black agenda report

Campaign Confusion in the Age of Collapse
Margaret Kimberley, Black Agenda Report, Oct 28 2020

The 2020 presidential election has created multiple episodes of mass psychosis across the country. Trump bears much of the blame by his very presence in the White House. Four years after the trauma of his electoral college victory, he still knows how to trigger millions of people. He threatens to disqualify mailed ballots and negate the results if he loses. He instigates his armed militia minions to “poll watch.” The resulting Trump Derangement Syndrome caused otherwise intelligent New Yorkers to stand on early voting lines for hours because they think that doing so will send the 45th president packing. Of course, the electoral college invalidates the will of voters in safe states like New York, that is to say those where one side has a big lead. The only people who will decide the election live in a handful of so-called swing states and only they need to make herculean efforts to vote for president.

There is much more confusion to be had, as black people descend further into the depths of a political void. The entertainer Ice Cube had some sort of discussion with the Trump campaign team to discuss a Platinum Plan for black people and all hell breaks loose in what passes for discourse in the black community. In this time of muddled thinking all one need do is provide a grain of truth, as in Democrats taking black people for granted. Then add a plan which claims to take black people out of jail, build them houses and businesses and give money to historically black colleges and voila, a tumult of foolishness arises. On the other hand, is Ice Cube worse than the black misleaders who lie on behalf of the Democrat Party, and never lift a finger to help their people in any meaningful way? Of course, Ice Cube and other celebrities will get attention, whether they claim to support Trump, like 50 Cent does, or say they will start a new political party, a la P Diddy. But people who really talk about the radical change needed get no attention. Trump’s rants or Ice Cube’s opinions or televised debates which ignore important issues all get the headlines.

The last debate between Trump and Joe Biden was another corporate Debate Commission effort to control the narrative and prevent any meaningful discussion from taking place. Biden says the word Covid over and over again as if it is a magical incantation. Trump repeats the word socialism which seemingly has the same effect on his supporters and accuses a right-wing Democrat of belonging to a group that he constantly demonizes. “I beat the socialist,” is just one memorable statement from Biden. He always obliges Trump by denying that he will do anything that rank and file Democrats want and that would in fact increase his odds of winning. Meanwhile millions of people are suffering from unemployment, loss of homes, and loss of health care in the wake of the Covid pandemic that Biden talks about so much. But he hasn’t said what he would do as president to make their lives whole again. His plan consists of platitudes and a promise to do more testing and tracing. Trump owns the Covid disaster, but it isn’t clear how Biden would undo any of the damage he caused.

Trump’s supporters are showing their aggression and fear that the man who represents them may leave office. They turn out in droves to his rallies and surely some of them will make good on his directive to “stand by,” and presumably wait for his orders to create mayhem. The collapse of what is left of the American political and economic system has turned sensible people crazy and made the “deplorables” live up to the moniker. The word fascist is thrown around rather too easily among people who rarely engage in serious thought. Despite the many debates about how fascism can be defined, there is a characteristic which everyone agrees upon. Fascism thrives where there is weak opposition. The same people who are in a constant state of upset about Trump seldom even discuss what is needed to defeat him. A fascist can’t be defeated by a watered-down version of himself. Biden and the Democrat Party establishment are committed to doing as little as they can get away with while still hoping to win the election. The millions of unemployed who should be engaged in bringing victory are ignored instead. There will be no stimulus plan to help them until after Election Day. They may go months living in desperation while the duopoly political leadership posture for public relations purposes.

No wonder everyone is a bit off-kilter. Trump is at his worst and the Democrats are too, pretending to be for inclusivity and fairness while promising rich funders that nothing would fundamentally change. Millions of people look to Election Day to breathe a sigh of relief, when in fact they will have to struggle regardless of the outcome.

COVID-19 Exposes Economic Misery as US Capitalism’s “New Normal”
Danny Haiphong, Black Agenda Report, Oct 28 2020

Six months have passed since the capitalist economy crashed and the IRS deposited its first round of so-called “stimulus checks” worth a paltry $1.2k. The extended unemployment insurance that many workers relied on for survival dried up at the end of July. The two-party corporate duopoly has not agreed to implement a second round of assistance for working people to survive the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, Congress has taken an extended vacation in the months leading up to the presidential election in November. While the big story of the US’ COVID-19 saga has been the 200k fatalities to the disease, millions more have seen their livelihoods completely demolished. Economic misery is indeed the “new normal” of US capitalism’s late stages. The numbers do not lie. Working class and poor Americans are struggling more than ever from Great Depression-like conditions. 8m people have fallen into poverty since May, 6m in the last three months alone. 54m people, roughly 15% of the population, could be food-insecure by the end of 2020. Even agents of finance capital in the foundation world cannot turn a blind eye to the sixty-five million people in the US who have filed for unemployment since March.

COVID-19 has facilitated a criminal level of economic precarity for everyone except the lords of capital and their closest confidants. Capitalists may have lost control over the stability of their system but have managed to accumulate enormous profits off the backs of the poor. Billionaire wealth in the US has increased by nearly $1t since the pandemic. This number increases to $10.2t when the world’s billionaires are taken into account. Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, has made $74b since the clock struck midnight last January. But the worst has yet to come. Precarity for the working class will only intensify once eviction, foreclosure, and student loan moratoriums end. When they do, tens of millions if not hundreds of millions will be faced with enormous bills they simply cannot pay. Only a massive overhaul in the US’ non-existent social welfare system can reverse the explosive misery that will be added onto the working class’ already enormous economic pain. The failure to contain the pandemic in the US means COVID-19 will spread for many more months to come and keep even a modest stabilization of the capitalist economy effectively out of reach. US capitalism had not yet overcome the crisis of 2007-2008 when the decision was made to enact a policy of “herd immunity” as a means to preserve the rule of austerity during a pandemic. The 2007-08 crisis set Black wealth on a collision course toward zero by 2053. This is likely to accelerate in the aftermath of the current crisis. Black jobs and livelihoods have been most impacted by the 30% contraction in the US economy since the pandemic. And while so-called “jobs” numbers had improved prior to March, stagnant incomes and the uncounted millions of part-time and/or discouraged workers were a stark indication that life for majorities of people had not.

The latest crisis of US capitalism has burst asunder a host of illusions about the durability of the system. One of the biggest illusions of modern US capitalism is the assumption that a post-industrial economy is also a post-labor economy. Finance capital may be the engine behind the US’ service-based economy, but the exploitation of labor remains the source of all profit. The very prospect of a further impoverished working class sent the global capitalist economy into a depression after years of slow growth. COVID-19 disrupted global supply chains and rendered large sections of the working class unable to sell their labor. Thus, behind the derivatives, asset swaps, and the myriad forms of speculation partaken on Wall Street resides the exploited living labor that the lords of capital rely on for existence. COVID-19 has also rendered useless the axiom that “There is No Alternative” (TINA) to US-led neoliberal capitalism. Two countries in the Asia Pacific, China and Vietnam, have proven that neoliberal capitalism is incapable of containing the pandemic or facilitating an economic recovery for the masses. China’s market socialist economy contained the pandemic in three months. The PRC has since steered its economy back on a path of positive growth while setting its sights on eliminating extreme poverty by the end of 2020 and becoming a carbon neutral country by 2060. Vietnam organized perhaps the most impressive response to COVID-19 after several consecutive years of significant economic growth and reductions in poverty. The examples set by China and Vietnam will have an enormous impact on the political and economic development of the global order itself. Global South nations already looked upon both countries as economic miracles prior to the pandemic. China and Vietnam’s emphasis on a people’s centered development model and state ownership of the commanding heights of the economy lays a framework for how the rest of the Global South can achieve economic growth and address social problems like pandemics. The US comes out of the COVID-19 experience with nothing to offer the Global South but economic misery, mass death and political instability. 200k dead and a hemorrhaging economic base simply cannot compete with the winds prosperity and modernization blowing East.

Unfortunately for most in the US and Western world, basic political economy is clouded by white supremacy and imperial hubris. The US will not give up its hegemony without a fight, which is why the State Dept, US intelligence, and the Pentagon have been busy waging a new Cold War against China and keeping pace with its many wars against China’s allies in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. Such militarism is a further drain on the economic life of the masses, but this externality is of little concern to the predatory capitalists that wield the power of the US state to the benefit of their addiction to endless war. The pandemic and economic crisis are secondary to the ultimate objective of keeping US corporations and financial institutions at the top of the global pecking order. Oppressed people everywhere are facing a monumental moment of transition in global politics. Whether the outcome is positive or negative for the US is dependent upon the people, particularly Black Americans and their allies in the broader working class. Economic misery may be “new normal” of US capitalism but ever-increasing levels of exploitation have always been a key feature of the system. History is on the side of the people because history is defined by the life and the eventual death of social systems. However, this fact will remain buried in the propaganda of the dominant system until a deeper consciousness of why capitalism has failed the masses is developed and nurtured into a mass movement. Only then can the oppressed take the necessary steps to becoming the primary makers of history rather than mere passive recipients of their oppressors’ depravity.

What the Political Realignment Suggest about the Prospects for Fascism
Ashton Rome, Black Agenda Report, Oct 28 2020

The COVID19 pandemic and global economic crisis are producing huge fractures in the capitalist system’s regular operation. Crises produce phenomena like we see today: the political violence, protests, and the growth of socialist and far-right groups; and the shifts in power within the global economic system. Within this crisis, the ruling class may attempt to reconfigure its hegemony through new political alliances and realignments, and new interplays between force and consent. The movement of part of the Republican establishment to Biden and the Democrats should not be looked at as temporary, but instead a representation of changing alliances in the face of this crisis. It should be look at as a reflection of how deep this crisis is. Gramsci used the term ‘organic crisis’ to describe periods where the capitalist system produces a crisis where the ruling class and its system can no longer function as it normally does. The “organic crisis” occurs at all levels of society: economic, social, political and ideological. Because the ruling class cannot resolve the crisis, it challenges the fundamental ideas, values and organizations on which the previous order was maintained.

One of the main tasks of the ruling class is to figure out how best to place the cost of the crisis on the backs of ordinary people without arousing their anger. One section of the ruling class sees the Democrat Party and Biden as the last hope& of preserving the neoliberal order. Having survived a ‘civil war’ that first erupted after the failed 2016 presidential campaign, the Party has shown itself able to manage crisis and bring legitimacy back to the system. With Biden as the nominee and the establishment still retaining their leadership, the Democrat Party has seemingly accomplished the impossible: a revival of centrism in the midst of its collapse. The economic crisis and pandemic have exacerbated the ruling class’s fear of a resurgence of labor militancy like in the 1930s and 1960s. The crisis and the potential for an explosion of movements has brought urgent questions about whether the ruling class can govern in the old way or if something new is needed. They hope that Biden will be able to bring a political equilibrium using the concessionary and coercive powers of the state.

Biden and the Democrat Party, it is hoped, may have enough union and social movement support to give it credibility as the ‘representative of the people’ in this election and throughout crisis. The Democrat Party will hope that the labor and social movement leadership will negotiate bargains and discipline their constituencies to stay within the constraints imposed by the crisis and the interests of key sections of capital. Biden has received numerous establishment Republican support thus far. At this year’s DNC, for example, more of the establishment than 2016 came out in support of Biden; these included Cindy McCain, John Kasich, Susan Molinari, Meg Whitman and Colin Powell. In addition, Biden received the endorsement of 73 former natsec officials in the Republican administrations, including former heads of the CIA and FBI and former Trump administration officials. With his support in the union and social movements, Biden is the only candidate that can represent a political alternative to one element of their base, and a means to preserve the existing status quo to another. Although cross-party endorsements have been common in the last few conventions, the alliances have been temporary.

When it was evident in 2016 that Trump was the nominee, some delegates and establishment figures like Erick Erickson conspired to block his nomination. Many were concerned about the unrest that his racist scapegoating of immigrants and his history of sexual violence and sexism would cause. Once his nomination was official, about 20% of Republican House members refused to endorse him, and a significant numbers of establishment Republicans rallied around Clinton. The Republican Party is now the Party of Trump. This didn’t occur out of thin air but out of a battle amongst him and the establishments of both major parties and the different wings within his own party. He has worked to build a cabinet of loyalists and effectively remade the Party into his own. By 2019 Trump built a cabinet of loyalists and won the trust of many that opposed his initial run. This was exemplified by the fact that every Republican member of the House opposed his impeachment.

Also, by 2019, congressional GOP had become more aligned with Trump, as opposition members retired and were replaced by more pro-Trump figures. Since Trump has assumed office, no Republican in the House or Senate has been able to build a bloc within the Party against him, including Senator Romney. As well the 2020 Republican Party is simply Trump’s platform from 2016. Trump has also been able to create favorable legal conditions for his agenda by appointing two Supreme Court Justices (at the time of writing), and 200 other judges at lower federal courts, approximately a quarter of all active federal judges. For the ruling class that supports Trump, he is useful. Trump’s discourse avoids naming and placing blame squarely on the capitalist system at the heart of the Great Recession and the austerity regime that gave rise to the anger that brought him into office. Trump, like other populists makes vague promises to various sections of society to win office and once in power, works to secure the position of the ruling elite and old power structure. His discourse whips up sections of the state and mostly middle class into action and violence against counter-movements like the left which is crucial in a period of increasing polarization of wealth and more unequal distribution of wealth and goods.

But the COVID19 pandemic, continued and accelerating crisis of legitimacy, and the dramatic decline of the Post-WW2 global system of governance has begged serious questions of Trump. A section of the ruling class is concerned about the decline of institutions and alliances like NATO, the UN, the IMF and other multilateral cooperation that have sustained US global hegemony. Though Trump has continued Obama’s Pivot to Asia meant to challenge China’s growing military and global influence, Trump has also undermined the alliances thought to be needed to accomplish it. At the same time, to some, Trump simply represents a hyper-realism about the possibility and sustainability of the post-WW2 international order. Trump reflects a realization of the limits of American power and the domestic frustration of foreign conflicts brought by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US hegemony since WW2 is built on its monetary dominance, control of international institutions, expanding domestic consumer market, and through its full-spectrum dominance (land, sea, air, space and cyber). The 2008/9 crisis exposed the limits of the US’s ability to maintain that structure in the same way. They are also concerned by the polarization and infights within and amongst governmental and, with COVID, that Trump’s decisions reflect a breakdown of normal governance. Trump and his administration along with Democrat leadership were able to inject Wall Street and the rich with huge a stimulus in late March but has strayed away from mainstream capitalist economists and refused to continue negotiations on a second round of stimulus whilst promoting conspiracy theories and misinformation around the virus.

Trump has been able to build a solid base amongst downwardly mobile white working and middle classes. It should be noted that the white working class is not Trump’s only base or even main one. Though for example, neoliberalism was as David Harvey argues a “political project to re-establish the conditions for capital accumulation and to restore the power of economic elites,” it required a new “common sense” and a cross-class alliance. Typically, crisis period lay bare the contradictions inherent in capitalist society and more specifically within uneasy coalitions such as Trump’s. The middle class may feel dominated by banks and sections of big business, and workers may grow angry at the austerity that is a part of the “recovery.” Trump has thus far been able to divert anger about the unequal nature of the stimulus away from himself and to the alleged intransigence of the Democrat Party and to governors that wouldn’t reopen the economy. The nativism Trump embodies was once relegated to a small faction of the Party (paleocons such as Pat Buchanan), but has since been mainstreamed as neoliberalism has devastated their living standards. The nativism, as well as nationalism, acts in a way like W E B Dubois’s “psychological wage” and to maintain the middle class of the base that feels beaten down.

Trump was able to take so many union votes in 2016 that Hillary Clinton lost Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. Despite COVID and massive unemployment, Trump’s approval rating has averaged around 40%. By comparison, a CBS News/NYT poll showed President Bush’s final approval rating was 22%, due to views on the Iraq War and Great Recession. This shows that Trump and his authoritarian populism has a solid base, which could be mobilized. It should be noted as well that 2016 showed that most of Trump’s supporters were largely affluent Republicans and come from the middle class. This is consistent with most authoritarian populists whose base is typically the middle class, who during times of crisis vacillate between the working class who is engaging in struggle and the capitalist class seeking to restore its order. Trump was able to capitalize on the disappointment of Obama’s failures to deliver on his progressive platform partially by playing on the racism latent in US society.

Through theatrics and vague populist statements, Trump imbues the aura of fighting for working people instead of trimming around the edges like Obama. A 2017 Harvard Business Review textual analysis of Trump’s campaign speeches showed that the word “workers” appeared more frequently than any other word other than “donors.” Obama’s 2008 “Coalition” was unprecedented because it was built on a new consensus and a new set of alliances that brought in white working-class voters from the Midwest. Even though Obama lost the white working-class vote by 18 points, this was a significant improvement over 2004 when they lost them by 23 points. Many people today forget the astronomical expectations of Obama when got into office. A USA Today/Gallup before the election showed that most Americans believe that Obama would be able to achieve every one of his ten major campaign promises. Because Obama and the Democrat Party weren’t willing to deliver a definitive break from neoliberalism, and the left wasn’t able to present a real political alternative, a year later, the Right were able to begin to gain back seats and lay the basis for right populism.

There are debates today, like in 2016, about whether Trump is simply a right-wing populist, fascist, or traditional Republican. Furthermore, many have looked at whether he has a party apparatus or is an isolated leader. Many of those that are quick to call Trump a “fascist” reject the demands of the workers’ movement and especially their role in any anti-fascist struggle. For them, the key is securing the prevailing capitalist system through a vote for Biden. The danger lurking in a crisis period in that if the ruling class is not capable of maintaining power through its normal means, and the working class cannot take power, there is a possibility the emergence of ruling-class politics in the form of the far right. As a sign of what can come, Trump administration has egregiously weakened liberal democratic norms by calling for a political assassination and defended a fascist who committed two murders. The far-right in the form of authoritarian populism or outright fascism requires a crisis that radicalizes all subordinate classes, and a crisis of representation and authority, allowing its leader to speak in a sense “directly to the people” against a corrupt establishment. According to the discourse of authoritarian populists like Trump, the existing institutions subvert the interests of the people and a leader, who reflects the will of the people, is needed to “Make America Great Again.”

The movement from authoritarian populism to fascism as seen in Germany and Italy occurs when there is a socialist movement or, more correctly, the illusion of a strong socialist movement, which is threatening enough to mobilize an anti-socialist movement. It also requires a mass base to draw support from. As well it requires a ruling class convinced that it cannot rule through the existing democratic state apparatus. A Sep 22 poll from USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll that revealed that roughly 64% of respondents believe protesters and counter-protesters are overwhelming American cities should bring concern. This is a laughable overestimation of the strength of the socialist movement today, but one echoed by right-wing media, Trump, the DHS and FBI in particular. Unfortunately, the left enters this crisis in a position of weakness, despite the 2008 and 2016 periods of radicalization that produced the 2018/19 strike wave, massive increases in membership of left groups, a near win for a self-professed “democratic socialist” presidential nominee, and the recent election of several ‘left’ democrats throughout the country.

So far, compared to challenges that this period has brought, the left has not been able to translate those gains into the needed mass movements or independent working-class organizations which could be used to shift the balance of power. If Trump and his brand of authoritarian populism has captured the Republican Party, it would mean that the right has a powerful tool to beat back any counter-hegemonic movement during this crisis. The Republican establishment and the left backing Biden are on an impossible quest to defend institutions that no longer have legitimacy. Democrats like AOC are happy to frame the contest as one between ‘fascism’ on one hand and ‘democracy’ on the other. The capitalist economic and political systems are crisis-prone and will cause misery and pain in the service of finding a resolution. The huge unemployment rate, skyrocketing sovereign debt, global pandemic and crisis of legitimacy, not to mention the ecological crisis, make it likely that this crisis will be deeper than even 2008. As we have learned in other periods, things getting worse do not necessarily lead to increases in political struggle and victories for the left. The crisis of the 1970’s brought a neoliberal settlement: a victory for the Right and capital. The threat of fascism today can only be countered by a political strategy. Recognizing that the balance of power is by far stacked against the workers movement, the left must urgently provide the basis for a political alternative. The left must have an answer to this crisis beyond simply defending capitalist institutions from the far right that seeks to remake them.

Black Bolivia and the Socialist Electoral Triumph
Erica Caines, Black Agenda Report, Oct 28 2020

“Democracy has won!” cried Luis Acre on Monday after firmly securing his place as the next President of Bolivia. Backed by the consistent will of the people, the former finance minister of Evo Morales took back the nation. This remarkable victory for the Movement Towards Socialism Party (MAS) has haphazardly brought on vague conversations around the “power of voting.” The discussions are void of not only what happened in Bolivia in 2019, but how indigenous and Afro-Bolivians have spent every day since resisting together to complete the socialist aspirations of their party. It is a complete misdirection to make the lesson of this recent Bolivian election only “voting works.” Voting was a strategy enacted once Indigenous and Afro-Bolivians forced the election to happen. It would be foolish to believe that socialism can be voted in. Socialism must be BUILT. The real lesson from Bolivia comes directly from the organized masses of people. Indigenous and Afro-Bolivians have been actively and continuously engaging in fighting back against fascist-state repression of the paramilitary with collective armed resistance since the coup began. Many who have resisted the coup have lost their lives in the struggle to regain control of their country. In August, after Jeanine Áñez’s government, which usurped power following the OAS/US-backed military coup, postponed the general elections for the fourth time since March this year, conveniently citing the coronavirus global pandemic, tens of thousands took to the streets across Bolivia in rejection of the postponement.

This level of organizing is not seen here in the US. It is certainly not seen in the Black voting bloc that continuously splits their votes between two imperialist parties (the same parties who fully supported the Bolivian coup). The issues around voting are not voting itself, but rather people’s expectations about their voting power in a capitalist-imperialist nation that has openly shown that our votes do not count. However, instead of assessing what is materially true about our (lack of) political power and organizing to create independent Black political power, Black people are further and further embedded into the fabric of the system. The lines of what is and is not fascism have become blurred as the country, and its voters, move further and further right while “settling for Biden.” When the neoliberal democrats promise to “govern for all,” it means they’ll appease their voter base by pretending to support whatever will bring them out to vote. Biden will still stack his cabinet with neocons invested in fattening up the Department of Defense budget further to wreak havoc on Africa and the Global South. Yet because he “isn’t Trump,” this is presented to colonized people in America as a good thing. These are our options. Is that political power? Is this Black liberation?

Appointed Black leadership (either politician or celebrity) has been the avenues for any perceived Black political power. However, these people are primarily concerned with protecting their vested influences under this same white power structure that people have spent an entire summer mobilizing against. These “leaders” are not worried about Black political power gained through organized collective struggle and engagement with Black communities, ultimately instilling the ability for community members to advocate for themselves. They, instead, want to continue with a self-serving narrative that “your vote matters.” If we are looking to Bolivia, we must first understand that the elections that recently took place were a concession made after a mass People’s movement forced the hand of the fascists. People looking to Bolivia should also understand that the Indigenous and Afro-Bolivians would continue to be vulnerable to counter-revolutionary forces both internally and externally. The fight towards socialism will be a continuous one. Voting in this country cannot be viewed as a working strategy or a process to ensure Black political interests so long as we have NO Black political power. What we must do is organize to BUILD that type of power for eventual TRUE democracy. ¡Viva el MAS!

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