MANDELA AND THE ORIGINS OF THE CURRENT SOUTH AFRICAN CRISIS

Why and when did Nelson Mandela change his mind about nationalization of the wealth of South Africa? And what have been the results? I find the mainstream media’s accounts, citing Mandela’s claim that he changed his mind at Davos, Switzerland, in 1992 implausible. More troubling is why when Mandela and the ANC led government saw things going so badly for the people they didn’t change course? These questions arise as we try to make sense of Mandela’s legacy. This is especially important in light of the catastrophic crisis of poverty, hunger, unemployment, education and health care besetting the South African people. The decision against nationalization has left the people worse off than when Mandela was elected in 1994. White economic privilege remains the same, and their wealth exponentially increased, a tiny, rich and mostly parasitic black bourgeoisie and a black middle class have been created. For 90 percent of the African population things have not improved.

The New York Times reported on December 10,2013 that Nelson Mandela’s change of thinking occurred at Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum (the annual meeting of the major bankers, capitalist, entrepreneurs, celebrities, politicians and intellectuals tied to the neo liberal globalist model of the world economy) in January 1992. Tito Mboweni, a former governor of the South African Reserve Bank (that nation’s Central Bank), who accompanied Mandela to Davos, says when Mandela and the ANC delegation arrived Mandela had a speech written by the ANC that focused on nationalization. Mboweni says “we discussed this at some length and decided that its content was inappropriate for a Davos audience.” Mboweni drafts another speech that was friendly to the Davos crowd. The speech was vague and filled with clichés and platitudes and assured the audience that they had nothing to fear from Mandela or the ANC.

In a letter to the Sunday Independent last January Mboweni says it was meetings with representatives of the Communist parties of China and Vietnam that changed Madiba’s mind completely. According to Mboweni the Chinese and Vietnamese told Mandela “We are currently striving to privatize state enterprises and invite private enterprise into our economies. We are Communists Party governments, and you are a leader of a national liberation movement. Why are you talking about nationalization?” According to Anthony Sampson, the author of Mandela: The Authorized Biography, Mandela told him “They changed my views altogether. I came home to say: ‘Chaps we have to choose. We either keep nationalization and get no investment, or we modify our own attitude and get investment.’”

It is obvious that the ANC, the South African national liberation struggle and the nation as a whole were at a critical juncture. They were faced with problems of consolidating political power and moving the nation towards economic emancipation. On the other side, the white regime and its backers in the West were concerned with making concessions to black South Africans that would not disturb western corporate control of this mineral rich and strategically located economy. However I find the accounts of Mr. Sampson and Mr. Mboweni implausible. In other words, the path to Mandela’s radical change of mind involved more than conversations during a five-day meeting in Davos in 1992.

The first question is about the representatives of China and Vietnam. Both nations in 1992 were at different levels of economic development. Vietnam was still in the social and economic reconstruction phase after 25 years of war against foreign aggression. China was a socialist economy that twelve years earlier had entered upon a path of reform within its socialist economy. China at that time had about 80 to 90% of the strategic parts of its economy under state control. Vietnam was similar with the state controlling economic reconstruction. Even today close to 70% of China’s economy is under state control. The most technologically dynamic and profitable sector of the Chinese economy is the state, or nationalized sector. The facts are that China and Vietnam are heavily state dominated economies and each says the objective of their economic planning is to build advanced socialism. Even if we accept that the Chinese and Vietnamese representatives at Davos said what Mboweni says, the next question is who were they and did they represent the official positions of their governments? If we accept the mainstream media’s accounts, they must have been saying, “do as we say, not as we do.” Of course this would have been an instance of unbelievable bad faith, even cynicism. But on this matter, rather than looking to the Chinese and Vietnamese delegates, I think we should question Mr. Mboweni ‘s and Mr. Sampson’s account.

The second point is that when Mandela emerges from prison two of his and the ANC’s most important allies were Cuba and Libya, two nations whose economies were heavily nationalized. Why did Mandela not consult Fidel Castro and Muammar Gadaffi among others to get a more complete view on how well nationalization was working or not working in their nations?

”The decisions made by Mandela and the ANC thwarted a robust transition and allowed the old system to remain pretty much intact.”

The third point, any nation emerging from a long period of civil war and national liberation, experiencing a radical transfer of power, necessarily goes through a period of transition. It is ludicrous to think that sober minds, especially those with the training of most of the ANC, could underestimate a transition where something like a New Deal for the people, including a jobs and infrastructure programs, an anti-poverty crusade, health care, housing and political education, would not be considered necessary. No clear thinking person could have imagined an overnight great leap forward from a ravaged apartheid economy to an advanced socialist one. There would be a transition period of at least a decade where the groundwork would be laid for a new democratic and socialist economy. The forms of this transition would have many layers, even ambiguities, but its direction would be firmly established and based on the Freedom Charter and its call for nationalization. The decisions made by Mandela and the ANC thwarted a robust transition and allowed the old system to remain pretty much intact and thereby recklessly undermined the future of South Africa.

The more plausible scenario, from my perspective, is that Mandela and a small circle around him, long before Davos, perhaps in the last year or so of Mandela’s imprisonment, cut a deal. As we know Mandela entered into secret talks with the white regime before being released. These talks were kept secret from the ANC leadership. There were others in and outside of the ANC who were involved in secret talks about the economy well before 1990. By the time Mandela is released an agreement had been reached with the regime against nationalization. The question for Mandela and those in the ANC who supported him, was to get an appropriate time and place for Mandela to announce his change of position. There had to also be a plausible explanation of why such a drastic change. The Davos story fulfills both requirements, an appropriate place and a plausible story.

The fact that Mr. Mboweni, a free market capitalist, accompanied Mandela to Davos and had such power that he was allowed to trash the ANC speech and substitute for it his own, should raise further troubling questions about the behind scenes operations among the ANC elite. Why weren’t other views present in the ANC delegation at Davos? Or were they dismissed as “too radical” even before Davos?

Not long after the Davos announcement the ANC (or the free market and neo liberal elements within the ANC) announced that the first black government would assume the entire debt of the white regime. A sum of close to $25 billion. The ANC took an IMF loan to pay the debt, which came with severe strings attached that protected white control of the post apartheid economy. (see my article in BAR Dec 11 2013 for a further discussion of this). Mandela’s claim that he was turned around at Davos is questionable and his turn against the Freedom Charter and the aspirations of the masses of South Africa (who cherished the Freedom Charter as their manifesto of freedom and reflective of their freedom aspirations) is problematic.

Winnie Mandela has said repeatedly that when Mandela emerged from prison he was not the same man. She says his revolutionary resolve was different. What she probably meant is his change of heart on economic policy and his willingness to, as she saw it, make unnecessary compromises with white South Africans and Western interests. Ronnie Kasrils, former minister in ANC governments, a member of the ANC executive and a leader of Umkonto weSizwe recently wrote (The Guardian, June 23, 2013) that the decision against nationalization was a “Faustian bargain” with the white world that sold out the South African poor. Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine suggests the bargain was that in return for the ANC turning against The Freedom Charter and nationalization, the West would make Mandela a living saint.

In my BAR article “Nelson Mandela, The Contradictions of his Life and Legacies” I argue there are four stages in Mandela’s life. The fourth is 1990 to 2013. This is the most contradictory in terms of his previous revolutionary activity. However, it is as significant to understanding his legacy and life as the previous ones are. The burning question is in power what did he and his ANC colleagues do to liberate the nation from economic apartheid and foreign corporate control. At this point the answer is in power the ANC failed. The problem is not important only to South Africans or Africans, but for how humanity, especially its impoverished and destitute majority, imagines the future world and how we fight for it.

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NELSON MANDELA: THE CONTRADICTIONS OF HIS LIFE AND LEGACIES

Nelson Mandela’s death in December 2013 ended an epoch in  the South African people’s revolutionary history. The generation which included Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Olver Tambo, Alfred Nzo, Govan Mbeki, Ahmad Karthdra Dennis Goldberg and others assumed the stage of history from within the ranks of the ANC Youth League in the mid-1940’s. Sisulu and Tambo were Mandela’s closest comrades and his political and intellectual mentors. Mandela’s life is, finally, a lense through which to understand the South African struggle. Rather than a single line, his life proceeded through stages and contradictions. Since radical politics starts with concrete analysis of concrete situations, we are compelled to study Mandel as a living human being in a concrete epoch of history. To do this we must study the stages of his life, how his consciousness evolved, and actualized in his organizational and ideological activity and most importantly how he emerged as a revolutionary committing himself completely to the liberation of black South Africans and to Africans generally. We must also forthrightly address those contradictions in his development that produced the weakening and finally the abandonment of his revolutionary resolve. This essay does not propose to tackle all of the question concerning Mandela’s biography, but will attempt to establish a context for understanding them.

Western capitalist, presidents, prime ministers, politicians, religious leaders and elite intellectuals are bestowing upon Mandela praise and celebration and speak of him in language seldom used in reference to presidents, popes, royalty or leaders of finance and industry. The very ones who supported his jailers, and for over one hundred years the oppression of the South African people, hypocritically anoint him one of the “greatest men of the 20th century”.This rank hypocrisy must not obscure our duty to seek out the truth of Mandela’s life as part of understanding the struggles that lie ahead both in South Africa and the US. There are essentially four stages in Mandela’s life.

The first stage 1918–1943. He is born in 1918 to an aristocratic Xhosa family in a South Africa colonized by the English and Dutch settlers. By 1943 he completed his university education. In this period he does not foresee an activist future, let alone a revolutionary one for himself.

The second stage, 1943 to 1960. This is the period when his revolutionary consciousness takes form. He comes into contact with revolutionary intellectuals who help form his understanding of organization, ideology and how to connect radical ideas to mass protest. This period ends with the Sharpeville Massacre in March 1960. During this time Mandela and his colleagues in the ANC and the South African Communist Party are indicted by the racist regime in 1956 for treason. Also the ANC, now under the leadership of Walter Sisulu, produces “The Freedom Charter”, which sets forth a radical and socialist program for the people. With the Sharpeville Massacre the third stage of Mandela’s life begins.

 The third stage, 1960—1990.This is perhaps Mandela’s most revolutionary period. The ANC and its ally in the struggle the South African Communist Party conclude that the regime will not relent and has decided to crush the people’s movement by force. They insisted the regime had become fascist, closing all doors to a peaceful and democratic transition to majority rule. It is with this evaluation that the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP) decide to form the military wing of the liberation movement Umkhonto we Sizwe(MK)—The Spear of the Nation. The formation of the armed wing begins in earnest the decisive battle for freedom. The armed struggle lasts 30 years and along with mass uprisings eventually broke the back of the regime. Mandela and 19 of his comrades were captured on July 11, 1963 in a farmhouse in a small town named Rivonia, outside of Johannesburg. He and nine of those captured were put on trial and convicted of high treason and sentenced to life in prison on Robben Island. Mandela serves 18 years on Robben Island and almost nine in Pollsmoor Prison and eventually under a form of house arrest in a villa outside of Capetown. While on Robben Island Mandela Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmad Kathrada, and others would constitute a high command of the revolution. Driven underground the ANC establishes an external wing headed by Oliver Tambo. It is this external wing that built international support for the movement, as well as directing underground activity within the country. At the same time MK remained active carrying out low level sabotage against the regime, setting up external bases in neighboring African nations, building international support and training young militants and recruiting cadre from within the country. The Western nations under the guise of fighting communism and terrorism embraced the regime, propping it up militarily and financially. Over 300 US corporations and banks had investments and loans in South Africa. Five hundred British corporations and a significant number from France, West Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and others made up the foundation of the apartheid economy. The World Bank and the IMF loaned tens of billions of dollars to the regime to finance both its foreign trade and police and military. They thrived off super exploited black labor in mines, farms and factories. The military alliance between the US, Britain, Israel and South Africa would supply advanced weaponry and eventually nuclear technology to the white regime.

 The fourth stage 1991—2013. This stage begins with his release in 1990 from prison. This stage is the most contradictory and problematic. Upon being released from prison he proclaims himself to be a disciplined and committed member of the ANC, bound by its collective decisions. He affirms his solidarity and gratitude to the ANC and South African people’s allies, including Fidel Castro, Yasser Arafat and Muamar Gaddafi. However, by 1994 when the first democratic elections are held and he elected President, Mandela’s revolutionary resolve had weakened and rather than an economic program based upon the Freedom Charter and the radical redistribution of wealth and income, a program of neoliberal capitalism and protection of western corporate wealth and white south African interests is implemented. In return blacks got the right to vote, a vague commitment to affirmative action, and modest improvements in the lives of the poor through electrifying some townships and rural areas and the provision of clean running water. The system of super exploited black labor remained in place. Poverty would increase under the new government. While political apartheid ended economic apartheid in a different guise took shape. With the exception of a few black multi millionaires and a small black middle class of professionals and government workers the suffering of working masses and poor has become more desperate. The poor in the end became poorer and the inequalities in the nation are now greater than at the time Mandela was elected, among the worse in the world .

It is clear, for most of his life as an activist and icon of his people’s movement Mandela was a revolutionary. From the mid 1940’s until 1990 he thought and acted as a revolutionary. After 1990 he takes a different course, which ends in him being embraced by the global forces of counterrevolution; in fact the enemies of the people he fought so valiantly and selflessly for. It is Mandela as a ally and representatives of western imperialism and neo-colonialism that the media will highlight in the praise and memorializing of Mandela. They will claim him as a savior of capitalism and white interests in South Africa. For them he protected western and white interests, especially the vast mineral resources and cheap labor, not just of South Africa, but of southern Africa, the world’s mineral treasure house.

There are six events, which turn Mandela, the majority of the ANC , SACP and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)—what is known as the revolutionary alliance– against itself , setting the stage for the undermining of the revolutionary trajectory of the movement. In the end the ANC government became a neo-liberal capitalist regime , upholding a neo-liberal capitalist program.

First Mandela’s decision in the late 1980’s to, in violation of ANC discipline, begin secrete negotiations with the regime. This is a very critical moment. This occurs at the same time a great, and as it turns out, decisive uprising takes place in South Africa. The people take on the military and police and in pitch street battles defeat them and their black stooges, thereby liberating townships and Bantustans. The epicenters of these battles were the townships of Soweto and Alexandra, and their personification was the heroic Winnie Mandela. Townships became liberated zones. MK was active in training a new generation of fighters and funneling weapons to them. In 1987/1988 the South African army invaded southern Angola and was defeated at the great battle of Cuito Cuanavale. A combined force of the Angolan army, Cuban volunteers, and MK fighters emerged victorious. In the wake of these victories inside South Africa and Angola the regime and its Western backers, led by the US, sought a truce in order to save what they could of Western interests and the white minority from possible physical elimination. To begin genuine negotiations the regime is forced to free Nelson Mandela and all political prisoners, to unban the ANC, COSATU, the Pan Africanist Congress and the South African Community Party.

Second, the ANC agrees to assume responsibility for the debt accumulate by the white regime and took an IMF loan to cover it in 1993. The loan is estimated to have been $25 billion. This large loan included secret ‘conditionalities’ that ensured that a democratic South Africa would not waver in paying off the regime’s debt, most of which was accumulated to pay for its repression and murder of African people. The IMF made sure a black government would inherited undemocratic economic policies, as well as informal conditions that the the ANC government retain the apartheid regime’s Finance Minister and its Reserve Bank governor. These strings and secrete protocols undermined the new government’s ability to solve problems of poverty, joblessness, hunger , homelessness and AIDS. Financial, trade and monetary policies remained under the control of whites and foreign capitalist interests. These concessions assured South Africa’s admission into the World Trade Organization, but have left the people under a regime of economic apartheid and enduring poverty.

Third, the ANC abandoned its right to control the nuclear technology and weapons given to the regime by the US, Britain and Israel. Six nuclear weapons were assembled by the 1990’s. Before the anticipated changeover to a majority-elected government, the South African government dismantled all of its nuclear weapons, the first nation in the world which voluntarily gave up all nuclear arms it had developed itself. This was a western decision to keep nuclear weapons and technology out of the hands of an African nation. Had this not been done South Africa would have been the only black government in the world with a nuclear weapons capacity. The significance of this is that nuclear weapons are a way of evening the playing field in global diplomacy.

Fourth, agents of the regime assassinated Chris Hani, head of Umkonto we Sizwe and chairman of the Communist Party in 1993. At this point Govan Mbeki and the left wing of the ANC demanded an end to negotiations, reasoning that the ANC could not negotiate with a regime that murders its leading members. Mandela and his allies overrule them and insist upon continuing the negotiations. The significance of this is had negotiations been ended a new round of popular uprising would have begun and new more militant terms put on the table, including international prosecution of regime agents, rather than the Truth and Reconciliation process that occurred.

Fifth, on March 17,2011 South Africa as a member of the UN Security Council supports a resolution put forward by the US, Britain and France allowing NATO to bomb Libya, eventually invade it and brutally assassinate its leader Muammar Gaddafi. The South African representative passionately argued in favor of the Western proposal. The significance of this is that it signaled a turn by South Africa in international relations to a pro Western imperialist posture, even turning its back on the ANC’s long time financial, political and military ally, Gadaffi.

Sixth on August 16, 2012 the South African army, now commanded by Africans, fires upon demonstrating mine workers, killing 34, reminding the world of the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre. The difference this time is the murderers are black, just like the victims. This was a demonstration that the South African government would kill striking miners in defense of the economic interest of foreign mining companies. Neither the ANC, the South African Communist Party nor COSATU have condemned the killing.

While the events after 1990 cannot all be attribute to Mandela and it is true that he did not wholeheartedly sign off on all the decisions made by the ANC government. Certainly by the mid 2000’s Mandela was no longer a part of the governing or political processes in his nation. However, from the late 1980’s when he began secrete negotiations with the regime and his signing off on an economic program of neo liberal capitalism that went against The Freedom Charter cannot be overlooked in any evaluation of Mandela last period. He became in most respects an enabler of the neo-colonization of South Africa and part of handing the nation and its economy over to the West.

In the end, the question is not whether Mandela was a good, wise  and elegant man, he was all of these and perhaps more. Undeniably he sought racial peace and solidarity. Certainly Mandela was never a terrorist (a status the US government kept him in until 2008), he always sought to free his people from oppression, injustice and poverty. Moreover, he was always an exemplary human being, especially as he pursued revolutionary aims. The question of his legacy is whether he remained true to the revolutionary commitments he made early in his life, commitments for which he was imprisoned for 27 years. A concrete historical analysis of his life shows that at the end he faltered, lost his revolutionary resolve and either lost confidence in his people or ceased to recognize the possibilities inherent to struggle. Those of us who believe in freedom embrace, salute and uphold the revolutionary Mandela. At the same time we must unapologetically admit that Mandela died not as a revolutionary, but as a symbol of the system which oppresses his own people. A new generation of fighters is emerging as the nation grieves Mandela’s passing, they will I am sure return to the Mandela of the ANC Youth League, The Freedom Charter, Rivonia Trial, and Umkonto we Sizwe, to the revolutionary Mandela. And so the dialectics of resistance assert and reassert themselves as the struggle for freedom pushes forward.

Long Live the Revolutionary Mandela. We humbly express our love and gratitude for your sacrifice and commitment.

 

 

 

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The Planet Erupts in Struggle

 

The planet is being shaken each and every day by mass struggles; hundreds of millions of people, from Thailand to Egypt to Mexico and Greece to South Africa rock the foundations of the old and decadent system pushing humanity towards a new epoch. Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua in combat with imperialist backed oppositions continue to consolidate people’s democratic state power.

Obama apologists, neoliberal intellectuals, bogus Pan-Africanists and right Social Democrats argue there is no alternative to capitalism. The Cubans and Venezuelans don’t agree with that. And in fact, even though it is not the socialism that I would prefer, the BRIC countries especially Brazil, Russia, India, and China, still represent, if not state socialism, opposition to neoliberal capitalism and US hegemony and Empire.

US imperialism is today the greatest danger to humanity and to social progress. Unity against US imperialism is the main task of our time. We must fight for unity, Left unity, Black Left unity, Black unity, working class unity and international unity against war and neo-liberal capitalism. We need a global advanced democratic front. To achieve this in our country we must fight for an updated analysis and theoretical understanding of the current crisis. Proceeding from our long and glorious history and we must pose again at the start of the 21st century the questions posed by W.E.B Du Bois at the start of the 20th century i.e., how to unite democratic struggles and aspirations to international events, and how to undermine and ultimately defeat the anti-democratic and authoritarian regime of the color-line as part of the struggle for social progress and socialism. This is our task. We have our marching orders.

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Neoliberal Black Ideologues and the Struggle for Our Future

 

I think there are three principal areas of ideological struggle against black neoliberalism. First, the Obamites. Public figures like Reverend Al Sharpton and academics and public intellectuals like Charles Ogletree and Melissa Harris-Perry fall into this group. A whole army of academics could be added to those whom I’ve named. They provide political and intellectual cover for Obama’s neoliberal economic and social policies, and his neoconservative foreign policies. They claim that Obama is a liberal and some insist a progressive. As the true nature of Obama’s policies become known and as the situation of Black folk becomes direr, their apologies for Obama become increasingly dishonest, bordering on open lying. They consider Obama’s left critics to be enemies of Black progress, deserving unmitigated attacks, marginalization and something coming close to a witch-hunt. Their attacks upon left critics of Obama have begun to take on forms of anti-communism.

Secondly, bogus Pan-Africanism manifested as new forms of cultural nationalism. This line supports US neo-colonialism in Africa and is aligned with neo-colonialist and pro-West forces in Africa. They hide their true politics behind calls for an African Renaissance and for the cultural unity of Africans throughout the world. They oppose anti-imperialist unity across Africa and anti-imperialist solidarity between the African Diaspora and the continent. This form of Pan Africanism is unquestionably pro US imperialist. They generally support the Obama Africa policies or are silent about such policies as AFRICOM and military intervention in Libya, Somalia and support to Paul Kagame’s genocidal regime’s war in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Lastly right social democracy, which is the most developed and ideologically experienced and sophisticated center of anti-radicalism, anti-communism and neoliberalism. Claiming to support liberalism reforms at home, i.e. gay marriage, gay rights, certain women’s rights, Black elected officials, and claiming that such reforms prove that capitalism, even under neoliberal economics, can be democratic and progressive. As against class struggle, anti-racist and national self-determination they propose creating new civil society institutions. Civil society formations, they insist, are forms of people’s power against hegemonic institutions like the state. Right Social Democracy’s essence, is anti-radical, opposing advanced democratic resistance and struggle, and ultimately defend the system, even as it becomes more authoritarian and anti-democratic. Like bogus Pan Africanism and cultural nationalism, right social democrats disguise their pro-imperialist/neoliberalism behind so-called cultural analysis and claims of supporting democratic renewal through culture, such as changes in racial, gender and sexual identity. All of this they claim can go forward under neo-liberal policies and neo-colonialism. The political economy and the crisis of capitalism and the growing exploitation and suffering of working people worldwide is absent from, goes unnoticed and is never put forward in their discourses.

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Obama, Imperialism and Ideological Struggle

 

If there’s anything that the Obama administration and its foreign policy teaches us, is that imperialism has no limits in what it will do and the weapons that it will use against people. And it does this with arrogance, triumphalism and a celebration that I don’t think any of us has ever seen. We can talk about the Reagan and Bush Administrations, but I don’t believe any of us have ever seen anything like this. Drone Wars, targeted assassinations, the continuing operation of Gitmo prison, wars against Libya, Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen, the turn to encircle China, the support of right wing and fascist forces in the Ukraine. Along with this domestic spying and repressive means using the electronic media surpass anything Hoover’s FBI or COINTELPRO were capable of.

Now of course this creates enormous problems psychologically and ideologically for the Black liberation struggle. The majority of Black folk, albeit disappointed, see Obama as possibility, as progress, as “we now getting our shot at power”, rather than as a representative of imperialism and racism. The Obama symbology has (and let’s hope temporarily) weakened the normal and necessary oppositional stance of Black folk. The Obama presidency rather than opening possibilities for the Black Left, as many leftist thought, has produced the opposite, the relative isolation of the Black Left and the rise to prominence of a new Black petit bourgeoisie. It embraces and apologizes for Obama at any cost. The Black Left has not effectively waged the necessary ideological struggle to clarify precisely what Obamism is. The outstanding exception is the Black Agenda Report. A central task in this moment is for us to ideologically retool, to sharpen our analysis and to within the left fight for both ideological and practical unity on key issues.

Sadly, for the first time in the history of polling Black people support war over peace, and support NSA spying at higher percentages than whites do. You know back in the 1950s, William L Patterson made the statement that the Black liberation struggle is the Achilles’ heel of American imperialism. Well if remain that we have been severely weakened as US imperialism’s Achilles’ heel. We have to find ways to strengthen ourselves as the Achilles’ heel of American imperialism. Because we can’t be internationalists unless we are anti-imperialist, and if we’re not internationalists we’re not left, if we’re not internationalists we’re not revolutionaries. We can’t be internationalists unless we are ideologically clear about imperialism and the multiple and varied forms and manifestations it adopts in order to adapt to its crises and the changes in the global political economy.

We must help our people to understand there cannot be Black liberation on the terms of American imperialism. Malcolm and Martin Luther King taught us that in the 1960s. So we’re confronted in the struggle for unity, Black unity, the unity of Black people, the unity of the working class, and the unity of the people in general, with ideological challenges that are new, ideological challenges that arise in the context of the general crisis at a new stage.

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Working Class Analysis as Opposed to “Radical Structural” Analysis

 

I think we serve ourselves better in understanding the new normal of poverty and unemployment not by focusing upon Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers and other statistical measures, but by our own observations and direct experiences with the working class. This does not mean we don’t deal with official governmental and other statistical and quantitative measures of the economy and the conditions of working people. We must decide where we begin. I suggest we begin at the level of the lived experiences of working people, particularly Black working people. We must anchor our analysis and understanding at the level of the people, in the factories, communities, welfare offices, churches, union alls etc. There are neighborhoods where nobody works, most young people have been in jail, everybody’s been racially profiled at one time or another, most young men have been stopped and frisked, one half of the young men are either in prison or under the control of the criminal justice system, women and children live in extreme poverty. Government data doesn’t capture this level of misery. But we have to fully grasp the meaning of all of this. It is a picture of oppression that is only equaled by that of the Palestinian people. I suggest that no people on this planet except the Palestinians experience the levels of oppression that we African Americans do. And I think that ours in some ways goes beyond there’s because we experience a type of human diminishment.

Questions of the diminishment of the humanity of Black people have to be considered. Corporate created popular culture operates to diminish Black humanity, not unlike late 19th and early 20th century minstrelsy and Hollywood stereotypes. The anti-black symbology, often performed by blacks, is at new and dangerous level. It says to our children each and every day that you are worth very little and don’t expect anything in this life or from this system, producing a nihilism and expectations of immediate gratification. And if you think you’re going to get out of line, we have forces out here that can deal with you in the most extreme and violent manner. The souls of Black people are attacked each and every day. We haven’t found an answer to it yet. Our people have not yet produced in this period a real culture of resistance, liberation and self and people’s self-affirmation.

The over two million Black young people under the control of the criminal justice system, the vicious severity of the treatment of Herman Wallace’s 41 years in solitary confinement, Mumia 30 years in solitary confinement, surpasses in barbarity even the apartheid regime in South Africa. Even they treated its most dangerous political prisoners with more humanity.

Many people who call themselves left, Marxist and revolutionary examine the system from a structural theoretical position. They and their analysis are disengaged from, separated from the people. I would suggest that for revolutionaries a more accurate way of looking at the system is by understanding the oppressed and exploited victims of the system. Because all of us read tens of studies produced by and published in white left journals, and we could name hundreds of white left academics who produce volumes of empirical evidence about the system. What they never do is talk about the system from the bottom up, from the people, from Black folk, from the working class. The absence of working class centered analysis leaves their analysis devoid of an in depth explanation of Black oppression and dehumanization. Moreover, looking at the system from the top down, from a purely structural standpoint, leaves the analysis unable to show possibilities of changing the system.

On the other side looking at it from the day-to-day lives of the people, as difficult as their lives are, you can see possibilities for change. And then you can see in different ways what the ideological challenges are.

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The Capitalist Economy: The Rise of Inequality 

 

The rise of economic inequality is now so severe that even the captains of finance capital and their ideological minions had to make it the center of the agenda at Davos, Switzerland. Rather than the failure of markets, as the Davos crowd would have it, inequality reflects the capitalist markets working precisely as they should. Inequality has nothing to do with market imperfection: the more perfect the capitalist market, the higher the rate of return on capital is in comparison to the rate of growth of the economy and of wages, the wider is inequality. The higher this ratio is, the greater inequality is. And what we see are historically high returns on capital, reflecting higher rates of exploitation of labor worldwide.

The six-decade period of growing equality in western nations – starting roughly with the onset of World War I (which began after and in fact offset the depression of 1913) and extending into the early 1970s – was unique and highly unlikely to be repeated. That period represented an exception to the more deeply rooted pattern of growing inequality.

Those unusual six decades were the result of two world wars and the Great Depression. The owners of capital – those at the top of the pyramid of wealth and income – absorbed a series of devastating blows. These included the loss of credibility and authority as markets crashed; physical destruction of capital throughout Europe in both World War I and World War II; the raising of tax rates, especially on high incomes, to finance the wars; high rates of inflation that eroded the assets of creditors; the nationalization of major industries in both England, Germany and France; and the appropriation of industries and property in post-colonial countries.

At the same time, the Great Depression produced the New Deal coalition in the United States, which empowered an insurgent labor movement. The postwar period saw huge gains in growth and productivity, the benefits of which were shared with workers who had strong backing from the trade union movement and from the dominant Democratic Party. Widespread support for liberal social and economic policy was so strong that even a Republican president, who won easily twice, Dwight D. Eisenhower, recognized that an assault on the New Deal would be futile. In his own words Eisenhower argued, “Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear from that party again in our political history.”

The six decades between 1914 and 1973 stand out from the past and future because the rate of economic growth exceeded the after-tax rate of return on capital. Since then, the rate of growth of the economy has declined, while the return on capital is rising to its pre-World War I levels, that is the levels they were at at the time of the 1913 depression. This means, simply, that the rate of exploitation has increased. For Black workers this is doubled edged, the increasing rate of exploitation goes alongside catastrophic levels of poverty, unemployment and underemployment. The crisis for the Black working class is all-sided, comprehensive and, under the current regime of capital, irreversible.

If the rate of return on capital remains permanently above the rate of growth of the economy, it generates a changing functional distribution of income in favor of capital and, if capital incomes are more concentrated than incomes from labor (a rather uncontroversial fact), personal income distribution will also get more unequal — which indeed is what we have witnessed in the past 30 years. On a global scale producing the grotesque fact that 85 families have more wealth than 3.5 billion people. Or the astounding fact that 147 global corporations control most of the resources ,production and finance of the planet.

The ideological relationships and the ideological struggle under these circumstances take on new significance to humanity. Ideological processes occurs occur through propaganda and and the penetration of human psychology. Propaganda says things are getting better, in spite of the fact that most people say we’re still in a recession. On the other hand it produces a culture of distraction, to prevent a culture of resistance arising. At the psychological level a collective psychology of nihilism, egotism, and celebrity worship all of which attempts to have the working people internalize attitudes that predispose them to defeatism and “let me do my thingism.”
At the levels of elites, especially for African American elite academics and intellectuals, the ruling class strategy is to produce a discourse that privileges petit bourgeois concerns, with personal identity, “high” culture and matters that do not impact the masses. In fact, the racial bribe is such that these elites are paid well not to talk about or identify with Black suffering.

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