jordan to appear at the Court for Black Justice and Reparations.

The date of arraignment was preceded by several days of relentless struggle waged by members and supporters of InPDUM from around the world.

Since Bakari’s arrest, the OPD, the jail and the DA’s office were bombarded with phone calls from comrades and supporters from as far as Paris, France and London, UK.

In addition, InPDUM Oakland was already mobilizing the African community here around the weekend of resistance on May 4 and 5.

This weekend of resistance included a candlelight vigil, a march for Black Justice and Court for Black Justice – all actions which served to expose the OPD’s colonial oppression of the African community.

This tremendous response from the people in support of Bakari was topped off by the show of support on the day of the arraignment by InPDUM forces as well as other organizations, including the Onyx Organizing Committee and Occupy Oakland.

Although a press conference was called to express our opposition to Bakari’s arrest and charges and to further expose the OPD as the real criminal organization in Oakland – no ruling class media showed.

This response from such media as the Oakland Tribune, ABC, CBS and NBC news is consistent with the historic stance these forces have taken in uniting with the state against the African community – whether through silence or manipulation of information.

Despite the media boycott of the Uhuru Movement, we moved forward with our resistance, standing as a united force in the courthouse, where our presence was amplified through the dozens, if not hundreds of calls to the State that called to free Bakari.

Bakari’s Case an Example of Counterinsurgency

InPDUM was clear that Bakari was targeted because of his involvement in the Uhuru Movement. He has lead countless struggles over the last 20-30 years in Oakland against the police repression of the African community.

The most recent and perhaps significant struggle that Bakari was a part of was the campaign to Defend Lovelle Mixon, a 26-year-old African who killed four cops who were part of a squad of police who assassinated him.

While every organization and individual in the Bay Area who claimed to be revolutionary and progressive ran for cover in the aftermath of the Lovelle Mixon struggle, it was Bakari and the Uhuru Movement who not only raised up the right of African people to resist, but also defended Lovelle Mixon and held him up as a hero for the African working class.

This stance taken by comrade Bakari put him directly in the crosshairs of the State, evident in the way he was targeted by police at the open house where he was arrested.

Further, Bakari’s arrest was evidence of the OPD’s inability to tolerate criticism, particularly from the African working class and is the latest manifestation of a rogue police force that disregards any form of law and order.

While comrade Bakari faced trumped up charges, the real criminals of the Oakland Police Department wielded, and continue to wield a license from the U.S. government to murder young African men, as they recently did 18-year-old high school senior Alan Dwayne Blueford on Sunday, May 6 – just two days after Bakari’s arrest.

More significantly, Bakari’s freedom is evident of the State’s inability to withstand the organized resistance of the African working class.

While he was locked up in Santa Rita County Jail, Bakari was approached by several jail employees and one sheriff who were recognizing his significance based on the amount of calls they were receiving, if they were not outright begging him to call off the dogs!

Surely, it was for fear of political consequences from the African community that the State decided it was not in its interests to keep Bakari in prison. Thus, they released him and retracted all charges against him.

We Won the Battle, but the War Continues! Revolutionary Organization Will Win!

When we struggle we win! When we stand up they fall down! Moreover, the highest, most effective form of African struggle is resistance under the leadership of organization.

This is the principle that has informed all the work done to free Bakari. This is the principle upon which the court for Black Justice was built. And this is the principle that will result in our ultimate liberation.

The Uhuru Movement has long worked to rebuild a strong movement for Black Power in Oakland.

It is Oakland where the Black Panther Party was founded in the 1960’s.

It was in Oakland in which the African People’s Socialist Party rebuilt the movement for Black Power after the Panthers were crushed militarily by the U.S. And it is in Oakland where we are working to re-establish a base of power from which we wage the African Liberation struggle from the West Coast region of North America.

Our strategy to liberate Oakland has already begun, and will be advanced through the successful completion of the Oakland Freedom Summer Project.

From July 9-29, 2012, we will deploy revolutionary forces from throughout the U.S. into Oakland to wage a month-long campaign to initiate the renovation of the Uhuru House and advance the struggle for African community control of police and education.

This struggle has already begun with the Court for Black Justice, and was aided by the victory of the Free Bakari campaign.

The extraordinary record of police repression in the schools and streets of Oakland provided the basis for mass participation in this campaign.

The OPD’s oppressive record served as the basis for the People’s Verdict of “GUILTY” at the Court for Black Justice.

Now, we are entering the phase in which we must build revolutionary organization to enforce the People’s Sentence.

This will all be tied together during the Oakland Freedom Summer Project.

InPDUM is calling on African students, workers and revolutionaries throughout the world to come to Oakland to join in what promises to be a historic project.

To watch the video of Bakari’s arrest, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxFj1E4lzxU

What Must be Done:

Register for the Oakland Freedom Summer Project. Click here to REGISTER NOW: http://uhurusummerproject.org/register.shtml

If you are in Oakland, attend the weekly mass meetings to build the Oakland Freedom Summer Project:

Every Sunday at 4PM, Uhuru House – 7911 MacArthur Blvd

At week’s meeting on Sunday, May 13, we will hold a special VICTORY RALLY as we forward the struggle to build the Committee for African Community Self-Defense!

One Party! One Movement!

Build the Revolutionary Mass Organization for African Liberation!

Great new video online: “Hands off Carlos Montes!”

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May 5, 2012

Los Angeles, CA – The Committee to Stop FBI Repression has created a great new video on the life of Carlos Montes, and the fight to beat back the attempt to jail him.

Montes is a veteran Chicano activist known for his leadership of the 1968 East Los Angeles student walkouts, the historic Chicano Moratorium against the U.S. war in Vietnam, and the recent immigrants’ rights mega-marches of 2006. Montes was a co-founder of the Brown Berets. In recent years he has be active in the anti war, Chicano, labor and immigrant rights movements. He currently one of the 24 anti war and international solidarity activists who have been targeted by the FBI, and is scheduled to go on trial May 15.

The video urges people to call Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, at 213-974-3512 to demand that all charges against Montes be dropped.

“Everyone should see this video and share it with their friends. It‘s the inspiring story of a heroic activists, Carlos Montes, who facing an FBI frame up. We can’t let him go to prison,” says Jess Sundin of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression.

Source

Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald accepts plea agreement

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Supporters charge that racism and transphobia in legal system continue the assault against McDonald

May 2, 2012

Minneapolis, MN – Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald accepted a plea agreement, May 2, to a reduced charge of manslaughter in the second degree in the criminal case resulting from the racist, transphobic assault that she survived last June.

The prosecution originally charged her with felony murder in the second degree. However, after entering into plea negotiations this morning, the defense and the prosecution settled on the reduced charge. McDonald will be sentenced on June 4 at 1:30 p.m. under Hennepin County Judge Daniel Moreno to 41 months in prison. According to a statement from her support committee, “The executed sentence will be reduced by one third, for ‘good time’ and credit for the time McDonald has served pending this resolution.”

The plea agreement comes nearly a year after McDonald was arrested, interrogated, denied adequate medical care for a laceration she suffered during the attack, and held in solitary confinement for a month for being a transgender person. During the pre-trial proceedings, supporters raised worldwide support for the demand that the charges against McDonald be dropped. Last month, supporters delivered 15,000 signatures and dozens of letters of support for McDonald from organizations and prominent individuals from around the globe to Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman. Freeman consistently failed to exercise his professional discretion and take a stand against racism and transphobia by dropping the charges.

“Freeman’s aggressive prosecution of CeCe was a continuation of the racist, transphobic assault that led to her being charged and resulted in the tragic death of one of the assailants,” said Kris Gebhard of the CeCe McDonald Support Committee. “We’ve been proud to stand with CeCe as she fought this unjust prosecution and will continue to stand with her as she fights for justice as a trans woman of color within the prison system.”

In a press conference after the plea agreement was accepted in court, Katie Burgess of the Trans Youth Support Network addressed the crowd of supporters filling the steps outside the Hennepin County courthouse. Burgess stated, “Over the past 10 months I have witnessed the legal system isolating and attacking another young trans woman of color in our community, CeCe McDonald. And over the past 10 months, I have also witnessed our community say very clearly, ‘You are not alone, CeCe! And we have had enough!’”

Burgess continued, “With the whole world watching, Freeman’s office consistently chose not to take the opportunity to stand up against racism and transphobia. Freeman himself said, and I quote, ‘The criminal justice system is not built for, nor is it necessarily good at, solving a lot of society’s problems.’”

Burgess concluded, “We know that this system is not designed to deliver justice to young trans women of color. We are going to continue to support CeCe as she goes through this process and continue to stand for justice for all trans people and people of color so that this is the last time a young trans woman of color has to go through this.”

Supporters will pack the courtroom for the sentencing on June 4 and continue to rally support for McDonald and to demand justice for all trans people and people of color.

Source