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Tag: racism

How is capitalism racial? Fanon, critical theory and the fetish of antiblackness (White, 2020)

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by Hylton White (2020), Social Dynamics, 46:1, 22-35.

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ABSTRACT
I outline a proposal for an analysis of antiblackness grounded by the Marxist critique of the fetishistic forms of capitalist society. Traditionally, Marxist accounts of antiblackness turn, not to Marx’s theory of fetishism, but rather to dynamics of class formation under capitalist development, and hence to the ways that class formation motivates types of racism, including antiblackness. But accounts like these do not explain the distinctive features of modern antiblackness. Turning to the Marxist critique of fetishism, I argue for an account of the distinctive features of modern antiblackness, by bringing into conversation: (a) comments by Fanon on negrophobia and the relations between antiblackness and antisemitism; and (b) work by Postone on the fetishistic nature of modern antisemitism. I argue that antisemitism and antiblackness afford a pair of devices for falsely concretising the structure of alienation that produces the apparent opposition of labour and capital. These devices present the pathologies of modernity as stemming not from capitalist social relations but rather from the apparently essential powers of antisocial races: the Jew of antisemitism, caricatured as cunning will without productive bodily expenditure, and the Black of antiblack racism, caricatured as biological energy that lacks self-governing will. READ PDF

How it Might Should be Done

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by Idris Robinson, July 2020

The following is a transcript of a talk delivered in Seattle on July 20, 2020, lightly-edited by the author for readability. A video recording produced by Red May is online here. (Taken from Illwilleditions.org)

* * * * *

I want to begin with a shout-out to what happened here last night, and to the working class of the city of Seattle, to the rebels of the city of Seattle: I really liked what I saw, that’s why I’m here, you know, to feel that vibe. I would also like to send my solidarity to comrades in Greece. It was they who allowed me to experience insurrection for the first time in 2008. The lessons I’ve learned and the experiences I had there have been so valuable this time around, even though we are in a much different social context. Moreover, a comrade was recently killed at the hands of the police there. To the fallen comrade, Vasillis Maggos, I want to say: rest in power.

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Crowned Plague

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by Phil Neel (Brooklyn Rail, Field Notes, July 2020)

(see also: Prelude to a Hot American Summer, Normality is Death)

The Saint of Crowns

In spring the winter weight of snow trickles off the stone steps of the basilica in small, shimmering rivulets, a microcosm of the many streams glittering through the foothills of the unyielding Dolomites, or maybe more a mirror of the intricate alpine network of alte vie and vie ferrate, narrow, high walking and climbing paths hewn into the mountains during the first world war when other routes were made impassable by mines. The winter rarely clears quickly through these foothills where Fèltre and its basilica lie, the town’s most famous rendition given by a few lines from an anonymous Roman author: “Feltria, condemned to the rigor of eternal snows / from me too, who henceforth will scarcely approach you, farewell!”1 The words are often attributed to Caesar himself, though of course this might be apocryphal. But the apocryphal is also somehow natural to this place: the basilica which contains the relics of Saint Corona, whose historical reality is itself an open question.2

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The Flatness of Blackness: Afro-Pessimism and the Erasure of Anti-Colonial Thought

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by Kevin Ochieng Okoth | January 16, 2020

Originally published in Salvage, this piece by Kevin Ochieng Okoth, offers a sustained critique of American ‘Afro-pessimism’, noting, in particular, how it erases experiences, including political experiences, of African people living in Africa.

 

I. Pop-Hegelianism 

When the term Afro-pessimism began appearing in books, journal articles and, curiously, on activist social media, I was (presumably along with others familiar with the scholarship on African history and politics) slightly perplexed. For decades, ‘Afro-pessimism’ had referred to the unrelentingly negative coverage of Africa in Western news media, especially in terms of its tendency toward arrested development. This discourse, loosely united by an emphasis on the hopelessness of the African continent – and exemplified by the scandalous 2000 Economist headline describing Africa as ‘The Hopeless Continent’ – provided the rationale for the imperialist economic policies of the 1970s’ and 80s’ structural adjustment programmes. Today, it bolsters neo-colonial relations between the Global North and Africa, and is often conjured up as the go-to argument to justify the entirely unnecessary and counterproductive presence of the development industry and its practitioners on the continent. 

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The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook (James Boggs, 1963)

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In 1963, drawing on his own experience as a factory worker and radical militant, James Boggs wrote this pamphlet. It addresses (among many things) the failures of the CIO, increasing automation, rising unemployment and the emergence of new social actors (‘the outsiders’) that he saw as a threat to capitalism.

James Boggs, born in Marion Junction, never dreamed of becoming President or a locomotive engineer. He grew up in a world where the white folks are gentlemen by day and Ku Klux Klanners at night. Marion Junction is in Dallas County where as late as 1963, although African-Americans made up over 57 percent of the total county population of 57,000, only 130 were registered voters. After graduating from Dunbar High School in Bessemer, Alabama, in 1937, Boggs took the first freight train north, bumming his way through the western part of the country, working in the hop fields of the state of Washington, cutting ice in Minnesota, and finally ending up in Detroit where he worked on WPA until the Second World War gave him a chance to enter the Chrysler auto plant. In 1963, drawing on his own experience as a factory worker and radical militant, he wrote these pages.

Boggs offers both a keen analysis of U.S. society and a passionate call for revolutionary struggle. He sees the growing trend toward automation, the decline of organized labor, the expansion of imperialism, and the deepening of racial strife as fundamentally rooted in the contradictions of U.S. capitalism. And he concludes that the only way forward is a new American revolution—one that, from his perspective writing in the 1960s, appeared to have already begun.  

See also: 

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Theses on the George Floyd Rebellion

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by SHEMON AND ARTUROJune 24, 2020 (Illwilleditions.com)

A print version is here.

See also:

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“The working class in every country lives its own life, makes its own experiences, seeking always to create forms and realize values which originate directly from its organic opposition to official society.”

—CLR James, Grace Lee Boggs, and Cornelius Castoriadis, “Facing Reality”

1. The George Floyd Rebellion was a Black led multi-racial rebellion. This rebellion cannot be sociologically categorized as exclusively a Black rebellion. Rebels from all racialized groups fought the police, looted and burned property. This included Indigenous people, Latinx people, Asian people, and white people.

2. This uprising was not caused by outside agitators. Initial arrest data shows that most people were from the immediate areas of the rebellions. If there were people driving in from the ‘suburbs,’ this only reveals the sprawling geography of the American metropolis.

3. While many activists and organizers participated, the reality is that this rebellion was not organized by the small revolutionary left, neither by the so-called progressive NGOs. The rebellion was informal and organic, originating directly from working class black people’s frustration with bourgeois society, particularly the police.

4. Not only was the police-state caught off-guard by the scope and intensity of the rebellion, but civil society also hesitated and wavered in the face of this popular revolt, which quickly spread to every corner of the country and left the police afraid and in disarray.

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Ruth Wilson Gilmore in conversation with Paul Gilroy (2020)

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This conversation was recorded on 7th June 2020 – Soundcloud here

(see also: Ruth Wilson Gilmore Makes the Case for Abolition and Prisons and Class Warfare and Is Prison Necessary?)

Paul Gilroy: Well hello, I’m Paul Gilroy, I’m the Director of the Sarah Parker Remond Centre for the study of Racism and Racialisation at University College, and today I’m going to be talking to Ruth Wilson Gilmore who is Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Director of the Center for Place, Culture and Politics at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York. Ruthie is a co-founder of the California Prison Moratorium Project and perhaps most importantly of all, of critical resistance, and she’s the author of the prize-winning book that will be very familiar to you, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. And Ruthie and I have been collaborating, editing, bringing together Stuart Hall’s writings on race which will be published – well I hope soon, given the situation we’re in. Maybe you should correct anything that I haven’t said about you Ruthie that you want to have said, and I want to make a point about Stuart – Stuart’s work.

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To Protect and Serve Themselves: Police in US Politics since the 1960s

Police Death, Minneapolis, United States - 30 May 2020

by Stuart Schrader  – Public Culture (2019) 31 (3): 601–623 PDF

The police in the United States were once subject to control by political machines. The professionalization process freed police from this control, but it had an unexpected result. Professionalization meant that police answered primarily to themselves, which enabled them to become self-interested. This process transformed the police into a new type of authoritative political actor. This article examines the history and organizational sociology of the transformation of the police since the 1960s, investigating how, through groups like the International Association of Chiefs of Police, police have advocated on their own behalf and interacted with larger political and economic trends. Separate from their role in crime control, police have become entrepreneurial and resistant to fiscal austerity. This article offers a new characterization of the effects of the “war on crime” and “law and order” politics of the 1960s, while paying attention to the surprising Cold War roots of the political autonomy of police.

 

(see also: Origins of the Police by David Whitehouse; The End of Policing by Alex Vitale)

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In Defense of Looting (2014)

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Minneapolis 2020

by Vicky Osterweil (The New Inquiry, 2014)

[Read the book: In Defense of Looting, 2020]

For most of America’s history, one of the most righteous anti-white supremacist tactics available was looting.

As protests in Ferguson continued unabated one week after the police killing of Michael Brown, Jr., zones of Twitter and the left media predominantly sympathetic to the protesters began angrily criticizing looters. Some claimed that white protesters were the ones doing all of the looting and property destruction, while others worried about the stereotypical and damaging media representation that would emerge. It also seems that there were as many protesters (if not more) in the streets of Ferguson working to prevent looting as there were people going about it. While I disagree with this tactic, I understand that they acted out of care for the struggle, and I want to honor all the brave and inspiring actions they’ve taken over the last weeks.

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Out of Sight, Out of Mind

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Adam Shatz reviews:  Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman (2017)

One of the great paradoxes of the Obama era is that it encouraged so many liberals, both black and white, to see the black experience in America not as a slow, arduous struggle for freedom culminating in the election of a black president – Obama’s version, not surprisingly – but as an unending nightmare. Not least among the reasons was that a black man of unerring self-discipline and caution, bipartisan to a fault, should have provoked such ferocious white resistance – fanned by the man who questioned the validity of his birth certificate and then succeeded him as president. This most eloquent champion of ‘post-racialism’ may have been the most powerful man in the world, yet he remained a prisoner of his race, of his ‘black body,’ as Ta-Nehisi Coates put it in Between the World and Me.[1] In the face of repeated police shootings of young black men or atrocities such as the church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, Obama did little more than deliver one of his formidable speeches. And – as he did in Charleston – sing ‘Amazing Grace’, as if only a higher power could cure America of its original sin, and end the nightmare.

LA ’92: The context of a proletarian uprising

by Aufheben (1992)

Distorted by the bourgeois press, reduced to a mere ‘race riot’ by many on the left, the L.A. rebellion was the most serious urban uprising this century. This article seeks to grasp the full significance of these events by relating them to their context of class re-composition and capitalist restructuring.


April 29th, 1992, Los Angeles exploded in the most serious urban uprising in America this century. It took the federal army, the national guard and police from throughout the country five days to restore order, by which time residents of L.A. had appropriated millions of dollars worth of goods and destroyed a billion dollars of capitalist property. Most readers will be familiar with many of the details of the rebellion. This article will attempt to make sense of the uprising by putting the events into the context of the present state of class relations in Los Angeles and America in order to see where this new militancy in the class struggle may lead.

Before the rebellion, there were two basic attitudes on the state of class struggle in America. The pessimistic view is that the American working class has been decisively defeated. This view has held that the U.S. is – in terms of the topography of the global class struggle – little more than a desert. The more optimistic view held, that despite the weakness of the traditional working class against the massive cuts in wages, what we see in the domination of the American left by single issue campaigns and “Politically Correct” discourse is actually evidence of the vitality of the autonomous struggles of sections of the working class. The explosion of class struggle in L.A. shows the need to go beyond these one-sided views.

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Privilege Theory’s Critique of Marxism

by Jehu 2014

1.    Privilege theory as a critique of Marxism from within Marxismsadwhiteguy

Privilege theory was custom made for post-war Marxism because, basically, with the just dawning realization that the class struggle appears to have all but disappeared in society in the post-war period, they don’t have much of anything else to discuss when it comes to politics.

Privilege theory has its roots in a self-critique within mid-60s Marxism that communists were neglecting the extent to which racism divided the working class. These critics argued the communists themselves marginalized or altogether ignored the surging black liberation movement and the movements of other oppressed strata within American society. However, the view of these critics of Marxism was, in large part, itself infected with many of the same naive conceptions of the working class in particular and class society as a whole as infected the thinking of the more “orthodox” Marxists.

The “white blindspot” critique assumed the working class was not  already divided by its material conditions of existence, but because the capitalist created and employed racism to divide it. As I will show, the false implication underlying the original argument was that absent racism, the working class would be united. The error is not unique to the “white blindspot” theorists: it pervades the Marxist praxis in the post-war period. This is the sort of argument that demonstrates Marxism’s complete lack of understanding of class society. The argument here is critical to both the critique of Marxism and of privilege theory because the assumption (implicit or explicit) made by Marxists on both sides is that the working class is capable of overcoming its divisions short of complete social emancipation.  On the other hand, the growing influence of privilege theory among activists demonstrates the working class is anything but united and likely cannot be united within its present material conditions.

The conflict over privilege theory can be summed up in two (admittedly simplistic) arguments:

1. With the overthrow of capitalism, racism, sexism and all forms of oppression will be done away with.

and

2. Racism, sexism and other forms of privilege cannot be ended simply by overthrowing capitalism.

At the outset, I am not going to say both sides are wrong in their characterization of the conflicts and divisions within the working class. I just want to assert that the notion of working class unity runs into some very thorny theoretical question based on a less naive grasp of how classes are constituted in bourgeois society. In historical materialism, all classes in bourgeois society have the same characteristics: First, their common material conditions of existence are independent of the members of the class. Second, absent a conflict with another class, the members of a class are on hostile terms with each other.

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The mystery of ‘populism’ finally unveiled

by G.M. Tamás

The philosopher of post-Fascism enters the populism fray with his own candidate for post-truth: Left betrayal.

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Hungarian Prime Minister Orban looking at the Bavarian and the Hungarian flag in front of the parliament building in Budapest, Hungary, March 2016

There is nothing new in consecrated terms being used in an entirely novel sense without announcing the change, and thereby misleading readers. It happens every day. It is no surprise if, being unable to explain a new phenomenon, people give it a resounding name instead of a theory or at least a description. This is what is happening with ‘populism’ or ‘right populism’ – or even ‘left populism’ – words used to depict states of affairs old as the hills at the same time as surprisingly new ones. ‘Populism’ has become a synonym of ‘I don’t understand it, but I was asked to talk about it’.

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Workers of the World, Fight Amongst Yourselves!

Notes on the Refugee Crisis

by Friends of the Classless Society via Endnotes

The following text, by the Freundinnen und Freunden der klassenlosen Gesellschaft, was published in the October and November issues of the German leftist magazine Konkret. Translated here by Endnotes. 

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1.

Last fall it appeared as if we were witnessing a political turning point. A mass movement of migrants showed fortress Europe the limits of its reach. This was, however, only a movement in the literal sense of the word and certainly not the awakening of a “multitude” shaking the foundations of the prevailing order. Migrants had no demands beyond the right to remain in Europe, a right which they had already temporarily asserted. In Germany, as the state failed to mobilize adequate resources, the logistics involved with the arrival of refugees were mostly left to volunteers. Meanwhile, the radical left took to celebrating the collapse of the European border regime as an act of “self-empowerment” or as “autonomy of migration”.

Others spied a sinister capitalist master plan behind Angela Merkel’s temporary open border policy. According to this interpretation, the policy sought to use cheap, docile immigrants to restructure the European labour market. Some on the left viewed this as a threat and have therefore joined calls for the erection of walls around Europe. They were further emboldened by the mass sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, in which hundreds of women were groped, robbed, and, in a few cases, raped by a large group of men of “Arab or North African appearance”. In light of the EU’s deal with Turkey and the internment camps currently being planned for Libya, both of these interpretations look dubious. After being taken by surprise, the powers that be have regained control of the situation and their need for cheap labour seems rather limited. On the contrary, the events of the past year reflect an overwhelming surplus of labour power, both in the countries of origin and in Europe. This surplus intensifies competition within the working class, breeding nativism, division and fear of poverty. If we are to understand this situation, we need to do more than decry racism.

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Brexit means… what? Hapless ideology and practical consequences

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Auf­heben № 24
November 2016

A number of left groups and individuals campaigned for the UK to leave the European Union. Aufheben argue that the Brexit campaign, and the referendum itself, its results and its implementation, have been one with a victory of the ruling class against us. The implementation of Brexit will negatively affect solidarity among workers and radical protesters, setting back our strength and potentials to overturn capitalism. Many people in the radical left were blinded by the ideological forms of our capitalist relations, the reification of our human interactions, to the point of accepting a victory of the far right with acquiescence, or even collaborating with it.

The EU mi­grants’ or­deal and the lim­its of dir­ect ac­tion

We be­gin this art­icle with a case dealt with by Brighton Solfed (SF) and CASE Cent­ral so­cial center — the story of an EU mi­grant in Brighton.

At the end of 2015, L., a Span­ish hos­pit­al­ity work­er, sought help from SF. She had worked in a res­taur­ant for more than a year but, as soon as she fell ill, her em­ploy­er sacked her with a flimsy ex­cuse, in or­der to avoid pay­ing Stat­utory Sick Pay (SSP). Re­ceiv­ing SSP would have been this work­er’s right un­der both do­mest­ic and European Uni­on (EU) le­gis­la­tion. However, the em­ploy­er in­sisted that she left her job vol­un­tar­ily, and re­fused to re-em­ploy here.

One then claimed a sick­ness be­ne­fit, Em­ploy­ment and Sup­port Al­low­ance (ESA). As an EU work­er, she should have been en­titled to equal rights un­der EU le­gis­la­tion, and to ESA. However, the state re­fused the be­ne­fit: they said that, due [to] a “gap” between the end of her job and her claim, she was no longer a “work­er” when she claimed ESA. A be­ne­fits ad­vice group helped with an ap­peal, but the state re­fused to re­con­sider. L. was in a des­per­ate situ­ation, with no money and far from her fam­ily, and was temp­ted to move back to Spain. This would amount to eco­nom­ic de­port­a­tion — not im­posed through phys­ic­al force, but through ex­treme hard­ship.

Back in [the] 1970s the UK’s mem­ber­ship of the European Com­mon Mar­ket was op­posed by left-wing mil­it­ants, as the Com­mon Mar­ket was seen as a neo­lib­er­al club de­signed to pre­vent the ad­vance of so­cial­ism, or just the im­ple­ment­a­tion of Keyne­sian policies.

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Passing for Politics

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by Asad Haider

Today’s politics of identity — the epoch of trigger warnings, microaggressions, and privilege-checking — was already the subject of debate in a 1964 exchange between Amiri Baraka, then still known as LeRoi Jones, and Philip Roth. It began with Roth’s negative review of Jones’s The Dutchman, along with James Baldwin’s Blues for Mister Charlie, in The New York Review of Books. The Dutchman had presented a theatrical allegory of the failures of liberal integrationism, and the seductive treachery of the white world. Roth’s dismissive review displays no real understanding of the political critique at work in the play; nevertheless, the line that became the real point of contention contains a kernel of insight. This was Roth’s speculation that Baraka, then Jones, wrote The Dutchman for a white audience, “not so that they should be moved to pity or to fear, but to humiliation and self-hatred.” Jones retorted in a vicious letter that, “The main rot in the minds of ‘academic’ liberals like yourself, is that you take your own distortion of the world to be somehow more profound than the cracker’s.”

Roth’s The Human Stain, written during the reign of our first “first black president” (you have to wonder if Toni Morrison regrets saying that), illuminates the distance between 1964 and 2016. Here Roth presents a biography that moves from the personal costs of segregation to the contradictions of liberal multiculturalism. Coleman Silk, a light-skinned black professor of classics — like Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which provoked the trigger warning debate at Columbia — spends a lifetime passing for white. Yet in ’90s America it is not the black identity which destroys his life and reputation, but the somehow ontologically irrefutable accusation of anti-black racism.

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Frantz Fanon, Philosopher of the Barricades

by Peter Hudis

A series of recent exchanges between activists in the Black Lives Matter movement and those turning out to hear Bernie Sanders’s populist critique of corporate power have brought to the fore a persistent contradiction of U.S. society —the relation between race and class. It is significant that around the country tens of thousands of largely white youth are coming out to hear Sanders’s attack on the plutocracy that has turned the U.S. into one of the most class-divided societies on earth. Clearly, some of the same sentiments that gave birth to the Occupy Movement are behind the surge of interest in Sanders’s candidacy. Yet it is no less significant that Black Lives Matter, and others, have challenged his campaign for largely overlooking issues of race and racism—at the very moment when a powerful movement has emerged from people of color who are besieged by persistent police abuse and a criminal justice system that has made it clear that, insofar as it is concerned, black lives do not matter.

What are we to make of this debate, and how will it play out? Will anti-racist activists and those seeking to counter corporate power through the electoral process proceed on separate paths? Will their differences be papered over for the sake of a superficial harmony, or will this debate become an opportunity to think through the very real contradictions facing U.S. social movements when it comes to grasping how race and racism play a central role in shaping the nature of class and social relations in the United States and elsewhere?

It may be too early to answer these questions, but it is timely to re-examine the work of Frantz Fanon in light of them. As one of the foremost theorists of race and racism of the past century, his ideas are returning to the forefront of discussion; in large part because of the way in which the increasingly class-polarized nature of contemporary capitalism is inseparable from an ongoing assault against people of color and immigrants, not only in the U.S. but in Europe as well.

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Marxism and White Skin Privilege

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By Chris Wright

I. Introduction

Marxism, in both the authoritarian (“Orthodox”) tradition and in the libertarian tradition, has had a few noticeable Achilles’ Heels, which have had drastic consequences. Gender and race top the list. Here, I mostly intend to focus on race, although at least passing comments on gender will be unavoidable.

In the United States, race has played a central role in the derailing of even a broadly ‘socialist’ class-consciousness, much less a revolutionary communist consciousness. On that, I am in full agreement with the editors of Race Traitor (RT). We agree that ‘racism’ is a term that has been de-clawed by a purely psychological understanding as ‘prejudice’, rather than as a category of oppression, and hence power and privilege. The main feature of racism in the U.S. is ‘white supremacy’ or white-skin privilege or what some call ‘whiteness’ (and I think the terms represent some political differences). We agree that race does not exist in any sense biologically, but is purely socially constructed1. We agree that race privilege entails more than a simple ‘social control formation’, a la Theodore Allen, foisted upon working class people from the outside, but that ‘white’ workers participate in the production and defense of whiteness/white-skin privilege. We agree that ‘anti-racism’ in the forms we know it has major problems, since it focuses on ‘racists’ or racist groups, rather than racism; also, anti-racism tends to reify race as biology. We agree that ‘whiteness studies’ (and its parents, multiculturalism and post-structuralism) has been predominantly liberal and little more than a new academic field for generating new career tracks. We do not seek to study, understand (and certainly not ‘validate’) the white race except in so far as we seek to destroy it, and as I hope every Marxist knows, the destruction of oppression requires the destruction of the power of the oppressor and the infrastructure and apparatus that sustain and systematically reproduce that power. In other words, we will not finish with race until we have finished off the white race. We agree that we can destroy the white race, in so far as the white race exists as nothing other than a social relation granting special privilege and engendering oppression (and in my opinion, a form of class collaboration.)

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On the anti-Islamophobia ideology

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(translated from the french)

The intention of this text is to reply to those among the anarcho-communists who are engaged in the fight against “Islamophobia” and who, for that reason, bar all criticism of Islam and endorse a theory of race as a social class, in an atmosphere of increasing tension, accusations of racism, and even actual physical attacks.

The term “Islamophobia,” which probably dates back to the early twentieth century, only recently came into widespread use to designate racism against “Arabs.” This corresponded to a shift from racism against North Africans to terror or horror aroused by the Muslims’ religion. Immigrants and their descendants, formerly rejected for “ethnic” reasons, are discriminated against today for their supposed adherence to an original culture identified with one of its dimensions—the Muslim religion—which many do not even practice, although some observe certain traditional customs.

Through this artifice, religion is assimilated to “race” as a cultural matrix in what amounts to a “cultural mystification (…) by which an entire cross-section of individuals is assigned, on the basis of their origin or physical appearance, to the category of ‘Muslims,’ silencing any criticism of Islam, which is perceived, not as a critique of religion, but directly as a manifestation of racism.”[1] While Claude Guillon sees “contempt” in this “antiracism of idiots,” [2] we mainly recognize the specter haunting the left—third-worldism. According to this ideology, which entails uncritical support of the “oppressed” against their “oppressor,” those who saw the “colonized” as the exploited people par excellence during the Algerian war unconditionally supported the NLF. Or take the Vietnam committees during the Vietnam war, for whom denunciation of the Americans meant supporting the Viet Minh and the politics of Ho Chi Minh, chanting his name and waving his picture at every demonstration. This scenario was repeated with the Iranian revolution in 1979 and with the pro-Palestinians. Today, taking the Kurds’ defense usually implies supporting the PKK and waving Oçalan’s picture. Such was the process by which, little by little, the third-worldist perspective abandoned the proletariat as revolutionary subject and replaced it with the colonized, then the immigrant, the descendant of immigrants… and finally the believer. While at first, third-worldism promoted cultural relativism, its successors adopted culturalism, which posits cultural differences to explain social relationships. SOS Racisme’s great manipulation in the 1980s made this shift a doctrine that ultimately engendered all the excesses we’re witnessing today, in particular the Muslim identity assigned to “Arab” immigrants and their descendants as a whole.

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Black Representation After Ferguson

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by John Clegg

Up until the crisis of 2008, racial inequality in the United States was showing signs of improvement. Poverty and unemployment among blacks had fallen sharply in the 1990s, and the wages of black and white workers had begun to converge. These improvements were stopped short by the recession of the early 2000s, but thereafter a boom in subprime lending led to a significant reduction in the wealth gap between black and white households. The popping of the housing bubble threw all these measures into reverse. While most Americans suffered, black Americans were particularly badly affected. In the eight years since the crisis, racial disparities in wealth, poverty, and unemployment returned to or exceeded their pre-1990s levels. It should thus come as no surprise that riots have also made a comeback in recent years.

The triggers were a series of police killings of young black men: Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray. Such events have not become more frequent. Rather, an already existing reign of police terror was the American state’s only means of managing a rapidly deteriorating set of conditions in poor black neighborhoods. Ferguson was a revolt not only against the police, but also against a society which has nothing but police to offer.1

When black proletarians riot, white Americans tend to cast around for an eloquent spokesperson who can either assuage their fear or indulge their guilt. The old Civil Rights leaders were too out of touch in this case, so journalists combed the twitter feeds of protesters for substitutes. Those willing to play the role of spokespersons have been fêted by the media, with cover stories in Ebony, Time and the New York Times Magazine. Some were even featured in Fortune’s 2016 “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” list. They have received regular invitations to the White House, and Democratic presidential candidates have coveted their endorsement. Yet journalists have also shown a prurient interest in the periodic clashes, both personal and political, among the newly celebrated activists.

All this media attention, however, both positive and negative, owes its existence not to the activists themselves, but to the fact that thousands took to the streets and attacked police and property in Ferguson and Baltimore. Though some activists began organizing prior to Ferguson—in response to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Renisha McBride—their actions had met with the same lip-service that typically greets protests against police brutality in this country. Officer Wilson’s murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, following quickly on Eric Garner’s live-action death at the hands of the NYPD, was a watershed, sparking a week-long uprising in a suburban town far from the bi-coastal activist hubs. Baltimore, with protests closer in form to the “inner city riots” of the 1960s, consolidated this newfound vigor, demonstrating the willingness of poor blacks to rise up against a local black elite. The question partisans of this movement must ask is to what extent the new activists can help or hinder the black proletarian insurgency that threw them into the spotlight.

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