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Race, the Obfuscation of Class

Ferguson as Democratic Life Preserver

by NORMAN POLLACK

Liberals’ manipulation of history and symbols to cover retrograde social policies of war, intervention, wealth concentration, deregulation, the whole Corporatist mile of impendent Fascism, is evident in every unprincipled move they, specifically here, the Democratic party , take, whether as the militaristic fundamentals of global hegemony or the anti-civil-liberties foundation of massive domestic surveillance, to keep in power for self-serving reasons, but also, through ideological commitment, to serve capitalism and its ruling elites in America. This somewhat despicable political record, in full swing since the end of World War II, has dressed an international posture of counterrevolution with the symbolism of freedom (the Free World, America the chief architect) and a national posture of wealth concentration and class differentiation with the symbolism of the social welfare (presumed allegiance to working people). How low, though, can the party stoop? Apparently, whatever it takes, as now, the political manipulation of Ferguson to get blacks nationwide to turn out for the mid-term elections.

Whatever his predecessor has done, Obama has upped the ante, whether armed drone strikes for the purpose of targeted assassination or, in some ways analogous and vitally important as—until now—a hidden issue at home, the MILITARIZATION of the police, local, county, state, assorted other units, from Homeland Security to Highway Patrols, analogous, then, in demonstrating contempt for, and in practice, violation of, the rule of law, and raising the temperature of “law enforcement” to a pitch of insensitivity so as to make killing easier. AG Holder comes to Ferguson with unctuous platitudes while POTUS cranks the larger war machine enabling the Pentagon to disgorge some of its surplus weaponry and thereby keep military appropriations at threshold levels (while sending $225M to Israel to replenish its arms in the destruction of Gaza). To speak of racial justice in Ferguson while women and children are daily murdered worldwide, frequently through American connivance, if not direct responsibility, reeks with a politicized (i.e., contrived) schizophrenia that allows for the mental coexistence of outright subjugation of others, including blacks at home, and the soothing rhetoric of helpfulness and humanitarianism which glosses its practice.

Race is obviously a seminal social category. In America, it produced chattel slavery, then segregation, a continuity of oppression, discrimination, inequality, a structural dichotomization carrying the cultural-ideological-political-economic conditions of domination and subordination defining a power relationship in which racism per se provides advantages to ruling groups in creating an underclass deemed inferior for ultimate control over the labor market and the distribution of wealth. What can be done to blacks affects the white working class while keeping the two apart on artificial grounds of supposed differences in aspiration and ability. A neat trick, the use of race to stabilize wealth and the wealthy; only now, we see an upper segment of the black community turning against its own people—and all working people: a strategic sector admitted into ruling circles on the promise of good behavior, keeping the corporatist ship afloat and militarism prospering and fully active, while—and this is important—neutralizing if not completely negating all dissent from within the community (the theme of racial solidarity) and potential social forces of protest and opposition including but moving in wider circles beyond blacks, to radicals, antiwar activists, advocates for civil liberties and gender liberation, the rock-the-boat crew threatening to sink the corporatist ship and its military escort.

Simply, Obama is a racial symbol whose function is to eviscerate the democratic possibilities inhering in racial justice, meanwhile deceiving most blacks and white liberals alike whose blindness has been drilled into them through America’s systemic institutionalizing of false consciousness into all social strata below the top—a tried-and-true political absolute to forestall the consequences of a genuine democratization of the class system, in which case, racism, too, along with generalized exploitation, would topple or be severely weakened. Precisely because race has been vulgarized, transmogrified, diverted into channels of oppression and repression, that blacks themselves can be appealed to, against their class interests as the poor, the underprivileged, the cement for society-wide labor degradation, on the grounds of racial solidarity, and therefore renew the bonds of their immiseration. Race becomes self-castration by the obfuscation of class as the personal locus of one’s identity and power; not that race is negligible, but that only integrated with class does it fulfill the promise of liberation, otherwise being a crutch for separation from similarly disposed individuals of another race, and hence, easily conquered, made tractable, for purposes far removed from the objective determination of one’s well-being.

***

Let’s get down to cases. Because Obama is black, blacks must therefore vote black, i.e., Obama’s party, the Democrats. Could anything be crasser, racial solidarity appealed to with no mention of policies and record, conferring stereotypic absolutism as a form of depersonalizing life experiences and intelligence as requisite to unquestioning party devotion? In religious discourse, leader and party would be subject to the charge of idolatry; in Marxian terms, false consciousness to opportunistic ends. Blacks as political merchandise, sadly, a state of mind and condition to which blacks have increasingly acquiesced. It is no wonder we see the glaring difference in context and leadership between Dr. King, who combined an antiwar stance of principled pacifism with what I take to be its domestic correlate, support for the Poor People’s campaign, integrated structurally as a nation forswearing hegemony for realizing equality and societal democratization at home, and Barack Obama, who represents the direct opposite, intervention, war, drone assassination, and a policy of business/financial/investment deregulation that precludes all forms of equality, including racial. This current effort of electoral mobilization, led by John Lewis, who knew better and braver days as a civil rights activist, and early days in Congress, and the Congressional Black Caucus, the Democratic Senatorial Committee discreetly behind, is, in practice, blindsiding blacks into abject party discipline to a party undeserving of respect, whose chief merit as the lesser of two evils collapses on close inspection when basics of war, surveillance, unemployment, are raised.

Jonathan Martin’s New York Times article, “At Risk in Senate, Democrats Seek to Rally Blacks,” (Aug. 31), helps us to see the cynicism of the move, although he does not say as much. What he does bring out is that the Democrats are desperate. The midterms will not change the complexion of the House, the Senate is up for grabs and may be lost, Obama’s ratings are at 40%, and, ludicrous in the extreme, the country is moving still further to the Right, so that Democrats in closely contested states are seeking distance from him—as too radical. And it is this that blacks are asked to swallow, naturally sugar-coated in a resounding chorus of, yes, racial solidarity. Martin writes: “With their Senate majority imperiled, Democrats are trying to mobilize African-Americans outraged by the shooting in Ferguson, Mo., to help them retain control of at least one chamber of Congress for President Obama’s final two years in office.”

Ferguson, to change the subject (i.e., if Americans really cared) about the looming confrontation with Russia over Ukraine, the Pacific-first strategy to surround and isolate China (again, confrontation), the encouragement of Israel in Gaza and beyond, continued exploitation and spoliation of the environment, the list is long and no point in going further, the Democrats having nothing positive to show now turn to Ferguson for electoral leverage shedding crocodile tears over Michael Brown’s death while duplicating it in hundreds as standard administration policy (and standard of those whose arms it supplies elsewhere). Martin continues: “In black churches and on black talk radio, African-American civic leaders have begun invoking the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, along with conservative calls to impeach Mr. Obama, as they urge black voters to channel their anger by voting Democratic in the midterm elections, in which minority turnout is typically lower.” Instead of channeling their anger, one would hope that responsible leadership would call for expressing it, if, in fact, social change were wanted.

And here is Lewis: “’Ferguson has made it crystal clear to the African-American community and others that we’ve got to go to the polls. You participate and vote, and you can have some control over what happens to your child and to your country.’” You can support Obama’s policies, be they however imperialistically-laden and generous beyond measure to ruling groups in America. Significantly, Lewis does not question these policies—as decades ago he surely would have. No embarrassment here, even “[o]ther steps [beyond the Black Caucus and Senatorial Committee], such as recruiting N.B.A. players to help register more African-Americans, are also underway.” This also means, voting for southern white senators who themselves are, notwithstanding the party label, reactionary in all areas, from foreign policy to the social safety net, relevant to blacks’ future. Martin continues: “And the terrain is tricky: Many of the states where the black vote could be most crucial are also those where Mr. Obama is deeply unpopular among many white voters. So Democratic senators in places like Alabama, Louisiana and North Carolina must distance themselves from the nation’s first African-American president while trying to motivate the black voters who are his most loyal constituents.” Somehow, I don’t feel sorry for anyone caught in this predicament, least of all the N.B.A. players.

Crassness? Rev. Al Sharpton, at the Brown funeral, used the occasion “to raise the issue of voter participation, drawing nods and loud ovations.” And Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta, “[i]nvoking the mother of Trayon Martin, the black Florida teenager killed in 2012, and her plea for people to ‘use my broken heart,’” stated on August 29 in the same vein: “’The most important tribute you can make to individuals who you believe were treated unfairly is to exercise your franchise.’” Herded into the Democratic pen, so that the militarization of the police can remain unimpeded, and more black youth in the US, and youth in what have become free-fire zones globally, can be blasted away.

My New York Times Comment on the Martin article, same date, follows:

Racial solidarity, as expressed by John Lewis, disgraces the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, who demanded of black leadership a transcendent vision, both antiwar and anticorporate concentrated wealth. Dr. King opposed Vietnam AND helped launch a Poor People’s Campaign.

Barack Obama has disgraced the black community by his prowar/prointervention record and market fundamentalism with Rubin, Summers, and Geithner in tow. Obama has done nothing for blacks, except of course increase the disparities in wealth and power making for greater impoverishment and therefore disproportionately hurting the black community. Lewis’s sterling civil rights record is in jeopardy by his absence of criticism of, indeed his shilling for, Obama, who has betrayed the trust of all reformers, white and black.

Let the Democratic party sink in its iniquity. Using Ferguson to gain votes is disgusting, opportunistic, shameful, precisely because the administration has done everything harmful to the creation of a just, peaceful, equalitarian nation and world. Black leaders should issue a wake-up call against a wealth-besotted, war-provoking elite, instead of joining the parade. I’m glad Dr. King is not here to witness the killing of his dream. Ditto W.E.B. DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, and the generation which served its people on a democratic path, rather than into the arms of Wall Street, the Pentagon, the CIA and NSA.

Would Dr. King have been guilty of massive surveillance of the American people?

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.