INSURGENT ANTHROPOLOGIES: CAST AWAY ILLUSIONS, PART 2

 

INSURGENT ANTHROPOLOGIES:

CAST AWAY ILLUSIONS, PART TWO

By Christopher Carrico

http://asitoughttobe.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/insurgent-anthropologies-cast-away-illusions-part-2/


 

 

 

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Official_portrait_of_Barack_Obama.jpg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:5.3.10SarahPalinByDavidShankbone.jpg

One contradiction that both neo-liberals and neo-conservatives face is the difficulty of how to protect the free pursuit of liberty (especially through markets, private property, and the accumulation of wealth) from the democratic demands of the majority for social justice, intervention in the market, and the equitable distribution of wealth.

While neo-libs and neo-cons are both, in theory, against intervention into the economy by the state, both have come to be for the very aggressive use of the state when state intervention is useful for the protection of property, wealth, and entrenched power.

Paraphrasing David Harvey, I noted in this blog last month that:

As in the case of some of the classical theories of liberal democracy, neo-liberal theorists are concerned that the free functioning of the liberal economy be protected from the sometimes irrational influences of the democratic masses, whose demands for equality, a social safety net, collective ownership, or national protection could irrationally interfere with the smooth functioning of otherwise ideal liberal capitalist economies.

Following the argument put forth by Gérard Duménil and Dominique Lévy in their book Captial Resurgent (2004), David Harvey argues that neo-liberalism is most coherent not when viewed as an economic model or as a political theory, but rather when seen as a project for the restoration or creation of capitalist class power.  Hence its contradictory relationship with the state: it claims to be against state intervention, while being heavily in support of state actions that are intended to buttress the power of capitalist elites.

Neo-conservatives also put forth rhetoric against “big government” intervention into the economy, while at the same time supporting state interventions intended to protect and promote the economic interests of ruling elites. Neo-conservatism, while differing in emphasis in some ways, is perfectly in keeping with the neo-liberal goal of strengthening capitalist class power.

The reign of the free market, the unchecked power of capital, and economic and military imperialism, all create a great deal of social disruption, anomie, and chaos. The capitalist freedoms that both neo-liberals and neo-conservatives advocate are forces that are constantly threatening to tear apart the very fabric of society.  (Harvey 2005: 81-86)

The neo-conservative answer to the chaos and anomie that permeates the world that the liberals created is not to question liberalism’s fundamental economic premises. Rather, neo-conservatism seeks to address the social disorder caused by capitalism by advocating a strong state with coercive powers to control “the chaos of individual interests” (Harvey: 82).  In this sense, neo-conservative views of the role and function of the state are similar to those put forth by Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan (1651).

When neo-cons talk about their desire to check the “excesses” of liberalism they reveal one of the ways in which neo-conservatism in practice is as deeply contradictory as neo-liberalism in practice.  By no means do neo-conservatives want to control and regulate capitalist interests (the real source of social disruption). Instead, neo-cons hope to make democratic majorities more governable through the use of a coercive state, and through an appeal to morality, religion, nationalism, and tradition.

Again, quoting David Harvey at length is worthwhile here:

… the moral values that have now become central to the neo-conservatives can best be understood as products of the particular coalition that was built in the 1970s, between elite class and business interests intent on restoring their class power, on the one hand, and an electoral base among the ‘moral majority’ of the disaffected white working class on the other.  The moral values centered on cultural nationalism, moral righteousness, Christianity (of a certain evangelical sort), family values, and right-to-life issues, and on the antagonism to the new social movements such as feminism, gay rights, affirmative action, and environmentalism.  (84)

These forces have gathered more strength today than ever in the US, best exemplified by the emergence of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. Furthermore, similar sets of conditions have led to similar outcomes in many parts of the world. Conservative calls for a return to tradition (and even outright calls for authoritarian governance) have been seen as answers to the chaos that has been caused by liberal capitalism. To the Tea Party, we can add the resurgence of neo-fascism in Europe, the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party and other Hindu right-wing parties in India, and the rise of authoritarian states (and violent and reactionary non-state actors) in much of the Islamic world.

The evocation of national, religious, and racial solidarities in a world that was (many told us) supposed to be becoming more globalized, cosmopolitan, and tolerant, has been one serious sign of broad-based right wing politics of fear mongering. Rather than looking at structural economic problems: declining standard of living for the majority of Americans, increasing unemployment or peripheral employment, the overwhelming and unprecedented burden of debt taken on in every sector of the economy, from households, to corporations, to local, state and federal governments, etc., neo-conservatives find scapegoats in non-white immigrants (legal and illegal) from all over the world, in Islamic terrorists, and in competition for markets and resources with developing countries whose labor costs are far lower than labor costs in the U.S.

2. Cast Away Illusions, Prepare for Struggle.

Those progressives who are today disappointed in Barack Obama need to examine their worldviews, see which of their hopes were realistic in 2008, and prepare for struggle in what are most likely going to be a bitter two years ahead for American politics.  As I noted in Part One of this blog, neo-liberal policy was a bi-partisan project.  It was initiated in earnest in the U.S. under the administration of Ronald Reagan.  However, the neo-liberal agenda was wholehearted supported by conservative and “New Democrats.”  The quintessential New Democrat, of course, was President Bill Clinton – completer of the Reagan revolution.

There was very little that Barack Obama told us in the primaries and the presidential campaigns that seemed to break from the mold of the Clintonian New Democrat. Indeed, one of the things that was so striking about the knockdown, drag out fight between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries was that their views on policy were virtually identical to one another.

In speaking to African Americans, Barack Obama used his candidacy as evidence that Americans now lived in a “post-racial” world, and asserted a version of the culture of poverty thesis which stated that African Americans would do better in white society if they behaved in a more responsible manner.

Obama promised from the outset that he would escalate the war in Afghanistan, which is now sinking into an ever deepening quagmire, deeply affecting Pakistan (not only in the border areas). His recent visit to India was motivated in part by his wanting to court India as an ally in the fight against Islamic extremism in the region, thus exacerbating already tense relations between these two communal religious groups in South Asia.  His visit involved enormous arms deals and no doubt increased tensions between Indian and Pakistan, both countries who possess nuclear weapons.

Obama’s choice of Joe Biden for the Vice-Presidency was particularly telling. A long term leader on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a well know “Liberal Hawk” who has supported every major imperial adventure that the U.S. has embarked on in his career (in the name of spreading freedom and democracy around the world – with the barrel of a gun.)

Obama immediately prioritized the bailing out of banks during the crises that began just before his election.  He has been slow at beginning to help Americans whose homes are being foreclosed, at beginning jobs programs that do not reduce unemployment rates, but rather merely slow down their escalation.  His “massive overhaul” of America’s healthcare system turned out to be one that might be more adequately described as “minor tinkering”

At the environmental summits in Copenhagen and in Cancun, the Obama administration did nothing but show up, and protect the interests of America’s big capitalist polluters. In the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration has either been unwilling or unable to hold BP to full accountability for the disaster.

The handling of the disaster in Haiti, with a US military presence, and thousands of NGOs on the ground has made a major disaster into an even bigger disaster than it needed to be.

Civil liberties of all kinds continue to be stripped from American citizens, and even more so, from immigrants, legal and illegal.  Massive deportations and costly and ineffective border patrols are expanded year after year.

And then there was the matter of the extension of the Bush era tax cuts, and appointment this week of a former banking industry executive as Obama’s new chief of staff.

It’s not like there hasn’t been any progress, though.  Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been repealed, which means that openly gay people can kill innocent Iraqis and Afghanis just like straight people are allowed to.

The question is, however, whatever led us to believe that once we elected Barack Obama as president, he would do anything other than largely pursue the politics of the same?  Both major parties in the U.S. are beholden to big capital in seemingly inescapable ways.  No candidate would ever make it past the early primaries if in fact she or he did have a truly progressive political agenda.

If we think historically about when real democratic change has happened in the United States, it has generally not been a gift given to the American people by the government from the top down.  Rather, the expansion of rights and liberties has usually been the result of the long and hard fought struggle of organizers and activists against systems of entrenched power.

It took Abraham Lincoln a long time to realize that, in spite of his reluctance, the freeing of African slaves was going to be necessary for the North to win the Civil War.  Most of the framework for recognition of trade unions, minimum wage laws, workplace safety laws, and New Deal social programs were initiated under the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt.  But these programs were not solely a result of the beneficence of an enlightened president.  They were fought for and won through generations of militant trade union struggle, and Roosevelt probably would not have found many of these measures necessary if there had not been a massive, militant, and organized working class demanding political change.

Likewise, the Civil Right legislation written during the Kennedy Administration, and signed into law under the Johnson administration, would have never been proposed simply because of the beneficence of the ruling elites in the Kennedy Adminstration.  The real work that accomplished some of the goals of the Civil Rights movement had to do with grassroots organizing, not with the empathy of Kennedy or Johnson with the struggles of the African American people.

Because we did not struggle to push the Obama towards serious political reform during the first two years of his administration, the struggle for the next two years is going to be even more difficult.  We have a Congress and Senate, the majority of whom can only be described as enemies of humanity.  And we have a president who caved in on many of the marginal differences he had with the Republican Party, even when there was a Democratic “super-majority” in the Congress.

Maybe the best we can hope for is that the experience of the Obama presidency will lead people to cast away the illusion that some charismatic figure will emerge from the Republican or Democratic Parties and lead us to the Promised Land. Perhaps it will become increasingly possible (as people were beginning to see leading up the Democratic Primaries in 1968), that it is not leaders who change the world, but ordinary people who find the courage to demand that something change, before it’s too late.

INSURGENT ANTHROPOLOGIES: AMERICAN CAPITALIST TRIUMPHALISM AND THE LIBERAL HUMAN RIGHTS PARADIGM

By Christopher Carrico

http://asitoughttobe.wordpress.com

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SaddamStatue.jpg

Before the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Firdos Square, Baghdad, the iconic moments of American capitalist triumphalism were the fall of the Soviet Union and Eastern European socialism, and the spread of the neo-liberal paradigm in the West, the post-socialist countries, and much of the developing world.  The same years, from the coming to power of Deng Xiaoping in 1978 to the present, have been years of capitalist restoration in China, and remarkable capitalist growth during a time when the economies of the West and its adjuncts have been stagnating.

The rise of the Washington Consensus had to do with the defeat of other possibilities of internationalism.  However flawed, existing socialisms and existing Third World nationalisms did provide the idea of an alternative to capitalism, and to the liberal democratic paradigm that is an outgrowth of its hegemony.  Around the world, people looked to Moscow, Beijing, and the Non-Aligned Movement as inspirations for non-capitalist paths of development.

Like the defeat of the Soviet Union and its satellite states, the fates of China and the Third World in recent decades can be summarized in terms that are in keeping with the models of the proponents of the Washington Consensus.  China has adopted the Washington Consensus with Chinese characteristics.  Since 1978, China has taken a clear path of capitalist restoration, and socialism with so-called “Chinese characteristics” means, in spite of decades of militant communist struggle, that Chinese elites have very successfully adopted the American market model.  Rapid capital accumulation in China has been possible (as American and European “primitive accumulation” were in previous eras) through the cold, brutal, and violent exploitation of labor and resources.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, capitalist restoration in China, and the widespread capitulation of Third World elites to the interests of big capital, the only “International” that seems to remain is the Capitalist International.  This leaves emancipatory politics with two seemingly dead-end paths: (1) appeal to the liberal democratic – human rights paradigm of the United States, the United Nations, etc., make alliances through the international institutions that are maintained by and support the major capitalist states; or (2) retreat into localism, parochialism, communalism and particularism that does not make effective and progressive linkages with international movements.

This blog will explore the first of these two dead-end paths, with the intention of returning to the question of how to move past these impasses in subsequent writings.

The liberal human rights paradigm and the road to Kandahar and Baghdad.

Actually existing liberal democratic – human rights institutions are themselves full of overlapping contradictions.  First of all, nothing can happen under existing arrangements unless powerful nation-states decide to move forward with an intervention or action of some kind.  The steps of intervention after a vague “pressure” that rhetorically denounces rights violations, are economic trade sanctions, and finally, military intervention.  The usefulness of either for any organization or group of organizations seeking equality and freedom is questionable or at least highly compromised from the start.

Let’s take the question of economic sanctions first.  In Palestine the imposition of sanctions seems to hurt the most poor and vulnerable, while strengthening the radical Islamist party, Hamas, as the sole organization that is capable of delivering basic goods and services that the state is otherwise unable to provide.

In Iraq, a stringent financial and trade embargo was in place from 1990 until the U.S. invasion of 2003.  Whether these sanctions, by themselves, significantly weakened Saddam Hussein’s hold on power is a matter of debate, but what is clear is the lives of millions of ordinary Iraqi citizens were affected.  Estimates of excess deaths from this period of blockade range from very cautions estimates issued by U.N. and American-allied sources, to larger claims made by the Iraqi state and by anti-sanctions activists.  UNICEF reported in 1999 that 500,000 children had died as a direct result of sanctions.  This estimate seems to be within the range of what was discovered by evidence-based studies conducted by Colombia University, by the Lancet, and other studies conducted in a scientific peer-reviewed manner.  Saddam Hussein’s Baath government claimed that the total number of excess deaths was much higher: 1.7 million died from sanctions, bombings, and poisoning from depleted Uranium.   Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark also argued that these numbers generated by the Iraqi government were roughly accurate.

Beyond sanctions, when the stakes are high enough for the material interests of the capitalist powers, the UN Security Council, NATO, or a “coalition of the willing” led by an American unilateralism, is willing to go to war, using human rights as one of its justifications.  In a recent article in the September 2, 2010 issue of Guyanese newspaper Stabroek News, I argued:

There is an element of the appeal to human rights in every American imperial intervention of recent times.  In the Iraq War, even after the world learned that Iraqis did not have weapons of mass destruction, the war was still justifiable on the grounds that Saddam Hussein was a dictator, and a gross violator of human rights.

In Afghanistan, the war is said to not just be about the ‘hunt for al Qaeda’ but also to be about the freedom of the people of Afghanistan.  In particular, in fighting a war in Afghanistan, the US claims to be fighting against extreme forms of gender oppression, and other forms of cultural tyranny, not just against the Taliban.

The case against Iran has being built for years.  The high profile sentencing of Sakine Mohammadi Ashtiana to be stoned to death for adultery is used by imperialists as another reason why sanctions against (and possibly even an invasion of) Iran is the right thing for the ‘civilized’ world to do.  The fact that in Iran, homosexuality is punishable by the death penalty will also, no doubt, be invoked as a justification.

Organizations such as the International Committee Against Stoning have the difficult but necessary task before them of working to bring an end to theocratic government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and yet also are trying to make clear to the international world that economic sanctions or a military invasion are guaranteed to do a tremendous amount of damage to the people of Iran, with little guarantee or probability that causes of human rights will be advanced.

As Alain Badiou notes with typical precision, “A military, imported type of ‘democracy’ does not exist and never will.”

The human right abuses of Islamic countries are also opportunistically used by those who are opposed to immigration to Europe from North Africa and the Middle East on the grounds that people from these majority Islamic countries still practice a culture of “barbarism”, and refuse to assimilate to the secular and enlightened ideas of “civilized” Europe.  The same justifications are used for the systematic harassment of all who do not appear to be culturally French, as reasons for the banning of the burqa, as well as reason for the massive deportation of the Roma “gypsies” who many French seem quite comfortable referring to as “a criminal race.”

While Iraq under Hussein was a draconian, authoritarian state, the same might be said of today’s China, whom the United States enjoys good economic relations with.  And while the Taliban reign in Afghanistan was a regime of state terror against its own population, the same can be said for the ruling elite of Saudi Arabia, who have remained close American allies until the present: in spite of extreme forms of gender oppression, the death penalty for homosexuality and adultery, and in spite of the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers of September 11th, 2001 were from Saudi Arabia.  Two were from the United Arab Emirates, one was from Egypt, and one was from Lebanon.  Not a single hijacker was from Afghanistan or Iraq.

In contrast to the situation in Saudi Arabia, there are governments that are demonized by the United States and its allies, in spite of the fact that they are not regimes of violent fundamentalism like the Saudi state.  In recent years, in Latin America and the Caribbean, we have seen the return of a New Cold War that is purely rhetorical, with no attempt to ground it rhetoric in either reason or in facts.  In the case of Venezuela under the government of Hugo Chavez, the first Venezuelan government that has demonstrated that it has any sort of concern for the majority of the Venezuelan people is portrayed in the American media as the South American equivalent of Saddam Hussein.

An even more extreme case was that of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Catholic priest of the liberation theology tradition, with the overwhelming support of the Haitian people.  President Aristide headed the first Haitian government with some respect for human dignity, after Haitians had experienced decades of state terror at the hands of the Duvaliers.  When Aristide’s policies began to become inconvenient for Haitian elites, the French government and American capitalists, his portrayal in the capitalist media quickly changed from that of champion of democracy to an absurd caricature of a ‘brutal’ dictator.  He was removed from power by the American military, and a Haitian government more willing to carry out the wishes of the island’s wealthiest families and of capitalist investors from abroad was installed.

I leave my blog this week with the open ended question: how do we begin to rebuild a movement that is progressive, but is not beholden to the hypocritical American definition of progress embedded in its liberal democratic human rights paradigm?

DINOSAURIA, WE by Charles Bukowski

Sivian Butler-Rotholz posted this wonderful poem by Charles Bukowski for the Saturday Poetry Series on As It Ought to Be.  I thought I would record myself reading it as a way of experimenting with the posting of audio files on WordPress.

Dinosauria, We Charles Bukowski by ccarrico

INSURGENT ANTHROPOLOGIES: A DIALOGUE WITH PAN-AFRICAN HISTORIAN DR. TONY MARTIN


By Christopher Carrico

http://asitoughttobe.wordpress.com

Photo from: http://www.themajoritypress.com/

I. How I came to know Tony Martin, and initiate a dialogue with him about his scholarship and activism.

I first came across Tony Martin’s work in the late 1990s while I was reading scholarship about Afro-America and the circum-Caribbean.  I was preparing to do dissertation fieldwork in the Anglophone West Indies (Guyana), and I was interested in work that addressed the manner in which race, class, and nation had been thought about by scholars from the Caribbean.  Like Tony Martin, I thought that there was an important dialogue of continued relevance that had come out of this scholarship.  I was interested in the work of C. L. R. James, Franz Fanon, George Padmore, and Walter Rodney – as well as in some of the issues that arose out of the debates between Marcus Garvey and W. E. B. DuBois that Tony Martin has dealt with in such detail.

Tony Martin’s work was again brought to my attention during the years 2004-2006, while teaching as an adjunct instructor in the greater Philadelphia area.  In some of my Anthropology and Sociology classes, I was trying to teach the Israel – Palestine conflict in a way that was honest.  I was aware that by doing so, I was at risk of being labeled “Anti-Semitic” – especially because this was at the height of the campaign of David Horowitz’s Orwellian named Students for Academic Freedom to demonize anyone who criticized Israel (or the neo-conservative agenda in general) as using authoritarian tactics in the classroom that infringed upon the academic freedom of conservative students.  During this time, I became aware of Tony’s book The Jewish Onslaught, and the great controversy that began with his teaching about the Jewish involvement in the slave trade in his classes at Wellesey College.

The first time that I had the pleasure of hearing Tony Martin give a public talk was at CARIFESTA X, in 2008, in Georgetown, Guyana (where we currently live).  Tony was part of a panel of speakers that included Rupert Roopnaraine, Rex Nettleford, Miguel Nenevé, and Kim Johnson.  The panel was entitled “A Caribbean Philosophy?  The Role of Ideas in the Making of a Caribbean Nation” and Tony’s paper was on the philosophy of Marcus Garvey.

Just over four months ago, I met Tony at Charlene Wilkinson’s monthly Rufaro Centre “Conversation-Lime.”  It was at this time that we discovered that his son and my daughters were attending the same school, and that his son and my youngest daughter were in the same pre-school class.

It was in the context of beginning to know Tony Martin personally that I came across a reference to his work being made in the current debates over the American far right “Tea Party” crowd.  The article that cited Tony was in a newspaper out of Durham, North Carolina, The Harold-Sun, and was entitled “Glenn ‘X’ Beck: How the Right Revitalized Black Nationalism.” Its author was Paul Scott, a writer, activist, and an ordained Baptist minister who refers to himself as the “TRUTH Minista”.

Paul Scott’s argument is that the media attention that Glen Beck and other right-wing pundits are currently giving to Black Nationalism – a scare tactic that tries to associate the rise of a renewed Black Nationalism with the Presidency of Barack Obama – is actually backfiring on the right-wing media by sparking a renewed interest in Black Nationalism.  Scott argues that this dynamic is similar to when Mike Wallace’s 1959 “exposé” of the Nation of Islam turned Malcolm X into a household name in the U.S.  Similarly, in the campaign leading up to the 2008 elections, FOX News’s attempt to use comments by Reverend Jeremiah Wright to show that Obama was part of a “black racist” church, gave Rev. Wright a national platform, “even though (previously) most Americans outside of the black church and Chicago had barely heard of him.”

Scott argues that more interest has been generated in Malik Zulu Shabazz and the New Black Panther Party, new movements such as the Militant Minds Militia are being formed, hip-hop activist Jasiri X’s song “What if the Tea Party Was Black” has become an internet hit, and even “the otherwise mild-mannered head of the NAACP, Ben Jealous” has been bold enough to publicly refer to the Tea Party as a racist movement.

In the midst of all of this, Scott gives a brief history of Black Nationalism wherein he quotes Tony Martin, one of the world’s leading Marcus Garvey scholars, on the subject of the polemics about Pan-African politics that made Garvey and DuBois into bitter enemies during the years that Garvey lived in the United States.

I sent Tony an e-mail bringing Paul Scott’s article to his attention, and he was pleased to learn about the reference, and was encouraged by Scott’s interpretation of the paradoxical effect that the right’s demonization of Black Nationalism is having.  We had the chance to talk about the article, and about current American politics further, when Tony and his wife, Paloma Mohamed, invited our family to their son’s birthday party last Sunday.  We talked at length then, and he agreed to meet me later during the week for an interview.

II. Learning from Tony about how his student activism helped to inform and clarify his theoretical thinking.

Tony Martin was born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad in 1942.  He spent most of his childhood in Trinidad, where he went to the same Primary School as Stokley Carmichael before Carmichael immigrated to the U.S.  After Secondary School, Martin went to England to study Law, where he was called to the Bar in 1966.  He subsequently studied economics in England, and received a BSc with honours from University of Hull in 1968.  He taught briefly in Trinidad at the Cipriani Labour College, before moving to the United States in 1969 to pursue graduate studies in African History at Michigan State University, where he completed his PhD in 1973.  His doctoral dissertation, on Marcus Garvey and U.N.I.A., would be the basis for the book he later published as Race First: The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association.

About his experiences at Michigan State, Tony Martin had the following to say:

I went to Michigan State during very exciting times, this was beginning in 1969, which was the height of the Black Power movement.  Michigan State was (and still is) one of the largest campuses in the United States.  If I am not mistaken, there were some 40,000 students at the East Lansing campus when I was there, and it also had one of the largest populations of Black students at any predominately White campus….  Since this was the State University, a large proportion of these Black students would have been from Michigan, a lot of them would have been from Detroit, and Detroit had just had the summer riots of 1967.  You had many of these students who had lived through the experience of these riots, you had many students who were returning Vietnam veterans, and all of these factors led to a wonderful, highly charged political atmosphere.

I remember that the sense of intellectual stimulation there was absolutely wonderful.  You know, I spent most of my academic life just down the road from Harvard University, Wellesley College was the number one women’s college in the United States, and Harvard was just down the road, and M.I.T. was just down the road, schools like that all around, Tufts, Boston University…  Boston, supposedly, is the very pinnacle of the academic world in the United States, but I’ve always told people that in my 34 years in the Boston area, that I never encountered anything that compared to the kind of intellectual stimulation that I got when I was in East Lansing, Michigan.

At Michigan State, Tony Martin was an activist-student.  He became one of the leaders of the Black Student Union within the first several months after his arrival at the University.  They were activists against the racism in the wider society, as well as against the racism that students experienced on campus.  During Martin’s time at Michigan, for instance, there was a Black cheerleader that was not allowed into an all-white cheerleading squad, and there were instances of racially motivated violence against Black students.  He describes a seamless relationship between their activism, their intellectual endeavors, and their social lives.   They read voraciously about the political issues of the day, and this informed and inspired both their scholarship and their activism, and was often the subject of their conversations and heated debates at parties and social events.

As on many University campuses in the United States at the time, there was an overlap between the student Anti-War movement and the Black Power movement.  The Black Student Union at Michigan State, for instance, participated in the protests against the American military incursions into Cambodia from Vietnam in 1970.  They recognized that in the big picture, the struggle against the Vietnam War and the struggle for Black Power in the U.S. were a part of the battle against the same racist power structure.  At the same time, like Stokley Carmichael argued in “The Myths of Coalition”, Martin and his comrades in the Black Student Union believed that there were limitations to entering into alliances with predominately White liberal and radical organizations, and protected the autonomy of their organization and its goals when entering into alliances with other student groups over particular objectives and shared aims.

III. Lessons for today?

To me, it is interesting and instructive to revisit the context in which these two Trinidadian-American Pan-African Nationalists – Stokley Carmichael and Tony Martin – were making their arguments about the autonomy of Black organizations in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and to think about how different the situation is today, in spite of, if Paul Scott is correct, a renewed interest in Black Nationalism.

Carmichael began the chapter “The Myths of Coalition” from the 1967 book Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in the United States, with a critique of the position of veteran civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who argued forcefully for the necessity of building coalitions with White liberals and of working within the Democratic Party.  Rustin directly attacked the position that Carmichael and others from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had put forth that Black people needed to form their own political parties autonomous from the Republicans and Democrats.  Rustin wrote:

Southern Negroes, despite exhortations from SNCC to organize themselves into a Black Panther Party, are going to stay in the Democratic Party – to them it is the party of progress, the New Deal, the New Frontier, and the Great Society – and they are right to stay.

Carmichael argued that SNCC:

…does not oppose the formation of political coalitions per se; obviously they are necessary in a pluralistic society.  But coalitions with whom?  On what terms?  And for what objectives?  All too frequently coalitions with black people have been only at the leadership level; dictated by terms set by others; and for objectives not calculated to bring major improvement in the lives of the black masses.

Carmichael’s concerns are genuine concerns and continue to speak to important issues in many organizations worldwide.  A similar dynamic now takes place between the NGOs of the global North and the NGOs of the global South, wherein it can sometimes be quite difficult for NGOs from poorer countries to enter into coalitions with NGOs of richer countries without having their agendas hijacked and set by a new breed of “humanitarian imperialism.”

However, the central contradictions of specific historical moments are highly contingent, and should never be approached using transhistorical formulas assumed to be unchanging for all of time.

Today, there is a Black president of the United States, who at least some Pan-African Nationalists view as being a hero.  President Obama, however, has done little to deserve the respect of the Black community other than share a Black identity and appeal to Black Solidarity.

Obama’s record as a President is fairly straight forward.  “Change You Can Believe In” has meant a realpolitik wherein any substantial change is written off from the outset as impossible or utopian.  In spite of talks of timelines of combat troop withdraw that follow the rules of Zeno’s paradox, and recycled Vietnam era doublespeak about remaining in Iraq under an advisory capacity, Obama had done everything possible to keep Washington Hawks happy, escalating the war in Afghanistan, sending unmanned drones to bomb the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and while everyone is watching the Middle East, continuing on the Pentagon’s plans to ensure American military dominance into the 21st century by building more military bases around the world, particularly in those areas where there might be large amounts of scarce natural resources to be had: as in Africa and in Latin America.

Besides being a naked militarist, Obama has proven himself to be a stooge for Wall Street, and spent his time worrying about “too big to fail” banks and corporations, rather than the “too big to fail majority of the American People.”

In spite of these antics, Black America, and White liberals and progressives have done very little to stand up to the Obama administration, because they are, in Glen Ford’s words “Under the Obama Spell.”

Where are the Black leaders today who call, like Stokley Carmichael, to build independent organizations that can challenge the hegemony of the Republicans and the Democrats? Will a renewed interest in Black Nationalism mean that leaders will emerge that can effectively push Barack Obama out of his comfort zone, where he knows that he can count on Black solidarity, so he can spend his time reassuring the White establishment (as Cornel West noted).  Or, will Black Nationalism act to rally troops around the President in a defensive posture in reaction to the threats of the Mad Hater’s Tea party?  For those who take the latter road, they have essentially adopted the politics that they have historically argued against: they have allowed themselves to be co-opted by the liberal-democratic establishment, and have left themselves no ground on which to articulate any other coherent political position.

If, on the other hand, a renewed anti-war movement can free itself from the Obama Spell, and people all over the U.S. can start to form class alliances (class alliances where they fight alongside immigrant workers instead of against them), and Black America demands that a Black President isn’t good enough if unemployment remains at Depression-era heights, if there are more young Black men in prison than in college, if drugs, disease and gun violence destroy the fabric of whole communities, if our civil rights continue to be slowly eroded away in the name of the war on terror.

One positive is that President Obama aroused a great hope among many people: among African Americans, among non-white peoples all over the world, and among white liberals and progressives in the U.S.  Not all of these people can remain under the Obama Spell indefinitely, and when we see them come out from under this spell, we may see them begin to build movements for radical social change unlike anything that has been seen at least since the 1960s.

As It Ought To Be

As It Ought To Be is the blog that I was just asked to become a part of, started by 2008 Green Party Vice Presidential Candidate Matt Gonzales, with writers Okla Elliott and Jim Dorenkott.  I opened a WordPress account in the first place in order to be able to post as a contributor to As It Ought To Be.

As It Ought To Be

The title comes from a quote from Thomas Paine:

‘A thing moderately good is not so good as it ought to be.  Moderation in temper is always a virtue, but moderation in principle is always a vice.’

— Thomas Paine, ‘The Rights of Man’, part II, chapter V (1792)