Revolution #178, October 4, 2009
The Right Wing Populist Eruption:
Yes, It Actually IS Racism
On September 12, several tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Washington, D.C. ostensibly against the Democratic Party healthcare proposal in Congress. In fact, this march represented a major political statement by a fascist movement.
To give a flavor of this, one reporter noted that “a burly Pennsylvania correction officer named David McElwee held up a poster of Obama photoshopped as a half-naked African native in a hut with a grass skirt and a bone in his nose.” Two days earlier, in Scranton, Pennsylvania: “All around were satanic representations of President Barack Obama in whiteface, as a Nazi, an African witch doctor; a Marxist; a Muslim....” Signs depicted Obama as Osama Bin Laden. A woman in the crowd told a reporter that Obama was putting himself at a godly level, and that she was praying “for his conversion.” Was Obama a Muslim she was asked? “Only he knows.” Adding to her fury: she heard that Michelle Obama had a six hundred dollar pair of shoes. (Descriptions from “Who Is Barack Obama? And why do people say such loopy, ugly things about him? The enduring rot in American politics,” by Philip Weiss, New York Magazine, September 28, 2009)
Barack Obama is Not a Socialist or a Communist… But WE Are
Reactionaries have attacked Obama as a socialist or a communist. He’s not—Obama is chief executive of the capitalist-imperialist system. Neither side of the mainstream “debate” over healthcare has anything to do with REAL socialism. Socialism is a whole different system, brought into being by a REAL revolution, aimed at doing away with all exploitation and oppression, and as part of that, truly meeting the needs of the people. To learn more about communism and socialism:
The atmosphere at the healthcare town hall meetings over the summer included numerous incidents of people openly displaying guns. One man wore a loaded 9mm pistol as he stood outside a town hall meeting on healthcare held by Obama in Portsmouth, N.H. His sign read: “It’s time to water the tree of liberty”—a reference to a quote by Thomas Jefferson—the full quote is: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
In another widely reported incident, a Hagerstown, Maryland man held up a piece of cardboard upon which he had scrawled: “Death to Obama, death to Michelle and her two stupid kids.” The Arizona Republic reported that “A man, who decided not to give his name, was walking around the pro-healthcare reform rally at 3rd and Washington Streets, with a pistol on his hip, and an AR-15 (a semi-automatic assault rifle) on a strap over his shoulder.”
While some (but not all) of these people showing up with guns and threats have been questioned or taken into custody by authorities, there is clearly an atmosphere where they feel they can get away with this. Compare that to incidents like one at a Bush campaign rally in West Virginia in 2004 when a couple was arrested for wearing T-shirts that said “Love America, Hate Bush.”
These reactionary forces are being orchestrated and whipped up by powerful voices in the Republican Party and media. Glenn Beck rants that Obama (who in reality has avoided any criticism of racism throughout all this) “has a deep-seated hatred for white people.” (See box below for more on Glenn Beck’s particularly odious role.)
And it was not some anonymous good ol’ boy blogger, but a prominent South Carolina Republican Party operative, Rusty DePass, who wrote on his Facebook page that a gorilla that escaped from a zoo was “just one of Michelle [Obama]’s ancestors.” DePass was co-chairman of Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 campaign in the state’s largest county, and a former state elections commission chairman. After DePass excused his posting as a “joke,” he got a free pass from the state Republican Party. Eric Davis, another South Carolina Republican official, said, “Everyone says stupid things they regret later. I think the world should move on.”
South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint, an up-and-coming force in this mix who is energetically being promoted, told the Washington crowd, sprinkled with swastikas and signs that said “Don’t Tread On Me,” that he was more comfortable with the protestors there than his fellow senators.
The “town hall meeting” atmosphere erupted in Congress itself, when South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson, shouted, “You lie” when Obama told Congress his healthcare proposal would not cover undocumented immigrants. (For the record, all healthcare reform bills heartlessly exclude undocumented immigrants from receiving any healthcare benefits.) With straight faces, most of the mainstream media dismissed the idea that Wilson might be racist. Really? Wilson is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group that celebrates those who fought for slavery in the Civil War, and as a state legislator voted against taking down the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state capital. If that’s not racist, what is?
It is not a great stretch or exaggeration to compare those at these meetings to a lynch mob in the making. One thing that must be said up front here: While Barack Obama—as the head of the U.S. capitalist-imperialist state—does not represent anything progressive, any kind of move against him along the lines of what is being promoted by these kinds of forces would be a reactionary outrage.
Populism or Racism? It’s BOTH
Mainstream media analysts have argued this eruption is a rebirth of populism, and not about race. In a column entitled “No, It’s Not About Race,” conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks argued that the furor erupting at the healthcare hearings was driven by populism, not racism. He insisted that the roots of this movement lay in the thinking of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, and how could that be racist?
To which an insightful letter writer replied:
“...Ironically, by invoking the names of Jefferson and Jackson, [Brooks] calls attention to two of our nation’s leaders most identified with racism — one who benefited directly from slavery and one whose purge of native people from their lands opened the doors to unchecked American expansionism in the West.
“Moreover, in his outline and glorification of populist movements throughout our country’s history, Mr. Brooks doesn’t mention the connection between racism and populism. The two do not stand in isolation.
“Historically, racism has served as the underlying thread that has sown our populist movements — and it continues to do so today.” (Letter to the Editor from Angela West Blank, New York Times, September 21, 2009)
From its very beginnings, there has been a great American myth propagated: that this country has advanced through the ingenuity and hard work of its citizens (that is, its white male citizens), and that the superior position of white people in this society—and the privileges they have—are the rewards of hard work and supposedly superior “culture” and ethic. And that if Black people and other oppressed nationalities have not, as a group, attained these things it is not because of the hundreds of years of enslavement, not because of the century spent living in legal segregation and lynch mob terror, not because of systematic discrimination in every sphere of life that still goes on... but because “they are inferior, do not work as hard and their culture encourages them to be criminal, and immoral.” A cruel lie, and an easily refuted one—but one that has justified oppression and inequality for those who’ve drawn benefits from it.
Jefferson promoted the vision of a society based on small landowning farmers, independent individuals who would participate equally as the most just, the best kind of society. But in reality, he presided over, acted in the interests of, and fought to spread a society founded upon the twin crimes of slavery and the brutal dispossession and near genocide of the Native peoples. The literal dehumanization of Black slaves (and free Black people) was enforced by white supremacist laws and racist thinking. And central to the social and ideological glue which has always cohered this nation was the shared identity of white people of all classes and strata.
From the beginning, white people were mobilized—as white people—to see their interests in opposition to, and threatened by, Black people and Native Americans. And the foundational divide between the classes that own and monopolize the means of production needed to produce the great wealth, and those who do not and were forced, either by the whip or by hunger, to produce that wealth—this basic division was obscured.
It is this appeal to the common (white) man that has been the basis of almost every populist movement in the U.S.—from Jefferson’s time to Andrew Jackson, who not only led in the removal and near genocide of the Native peoples, but fought to expand slavery—right down through the Ku Klux Klan and now the movements of today. Racism is indeed “the underlying thread.”
This whole historical development, which we have only been able to touch on here, has tremendous implications for communism, and revolution in this country. We strongly urge all our readers to get their hands on and dig into the work of Bob Avakian on all these questions including Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy.
The Roots of the Right Wing Populist Uprising
The last decades have been a period of great instability and uncertainty. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the emergence of the U.S. as the world’s sole superpower, there were major geopolitical changes. These include the sharp challenge to U.S. domination from the rise and growing strength of the Islamic fundamentalists in the strategic Middle East. There have been great shifts in the world economy, with the globalization and further internationalization of production and of speculative and other parasitic activity by capital. Within the U.S., this has been reflected in radical changes in the economy. As capital chases around the world to exploit men, women, and children for pennies a day, many of the relatively high paying “blue-collar” jobs (which overwhelmingly employed men) are no more. Small businesses and independent farmers have come under extreme pressure and huge numbers of family farms have gone out of business. And there have been, accompanying these shifts and the impact that has had on millions, major changes in the broad mass—and especially youth—culture in this country. Some of these cultural changes were initially very positive, promoting a more critical and communal and anti-hypocrisy spirit, but in the last few decades especially these have more tended to fragmentation, commodification of sexuality, a certain nastiness of spirit, selfishness, and the perverse mirror-image capitalist mentality of gangsta-ism. In any case, all of them have had the effect of loosening the cohesion of “traditional small-town (and extremely suffocating and narrow minded) American values.”
And now, the current economic crisis hits very hard. Over 70% of those who have lost their jobs are men. More and more families are dependent on women working—and all this seems to further “undermine the traditional family.” Homes, which provided much of the wealth—and “security”—for non-ruling class white people in this country, are being lost in record numbers. The general stability and the privilege that people from these strata have enjoyed on the basis of being either white, male and/or living in a country which feeds off the rest of the world and have, on that basis, been given crumbs—all that is being threatened.
And the problem as these “common people” are being led to see it? Not the system of capitalism which has wrought all these dramatic changes in its search for ever greater profit (and, by the way, a system that has throughout its history brought much worse suffering to millions and millions in the inner cities of this country, and billions around the world). But the elites—of Wall Street and Hollywood—and the dangerous “others” who are taking over the country and supposedly collaborating to deprive hard working, white Americans of the privilege they have enjoyed, their prosperity and rights. These “elites,” they are told, want to attack their values and undermine their whole way of life, and to give what is supposedly rightfully theirs to the “undeserving” masses in the inner cities.
It is true that “elites” manipulate huge blocs of finance capital and with the push of a button can cause misery for people all over the world. But those so-called elites are the inevitable product of, and stewards over, a system. That system is capitalism-imperialism. And it must be emphasized and understood that these decisions, including in this current crisis, affect the masses worldwide—and in the inner cities in this country—in the most bitter ways imaginable. In addition, those decisions are now wreaking havoc and suffering in the lives of many people who once thought they had finally made it. The problem is not that some people are cheating or refusing to play by the rules. The problem is the rules—that is, the basic functioning and dynamics of capitalism itself.
Most of all, these movements resent and hate the changes of the 1960s. The 1960s were a time in which the Black masses—joined by many others—waged a tremendous struggle and a time when concessions, like affirmative action, were made to this struggle. A time when a powerful movement was mounted against the unjust war the U.S. waged in Vietnam. It was a time in which laws were changed (or the Constitution interpreted) in ways that vitally affect women, including particularly around abortion. Gay people began to come out of the closet, and assert their rights. And these were times, as Bob Avakian has summed up when “...millions of people in the U.S. broke with the prevailing conventions and established authorities and took up the challenge of fighting for new relations among people and new cultural expressions that were not centered around careerism and battling for position in the cash nexus and the social pecking order and that consciously rejected ‘America number one with god on our side.’ A great many people came to understand that the common source of all the evils they were fighting against—and the obstacle to the things they were fighting for—was the capitalist-imperialist system.... And through the course of those tumultuous times, those who were rebelling against the established order and the dominating relations and traditions increasingly found common cause and powerful unity; they increasingly gained—and deserved—the moral as well as the political initiative, while the ruling class dug in and lashed out to defend its rule, but increasingly, and very deservedly, lost moral and political authority.” (Preaching from a Pulpit of Bones: We Need Morality But Not Traditional Morality by Bob Avakian, pages 24-25)
In the decades since, much of what was accomplished back then has been undone or overturned. But in the world view of these populists—only a thorough overturning and burying of all of what was brought forward through these struggles will suffice. What these right wing fanatics aim for is to fully return and restore America to, its white, Christian roots... and its destiny... as divined by god.
The Current Ominous Polarization, and the Needed Repolarization
Meanwhile, how have the Democrats and Obama responded to all this?
By essentially denying that there is a problem and refusing to challenge this fascist movement.
When Jimmy Carter and a few others dared to say that this was a case of racism, Obama’s spokespeople and Obama himself raced to say “no, no, these are just policy differences.” Policy differences?! Look again at the first section of this article, or look at that YouTube of Glenn Beck described in the accompanying box—Glenn Beck who has become the new “rising star of the Right” and “man of the moment”—and tell us that this is a case of some disagreements over how health insurance is to be sold and delivered.
But this is nothing new. The Democrats for a good 20 years, and Obama himself, have over and over again allowed these fascists to run wild, unchallenged, and ceded the high moral ground to them. Take another example: how many Democratic office-holders, or other Party officials, attended the funeral of Dr. George Tiller, the courageous abortion doctor murdered last May by Christian fascists? Answer: none. The fact that Obama and the Democrats actively prevented any attempt to get abortion funded in this healthcare program underscores the point.
To understand why this is so, we want to turn to the very important—and still extremely relevant—work by Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the RCP, entitled “The Pyramid of Power and The Struggle to Turn This Whole Thing Upside Down.” This work was taken from the question and answer section of Avakian’s 2004 DVD, Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About. He describes the Republicans and Democrats as, roughly, representing two sections of the ruling class, sitting atop a metaphorical pyramid of society. He describes the kind of fascist movement and tactics that were going on at that point—including the links of that fascist movement into the military—and then goes on to say:
So, let’s look at this whole picture and look at what they’ve been putting in place and then think about this: what do the Democrats—from their own position within the ruling class—what do they have to counter this with?
Here’s the pyramid, and here are the Republicans over here (on the right) with their shit going down to this right-wing social base of religious maniacs and fundamentalist fools... [T]hese forces are quite willing to call into motion this fascistic kind of force that they’ve built up when they feel that they need it, and they’re willing to bring it all the way into motion and turn this into a whole other kind of religious, fundamentalist, fascistic society if they feel that’s where they need to go.
On the other hand, here are the Democrats at the top of this pyramid (on the so-called “left”). Who are the people that they try to appeal to—not that the Democrats represent their interests, but who are the people that the Democrats try to appeal to at the base, on the other side of this pyramid, so to speak? All the people who stand for progressive kinds of things, all the people who are oppressed in this society. For the Democrats, a big part of their role is to keep all those people confined within the bourgeois, the mainstream, electoral process...and to get them back into it when they have drifted away from—or broken out of—that framework. Because those people at the base are always alienated and angry at what happens with the elections, for the reason I was talking about earlier: they are always betrayed by the Democratic Party, which talks about “the little man” and poor people and the people who are discriminated against, and so on. And at times they’ll even use the word oppression. But then they just sell out these people every time—because they don’t represent their interests. They represent the interests of the system and of its ruling class. But they have a certain role of always trying to get people who are oppressed, alienated and angry back into the elections. You know: “Come on in, come on in—it’s not as bad as you think, you can vote, it’s OK.” This is one of the main roles they play. But the thing about them is that they are very afraid of calling into the streets this base of people that they appeal to, to vote for them. The last thing in the world they want to do is to call these masses of people into the streets to protest or to battle against this right-wing force that’s being built up.
Think for a minute what it would unleash if Obama were to say what is obvious to almost every liberal—that yes, there is a huge and driving element of racism involved in this “tea bagger” movement, that as a Black person in America he’s known all along that this poison was going to surface, that this is part of and being folded into a whole fascist movement with support from the highest sections of the ruling class, and that anyone with a decent bone in their body should not only vociferously oppose this but put themselves on the line against it? And what would happen if some major figure in the Democratic Party were to then call people into the streets against these fascists? This is exactly the picture—the possibility of people actually getting into the streets to stand up to these reactionaries—that gives these Democratic politicians nightmares. Because once that genie is out of the bottle—once the oppressed people and the more enlightened people begin both to see and feel their potential strength and at the same time begin to investigate and debate why all this shit keeps happening and what can be done to really change it—then all kinds of possibilities for radical, and even revolutionary, change could open up and for every section of the ruling class this is a far worse nightmare than letting these fascists continue unimpeded.
One of the reasons, in fact, that such a large section of the ruling class rallied behind Obama is precisely to avoid and indeed prevent such a scenario. And now there is a certain irony—who “better” than a Black president to rule charges of “racism” out of order, even as he is himself targeted with a racism that grows increasingly more venomous with each passing day?
But there is a question as to whether and how long these contradictions can be contained. And there is the related question as to what revolutionaries, and people who want to see real change, do to transform the reality we face—to expose what is developing, to win people to see the deep roots in the system of both these ugly fascist movements and the capitulation to these movements promoted by the Democrats, to inspire people to resist this and the other crimes of this system—including the rampant police brutality and murder; the unceasing attacks on the right to abortion (and on women’s rights more generally); denial of the rights of gay people, including to marry; the ongoing codification and use of torture by the government; the escalation of the war in Afghanistan (and continuing occupation of Iraq)... all of which are being presided over and furthered by Obama and the Democrats... and to do all this as part of repolarizing society, to make revolution.
Those are questions now being answered every day, by what we do—and do not do.
JUST HOW SERIOUS ARE THESE RACIST, RIGHT WING POPULISTS—AND HOW FAR WILL THEY GO?
In February, an episode of Beck’s show on Fox “News” was called “ War Room: ‘Bubba Effect’ – Martial Law, Looting, Hyperinflation, Depression, Chaos, America Implodes.” It repeatedly posed a scenario that was essentially an armed fascist uprising against those responsible for “disenfranchisement and suffering” and to take back America, restoring its white, Christian roots...and its destiny...as divined by God. This would be an uprising that would replace the current U.S. government. And, Beck posed as the likely scenario, that this would have the support of the U.S. Army. Look at the YouTube of this—Beck’s face shines with a sort of manic glee as he urges his listeners to prepare for this. (Search for “Glenn Beck” and “Bubba Effect” at YouTube.) This is only a very slightly cleaned up—updated—version of the infamous book, The Turner Diaries, which “envisioned” a race war in the U.S. with the righteous, fascist forces lynching Black people and whites who wanted integration. This book has been the inspiration for many reactionary survivalist militias for decades.
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