Chicago, Detroit, Schools, and the Election Spectacle
by Rich Gibson
Emeritus Professor, San Diego State University
My first memories of Chicago go back to the bars off State where you could shoot pool all night with villainous grizzled men and notorious women who were far more interesting than my mates in a Detroit high school. Identification was easy to get, bartenders not curious; an all night fling could be cheap and a prestigious story for a baseball locker-room. But then came August, 1968.
I was in Lincoln Park on the eve of the Democratic convention forty years back. I was a rank and filer in the Students for a Democratic Society, not a big cheese, a leafleteer, sent from Michigan to work with the “Get Clean for Gene,” McCarthy kids whose naivete, I thought, was leading them into a dangerous police trap–and an electoral swamp that would do nothing about the empire’s assault on Vietnam. We hoped to make friends with youth who, over time, would see the relationship of the system of capital, imperialism, and the war. Only a few of our sds group went to the Chicago convention. We didn’t want all of us to be arrested.
By 1968, I imagined I was ready for America. I’d already refused the draft. I had fought in Detroit in 1967 and was in the front lines in the March on the Pentagon that year. Earlier, as a rock and roller, I battled the cops on Detroit’s revered Woodward Avenue for the right to dance, make out, and drag. I had fought on picket lines around schools and factories for five years or more. I knew about police encirclement, affinity groups, that the cops really would pound on you, in handcuffs, and that they could be resisted. The McCarthy kids, the Unready, I thought, were in for a rough week.
In Lincoln Park as dark began to set in forty years ago, I saw the cops begin to surround us, was unworried as the convention hadn’t started and nothing was up but talk. I knew enough about police provocateurs, infiltrators, to take note of strangers doing silly karate katas in our midst and begin to make preparations but when the cop attack came, I was deep among the Unready: gassed, pounded, whipped. Billy clubs arched and fell on Unready heads who had no preparations, no tactics, and no common strategy. Gas grenades meant to explode over heads were aimed into faces. Motorcycle cops ran over kids. A photographer in a suit and tie, holding up his press credentials in two hands, was billied across the eyes, bursting blood.
On to the Band-shell the next day where we, attacked, first fought to take bridges occupied by National Guardsmen behind barbed wire, manning machine guns. We crossed, serendipitously met the Poor People’s Brigade and their mule train. Then a week marked in Grant Park by Allan Ginsberg chanting “Om,” nearly drowned out by chants of “Don’t walk!” because to set down a foot released the gas trapped in the grass; encirclement by the police, then the troops, both launching well rehearsed raids into our midst, hunkered down beneath a tree, defending one another by hauling people out of police’ hands, screams of those we could not rescue after they were heaved into paddy wagons filled with cops, marching out of Grant Park only to be met, in a blind canyon of buildings, by cops and Guards with Jeeps fronted by barbed wire fences rolling kids up in bloody piles; the leaders of the marches volunteering for pre-arranged passive arrest while those of us in the second and third ranks got clubs, gas, razor wire, the gratitude we felt to Peter, Paul and Mary (either Peter or Paul and Mary for sure) when they came out and sang in the midst of the gas, and relief when the Black P. Stone Nation Rangers arrived.
Nobody was ready for it. I too was a lamb among wolves. The McCarthy kids, and others, showed courage which outmatched any naivete. They kept coming back, sitting down, taking it. Really, parts of the world watched, most play given to slugged dignitaries.
Surely it was unwise to leave the park and the solidarity of hundreds of demonstrators. We saw what happened to lone reporters, lawyers, medical personnel who, encountering groups of Richard Dailey’s finest on the streets were beaten to a pulp. But come and go most could. Most stayed. That is my memory of Chicago, forty years back, short because I never wrote about it–too angry, maybe too naive: a taste of Empire, Unready. Yet courageous kids.
Norman Mailer wrote it in Miami and the Siege of Chicago. But Mailer viewed the battle top-down, wafting from delegate suites to the convention arena, visiting Grant Park for a speech, drunk, promising to organize a mass demonstration that never happened. Mailer wrote well in 1968 though: “All politics is property....to fall in love with a man’s voice sufficiently to vote for him next day is not to get much return for your holding...”
My memory of Detroit, 1967, is also unwritten. We were every bit as Unready. At work in a factory on the northwest side, our boss told us to go home. Outside, billowing smoke to the south and east. Driving to Seven Mile and the Lodge and, suddenly, open warfare. Soon, tanks would appear on our streets, troops recalled from Vietnam enforced the curfew. No gasoline. Unprintable acts. Later, recognizing utter defeat, volunteering at Receiving Hospital, directing those shot citizens. One child, about 8, pulling on a white coat I was issued, “Mister, Mister, I’ve been shot.”
Thinking he was a good mimic, I gave him a glance. “Where?”
A hole through and through his outstretched arm. “Right here.”
“Christ. Doesn’t that hurt?”
“No, but the air feels bad.”
Martial law. Overnight. All rights suspended. City parks turned into concentration camps.
No strategy, no tactics. No common analysis. Unready.
Forty years on. Unready. Not only Unready. The incidents of leadership betrayal, the erasure of the theory (historical materialism) and practice (an ethic, “you are what you do,” and direct action) of the social movement that rose from the Civil Rights days, to SDS (destroyed from within by police agents, crazies, and rich kids known as the Weathermen), remain as key obstacles to both the anti-war and education movements of 2008, both in tatters. The anti-war movement can mobilize but 10% of the people who poured into the streets on the Iraq invasion, a practical measurable failure. And a theoretical failure as well. The education movement, embodied in opposition to the No Child Left Behind Act, barely exists outside the twin beacons of Substance News and the Rouge Forum. After nearly eight years of No Child Left Behind Assaults on educators and kids, only a handful of resisters while the education mis-leadership mindlessly accepts capital’s division of labor that creates academic disciplines, and fights along the narrow line of, for example, the Reading Wars, when history, recess, art, and above all, critique are fully purged within utterly segregated schools, not public schools, but capitalist schools inside capital’s state.
The anti-war movement today, led by remnants of the failed Communist Party USA, some pacifists, religious, Trotskyist grouping, in the major groups, specifically restricts talk about why the wars must happen and expand (capitalism, imperialism—the drive for profits, cheap labor, raw materials, regional control, and the regulation of critical imagination) and focuses on electoral work.
Now, the main body, United For Peace and Justice, hijacked the Jehovah’s Witness tactic of door to door visits–urging a get out the Obama vote campaign—assuming that “most people in the US are against the war.” Setting aside the more likely reality that most people in the US are against losing the wars, and would be out flag-waiving and howling as they were not long ago (the attack on Iran was halted by Generals, not citizens), the anti-war movement now has arrived with the worst of possible results from their notable ability to combine sectarianism and opportunism: They have nearly no people. The people they do have arrive after seven years having learned nothing important–a nearly complete practical and pedagogical failure inside a project that, by its very nature, must combine education and action. UFPJ seeks to patriotically out-howl the right, “Support Our Troops,” when the troops are engaged in a monstrous series of war crimes. Part of our project has to address the very real emergence of fascism as a popular world-wide movement that could quickly take hold of millions of people and last until they, perhaps through suffering alone, discover that fascism cannot meet their needs.
The education movement, carefully avoiding the role of the economic basis of US schooling, capitalism, arrives thinking that the Democratic Party, which played a leadership role in developing the essence of NCLB, and promoted the law at every level, is going to reform it. Worse, the education union leadership pours money and volunteers into the Democratic Party hoping to “win” full funding of NCLB, under a growth model designed by Democrat George Miller, which will only make NCLB’s regimentation of the curriculum, high-stakes racist exams, and its invitations to military recruiters, worse still. Today, August 26, bloggers from the Democratic convention reveal that Democratic Mayors, like Joe Klein of New York, and school principals, like the principal of San Diego’s Gates’ funded, High Tech High, are openly denouncing NEA and education workers alike, but NEA leaders like past president Reg Weaver, sit silent, taking it, while, if history is any measure, school workers will be the dominant bloc in the arena. Of course, Weaver’s $450,000 a year salary may make a few harsh words bearable. It’s his petty pay-off for organizing support for tyranny.
As I write, the woman who promised to win national health care, and delivered the eradication of the welfare system, Hillary, is about to hit the Democrat’s stage, a full grin peering out from pancake makeup. A momentary aside to the character of Democrats from Walt Whitman, writing of another Democratic convention:
The price of freedom and liberty is never paid by those who sup at the spectacle.
But let us return to our tale of two cities.
What of Chicago and Detroit today? Each city is a special case, particular, even peculiar. We can address the general nevertheless.
Unemployment, especially black unemployment, booms. Chicago’s official rate for July was 7.3%. No one can believe statistics coming from Detroit, none of them. The city is in collapse. Official unemployment in 2005 was 14.5 %, at least double that among black youth. Tens of thousands of Detroit jobs have been lost since 2005. At least 5% of the Detroit housing stock went into foreclosure in 2008, the most in the nation, a reality that sets aside the fact that thousands of Detroit homes were already vacant and stripped, uninhabitable. For more than a decade a Mayoral campaign promise is to bulldoze thousands of vacant homes each year. Acres of downtown land are vacant fields. Still, Detroit tops the nation’s foreclosure list while Chicago ranks but 30th, but the trend is clear, Chicago foreclosures are up 55% from 2006.
The second largest employer in Chicago is the school system, behind the federal government which, for example, employees a lot of IRS agents in the city. The Chicago school system lists about 46,000 employees. In Detroit, the biggest employer is the school system (not the Big Three). With 26,000 employees (remember the caveat about Detroit statistics) Detroit Public Schools (DPS) nearly doubles the number of Big Three workers and is more than twice the size of recently struck American Axel, with 11, 000 (many of them not actually in Detroit’s limits).
In early 2008, the newly appointed superintendent of Detroit schools, Connie Calloway, discovered a previously unnoticed budget deficit, undiscovered at $408 million. How a deficit of that size went unseen, in a district that lost ten thousand students a year for the last decade, is now of interest to the FBI which is investigating the former and current financial officers.
The FBI was not on hand in a five year period when Detroit’s citizens’ voting rights were overthrown and their school board was abolished, taken over by the state, refilled with suburbanite executives who promptly let out a billion dollar construction bond to cronies, with no bids. Many of the repaired and newly built schools are among the schools the district is closing. Indeed, in 67 closed DPS buildings, parents found mounds of unused textbooks, in a district that hasn’t distributed textbooks in more than a decade.
The DPS school board allocated more than three million dollars to demolish schools in 2007. Politicians in Lansing demand the city close more than 100 of the nearly 200 Detroit schools while the superintendent, arrived from a tiny district of 5,000, urges the layoff of 900 educators. Subsequent to the budget revelations, the superintendent, Connie Calloway, nearly vanished.
In July, 2008, citizen action organized by the “Call Em Out Coaltion,” represented by attorney John Royal won a judge’s order for a citizens audit of DPS. DPS is purportedly audited by the firm, KPMG, seen in San Diego as involved in the coverup of the theft of more than a billion dollars from the city employees’ pension fund. In 2006, Fannie Mae sued KPMG, one of many similar suits, for approving years of wrong financial statements.
DPS claims about 105,000 students. That would be a drastic drop from the districts claim in 2005: “There are approximately 143,490 students that attend the Detroit Public Schools.” 89% of the DPS kids are black.
But the figures are grotesquely inflated. The corruption of the school system is complete, with teachers, secretaries, administrators, accountants all in league to testify to a student count that all might profit from, but all know is a hoax. For example, in 2006, the district employed a massive $500,000 advertising campaign, including drawing prizes of flat tvs (in a city where joblessness extends back generations). Kids appeared. Some classes would have 60 kids in them, with a wink, since everyone knew, and budgeted on, their absenteeism. Things would even out—in some classes quickly down to a daily count, hidden, of 20. Bait and switch. Here’s a tv. Forget about that education.
This kind of corruption, the buttress of a view that unites education workers with their bosses, and ensnares union leaders as well, is pervasive. In 2007, Johns Hopkins named 22 DPS high schools, including Cass Tech, “dropout factories;” 60 % of their incoming freshmen never graduate. The real DPS dropout rate is probably 75%, so said Education Week in the same year. 89% of the DPS kids are black. The average DPS school was built in 1937.
The Detroit elected school board appears to the public as a farcical spectacle. Board members have taken restraining orders out against each other, all sides claiming violence. One board member has been barred from closed session because she threatens to reveal secrets. Another board member, David Murray, had his six children removed from his care by Protective Services. At a recent meeting, an citizen was arrested for throwing grapes at board members, a considerably more civilized form of action than the Detroit cops who, at the first Takeover Board meeting at McKenzie High, beat a group of middle school girls who sought to speak about the abolition of their parents’ voting rights with riot truncheons. Grapes are a step up from the Takeover Board maven who, afraid to attend board meetings in the city, was allowed to attend by cell phone, where her commands to her maid, Maria, could be heard over the sound systems.
Chicago produced the south-side Dailey- machine pol, Obamagogue, the fellow Mailer referred to above, the hollow voice who will deliver more wars, expanded NCLB restrictions, more exams, more segregated schooling, a draft balanced by a syphon for the middle class–voluntary national service–while he, claiming to be from “their midst,” with an “anyone can make it,” psalm, not unlike generations of priests shilling for Catholicism, will lure black and hispanic youth into a military that fights the enemies of their real enemies, the rich and the failed political class in their homeland. Feudal tyrants grasped this scam. So does the Council on Foreign Relations. Obamagogue wants more than obedience and servility, he wants adoration, the wine of tyrants.
Chicago, however, is better off than Detroit.
Detroit’s political class is going to jail, so inept they forgot the century old advice from George Washington Plunkett of Tammany Hall, “I never did dishonest graft...I seen my opportunities and took ‘em.” Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, son of an inept pol in the US congress, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, cannot attend the Democrat’s Denver hoopla. He’s wearing a court ordered ankle tether, charged with a variety of counts of perjury, felony assault, and more to come, funneling the public’s treasure to family, maybe complicity in the murder of a dancer, Tamara Greene. The Detroit political class, for thirty years marionettes of suburban elites, in ruined Detroit may have so little left to steal for themselves that their transgressions are more barefaced.
Despite their particularities, Chicago and Detroit demonstrate that schools are the centripetal organizing point of life for most people in the US, not only for work, but health care, food, safety, surcease, and above all, ideas.
It follows that school workers are well positioned to fashion change for social justice. But their organizations are in shambles and their union leaders corrupt, on the other side—agents of management in their midst. Tellingly, the top officers of both unions, Chicago and Detroit Federation of Teachers, are attacking leaders elected by the members, removing them from office. The Chicago scenario was described in the last issue of Substance News, an elected Vice President scheduled for a “trial.”
In Detroit, Detroit Federation of Teachers Executive Vice President Greg Johnson was suspended from his position, escorted from the DFT offices by security guards, on August 24, 2008. While no written charges were offered by DFT President Virginia Cantrell, it is clear that Mr Johnson is suspended because he spoke out at a recent union meeting, opposing the unity of Cantrell and the DPS board, urging the members to see that the union exists because educators and the board have opposing interests. But the unity of workers and bosses is an outlook the American Federation of Teachers shares with its affiliates. These kinds of purges are taking place throughout the US inside AFT, in Miami as well, and even in the Service Employees International Union, as Earl Silber described in the last issue of Substance.
It should be clear that school workers, indeed all workers, need organizations that, with one toe inside the unions, have nine toes out. Those organizations must recognize that working people and bosses have but contradiction in common. Those organizations need a voice: Substance.
Both Chicago and Detroit are closing schools, but the rapid Detroit decline is apparent in school closures while Chicago appears to remain geared to schooling for social control. Politicians in Michigan’s capital, Lansing, want 100 Detroit schools closed. Nearly 1/3 of them would be schools that were newly built in the last decade. In fact, dozens of new schools now sit empty, stripped of plumbing and wiring. The school board allocated more than a million dollars to tear them down.
Chicago has 655 Schools, 408,601 students, 112, 541 secondary students draft eligible in the next four years. 85 % of them from low income families.50% of total student body is black. The average administrator, at $116, 000 makes nearly twice what the average teacher makes, at $66,000. Most of the principals, about 55%, are black. A third of the teaching force is black. The operating budget is slightly more than $4.6 billion.
There are 21 “Small Schools” in Chicago, many of them inspired by former Weatherman Big Cheese Billy Ayers, now a Chicago professor; once a liberal with a bomb, now just a liberal. Some of the Chicago Small Schools already proved out as failures, at base doing nothing about the social and economic crises in communities, serving as another dodge in the ongoing shell game of school superintendents who arrive from another town, selling a new hustle. In Detroit, Superintendent Calloway, plans to introduce Small Schools in 2008.
The economic and social realities of collapse and expanded war will only mean that education will be a battleground. Absent direct action in the schools, poor and working people will continue to lose, and their teachers will find their fates attached to the parental income of the kids in their classrooms, merit pay and gutted health benefits.
Given the “progressive” left’s perseveration over the election and their predictable refusal to recognize that promises will be forgotten, and the pols will betray them, it may be a year before whatever anti-war and education movement finds its feet again. Nevertheless, a reminder and call to action is necessary, if only to have it stuck in a tin can, buried in the back yard, for later resurrection.
We are lambs among wolves. Still Unready. We need to be reminded of our social context.
I address capitalist democracy which Marx described as the best fit for the social system when under expansion. To grasp the relation of capital and democracy we must understand that they are not piled, one on the other, but fully imbued with each other. This is like a mathematical fraction in which the numerator exists as a full partner with the denominator. But it, capitalism and democracy, is a zipped up relationship that is ignored or denied in civics classes, and which can ebb and flow depending on power relations between classes. We know US democracy can vanish, fast, as in Detroit in 1967 when all laws were suspended and the military invaded the city. Or Chicago in 1968. Same is true of Canada, with the War Measures Act enforced in 1970.
What, then, is capitalism? It is, first, a system of exploitation, a giant sucking pump of surplus labor, a relentless quest for profits in which those who do not expand, die, as with the US auto industry. Capitalism is born in inequality and violence. Those who own, stole, and the rest, who must work to live, work under an unjust condition that claims to give us a fair day’s pay, when in fact that days pay begins with the violence of being dispossessed and ends with our being paid but a portion of what our labor creates. Over time, production becomes increasingly social, yet the value of that production is looted by those few who hold power and capital. Still, at least in theory, the revolutionary system of capital which demolished feudalism (then gave it new life in the Taliban) creates a world in which all people could live fairly well, if they shared.
So, capitalism is a system of exploitation in which those who must work to live must vie with each other for jobs, while nation based owners vie with each other for cheap labor, raw materials, and markets, often using militaries made up of workers who are sent off to fight the oppositions of their true opponents: the rich at home.
Capitalism is a system rooted in Alienation and Exploitation: People who must sell their labor to live; that is, the vast majority of people, are drawn together in systems of production which, over time, are more and more socialized (bigger plants, more interconnected forms of exchange, technology and communication, etc). However, the people who must work, who form a social class, are set apart from each other in competition for jobs and do not control the process or the product of their work. They do not determine how the work will be done, nor do they choose what will be done with the product and don’t own the profits gained (whether it is a Pinto or a chocolate). The more they engage in this form of exploited work, the greater the difference between them and their employers grows. At the same time, the more workers labor, the more they enrich their rulers, and wreck themselves. Alienation is a loss of self, indifference to others and a surrender to passivity(Marx). Each group forms, in essence, a competing social class, hence Marx says, "history is the history of class struggle." Alienated individuals, though, become increasingly isolated while, simultaneously, they are driven together in ever more distinct, separated, classes.
Alienation and exploitation lead to Commodity Fetishism: Capitalism is propelled, in part, by the sale of commodities, for a profit (as in surplus value). Over time, both workers and the employer class relate more to things than they do to other people, indeed people begin to measure their worth by commodities, especially the chief commodity, money, which in many instances becomes an item of worship. Businesses no longer focus on making, say, steel for use, but on making money, for profits. People who must sell their labor become commodities themselves, and often view themselves and their own children that way. People then begin to see what are really relations between people, as relations between things (every human relationship mainly an economic one), which leads to the concept of reification. In discussing the stock market, most economists treat it as if it had a wisdom and life of its own. In schools, children have been routinely commodified, sold to companies like McGraw-Hill (textbooks) and Coca Cola-and most teachers would agree that this process has accelerated in the last decade. Commodification means that people become things, less human, less connected so Marx argued, “the more you have, the less you are.” War, on one hand, and indifference, on the other, are results of commodity fetishism.
Combined the four processes, exploitation, alienation, and commodity fetishism forge reification: All reification is a form of forgetting (Adorno). The relations of people, disguised as the relations between things, become so habitual that it seems natural. Things people produce govern peoples' lives. Commodity production and exchange are equated with forces of nature. "Natural laws," really inventions of people, replace real analytical abilities (as in seeing supply and demand, or scarcity and choice, as the centerpieces of economics, rather than seeing economics as the story of the social relations people create over time in their struggle with nature to produce and reproduce knowledge and life--or in political science, discussing democracy as if it had nothing to do with social inequality). Reified history is abolished, capitalism assumed to be the highest attainable stage of human development. Nothing changes. Normalcy in some capitalist countries is really store-bought consent to exploitation--masked as freedom. Test scores are good examples of reification in school. Measuring little but parental income and race, test scores are worshiped uncritically, influencing peoples' live far beyond their real value. These processes of capital give those who own an enormous machine for lying and deceiving.
Reification hides the system of compulsion and disenfranchisement, a push-pull from the powerful, that mystifies a social system of exploitation so thoroughly that it is able to serious call itself a centripetal point of freedom, producing a mass neurosis so powerful that it encourages it subjects to steep in two decades of consumerist euphoria while their social superstructure, like schools, their social safety net, like welfare or health services, to evaporate underneath them while their industrial base vanished as well—a hangover from euphoria, the Golden Calf becoming the Trojan Horse--not wise for a nation promising to wage meat grinder perpetual wars on the world to have the steel industry owned by outsiders from India, Germany and Japan. One has to worry about what happens when this population cannot use its play stations or get to the mall. They may be the most dangerous people in the history of the world.
This background sets up our look at capitalist democracy as the best system for capital as it expands. The capitalist state is an executive committee of the rich, not an autonomous neutral, but their debate forum where they iron out their differences, then allow the vast majority of people to choose which of them will oppress best. The capitalist democracy is also an armed weapon in service to property rights. As the ruled far outnumber the rulers, and since coercion and force alone cannot sustain capitalist production, to pacify areas people must be turned into instruments of their own oppression.
We can see now how the one-person-one vote mythology would appeal both to rulers who seek to divide and conquer, and to individuals isolated by the system of alienation, fooled by the atomizing deception apparatus that promotes individualism–voting promotes the lowest forms of opportunism, boils down to “what about me?” --- and the false notion that a vote can bring fundamental social change. People hide from one another in voting booths wrongly thinking they are making real public decisions when they really have no control over the processes and products of the system–and most cynically know politicians always lie–yet they vote thinking they are exercising their only public power, when in fact they are just setting themselves off from others and the reality is that their real power lies in unity with other workers—at work, their ability to build solidarity to fight to control the value they create. The crux of capitalist democracy is revealed in the fact that nearly no one expects to have a vote on anything significant at work, unless they own the workplace.
Others, excluded,(by Jim Crow laws, chicanery) might be disgruntled, while those who don’t vote can be attacked for being responsible for the bad choices voters make.
The masses of people are told this is the law, which is alienated law, “the will of the ruling class exalted into statutes,” (Marx), a sandbox of property laws overseen by millionaire judges that only incidentally considers people. Within this law, as in religion, people deepen their alienation, choose, and pay, others to think and act for them, others who operate behind the habits of hierarchy and the force of arms. When serious differences, collisions of interests, appear between the capitalists of a given nation, they conduct civil war. The base for capitalist law is the same as the capitalist ethic: Profits are good, losses are bad, keep a careful count. Capitalist law is the law of property, ownership, not humanity.
No one ever voted themselves out of what is, at base, a Master/Slave relationship. The Masters will never adopt the ethics of the slaves. The singular path of reason alone will not overcome the system of capital, though reason must be our light and beacon. Our choice today is between communism or barbarism. Marx was correct in seeing that capitalism is a giant worldwide company store, an international war of the rich on the poor, and most importantly that the dispossessed of the world, probably all of us, have a real interest in overcoming that system and, not replacing it with another form of dictatorship, but with an ethic and reality of reasonable equality. The logic of the analysis of capitalist democracy leads directly to revolution. There is no other way out.
This is true especially now when finance capital in the US, though continuing to expand, is challenged by capital in other nations, like China which has a well motivated, not exhausted, military and needs that oil just as much as the US. Oil moves the military, which in turn is absolutely key to any empire’s ability to expand, which is why saving gas will do little or nothing about the perpetual oil wars. US finance capital is hit by the crises we are familiar with: the inflation resulting from the lost war, $108 a barrel oil, the mortgage, personal debt, and national debt crises the ghastly rise in food and transportation costs, and so on.
It follows that capitalist democracy in the US is rapidly contracting, as fascism emerges. There are no more labor laws of any worth, no civil rights laws, habeas corpus, rights of privacy, free speech (remember, “watch what you say”) are gone, through bi-partisan legislative action as well as the courts. The fight-back to transform the system of capital needs to look carefully at the rise of fascism (merger of the corporate and political elites, suspension of common laws, racism, nationalism, a culture writhing in violence in search of a strong leader–all moving at hyper speed within the national election now).
But the left of the US anti-war movement, and the education reform movement, abandoned the critique of capitalist democracy, meaning they have no basis for analysis, no ability to develop strategies and tactics across a nation or even in unique communities—because they do not grasp how power works or why it is that the power of people who work lies, not in the voting booth–where odds are the voting machines are owned by their enemies–but at work where they can collectively win control of the processes and products of their work, in communities, or in the military where the working classes are already organized and armed.
But, in the instance of 2008, is it not apparent that a big increase in the total number of voters will rightly be seen by the ruling class as a vote to extend and expand war, while, say, a 40 percent turnout, a new low, would send them shivering? Or, to answer another objection, is it not clear that an expanded war, which both parties will surely conduct, will kill tens of thousands of more people outside the US? What shall be said to them when you say, “but I voted to preserve abortion rights.” The real abortion right is to teach thousands of people to do abortions.
At the same time, the left has made a fetish of what I called at the outset Abstract Democracy, following the postmodernist coalitions where the notion of class struggle or the word, capitalism, is banished and people are urged to go off in narrow race/nation/sex/language , “autonomous,” grouplets taking up their constricted issues, as did the 10,000 people meeting in Atlanta last year, thinking this will somehow lead to real resistance to a ruthless enemy with a long history of rule and a centralized command. To quote America’s last remaining moral compass, Judge Judy, “it doesn’t make sense and it is just not true.” It won’t work.
That is the main reason the US left has had no impact whatsoever on the last seven years of imperialist war, even though a million and more people hit the streets in the first week of the Iraq invasion. They evaporated into their semi-autonomous worlds and have not exercised their potential power since. A somewhat similar thing happened to the school reform movement which, other than parts of the Rouge Forum and Substance News, simply refuses to address the connections of the system of capital, imperialism, the regimentation of school life and the curriculum, oversight through high stakes exams, militarization, and privatization as well.
It is fair to say, I think, that the dominant elements of public life in the US are opportunism, racism, nationalism, ignorance, and fear (surely that is true of the professorate) though we have to recognize that the sheer perseverance of continuing to work, in our case on behalf of kids, has considerable courage built into it.
Anyone interested in confronting our conditions today must follow Hegel’s dictum: The truth is in the whole.” The whole is capitalism. Some live in capitalist democracies, and most do not, but it is the whole that must always be addressed, like keeping the front sight aligned with the rear sight. Even reforms will not be won without both sights on the target. The failure to create a mass base of class conscious people, which is our life and death high stakes test, remains the Achilles Heel of nearly every social movement in the US. It follows we need to openly talk about what capitalism is, why class struggle takes place, what of CAPITALIST schooling, what can be done, and what a better future might be.
How to answer tyrants who can, at the end of the day, only rule by consent? Opt out.