Articles
2017/07/12

On Self-Determination 

In discussions of national liberation, revolutionary socialists have a tendency to fall back on the phrase “the granting of self-determination” without reflecting on the limitations of this phrase in practice. The difference between right and wrong, as Althusser said, can periodically be summed up in one word; in this case, that word is “grant.”

The role of revolutionary socialists is not to grant self-determination but to struggle alongside nationally oppressed peoples for their self-determination, in opposition to currently existing capitalist-imperialist relations. The correct strategy is one in which revolutionary socialist organizations create working bonds with national liberation organizations, pushing forward international collaboration within the confines of US-occupied territory and beyond.

As for cadre, it is necessary to participate in struggles large and small, assisting nationally oppressed people and organizations locally whenever possible.

To put it another way, revolutionary socialists must always stay in lockstep with national liberation struggles.

Today, we fight for the territorial integrity of indigenous peoples against capitalist development projects.

Today, we fight for the annulment of all treaties between the US government and indigenous peoples. Today, we fight for the return of indigenous lands from the Black Hills to Aztlán.

Today, we listen to the demands of all nationally oppressed peoples, we tie our own existence into these demands, and we march towards the realization of these demands in our everyday political activity. These demands are not shelved in the eventual promise of the “granting” of self-determination, but self-determination is recognized and reinforced in the joint activity of all cadre and peoples struggling for national liberation.

MELI CC

2017/06/27

MELI Central Committee: Statement of Solidarity with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

It is the duty of all working class people to condemn the terrorist acts of the Venezuelan opposition forces, supported by the right-wing and US-backed MUD, which culminated yesterday in the theft of a military helicopter and its subsequent use in a reckless attack on the Supreme Court of Venezuela. 

This attack comes on the heels of a week characterized by the escalation of violence, including the murder by immolation of three government-supporters and a national guardsman. There are no justifications for such heinous acts against the people of Venezuela, and through our condemnation of opposition terrorism, we reaffirm the legitimacy of the current government of Venezuela and the necessity of the Bolivarian Revolution, which has uplifted tens of thousands of Venezuela’s most vulnerable citizens out of the dehumanizing violence of poverty.

It is crucial at this juncture that we firmly oppose the US government's recent attacks on Venezuela through the imperialist puppet organization OAS and to combat interventionism in all its forms. We stand with President Maduro and the people of Venezuela against the aggression of U.S. imperialism. And again, we take this opportunity to advance the necessity of an international organization which represents the will of working people throughout the Americas, including those of Venezuela, against the interests of global and US capital.

Long live the people of Venezuela!
Long live the Bolivarian Revolution!

Shane Creepingbear2017/06/06

Limitations of Identity-based Politics

There was a time when conversations about privilege and identity-based oppression were strong and important tools towards defining political movements. In particular, these conversations were often used in higher education to get white people to talk about whiteness, as a 101 conversation towards a broader understanding of oppression. Understanding how your interactions and the unchecked ways you can marginalize people you are interacting with in social, professional and classroom settings is undeniably important, but not as an end unto itself. The end is the liberation of all nationally oppressed peoples. Unfortunately, privilege discourse has become its own, nearly ubiquitous political line, its hamster wheel politics. Its the same conversations over and over again. Its constant struggle with no progress. Talking about privilege is a legitimate method to catalog some of the ways some individuals tend to benefit over others, but it can’t go much further than that.

While we should recognize the importance of a basic understanding of identity-based oppressions, it's also important to understand the limitations of the discourse. Framing identity-based oppression as the main political line does not allow for the adequate deconstruction of oppressive structural issues built to maintain white supremacy and disrupt national liberation of the oppressed. Identity discourse alone cannot fix structural problems because rather than opening up to a wider critique, it atomized the issues to their smallest level: the individual’s responsibility to “check themselves” when they marginalize another person from a “more oppressed” identity group. These privilege politics have observably stalled progress towards breaking down white supremacy.

It’s time to stop centering our discourse around identity-based privilege politics. Call-out culture and privilege-checking, as political tools, ultimately amount to little more than a series of underwhelming interpersonal confessions. Discussion of skin privilege, for example, places whiteness at the focal point; the discourse of identity politics will group as many people into the category of white as possible, which is in no way a new phenomenon. This is largely where the term “white passing” has developed— and although this wasn’t a term used until recently, the discourse around it is very similar to how grouping as many indigenous peoples as white was used as a tool for colonial and cultural genocide. In many cases when someone uses the term “white passing,” they are actually describing a situation of colorism or shadeism, although not necessarily accurately. These terms are prescribed to any discriminatory behavior anywhere in the world, as long as it has to do with skin tone. There is a paper by Solomon Leong that explores the notion of “fair skin” and its social construction in Hong Kong as a basis of a social hierarchy that gave birth to the design and marketing of skin whitening products. In the paper Leong describes skin tone as “as a visual agent in defining the boundaries of cultural identity, and in identifying a person's place in a local social hierarchy." The acute reality is that there are benefits to being lighter skinned, but this is not “white privilege.”   

“White privilege” cannot and does not exist monolithically and as such is an inadequate framework for analysing whiteness, a concept that varies drastically based on context. “White privilege” is a moving target that cannot discern geographic location, socioeconomic status or the effects of colonialism and settlerism. Ironically, it’s the same homogenous definition that settler scumbags have been wielding for hundreds of years to justify the theft of land and resources from Indigenous peoples. Four hundred years of European colonization in the Americas has widened the gene pool, allowing for native peoples with the possibility of lighter skin, hair and eye color. Andrew Jackson, the seventh U.S. president, used that effect as justification for the removal of Cherokee peoples from their lands, saying they were now really “white” and hence their lands were not entitled to them. Natives Americans were valued for their land so it makes sense from a colonial lens to group as many to be as white as possible.

This is a good example of how privilege rhetoric becomes increasingly confusing and obfuscating. People describe privilege with rubrics that say things like, “you do not get followed around in stores,” or “no one questions you when you get a great job.” This understanding of privilege becomes a way to selectively describe oppression as interpersonal discrimination, a kind of idealistic reductionism that gets nowhere near the real issue. The issues at play are structural, not individual. Colorism is real—light skin does come with its benefits—but both colorism and racism were born out of white supremacy, the structural basis for a huge portion of the oppression that exists in the United States today.

The term and idea of “whiteness” is new to our history. When Europeans settlers came to the U.S. they came with distinct identity categories: Irish, Dutch, English, and so on. Elite rich white planters developed colonies in the south with slavery as the economic foundation. Virginia had about 50 families that fit within this “elite” category, and the whites in the south were vastly outnumbered by large numbers of black slaves and indigenous peoples in the area. Class lines began to harden. As the distinctions between rich and poor became more apparent, the elites began to fear an uprising from below. As slaves revolted, the rich began to worry that discontented whites—the urban poor, indentured servants, tenant farmers, soldiers, and the property-less—would join forces with black slaves in rebellion based on class alliances. In 1676, Bacon’s Rebellion—in which white frontiersmen and indentured servants revolted with black slaves—shook the planter elite to the core. Revolts spread throughout the colonies, from New York to South Carolina. The elites’ solution was to divide and control this broad working-class alliance. Certain privileges were given to white indentured servants;they were allowed to join militias, carry guns, acquire land, and have other legal rights not allowed to slaves. But to gain these privileges, one had to be legally declared white on the basis of skin color and continental origin. This solidified poor whites as legally "superior" to Blacks and Indians. Thus, whiteness was deployed as an apparatus to prevent lower-class whites from joining people of color, especially Blacks, in revolt against their shared class enemies. Even today, unity across color lines remains the biggest threat in the eyes of a white ruling class.

The context of the history of “whiteness” begins to show the limitation of identity politics. When these conversations take shape they rarely take any aspect of economic position into account. Identity politics have the tendency to emphasize matters of culture, language, ethnicity, ability, and so on while avoiding underlying issues of economic exploitation and oppression. The role of imperialism in sustaining the system of social oppression is rarely considered, even though it’s the systemic root of racial oppression in the U.S. today. “Whiteness” developed as a class alliance to undermine any attempts by lower and working classes to liberate themselves, and simply cataloging privileges is not enough to deconstruct a system of racial oppression that has intentionally constructed us in opposition to each other in order to decrease our chances of revolutionary success.

Building and maintaining class solidarity is one of our strongest assets as we challenge and deconstruct white supremacy, and we must leave space for solidarity outside of a particular national and cultural groups. We are working towards queer liberation, and the liberation of all oppressed national groups, but liberal identity politics have become embedded in the minutia of discourse, and discourse alone. It will take a deep examination of the history of oppression and how it is currently maintained, and the creation of a strong and unified political line across these struggles if we’re going to tear them down.

Mister Lies2017/06/06

The Sanders Shuffle

  Senator Bernie Sanders, standard-bearer for the left wing of the Democratic Party, was in the New York Times on Friday marshaling the long march back into national relevance for the Democratic Party. His attempt to recapture the public imagination comes with heaps of Trumpist populism and Clintonian authority. The nation cries out for political guidance, and Bernie will play Pied Piper in the coming years to bring a younger generation back into the fold of the parties responsible for that outcry.​

   Bernie has proven deft at harnessing class-conscious rhetoric toward the ends of bourgeois politics. He correctly asserts that “[o]ver the last 30 years, too many Americans were sold out by their corporate bosses,” failing to mention that in the last 30 years, Democrats have held the Presidency for a slim majority of the time. He neglects to lay blame on the Clinton administration for its lopsided multinational trade deals (exacerbated under Bush II), or for Gramm-Leach-Bliley, the financial reform act which enabled the 2008 financial collapse. Bernie is yet another false prophet, pushing the gospel of opposing the establishment while representing one flank of it. Had Trump conceded, a similar op-ed with his byline would likely have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, or at least on Breitbart.​

   Bernie issues direct challenges to the Trump administration in this masterpiece of willful-absentmindedness: “Will he have the courage to stand up to Wall Street, work to break up the “too big to fail” financial institutions and demand that big banks invest in small businesses and create jobs in rural America and inner cities? Or, will he appoint another Wall Street banker to run the Treasury Department and continue business as usual? Will he, as he promised during the campaign, really take on the pharmaceutical industry and lower the price of prescription drugs?”​

   Ever lovable, if forgetful, Sanders makes no mention of the fact that Obama’s Treasury Secretaries have been neoliberal alumni of Citigroup and the International Monetary Fund. That Obama broke up no banks deemed too big to fail and indeed signed a financial regulatory law, Dodd-Frank, which explicitly enshrines their existence. He fails to mention that Obama’s health care reform has brought and continues to bring Big Pharma many billions in new revenues thanks to the pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying. Bernie evades entirely the plight of the rural poor under the watchful eye of President Obama. This reality fuels the extant racial animus of many rural whites against a President whom Glenn Beck famously claimed “has a deep-seated hatred for white people.” And to add injury to insult, Sanders continues the long tradition of liberal capitulation to fascism, saying, “I will keep an open mind to see what ideas Mr. Trump offers and when and how we can work together.” Perhaps Bernie has also forgotten the previous 18 months of Trump’s vitriol regarding women, minorities, immigrants, and other marginalized groups. The ideas are already out.​

   Promises of change come as readily before each national election as the status quo afterward returns. Obama’s revolutionary promises became reformist policies, indistinguishable from Bush II, if not heightened in their class character. Obama's agenda reveals all we need to know of what Clinton II might have delivered. None of this is to forgive the blatant sins of the Republicans, who have elevated a neofascist strongman to the level of godhead. His promises decidedly populist, his rhetoric undeniably oppressive, Trump's policies will only benefit the capitalists and bourgeoisie as assuredly as the last four Republican Presidents’ did.​

   After the humiliation of the Clinton campaign’s tactical and strategic errors, and decades of the Democratic and Republican Parties failing to meaningfully address the concerns of marginalized communities, we must look for answers elsewhere. We will find these answers in revolutionary theory, and certainly not in the runner-up to the runner-up, lest we fall into the trap the Democrats are now laying for us. “In the coming days, I will also provide a series of reforms to reinvigorate the Democratic Party,” Bernie emptily promises. It is clear in this phrase that the ideas are meant to revitalize a Party and recoup its losses. Not to revitalize the working class, but to re-empower the political class. These ideas will certainly sound nice coming from a Party with no power to enact them, just as Trump’s outsider perspective sounded soothing when not rooted in political ability.​

   Now is the time for those who wish to see change in our political system to recognize the abject failure of Democrats and Republicans to live up to their continual promises to workers, and for workers seeking an outsider perspective to look away from insiders portraying outsiders, as Bernie and Trump unbelievably attempt. As assuredly as President-elect Trump will gut the social safety net and deliver huge tax breaks for his wealthy peers, so too will the Democratic Party continue to serve the interests of Wall Street, pharmaceutical companies, large insurers, and energy companies, who gatekeep their path back to power. Democrats will not bite the hands that feed them – even if Bernie spends four years promising they will, finally, this time, hold them accountable.​

   The time is ripe for workers, long left in both parties’ distant rear view, to band together outside the machine that manufactures false hope. Do not join, or rejoin, the Democratic Party, no matter what their curmudgeonly spokesman sells you. They are failing, and in their absence the Republican Party will doom itself by governing as it sees fit. Workers should abandon the Republican Party's proud plutocrats to govern like business-owners - they will lose all popular support in doing so. To build real, anti-establishment power, join a socialist organization and develop solutions outside the bourgeois system. Study revolutionary theory and tactics. Develop solutions to protect the marginalized people whom Trump’s administration (and followers) will target openly, just as Obama’s administration (and followers) targeted undocumented people and foreign citizens without admission. Build solidarity in your own community, rather than listening to the supposed-saviors of the working class hoping to lure us into a four-year struggle to elect the next Clinton, or Obama, or Sanders, or Bush, or Trump.

Shawn Fleek (he / they) is an indigenous rights and environmental justice advocate and organizer, a recovering liberal Democrat, and writer living in Portland, Oregon.