I’m not sure, as a Marxist, what hope is. Something like an anticipation of favorable results from society working out its contradictions I suppose. It’s not very sentimental but it will have to do.
Last year saw lots of those contradictions. We saw a black man ascend to the Presidency. More shocking to me was that we saw that happen outside of the basis of large scale social struggle. The effect of which is seen in the fact that Obama’s win depended, in part, on him not raising the issues of black America. A different kind of black leader this, the first for many years without a connection to the civil rights movement. For some blacks, especially the newly professional and aspiring classes, Jesse Jackson– to say nothing of Al Sharpton– are just so much historic flotsam.
As Marx said, “all science would be superfluous if the form of appearance [Erscheinungsform] of things and their essence [Wesen] directly coincided.” The first black President is also, in many ways, an outsider to the black experience in this country. Only a few years after Katrina reminded us of our racial reality and we hail a post-racial dawn? If we are to understand the symbolism inherent in Obama’s victory let us understanding all that is symbolic in it so as we might understand the wesen of the period we are in.
Symbolism is, of course, not without importance. Manning Marable said that, unless white America resorted to legal barriers to the political rise of people of color, demographics would make an Obama inevitable. It just happened much sooner than he thought it would. Me too. A black man leading the US capitalist state and at the helm of the empire is pregnant with contradictions. That is hope number one for 2009: that the activist movement awakens to the reality of what we are witnessing. I think that there already signs, before Obama takes office, that this is starting to happen. The appointments said a lot about his chosen direction. His words say even more. He is not a progressive even when we are as generous as “progressives” are with that term.
My second hope is for Palestine. Damn near most of humanity identifies with the Palestinians. At one point or another most of humanity has been treated like a Palestinian–for their class, for their race, for their creed, for their gender, for their nation. Her struggle is the repository of so much emotion because her dispossession is done so publicly, so wantonly and with such impunity by the self-righteous. Palestine is all of the injustice in the world. Though I curse Israel daily I am not a believing man. Curses do no good, oh, that they would.
What I have witnessed in the last few weeks, along with the horror of Israel’s assault, is an ocean of solidarity around the world that has risen in waves of outrage. That solidarity,, that rage and that energy is the basis of my second hope. That a movement begins that stops calling on the the states that are party to this conflict– and I mean Egypt, Britain and, above all, the United States –to act as peace makers and instead demand those governments disengage with Israel.
Enough is enough. Breaking the Zionist consensus (or the equivalent in the case of Egypt) in those countries would signify a shift away from a key ruling class imperial consensus. (Though there is some evidence that for many years punters, including father Bush et al, sought to shift the focus of US presence in the Middle East to Saudi Arabia.) The fall of the Mubarak regime may be too wishful, but I will indulge. All of the Arab regimes fear the Palestinian struggle, all of them require the dispossession of “their” citizens. In the process of challenging this consensus all kinds of suppositions must be challenged; it could have a wide-ranging, radicalizing effect.
We should build on the lessons of the anti-apartheid movement and isolate Israel– make her a pariah. And who could say Israel does not deserve such a sanction after this month’s bloodletting? And let us not for a moment forget the complicity of our own government in this slaughter. Without the support and, on occasion prodding, of the United States Israel would simply not be able to do or get away with what it has done. This is not because Israel controls the US, quite the contrary, it is because Israel’ position is in the interests of US imperialism and will be for the foreseeable future.
Away from the politics of the “peace process” and to a politics of justice; one that embraces the class struggle in the Middle East and at home. Israel wants the “peace process” since it prevents them from having to have peace. Otherwise how do you explain the apartheid wall, the expansion of settlements, the absorption of Jerusalem and the continued occupation of Palestinian land to say nothing of what has been done to Gaza these last years, all these years, after Oslo?
Israel and it’s goods should be boycotted and nothing should be sent to Istael least of all the weapons currently being used to subdue Gaza; not by individuals but by groups and communities, above all by trade unions along with schools, commercial organizations and governments. Hope number two: the current outpouring of solidarity coalesces into a powerful movement to divest from Israel in support of the just struggle of the Palestinians for self-determination. Hey, this could happen.
And a last wish for 2009 is that the bureaucrats leading the US trade unions to a person, with a few salutary exceptions (ILWU, UE, etc.), get there just desserts and are put to the guillotine by enraged auto-workers, newly without trousers thanks to concessions, who have risen as part of a general mobilization to refound an American labor movement that fights for the interests of the working class rather than for those who would exploit us. I would like to see the full panoply– pitch forks, torches, you know- mob justice.
Alright, I’ll concede a trial. Exhibit A: take a drive along Michigan Avenue from where I live, through the heart of the auto industry. The once mighty Wixom Ford plant with a few shaky looking spinoffs hovering around. Mile after mile of box stores, gas stations and subdivision…empty subdivisions. The near-total reliance on the automobile has scarred landscape and living alike. For years the union bosses joined with the real bosses against the environmental movement and against public transportation. Shameful.
Into Dearborn and the River Rouge, once the largest factory in the world. I think that there must be more industrial capacity in a few square miles than in most countries. In fact, I am sure that is the case.
The logic of the system with which Owen Bieber, Ron Gettlefinger and their shadows in most of the trade unions signed up to help and defend left them out in the cold. They conceded away the base of their own power and in the end are only useful to complete the destruction of the UAW they, perhaps unwittingly, began when they started round after round of concessions.
After Dearborn, where the Reuther boys where beaten by Ford’s gangs and some of the most inspired US trade unionists ever practiced their crafts comes Detroit. Detroit was a beacon to generations of militant leftists, myself included, drawn to her as a citadel of workers power (and later black power) in this country. Gone. Down Michigan into Detroit. Miles of abandonment, miles of deprivation.
Mile after miles of lives that are not useful, except as the most despised that “reserve army of the unemployed.” And this in our citadel? It wasn’t just the concessions of today, it was decades of bad leadership that ignored the most vulnerable, least powerful workers, especially black workers, and left them to the whims of a capitalist economy without mercy or regard. The decline in trade union leadership over the last generation has not been in isolation, but it is one of the most visible and destructive aspects of the phenomenon of which it is part. It has had a terrible impact on the self-respect of the working class. And that is a powerful loss.
Exhibit B: Gettlefinger’s lawyerly performance before the Congress in support of the bail out of the auto industry bosses.
After the trial– off with their heads.