Revolutionary Worker #910, June 8, 1997
Such a period of major transition as is occurring today is bound to be marked by great dislocation and upheaval--it already has been and will increasingly be so--including within the U.S. itself as well as internationally. The all-around expression of this--economically, socially, politically, ideologically--is very striking in its effects on different classes, strata, and other major groups in society.
For example, among various oppressed nationalities, and Black people in particular, one of the things which is of great significance, and which will have a major impact, is the slashing of government spending for social programs, federal funds for the cities, etc. There is the more obvious fact that the gutting of these social programs is having a very profound and acute effect in terms of driving significant sections of the basic proletariat--including many women and many youth, as well as many older people--further into destitution and desperation.
One of the things that is perhaps not as well noticed and taken stock of, but which is a very important part of the political terrain and objective situation, is that the same kind of slashing of government programs, along with things like attacks on affirmative action, will have a very profound effect upon the middle strata among Black people and other oppressed nationalities. In many ways, this could seriously undercut the status of much of this middle class among Black people and other oppressed nationalities, who are dependent to a significant degree on employment in the "public sector," including particularly city administrations.
I think it was James Baldwin who once said, if you are Black and conscious in America you go around in a constant state of rage. I believe this also applies to women who are conscious of the oppression and degradation of women that is built into this system. This oppression is extremely pronounced these days, both in the open misogyny that characterizes so much of the dominant culture and "social "life" and in the whole attempt to more aggressively assert "traditional morality"--which means traditional patriarchal oppression of women--in the U.S. (and other countries). And I have always felt that what Baldwin says applies in the deepest way if you are a communist--if you are a class-conscious proletarian--everything is always setting you off. It is very hard sometimes for people who do not have the same understanding to be around you. They don't see why you are so infuriated by everything, because once you have this consciousness, everything jumps out at you in its actual features. But even spontaneously, if you are among the inner city core of people in particular, but even more broadly if you are part of Black people with their history in the U.S., there is a very strong perception--which has a great deal of reality to it--that every time it seems like you are getting anywhere by playing by the rules, they fucking change the rules.
This came out in a particular way on a tape I saw of a Ted Koppel Nightline "Town Hall Meeting" in L.A. after the O.J. Simpson verdict (the not-guilty verdict in the criminal trial). It came out in something said by Bone (who was basically characterized by Ted Koppel as a former gang member from South Central L.A.)--Bone made a comment precisely in this vein.
As part of this Nightline program they had Tammy Bruce of L.A. NOW (or formerly of L.A. NOW--it is to the credit of the national leadership of NOW that they booted out Tammy Bruce) who was putting out pretty much undisguised and unbridled racism in attacking the verdict in the Simpson trial (the first trial). It's one thing to think that Simpson may have committed--or even to feel that it is likely that he committed--these murders; but it is quite another thing to close your mind to the real possibility that he was framed and moreover to refuse to accept the fact that, given everything, the not-guilty verdict in the criminal trial was the only correct and just verdict; and it is something even worse to join in the creation of a lynch mob atmosphere.
Well, after listening to these kinds of comments from Bruce, and some others, for a while, Bone said, "You know, this is funny because I've always been told that you should work within the system, that the justice system will work out if you give it a chance; that you should accept the verdicts that the justice system renders; and the first time it seems like one worked out well for me, you are all saying you want to change the justice system."
There is a lot of reality to this. You can look at it in terms of the economy, or in terms of the laws and the operation of the legal system, or in terms of segregation, or any of these other social phenomena. For example, there was the massive migration, during and especially after World War 2, where millions of Black people left the rural south and moved to the cities of the North (and somewhat secondarily the southern urban areas). They were doing the thing you are supposed to do in America, if you go by the mythology of the Statue of Liberty and all this bullshit: you go in and you get the entry-level jobs, you work your ass off and then you go up the ladder and your children go higher and blah, blah, blah. But no!--neither residentially, nor in terms of employment, are you allowed to do that if you are Black.
The masses of Black people were locked in the lowest jobs and in the segregated ghettos, and they still are. They have been systematically prevented, by force as well as everything else, from breaking out of this. And even those Black people who did attain "middle class" employment and income, could not escape segregation (including "re-segregation" in suburbs), discrimination, continual racist insults and attacks, and police brutality. (For Black people, possessing some of the "perks" of middle class life, such as a relatively expensive car, may well not mean prevention from attack by the police--but rather may be taken by the pigs as a "provocation" and an invitation for them to attack.)
This brings me back to the point about the undercutting of these social programs and the "end to the era of big government"--the cutting back of public funds, along with things like the attacks on affirmative action. This is not only having disastrous consequences in terms of even further eliminating any so-called safety net for the basic masses. But also to a large degree, to a very significant degree, it is undermining the position of the Black middle class (and may contribute to reversing the real increase in the Black middle class) that came about largely in response to the '60s and has been based to a significant extent upon public funding, government expenditure, and to a certain extent affirmative action programs.
A lot of the way the Black middle class was able to make inroads and make headway economically in this period has been by going into public administration, all the way from city governments, to welfare programs, social service agencies, etc. This has been a big material base for the existence of and somewhat rising position for significant sections of the Black middle class (even for the creation of new sections of the Black middle class); and this is obviously being very seriously threatened and undercut in a way that has significant implications.
This is sort of a double-sided attack, an attack on both strata--the middle class and the basic proletarians among Black people--and this is finding political and ideological expression now in various ways. The phenomenon of the Million Man March is very much related to this whole thing. Although, obviously, when you have that many people, middle class Blacks were far from the only forces represented at the Million Man March, yet they were a significant part of the composition of the crowd, and I think this slashing of government programs is a major aspect of the material reality that is influencing them in significant ways, including in their inclination to be part of that Million Man March. It has made them feel much more the precariousness of their own situation, along with feeling frustration and anger at the outrages that are embodied in the ruling class program expressed by "the era of big government is over."
And, I think this also accounts for an increased emphasis on religion. Now, one of the things I feel very strongly about is that "all this God shit has got to go"--in other words, we really have to find the correct ways to take on and polemicize against (and in general struggle ideologically against) all this religious ideology being pumped out everywhere, without, however, rupturing or preventing unity that we can and should build with many diverse forces, including many people who at this point hold religious beliefs of one kind or another. But at the same time, I think there is something we have to understand about the increasing reliance on, and assertion of, religion among the masses of people and also (from my perception) very prominently among the more privileged strata among Black people. This is, I think, very much connected to a feeling of increased vulnerability and a sense of precariousness about their situation, and a feeling that whether you're in the NBA or the movies, or music, or just public administration, tomorrow you could be somewhere very different--a different situation which you worked and struggled all your life to get out of. I think the tenor of the times and the material reality that people are being hit with has a lot to do with some of these ideological expressions, including the pull to feeling like you hope there's a God somewhere who's going to do something about all this.
It is important to understand this. As I have written elsewhere, when the Gulf War broke out and there were the first couple of days of massive U.S. aerial bombardment of Iraq--just relentless aerial bombardment--I kept thinking to myself: It would be easier if there were Allah, or Jah, or something to just get in there and put a stop to this shit. It's harder having to deal with this all by ourselves!
So you can see the pull of that kind of stuff, and it takes a lot of materialism to resist that pull and to know that, no, there's not going to be any Day the Earth Stood Still--no extra-terrestrial or supernatural intervention is going to stop these weapons of the imperialists--no Jesus, Jah, Yahweh, or Allah is going to save us from the workings, the truly horrendous workings, of this system. No matter how much we might wish it were so, it ain't gonna happen. We're going to have to deal with this shit, right down here in the material reality of this life, this world. And, in fact and ironically, it is that material reality, and in particular the way in which the imperialist system is affecting society and people now, that is in the short run influencing broad numbers of people toward religious beliefs, hopes--illusions.
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