The fate of American capitalism is now heavily dependent upon global economic developments, especially in the emerging markets and in particular China, and in the not too distant future, Africa. Emerging economies like Brazil, Russia, India and China (the BRIC nations) and lately South Africa (BRICS) are driving the global economy and are the hope for sustained recovery from the crisis of 2007–2009. A major geopolitical and geo-economic shift was underway before the crisis, but has accelerated since. A sixty-five year period has ended. US economic and political hegemony and the dominance of the US dollar are coming to a screeching end. Martin Jacques in his influential book When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order argues, humanity is entering the Age of China. Roubini and Mihm agree. They speculate that the dollar in the not that distant future could be replaced by the Chinese renmimbi as the principal world currency. Few would argue that by 2030 China, now the second largest economy in the world (having this Spring surpassed Japan) will surpass the US. China ‘s continuing high rates of economic growth and its global standing among developing and developed nations, its alternative way of doing business (what is called the Beijing Consensus), makes it the attractive alternative to the US, IMF, the World Bank, the European Central Bank and Western financial and banking institutions. The Chinese remnmbi is increasingly the go to currency. Nothing, in this regard, is more dramatic than the China-Africa summits and China’s vast infrastructure investment throughout Africa.

This irreversible shift in all probability will be a messy affair, occasioning in the West sovereign debt default, currency crashes, crumbling markets, bank failures, exploding unemployment and underemployment and political and social unrest. Roubini and Mihm warn, “The status quo is unsustainable and dangerous and absent some difficult reforms it will unravel. Indeed, if the Unites States doesn’t get its fiscal house in order and start saving more, it’s headed for a nasty reckoning. When that reckoning will come is anyone’s guess, but the notion that it might be put off for decades is delusional. Indeed, some signs suggest that the tide is already beginning to shift (251).” What the authors call “difficult reforms” I call bold and purposeful action and planning, entailing fundamental alterations of the structures of US capitalism and finance. The authors urge in the short term a quick rebalancing of the global economy. China and Germany, for example, should consume more, and the US, Britain, Spain and Ireland, for example, should consume less, borrow less and save more. However, this only alters the context for the type of deep structural changes that must take place in the US and the West. But without a rebalancing of the global economy and establishing a new global equilibrium, the whole thing could snap. The next crisis would be worse and more than the garden-variety boom and bust cycle. “It would be,” they sat “ less a function of capitalism’s inherent instability than a deep ebb and flow of geo-political power. “ Actually, it would be a combination of both. Such an unraveling would constitute an earthquake and would occasion “a rapid, disorderly decline of the dollar (255).” Geo-economic and geo-political changes along with structural, cyclical and financial crises could produce a 21st century Great Depression The current crisis, therefore, rather than a once in a life time event, might be a taste of things to come.

The origins of this crisis are in modern capitalism. It is inherent in the nature of 20th and 21st century capitalism. Up to recently the US avoided the worst of Western capitalism’s crises. Europe was the epicenter. It experienced economic depressions and two world wars, European civil wars for dominance of the colonial world. These events evidenced new and deep contradictions within the world system. At the same time policies that supported banks becoming dominant and merging with the state were crucial. The financialization of the US economy, and the deregulation of Wall Street are decisive to the architecture of early 21st century US capitalism. The American (and British) free market model unleashed finance capital to do its thing on society. The most predatory, parasitic and criminal elements of Wall Street and bank capital became dominant over the economy and the government. Certainly, Bush II’s insane tax cuts for the richest 2% and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars worsened the problem of government debt and set the immediate context of the current crisis.

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The New Imperialism

PHILIP BOBBITT (2004), a defender of American imperialism, writes that George W. Bush is “the authentic voice of the liberal imperialist.” An imperialist who, according to Bobbitt, is concerned with a world of prosperity, women’s and minority rights, secularization and democracy. These policies, he insists, “take the doctrine of ‘democratic engagement’ of the first Bush administration, and the doctrine of ‘democratic enlargement’ of the Clinton administration, one step further. It might be called democratic transformation’. Or, it might be called ‘liberal imperialism.’” And then, he asks, “What is wrong with this noble idea?” This article will, in part, attempt to suggest “what is wrong with this noble idea.”
The current moment of empire and the new relationship of forces within the United States are crystallized in the Bush Administration’s Doctrine of Preemptive War,( n6) the USA Patriot Act, and the Homeland Security Act. The Justice Department and the Homeland Security Department are designed as the command centers of the attack upon civil and political rights. International law and international institutions, at the same time, are under assaulted as the Bush Administration declares its right to wage war unilaterally anywhere in the world. The Administration has literally declared itself outside of the bounds of international law and thus according to its own definitions, a rogue state. In economic terms, a policy shift from Keynesian state economic and financial planning to a neo-liberal Friedmanite free market, has been institutionalized.
THAT HAVING BEEN SAID, modern capitalism, bourgeois democracy, globalization and contemporary pop culture are virtually incomprehensible without understanding the modern racialized capitalist state. Nor can the new imperialism be understood without understanding its historical anchorage in the racialized US state. While these are issues that engage state and political theory they are also matters that must be investigated historically. The social psychological and ideological dimensions are particularly important. It is safe to say that the American population, particularly white people, views the current moment as a new and unsafe frontier. There is a perceptible transformation of the psychological and ideological impulses among white Americans and something that resembles a collective traumatization is occurring as the business of empire comes home to roost.
The psychological and ideological moment is nourished by the concerns that ordinary white people have with their own vulnerability and their awareness that it is they who are called upon to make significant sacrifices in the name of empire. It is in this milieu that we witness the attempt of leading elements of the state to forge a national identity and sense of purpose geared to fit this new moment. Indeed, the conscious and subconscious dimensions of the American belief system are historically constituted. On the one hand they are variants of extreme individualism; but, at the same time, they embrace notions of whiteness and white supremacy that acknowledge the contingency of the individual upon the larger group. This dialectic between the white race and white supremacy on the one hand, and individualism on the other, accounts for certain of the contradictions of action and thought among white folk. This is particularly pronounced as regards economic and class interests.
In the priority hierarchy of most white people class and economic interests are of secondary or tertiary significance in the determination of political behavior; race trumps class in defining consciousness and political behavior.
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL and ideological realities of ordinary white folk are filtered through the prisms of race, nationalism and white supremacy. The perceived threats, therefore, are viewed as threats to white people as a collective and not solely to the economic interests of the nation, or even to specific class interests. For them the American dreamscape has been sullied and tarnished. Their sense of security and the expectation of privacy are wounded. In their minds, their dream world has to be redeemed in order that the American psyche be restored. In the deepest sense the privileges of whiteness and white supremacy are perceived as being under attack. Hence, the defense of America and of democracy is at the core a defense of the global rights of white people, articulated variously as defenses of civilization or the West.
What we have is the reassertion of the notion of civilized and uncivilized nations. Civilized nations are either Western or those whose elites adhere to or adopt Western civilizational values. Hence, the war against terrorism is to uphold Western civilization. However, once it is connected to its objective, an American global empire, it may be properly viewed as a war to universalize white supremacy and to establish the United States as its hegemon. This inevitably leads to tearing up of the international legal framework established since 1945; in particular, the UN Charter and its commitments to decolonization and universally recognized human rights. This constitutes a profound emasculation of international law and a return to the Great Nations system of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As is clear this system harkens back to the time of rampant colonization. Clusters of right-wing commentators are either calling for the US to leave the UN or to severely minimizes its participation. Others more boldly assert the need to for an alternative international organization called the League of Democracies, which would divide the world between the so-called civilized nations and the less than civilized or uncivilized nations.

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Du Bois and Bourgeois Democracy: A History of the United States

DU BOIS STATES in Black Reconstruction, “The record of the Negro worker during Reconstruction presents an opportunity to study inductively the Marxian theory of the state (1992:381).” Charles Lemmert (2000:222) is right when he insists that Black Reconstruction “thinks race through in more enduringly substantial ways” than The Souls of Black Folk. It is, moreover, global in its scope and its intellectual and ideological implications. In thinking about Reconstruction, Du Bois was also thinking about the present and future of race, democracy, class conflict and the state. In Black Reconstruction he goes beyond themes that had appeared in his John Brown (1909): insurrectionary violence, the political and ideological agency of the slaves and state power. In Black Reconstruction Du Bois openly discusses the possibility of the dictatorship of the proletariat in several states of the former Confederacy, counterrevolutionary violence, the race-class dynamic and racialized democracy. He also looks at what we today would call racialized relationships of production. At the core of this set of production relationships is what he called “a wage for whiteness.” It is a work of theory and empirical research. Its point is to talk about the future. The paradigm it presents is revolutionary and transgressive. It establishes a framework for a larger revolutionary research project concerning US democracy, the racialized state and the relationship of class and class conflict to race and race conflict. It carries enormous predictive power. Which is to say, its categories of analysis provide a way to explain and indeed predict the modalities and regulatory principles of institutions, social structures and social classes and groups that make up American society.
At last, Black Reconstruction is successful as an act of ideological and theoretical displacement. It displaces liberal, social democratic and Marxist analysis of the state and democracy. In their place he proposes that race and racialized relationships of production are the organizing principles of American society. And that class taken outside of this historically constituted framework is theoretically impoverished. It is rare that so ambitious a project is so successful in realizing its intended goals, as is Black Reconstruction.
BLACK RECONSTRUCTION asserts that the twentieth century is a long century that begins with the overturn of Reconstruction; that out of this defeat comes the modern US state, modern class and race relations and so on. But more than this the book sums up the seventy-five-year historical period from 1860 to 1935, and on this basis establishes the ideological, philosophical and political framework for the struggles for civil rights and bourgeois democracy through the middle to end of the twentieth and into the twenty-first century. The work insists upon the centrality of African Americans as the principal agency of progressive and revolutionary change. And points to the conservative and at times reactionary impulses that animate white working people’s consciousness.
Du Bois is the first to establish whiteness as a social category and as such a critical core dynamic in the American social structure. In the end Du Bois redefines what class analysis is. He takes it beyond class reductionism and dogmatism to recognition of the embeddedness of class in race and that classes in the US context are racialized. For black people, the class conflict and bourgeois democracy are shaped in the context of the struggle against white supremacy and for freedom. Black freedom and democracy, Black Reconstruction argues, is the beginning and end of class analysis.
AT THE UNIVERSITY OF BERLIN Du Bois had done considerable study in the methods of political economy. The German social science academy distinguished itself in that it sought to join historical and political economic studies with concrete empirical research. Du Bois’s research while in Berlin reflected this, especially his study of the small and large-scale agricultural production in the American South during slavery.( n14)
This line of research unfolded throughout his career, eventuating in his notion of a racialized system of production. Political economy as understood at the end of the nineteenth century meant exactly that, the joining of economic analysis to an analysis of the state and economic and social policies. From a reformist, indeed Fichtean and Fabian standpoints, this meant using the state as an instrument of advanced and progressive consciousness and policies.( n15) Hence, socialists imbued the state with programs and policies that reflected their scientific findings and progressive ideas, geared to improve the conditions of working people. There is no doubt that Du Bois throughout his career saw this as one way to advance the immediate and practical interests of the racially oppressed black people. A clear conclusion of his 1896 work, “The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America 1638-1870,” pertains to the failure of the state to enforce the 1808 treaty outlawing the international slave trade. The practical lesson that he drew from this. study was that the state has the power to move events in one or another direction, either towards the moral good or its opposite. Hence, it is clear that Du Bois as a young Ph.D. believed that knowledge linked to state power could alter race relationships. This represented his early commitment to positivism and a scientistic sensibility. This stance perhaps reflected practical necessity given that blacks were almost completely powerless and disenfranchised and living under what was virtually a fascist dictatorship in the southern states.
DU BOIS’S PROFESSIONAL CAREER started in the period of the Nadir, when blacks had been completely deprived of civil and human rights. The justification for this denial was that blacks were less than human, without history, and had no standing as equal citizens within society. As a political text Du Bois’s 1897 speech before the American Negro Academy “The Conservation of Races” is a defense of the rights of citizenship for blacks based on their being part of human history and civilization. Likewise, the political and ideological meaning of The Souls of Black Folk should be read as a passionate defense of the civil and human rights of black folk within the context of bourgeois democracy. The argument made in Souls and “The Conservation of Races” is that blacks had made fundamental contributions to US culture and the shaping of its democracy, were in fact at once the most consistent democratic force in the nation, but ironically were themselves without full legal and human rights. He insists this was attested to by their collective strivings; making black folk the best defenders of the spirit of the Declaration of Independence.
Du Bois argues that the current situation of blacks was occasioned by the overturn of Reconstruction and the return, as he says, of blacks back toward a new form of slavery. The courts, he points out, had become the universal device for the reenslavement of blacks. Du Bois’s intellectual work is overarchingly political and confronts him not just with the color line, but the racialization of society’s hegemonic political and social institution, the state.
DU BOIS UNDERSTOOD that the modern US state was both liberal and racialized, which meant that he had observed the contradiction between expanding democratic rights for whites and the equally significant fact that the state operated as an instrument of racial subordination. This feature could be found in European states as well. The difference was that European powers primarily exercised the racialized dimension of state power in their colonies and in wars of national conquest and suppression (see Du Bois’s “African Roots of the War”). The uniqueness of the American situation is that both features were exercised within the national boundaries of the US nation-state. The liberal view is that the state constitutes a neutral player standing apart from, or above race and class, as the legal arbiter of societal relationships. The proto-fascist, authoritarian view is that the state is an open instrument of the interest of a race-class in its struggle for liberty, national consolidation and progress. These views coexist and are mutually supportive. The liberal view is almost solely associated with social contract theory and with the liberal view of the state advanced by John Rawls (1971).( n16) The proto-fascist or authoritarian view is as American as Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Lincoln.( n17)
Moreover, while present throughout Du Bois’s early works, including The Souls of Black Folk, is a clear predisposition to support the insurrectionary path to changing the racialized American state; this aspect becomes more pronounced in his writing after 1920, reaching its peak in Black Reconstruction. His view would supersede several extant socialist and communist constructions. On the one hand, his view would supersede the Fabian idea that the state plays a technical function and organizes the intellectual resources of society for the purpose of advancing the technical and social relationships of society.( n18) It would also go beyond the classical Marxist-Leninist position, that the state is the concentrated expression of the repressive power of the dominant class. In superseding these views Du Bois would insist that the Western state was racialized and thus constituted the concentrated power of the white race and hence defended existing race relationships within their national boundaries and internationally through colonialism and imperialism.
THERE EMERGES from the analytic dimension of his work the paramount role of African American political and moral agency in the context of the American republic. The slave rebellions and insurrections, the role of the Haitian Revolution and its leader, Toussaint L’Ouverture contributed to Du Bois’s conclusion that the role of the white masses in the history of resistance to repression was exaggerated by historians and had not measured up to the maroon and slave resistance. Du Bois’s startling view that the slaves refusal to work after 1862 constituted a general strike represented a revolutionary approach to American history writing. From this the sense that the crisis of slavery from 1860 to 1880 constituted a revolutionary situation and that black folk were the principal agents of revolutionary change lead logically to the hypothesis that in several southern states a “dictatorship of the proletariat” to use his language, could have possibly emerged. It is as important to examine how these ideas worked themselves out in strategy, tactics, organization and politics. The bulk of his work addressing the pressing need for blacks to achieve bourgeois democratic rights and liberties as a part of the struggle for full liberation, would require practical day-to-day organization, education and agitation.
Du Bois’s organizational work speaks above all else to his attempt to implement his ideas. In every stage of his career he was in some organization, or organizing and editing some political or scholarly journal. However, it is apparent that he fully understood that the path of bourgeois democracy for blacks would not proceed as it had in Europe or for that matter as it had for whites in the United States. It would be, in the end, a struggle for bourgeois democratic rights without the leadership of an existing or aspiring bourgeoisie. It would be as he conceptualized it in Souls a struggle for these rights by a people. The texture of this struggle was similar to what became the national liberation struggles of the mid twentieth century. At the start of the twentieth century rather than a revolutionary path to achieve these rights the reform path was the only available option available to blacks.( n19)

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James Arthur Baldwin, perhaps the greatest essayist in the English language, matters because of his unconditional defense of humanity. He is one of the most original thinkers on racial and social matters. He matters because he uncovered the workings of the machinery of racism and its pedestrian and predatory day-to-day practices and assumptions. He matters because he rigorously demonstrated how modernity engages complexity and difference. He gave us the concepts and language to talk about and begin understanding the oppressive system of white supremacy in holistic ways. He probed its forms, its depths, its psychological and social psychological dimensions, its conscious and unconscious workings, its human devastation, especially for Americans. Baldwin showed that the dialectics of racism conditioned the dialectics of the social order. Economic exploitation and inequality function within the boundaries it sets, not the opposite. White supremacy was, he taught us, far more than ideology and more than a derivative of the economic system, as Marx and his followers claimed. He inverted the European Enlightenment’s and scientific orthodoxy’s agreed to assumptions and logics concerning white folk, and even what sociological reasoning asserted about race. Race was neither natural nor normal. Whiteness was an abnormal and pathological (in both psychological and societal meanings) reality, birthed by the needs of the slave trade, slavery, capitalism and European empires. However, like the HIV virus, it began to attack and take over the host from which it sprang. Brought into the world by slavery, capitalism, empire and their existential necessities, white supremacy takes them over and subtly and progressively they become it. Rather than the system becoming a capitalist, imperialist and white supremacist system, as we normally think of it: the system itself becomes a white supremacist system within which the machinery of capitalism and imperialism operate. It obviously produces its own racial, gender, sexuality protocols, meanings and intersubjectivities. However, as we have seen in the 21st century in reproducing itself, the system transforms, transfigures and reconfigures itself in order to sustain itself. Whiteness and white supremacy, finally, can be reinvented through new racial, gender and sexual identities, protocols and practices. Yet the system remains what it is. A “revolution” thereby could overturn capitalism, and its earlier identity practices without substantively changing the system: its principal material essence would remain and be produced and reproduced even within a new, conceivably socialist economy, women’s, gay and trans equality, black civil and voting rights and even a black President in a new time/space era. For Baldwin a genuine revolution must ultimately overturn the system of white supremacy, and the identity practices and existential meanings of whiteness. There is not and cannot, as he thought, be a revolution that does not destroy whiteness. However, a great irony defines this moment. The white supremacist system morphs and reconfigures itself by reconfiguring identities and its definitions and meanings of difference. These reconfigurations are mere changes in, not of the system: often changes that give life to it, by transfiguring white supremacy and expanding the definitions of what whiteness and normality are. To many such reconfigurative changes are an indication of expanding personal freedom, political democracy and the renaissance of civil society. Pop culture, pop art, and transgressive cultural and personal identity practices, indicate for some people, especially those from the petit bourgeoisie, a substantive transformation of the system. It is argued that the trajectories of fundamental and revolutionary change will occur through the change of and expanding social space for multiple identities and protocols of difference. Ironically, however, rather than the dawn of a new revolutionary moment these, more or less superficial changes, and expanding social and cultural space for them, are but an indication of systemic decadence and what in Latin is called a momento mori, a reminder of the system’s impending death. This is so because at the level of the system the mere change of identities is usually a diversion from and an obscuring of the overriding systemic question, the destruction of white supremacy. But the refiguring of what are decadent and dying social, cultural, racial, gender, sexuality and economic relations, as well as the growing poverty and chaos of everyday life, especially for working people, in no way indicates the onset of a new and more human society, but its tragic opposite.

Baldwin saw the start of the real American revolution when Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Angela Davis and young radicals like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Black Panther Party focused their political practice upon exposing, clarifying and attacking white supremacy and its many manifestations. Whiteness, while emerging within the specific time/space continuum of modern capitalism, nonetheless can outlive it, producing post modern and even post capitalist white supremacist realities. Realities that can accommodate identity changes and changes in the ways social differences are articulated without addressing the main problem, white supremacy and white identity.

Baldwin saw and thought about these realities deeply. He thought in places far removed from normal and acceptable thought practices. Measured on multiple dimensions he was an outsider: a fact he gladly embraced. His phenomenology was predicated upon an outsider-insider duality. He was, substantially in, but not of the space/time continuum of US and Western epistemic protocols. This made him prophetic, subversive and transgressive. He self defined his social and ideological positionalities. He was, as far as was possible, a self defined human. He acknowledged all of the varied identities applied to him by the social and cultural systems that defined the world he inhabited. None of them quite fit him, as he thought. He was a “black gay man” in a white supremacist society. The race, class, gender, sexuality preferences and intersectional matrices said something about who he was, but did not fit all of who he was and his possibilities. He was, as he thought, even as child, far more (as they say in the streets: “way more”) than the meanings of all those words separately or in some marginalizing combination when applied to him. For instance, many people who did not know him or never experienced him in person or through his novels, plays and essays took shortcuts, defining him only as a “gay black man”. That combination of words and meanings of course than and now (although less so now) meant a broken, indeed pathological and dangerous person on every scale of human normality. He of course insisted he was human and was not and would never allow himself to be anyone’s definition of him, especially if the societal meanings of those words cursed, stigmatized or stereotyped him. For instance, Eldridge Cleaver, a leader of the Black Panther Party and the famous essayist, in his book Soul On Ice attacked Baldwin as inauthentic in black and revolutionary terms and the white man’s tool to divert the black revolution. Cleaver insisted Baldwin was a petit bourgeois counterrevolutionary whose life was defined by what he considered  desires that did not fit a black or revolutionary definition of masculinity. For Cleaver homosexuality was a petit bourgeois and counterrevolutionary impulse. He called Baldwin a “faggot”. Jimmy responded by informing Cleaver in the essay “To Be Baptized” that he did not know what Cleaver’s experiences were in or out of prison, but assured him, that he was not one of the “sissies” (Baldwin’s words), he had encountered in his life. Many of them, Baldwin asserted, had been broken on the wheel of life, still struggling, not merely with their sexuality, but their humanity as black men. But he counseled Cleaver that as a revolutionary he had more in common with himself, because the artist and the revolutionary are driven by profound urges of love for their people, even when the people they love often misunderstand them.

But more than being a writer Jimmy decided he wanted to be James Baldwin, whatever that was or would become. The characters in his novels and plays are like Dostoevsky’s in Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, complex subjects, products of unpredictable intersubjectivities and circumstances. He was able to write Giovanni’s Room, a novel situated in Paris where none of the characters were black and all of the main ones were homosexual or bisexual. He said, however, it was not, as many still believe, a “gay novel”. He said it was a novel about people attempting to find human community, generosity, empathy and love: and how, more than not, they fail. That is the case, while the places and racial identities and even sexual preferences were vastly different, in for example, Go Tell It on the Mountain, Another Country, Blues For Mr. Charlie, Tell Me How Long The Trains Been Gone and If Beale Street Could Talk. And just as it diminishes his intellectual, artistic and philosophical enterprises to call his other novels “black”, it is just as misleading to call Giovanni’s Room “gay”: just as misleading as it is to reduce Baldwin to  “a gay black man”. That might be what he is to you, or the society in which he lived, but not what he was, or for that matter what he strove to be. Just as his life’s journey, in spite of every obstacle, was to be James Baldwin, which for him meant to be human in the sense of a free, self-defining and self-actualizing, his characters had the same strivings. His oeuvre is a type of multivolume autobiography of humanity in the time of white supremacy. It can be thought of as a form of humanity’s self-narrative, told by a living, striving part of humanity. The narrative is about more than black folk, gay folk or poor folk, they are the concrete forms he gives to the human: but it is about the complexities, tragedies, comedies, strivings, pathologies, failures that humans experience as they attempt to be human: while ironically trying to hold on to nonhuman (perhaps prehuman) and semi-human culturally invented identities and practices.

He was completely honest and courageously principled when defining who he was. In a 1984 interview for the Village Voice with Richard Goldstein, Baldwin was asked, “Do you feel like a stranger in gay America”. His answer was progressive for then and now, although because of time for different reasons. Baldwin answers:

“Well, first of all I feel like a stranger in America from almost every conceivable angle except, oddly enough, as a black person. The word “gay” has always rubbed me the wrong way. I never understood exactly what is meant by it. I don’t want to sound distant or patronizing because I don’t really feel that. I simply feel it is a world that has very little to do with me, with where I did my growing up. I was never at home in it. Even in my early years in the Village (the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan), what I saw of that world absolutely frightened me, bewildered me. I didn’t understand the necessity of all the role-playing. And in a way I still don’t.”

The interviewer returns to that question later on, asking, “Do you think of the gay world as being a false refuge?” He answers,

“I think perhaps it imposes a limitation which is unnecessary. It seems to me simply a man is a man, a woman is woman and who they go to bed with is nobody’s business but theirs. I suppose what I am really saying is that one’s sexual preference is a private matter. I resent the interference of the State, or the Church, or any institution in my only journey to whatever we are journeying toward. But it has been made a public question by the institutions of this country.” He went on to say that on all questions of identity and preference, he refused to think from within the language of the positionality or intellectual geography of the oppressor.


James Baldwin’s mind and observational capacities were unsurpassed. He was, as such, a figure not of the past, but of our now/time. He was and remains a thinker for us in what he called “the long meantime”, the time of America’s long and terrifying racial counterrevolution. Amiri Baraka in his eulogy at Baldwin’s home going service, brilliantly observed, “His spirit is part of our own, it is our feelings’ completion. Our perceptions’ extension, the edge of our rationale, the paradigm for our best use of the world.” And then Amiri concludes, “For Jimmy was God’s black revolutionary mouth. If there is a God and revolution his righteous natural expression. And elegant song the deepest and most fundamental commonplace of being alive.”



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The social and class catastrophe at least 150 million US people face will in no way be affected by the 2016 Presidential elections. Wall Street has already taken over the White House (this occurred as early as the Clinton Presidency and perhaps earlier), the Congress and the Supreme Court. Some believe  the people desserve what they get and that the worse it gets for them the better things will be because it will force them to struggle against their conditions. There is an element of truth to this. When people realize that their alleged leaders and their government are in fact their oppressors and even the enemies of their well being , are frauds and perpetrators of frauds, at that point they realize that if they are to escape the catastrophe of their daily living it is they who must act. At the point of this realization, social, political and ideological passivity gives way to anger , rage and spontaneous and militant action. At the same time we who think deeply about these matters must never lose sight of the fact that the crisis is foisted upon the people by a decadent and parasitic ruling elite; that tiny , yet powerful ruling class, that benefits from the system of debt, phony money, obscurantism, and oppression. It is they who are responsible for the constant outrages against the people and against humanity. At the point the people are awakened to the true nature of their situation and see, if even naively and through a veil dimly, a new political, psychological and ideological moments begins to emerge. The people almost spontaneously rea;ize something of their power and if they are to be saved it will take their efforts and that they , not anyone else will determine their fate. We are quickly approaching that moment. In large parts of Africa and Europe, the Middle East and South America and the Caribbean the tipping point has already been reached, the class and social struggles are at a new and intensifying stage. We are not far from that moment here. However, what role must we who think deeply about these matters play. Are we to remain on the sidelines decrying the “ignorance” of the people? Are we to mock the masses and tell them “see we told you so”? Or are we to join the great resistance? Is this not the moment to do that which we claimed we sought all of our lives, that is be part of something much larger than ourselves, to be part of a great mass movement? We the advanced guard must act courageously and with truth and humility. In this fraud democracy that we live in and in the midst of the propaganda and obscurantism that defines this current election cycle, we must constantly remind the people that their most potent weapon is not the vote (a vote that changes nothing but merely legitimizes and endorses their oppression), but the truth. We must insist that for the people the future is theirs if they but dare to stand up and to struggle.Fear and doubt must be replaced with collective courage and decisiveness. To the apologists for this obscene and decadent system, especially for those who claim to be “pragmatic” representatives of the people (even referring to themselves as “pragmatic radicals” and “pragmatics nationalists”), and especially the Negro apologists for Obama and his wing of the ruling class, we can only express our utter contempt for you and welcome the opportunity to engage you on the battlefield of struggle and of ideas. Like the ruling elites that you serve and who many years ago bribed you and continue to pay you off, you will soon find yourselves on the scrape heap of history. We who are fighters passionately and with resolve defend the Glen Fords, Cornel Wests, Margaret Kimberlys , Nellie Baileys,Chris Hedges, Noam Chomskys, Dr Jill Steins, Cynthia Mickinneys of our world and other fighters for the people. An attack upon them is an attack upon the people and their resistance, it is an attack upon the possibility of true freedom and real democracy, it is an attack upon the advanced guard itself, and we will treat it as such. Philosophy is the consciousness of the epoch. The philosophy for this time, for this epoch, is grounded in the struggle for freedom and the wellbeing of the people. The consciousness of the epoch is the recognition of the truth the global arrangements of economic and political power are about to come to end. Fear remains an enemy of this truth. In the end, let us act. Let us act with love, understanding that love is that level of consciousness that recognizes the oneness of humanity and hence the oneness of truth.

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October 4, 2011 at 6:24am

We face the fierce urgency of now, either we act decisively and purposefully or confront economic, political and social chaos. Western capitalism is on the verge of collapse and catastrophe. The crisis is systemic. It is what Marx called a momento mori, a reminder of death. The economic crisis is compounded by war and the ideological preparation for new wars. The people are confused , uninformed and leaderless. The ruling elites are more and more seeing fascism and other forms of the dictatorship of the most reactionary forces of the capitalist class as a real and living option. Most black churches, rather than calling for action, preach quietism and submission. Martin Luther King starting with his graduate studies at Crozier Theological Seminary thought and acted differently; in the face of repression and war he proclaimed that Christians must act to challenge injustice and war. He proclaimed the fierce urgency of now; the Christian and moral imperative to act and to sacrifice one’s self for the larger interest of humanity. While a graduate student at Crozier Theological Seminary he learned lessons from his studies of German Catholic and Protestant Churches during the time of Hitler. Most churches and churchgoers were silent as Hitler and his Nazi party rose to power, as they attacked and outlawed unions,leftwing political parties, Jews, homosexuals and others. Most Christians interpreted Christian love and pacifism so as to justify inaction, quietism and in many instances collaboration with the Nazis. As WWII was started and as it intensified a small group of Christian pastors concluded they must act. A young pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others decided they must do something dramatic; something that would seemingly go against traditional interpretations of Christian love and pacificism. They agreed upon a plan to assassinate Hitler. In the interest of peace and in keeping with their pacifist commitments and duty to love one’s neighbor as oneself they agreed they had to eliminate the head of the Nazi regime. Their plot failed , Bonhoeffer was arrested and executed several weeks before the end of the war. King learned from Bonhoeffer’s expression of Chrisitian love as a call to act against evil. He also drew lessons from the German churches’ submission to unjust power and its failure to challenge nazism. White supremacy and segregation, King reasoned, was an evil and unjust racial system, in many ways comparable to nazism. It was the duty of Christians to oppose it; it was a moral duty to act. Hence, King’s articulation of Christian love was anchored in action.To be a Christian was to be committed to action. Christian love ,for him, was a revolutionary impulse. He spoke , therefore, of the fierce urgency of now; that is the urgency to act in the face of oppression, war, poverty and economic exploitation. He insisted “Time waits for no man” and was fond of quoting the Turkish poet/philosopher Khalil Gibran, “The moving finger writes and having written moves on”. As the capitalist economic system descends to its deepest crisis in living memory and with it the prospect of unimaginable human suffering, combined with war, the answer is collective action. King was accused of being a communist because of his attachment to the poor and the oppressed and his opposition to imperialism, colonialism and war. Now more than ever we need a Christianity in the spirit of King. Now more than ever we need an anti-war and pro poor people, pro-working class Christianity. We need an anti-fascist Christianity. Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the anti-Hitler Christians in Germany and Martin Luther King and the courageous civil rights fighters we need a revolutionary Christianity. A courageous Christianity of the poor.

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The African National Congress: The Rise and Tragic Fall of a Revolutionary Movement

It is widely believed that the 1994 election brought the ANC to power and Nelson Mandela to the presidency of South Africa. Such a view is historical revisionism and diminishes the centrality of the revolutionary struggle. It was the fifty-year struggle that broke the white regime’s capacity to fight that brought on elections and Mandela’s presidency. It was not enlightened and transformed parts of the white regime or the “liberal” West that made this possible. To grasp 1994 and the events afterwards we must understand what came before. After 1948 the ANC and its allies moved to become a revolutionary movement. The revolutionary alliance composed of the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP), Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), was the most extraordinary movement in Africa’s anti-colonial history and one of the great movements of the 20th century.
The colonization of South Africa proceeded in a unique manner, occurring over 250 years. In this time white settlers confronted African resistance, the most well known are the wars of the Zulus, lead by their great military/political leader Shaka Zulu. The British Boer War of 1899 established the British Empire and English settlers as the dominant force in South Africa. In 1948 the Nationalist Party, the Party of Afrikaners (Dutch speaking settlers) took power in an all white election. The system of apartheid (in the Afrikaner language means separation) institutes a new system of white supremacy. This system was defined by its similarities to the US Jim Crow system and the pro Hitler and neo-Nazi declarations of its leaders. All Africans in South Africa were viewed as legal outsiders in their own nation. Africans land was forcefully taken. The wealth of the nation was concentrated in white hands. Blacks were forced to carry the dreaded passbook, live in squalid townships and fictionally independent and resource depleted “Bantustans,” i.e. homelands for the so-called Bantus. It was a police state that rivaled the well-known fascist regimes of the 20th century. The whole system was openly and blatantly white supremacist, that defended the interests of the white minority and foreign mining and banking corporations based in Britain, the US and other European nations.
“It was a police state that rivaled the well-known fascist regimes of the 20th century.”
The first steps of the ANC towards a revolutionary solution to the problems of colonialism, apartheid, black dispossession and labor super-exploitation came with the founding of the ANC Youth league by an insurgent and impatient generation. Among the insurgents were Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Nelson Mandela, Duma Nokwe and Alfred Nzo. Founding the Youth League represented a break with the old methods associated with the leadership of Chief Albert Luthuli and the generation that sought legal reforms and gradual change in the pre-apartheid system of colonial rule. The insurgent, and soon to be revolutionary generation, were more in tune with the fact that apartheid was a more brutal system than what came before it. They believed, as well, that the international situation after World War II favored their struggle and the tide of African independence would soon engulf all of southern Africa. A good part of this group was either in the South African Communist Party (SACP) or soon to be members and leaders. They would lead the great Defiance Campaign of the 1950’s. It was the leadership of Walter Sisulu that in 1955 called for the Congress of the People, that adopted The Freedom Charter. One hundred and fifty six of the defiance campaigners – among them Mandela, Tambo, Mbeki , Walter Sisulu, Dennis Goldberg, Ruth First and Mac Maharaj – were put on trial in 1956 for treason under the infamous Suppression of Communism Act. A five-year court battle ensued. All were ultimately acquitted.
March 1960 was a turning point in the transformation of the ANC and the movement for freedom in South Africa. The Sharpsville massacre occurred at a demonstration called by the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) where 69 unarmed Africans were murdered by the regime. For the ANC a red line had been crossed, making armed struggle decisive to the people’s movement. In 1961 the ANC commits itself to the formation of a military wing – Umkonto weSizwe (the Spear of the Nation). Once committed to people’s war and armed struggle the ANC also committed itself to the armed seizure of power by the people. At the same time that the ANC prepared for peoples war the regime instituted a new Constitution that proclaimed South Africa a white republic, legislating white supremacy and “separate development” for the black majority.
For most of its history the ANC was a movement seeking to change the system of colonialism and apartheid by means of legal protests and reforms. This path was similar to the way most of Africa had achieved independence. Political parties such as the Convention People’s Party in Ghana, Tanganyika African Union, and Kenyan African National Union were examples. Algerians fought a long and bloody armed struggle, but this was the exception. The turn to people’s war would fundamentally change the ANC and its relations to the people and to the regime. New international alliances would have to be developed. New ideological relationships within the ANC and between the ANC and its allies would be necessary. Ideologically and organizationally the ANC was transformed. In the end, the ANC changed from a broad anti-apartheid and anti-colonial movement to a revolutionary party of liberation.
At Morogoro, Tanzania, in 1969 the ANC held its first national consultative conference which quickened the actualization of the ANC as a revolutionary party, committed to toppling the fascist colonial state by armed means. Armed struggle, the Morogoro delegates insisted, would be combined with mass resistance and intensified class conflict in the mines, farms and factories. The Morogoro conference upheld the correctness of the Freedom Charter and its language that South Africa belonged to its people. It called for the return of the resources of the nation to the people and highlighted the centrality of 250 years of African resistance. In substance the Morogoro meeting put the ANC and its allies upon the path towards a revolutionary democracy and a socialist economy.
Morogoro began the final push towards consolidating the unity of anti-apartheid solidarity against the regime. Successive and continued national uprisings followed. The Soweto Uprising of 1976 and the Black Consciousness Movement, personified in Steve Biko, initiated a new moment in the national liberation struggle. The decade long uprising of the 1980’s galvanized by the heroic actions and personality of Winnie Mandela, demonstrated to the South African people and the world their fighting spirit and resolve and undermined the legitimacy of the regime worldwide. After Morogoro few within the movement questioned the need for armed resistance. After the regime’s brutal crushing of the 1976 student uprising, several thousand youth left the country to seek military training. In the 1980’s the uprising increasingly became a people’s armed uprising, taking on the form of people’s war. In this period Umkonto gains the support and confidence of the people and its leader Chris Hani became a national hero. The ANC’s revolutionary slogan of that period was “Make South Africa Ungovernable and Apartheid Unworkable.” As the armed struggle and people’s war intensified so did the class struggle, especially among miners in the gold, silver and platinum mines. The highpoint of the class conflict of this period was the 1986 strike of 300,000 miners. The apartheid economy was shaken to its core. Never in Africa, and seldom anywhere else in the world, had armed struggle and class conflict merged into a mass revolutionary uprising. Side by side with the setbacks for the police and military in the largest townships, Soweto and Alexandra, and attacks upon the puppet Bantustan “governments,” the most powerful colonial army ever assembled in Africa, the South African army, was defeated in Angola in 1988 by a combined force of the Cuban and Angolan armed forces, Umkonto we Sizwe and fighters of SWAPO of Namibia. As a revolutionary party the ANC along with its allies led the struggle to topple apartheid. In so doing it transformed itself and the world’s understanding of the revolutionary potential inherent to the struggle for African liberation.
Freedom was not handed to the people as a gift from a more enlightened and changed white regime and its American and western backers, but came about through unrelenting and bitter struggle. The white regime and its American and European backers raised the white flag and sued for peace negotiations in the late 1980’s. This led to the freedom of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners and the legalization of the ANC, the SACP, PAC and other banned organizations. (For more detail see my previous BAR articles “Nelson Mandela The Contradictions of his Life and Legacies” and “Nelson Mandela, Free Market Capitalism and the Crisis of South Africa.”)
The question that is without a final answer is how did a revolutionary movement get transformed into a bourgeois electoral party along lines of the British Labor Party or the Democratic Party in the US. How did a stellar organization defined by ideologically and politically sophisticated and self sacrificing leadership become a debased and corrupt institution serving as apologists for western transnational banks and mining companies and neoliberal policies? When did the ANC cease being the party of the people, especially the working masses, and become one serving the interests of a parasitic and comprador black petit bourgeois? When did people whom the South African people and the world see as revolutionaries and freedom fighters, such as Thabo Mbeki and Cyril Ramaphosa become committed to neo-liberal capitalism and a democracy that defends white interests and sacrifices the African working class? Why did the SACP abandon its revolutionary history and adopt a social democratic and reformist worldview, and as a result become apologists for a corrupt capitalist government? Why has the Congress of South African Trade Unions become an ally of a government that is against the working class and the poor?
It seems clear the turning point occurred between roughly 1988 and 1991. Without the deployment of the tremendous moral and political authority of Nelson Mandela in the service of a deal that saved the interests of the white minority and the West the current situation is inconceivable. He and his supporters accepted a deal where elections that made him president would take place, but the seizure of power by the people would not. Whites would give up total power in return for holding on to strategic power, especially in the economy. The substance and subtext of the Mandela symbology contests the call for the revolutionary seizure of power as a mistake and replaces it with the bogus notion of a “Rainbow Nation” and multiculturalism. To claim the moral high ground they proposed a Truth and Reconciliation process rather than trials under international law for the perpetrators of crimes against humanity. Reparations and land redistribution, along with nationalization of the mines, banks and factories are all off the table. A limited democracy prevails and power remains where it was during the height of apartheid. The West deployed every means of propaganda and PR to make Mandela not just a great man, but also a messiah and a savior. At the same time there is the racial and class bribe to the black elite, thereby inventing a tamed and compliant black misleadership class.
“The substance and subtext of the Mandela symbology contests the call for the revolutionary seizure of power as a mistake and replaces it with the bogus notion of a ‘Rainbow Nation’ and multiculturalism.”
A significant, yet little known event in the process of turning the ANC against itself, and ultimately the people, was the publication in the African Communist (the theoretical journal of the SACP) of an essay by the then chairman of the SACP Joe Slovo. The article, “Has Socialism Failed” claimed to be an explanation of the events in the Soviet Union that led to its collapse. He sided with the stance of Mikhail Gorbachev (then General Secretary of the CPSU) that existing socialism was a failure. Slovo said the party should abandon Leninism for Social Democracy (the historical opponent of communism within the international left). In attacking existing socialism as a failure Slovo attacked one of the main pillars of the ANC and the revolutionary alliance. He also called for the abandoning of revolutionary ideology and acceptance of social democracy, elections rather than power and a liberal bourgeois state, rather than people’s power.
Lastly, of major political and symbolic significance was the 1991 demand by the ANC leadership for Umkonto to cease all military operations against the regime. This was literally pulling defeat from the jaws of victory. There were no grounds for undermining Umkonto as a fighting force at a time when the regime and its black puppets continued attacking the people.
The revolutionary offensive of the people after Mandela’s release was called off, and it was argued the black resistance was endangering peace and reconciliation. It was insisted by some that the ANC-led alliance and the great mass of the people were anti-democratic, even “racialists” and therefore had to be toned down and reined in. To the rising black elite and bourgeoisie the masses and their fighting organizations were threats to the “Rainbow Nation.” Through the uses of bourgeois propaganda a new South African narrative was advanced. Through Mandela’s example of reconciliation, it insists, white racists and fascists were suddenly transformed into democrats. F.W. De Klerk, the last white prime minister, and responsible for the murders and imprisonment of thousands of freedom fighters, was given the Nobel Peace Prize and presented as a democrat and anti-apartheid figure. Winnie Mandela, on the other hand, was politically marginalized and demonized as a dangerous outsider and unreasonable radical. In the name of reconciliation no one from the white regime has been tried or gone to jail for what the UN had called crimes against humanity.
When Mandela was released from prison, the three most popular figures in the nation were, Mandela, Winnie Mandel and Chris Hani. Winnie and Chris Hani opposed the new direction of the ANC under Mandela. Hani became chair of the SACP replacing Slovo in 1991 after the party’s leadership rejected Slovo’s anti-revolutionary and social democratic positions. Hani at the time of his assassination in 1993 was the head of two of the most powerful organization in the ANC led alliance, Umkonto and SACP, with huge popular standing. Hani was viewed as a possible future president of South Africa, which would have pushed aside the likes of the pro-capitalist Thabo Mbeki, Cyril Ramaphosa and Jacob Zuma.
The vilest, most ugly, commercialized and corporate aspects of African American “popular culture” are fed to the youth. A generation having little or no memory of the struggle has is being smothered in dehumanizing, misogynistic, homophobic “Black culture.” This is part of the political, cultural and ideological diminishment of the poor and working masses. The new leaders of the nation have a plan to alter the consciousness of the people, replacing images of revolutionaries and resistance fighters with thugs or hyper individualistic and selfish entertainers and clowns. On a daily basis Tyler Perry minstrelsy and Oprah Winfrey imitators are fed to a now confused, leaderless and ideologically disoriented nation. While the majority of black South Africans endure the farce of a “Rainbow Nation,” whites are held responsible for nothing and in return give nothing to the nation while getting wealthier and transferring vast amounts of money to foreign banks and hedge funds. The daily racist insults have somewhat abated, though they still occur far too regularly, but are replaced by new forms of institutionalized white supremacy. White supremacy without the obvious hand of white people is the form of social and political control, which replaces legal apartheid. Indeed, these are cruel ironies that must play havoc upon the collective consciousness of black South Africans.
The path of the ANC from revolutionary party and tribune of the people to the party of government in “the free South Africa” is a story of great sacrifice, struggle and, in the end, a tragedy for the people. The road from the Freedom Charter, to the Morogoro Consultative Conference, to the 1994 elections, to the murder of 34 miners at Mirikana in 2012, is the ANC’s road from revolution to counter-revolution. The road from Chief Albert Luthuli, Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo to Jacob Zuma and the current leadership, is the road from revolutionary sacrifice and commitment to venality, corruption and bootlicking.
Soon after Mandela’s mortal remains were lowered into the ground from which his ancestors sprung the press was filled with accounts of the nation’s largest union, the National Union of Miners, withdrawing its support from the ANC. Other reports tell of Cyril Ramaphosa, former head of the mineworkers union, now billionaire, having called for and signed off on the murders of the 34 miners at Marikana. The South African and international media are filled with stories of President Jacob Zuma’s money deals and multiple wives and girl friends. Every day there are new accounts of corruption and theft by government and ANC officials. And as the world reflects upon Mandela’s legacy the spectacle of white wealth and black poverty and misery haunts the discussions. In the end, we see not a free nation, not a nation united to abolish the past and build an egalitarian future, but a divided nation with a black government that protects white and western wealth and enforces black poverty.
What is South Africa’s future? Can the dream of the Freedom Charter and the Morogoro Conference ever be achieved? To the last question the answer is yes. To the first the answer is that the immediate future for South Africa is a new struggle grounded in the Freedom Charter and the Morogoro Conference. Oliver Tambo in 1969 summed up the spirit of Morogoro, he said, “Close Ranks! This is the order to our people; our youth; the army; to each Umkhonto we Sizwe militant; to all our many supporters the world over. This is the order to our leaders; to all of us. The order that comes from this conference is: Close Ranks and Intensify the Struggle!”

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